What might be a night heron, perched on the bow line of the Schooner Jolly Rover

Free and Easy

We are at loose ends for the first time since the beginning of November, when James’ mom died and we started planning how to get him to her celebration of life. The trip to this moment has been a combination of harrowing and boring, quiet enjoyment of birds and fish and sadness over wildlife wounded by people. We couldn’t make it to Isla Mujeres on the Yucatan Peninsula in Quintana Roo, Mexico, to meet my dad, which was disappointing, but that gave us a lot of leisure along the way to Key West, where Larry Allen and Lea Anne were meeting us.

When we last left you, dear reader, we had sailed off the anchor at Old Rhodes Key and sailed incredibly slowly to Rodriguez Key.

Tonight's lightshow from Fiesta Key
The skies were never less than gorgeous. This shot includes Venus and Jupiter as they were approaching each other.

Once there, in completely dead air, we couldn’t bring ourselves to force a motoring day when we still had more than two weeks before we needed to be in Key West. Instead, we swam (crystal clear water and maybe a blue-striped grunt [we’re still refining our fish ID skills]), cleaned the boat hull by hand (which attracted a smallish grouper that adopted us for shade!), took acid for the first time in ages (brilliant!), and enjoyed time for writing and editing.

James, hard at creative work. Beluga Greyfinger, softly draped where he could see us both
James has amazing concentration, but I guess so does Beluga Greyfinger.

We do have something like “my side and his side” due to my preference for writing on my lap and James’ for having his computer on the table.

...from the other side!
Beluga sleeps a lot, but not alllll the time.

On the fourth day, after several other boats had come and gone, we sailed off the anchor again. It’s a real joy to keep a day peaceful like that. We did nearly constant fiddling with the sails because the wind rose and fell so often. When you only have about 8 knots of wind to begin with, a lull or gust doesn’t have to be intense to have a real effect on the angle of sail…and the attitude of the sailors!

As much as I’d like to geek out about it, I’ll just say for the interested that the reason will become clear if you goog “apparent wind”.

Our destination for the day was Fiesta Key because some strong southerlies were predicted and all the other anchorages are exposed to the Caribbean Sea and/or Gulf of Mexico…it gets a little questionable in that area. The entire key is an RV park, more or less, with a marina and some cabins and a restaurant with a happy (more than an) hour even on the weekends. We hadn’t successfully eaten out for a while (still sad about missing out on South Indian food) so it seemed like a good time to try again.

The protection Fiesta Key provided was from the big waves off the big water, but we still got chop off the extended shallows. Going into the marina for food was a wet and wild experience, and oh boy did we concentrate on enjoying ourselves. Discipline is key when the sunburnt folks around are too drunk to know why they’re in pain and the servers are coked up to the point of ‘I could give a fuck!’

Hey…we didn’t have to cook and we didn’t have to clean. It worked out just fine for us. Too bad for the people who have to keep going back there day after day just to feed the fam.

Our Fiesta Key
The sunset view was thrilling.

The best thing about the spot we chose? We were completely alone at anchor. Sure, fishing boats of all sizes rocked us with their wakes sometimes, but the jet skis and the Trawndos (Trawler/Condo on the water) (surely drinking tranya) remained well away from us. We could hear the live music from ashore but just barely. And each evening, we had the sunset absolutely to ourselves.

After the southerlies, the wind was quite hard to find. Less than ten days until James’ brother and sister were to reach Key West, we decided we’d go ahead and motorsail to Marathon. We were also out of, oh, everything. Bread, dinghy fuel, eggs…the list went on and on. James hailed the city marina as we approached the Boot Key Channel and got no answer. He called and was told that there were no moorings available so we aborted our approach. The area just outside the channel is used as anchorage though not an officially designated one, and I realized that the sheer number of boats anchored in nearly unprotected water should have clued me in that there was no room at the inn.

I know that some folks love Marathon, but I couldn’t get over the negatives. Notice the curious lack of photos? The water big-game hunters blasted through the anchored boats as though resenting our presence…or just not giving a shit. The rental jet ski operators looked frighteningly inept and even the other boats that came in and anchored just didn’t exhibit the kind of skill that would allow us to be truly comfortable.

It’s a long dinghy ride and a long walk to anything in Marathon from the anchorage outside the Boot Key Harbor. There’s a restaurant not far from the entrance that has a $10 dinghy dock (free if you eat there and no one patrols it anyway), but it’s definitely not near provisioning. We walked the 3.5 miles out to groceries and got a cab back.

Another couple miles in by dinghy, the city marina charges $22 for people at anchor to use the dinghy dock…the same amount they charge for a night on a mooring. That provides access to showers that we didn’t use, laundry we couldn’t use because of how many people were lined up for the machines, and free pumpout that we didn’t need. As the kind of person who thinks breakfast for two should still be less than that, I was not happy.

And yet, the combination of weather and Key West’s reputation as difficult for anchored boats kept us off Boot Key for six long days. We only went in twice, and spent the rest of the time on writing and projects and watching ‘Serials’ on James’ tech.

The next stop was a good night’s sleep in the middle of nowhere. No, seriously, Lois Key has nothing going on except wave breakage and it was exactly what we needed. A deep finger reaches between some shoals but doesn’t continue all the way to the mangrove key, so there weren’t all those dumb fishing boats using it as a channel.

Top Dead Center
The only work we got done…I (Dena) replaced our ragged top-dead-center mark for James’ up-n-coming birthday.

And then we sailed to Key West. The plethora of boats spreads throughout Man Of War Harbor, which is between the Key West Channel, the Garrison Bight Channel, and the Calda Channel, forced us into a location near the center in depths of about 25 feet with mixed rock and mud. Lotta chain, lotta making sure we don’t drag, lotta big-water-game hunters bearing down on us at full speed, lotta right-off-the-cruise-ship jet ski operators putting us on edge with their nearly-out-of-control antics…and a whole lotta awesome sunsets!

Anchored in Key West

We were early for the fam. Just early enough, really.

Turns out, Key West’s dinghy dock experience is $8 to Marathon’s $22 and one line on a printed Excel sheet to Marathon’s invasive ten minutes of questioning. Marathon even requires that you provide a copy of the registration for the ANCHORED boat as well as the dinghy. Can you believe that? Key West, it turns out, is less tight-assed than Marathon. Good to know.

America 2.0
A vessel James first saw as a participant in the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race.

The experience of being in Key West for both Spring Break and the week of St Patrick’s Day was overwhelming, but we loved the birds and the boats.

To be continued…


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