In our last installment, we planned to depart for the Bahamas around the middle of February. Unfortunately, that trip was not to be. Ron's Mother was taken ill and we felt that it wouldn't be prudent to be out of the country. So we went as close as we could get, namely to Key West. Key West has several advantages, first, an airport for trips home, second, great weather and third, good local cruising. It also has even more local characters than Marathon and a well deserved reputation as a party town. All that said, we were disappointed, but the Bahamas will still be there whenever we next choose to journey to them.
So we traveled from Marathon to Key West, taking a week or so to make a 50 mile journey, which is one of the great joys of cruising. The bitt, now installed, did it's job very capably and we visited several nice anchorages. We arrived in Key West and tied up in a beautiful new marina, next to some very nice folks from Memphis. It turns out that the lady of the boat, Lee, took a series of action photographs of Duet coming into the marina. Once we were settled, Ron made a quick trip north. He traveled via Key West's own Cape Air, on one of those planes which require passengers to move around depending on their weight. Fortunately, he survived the journey with no ill effects On his return he spent some time servicing the dinghy engine, which hadn't yet had it's turn at the work bench. Ron has a theory that machinery repays the amount of energy invested in it. If you don't service things, they break down when you most need them. It was definitely time to pay some attention to to the dinghy before it got our attention by quitting while we were some distance from the mother ship on an outgoing tide. After Ron's first trip north, it made more sense for all of us to go rather than for Nancy and the dogs to stay alone on the boat while he was away, so we all headed north for a month. Prior to our departure we had quite a storm, the worst weather we've seen since departing Maryland. The wind blew 35 knots and the seas broke right over the restraining dock at the edge of our marina. Duet was safely tied up at the dock, but the satellite dish had trouble getting a signal through the rain.
Ron's Mom lives in New York City, which represented a significant change for all of us, not to mention a long car ride. We departed Key West in a rented SUV (from Budget which allows unlimited mileage and no drop off charges) and arrived in New York City 3 days later. We traveled at approximately 10 times the speed of Duet and transited the distance from Key West to Maryland in 2 days. The same trip took Duet 8 weeks. We much preferred the boat trip for lots of reasons, including some which would be familiar to anyone who has made a long road trip with young children.
We stayed in a very nice hotel in New York where we had all sorts of conveniences, including a dishwasher and the New York Times every day. Tristan and Maggie also enjoyed the sojourn ashore. The weather was OK (no snow) but not up to Key West standards so we were very happy to return to the boat at the end of March. Once back it became apparent that Ron's Maintenance is Good for You Rule was proving out. First, the boat water tested foul, which often happens when it sits for some time. So we ran water through the tanks, washed lots of dishes and took plenty of showers until the tanks cleared. Then one of the power winches on the dinghy lift burnt out, requiring a replacement from our extensive spares inventory. Meanwhile, Maggie and Tristan underwent some maintenance of their own, which required no spare parts but plenty of biscuits.
As an aside, we carry spares for many basic boat parts, such as pumps, winches, cables, etc. We also carry all the basic maintenance materials, like light bulbs, fuel filters, oil filters, batteries, etc. Many of these spares are part of standard spares kits provided by the manufacturers of various gear, such as Lugger for our main engine. It is hard to judge what to carry, as the cost and space required for this type of inventory can be considerable. For example, we don't carry a spare main propeller, although many people we know do. If/when we plan a trip further off the beaten track than the Bahamas, we'll reassess our inventory and probably expand what we carry.
After Ron replaced the dinghy lift winch we were ready to go for a 10 day cruise through the southern Keys. Alas that was not be, at least temporarily. We were all set, electric cords disconnected, main engine running, chase boat waiting to lead us out, when Nancy chanced to look over the side to check that the stabilizer cooling water pump was pumping water. This has never been an issue and she almost didn't check, but procedures are meant to be followed. To make a long story short, no water over the side hence no departure. So back went Chief Engineer Ron (assisted by his crack mechanical team), into the basement to make repairs. Not a big deal, but it slowed us down by a day.
This illustrates an ongoing issue for cruisers; how much systems complexity is acceptable? Duet has many systems which require maintenance and may break down. The main advantage we have is Ron, because he can usually fix anything which breaks. If we were dependent on shore based help for repairs we might not carry so much gear. Only a few of our systems are essential to safety (main engine, get home engine, etc.), most (air conditioning, stabilizers, washer/dryer, watermaker, etc.) focus on comfort. We believe these systems are worth the work.
So the next day we planned to leave, but the weather was inclement. Ron would go but Nancy wouldn't and we don't go when we don't agree. The conditions were just on Nancy's borderline so we waited another day. Nancy should have agreed to go, as later that morning she stabbed herself in the hand with a cutting knife; no stitches were required but there was lots of gore, bandages and holding the injured limb in the air while lying on the floor. It wasn't as bad it sounds; she was unable to do dishes for several days.
After fixing all our problems and getting some decent weather, we finally pulled off the dock. On our journey through the Key West Harbor we met a large Navy vessel. As a result of 911, Navy vessels are understandably more concerned about passing water traffic. They announce on the radio that they maintain a 500 yard protection zone around the vessel. Any vessel entering said protection zone will incur consequences. What these consequences might be isn't specified, presumably to allow them the flexibility to do everything from ignore you to sink you. Duet, naturally, was head straight at this Navy vessel and had little room to get out of the way. The vessel was proceeded by a small inflatable boat, which on closer examination through the binoculars proved to have a rather substantial machine gun mounted on the front. This inflatable turned directly towards us, as we struggled to get out of the 500 yard zone around the larger ship. I think it was pretty obvious, first, that we were not much of a threat and second, even if we'd wanted to threaten them, we were too slow to get close enough to do much. So we waved, the inflatable's crew waved back and we went on our merry way.
After the Navy excitement died down we continued our journey to Newfound Harbor, about 35 miles from Key West. It's a nice sheltered little harbor, which we visited on our way to Key West from Marathon a month earlier. On the trip, our Captain Ron decided to emulate the celluloid Captain Ron and briefly rested his eyes. Newfound Harbor's entrance is shallow and the tide was falling as we approached. You'd think we'd learned our lesson grounding on the ICW, but we believe in the "try and if it doesn't work, try again" theory. 3 sailboats ahead of us turned back but with our own intrepid (and well rested) Captain Ron at the wheel we made it through. We saw about 5.5 feet on the depth gauge, which gave us a whole 6 inches of clearance. We stirred up quite a bit of sand which is always a clear indicator of how close the propeller really is to the bottom. In celebration of our success we had a very nice bottle of red wine that evening and watched a magnificent sunset. The next day Ron moved on to a new and different milieu; underwater. Both of us are PADI certified to scuba dive and he recently acquired an air tank, buoyancy compensator and regulator to supplement his fins and mask. Thus equipped he can dive to replace our zincs, inspect the bottom and, if necessary, cut away anything which has fouled the prop. Prior to actually diving on the boat several test runs were required, including one with significant help from Tristan. The dive went very well; the zincs were changed, only one tool escaped while underwater and Ron emerged with a new skill.
That night, we celebrated by grilling a pork roast. Our outside grill is on the boat deck, which gives us a great view of the surrounding water. Looking down, Nancy spotted what appeared to be a large number of submerged lightsticks (like people wear around their necks at rock concerts) floating past the boat. Ron, being the more scientific type, determined that they were some form of bioluminescent aquatic life form but beyond that he didn't guess. Whatever they were, they were very beautiful. This marine light show did, however, initially distract us from the anchoring troubles of our neighbor, a salty looking sailboat about 40 feet in length. He had pulled in right before dusk and put out two anchors just ahead of us. Unfortunately, proving the adage that more is not necessarily better, as the wind picked up he started dragging towards us at quite a speed. We abandoned the pork roast (temporarily) and rushed to the pilothouse to prepare to start the engine and get out of his way. Fortunately, he passed us by with some room to spare. Once the wind died down from 20 knots to the low teens he stopped dragging (having traveled at least a quarter mile backward) and remained in one place for the rest of the night. We resurrected the pork roast and had a great dinner, only occasionally looking at him out the salon windows to ensure he stayed put.
The next day we returned to Sunset Marina. This trip entailed first, exiting Newfound Harbor and, second, getting back into Sunset Marina. The exit was accomplished at the low end of a rising tide, again with as little as 6 inches under the keel at times, but we made it without touching bottom. We traveled to Key West on a dead calm sea, accompanied by dolphins cavorting in our bow wave. Once we turned the corner into Key West Harbor, however, the wind picked up out of the north (as forecast) and life got more interesting. The approach to Sunset Marina, as detailed in our separate page on Duet docking (linked earlier on this page but click here if you haven't already seen it) involves skirting a coral reef. Unfortunately, the wind was on our beam during this exercise. As regular readers may recall, Duet crabs sideways in a strong beam wind, so her stern is pushed away from the centerline by the wind. For reasons not quite understood (but similar to the reason anchors always drag in the middle of the night) the stern is almost always pushed towards whatever hazard we are trying to avoid. This tendency to crab can be countered by speeding up but that tactic carries certain risks if it doesn't completely work and you hit the hazard anyway..
This rule rang true on this journey as well, we traversed the narrowest part of the channel traveling sideways with our stern hanging over the reef. Fortunately we were arriving on high tide which gave us some wiggle room. Nancy, watching the depth gauge but trying not to deliver superfluous information to the helmsman, first remarked "perhaps we should move to port some" as our stern was being pushed to starboard over the reef. Then she resorted to hints such as "a little port would be good now", then questions like "I think we should move to port, don't you?" and finally to outright subterfuge "we should definitely have a port when we arrive". Fortunately our intrepid helmsman managed to keep Duet off the reef until the channel widened out and we churned through the marina entrance unscathed.
The excitement wasn't over yet and Nancy was going to have to wait for her port. The wind was now on our stern as we approached our berth. This is not the best place for the wind to be, as one of the keys to berthing is to be able to stop prior to plowing into the dock. Wind on the stern makes stopping much more problematic. Further, Sunset Marina has floating docks, which are extremely convenient for disembarking (particularly for Tristan and Maggie) but unfortunately the pilings on the docks are few and far between (unlike fixed docks which have more pilings to hold them up and hence more pilings to grab when docking). Thus, the cleats required to slow Duet's forward motion are low (about at her waterline rather than eye level as on a fixed dock) and some distance away when she is approaching. The marina staff was otherwise engaged and Lee and Ed (our slip neighbors) were at the pool, so we were on our own. Nancy, in a feat she couldn't duplicate if her life depended on it, managed to lasso a stern cleat at exactly the right moment and Duet snubbed into the slip as neatly as you like. That night we had champagne!
We plan to head for Fort Myers via the Everglades and spend several weeks cruising the Pine Island Sound area of Western Florida. We'll then cross the middle of the state via the Okeechobee waterway, thereby completing a circumnavigation of the southern part of Florida. We understand the highlights of the Okeechobee includes cattle and grapefruit, as well as a farm alongside the canal which raises llamas. We'll be sure to photograph these sights for our readership. We plan to start north soon thereafter, probably in late April to early May, arriving back in the Chesapeake Bay in June sometime.