Saturday, February 6, 2021

Key West Wrap

We are underway northbound in the Strait of Florida, bound for Fort Lauderdale after a little over three weeks in Key West. Our plan had been to head up the west coast from the Keys, but circumstances have changed, and the west coast will have to wait. We left Key West yesterday afternoon, and had a somewhat bumpy night at sea.

Sunset over Kismet, surrounded by the sunset cruise boats, from our table at Bistro 245

We had a couple more calm and pleasant days after my last post, and then we were hit with a front that brought 40mph winds out of the north, making the anchorage miserable and trapping us on the boat for the day. Worse, the high winds were causing our anchor to plow through the muddy bottom, and after dragging a couple of boat lengths we had to weigh anchor to re-set.

Rather than the fool's errand of trying to re-set where we were, an area with somewhat poor holding and not enough room to swing on a longer scope, we decided to leave the harbor for Anchorage A, south of Tank Island, also known as Sunset Key (map). That made us next-door neighbors with the superyacht Kismet, and a couple of pleasure craft. The bottom here is sand, and we caught well as soon as we dropped, on a shorter scope than we had in Man of War.

Anchored south of Tank Island, in the relative calm of the following morning. Coasties are boarding the foreign-flagged sailboat anchored ahead of us.

Dragging anchor, no matter how predictable or unavoidable it might have been, always causes you to question your skills as a mariner. Misery loves company, and we took some comfort in watching Kismet drag, too. We were wisely anchored upwind of her. When she hauled her anchor in to reset, it came up with a whole string of lobster pots attached; I counted at least six. She dropped her other anchor (not an option for Vector) to deal with the problem.

Kismet about to drop her port anchor. If you zoom in you can see several lobster pots clustered on the starboard anchor, which can not be retracted into the pocket.

The island did a good job of breaking some of the wind and swell, so, while not exactly calm, we had a much more comfortable stay in this anchorage for the remainder of the blow. It's called Sunset Key for a reason, and we enjoyed a spectacular sunset for our dinner aboard. When the current reversed later in the evening, I had to call Kismet to check their scope; we had anchored well clear, but they had moved and likely deployed more chain after their little adventure. They told me they had four shots out (360'), which would just miss us.

By the next morning things had settled down enough for us to move back to the exact same spot in Man of War Harbor. That was fortuitous, because it was my birthday, and I had made dinner reservations at the Grande Cafe, a white-tablecloth joint with a large patio right on Duval street. We had a nice table right along the street, and the service was good, but we found the food quality not commensurate with the prices. Still, I had a very nice and relaxing day after moving the boat.

Sunset from just south of Sunset Key.

The next blow came just a couple of days later. This time winds were NW at 35, and, anticipating more wind, we had very precisely set the anchor in a spot where we could put out another 40' of chain, so that's what we did. We did not budge, but once again there was pandemonium in the anchorage, including several dinghies that broke free, one of which made its way under the low bridge to Fleming Key and precluding the sailboat who lost it from chasing it down.

Several boats dragged their way through the anchorage, including the megayacht Gallant Lady who had just set their hook in the turning basin at the onset of the storm. One sailboat broke free of its mooring and headed out to sea, where the Coast Guard chased it down with their 45' response boat and hip-towed it back to the harbor. They attached it to a mooring just a couple hundred feet from us, which is not where it had been before it broke loose.

Wayward sailboat being towed in. They passed us close aboard.

No sooner had the Coasties finished with their wayward charge than the catamaran that had anchored near us the previous day, on two anchors (seldom a good idea) dragged its way between two other boats, one unoccupied on a mooring. They called the Coasties for advice, which was to start the engines, weigh anchor, and seek safe harbor. A half hour later they called again, with their prop fouled in the other boat's mooring line and the two boats touching.

It took TowBoatUS three hours and a diver to get the two boats disentangled, including dropping the two anchors, now hopelessly fouled, altogether, with buoys attached. Once they had their anchors back aboard, they re-anchored, thankfully much father from us. That was our entertainment for the afternoon before a quiet dinner aboard. I think it might also have been the entertainment for the US Navy Seahawk helicopter that made a few circles overhead.

Sailing cat Blue Sky tangled with an unoccupied power boat on a mooring. Guys on deck are fending off.

Shortly after Louise turned in for the night, there was a loud crash on the upper deck. That turned out to be the center portion of our flybridge wind deflector blowing off in 25 knots and landing on the deck. Fortunately, the plastic itself was undamaged, and I found two of the four screws on the Portuguese bridge the next morning. There is some damage to the threads on the mounts, but with the addition of some fresh screws I managed to get it back on. We are very thankful that neither did it blow overboard, nor did the plastic around the bolt holes break.

We were ready to move along after a couple of weeks in the anchorage, but we had learned that our friends Steph and Martin aboard Blossom, and Kristina and Atle aboard Summer Star, would be headed to Stock Island from their homes in St. Petersburg on the first of the month, and so we extended our stay so we could connect. We had been tracking them on AIS, and we watched them come down the NW Channel and round the corner on their way to Stock Island.

Itinerant wind deflector.

They opted to ride to town on bicycles, and so we all met for brunch at Bagatelle so they could return in daylight. It was great catching up at a well-spaced balcony table. We saw Martin and Steph again for lunch yesterday at Blue Heaven just before weighing anchor. If we do still make it to the west coast this season, we hope to catch them all again when they return to St. Pete next month.

The big news for us concerns our nieces and their mom, who are winging their way to Florida in a week from their home in California. Long-time readers may know that we typically see them each summer in Long Island as we pass through, but, of course, this year that did not happen. About a month ago the whole family came down with Covid during the California surge, and they are taking advantage of their post-recovery immunity to get away.

Whence it came.

We've agreed to meet them in Hollywood, but with little data on how easily the virus can (or can not) still be carried and spread by those immune, we will be continuing to follow all our existing protocols. Their impending arrival on Friday evening meant we needed to jump on the first weather window that presented itself, which is how we find ourselves inbound to Port Everglades today, and skipping the west coast, at least for now.

In our final week, we made it to Bistro 245, the Duval location of Onlywood, and the Old Town Mexican Cafe in addition to the other places I mentioned. I made more progress on the project and eBay fronts, including yet again dealing with falling production on the watermaker. I have more parts coming to a locker in Fort Lauderdale. I'm also still wrestling with an air leak in the dinghy.

Why? WHY?

This was our longest stay in Key West, yet also the least expensive, at $32 per week for a dinghy pass, rather than $200 per day for a dock. But it was also our first stay where we did not have our scooters available to tool around town, a strange feeling in this scooter-intensive town. It was not much of a hardship in pandemic times.

Since we have a few days before we need to be in Hollywood, today we're going to try again for an anchorage in Fort Lauderdale. In addition to the Amazon locker, I want to tender the scuba tanks to the shop for hydro testing, and pick up some parts from the watermaker dealer in town. Also, we need a fix of our favorite coconut cheesecake. We should have our anchor down before cocktail hour.

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