Florida Keys Trip Log, December 2001


  Florida Keys Trip
Holiday season 2000

The trip was good – the original plans were completely abandoned other than the start and end dates due to freaky weather, but a good time was had. The water was beautiful and clean; the temperature was warm.
The original plan was to put the boat in at Marathon, sail to Key West over 2 days, hit the Marquesas if possible, then sail back to Marathon over 2 days. If only Mother Nature wasn’t such a merciless bitch...

Thursday, December 20, 2001
Left Apex at 4pm. Intended to leave at noon but as all things go, that was not going to work. The porta-potty was leaking all over the inside of the boat, and I had to find a last-minute replacement.

Friday, December 21
Drove out past Jacksonville and stopped for the night between there and Daytona at 2am. Saw an interesting end to a high-speed chase from the rest stop—a hoarde of police cars pushed a car off the road that was riding on its rims about ½ mile north of the rest stop. It was like something from a ‘crazy police chases’ show.
10am – Got rolling again, hit delays from a traffic accident.
3pm – Delays from Fort Lauderdale all the way through Miami. Road construction and heavy traffic. Very bad traffic, took forever to get through south Miami (which is not a place you want to be moving slow or stop at all, for future reference). Traffic did not let up until we were leaving the mainland and entering the Keys.
7pm – Finally arrive at Marathon and Faro Blanco resort. While checking in at the gulf side office, we find that the resort does not seem to have us listed. After some fear and calling people, we find that the ocean side and gulf side keep separate reservations, and the slips are organized by the ocean side. It was too late to launch the boat at the ramp (they normally close at 6pm) but a nice guy named Bill who works there offered to wait for us. It was low tide and the ramp was unusable so we parked the boat in the lot and camped there. They did not charge us anything for the slip or ramp because of the situation. We went to eat dinner at Shuckers oyster bar - HUGE scallops!

Saturday, December 22
Tried to launch at Faro Blanco’s ramp, but it was nearing low tide again and the ramp was too short and water too shallow. Was also very narrow. For future reference, this ramp can only be used at highest tide for larger trailer-sailor boats.
We gave up on Faro Blanco’s ramp and went to check the public 24-hour ramp north of the school at 33rd street. It was very nice and deep, but the water on the gulf side was choppy and the winds were very harsh with gusts over 20 knots. I would not have felt safe sailing the boat in conditions like that in unfamiliar waters, knowing how shallow it gets near there. The parking at the ramp was for 48 hours, which was not long enough, so we would have had to move the car to Faro Blanco to park it there after sailing to their gulf side docks. The folks at Faro Blanco were very friendly, though. After hearing about our situation, they recommended some ramps in Key West that we might try when we get there, even gave us some numbers to call and let us use their phone. After some phone calls, it was found that City Marina had a good ramp.
After listening to the weather forecast, we decided that it would be best to just head toward Key West and get our touristy stuff out of the way during the crappy weather.
We stopped at Bahia Honda on the way to check out the beaches. We found that their marina was very nice and well protected, and their launch ramps were very nice as well. The facilities were VERY clean. We spent the rest of the day there chilling out on the beach and taking photos. It costs $1/foot, 22 foot minimum, includes parking of your truck and trailer, and reserves a slip for you whether you are there or not. Seemed a little pricey at the time, but later on we figured that for the price of one night’s hotel stay in Key West would give you over a week at Bahia Honda and the view here is far better.
We left at sunset and continued all the way to Key West. Checked in at the Hampton Inn a day early, ate dinner across the street at TGI Fridays.

Sunday, December 23
The weather was overcast but clearing slowly. Still kind of windy.
We left the boat locked up in the parking lot and went sightseeing in Key West. We checked out the municipal launch ramps at the north end of Simonton street – Not good for trailer sailors but would be fine for pwc’s and stinkpots. The ramps and docks were in disrepair, there was no good parking (only meters), and there were bums camping out there.
We went looking for City Marina; the map we had of Key West was mislabeled with improper street names. We found it anyways, it was right by the big charter boat row in Garrison Bight. The ramp there is nice, but due to a bridge you have to pass under, you have to raise your mast on the other side. Is a small inconvenience but well worth the trouble. City Marina only charges $5 to launch, $5 to take out, $6 a day to leave your truck and trailer parked there. $12.50 a night for a mooring. It was a nice clean place, with friendly people.
We ate lunch at Margaritaville, and went sightseeing, shopping. Went to the Aquarium and Shipwreck Historeum. We were the only 2 people on the shipwreck tour, but it was still cool. The tower view from the top of the historeum was fantastic.
After the Shipwreck Historeum, we went to Mallory Square to watch the remainder of the sunset and see the jugglers, fire breathers, and other street performers. One guy was selling dirty jokes for 50 cents each so he could buy beer. Christmas carolers singing reggae-style songs were at the church. Festive lights were everywhere. Even this Grinch was having a hard time not enjoying the Caribbean holiday spirit.
We ate dinner at the Hard Rock Café and returned to the hotel tired. By evening the weather was very pleasant. Planned to head out early tomorrow and head to the Marquesas.

Monday, December 24
Launched the boat at City Marina’s ramp and motored to the other side of the bridge. Tied to the pier there near the houseboats to load supplies and raise the mast. It was difficult to tie off to the pier there since it was so high up. Might be easier next time to load the boat first, head out all the way to mooring buoys, tie off, and raise the mast there.
We motored all the way north of the Navy station (directly upwind) and then idled down to the turning basin by noon. Wind was very calm, maybe 5 knots at most. It was barely enough to ghost us along downwind against the tide (sometimes we were sailing backwards!) We sailed around with a boat named Trinka, who offered us a beer but we never got close enough. He had a nice cutter rig with 3 sails up.
There was not enough wind to move us against the tide, let alone take us to the Marquesas, and we would only have a few more hours of sunlight. The decision was made to put off the journey until tomorrow morning.
We found an unoccupied mooring buoy at the west side of Tank Island (some absent boat called Eagle) and tied off there for the night. Judging by the growth of creatures on the buoy, it hadn’t been used in some time, so we figured it safe to mooch on Eagle’s parking space. If he showed up, we’d find another; there were plenty of other empty buoys there. We had Christmas music playing from a boat nearby that was decorated with lights – a red sleigh being pulled by a dolphin. Some folks were having a party and a campfire on the beach north of Tank Island. Talked to Magic Penny water taxi on the radio for their rates - $5 per person per trip.

Tuesday, December 25
The wind is good, 7 knots from the N/NE. Got nice xmas cards from Donna. Untied from the mooring buoy near 8am and sailed mostly downwind at 4 knots. Frank’s whisker pole worked well, and was short enough that I did not have to dismantle it to tack the jib.
We got disoriented at Boca Grande key since it looked like the Marquesas should have looked and it was on a similar course. I double-checked the charts and found that the channel marker we were heading for was indeed 5 miles THROUGH what I thought was the Marquesas. After checking the position of our boat, I found that we were near Boca Grande key and nearing some nasty shoals. After adjusting our course we were fine.
We arrived at the Marquesas at 3pm. We tried to get into Mooney Harbor but the clouds were rolling in, blocking the sun and raising chop that made it hard to make out the deep water for entering. We shoaled out in 2 feet of water and had to turn around. The weather was worsening and the winds were picking up, so we moved into 6 feet of water in the lee of the island and anchored.
After staying there for a while, the waves were making me nervous so we moved to 10 feet of water for a new anchorage. Still in the lee of the island, the waves were very nasty. It was an uncomfortable night and I woke myself twice an hour to check the GPS and make sure we were not dragging anchor. It was a very uncomfortable anchorage - heavy waves and wind, and it was starting to rain.

Wednesday, December 26
The anchor held great; we hadn’t moved at all. Surprising since the bottom was covered in sea grass and the danforth is not very heavy. The weather keeps getting worse. Waves are getting pretty big (smashing over the bow) and winds are blowing well over 20 from the north and getting stronger. The decision is made to return to Key West. It’s very scary being stuck out in a storm in the middle of nowhere, and you are the only boat.
I think we have enough gas to motor back, but I decide to sail with reefed main only and get most of the way there. It was a beam reach most of the way, which made for a very uncomfortable ride. We made fairly good time, over 5 knots. Once we got in visual range of Key West (the massive super-liners are hard to miss) we had to point higher, and then it got really rough.
The current there was strong, and the waves were getting steeper and closer together. The wind by that point was gusting near 30 knots, and waves were cresting head-on over the bow. The front hatch blew open and stayed open, and seawater would pour in with every wave, drenching the inside of the boat. Donna did not enjoy this part of the trip at all, and neither did I. She tried to shut the hatch, but the hardware was jammed up and would not keep it shut. I tried to do a repair as she steered, but to no avail. I just had to leave it as it was until we were back in a safer area, and deal with the boat being soaked inside and out.
Once we were within 5 miles of Key West, I turned the motor on and dropped sail. It took 3 hours to cover this distance, barely being able to push through the waves and current at full throttle. It was like the storm we experienced on the Ocracoke trip, but with current and tighter-packed waves. I would get hit by 3-in-a-row steep waves and the boat would slow to 0 knots and start turning off course, unable to steer until we picked up some speed going beam-on to the waves. I was getting soaked by splash and spray with every wave.
I went after another mooring buoy in the lee of the island north of Tank Island, tied off the boat. I tried to drop the mast but the waves were too bouncy and I dropped the bow shackle in the water. I used the jib’s snap-hook to keep the forestay attached, and called Magic Penny to take us to shore and dry off. We got our clothes bags and left everything else on board. I could care less about everything being soaked – I would deal with it tomorrow when I was dry and rested. After spending all night on watch and spending all day hugging the tiller to my chest, I was cold, wet, sore, and exhausted.
We took a taxi to the marina to pick up the jeep, drove to Hampton Inn, and checked back in a day early.
As if the day was not bad enough, I ran into Hampton Inn’s concrete entryway pillar with the trailer and smashed the fender up, broke off a marker light, and had to deal with a police report and my insurance company. At least the hotel manager was pleasant and wasn’t angry about it.

Thursday, December 27
The weather was absolutely beautiful again. Donna dropped me off at the dock and drove to the marina to wait for me. I called Magic Penny to take me back to the boat so I could finish dismantling her. It was much easier in calm water. The trip to Garrison Bight was much shorter this time since I was able to pass under the bridge to the Navy station.
For future reference, folks launching at City Marina – motor all the way out under that bridge and raise the mast from a mooring buoy near Tank Island. Saves you an hour at least.
Hauled out the boat, parked it at the hotel. Went back to Duval street to finish some touristy stuff, do some shopping, and try to forget the horrible experience of yesterday. The amount of tourists here now is growing, and the sidewalks are getting crowded. Traffic in town is getting pretty bad. We ate at Willie T’s, across from Margaritaville. Kind of pricey but very good.
The weather turned cold, overcast, and rainy again in the evening (this seems to be the popular trend now). We decide that we are done with Key West and are heading back to Bahia Honda to stay and sail around that area.

Friday, December 28
Checked out of the hotel, left the boat in their parking lot until later. We went to Duval Street for some last-minute gift purchasing. Also went to see the Southernmost point marker.
After picking up the boat and heading towards Marathon, we stopped by Boaters World to replace the bow shackle. I bought 2 to keep a spare handy, since I’ve dropped 2 into the water since I got the boat. Thankfully, boat supply stores in the Keys are as common as McDonalds franchises.
We drove to Marathon and stocked up on some things to rid the boat of its now growing stench from sour sea-water and hot tropical funk. We stopped at the Hampton Inn Marathon (NICE!) to do laundry and let the boat dry more. When I say it smelled bad, I mean it smelled BAD. Reeked, horribly, so bad I could hardly stand to stay in it long enough to clean it, much less sleep onboard. You know it’s bad when you open up the head closet to get a breath of freshened air.
After the boat is habitable again, we plan to stay at Bahia Honda until the vacation is done.

Saturday, December 29
After cleaning the boat out more in the morning, it was still not habitable. Still too wet and smelly inside. I had to throw out the carpet, and remove all the cushions in the v-berth to sun-dry them. The rest of the cushions were ok by now. All the blankets in the v-berth, as well as the folding chairs, genoa, all were still drenched and starting to smell bad.
I sanitized everything with Lysol’s version of Febreeze, and left stuff out on the deck of the boat to dry in the sun. Took stuff up to the hotel laundry to clean and dry, did a bunch of clothes.
We went to Bahia Honda to relax on the beach but it was full to capacity and they were turning folks away. The traffic going south on 1 was pretty jammed up, all people trying to get to Key West for New Year’s. Key West was pretty full up when we left a couple days ago – I don’t want to think what it’s like now, considering the traffic heading there.
We went to the Veteran’s Memorial Park on Little Duck key instead. It has an ok beach, and enough parking for the Bahia Honda refugees. We waded and looked for shells, but it was hard to find any that were not inhabited by hermit crabs.

Sunday, December 30
We returned to Bahia Honda in the morning after repacking boat with now mostly dry and non-stinking stuff. We got there early enough to get in – all the camping spots were taken but we explained that we were staying on the boat, and they let us right in. We rigged and launched the boat fast, and pulled into our section of the seawall.
Our slip was nice and close to the bathrooms. It did not have power but we did not need any. Some of the slips here have power; all have water. The only problem here was sea-grass floating in and accumulating in our corner.
We went out for a sail shortly after launching. It was nice to just shove off the wall and go. The pass through to the marina has a 4-foot draft. We headed through the cut in the bridge and towards Sombrero Key, with hopes to go snorkeling. The weather, however, was getting more overcast and the winds were increasing. We decided to scrap the snorkel plans and just tool around near the bridge. Came back to find a fishing stinkpot in my slip, complete with Yosemite Sam logos. I could tell that the morons that were on the boat thought I was snotty for asking them to leave, but they should have had the brains to ask the dock master where they should park before taking up so much space. It is, after all, a marina. DUH.
We headed back in around 2pm and went walking on the beach. While wading, we saw several stingrays. I went snorkeling near the shore and swam with a stingray-like fish for a short time. It had a very short tail and its wings were not as wide as normal stingrays. It was brown and spotted. I’ll have to look it up and see what it was, wish I had brought our waterproof disposable camera with me.
We went up on the bridge for some sunset photos. Saw manta rays and a shark from up here.
The forecast for tomorrow is CRAP. Rain, cold, winds 15-20 and higher for the next few days. We’ll wait and see if it’s true. If so we’ll head back home a day early.

Monday, December 31
Rain starts at 3am. Light to medium showers, not as much wind as was forecast but it increased during the day. Since we’ve had enough of being wet, we decide to head home. We packed everything up and headed out after getting thoroughly soaked unrigging the boat. Good news is that the boat will get a freshwater bath the whole way through Florida. We leave the parking lot around 10am.

Tuesday, January 1, 2002
We arrive home at 6am, dead tired. Total time 20 hours, with 3 stops for meals and many for gas. Figure 16 hours total driving time.

To sum it up:
Bahia Honda wins, hands down. It was beautiful, clean, uncrowded (they limit the number of people in the park), the facilities were nice there, and it offered the best, most protected slips/anchorages I saw anywhere else. It is close to Marathon for supplies and things to do (there are lots of dockside restaurants, etc in Marathon), and it is close enough to Moser Channel that you can sail on the ocean or gulf sides with ease. It has reefs nearby for good snorkeling, and beautiful beaches.
The slips there are on nice concrete seawalls with wood banisters to keep your hull safe, with power and water, nice toilet facilities (outdoor showers), 24 hour rangers/police, and a concession building/gift shop where you can buy food and ice. The ramps are really nice too. There are roofed picnic benches at the beach that are great for cooking dinner under. And after the park closes at sunset, the day tourists are gone, leaving nothing but a few campsite folks and the boats in the marina. VERY quiet and peaceful.
For $25 a night, you get calm beautiful water, palm trees, and a nice tropical island paradise. Regardless of whether you slip there or anchor out somewhere else, it’s nice to know your vehicle is in a safe spot. The protected marina areas also ensure that your boat would be safe there in the worst of weather.