Swing Set

Feb 15, 201308:27 AM

Swing Set: Cruising Full Time

Back In Newfound Harbor and Defying Logic

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The islands north of U.S. 1 in the lower keys are abundant, but the routes through them are shallow and meandering, and there are plenty of good anchorages to protect boaters from wind that may arise from just about any direction.

Tarpon Belly Key

We left Johnston Key after spending four nights there and moved just a few miles east to Tarpon Belly Key. The wind protection wasn't any better, but we wanted a change of scenery, and we found it. Tarpon Belly Key used to be the site of a shrimp farming operation many years ago that didn't pan out. Since I'm not a historian, nor a travel guide, I'll dispense with the facts about it and suggest you peruse the Internet if you want to find out more about it. One thing remarkable is that, due to its historical nature, the small island gets a few visitors, so we could watch the boaters and beach goers come and go from our anchorage a couple hundred feet off of land. I say, "beach" but use the term loosely; there seems to be no evidence of sand, but only large shells. Everyone wears shoes.

We waited until the tide was rising on Friday to start our cruise to Newfound Harbor, about eight miles away as the crow flies, but a crow needn't worry about running aground. The sky was overcast most of the way, not a good setting for reading the bottom, but our two chartplotters worked very well. Plus, I've learned that a line of crab pots isn't set out in water too shallow for a boat to retrieve them, so even though I curse the existence of crab pot markers most of the time, I've learned to use the placement of them to our advantage.

Our route took us in a zigzag manner through some very shallow water, some as low as four feet, and this was on a rising tide, over to the Niles Channel Bridge, which is between Summerland Key and Ramrod Key, a total of 16 miles from our starting point at Tarpon Belly Key. With a 40-foot vertical clearance, one would think the channel under it would have a depth suitable for a vessel that needs that much clearance to pass, but we found the shallowest water just north of this bridge, so I made a note on our track for the day to only attempt the Niles Channel from Florida Bay to Newfound Harbor during high tide, or close to it. There are only so many bridges on U.S. 1 that allow a boat like ours to pass under, and this is one of them. Some are high enough, but the water is not navigable. Being able to get from north to south is important when avoiding hazardous weather and wind conditions.

We are on our eighth day on the hook since we left Key West and have been making water with the water maker, and are pretty happy with the results. Without too much use of the generator, I feel like we can exist on the hook for long periods of time before a trip to land is necessary. We'll probably need human interaction way before the food runs out. Limited phone conversations with friends and family have been sufficing for the time being.

With nearly a full tank of water, we're prepared to stay here in Newfound Harbor for a few days. Little Palm Island guards the southern entrance to Newfound Harbor, and there is a ritzy resort and restaurant there. Passengers come from the "mainland" in vintage water taxis to visit the resort and eat at the restaurant where "gentlemen must wear long slacks and a collard shirt." A sport jacket is suggested. Guess where we won't be going to eat.

There are a few other watering and dining holes on nearby Little Torch Key and Big Pine Key. We want to check out Dolphin Marina, too; long-term dockage may be affordable there, but I have a suspicion the person I had talked to on the phone a month or so ago was selling themselves cheap.

After getting set in a sand bottom, with room to swing in six feet of water, we nestled in the cockpit waiting for a sunset to appear that never did. The clouds rolled in, and by the time we had finished our Valentine's Day dinner of grilled pork tenderloin, scalloped potatoes, and asparagus, we could feel the boat start to spin and rock. I had checked the weather radar earlier, and the wind coming from the south was going to push the harsh weather to our north away from us, or so I thought. The wind shift showed a big storm cell coming from our west, and we were right in the path of it.

Our anchor alarm was set and I had confidence in our holding, as I had at least 100 feet of rode set out. The cold front blew in, and the boat tugged at her anchor, but we stayed put. The rains came, and we finally got to test the leak repair I had done back in Everglades City. The test failed. Not only did water start dripping onto our settee in the salon, proving that my repair was to no avail, but when I switched on the iPad again to check the radar, I got a message that said No SIM card. I can multitask. First, pull up the cushions on the settee, put towels down and a wastebasket to catch water. Then, I started Googling to find out why we were getting the message about No SIM card when I know one is in there. I tried a few online remedies, but got nowhere.

I gathered my spirits and, due to no TV reception, we played two games of dominoes as the wind and rain died down. It was 11 p.m. before we doused the lights and slept like babies. As is usually the case, I problem solve best first thing in the morning. Brain storms come in the a.m. for me.

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