Since it’s been a minute since our last update, here’s a recap. Karen and I had to rush home recently to help coordinate care for my dad, which meant leaving Gratitude hanging on a mooring ball in Key West. This was far from optimal for several reasons, but we didn’t have a host of great options.
A mooring ball is essentially a floating ball with a line run through it that should be anchored securely to the sea floor. In the USA, you can usually assume the ball is well-maintained (the Caribbean can sometimes be a different proposition. Stories abound of floating balls in some parts of the world attached to little more than a cinder block). If all goes as planned, you tie up to the eye at the end of this line and voila! You should have a safe place to spend the night. But (and there is always a “but” when sailing) there are exceptions. Mooring balls present a single point of failure. If your mooring lines chafe through or the mooring pendant snaps or comes free, you are bound for the hurt locker. An anchor might drag and then catch again (i.e “reset”), but you won’t have that luck with a mooring. In our case, while we were home, a big storm blew through at night, causing at least three ships in Key West’s Garrison Bight Harbor, where we were, to break free from their moorings or drag their anchor. The result was that these boats went careening through the mooring field, striking other ships on their errant way. The US Coast Guard was deployed to help re-secure them, saving the night, but there was damage done. We were more than a little relieved that Gratitude was unaffected.
A mooring field, therefore, is not the best place to leave a boat for any length of time (particularly if you are not aboard). So we knew we’d need to get the boat out of Key West, where mooring was our only option, and back up to Ft. Lauderdale. From there, we would do some provisioning and a few small boat projects and stage our escape for points north. Karen and I decided that the best course of action was for me to go and move the boat while she remained in town to be on call in case we were needed for Dad.
My friend, Dan, offered to come down from Atlanta with me to help (this was a godsend), and we made a trip of it! We flew into Key West having no real idea how we were going to get back aboard Gratitude, which was moored quite some distance from the city marina dock. Fortunately, Jim from the neighboring yacht, Painless II, met me at the dock to give me a ride back. That allowed me to take our dinghy, Patience, back to pick up Dan and our luggage.
Martin Luther once said “you cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” When I arrived back aboard Gratitude, I realized that you also cannot keep them from their normal digestive function. There was a shock-and-awe amount of bird poop on my boat. Seriously, I have never seen anything like this in my life. It took me a solid two weeks, working two or three hours each day to get the boat cleaned up. Several days, I would get the boat underway, and Dan would take the helm while I got to work abovedeck with a rag and cleaner wax before it got too hot. The worst of it had to wait until I got to the dock in Ft. Lauderdale.
Dan and I are both early risers, so we set out at first light on Tuesday. He had the unenviable task of untying us from the mooring ball after Karen and I had doubled the lines for safety. The downside of that is that the chances of the lines getting entangled with each other are significant, and the more severe risk of getting a line fouled in the propeller is also high. We did have some difficulty getting free of the mooring ball, so we had to splash Patience so that Dan could go deal with the situation at the ball. I’ve learned that my place is to hold the boat steady at the helm at times like this, no matter how much I want to run forward to monitor how things are going or to offer advice. It was great having someone aboard who could handle the situation and get us under way.
This was my first time behind the wheel of Gratitude without Karen aboard, which, I will admit, was pretty strange. We’ve sailed thousands of miles together, and we’ve been through every situation on the water side by side. I kind of felt like Linus without his blanket.
Once Dan and I were free, we navigated out of the mooring field and followed the Intracoastal Waterway around the bight until it turned east-northeast. Dan is an experienced and very competent mariner, and he and I took turns at the helm watching and swerving to ensure we did not get snared in any the crab pots that are pretty much everywhere. After a full day, we anchored for the night at Bahia Honda Key, which is a really beautiful and secure place to rest.
The next morning, as soon as it was light enough for us to slalom through the crab traps again, we weighed anchor and set out for Islamorada. Karen and I had spent some time there, anchored at Windley Key, and Dan and I dropped Gratitude’s hook almost exactly where it had been before. It is a pretty idyllic spot (maybe a bit shallow for my liking). A pod of dolphins came and swam around the boat as we approached, which was a nice touch!
The big payoff, however, was that Dan keeps a fishing boat in Islamorada, so we retrieved it and rafted it alongside Gratitude and used it to get to shore. We laughed that we really upgraded Gratitude‘s dinghy (from 20 horse power to 300!).
That Thursday, we took off early in the morning in pursuit of tuna and wahoo. The highlight for me was landing my first wahoo! (Notice I said “landing” – it took a village in this case. All I really did was reel it in.)
The rest of the time, we only caught bonito, which were fun to bring in, but weren’t keepers.
On Saturday, Dan’s wife Tracy came aboard, and the next day we set out to continue on our way and deliver the boat to Ft. Lauderdale. We passed back through the Snake Creek bridge and were, once again, in the Atlantic Ocean.
I was reminded on this trip that you really don’t want to sail on a schedule if you don’t have to. It’s much better to depart when the weather supports it; however, we were working around flight schedules and the tension surrounding Dad’s health, so we did not adhere to this rule. Well… we paid for it. Day one was rough with high winds and quartering seas. Just imagine being in a car and driving over endless speed bumps at an angle for about eight hours straight. In general, the boat can take it, but you don’t want to put yourself or your crew through that kind of misery. When fish wash up on the deck (yes, literally), it’s a good clue you’ve had an unpleasant, salty passage.
Sunday night, we anchored in Biscayne Bay, which is such a great place to drop a hook. It’s protected from the weather from most directions, the bottom is dense, packed sand, which makes for great anchor holding, and it’s enormous, so you can always find some privacy. We stayed aboard and enjoyed boat life that night.
Monday morning, the winds and seas had laid down, and we awoke to much calmer conditions. After requisite coffee, we made our way out of Biscayne Bay and headed north to Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale as the sun was rising off to our starboard. This was a much more pleasant leg of the trip, with the help of the northern currents and friendly winds that allowed us to sail on a close reach with no need for engines. It was quite the contrast to the previous day. Shortly before we entered Port Everglades, Dan caught a mahi while trolling a lure behind Gratitude, and that ended up feeding the three of us for lunch. We sailed smoothly into Ft. Lauderdale just in time to catch the noon opening of the 17th Street Causeway Bridge before tying up at Pier 66 Marina.
Now Gratitude is well-positioned to sail north to escape the hurricane belt once again.