Monday, July 7, 2008


I left Key West on July 1st, Canada Day. Hindu having left their dock vacant and well on their way to P-town, I was able to, as I had in P-town, tie up at their wharf for a while. My journey north then began on the same note as it had heading south. I was able to top-up on water and gather groceries as well as bring down all my personal items that had gradually accumulated at my conch parent’s house. I had one oar stolen my last day in the anchorage (who steals ONE oar?) so being able to come dockside greatly simplified and sped up the process of getting out of town. It’s true you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and I found myself torn in the final hours. I suddenly became very sensitive and aware of everything I’d been taking for granted. I’ll miss rollerblading along Smathers Beach, having hollering conversations with Jared and Jonathon from their nearby boats, and even greeting the homeless drunks of Simonton Beach when rowing ashore in the mornings. I’ll miss biking around on my friend’s ‘Conch cruiser’ (which I modified to reflect my nationality, and he hasn’t been in Key West long enough recently to notice, but I hope he enjoys the incessant, “Canadian, eh? Canadian, eh? Canadian, eh?” which I frequently heard while riding it around town). I’ll miss the very social Tuesday night poker games hosted by my friend’s dad, hours of great conversation with his mom, and reading the Citizen’s Voice over a cup of Bustelo coffee well before the break of dawn. The crew of the schooner Western Union, all having an appreciation for wooden boats, came over and introduced themselves that final night, and I regret that I hadn’t met one of them in particular sooner. To think we lived within a short boat ride of one another, and we met only long enough to say hello, share a few glasses of wine, and say goodbye. Life’s like that. I can’t help but wonder if I had been more decisive and less passive with who I chose to spend time with if something more valuable and true may have arose.

But as they say, hindsight is 20/20, and so much is clearer to me now. I’m not going to dwell on what may have been. I won’t make the same mistakes again, and I’ll be a much better judge from now on who’s a hit and who’s a miss. A definite hit, Jonathon, was the last person I bid adieu to. I motored to the anchorage and announced that I was blowing this Popsicle stand, and he passed me a gift he had worked on a few nights before. A true friend.

It becomes helpful at this point to remind myself of the things I won’t miss. The mosquitos, rowing against 2 kts of current, the way my Popsicle would start to drip before I got it out of the plastic, or the feeling of having a blowtorch held to my face as I rowed across the harbour in little or no wind under a sun that seemed to ignore any ozone barrier. There were lots of good reasons to stay in Key West, and just as many to leave. It’s once again time to Trust the Universe, and welcome the unknown. There’s so much possibility and opportunity for great new friendships everywhere I drop my anchor, one of which began my first stop after leaving Key West, Bahia Honda.

I had missed this anchorage on my way down in January, instead stopping at Marathon just a few miles east, which is little more than an expensive floating trailer park community. It’s unbelievable than many cruisers make Marathon their winter destination. It’s nearly $15/day just to tie your dingy at the dingy dock. The water is too dirty for swimming, there’s no beach, and once out of the marina, you find yourself on the Overseas Highway where cars race past the Walmarts, Home Depots, and numerous strip malls. I had a certain image of what the Florida Keys would be like before I arrived. Perhaps a bit naive, but I had images of long white sandy beaches, wading out to coral reefs to snorkel among exotic fish, palm trees swaying in the breeze, and of course crystal-clear turquoise water. This is what I finally found when I dropped the hook at Bahia Honda.

There was a good current running in the anchorage, and being down one oar, I opted not to bother launching the dingy off the stern, knowing I probably couldn’t row fast enough to get to shore before I got sucked out under the retired Flagler Railroad Bridge. Instead I pulled out my flippers and snorkel and put my camera in a waterproof case and swam in. It was here I first met Kim and Mike, traveling around the Keys in a Stingray motorboat for their 2 weeks vacation. Upon introduction, they pleaded their innocence; “We’re really sailors! This motorboat thing is just temporary! We’re getting another sailboat soon!”. I believed them. I have yet to see another large motoryacht launch a bright orange 2-man plastic kayak as a dingy.

I wanted to stay much longer in Bahia Honda, but after a swim and photoshoot and the clock approaching noon, I knew I had to leave. I still had many miles of heading due east ahead of me, and the winds are unrelentingly east this time of year, so the best I could hope for was to motor against the winds while they were still relatively light. The forecast at the time gave me 8 more hours to get around the corner where I could start heading north.

Night 2 out of Key West, I didn’t make it as far as I hoped, and I found myself with darkness falling and no good place to drop my anchor. With the winds increasing to 20kts from the east, I had no place to hide, and the sea floor was either coral or sea grass. I was hoping to find a sandy spot because my Bruce anchor sets best in sand or mud. I had slowed down, and was up on the bow trying to see ahead and below for that token bit of sand, when out of nowhere appeared a high-speed boat with 4 official looking guys aboard. It was US Customs and Border Control. Great, just in time to ask them for local knowledge on where to anchor, I thought. But I let them get their business out of the way first. The young guy at the helm looked angry, like his training had taught him to intimidate no matter what the situation. The older guy in charge though was levelheaded and reasonable, and could even be described as overly friendly. I swear he was French Canadian (would US Customs hire non-Americans?). “How many aboard?” he asked. “Just us”, as I pointed to Effie. The look of surprise, which I’ve become well acquainted with, told me that none of this was going to be a problem. The guy at the helm, staying on task, demanded, “Port side or starboard side boarding, Sir?” and the fellow I was speaking with just waved his hand at him to tell him to be quiet. They weren’t going to board a vessel with a single girl aboard. He asked if I had a cruising permit, I said yes. He asked if it was handy, and when I said no, but that it was valid until November, he said, “Okay, that’s cool!”. He asked where I was from, how long I’d been sailing, what I did for a living back home, and if I’d sailed all this way by myself. He commented on how friendly Effie was, and that normally animals on boats are terrified of their two 250HP engines, and usually run below. She stood by the rail, wondering if they were going to bring their boat close enough so she could jump and have some new territory to explore. She rarely passes up an opportunity to escape.

They wished me luck and gave advice on where to anchor, which involved winding through a shallow creek with unlit marks. They had held me up just long enough for the sun to drop below the horizon, so I opted to anchor just where they had stopped me. I knew I’d drag all night in the seagrass, so I just made sure I had plenty of room to drag, and decided I'd wake up every ½ hr through the night to check my position. That was just a necessary fact, and I didn’t care because I knew sleep was going to be impossible regardless. The boat rolled and bucked in the swell all night. At the first sign of light, I got ready to go, and wondered what on God’s green earth was more difficult than hauling a 33lb anchor and 50 ft of chain from 15 feet of water in 20kts of wind and 3 ft of swells, after a sleepless night and before my morning coffee, and with no one there to sympathize with my complaints.

I left the VHF on the weather station all day as they gave continuous updates on the position and movement of a major thunderstorm moving across north Key Largo, packing 60kt winds, torrential rains that would limit visibility to 1/8 of a mile, hail the size of pennies, and the risk of ‘frequent deadly lightning strikes’, as they put it. Not comforting words when you’re sailing through the narrowest part of the reef (less than ¼ mile) and you’re the tallest thing in sight. By this time, I was sailing NNE, so the wind was sufficiently behind me to allow me to sail without the engine running. But wanting to beat this storm, I fired up the engine once more, and averaged 6.5 kts the rest of the way to Key Biscayne. The storm fell behind me, and I felt I’d made a good decision, despite the current price of diesel. Motoring through the channel, tired from stress and no sleep the night before, and dehydrated from sunburn, I clenched my teeth and crossed my fingers as I crossed over 5-ft charted depths of coral heads. I had woven through them before when I left Key Biscayne months ago, but the seas had been calm, and my mind was sharp enough to follow the incremental changes on my handheld GPS. I wasn’t feeling so sharp now, and found myself possessing the attitude, “What the hell, I’ll just hope for the best”, and I made guess at my position based on the green and red daymarks, and did my best to read the color of the water, diverting away from the whiter shades and trying to stay over the green (which I assumed to be seagrass). What can I say, it worked.

Nearly 6 months since my first visit, I am back in No Name Harbor, Key Biscayne; the first stop for my sister and I during the trip south where the water was clear enough and shallow enough to see starfish on the bottom as we sailed along. I had long anticipated my first dive into warm, clear tropical water from my own vessel. I had wondered what would be significant about it that would make it memorable for years to come. Upon arriving here in January, Katie was attempting to make everything all ship-shape before we could relax and enjoy what remained of the afternoon and evening. She dropped the deck-wash bucket over the side to retrieve some water, but as she hauled it back up, the knot let go and the line slipped off, and the bucket started to float away. It was a big white bucket whose original use was to store Tancook sauerkraut. But now, in these closely patrolled waters, it no longer fell under the classification of ‘bucket’. It was now ‘rubbish’, and subject to a $250 fine. “Jump in!” Katie laughed.

“No! You dropped it!”

“You tied the knot! You jump in!”. As blame was tossed back and forth with light-heartedness and laughter (as I like to remember it), the bucket floated further and further away. My paranoia of a Coast Guard clamp-down on the disobedience of foreign boats to local laws grew greater, and I finally stripped down to my bikini and jumped in for the retrieval. The water was not as warm as one would imagine southern Florida to be, even though it was January. But thus was my first swim in Florida waters, and what could be more memorable than looking up at your little wooden boat, with a backdrop of palm trees and a slowly cooling sunset, and to be cradling an empty bucket once abundant with good old Nova Scotian sauerkraut?

Kim and Mike arrived in No Name Harbor two days ago, and after having dinner aboard their boat and learning of their canal-side home a few miles north of Fort Lauderdale, the next portion of my journey is planned. I had been previously toying with the idea of heading offshore from Key Biscayne and going directly to St Augustine, but that’s on the side-burner for now. It’s really become one day at a time, as I watch the approach of Hurricane Bertha, which as I write this at 6pm Atlantic time Monday, is 730miles east of the Windward Islands of the Caribbean.

So tomorrow I'm heading offshore, jumping on the Gulfstream Express, which will increase my speed by 3 kts, hopefully. I'll be up to Hilsborough Inlet by late afternoon, and hopefully dockside before dark, where I'll make a toast to Annie on our 2 year Anniversary.