Swing Set: Cruising Full Time
Key West To Dry Tortugas
Our story picks up again on New Years Day. When we left Key West, we had no cell service or Internet once we passed Marquesas Key, so I couldn't post anything until now, which is January 9. Yesterday marked eight months of travel. I have some catching up to do.
We finished washing Swing Set at the dock at Oceanside Marina on January 1, filled up our tanks with water and left the harbor to see what the conditions were like in the Hawk Channel. It was bumpy, and the prospect of getting salt spray all over the boat just after we washed it was not appealing to us.
I turned the boat around and made for the Key West Yacht Club, where we wanted to get a pump out and then look for an anchorage in the area just east of Stock Island. The Key West Yacht Club is very nice, but we didn’t see anything that looked like a pump-out station, and I couldn’t get anyone on the phone to ask. After all, it was New Years Day.
We motored around the Stock Island Harbor, and if we thought there was plenty of derelict vessels in the Key West Harbor, this harbor was worse. There were some spaces where we could fit in, but someone had either “saved” them, by installing a mooring ball or some other cheap sort of float, or they were in close enough proximity to obvious liveaboards that we didn’t want to intrude. We don’t like getting the “stink eye.”
Salt spray or not, we left the relative calm of the harbor and headed west, back to Key West, to look for an anchorage to spend the night. First, we visited Conch Harbor Marina in Key West Bight and got a pump out and filled our fuel tanks. Then, we went over to the northwest side of nearby Wisteria Island and found a place to set a hook.
We watched the sunset in relatively calm water, and then Rosie made us a scrumptious dinner of roasted chicken, asparagus and cranberry sauce. By the time we sat down to eat, Swing Set was being buffeted around to a large degree, and we thought we had made a big mistake in picking the anchorage. But by midnight, the water calmed down again and it was actually very peaceful. The photo above is at daybreak, just before we set out west for the Marquesas and Dry Tortugas, our route being about 70 miles.
We had overcast skies the whole way to Marquesas Key, but the seas were tolerable on our southern route. We decided to press on to Fort Jefferson, the route planner telling us we’d be there before 4 p.m. I sat on the bow at one point, and some dolphins swam just beneath us in the azure blue water. Later on, I stopped the boat and took a dip in the 90-foot depth, just to get wet and cool off. Rosie had no desire to dive in. I didn't stray too far from the boat in case she got any "ideas."
The sun peeked out as we approached Garden Key and Fort Jefferson. We pulled in with three other boats and found room to set a hook without raising the ire of our neighbors. We had a modest dinner of salad and Spaghettios. Yes, Spaghettios. Then, it was early to bed. We had minimum protection from some southerly waves, but should get better protection when the wind shifts from the east later in the week. We’re right in front of the ferry dock to the fort, so we think it’s a good spot.
After breakfast, Rosie and I set another hook, and then I dove down on both of our anchors to make sure they were stuck. We have some shallow water just in front of us, and I don’t want us to go aground if the wind shifts while we are here.
While Rosie was mopping the boat down, I took the dinghy over and talked to one of the park rangers about what was required of us to stay here in the harbor. The fee is $5 per person, per week, to stay for a maximum of 14 days. I went back to the boat to get some money and then went back again to the ranger station to pay and sign in. I also started reading all of the rules. There are lots of rules, and I don't know how anyone can keep track of all of them. My feeling is that there are too many restrictions and we won’t stay very long. I have a firm belief that I will undoubtedly break a few of the rules, but hopefully we won’t get thrown in irons. One thing I realized, though, was if there was no park, or rangers, there at the fort, it would be covered with graffiti in no time.
I got back to the boat, and it was time for lunch. Afterwards, we left Holly on board, as no dogs are allowed inside the fort, and Rosie and I went to take a tour of the place. We walked around the entire perimeter on the top of the wall that surrounds the moat. Then, we went inside.
The parade grounds in the interior of the fort are in the background in this photo. You can see the powder magazine just behind Rosie. There are a couple of other buildings, but mostly just the foundations are standing. (Or not standing, as it were.)
This view is from the top of the fort looking east. Swing Set is just about in the center of this picture. You can see two seaplanes and the Tortugas Ferry in the picture, along with two other boats anchored near our boat.
This is a view looking north from the lighthouse. There are probably better pictures on the web somewhere. Hey, I'm not writing a travelogue here. There was supposed to be good snorkeling just west of Garden Key, off of Loggerhead Key, but we never made the two-mile dinghy ride over there. There isn't much point in snorkeling in windy conditions, and that's exactly what we had.
We took Holly over to the fort twice during our stay, for walks around the moat. She wasn't allowed inside the fort, but she could join us if we stayed outside. On her first visit, she laid a deposit right in view of a park ranger. I knew he was watching to see what I would do with "it," but we came prepared; I had a baggie in my pocket and used it. I then walked over and asked the ranger where I could deposit Holly's deposit, and he said I could discretely place it in one of the trash cans on the dock for the ferry to take back to Key West. I said, "You mean winding up and firing it in the can from several feet away like Cal Ripkin wouldn't be a good idea?" Luckily, he had a sense of humor.
One evening, a sailboat pulled in late and we recognized it from our stay at Boot Key Harbor in Marathon. The next day, Glenn and John brought their dinghy over to have a talk. We wound up talking to, or visiting, everyone who spent time in the harbor. We even traded our one DVD with some folks in a catamaran that had sailed up from Mexico, near Cancun. It was a much nicer experience with neighboring boats in this harbor than we had in Key West. We are also only 98 miles from Havana. I'd really like to go there, but we'll wait until it's legal and we can get insurance
Since the water was clear enough to use our water maker, I decided to start it up for the first time to make sure it worked. I couldn't get any suction on the inlet side and discovered a loose fitting around a filter. Once I remedied that issue, the self-priming pump started pulling water from the sea strainer that feeds the generator. It took forever to fill the the large pre-filter supplied with the water maker, but eventually, I had supposedly clean water dribbling out of the drain hose. While I let that run, I checked our existing boat water supply with the tester that also came with the unit. Our house water was reading 256 PPM of something, not sure what, I would guess salinity, but the instructions don't say. I filled a cup with the water coming from the water maker's drain and then tested it and got a reading of 150 PPM. It also tasted good, quite good, actually. I then routed the water maker to the tank on the boat. This is something you are not supposed to do, but I don't always follow directions. We keep 6 gallons of drinking water always on hand and will test our tank water after making water, and we'll only make water in clear, ocean water. Never harbor water, or silty water of any kind. If our water ever tastes bad, we'll know it. We both have sensitive taste buds in that regard, and we'll dump our tank water if we have to. I don't think we'll have to, plus we aren't going to be traveling across oceans for days or weeks at a time.
There was supposed to be weather reports posted in the ranger station at the dock every day, but the same one remained for the whole five days we were there. I was getting spotty reports from NOAA on our VHF, and a weather window was being reported for January 7. I thought we would wait a day for the seas to calm down before we left, but another front was coming in behind a short calm period, so when we woke up on Monday morning, I told Rosie that it would be a good idea to head back and she agreed.
Two other sailboats in the harbor with us had the same idea, and we all three pulled out of the harbor. Before we left, I fired up the water maker, let it run to drain for a few minutes, then turned the valve to start filling the boat tank while we cruised back to civilization. The pump is in our lazarette and is fairly quiet, especially under way. The first boat had an hour head start, but we caught up with both boats soon enough. They were not under sail, as there was light wind coming from the east, the way we were all heading.
Our plan was to stay at Marquesas Key for a night or two, depending on if we could get a sheltered anchorage. Marquesas is an atoll, but entering the center takes you over some shallow areas, and I didn't want to risk going aground 20 miles from any assistance in Key West. I don't want to go aground in front of a Towboat U.S. vessel even.
Rosie and I considered our options: We has some work to get done on the boat, and we didn't want to come all this way without spending some time in downtown Key West, so we decided to skip Marquesas Key and head to Key West. As soon as we got within cell phone range, Rosie started calling marinas in Key West Bight to see if we could get a slip. The Galleon was our first choice, but a sailboat show was coming in on January 17 and they were booked up then. We wanted to stay longer than that, so we wound up at the A & B Marina right next door to The Galleon. More on that later.