February 18 – 23, 2017
Miles traveled: 110
Total miles traveled: 3076 (note: we passed the 3,000 mile mark today!)
It is time to leave the Florida mainland and head south again into the Florida Keys. We made this 110 mile trip in the open Gulf last year alongside Sea to See so setting out on our own was a new adventure. We met and had cocktails with another couple who were planning to make the same crossing but they delayed by a day and our weather analysis of several sources told us that the Saturday (18th) to Sunday (19th) weather window would be best for us and it was. Our route was set for Marco Island to Little Shark River (66 miles) on Saturday and Little Shark River to Marathon (44 miles) on Sunday. Remember we cruise at a maximum of 7 mph. We up-anchored at first light, snaked back out the narrow marker to open water, waving to a few early risers enjoying their decks and balconies. Jim engaged in bird calls with someone we could not see – pretty sure it was not a bird.
Leaving Smokehouse Bay, Marco Island
It was calm at first but the breeze picked up and stayed with us most of the day. Unfortunately, it was on our nose (coming directly from our destination) so sailing was not an option and we motored the entire day. There was a storm predicted for further north and Coast Guard warning broadcasts on VHF 16 made us slightly uncomfortable but radar assured us that we would be well south of any bad weather. At the end of the day we never even saw a storm cloud.
Even though we left without a buddy boat, as we came out into the open Gulf we saw two sailboats on our exact heading. We followed them, eventually catching up and passing them by mid-afternoon. We tried hailing on VHF 16, the channel which everyone usually monitors, but got no response which seemed strange. Not friendly we surmised.
We reached Little Shark River at 5:10 p.m., exactly 10 hours after departure from Marco. This had been a long but lovely day. Little Shark River is the recommended anchorage in the heart of the Everglades just before jumping off to the Keys. To say this place is remote is understating the reality. There had been no cell signal of any kind since two hours out of Marco Island meaning we had no communication with the world except for VHF radio – no phone, email, text, weather, FB, internet, NYT. . . a really strange sensation in today’s world. Being in the heart of the Everglades, this anchorage is well known for its no-see-um population so as soon as the anchor was set we put up screens and stayed below where I made Snow-on-the-Mountain, a simple but favorite family dish (recipe available) and went to bed early. Hence, no pictures to add. On the other hand there is also no light pollution and the place is teaming with wild creatures so the night lights and sounds are staggering. We shared the large anchorage with 8 boats of every size and shape imaginable but the two sailboats following us never arrived which again make us curious.
We rose before dawn preparing to set out on the next leg to Vaca Key, usually called Marathon. By now it was dead still and hot with some hazy fog and a cloud of no-see-ums surrounding the boat. I digress to last year remembering when I had so many bites and an allergic reaction that landed me in the ER for a prednisone injection. Thus, I sprayed myself with Deep Woods Off containing 25% Deet and covered every inch of my body with light clothing hoping for prevention but no such luck! Because it was dead calm, the cloud followed us across the Florida bay so along with swatting bugs and dodging crab pots we were always busy. Namaste had no crab pot entanglements but I arrived with a couple dozen bites. I have been using topical and taking oral Benadryl and for some reason my reaction this year seems to be less – Jim hardly experienced any reaction to the bites. Not fair!
You might wonder what happened to the two sailboats from yesterday? Well, as we set our course for Marathon we looked back to see both up-anchoring from a nearby bay and following us. It turns out they had unsuccessfully attempted to stay out of the no-see-um anchorage. Eventually, they hailed us on channel 16 and we chatted the rest of the way across promising to meet some day which turned out to be two days later (Tuesday 22nd) at a gathering of captains planning to go to the Bahamas in the coming weeks. It was like greeting long lost friends, we shared cocktails and indeed have much in common.
Our new best friends
Speaking of the Bahamas, we went to the meeting of 40 or so people discussing their plans for cruising either the Abacos (northern) or the Exumas (southern) islands. What we very quickly realized is that we are not even remotely prepared to make this journey. From customs paperwork to navigation planning and from provisioning to finances we have a great deal of detailed homework to do next summer to get ourselves and the Namaste ready. As a result we will spend March in the Keys doing things we didn’t do last year and then beginning our meandering up the east coast of Florida back to Indiantown and our Tiguan waiting to bring us home. We are both slightly disappointed but feel this is the prudent decision. Captain Jim has begun the spreadsheet. . .
Since our arrival on Marathon, we have been at the Faro Blanco Marina/resort where we spent a couple of weeks last year. It is a lovely place with two pools, a great restaurant, laundry facilities and access to everything along Highway #1 in Marathon. So far we have been to Publix and West Marine – I can hardly contain my excitement! Immediately after our arrival we attended a birthday party for the youngest Looper who we have been following on the AGLCA Forum. Mia turned six and the whole marina celebrated complete with cake, balloons, a human sized turtle and pirates. She is traveling on a 32′ trawler with her parents and 3 sisters. Add to the story that Mia has significant health problems that require oxygen and a wheelchair. The family is beyond an inspiration.
Mia, in purple with the crown
Mia’s family leaving for Key West (Mia is in the fly bridge patiently watching)
We are currently experiencing a tropical storm with high winds (30+ mph) and lots of rain so I am personally relieved not to be at anchor. As I look out over the marina and across the gulf the water is bright turquoise and the sky dark gray, almost black. Captain Jim is out rechecking and securing the lines.
Sunset over the bow
Someone recently asked me about our daily routine. I have to say our activities fall into two categories: travel days and lay days. On travel days, depending on where and how far we are going, we are intensely focused on what needs to happen to get to our destination such as plotting a course, watching the weather, following our check lists, securing everything including Sammy, planning simple meals, and sharing “watch” responsibilities. On lay days we drink coffee and chat for a couple of hours before planning our day. Often we go sight-seeing or enjoy a restful day by the pool. Other days we tackle shopping, laundry, long walks with Sammy, never-ending repairs, varnishing, cleaning, or blogging such as today. Early to bed and early to rise we often take short naps, play cards, read, and share news websites and stories. We say it is a simple but not always an easy life.
A word about Sammy. We have prided ourselves that during her six boating years she has never tried to jump off the Namaste onto a dock. We always gently lift and carry her to safe ground. However, we are currently tied to a marina wall busy with people and dog traffic that is the same height as our deck. Yesterday, overcome by social urges, she jumped the 6” onto the dock running after anyone who would pay attention. We were busy and didn’t even notice she was gone until the dock hands corralled and brought her back. Sadly for safety sake, her life will change drastically. Instead of having freedom to run the deck, she will either need to be secured on deck or enclosed below. Our efforts to reason with her have not produced behavioral change. Also, at the risk of TMI: over the two day crossing Sammy did not go ashore – hear alligators, eagles and snakes. When she got restless I attached her leash and said let’s go outside for a walk. We marched to the bow where I told her to “go potty”. She promptly complied, returned to the cockpit and with a sigh of relief settled back down for a nap – a big hurdle mastered. She looks like a ragamuffin but has a grooming appointment next Tuesday which cannot come soon enough for the sake of anyone!
Good boat name of the day: Leap of Faith
Quote of the day: The best thing about dogs is that you can act like something really great just happened and they’ll instantly start celebrating with you. They have no idea what context is. . .they’re just always ready to party no matter what! _Rebel Circus
Happy Birthday to: Colleen, Shawn, and a very special birthday wish to my wonderful co-grandma, Ollie! Wish we were there to celebrate with you!
Welcome to the world: Elliott Ryan Poteau with congratulations to Katie, Ryan and Grandma and Grandpa Littlepage!