Well, we are definitely starting to get into the groove of cruising. I sat down to write this, and after thinking it over for a few minutes, could not figure out the date or the day of the week. I think that’s one of the things I love so much about this lifestyle. My body starts to adapt to the rhythm of the sun, going to bed at 8:30pm and waking up around 6am. Our days are productive and busy, but in a different way. This morning Kyle worked for 3 hours doing design work and during that time I practiced yoga on the foredeck and started writing an article idea out. Sometimes I get a bit bummed out about technology and how much it has seemed to take over our society, but at the same time I feel so thankful that we are both able to make money while floating miles away from the nearest town and surrounded by mangroves- both doing things we love. So instead of being bummed I say my thank you’s and choose to approach technology in moderation. Anyway! Speaking of being surrounded by mangroves, as I write this, we are currently in an incredible anchorage in the Everglades.
Last week we left Lemon Bay and took the ICW 4 hours south to Charlotte Harbor where we anchored in Cayo Costa. It was a pretty chilly day, but the sun was shining bright and there were dolphins everywhere, so it made it an enjoyable journey. It was really nice coming out from under the last bascule bridge into the open waters of Charlotte Harbor. After being on the ICW for so many days, the open expanse of water was a nice change and we were able to sail as we didn’t have to worry about depth as much. It was a quick and rather uneventful trip from Lemon Bay to Cayo Costa.. right up until we went to enter the Cayo Costa anchorage. Kyle and I have been to Cayo Costa multiple times on many different boats and it’s always a shallow and a bit intense entrance into the anchorage, but we have always made it just fine. However, on this day, it was low tide and we were a little over confident because we had been there recently and felt we remembered where the deepest water was. As we approached the sign to turn left and follow the beach into the deeper part of the anchorage, our depth dropped so quickly that we couldn’t react quick enough and ran hard aground. Fortunately our boat is a full keeled boat so running aground isn’t really a problem, but we were really close to shore and it was making me nervous. Plus, whether your boat cares or not, running aground isn’t exactly fun! So after attempting to both motor and sail off the sand to no avail, we quickly launched Lucy, our dinghy, and Kyle hopped in while I handed him the oars and the stern anchor which is ready to deploy for this exact reason (and as an emergency break). Kyle rowed the anchor out to the deep water while I wrapped the anchor line around the winch. Once he was back aboard he used the winch to pull us off the sand and back into deeper water. The whole situation took less than 10 minutes from when we hit the sand to being back underway, but as always it was an intense 10 minutes and we acted in unison to take care of the situation. There is a saying “If you haven’t run aground, you haven’t be around!” And it’s very true! Kyle and I have ran aground more times than I can count over the years, and that is why we have a system in place. So after giving each other a high-five at how quickly we took care of the situation and how well our system worked, we slowed down, studied the chart better, and the second time around made it into the Cayo Costa anchorage with no troubles 🙂
That afternoon Kyle went up the mast for a couple hours to install some spreader lights, change out some rigging pins, and to just do a general check of the rig as we knew were going offshore soon. Usually I go up the mast because it’s hard for me to winch Kyle up and it’s easy for him to winch me up, but he had too many projects to do and I didn’t know how to do them all. So he sat patiently in the boson’s chair as I used the winch handle to very slowly pull him up to the top of the mast. He got some pretty cool pictures up there and we finished up a lot of loose end projects. Once down from the mast Kyle and I put on our wetsuits and jumped into the water to scrub the bottom of the boat. I wasn’t wearing a weight belt and was head to toe in neoprene and was so buoyant that I had the hardest time cleaning the bottom of the boat. Kyle watched me try to go to the bottom of the keel and I would just shoot right back up, usually turning upside down along the way. Everything about what I was doing was far from graceful and Kyle found it hilarious. Not sure how much help I was with the actual cleaning, but I provided some entertainment for Kyle! Next time I’ll wear my weight belt.
The next couple days were spent relaxing and cuddled up inside the boat as a cold front came down and brought rain and high winds. We busted out our extra kerosine lanterns and enjoyed a couple evenings of movies, reading, and cooking baked potatoes as the oven warmed the whole cabin. One morning, the sun decided to poke through the clouds for an hour or so and we took the opportunity to row over to a little beach. The beach was pretty small, but we were both excited to be on land so we paced back and forth the small patch of sand, hot coffee in hand, sharing stories and giggling at the pelicans as they dove beak down into the water creating a crash and splash- half the time coming up with a fish. We watched as the dark clouds began to move towards the anchorage from the North and guessed at how long we had before they brought rain. When the wind started to pick up and the sun tucked back behind the clouds, we hopped into Lucy and I rowed us slowly back to the boat. Dolphin played all around the anchorage that morning and I let Lucy drift a few minutes to observe them. Back aboard the boat and in the comfort of our cozy cabin, we sat down at the table and had a weather and route plan meeting.
We decided to leave the following morning around 4am and head South. The winds were supposed to be a bit higher than we would usually choose to sail in, but were supposed to decrease the farther South we went and as the hours passed. The plan was to head straight for Marathon, skipping the Dry Tortuguas due to a poor weather window, with a potential stop in the Everglades along the way depending on conditions and how we were feeling. With that plan in place, and knowing how high the wind and seas were going to be, we set out and prepared the boat for the passage. I meal prepped for two days of being underway because sometimes if the seas are too rough we don’t feel like cooking. I loaded the cockpit benches with snacks and filled up our water bottles. Kyle did a walk through of everything on the deck and made sure everything was secured down how he likes it and the decks clear and clean. I did the same down below- stowing my kombucha, oil diffuser, drum, and a few other items that only come out when at anchor. That night we went to bed early in anticipation of a long day and early alarm. Around 4am the alarm went off and we crawled out of the warm bed into the chilly cabin. Coffee was being brewed before I was even fully dressed and the stove quickly took the chill out of the cabin. I set up our lee cloths (pieces of cloth that tie up so we don’t fall out of our settees while sleeping and sailing) and made the settees cozy with sheets and blankets. The moon was out so it made picking up the anchor easy, but the high winds made it so we had to yell to hear each other as I commanded the engine and Kyle used the windlass to pull up the anchor. We motored from our anchorage out into the channel and as soon as we turned towards the Charlotte Harbor inlet, were greeted with steep waves and even higher winds. It was quite exciting and very wet as salt water sprayed all over the deck. We had to go into the wind before turning down to head South, so until we made it out of the inlet the wind and waves were against us, creating some pounding and lots of splashes. Kyle navigated and set sails as I steered and off we went into the open Gulf.
Within an hour we were far enough out of the large inlet to turn down towards our destination. This dramatically changed our conditions as instead of pounding into the wind and waves, they were going with us. However, the seas were still quite big and as we shut down the engine and reefed the main sail (made the sail smaller) we were traveling at almost 7 knots as we surfed down the large waves. That is pretty fast for our boat, especially under only one sail! Kyle took over steering because he is more experienced in heavy seas and I decided to try and get some sleep. The sleep didn’t really come, as I was being tossed and turned in my settee as we rolled and surfed with the waves. The forecast had called for 3-5 ft seas, but the waves started doubling up and we were experiencing some 8-12 ft from time to time. They looked huge and it definitely caused a bit of fear for me! Even though we have been in bigger seas and were prepared for the heavy conditions, it has been a couple years and I forgot how big they look when they are behind you! However, Sirocco was handling the conditions as though they were totally normal and we were able to use the wind vane, so didn’t have to steer at all. Eventually it became normal and we turned on some music and hung out and ate snacks in the cockpit enjoying the show. As the day progressed Kyle tried to get some rest as well but neither of us could really get any sleep. We knew that it was a long way to Marathon and without much sleep and both being pretty exhausted, we started looking at places to stop along the way. After some research on the IPad using Navionics and reading the chart and other people’s comments on the Everglades, we chose an inlet called Indian River Pass. It was about 5pm when we decided to head towards land and duck into the Everglades, but we still had a long journey ahead to get there. It took about 4 hours to get in past the shallow areas outside of the Everglades, and we navigated carefully around the shoals. The conditions got better and better as we headed south, so we were able to take turns napping. Around 9pm we turned up and headed for the light marking the inlet of the Pass. It was another 3 hours to get to the inlet but the conditions were much improved due to the protection of land and we were able to put out some more sails. Neither of us had ever been to the Everglades, and since it was somewhat unplanned going there, we started to get pretty giddy and excited about what we would find. The first thing we noticed as we started to get closer was that there was almost no light pollution coming from land. The stars shone so bright and the sliver of moon lit up the water around us. I hadn’t seen stars like that in such a long time that it took my breath away. As we approached the inlet we took down the sails and turned on the engine so we could better control our speed and position. Using our spot light (thank you Patti and Rick!) we navigated slowly and carefully between the markers, using the charts, depth sounder, spot light, and our eyes to avoid any shallow areas. The water was dead calm by the time we came into the inlet and navigating up to our anchorage was rather easy. By this point it was 1:30am and we found a perfect little hole surrounded by mangroves on all sides and dropped the anchor in 12 ft of water. We were both so exhausted and excited that our spirits were very high and we cooked some dinner and made a couple mixed drinks and cheers’d to making it through the trying, but enjoyable day. As the oil lantern and oven warmed our little cabin, we laughed and discussed how proud we were of Sirocco and how well she handled such rough conditions. Nothing broke, nothing moved down below, everything stayed secured in its spot, and we felt it was a true indication of our preparations and work during the refit. Sitting at the table scarfing down rice, beans, and warm tortillas we were both rather loopy from lack of sleep and when it was finally time to lay our heads down we talked about how incredible we felt. Overly exhausted, full, warm and cozy from the lingering warmth, and grateful. A deep sleep came on quickly and I couldn’t wait to wake up in the morning and actually see where we were!
On Sunday morning we woke up around 7am and I quickly hopped out of bed and started layering up. Leggings, socks, hat, long sleeve, puffy, and shoes on, I flipped on the propane switch and lit the stove, setting the half filled kettle on the burning flame. I lit our kerosine lantern and as the water began to warm up, I slid open the hatch and poked my head into the drizzly gray morning. One of my favorite things about sailing is coming into a port at night. You get to see it in a different light and have no idea what exactly to expect in the morning. It reminded me of a time off the coast of Honduras when we arrived to an island at night and awoke in the morning to crystal clear waters and a tiny wooded island 200 miles from anywhere. On this particular morning I poked my head out and saw mangroves surrounding us in all directions. I felt like we were in a little cove of mangroves and as there were no other boats around, it felt extremely isolated and I took a moment to soak in the utter silence of my surroundings. How long had it been since the last time we were so secluded from the hustle bustle of the world? The squealing of the kettle startled me out of my daze and I retreated back into the heated cabin where Kyle was groggily climbing out of bed. “It’s so warm in here… thank you,” he said while giving me a hug. We made coffee and joked that we would be needing more than one cup that morning.
The rest of the afternoon was spent doing chores around the boat. Washing the salt water off the decks, letting some lockers in the cockpit air out, inflating our inflatable dinghy, tidying up down below, and just a general clean of the boat. I lugged our unfortunately large dirty clothes bag on deck and retrieved the buckets and “washing machine” (aka a fancy plunger with holes to aerate the water). Sometimes I love doing laundry by hand, it feels nostalgic and is actually quite the work out. But on this afternoon as I looked at the overflowing bag of clothes I found myself thinking “and this is why someone invented a washing machine”. Anyway, an hour later I was splattered with biodegradable laundry soap and water and called Kyle on deck to help with the wringing out and hanging up. We had only seen one other boat all morning, and of course as soon as we lined our life lines with underwear, clothes, and sheets, a big pontoon tour boat comes cruising by chasing some dolphins a little up the way from us. Kyle shifted a bit uncomfortably, laughing. “Oh it’s a funny life,” he said. Kyle and I pride ourselves on keeping our boat clean and tidy and keeping the things on deck down to a minimum and try to not have things strewn about. But on laundry days, there is no choice and we giggled at the timing of the tour boat loaded with people.
Later that afternoon we decided to take our inflatable dinghy on a little tour of the Everglades ourselves. Some good friends of ours gave us the most amazing going away gift – an inflatable boat called a Nifty Boat. (Thank you Strobels!!!) It’s 10’ 6” long and has a hard transom for an outboard. It is equipped with oars and little covered bow. Once inflated it feels very much like a sturdy boat and the best thing about it is that it goes 2-3x the speed of our hard sided dinghy Lucy. When deflated and folded up, it fits perfectly under Lucy on the cabin top. We named this new dinghy Jude and have really grown to love him. With Jude loaded with life jackets, extra fuel, the outboard, and ourselves, we headed up the little inlet from our anchorage. We made sure to bring our GPS as to not get lost in the endless backwaters and passage ways that make up the Everglades. It was a gray afternoon, but the air was crisp and I enjoyed the coolness on my face, feeling thankful we bundled up so well. We saw lots of birds, dolphins, and fish, but no alligators or big snakes! It was a delightful little excursion.
The next couple days happened in a similar fashion, except the sun started to peak out through the clouds and we watched as the solar panels topped up our batteries. One afternoon we decided to make the 4 mile journey into Everglades City. We packed up Jude with lunch, drinks, and a variety of different clothing layers to accommodate the quickly changing temperatures. It was about an hour and a half dinghy ride into the town and we stopped half way through for lunch on an oyster covered sand bar. Once we arrived into the “city” (less than 700 people and very little there!) we found a restaurant with a dock to tie up to. Being known for its fishing and hunting, I was beyond pleased when we found a restaurant with a waterfront sign that said “vegetarian and vegan options!” We pulled up and I hopped out of the boat to ask if we could leave our dinghy there while we walked to the hardware store before coming back to get some food and drinks. The owner was extremely friendly and we secured Jude to the dock before venturing into to town. The town was mostly just a lot of houses on stilts, with lots of little inns and vacation rentals. We made our way to the hardware store to get a couple items. It’s always fun walking around a place we’ve never been. I like seeing how people live and what types of things they do for fun. It was a sleepy little town and we were able to see quite a bit of it in our short walk to the hardware store. Once back to the restaurant we ordered some drinks and appetizers and sat by the water watching all the airboats and fishing boats cruise by. We headed back to the boat around sunset and reveled in our surroundings as dolphins played 50ft from our boat and the sun dropped behind the low lying land. That night after a game of Monopoly we bundled up and sat on the foredeck gazing up at the incredibly vibrant stars. The night was so clear and crisp that we could make out the edges of the Milky Way and with such little light pollution we could make out all the constellations with the help of our star gazing pamphlet. Kyle was searching for a particular star with the binoculars and I sat back and took in every little sensation around me: the subtle wind, the lapping of water on Sirocco’s hull, my slow breathing, a fish that jumped, breaking the surface of the water. Here we were, floating on our little home, surrounded by nothing by mangroves and the vastness of the night sky. It was hard to tell where the horizon ended and the sky began. I truly felt that I was in a globe, it made me feel incredibly insignificant in the scale of the universe, but in a way that caused me to burst with pure joy. I laughed out loud at the situation I found myself in, and felt unbelievably grateful for everything in life that had led to that exact moment.
The next day we checked the weather and decided that the following early morning would be the perfect time to leave to finish the 80 miles to the Keys. With an alarm set for 2am, we spent the rest of the day resting and preparing the boat for the passage. We went to bed early in anticipation of what were supposed to be pretty ideal sailing conditions.
As I write this, we are anchored off a small island in the Keys, near Marathon. It was the most magical passage from the Everglades to here, but as I see my word count reaching nearly 4,000 words, I am going to sign off and continue the rest of our journey in another post.
Cheers everyone, have a marvelous day!