Wednesday, March 10, 2010

March 10, 2010 - Boot Key Harbor

Hi guys,
Here is our latest mass email which summarizes in a little more detail our journey since Everglades City.
There are about 20 new photos in the Current Photo Album.

Dear friends and family,

Unless you’ve been following the blog (, you last heard from us in Everglades City, Florida on January 12. We had just survived the big freeze that killed so many fish and reptiles. In Everglades City we bought all the groceries we could carry then sailed south through Everglades National Park.

We were in or near the open Gulf of Mexico most of the time, but we also traveled some of the tidal passages between islands. Each day we reached a new key and tied up there. Sometimes there was solid land to walk on, sometimes not. Sometimes we saw other people, sometimes not. One day the weather and water were warm so Steve relieved some curiosity by intentionally tipping Thurston over in a calm creek. Once past about 60 degrees she capsized to the point where the masts hit the bottom. He swam underneath and pulled the masts out. She rolled over a little more but the buoyancy of the cabin caused her to float extremely high and cocked to one side. Steve stood on her upturned belly, tied a rope to the high side, and leaned back toward the low side. She righted! It’s good to know we can rescue ourselves from a capsize.

As we approached Cape Sable, where the land bends to an east-west direction, the winds became contrary, so it took us four days to round this major headland. Then we sailed east through Florida Bay, which is extremely shallow and dotted with small islands. We ran aground several times but within 24 hours we were in the Upper Florida Keys.

We landed at the town of Islamorada on Plantation Key. We anchored in front of a city park for three days. The authorities said we were illegal there so we moved to Upper Matecombe Key, which is where Steve landed at the end of his famous 1990-1993 voyage. We anchored in a bay on the Gulf side where we could wade to a public street end. We took the bus to various stores as necessary to further improve the boat. For example, we upgraded our cushions, reinforced a leaky mast step, and installed a stern light. The local police didn’t like us there either, though, so we moved to a canal hidden in an abandoned forest on the Ocean side of Windlay Key. No one noticed us while we reconfigured the footrests that Steve uses when he rows. (The new footrests are integral with an open stowage bin on the forward side of the lazarette.) Whenever we emerged from the woods onto the public road we were careful to not be seen, so the cops wouldn’t run us off again. It’s unclear whether we’re actually breaking any law; according to one interpretation even a small boat is required to have a sewage holding tank if lived in full-time. It is abundantly clear, though, that the Islamorada police don’t like hobos!

After three weeks in Islamorada we sailed, over the course of three days, to Marathon, the next town down the chain of islands. In the center of Marathon lies Boot Key Harbor, where hundreds of boats lie at mooring buoys, at docks, and at anchor. Many of these boats are lived in fulltime. The liveaboards are a complete community, with a daily 9:00 am radio discussion on VHF. We couldn’t find anywhere to anchor where we could wade ashore, so we anchored among mangrove at the inner end of the harbor. Then someone gave us a free inflatable dinghy! Once we had replaced the missing oars and oarlocks we were able to easily get ashore. Now it’s hard to see how we got by without a dinghy! Some boaters stay here for a day or two, others have been here for years. We’ve made friends from New Brunswick, Ohio, and Ontario, all of whom spend some portion of their time living aboard sailboats.

Marathon is even better situated than Islamorada for getting boat work done. A West Marine, a Home Depot, a library, and food stores are all within walking distance. Here we have added shelves, spice racks, and a rain tarp. We’ve also added secure closures to our water tank caps because they were coming loose and spilling our drinking water. In fact, we have so successfully worked out Thurston’s bugs that we no longer deem it necessary to return to Larry’s house in Georgia before proceeding toward the Caribbean, which remains our destination.

You could say that our shakedown cruise is now done and we are poised nearly as far south as you can go in the U.S. The weather is finally warm enough to wear T-shirts, but the water is far too cold to swim. Must . . . go . . .further . . . south! But Cuba blocks a direct southerly route. Should we go east around it or west? Stay tuned!

We hope you are all doing well and that newness spices up your lives with sufficient frequency.