When we were being towed into Key West the Lobster Festival was on so the marinas were full. We ended up having to be towed into Robbie’s Boatyard where we spent 8 days amongst rusty hulks and society dropouts. They’re a community who will only ever be living in 3rd world conditions on boats that will probably never touch water again. At night you could almost hear Duelling Banjos...
The guys that fixed the transmission were good and honest enough. They pulled it out on the Monday and it went back in on the Thursday. As with so much on this boat, whoever worked on the transmission the last time used the wrong, cheaper parts, so forward could never be engaged properly. Eventually the additional wear on the clutch caused the failure.
When we eventually left the whole experience was costly, but the worst, not the most expensive, was the blatant extortion by the manager at the boatyard. He even looked like, talked like, and had the swagger of the bad guy in Cool Hand Luke.
When the anger subsided, I had the satisfaction of knowing that while we are out sailing in clear blue water, he has to turn up for work in a filthy, dusty hell hole surrounded by a bunch of sad desperados. I feel better already!
When we knew we were going to be stuck in Key West for a week, Tom flew home and loaded up additional anchors and paper charts in a hire car for the 2 day drive back. If we did get a hurricane or even a sizeable tropical storm we were way too light on anchors.
He got back on the Thursday night, with Edie. They haven’t been going out for long, but the opportunity to join us for the trip from Key West to Miami was an adventure she couldn’t resist.
On the Friday we used the hire car to get groceries and boat supplies for the trip. The transmission guys turned up at 1.30 for the sea trial and we edged our little ship out of the boatyard.
I’m definitely getting better at it. We were hemmed in, in a tight, awkward position, but we got her out perfectly.
The sea trial showed everything performing as it should, and Mark had arranged for us to have a free night at the marina where he has his workshop. Even though it was only for one night, what a pleasure.
This boat always attracts attention. She looks interesting and adventurous. It’s one of the things we love about her. On this occasion we met Vanessa. She pulled up on her scooter. What an interesting mine of information she turned out to be. She knows CT54s intimately and has sailed and worked on many. The things she could tell us about our own boat were amazing.
Another gem she gave us was the fact that we would not be able to sail the Hawk Channel to Miami at night. The lobster season has just started and 400,000 lobster pots have been dropped, each with a line up to a float. There is no restriction on where they can be dropped and a line around the propeller could be disastrous.
Our farewell to Key West was dinner at Finnegan’s Wake. The food was good, the company was great, and the live music, well, it had its moments... You've got to hand it to the irish. Some of them sing beautifully, and the rest don't know that they can't.
Key West is an interesting place. It’s quaint. There is definitely an overgrown fishing village feel about it. It also happens to be the end of Florida and a final destination. You can’t go to Key West en route to anywhere.
The population is a mixed bag of old hippies, society drop outs, probably a lot of Vietnam vets too. It has a thriving tourism industry and Duval Street is interesting to say the least. Every kind of bar and cafe, interspersed with T-shirt and souvenir shops. The afternoon we were there it was hot, so we stopped for something icy to drink. The staircase at the end of the room led to a ‘clothing optional’ bar on the floor above. We decided it wasn’t quite that hot!
Everyone in Key West seems to have come from somewhere else. You could write a book of short stories called “My Life Before Key West”.
We had a cab driver who was a musician and had played all over the USA with support bands to big name bands, but now drives cabs in Key West. The 64 year old ‘helper’ working in the bilges on our transmission had designed a fishing boat... clams maybe? when he was 16. At 17 it was built and working, until the welds on his bowthruster failed and he and his 7 crew watched it sink in freezing cold seas with $1.5 million worth of catch on board. I thought he said he swam 47 miles to shore, but Sandy heard it sank 47 miles off shore. No men were lost but he had an epic battle with Lloyds who thought he’d scuttled the boat for the insurance money. All this before he was old enough to have a drink. Bear in mind he was a fisherman!
Another cab driver was from Haiti, but was out before the earthquake. Yet another was from Venezuela studying to be a chef. And so the stories flow.
We had been watching the weather anxiously. We were still in an extremely vulnerable situation as far as hurricanes were concerned and had been watching Ernesto and Florence closely. While our goal was to get to the safety of Chesapeake Bay, we were obliged by Immigration to stop in Miami for an appointment to get an extension to our 90 day visa waiver allowance. The first appointment we could get was on the last day of our 90.
We left Key West at 9 am in flat, calm, windless conditions and spent the first hour zigzagging through lobster pots. They were everywhere. Not only was it going to be impossible to travel by night, there was a high probability that a momentary lapse in concentration would foul us in daylight too. We had estimated our time to Miami would get us there by early afternoon the next day or a little earlier if conditions were good. Stopping overnight was not an option, so we decided to head out through the reef and take the longer route outside.
It was fun having Edie on board. She was enjoying the whole experience so much. It was an opportunity to relive the exciting early days of sailing.
The trip to Miami gave us a bit of everything. Initially we were just motoring. In the late afternoon, as we found a bit of wind we got the sails up and eventually as we swept around the bottom of Florida I could turn off the engine and still maintain 5 knots.
The moon was still nearly full and Edie got to experience some of the best that sailing has to offer.
But the wind died again and we had to restart the engine. I came off watch and went below to get a few hours sleep. I seemed to have just closed my eyes when Sandy woke me...
“Tom says we have to slow the boat down. We’re going to be off Miami way before dawn!”
It turns out we had a ripper of a current pushing us. We killed the engine and were still doing nearly 11 knots over the ground with wind and current.
It was my watch again as we got to the channel markers into Miami. It was still dark but there were ships making for the channel that had to be watched and avoided. We didn’t dare go in before daylight because Miami has barrier islands enclosing the waters leading to it. The area between Miami and the islands is very shallow so we were going to have a hard enough time keeping out of trouble anyway.
With the current so strong we didn’t want to overshoot Miami either because getting back against that current would be hard work. As it happens we headed out a bit, slightly overshot, and were at the first channel markers in daylight. It really is a strange sensation to be looking at the chartplotter and to set things up so you’re seeing your boat and it’s heading is way off from where you want to go, but your true course over the bottom is at 90 degrees to where you’re pointing due to the current. In essence we were sliding into Miami sideways. Of course as we came out of the grip of the Gulf Stream we straightened up and all was normal again by the time we entered the channel.
It took about an hour to make our way through a selection of channels and to the marina I’d pre booked for one night. We had to choose a course that would give us the one bridge we could get under. It’s 73ft at its highest span at average low water, and we’re 65ft from the water to the top of our main mast. Poor Sandy was certain we were going to hit. I must admit I throttled right back and inched forward at 2 knots. We didn't hit it so I guess they knew what they were talking about.
Once again the marina approach was a little tricky, but we made it in and were eventually snugly tied up at the end of pier six.
It was a lazy, sunny day and we enjoyed unwinding at the end of the trip.
I’ll cover the next part of the trip in the next post.