Fort Myers, Tampa And Back to Key West

There was a beautiful clear sky with winds in the 10 to 15 knot range. Typical trade winds. We sailed out of Northwest Passage and then turned north towards Fort Myers. There was a moderate chop from the north east between 1 and 3 feet, but we were able to make good time. Before sunset our speed was between five and six knots. It was Valentine’s day, the 14th anniversary of our first date! Getting underway was a great way to celebrate.

The sunset did not disappoint, it was beautiful, and while we were watching it, the ferry to Fort Myers came blasting by at 30 plus knots. After sunset the sky darkened quickly, there was still a little white haze on the clouds on the horizon, the lights of Key West, but the rest of the sky was black and the starry display was fabulous. The sky was covered in stars and the Milky Way felt like it was close enough to reach up and touch. The winds held steady out of the east and we were on a beam reach doing between five and a half and 6 knots.

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Sunset after leaving Key West

During the night we reached the northern edge of the trade wind belt and the winds gradually switched to the north and faded away and our 6 knots went down to 3. I went down to try and rest and Melanie came up on watch. Around 2:15 I woke up and although we were back on course again we were doing under 3 knots. The wind headed back around to the east but had died off to around 6 knots. We reluctantly started the motor to charge the batteries and give us a little more speed. During the night the Southern Cross constellation rose from the sea in the southern skies and for the first time our boat Southern Cross formally met the constellation Southern Cross. It was a beautiful sight to see, I have not seen the constellation since my trip to South Africa in 2004.
The night was uneventful, crystal clear skies with beautiful stars, so I spent most of the time star gazing while we made between 5 and 6 knots towards our destination. Gradually the sky lightened and a red band formed around the eastern horizon to herald the approach of morning. When the sun came up we had less than 14 miles to go to reach our destination and our odometer for the trip ticked over to 4000 nautical miles! We made good progress doing the night averaging over 6 knots motor sailing. The seas had calmed down and the waves were only about a foot. Long gentle swells with a gentle breeze blowing, so between the motor and the sails we were able to to make good time.

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4000 Nautical Miles!

After sunrise, the wind increased to the point where we could turn the motor off and sail again. We were making between 4 and 5 knots, It was a lumpy sea with about a one foot chop. It almost felt like powerboat wakes, but there were no boats to be seen. We were close enough to shore that we could see the tops of tall buildings near Naples. Gradually the shoreline came closer and soon we were dropping sails and preparing to motor into the Matanzas inlet between Estero Island and the mainland. We called the mooring ball field to check for a reservation and they did have some open spots, so we motored in, found our ball, tied up and went ashore to pay, water the dog and find a place to eat. We ate at a place called Nervous Nellies, a great little place right on the water where we could watch the hustle and bustle of waterfront life.

Next day we headed ashore to do laundry and while there, met a live aboard named Kevin. He was a very educated man , retired, living a simple life and we had a great conversation. One question he posed to us: name a sports team whose name is grammatically incorrect. There’s one in every sport, but ice hockey is the easiest. He really struck me because of his affable way, and he really looked a LOT like my Uncle Andrew who passed away some years back.

We headed back to the boat and got ready for an evening out with Aaron and Jenny and her mother, Peggy. We met at Nervous Nellies and enjoyed a great meal, then headed out and went “bar hopping”. We found a place where there was a one man band playing – very good – and thoroughly enjoyed our evening. Needless to say we slept in the next morning! We left the mooring ball and motored over to a free public dock for the day, and Aaron bought Jenny and the kids to visit with us. We had a great time playing with the grandkids on the boat, then headed to the beach and wiled away the rest of the day. After they left we took the boat back to the mooring ball and watched the sunset before turning in for the evening.
Next morning we got a slow start. We were scheduled to leave for Tampa and didn’t get moving until early afternoon. We had to sail South passed a large shallow reef off the end of Sanibel Island before heading north along the coast of Sanibel towards Tampa. We started very slowly and by dark the wind had fizzled out altogether. We reluctantly had to motor and set a course and speed for between 3 and 4 knots. I had the first watch and it was a beautiful clear night, Stars abounded and we slowly made progress up the coast passing by the lights of Captiva Island. Melanie came on watch around 1 a.m. and I went down to bed.

During the night the wind came up quite substantially to the point that when I woke up in the morning we were doing almost 7 knots. We turned the motor off and our speed dropped to between five and six, still a very comfortable pace. We sailed up into Tampa Bay and arrived at Apollo Beach around 2 in the afternoon. My friend Jeff came and joined us and we went out to dinner at Circles restaurant which overlooked the bay we anchored in – and then spent the night chatting on the boat, catching up on lost time. The restaurant had a beachy feel and there were numerous funny signs scattered throughout the grounds and on the docks. They gave us a good laugh.

Next day we pretty much hung out, ran a few errands and then ate dinner at Jeff’s where we met his girlfriend Marie. We wiled away the day on Thursday and then Friday we pulled into the marina which had the same types of docks as Cape Canaveral; a short 10 ft finger and 2 poles out in the water to attach the stern lines to. That was a disaster trying to tie up, we had sworn we would never do it again but for the sake of expediency we decided that it was probably the best. Even with two dockhands helping us we had a difficult time coming in and getting secured. Thankfully we were able to do so without damaging the boat.

On Saturday afternoon Chris came and picked us up and we went over to visit with him and his family. They took us over to a very quaint winery where he had proposed to his wife. We had a wonderful time there, then came home and had dinner before heading back to the boat. Sunday morning we woke up early and left the dock before the wind came up so that we would not have to struggle getting out between the pilings. We set sail across Tampa Bay, and after an hour or so, the wind totally fizzled and we were forced to motor the rest of the way.
We reached St Petersburg just after noon, picked up a mooring ball and then prepared to lower the dinghy. It was then that we discovered we had a stowaway! A small crab was hiding under our engine mount on the back of the boat. We left him alone and he was gone when we returned from our afternoon. Or was he….

We spent an afternoon catching up with our friend Jane. They had their engine blow too – in Mobile – but they ended up having to replace it. We spent an afternoon catching up with each other’s adventures before heading over to get something to eat. The next day after work we wandered around town and explored the waterfront areas, then went over and had drinks and snacks with Jane and her husband Bryce.
Tuesday morning we went into town for coffee and breakfast, explored the back streets a little and spoke to a few of the locals before heading back to the boat and leaving. 11:30 we were fueled up, checked out and into Tampa Bay. We motored out along with a number of Thistles that were preparing for a race. It looked like they were doing their National championships! The wind pooped after a half hour or so and we ended up motor sailing all the way out of Tampa Bay. Once into the open ocean, the wind picked up a little and switched to the North and we were able to turn off the motor and make good way under sail.

We took the main sail down because the wind was blanketing the jib, and in the event of an emergency it was easier to deal with the jib than the Mainsail. We decided that Melanie would take first watch, and shortly after sunset, the wind changed around to the east and Melanie was able to put up the staysail. The wind continued to strengthen until we were forced to reef the Yankee. With a third of the Yankee and the staysail we were still doing five knots. When the Yankee was fully unrolled we were doing almost 7 and the boat was verging on out of control; too much for the autopilot to handle.
The winds were between 25 and 30. Never fails, no wind during the day and then it blows like stink at night when you can’t see anything! When the wind was out of the north we had been rolling downwind, but when the wind changed over to the East the boat heeled over and was a little bit steadier. I went back down after helping to reef the jib and tried to sleep. I must have slept because Melanie had to wake me around 2 so I could take over.  The wind was a steady 20 knots on the nose, about 60 degrees off. We were making between 4 and 5 knots with just two jibs.
The wind gradually dropped down even more during the night until we were only doing about two and a half knots, so I raised the main and that increased the speed to between 4 1/2 and 5. We sailed until late morning, then the wind switched to the south and died so we decided to motor into Fort Myers. We tried to get a mooring ball but there was nothing open, so we ended up anchoring just north of the Matanzas bridge which was in close proximity to the dinghy dock.

We went ashore and ate dinner and then walked around for a while. Next day I worked like a dog on an issue we were having at work and did make some progress thankfully. Then we went in and had a drink, walked around town and did some shopping for gifts for the grandkids. We ran into somebody with a buckeye t-shirt on, and later back at the Inn, saw him again. We had stopped for a nightcap on the way back to the boat and it turned out he is a boater and owns a house at Put-In-Bay! Small world. We exchanged information and when we return, we will visit them. We enjoyed our talk with Chris and Barb and then headed back to the boat.
Next morning we awoke early and the wind was out of the West. We hauled the anchor, stopped to get ice and then headed out for Key West. The wind was light, we put up the main and Yankee and made a good 3.5 to 5 knots south in the morning. The wind was expected to change to the Northeast and come up a substantially so it should have been a fairly quick ride.
Of course the wind change did not materialize, it did however swing slightly more to the north which made for a very rolly trip. The waves would push the stern and boat would roll thru 15 to 20 degrees. During the day we had visits from dolphins twice, the second time they spent almost an hour playing in our wake. Windsor was so excited, we stood on the bow and he watched transfixed as they swam underneath us and rolled on their bellies to get a look at him. It was quite a sight to to see.

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Dolphin visit on the way to Key West

I took first watch, and based on the weather forecast we decided to reef the main for the night. At sunset I put in a reef and Melanie went to bed. It slowed us down a little bit but not by much. We were still rolling a lot, the seas were only one to two feet but every once in a while a 4 footer would come by and that’s what really would throw everything off. Cans of food were flying down stairs and it was just miserable to be down below. The sun set without much fanfare. I still think the best sunsets I have ever seen were on Lake Erie. There were no clouds so the sky simply changed to a dirty Orange dusty color after the sunset and the band gradually got narrower until the sky was black. Pretty colors but not much in the way of contrast. The sky looked the same pretty much everywhere to the west.
The moon came up around 7:30. At first all you could see was a faint yellow glow on the eastern horizon. Then it gradually got brighter and brighter until a buttery orange moon crept up above the clouds on the horizon. Ever so slowly, almost like a giant eyeball opening. It was a full moon so once up in sky there was plenty of light illuminating the sea around us. It almost drowned out all but the brightest of stars.
The wind strengthened a little until it was between 16 and 20 knots. Wind direction was still about 150 degrees off starboard and the waves were getting bigger which made it more difficult for the autopilot to steer properly. At 8 p.m. the key West Express came by at about 40 miles an hour. They make it from Key West to Fort Myers in 4 hours. Sometimes I wish we could go that fast too. With the increase in wind, we were going faster but we were still rolling a lot. The wind direction with respect to our direction of travel made it a very uncomfortable ride. Melanie had a hard time sleeping while off watch.
As the moon rose higher in the sky, it created a golden path that ran right through our boat. It lit up the water and you could see the waves and the wind on the water as we moved along. Our speed went from 4-5 knots up to 6 plus! We were gobbling up the miles quickly.
The wind was supposed to change to the north east during the night and strengthen but at 3 a.m. it had dropped to 10 to 15 and was still blowing out of the north. It did switch slightly but not as far as was expected. This did make for a horribly uncomfortable ride. Probably the worst night of sailing we have had because we were unable to stop the boat from rolling through at times 25 to 30 degrees so it was impossible to go down below and sleep. We both tried to cat nap in the cockpit, I went down for a short while to try to sleep and pretty much just laid there while the boat rocked. Eventually I got tired of that and came up on deck around 1 and Melanie went down below and tried to sleep. The wind did calm down a little bit but the waves were coming from an awkward direction so there was no respite.
Even though the wind did not materialize as expected, we were still able to make pretty good time as the waves, although creating uncomfortable ride were pushing us along and helping us to maintain a fairly decent to speed. By 4:30 a.m. we were just 15 miles from our waypoint which was at the entrance of the northwest channel to Key West. We had hoped that during the night we would see the Southern Cross once again, but there was so much light cast by the moon on the water and in the sky that it drowned out most of the stars. We were only able to see the brightest constellations and there appeared to be layer of cloud on the horizon so we did not see her.
Just before sunrise the wind finally made the switch to the Northeast which made traveling a little smoother. It stayed a steady 10 to 15 so we were able to make good progress without having to fight for every yard. As we approach to Key West, you could start to smell land. It was quite an unusual experience, the smell was almost like burning plastic, not quite sure what it could have been but it’s definitely civilization. Around 6 a.m. the stars started to fade as the eastern sky started to lighten. It is pretty subtle at first and then it gradually got brighter and brighter. The moon was still up and was casting its long golden shadow on the water on the west side of the boat.
The sky in the east brightened, and the black gave way to a dark midnight blue with just a hint of pink near the horizon which changed to a pale buttery yellow. It showed up as a band near the horizon and the as the sky brightened, the band got thicker and the midnight blue of the night sky was chased away from the horizon. The band of yellow lifted and was replaced at the horizon by a band of orange and pink. That band gradually got brighter and brighter and the sky brightened until the sun slowly poked up above the ocean.
In the distance off the port bow order you could see the lights of Key West. Over the radio I heard the captain of a cruise ship announcing their arrival. The ship dwarfed the city! Eventually the navigation lights for the Northwest channel came into view, the flashing red guiding us towards safe water. Taking a direct route would put you in 1 to 2 feet of water, so you have to go down to the channel which is a little longer, but well marked and it guides you through the shallows safely into Key West Harbor.

About 4 miles from the channel entrance the forecasted wind finally arrived which created a very confused 6-9 foot chop in the shallow water. We were surfing down waves coming at us from two or three different directions. Once into the channel there is a breakwall at water level which knocks the waves down so you can safely make the turn. Once into the channel we rolled up the Yankee as winds were gusting up over 30! We hardened up to a close reach and were rolling along between 5 and 7, heeled over about 15 to 20 degrees. The skies were clear with scruffy clouds and the water was that Key West greeny turquoise and even though the fetch was short, whitecaps abounded.
We came trucking into the harbor like a bulldozer doing 50 on the highway, and rounded up near the cruise ship, dropped the main and then motored up to our anchorage. We had to use the staysail to get to the anchor spot because the wind was blowing so hard that our little 20HP motor could not make way against the wind! We went back to our original anchorage and dropped anchor, exhausted but exhilarated after a great ride. We celebrated our return with a good cup of Irish coffee before heading into shore. Back in Key West again!

Headed South To Key West…

We pulled up the anchor around 7 and headed over to Riviera Beach Marina. On the way we saw a Volvo racing boat sail into the harbor. We tied up at the gas dock, filled up with diesel and petrol for the outboard, filled the water tanks, did a load of laundry and then departed. Once out of the Lake Worth Inlet we put up the sails and headed south. It was good to be on the move again. We sailed between half a mile and a mile offshore South past West Palm Beach, and then we were chased by the Coast Guard because we got too close to Mara Lago. Apparently Trump was there and there is an exclusion Zone around the resort for a mile north, south and east of the establishment. According to the Coast Guard we were loitering even though we were making almost 6 knots!

The winds were favorable but a little fluky. We would go from a beam reach to a broad reach to a beam reach to a broad reach. It made setting the sails hard because every 10 minutes or so you had to reset them as the wind direction was 45 degrees different. We made good progress however with speeds between 3.5 and 6.5 knots and decided to sail through the night and go in one jump to Marathon. Jillian called us in the afternoon and we got to Skype with her, Ollie and Avery. It was wonderful to see them. The little ones are growing SO quickly!

The sun went down just as we were passing Fort Lauderdale. I took the first watch, and as the sky darkened the shoreline began to bustle with lights, traffic and all sorts of activity. We were about 3/4 of a mile offshore, and on our left side were tankers anchored waiting to enter port. Lights twinkled in all different shapes and colors. The night was clear with very few clouds overhead, and the wind blew from the north-northwest pushing us gently along at about 4 knots. Above the anchored boats the flights from Europe lined up to the horizon, a seemingly endless parade of planes headed towards the airport.

After sailing under the flight path to the airport we passed the entrance to Port Everglades; there was a single cruise ship in there and the harbor was lit up like a Christmas display. As we headed further south towards Miami, the tall buildings became more and more crowded together until the skyline was nothing but huge brightly lit buildings. Some Office Buildings, some apartments and hotels, very pretty to see at night. I only wish I had a decent camera so that I could capture this View.

We made our way down the coast until we passed the glittering lights of Miami. There were lights of every color. We sailed across the mouth of Biscayne Bay and the wind gradually increased from 10 knots to a solid 15 to 20. Around 11 p.m. the wind increased even further so we rolled up the Yankee and unrolled staysail to help keep control of the boat. The winds kept increasing and soon it was blowing 25. Waves were 4 to 5 feet and rather steep and breaking. I wrestled the main sail down, and then we sailed under staysail alone. Even with just the tiny staysail up we were making anywhere from 4 to 5.5 knots!

The wind kept strengthening through the night until it was blowing consistently over 30. Every once in a while a wave would wash across the cockpit and dump its contents all over us. I went off watch around 1 and tried to sleep but without much success. Melanie called me up around 4 a.m. and told me that she was trying to get into shallower water. We were not crossing the keys at night because we did not want to risk that during darkness. There were crab pots and coral heads to contend with, so we were skirting the 30 to 100 foot depths in an effort to stay out of trouble during the night. While we were adjusting the sails for the change in direction, the wind came up and gusted over 40 and the pole for our wind generator came loose again!! It was threatening to detach and blow away, we got a line and wrestled it back on to its mount and then managed to tie it down. Next morning when the sun rose we unrolled the Yankee which increased our speed to between 6 and 7 knots. We also turned in to shallower water and started crossing the keys. The water was a beautiful turquoise, you could see dark patches where the coral heads were and I’m sure that if it was calm, you would have been able to see the bottom. There were fish jumping out of the water in various spots, I’m sure they were being chased by something larger.

We arrived at our anchoring spot around 4pm, motored in to a narrow canal with mangroves on the right and hurricane damaged houses on the left. We anchored in a very small bay behind Coco Plum Beach, spent the night there and then met up with Jeanne and Neal the following day at the beach. We took Windsor on a long line (50ft) and he just ran about like a crazy boy, so happy to be able to burn off some energy. We all went to happy hour at a bar on the Gulf side, and at sunset everyone there got a free shot. Then we came back to our boat for a few drinks before turning in. We went to the beach with them the next day and then went over to their camper for dinner. It was warm enough to swim in the heated pool so we did, and then went back and enjoyed a wonderful evening together.

Next morning we left for Boot Key Harbor where we picked up a mooring ball and spent two nights and a day. We re-provisioned at the grocery store and went across the road from the marina to a liquor store where we got two tokens for free drinks at the bar next door. So we went next door and enjoyed some good conversation with a few locals and then returned and went to bed.

We left early in the morning and headed towards Key West. After raising the sails we realized that we had somehow gotten a crab pot tangled around our rudder. We fought for a good 20 minutes to get it loose. We could not steer and the pressure on the rudder was preventing us from turning into the wind. We couldn’t lower the main either because we couldn’t turn far enough into the wind to take enough pressure off the sail to allow it to come down. We lowered the dinghy into the water, and eventually I was able to wrestle the line up far enough to where I could cut it free. During the whole episode I managed to poke the boat hook into the windmill and one of the blades snapped. We had to stop the windmill and tie it so it would not wobble and break. Once freed, we turned on to our course and headed west. Winds were 15 to 20 but gradually subsided during the day. We made very good time sailing between 5 1/2 and 6 1/2 knots, and when the wind moderated to below 10 knots we put up the spinnaker and our speed once again increased from 4 to almost 6 knots.

We arrived at Key West around sunset, motored to the mooring ball field and tied up. Next morning we went to shore to pay for our stay and then went to the ferry to meet Mary and Mike. We explored the town and went to the Sunset Festival. Next day we took the dinghy into downtown, tied up for the day and walked around looking at the various stores. Melanie made a delicious dinner on the boat that evening, chicken with creole sauce. It was YUMMY! Monday after I finished work we fixed the windmill by taking off two of the blades and turning it into a three-bladed generator so it was properly balanced, then headed into town where we took one of the Conch Train Tours around town.

After sunset we found a bar that played steel drum music and enjoyed a sunset drink and some appetizers before heading back to the boat. Our time on the mooring balls was up, and we decided not to extend as the anchorage was quite rough and our trips to town were long and wet. We motored the boat over to the west side of Fleming Island and anchored in the sheltered bay just north of the coast guard station. The trip to town was MUCH shorter and not nearly as wet. Winds had been blowing between 25 and 35 knots for days with no end in sight.

After work the next day we went and got pumped out. The anchor was securely set, so we decided not to pull it up. Melanie stayed in the dinghy holding on to the anchor rode while we took the boat in to pump out. It was free! On our way back, our friend Mike jokingly suggested that we leave Melanie for 24 hours in the dinghy. What we did not realize was that right after we left the sheriff came by to make sure that Melanie was okay, obviously concerned about this tiny boat bobbing around at anchor in a busy channel. After we tied up, we had a few drinks and then went into town to the Schooner bar where we listened to some live music.

While we were there the wind increased even more and changed to the North so our anchorage was only partially protected. When we decided to leave we motored out of the harbor into a two to three foot chop. We were swamped! Waves were breaking into the boat, soaking us through and a few times the motor stalled. A larger boat came by and asked us if we needed help, we said yes and they promptly left! We finally got the motor started again and headed back to the boat, giggling and laughing all along the way while all four of us were completely soaked to the skin. Windsor got wet as well and he hates water; he was not happy. We got the dinghy tied up lifted it out of the water and drained almost half a boats worth of water out. We secured the dinghy and came down below for the night. Mike said he would drink whatever Melanie was drinking because she could not stop laughing during the whole episode.

The weather did not cooperate; the winds were high all week, so after a week of waiting for favorable weather to go to the Dry Tortugas, Mary and Mike left and went back to Fort Myers. We fell into a routine of coming in to shore around mid afternoon and then going to a happy hour. Many of the places had very good food and pretty cheap drinks. We explored quite a few places just looking, window shopping, planning and going to a few of the happy hours to try out food. The views are always good, the music is good and as this is the busy season, there is live music everywhere almost everyday. We have not yet ventured into the bar District which apparently gets pretty raunchy in the evenings. Not really my cup of tea. The places around the water have fabulous views and really the entertainment and the atmosphere there is exactly what we are looking for. We quickly realized that we would have to discipline ourselves otherwise we could spend ourselves into oblivion. The winds finally changed back to the more seasonal easterlies instead of the Northeast and they moderated slightly which made us appreciate our choice of anchorage location, well sheltered and convenient to town.

Sunday we listened to Pastor Mike’s sermons on the radio, and then headed into town where we caught the Duval Loop bus and went down to the southernmost point. We had our picture taken there, then walked the shore and went on to the beach for a little while before stopping at a very small bar called The Tipsy rooster. It was very cute, the chairs looked like rooster legs with tails. We had a drink and then caught the bus back to the marina and settled in for the night. We saw a pontoon boat that has a tiki bar mounted on it motoring around serving drinks to the people that were on board. Quite an interesting idea.

I must say that Windsor is a very very magnetic dog, we have gotten more comments about him and his cuteness than you could possibly imagine. We get stopped at least 10 or 12 times a day by people that want to pet him and think he is the most beautiful dog they have ever seen. He just laps all this attention up.

We arranged to go to Tampa and Fort Myers, so we headed into town and bought some gifts for Josie and Marley, as well as some decent clothes for ourselves, some boat items and then we arranged with the captain of the Schooner Appledore Star to go sailing. We met him while walking around and talked to him for a good hour on his boat, and he invited to sail with him on a sunset or one of his afternoon cruises. He is 36, owns the schooner and Charters it out in Maine in the summer and Key West in the winter. He and his girlfriend were very interesting, one of their crew mates Cory hailed from Westerville and went to Upper Arlington. We had a great conversation with them and decided to go out sailing with them on Tuesday.

We went to a new bar for happy hour, and were surprised to find mussels on the menu. After a few drinks and and wonderful plate of mussels we headed back to the boat to prep for Sunset and to go in and watch the island time Duo. It is a steel drum and guitar twosome, and their music is very very good. They play at the Schooner bar which is our favorite place in Key West thus far, so we went over and listened to music while trying to keep Windsor away from the chickens. He is dying to get his teeth into one of them. They are literally everywhere.

The sailing trip did not pan out, we went to the grocery store and bought supplies for our trip North, and beer and wine for the sunset cruise. When we got there, we were told we could not take Windsor, so we postponed for another time and went over and watched the sunset at Mallory Square, then headed back to the boat. After work the next day we took the boat over, filled up with fuel and pumped out and then raised the sails and headed out of the Northwest Passage away from Key West towards Fort Myers.

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Sunset before departing for Fort Myers