Bending West through the Keys

Another night at anchor...
Our local planetary system didn’t disappoint.

We took off from Key Biscayne bright and early, having checked the weather forecast again that morning and comparing what they said to what we saw. Sure…looks about right.

Just after
Way out there…

The very end of the ebb gnawed the sea into sharp, short peaks and, after an hour and the turn we were hoping would open up our possibilities, we realized that the wind was too far south of east and too weak/flukey to be sailed down Hawk Channel. The irritating chop and the mainsail that continually threatened to flog met up with our strong desire not to motor all day and we…turned around.

Going back anywhere is not our first instinct. Finding that a weather forecast was just wrong enough to create miserable conditions and adapting to that, though? We learned that lesson on S/V Sovereign Nation in the Puget Sound, when we had pointed the boat at Sidney, BC, but we finally realized that we were not impervious to the facts. Sometimes the facts are that misery lies in one direction and happiness in the other.

We chose happiness.


Not only did it turn into teatime-in-the-cockpit conditions as soon as we turned around, we were immediately able to finish the engine. We downwinded all the way back to the anchorage area off Biscayne, bypassing the far-out spot we’d taken during the Miami boat show clusterfuck. A good sized gap between boats presented itself a full quarter of a mile closer to the shore-access basin (called No Name Harbor…yawn), and I (Dena), being the one at the helm, made the executive decision (after consultation with James) that we would anchor under sail rather than torture ourselves and Beluga Greyfinger with the infernal combustion engine.

The maneuver was a complete success, though it didn’t look or feel as elegant as I’d hoped. The bow falls off mighty fast when our speed goes below a couple of knots. I’m getting better at predicting it but maybe didn’t give the building flood current quite enough credit for how it would spin us. Still learning, every day even after 23 years.

Tursiops inverted
Tursiops right-side-up and looking good!

The constant wakes (right next to a no-wake sign) made working on Tursiops untenable, whether on deck or in the water, so our consolation prize for being back in a place we’d just left was supposed to be a decadent and hopefully excellent South Indian meal. Mmm, idly and vada with sambar and chutneys, maybe even a Kerala style fish dish? The next day, we meandered down the path through the park, eyes and ears alert for the wonderful big lizards and sparky wee ones too.

The Liz
Crazy little critter

Leaving the good stuff, we marched right past all the condo complexes and vacation rentals. People driving golf carts down the road, taking their time, ignored cars in a hurry bearing down on them and honking, and we tried to stay separate from the car politics. There is so much beautiful life in Florida, it’s too bad about that Stupid Floridian infestation, ugh.

We’d already done this 5-mile walk once, only to discover that the restaurant was closed on Mondays…cue the weeping. This time, we’d double-checked that they would be open and, sure enough, they closed between lunch and dinner and we carefully timed our arrival for safety. Seated and entertained by Bollywood-style song-and-dance on a TV screen, we bartered over how much food was reasonable to order compared with how greedy we felt about getting enough of each flavor.

As soon as I (Dena) started to order, the server said, “We do not serve South Indian here.” I replied with some strangled version of a wha?!? He explained further, “Only Midtown. Only in Midtown do they serve this.”

…Midtown Miami, fuck that shit!

An entire menu printed and still loosely laying across my palms, and it never occurred to anyone that this could be misleading? Disappointing? Disappointed? Is that the word for how I felt?

Sure, let’s go with that.

So on a wave of righteous indignation we went back to the boat with the bone-deep conviction that Key Biscayne had nothing further to offer us.

All night...
…finally some peace!

We left at first light, before sunrise, the next morning.

Once in Hawk Channel, the winds were far enough east of south that we were able to fly all plain sail and let LoveBot steer. We weren’t going lightning speeds but we were free and clear of both the noise and the dragging emotional weight of motoring. As we were passed by stickboat after stickboat (a boat with a mast that has no sails deployed) and an eye-popping procession of powerboats (mostly sport fishers aka water game hunters and trawlers aka condos on the water), we savored the feeling that we were doing what we wanted to do, the way we wanted to do it.

All laundry aloft!
Port Tack with all the laundry flying

A beat turned into a reach and the eastern coral reef absorbed the offshore waves and suddenly we were in our comfort zone. Sailing in the North Atlantic part of the Earth’s great Ocean and heading just a little more West of South.

Once the Die-Sell was switched in the “Off” position, the sailing kitty Cats-Up and gets his sail on.

Beluga Greyfinger hiding from the engine
Hiding from Infernal Combustion

About six hours later we pulled up to Old Rhodes Key and buried the hook in eleven feet of soft Florida sand thinly covered in turtle grass. And there we were, anchored in the wide open Ocean on brilliant orange glass.

Old Rhodes Key
Just after sunset

We ate lightly and slept like babies. It’s truly amazing how well I (James) sleep after a full day’s sail!

Sailing off the hook 0700
Silence is the sound of the perfect engine.

The next morning, we sailed off the hook in a fair easterly breeze that bellowed like the breathing of the world all the live long day. We sailed our little vessel on every part of that port tack, eeking every bit of velocity we could and, to our bemused and disciplined enjoyment, it proved to be our slowest ever. We sailed 25 nautical mile in nine hours and seven minutes, making our average speed 2.79 knots.

Hey, this is living under sail and sometimes it’s a meditation on patience with only the periodic punctuation of pain and excitement.

Beluga Greyfinger on the boom

…and that’s okay.

Easing slowly by the massed hordes of weekenders on the north and east sides of Rodriguez Key (where the guides tell you to anchor), we chose the more open flats off the southwest bit because it would give us a good setup for sailing off the anchor when we left. The whole day had turned into the focused living-out of the philosophy that, when on a sailboat, sail that boat! We had sailed off the hook off Old Rhodes Key and we set the hook under sail off Rodriguez. Buzzing with the slow-moving excitement of a pure sailing day, we woofed down our arepas and settled into the still night.



  1. Absolutely the most apt description of the life on a sailboat!
    “living under sail and sometimes it’s a meditation on patience with only the periodic punctuation of pain and excitement.” Love it!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.