Head for Cuba, then turn right

 

Sailing route from Key West to Isla Mujeres

…so, we made it out of Key West finally and headed west towards Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, before heading more southerly down into the Gulf of Mexico and onto the Caribbean.

Chart of Key West and the Dry Tortugas

One of the old sailors in Key West, Terry, who’s done the trip a few times told us that all we needed to do was simply, “Head for Cuba and then turn right!” But after some consideration and lots of research we decided to take the advice of Freya Rauscher, whose cruising book of the area everyone swears by, and cut the corner a bit more, across the gulf of Mexico and avoid any chance of pissing off the US Coast Guard by getting to close to Cuba (there are stories of people getting their boats impounded!).

The problem with our choice of route is the current that comes whizzing up from the Caribbean Sea, through the Yucatan Channel and into the Gulf of Mexico…. The very same current that would be up to several knots trying their best to push us back to the U.S.

So we spent the next 4 days trying to stay on our course of 228°T with often uncooperative winds and to the point of fighting a current so much that we were actually not making any way south at all.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

We spent the 4 days and nights of the trip hanging out around meals (which we had precooked in Key West and frozen for convenience underway) and then one of us heading down for about 4 hours sleep – or at least as much as you could get down in the pilot berth sweating in the humid air that was almost more that even two small fans could have any effect on. While on watch, by day and by night, we entertained ourselves reading, playing on the computer, catching up on podcasts or simply sailing, looking out over the water in the moonlight and watching the lights of the enormous cargo ships heading straight for us, or the flashes of lightening beyond the clouds and hoping that the storms wouldn’t cross our paths. Well, after all we had our trusty friend Artie…. The autopilot! A saviour on the long trips – he stops you getting totally worn out.

Linday driving

We made it across in good time, and only had to use the engine really on the last day, when the wind died…. And in retrospect, we reckon Terry’s advice was the best and have vowed that if we ever make the trip again we will, most definitely just head for Cuba and turn right!

Weigh the anchor, heading SW from Key West

Up before the sun, we grabbed our stuff off the dock and prepared for our getaway (before someone tried to come and charge us for staying the night at the dock)… nrrrr…. nrrrr…. nrrrrr…. what the! It couldn’t be… our starter battery had somehow gotten switched over to power the fans and refrigerator that night and was almost dead!!

nrrrr…. nrrrr… uhoh…. Tadd saw someone coming to open up the marina office….. nrrrrr…… nrrrrr….. brrrrrrrrrrrmmmmm….. there she goes…. and we’re off!

 

Stormy days

The last days in Key West we spent a fair amount of time watching the weather for the upcoming trip, but were not immune from it while still anchored off Key West Bight.

Key West sundown storm

We had some pretty crazy weather – a far cry from the normal hot and sticky summer weather of Florida. One minute everything is sunny and then the wind shifts and you look out and there’s a big, nasty black cloud spreads across the sky. It becomes like watching an accident – you can’t stop staring as it bubbles and grows, practically tumbling over itself as the wind pushes it across the horizon and blotting out the sun.

Video of Key West Squall developing in anchorage

The first of this wave of storms gave us a lashing – the mad winds that came first had us bouncing all over the place, and at the time we still had our solar panel tied down with string to the bimini (canopy shade) and, unfortunately, my fears started to be realized as the panel first slid to one side and then the other… just as I shouted to Tadd the wind caught the front edge of the pane and tried to make it fly. We spent the next half hour getting soaked by the rain as we clung to our coveted solar panel.

Needless to say we made it a priority to get the panel up and screwed down on our davits off the back to the boat!

Davits

Any day but Friday

If you didn’t know, it’s bad luck to leave on a sea voyage on a Friday (it’s also bad luck to change the name of a boat… in fact it’s bad luck to do lots of things in the sailing world… pretty superstitious bunch us sailors!). So, having realized that there was really no way of getting everything done by Thursday…. early Saturday was set as our departure.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

With what we thought were only a few final things to do, we managed to totally lose Friday getting that stuff done… including hoisting a brand new main halyard, making sure the dinghy would actually stay put behind us on our fabulous new davits (and not drag itself and the solar panel down to the depths), and not least, to get in the water and check that my new dive gear actually works.

Even though we only had time for a quick dip right next to the boat where she’s been anchored, the dive turned into a bit of an adventure. Tadd tossed his gear in the water and jumped in after it… and no sooner had he thrashed and wriggled to it all on and comfy … than he found himself already about 50 yards behind the boat. I mean we knew there were strong currents – we’d been swung back and forth every 12 hours for weeks by them… but it was never so clear as when I stood looking out the back of Third Aye watching Tadd paddle his heart out and make no headway back to the boat. Finally, he stuck his head out the water and said, “&^%*%* this! Come and get me in the dinghy!”

We managed a quick dive under the boat, holding onto a line and gave my regulator and dive computer the all clear. Then quickly jumped back aboard, Tadd hauled up the two well-buried anchors and we sped our way to the city dock, in hope of getting to fuel dock before the delightful staff buggered off early for weekend… no such luck.

Conch Harbor fuel was a fine substitution for filling up on everything, before sneaking over to another spot to surreptitiously tie up for the night.

Conch Harbor Fuel dock

As we ran around, up and down the companionway and all over, packing and emailing and stuff, a few friends came down to see us off with a few beers, cheer, and some souvenirs.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Finally, exhausted, by 9pm I finally managed to get the bloody navigation software to work and we could grab a quick drink and dinner before crashing for the night….

The hazards of cleaning on board

Cleaning things can lead to unexpected snorkeling trips… if you’re lucky!

I always used to laugh when I imagined the incredible number of pairs of sunglasses and handheld VHFs that must be lying at the bottom of North Cove Marina in NYC… well it only gets worse when you have almost all your worldly goods on board your boat.

We have so far managed to dump the filter for the juicer… the grill rack for the BBQ… a 9/16 socket wrench head… and most recently an electric shaver head into the Gulf of Mexico… and that’s just the significant items… I’m sure there have been a bunch of other small things that have been inadvertently donated to Neptune.
SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

We got lucky with the filter… not so much with the other stuff… so what’s going to take a dive for freedom next???

Comfort on Board

Third Aye refit 07Third Aye is a 30 foot 1975 Irwin… a good ol’ ‘Merican sailboat that came out of the era of many great sailboats designed in the US before the luxury taxation on yachts by the Carter administration basically put an end to the industry.

30 feet might sound like a good sized boat… and it really is… but can also offer a bit of a challenge when it comes to two people packing up their land-based lives and trying to fit everything onto the boat. This is not so hard when you have a very handy person like Tadd on board, who can build just about anything, given the tools, and more importantly can create a system of shelves and cubby holes enough for all our stuff and more.

Third Aye refit 20As for our own comfort… well I think that’s something we’ll be tweaking and playing with for a while… our bed in the v-berth has certainly evolved several times and may still continue to. We started out with the original foam cushions that came with the boat… we then added a pillowtop… then a memory foam pad… and finally a fantastic Froli system (they make them specially for v-shaped boat berths!)… so as a whole we’re damn comfortable… the only thing lacking is the air conditioning… so when the wind dies, it’s hammocks in the cockpit!

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Planning the Great Escape

Third Aye Stern on anchorWell, I’ve been planning to hop on to this blog train for some time… so here we go!

Our boat Third Aye has begun to look all grown up now, with her fancy davit system to hang the dingy from, and the solar panel on top – sucking up all the Florida sunshine. So, with the concern of August hurricanes fast approaching, Tadd and I are set on heading south very soon in search of the infamous warmth of the cruising community and hope of finding work in paradise.