Crane Key

Crane Key

Key West is so much fun that if you are not careful you wont ever leave. That said we made impromptu plans not to return the way we came and instead take a route east up the inside of the keys and cross over to the West coast of Florida. Our float plan for the next few days includes anchoring at these locations: Crane Key, Shark River in the Everglades National Park, Big Marco River, Sanibel Island, Fort Myers Beach. Once at FMB, our plan is to cruise down the Caloosahatchee River, crossing lake Okeechobee and East out the St. Lucie River to Stuart, FL where we will rejoin the Atlantic ICW. We are excited to traverse the Okeechobee Waterway.

The Okeechobee Waterway is just a small segment of the Great loop. The Great Loop is route Kelly & I plan to traverse possibly this Fall or next year. The Great Loop takes you down through the middle of America via the river system. It’s an opportunity to see the heartland from the banks of the rivers.

We understood that many of the anchorages we would spend time at would be off the grid, ie. no cell phone reception or places to get fuel, water, ice, groceries, etc. Step one was to re-provision the boat. Kelly keeps lists of what the boat needs for food and supplies so we took the dinghy in, grabbed an Uber and it was off to Winn Dixie for some groceries. It was particularly windy and the ride back with a dinghy full of groceries was a wet one with sea spray blowing over the bow, which was weighted down with beer and food.

We let go of our mooring line in Garrison Bight Mooring field around noontime and navigated our way out a narrow channel on the North side of Key West called Calda Channel.

The “color of the water” is a phrase I keep saying here in Key West. I’m just not used to seeing such bright greens and blues.

We followed a route that kept us in the deeper water for ease of navigation until we passed Cudjoe Key where we turned into Cudjoe Channel to navigate over the 5-6 foot depths to Crane Key. The Cudjoe Channel entrance daymark and buoys were missing, forcing us to keep an eye on our location to the shallows.

Crane Key turned out to be just a small key with scrubby, low vegetation. As the sun went down it was time for refreshments on the bow.

As the sun set, the 98% full moon rose. It seemed so bright in this remote location you might mistake this picture taken at 8PM as the sun.

Very early the next morning I snuck out on the back swim platform to do some night fishing under the moon streak. Luck had it and I caught a few fish!

We tossed this beast back into the sea and then began the “What kind of fish was that?” research. Thankfully, the internet is full of webpages as well as smartphone apps that help with this.

Identifying the species is just the first step. Next you need to figure out the fishing regulations for the state you are in. Size restrictions, open/closed seasons, etc.

I search the Apple App Store and found a great app called “Fish Rules App”.

Dry Tortugas

Dry Tortugas

We’ve piloted MV Simple Life from Warwick, RI all the way to Key West, FL. We might as well make the 70 mile trek to the last seven tiny islands referred to as Dry Tortugas. US Highway 1 ends in Key West but the FL Keys continue West into the Gulf of Mexico. The last stop, Dry Tortugas, is a national park and is home to Fort Jefferson.

We awoke at sunrise, had breakfast and let go of our mooring. The winds were picking up but the predicted sea state was something we were OK with. We put Mallory Square in Key West to our stern and began motoring South. Very quickly into the journey you realize that there is no cellphone service outside of Key West

The first clump of low-lying keys that you pass of to starboard are part of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge.

What is very cool is that there are half-dozen or so homes on Ballast Key.

You could clearly see one of the homes as we passed.

The next set of islands are the Marquesas Keys.

We had planned to use an anchorage just along the western shore of Tin Tin Key. However, in-route we decided to go the whole 75 mile distance in one shot.

You can see the Marquesas Keys in this video.

On our journey, we passed many sea turtles flippering their way against the waves.

The water color in this area is just amazing greens and blues.

When the cloud shadows move over the top of the water you’ll see distinct shades of blue.

Along with sea turtles we saw manta rays on the surface. I attempted to catch it on video but alas it dove as we passed.

The wave heights were beginning to pick up and you can see MV Simple Life is surfing at times in this following sea. When a wave would lift our stern our speed would increase about 1.5 knots we compared to our speed when we would slide down the back of a wave.

We had to keep our speed up to try to keep up with the following sea and at times our speed hit 10.5 knots. Keeping the speed up also meant a shorted duration in a following sea. After about 9 hours we could see Fort Jefferson off to starboard. Also noteworthy is Loggerhead Light on Loggerhead Key

We quickly raced around the narrow channel and found a spot to anchor in the small harbor. Shortly after anchoring many small commercial fishing boats appeared and two anchored alongside us. I found it interesting that with the anchorage full, the fishermen decided to tie one boat off the back of the other anchored fishing boat.

This allowed the two boats to fit where only one could have using the traditional every boat rides on it’s own anchor.

There is a sea plane that takes visitors to the island and we watched as it raced over the surface prior to takeoff.

It had been a long day but I brought the dogs ashore as I checked out the small island. On my way back in the dinghy I noticed the sun was going down so I raced the dinghy out to where I could get a good video of it.

If watching the camera view bob up and down as I bounce in the waves makes you dizzy,…here is a static picture.

At night, sitting in the aft cockpit and looking up at the most amazing starry night. I must have seen twice as many stars in that black sky than ever before. As they wind howls over the boat and the stars rock in the sky you sip your beer and feel very small in the universe. It really is moments like this that will stick in my mind.

Before retiring to my cabin, I decided to put the underwater lights on and to my surprise there we big fish, maybe 2 footers, swimming just a foot below the surface.

The morning came and unfortunately things were pulling us back to Key West. I rounded out of the entrance channel and we took the waves head on for our return trip

Just as we were arriving back in Key West we passed this sport fisher towing a small commercial fishing boat. It’s a long way home at tow speed.

I leave y’all with a reminder to never go too long before staring up at the stars.

Key West

The trip down to Key West was full of things to see. It started with an overturned vessel. We saw a diver in the water possibly attempting to flip it? Hope nobody was injured?

There was a diver in the water hooking lines to the overturned hull

As we got closer to Key West, the water became a beautiful green-blue color.

 

Near Fort Zachary Taylor
SpaTerre Key West – Lodging
Who doesn’t love a cursing tiki bar?
Mallory Square

 

Beach umbrellas match the water

We passed SV Toucan, a 40’ Manta catamaran underway and hailed them on the VHF offering to take some pics of them. Capt. Elizabeth thanked us and returned the favor.

The crew of Toucan would later invite us for a “Sundowner” which is live-aboard speak for why don’t you dinghy over to our boat just before the sun sets and we’ll do drinks and appetizers. They were terrific hosts and I enjoyed getting a tour of their amazing catamaran. If I get a copy of the selfie we took,  I’ll post it here.

MV Simple Life underway to Key West
SV Toucan Underway

When you approach Key West from Hawk’s Channel (ocean side) you see sights such as huge cruise ships underway in the channel and others docked.

Disney “Magic”
OCEANIA CRUISES’ RIVIERA

You pass Margaritaville Marina and many anchored boats.

Love Ole Glory!
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What a beautiful trawler

 

Old School baby!
Waverunners are everywhere

 

 

 

Looked like they had student sailors aboard?

The US Coast Guard Key West station is down here and they have a large ship docked.

USCG Ship

The Navy’s Naval Air Station and Army Special Forces Underwater Operations have a presence in Key West. We passed the many buildings with military logos and such.

US Army Special Forces Underwater Operations building logo

 

US ARMY Special Forces

At one point a couple of inflatables with Army Special Forces motored by.

 

We grabbed a mooring ball in Garrison Bight Mooring field rather than fight the crowds in the different anchoring locations. Garrison Bight is the only real transient mooring field that I am aware of here in KW. The mooring field is run by Key West City Marina. Getting onto the mooring is a lot like in Boot Key Harbor where the mooring ball has a short pennant line that comes up from below the ball (rather than on the top of the mooring ball as it’s better to keep the scope angle low leading to the mooring anchor itself). Up North in Rhode Island, most mooring ball pennant lines are mounted on the top and have either a single long pennant line or a single that spits into two lines with loops for throwing over your bow cleats. Here in Key West the mooring pennant line is very short with a thimble that you must thread two of your own dock lines through. They ask that you keep a minimum of 10 feet between the boat and the thimble. The winds can really blow down here and they don’t want you short tying to the ball and potentially dragging the mooring anchor.

Dock lines through mooring pennant with thimble at end

Once tied up it was a bit of long dinghy ride into the marina office which is located in a different location than the transient dinghy dock.

Dinking it in to the dock
Key West City Marina Dinghy Docks

We arrived on St. Paddy’s day so we wasted no time getting an Uber to Duval St. and hitting some of the local watering holes like Hog’s Breath Saloon. Want to see the drink menu? It’s on your plastic cup (not a bad idea). I had to do a Gumbash Smash just to make  Danny & Dina smile. (Inside joke)

Hog’s Breath Saloon off the main street
Every bar should do this. Starting at the top…

We found that the Sunset Pier had a good band playing and spent some time there taking selfies and enjoying the cool breeze off the ocean.

Selfies @ Sunset Pier
Don’t you just love a round bar?

We ate at Margaritaville’s and found it was less crowded than adjacent restaurants due to the St. Paddy’s day crowds. The food & drinks were good.

Food was great

The dinghy ride back to the boat was hysterical as we had not paid enough attention to where we left the big boat and we were driving around in the dink trying to find Simple Life. Fish were jumping out of the water as we skimmed over the shallows at high speed.

While there I got to visit places like The Green Room.

These guys at the bar were great
I love the stool tops

The Whistle Bar (AKA the Bull)

Is it the “Whistle Bar” or “The Bull”? – Branding issues?

We joined the 1st ever Key West Cruisers Net Social at Key West Waterfront Brewery (right on the water). We had lots of fun sharing drinks and stories with other live-aboard cruisers.

They teased me a bit being a live-aboard cruiser on a trawler vs. Sailboat but I like to tease them back a bit 😉

Waterfront Brewery right on the water, nice breeze
Lots of fun drinking & chatting with the other cruisers
We made the first ever Official KWCN Social
Don’t you just love the banter between sailors and those who went to the dark-side?

Some nights were dead calm which can get hot aboard without a breeze. Other nights the breeze was blowing in through the hatch and you needed a blanket to keep your toes warm. The funny thing about no wind is… the boats tend to spin randomly rather than all lining up with the wind. Our neighbors on a Manta 44 power catamaran had to jump in the water to untangle their mooring line that was wrapped around their mooring ball.

I offered help but they wanted to fix on their own. He’s a trooper

At night we would see amazing sunsets as we relaxed in the aft cockpit with a drink or two.

I enjoyed this sunset
love the hues
boats on the other side of Fleming Key
light is fading

Boot Key Harbor – Week 2

We spent a total of two weeks in BKH (Boot Key Harbor). While there, a go-fast boat poker run paraded by.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We got to see a manatee even if the video evidence is quite brief.

 

 

We spent time at the Sunset Grille which is at the start of the famous Seven Mile Bridge

 

 

One of the best things about being a cruiser in BKH is the “BKH Cruiser’s Net” that is broadcast every 9AM on VHF channel 68. This communications link (along with their FB page) ties the live-aboard boater community together in a way I wish landlubbers did. Communicating with your boating neighbors everyday in just the two weeks connected us with more neighbors than our 13 years in our previous land-based home.

There is a format to “the net” that starts by allowing new cruisers to introduce themselves and departing cruisers to say goodbye. They then do announcements about rules of the harbor, weather, meet-ups, Charity work, etc. They allow boaters to ask questions of the group (ex. Can anyone help me program my Raymarine autopilot?) The amount of boating knowledge in the community is impressive. They hold a buy/sell/trade/give-away/ask-for different items cruisers want/don’t want. They do a trivia section and end with different boaters contacting each other on other channels to discuss business of sorts.

Through the Net, I learned of a cruiser, Capt. David of S/V Expectations who was offering to share his knowledge of the NW Caribbean.

 

David shared a book and his notes about sailing in the NE Caribbean. A popular route from Key West is to sail along Cuba’s coast to Cozumel, MX then down to Costa Rica, Guatemala, Roatán and Honduras. I and many other captains jumped at the opportunity to talk with this life-long boater to pick his brain about navigating these areas as well as his fishing tips. Below are two lures David was suggesting as well a pneumatic spear gun in lieu of a gaff.

 

 

David spent many years in Rio Dulce, Guatemala where it cost him $125/month for a slip. Not a bad deal to live in paradise.

 

Living on a boat we often spend time staring at the night sky. When you look around boat the sailboat anchor lights sway to and fro like dancing stars.

 

 

 

On one particular night I was staring up at the stars when I saw a meteorite or possibly a piece of “space junk” come flaming down to Earth. It only lasted about 2-3 seconds but it was an amazing sight to see. I was moved enough that I submitted an online “Fireball Report” at amsmeteors.org

While we were in the harbor there was a salvage operation going on that included an old sport-fisher with a bar and block on it’s bow being used to raise up a sunken vessel (possible Hurricane Irma victim).

 

 

Yes, that is an outboard mounted to the back of that sport fisher. You’ll see all kinds of things like this moment where boaters just dropped a full-size fridge on the bow of their runabout to deliver to a larger boat in the harbor. The community here donates items to fellow boaters in need. Many of the boaters here live life on a shoestring budget and donations are used when the budget is dry.

While listening to the net you’ll hear requests like the one from a family of 4 living aboard a 28’ sailboat bound for Guatemala that were looking for play dates for their children as well as home-school lesson plan swapping. I look up to these cruisers for their self-sufficient life style.

Each night we join in blowing our conch horn to announce that the sun has set.

 

We enjoyed dinking around the harbor with the dogs

 

 

 

 

We motored through Sister’s Creek and found many great sights of birds, boats and one spectacular tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But best of all were the sunsets in BKH

 

 

 

Boot Key Harbor – FL

Boot Key Harbor Florida
0 BKH Map

This last week we have been in BKH – (Boot Key Harbor). The week was made extra fun due to Susan’s visit. Right off the bat, Susan & I decided to do some snorkeling out at Sombrero Reef. We took the dinghy out via Sister’s Creek. Here are a few photos of the homes along Sister’s Creek.

As you exit the mouth of Sister’s Creek, off to port you’ll find Sombrero Beach.
Sombrero Beach is both dog & dinghy friendly.

2 Sombrero Beach

Sombrero Reef is marked by a tower approximately 4 miles offshore.

 

The dinghy ride out to the reef was a bit wavy but the water was nice and clear.

Upon arrival we tied to one of the free buoys provided by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Buoy Program  . Anchoring is prohibited due to possible damage of the living coral below.

While Susan has snorkeling and SCUBA experience,  it all new to me. It’s not easy getting into all that gear in a small dinghy.  Once suited up we snapped a quick pic.

The only underwater camera I had was an actual Kodak disposable film camera (not digital). So much for being a tech-guy. The film says it expired in 2006 but it was still in the packaging. Anyone know where to find a fotomat booth in the Keys 😉

Kodak Film Camera
Film inside expired in 2006 but the best I had to go underwater

I was amazed that the fish completely surrounded me. Attempting to swim,  I had to avoid touching the fish. Below us we could see two scuba divers and their bubbles racing to the surface.

[ Insert snorkeling photos once developed ]

Back at the BKH dinghy dock (one of the largest dinghy docks I’ve ever used). They have some great dinghy dock rules that separate the hard dinghys from the soft (inflatable) dinghys. Dinghy etiquette demands that you leave your engine down and tie with a long enough painter line that when other dinghys approach the dock for offloading persons and gear they can push your dinghy out of the way and contact the dock directly.
Once offloaded you simply tie your dinghy with a long line and push it back off the dock. I wish everyone knew to do this. I can’t tell you how many times I have landed in Block Island’s Boat Basin at the Oar restaurant and had to climb over many dinks that were “short tied”.

7 Dingy Dock
Dinghy Dock at Boot Key Harbor

Now it was off for a drive to Key West. Our drive down Rte. 1 was lined with colorful water and dark ominous clouds.

We saw many of these lizards that I’ll call it a Bearded Dragon.  Reptilian experts chime in please. 9 Bearded Dragon

We arrived at Key West for some shopping for the kids back home and a few drinks. We started our walk at the Harbor Walk end of Duval St.

10 Harbor Walk

10 Duval St

Walking Duval you see many great sights. 11 Parrot 1

11 Roosters 1

11 Sloppy's Joe's Bar

We stopped in Irish Kevin’s for a little music and an IPA. Check out their webcam

We also grabbed some food & drinks at Willie T’s which is an interesting bar as the walls are covered in money with written quirky sayings on them like “Show me your pineapples”.

 

12 Willie Ts
Susan & I enjoying apps and drinks at Willie T’s

Lastly, it was time for some dinner & drinks at Lazy Days South.

13 Lazy Days South
Kelly & I enjoying happy hour at Lazy Days South bar
13 Cheers
Cheers!

 

 

Key Largo South

We awoke early in the AM and took one last look at downtown Miami before departing from our anchorage off Key Biscayne.

Downtown Miami 1

This fine yacht was next to us when we left.

Key Biscayne Hatteras

The Border and Customs Patrol boat passed us like a bullet.

3 Customs and Border Patrol

We passed through narrow cuts in the mangroves.

There were many hazards to watch out for. This broken daymarker piling was snapped off at the waterline. Someone attached a green pole to make it a bit more visible. I can only imagine what it must be like to slam into one of these pilings so hard that you shear it off. Ouch!.

5 Piling Broken

The bigger challenge in the Keys is water depth. It’s so shallow that you have to vigilant about staying out of the ‘skinny’ or shallow water. At times we saw depths in the 5′ range just inches below our full keel.

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I think a captain wiser than I would say… “Thou’s  Speed Over Ground shall not exceed a water’s depth”.

As we arrived into Key Largo we past the Anchorage Yacht Club to port

6 Anchorage Yacht Club Key Largo

and a bar to starboard.

7 Key Largo Bar

As we continued.. the water was an amazing shade of bright green.

Kelly enjoyed the breeze as the temp was somewhere in the 80s. Just a great day.

9 Kelly

We originally thought we’d stop and anchor somewhere mid Key Largo but we  instead did almost 10 hours South. The wind was blowing hard and we needed to find somewhere to anchor that would offer us some protection from the wind and waves. We picked a little shallow cove that we found a good spot to drop the hook. It was so shallow that as I backed down on the anchor @800 RPM and the sandy bottom was being kicked up by our thrust.

11 Set Anchor Shallow

Tonight as we await the moon’s rising we are making plans for Boot Key tomorrow.

Miami and Key Biscayne

We enjoyed Fort Lauderdale and especially having family come to visit.EdDoKellyMarty

We hit some of the local restaurants like…

 

One night while on anchor a fellow cruiser from another boat came to visit and him and I chatted about the Bahamas and where to go. At 80 years old he and his wife had crossed over to the Bahamas countless times and he was nice enough to give me a map of interesting places to visit. I enjoyed that time and had a great selfie of the two of us to post here but unfortunately, I locked myself out of my phone and had to wipe and restore it losing the pics 😦

Our anchorage in Lake Sylvia had some amazing homes to look out at.

Occasionally we would see a floating tiki bar go by…

Tiki

Next we anchored in Maule Lake in North Miami Beach.

We were enjoying the 80 degree days and cool breeze at night. We took the dink out to find more fun restaurants like Duffy’s.

 

There was a great abandoned park where I was able to land the dinghy. Time to do some re-provisioning.

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Dingy full of required stuff, it was time to get back to the mother ship.

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We keep waking up every morning and deciding to stay a bit longer till we realized that we need to be halfway down the keys in a few days so it was time to weigh anchor and get underway. The trip down the ICW took us past Haulover Sandbar.

Haulover Sandbar is a popular party spot in Miami and with it being Spring Break down here it is sure to come alive. We’ll have to stop on our way back from the Keys.

Random Haulover Sandbar YouTube Video

 

Tonight, we anchored in Key Biscayne Bight just as the sun was setting

KB0

The full moon made for a great night sitting in the aft cockpit and enjoying a few drinks.

KB1