Sailing, What You Don't See On Instagram
I’m SO far behind on the blog so I’m going to try to quickly recap our time traveling down the west coast of Florida, the Keys and Miami in this post.
There are some really wonderful things to see in western Florida but we didn’t stay too long in any one place because we were on a fast track to the Bahamas. Our mindset has been that we didn’t take all this time off to visit Florida. We’re looking for more culture and that quintessential tropical beach.
My last entry left off with us arriving in Clearwater, FL, at night, anchoring in an unfamiliar channel. We managed to find one small area outside of a few restaurants and hotels in the waterway that was an acceptable anchor spot. At that point, we were exhausted from our 34 hour crossing and overjoyed just to see land. We went to bed right away, only to wake up to another obstacle…
Meep. Meep. Meep. Chuuuga chuuuugga. “Turn the key again!” Meep. Meep. “Try now!” Nothing.
We woke up to a dead battery system. That wouldn’t even take a jump start.
I know you’re probably thinking, well you’re on a sailboat, can’t you sail out? The answer is yes, we could have, if we were freaking expert sailors, this wasn't our third sail out on the ocean, and we weren’t in front of a line of restaurants. It wasn’t our day to be heroes so we called our trusty friends at BoatUS.
If you’re a sailor, or at all considering an extended sail trip, we can’t stress how important it is to have a BoatUS membership. Get this…we paid $150 for an annual membership which covers as many tows as we need throughout the year. We joked and slightly considered getting towed to the Bahamas! ;)
We already had a mooring ball reserved at the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina which was about a 7 hour sail south of Clearwater and BoatUS had no problem brining us straight to our mooring ball. So they towed us 7 hours for $150! Without that membership that would have cost us nearly $2,500!
During our tow ride, we discovered the St. Petersburg Marina does not allow boats to be towed into the marina, another obstacle. So we started calling around to every boat mechanic and marina in the area and not one of them had room for us. It was a hectic afternoon trying to figure out where we could land our boat. Tye had a pretty good idea of what the issue was, and that he could fix it, so really we just needed a place to stay while we accessed the situation. After exhausting all of our options, we sweet talked the St. Petes marina into letting us come in on the condition that our boat would be up and running within three days, or else we'd sail off the ball (yeah right!). So we were able to get towed right to our mooring ball and our friends Robert & Rhonda from Eagle Too happened to be at a rooftop bar while we were making our grand entrance.
The next few days at St. Petersburg centered around diagnosing our electrical issue. Tye and Robert were able to identify a parasitic draw - the house bank was pulling from the starter battery through a long forgotten connection (look at me using mechanical terms). Tye rerouted the system and we picked up an extra battery to get us by. We knew we’d eventually need to replace the entire battery bank since the batteries were drawn so low (8.6 volts) and they were going on a few years old anyhow.
Aside from the mechanical issues, we were able to get a good taste of St. Petersburg. Robert & Rhonda are also full time cruisers and they spend about three months in St. Petes each year, so they were great tour guides. St. Petes has such a fun vibe. Parks and running trails line the waterfront and fun restaurants, bars and shops are just a short walk away. It’s a wonderful oceanside city and I was surprised to find lots of historical charm.
While in St. Petes we were also able to see with our good friend Krista, author of Beckoned. She happened to be in town visiting friends at the same time. Tye and I have been so lucky to rekindle many relationships along the way. Seeing friends and family thorough the journey has really been a highlight!
After three days in St. Petes we continued south. We were trying to get to Marathon, FL in time to meet our friends Bob & Lynne who were vacationing in the keys at the same time. This time we traveled down the Intercostal Waterway. The ICW is a series of canals that run through neighborhoods for hundreds of miles. We spent the next couple days motoring through these canals and admiring the beautiful homes along the shores. It was a much needed break after being out in the exposed ocean for days prior.
Traveling the ICW can be tricky. There’s plenty to pay attention to, especially when you have a 6'6" draft like we do. There are more than enough places to run aground so we hugged the center dredge line to a tee. We also had 9 drawbridges to cross under. I learned the correct way to radio a bridge and request access for SV Fernweh.
One highlight of our ICW days was anchoring outside of Sarasota, FL, gazing at the city line and having a glass of wine on the bow. That will always be a favorite moment.
During those days I also learned how to workout on the boat. I found I can use the tiny spot between the bow hatches for burpees and squats, etc. Kayla Itsines is my girl these days.
We followed the ICW for three days until we came to Marco Island where we anchored at Factory Bay. We had heard great things about Marco Island but when we arrived it was still a ghost town recovering from the hurricanes. This was the first time we really started to see hurricane damage and it did put a little damper on our time there. Most of the restaurants were closed but we were able to provision, visit a great Mexican food joint, and I even got a pedicure which was much needed!
Next stop…the Everglades! But first, let’s talk about crab pots. Sweet Jesus. Those things were the bane of our existence for about 300 miles. Fisherman lay strings of crab pots running in vertical lines about every half mile, crossing every which way. If you hit one, or get too close, the line can wrap around your propeller/rudder and then you’re stuck. And the only way to get it out would be to dive down and cut the line and pray your boat isn’t damaged. No thanks, not in some of the waters we were crossing. It was a minefield of crab pots all the way from St. Petes to Miami. Tye even caught one on his fishing line.
We put in a full day of motor sailing from Marco Island to Little Shark River in the Everglades. I have to admit that I was not looking forward to staying in this anchor spot. Thanks to National Geographic, I’ve been terrified of the Everglades and all the creepy crawlies since I was a little tike. But, like most things in life, our expectations are rarely a reality. Little Shark River was actually very beautiful and one of my favorite anchorages. The quaint anchor spot was nestled in a circle of trees. The chatter of birds, splashing dolphins and overall stillness was quite peaceful. Tye and I enjoyed wine (again) on the bow while the sun set but as darkness fell, the insects came out FULL FORCE. It didn’t take long for us to run for cover and lock ourselves in the cockpit.
During our trek down western Florida, we pulled anchor many times before sunrise and sailed or motored until sunset. Some of my favorite times are sailing before dawn with a cup of coffee in hand. The world can be so still and silent, nothing but the sound of wind on the sails and water rippling off the bow.
From Little Shark River we jumped over to the Florida Keys! We made it in time meet up with our friends Bob & Lynne who cruised the Caribbean for five years and who have been wonderful mentors to us. We purchased a mooring ball at the Marathon City Mooring Field. This is typically a very popular spot for cruisers and it requires a reservation months in advance but since they took quite a hit in the hurricanes it was another ghost town with lots of vacancy. There are quite a few full time residents at the mooring field in Marathon. Our favorite thing about this marina was the 9:00 am 'Net' that took place on channel 68. Everyone would tune in for the newcomers meet and greet, daily announcements, auction, and my personal favorite...trivia! The marathon marina truly is a small, tight knit community.
Our second favorite thing about Marathon was getting a crab pot wrapped around our prop while we were in the mooring field! There’s not supposed to be crab pots in mooring fields but the recent hurricane brought in all kinds of things. We ended up having to hire a diver to swim down and release the pot. Turns out there were two crab pots and we had caught three lobster! The divers gave them to us a souvenirs and Tye ate one.
We truly enjoyed our time in the Keys with Bob & Lynne, it was well worth the huff down there to meet them. We had a nice afternoon touring the downtown, indulging in Key Lime Pie and then we finished the day on the beach. I loved the old architecture in historic Key West!
Even though we’ve had some really great times, I feel like I’d be lying if I didn’t write about how difficult it was in the beginning. We considered our cruise from Pensacola to Miami our “shake out” cruise working out all the kinks…and let me tell you there’s been some K.I.N.K.S. We read about boats being constant work and always having something to fix. We heard all the sayings “Just add it to the list” or BOAT stands for “Bust Out Another Thousand” and now we know first hand that unless you buy a brand spanking new boat, or even if you do, owning a boat is a constant project...especially a boat that’s also your home! It was as if nothing could go right those first couple months. We’d fix one thing and something else would start having a problem. Tye was consumed by boat projects. I didn’t see him for two months because his head was under the sink or in the bilge and this relaxing year "off" has actually been the hardest year we've had together.
It’s been months of hard labor, constant projects, things not going as planned and living minimally without friends and family...and it’s been a test.
Here’s a quick list of all the projects we had to work through, fix, or install in order to make the boat bluewater ready, and keep in mind we’re working and living in the same 300 ft of space.
We transported the boat 300 miles dodging hurricanes, installed an anchor locker drain tube, replaced the v-berth bulk head, installed an inspection port in the fresh water holding tank, scraped calcium deposits out of the fresh water tank, replaced the main water line with PEX tubing plus incorporated an easy access shut off valve, then replaced the fresh water pump, changed out the sanitation hoses in the forward and aft head, added manual pump outs to the forward head, added a macerater to the aft head, pulled out and resealed two hatches and three ports, serviced all seven winches, rebuilt and serviced the windless, climbed the mast and connected the anchor light, installed a power inverter, converted our CNG stove to LPG, installed a new VHF radio, replaced the wheel cables while adding a light to the compass, did an interior LED light conversion, serviced the engine, installed and wired solar panels, stitched the dodger, fixed a crack in the holding tank and replaced a large chunk of the rotting wood floor above the holding tank, replaced and rewired the house bank, installed a water maker, removed and renamed the boat and rebuilt the dinghy outboard motor, just to name a few. NBD.
Where's that beach and rum cocktail?
Because of the constant projects, most things usually didn't work. For instance, we couldn’t run the refrigerator or the freezer so all the food went bad, the toilet was not working so I had to pee into a cup and dump it down the sink, we couldn’t turn on the lights or charge anything because the battery bank was not hooked up, therefore we sat in darkness. Everything was wet and nothing would start, there wasn’t any water…so no don’t even think about a shower. We couldn’t go anywhere without one another because Tye dropped his phone in the ocean and we only had one mean of transportation, the dinghy, and the outboard motor wasn’t working so we had to row to shore and it turns out Amy doesn’t know how to row. Phew.
There were a few days where all the above was happening at the same time...definitely living the dream here folks.
There have been times where we’ve just felt overwhelmed with the task at hand and have asked ourselves, “What are we doing? Should we just go home? Is it worth it?” And if I’m being honest, up to Miami, I’m not sure it was worth it. Yes we had a wonderful road trip, but we didn’t quit our jobs, leave a life we loved, say goodbye to family and friends and fork up a ton of money to remodel a boat in Florida and have constant road blocks along the way. That was not our idea of a travel year, so we worked hard to get beyond the growing pains of change.
Sometimes we questioned if we got a lemon of a boat but after talking to other cruisers, they’re going through the same things. There’s just always something to fix when you live on and use a boat as much as we do. Soooo, how come nobody writes about this?
We kept thinking that it’ll get better…once we get to the Bahamas it’ll all be worth it. Once we get to those tropical beaches we’ll get that rosy hindsight. But I also know that all the sweat, blood and tears is part of the journey and that difficult roads often lead to the most beautiful destinations. Nothing will be able to substitute this experience. This year will change us. And I hope that we’ll always look back and be thankful for this experience and laugh at our young selves.
Ok, so back to Marathon. We spent a couple days at the Marathon Marina and then decided to continue on to Miami, making that our final staging point and jump off to the Bahamas. We purchased a mooring ball at the Coconut Grove mooring field. This was by far my favorite marina we visited. The have very nice, clean and updated facilities and the marina is adjacent to the bustling downtown, with fun shops, restaurants and running trails through what felt like a tropical jungle. There’s hip coffee shops, vegan restaurants, juice bars, farmer’s markets and Thai food everywhere! All my favorites. Tye was worried I was going to run out of money before we even left the states!
And to make things even better, we had THE. BEST. VIEW. of downtown Miami from our mooring ball.
We thought we’d be in Miami for a month, doing last minute work on the boat, ordering supplies, provisioning and waiting for that perfect weather window to cross the gulf stream, but that weather window came faster than we thought!
But not before we met some really great people that were partaking on the exact same adventure. It was in Miami that we met Jason, Teresa and Charlie, Canadians sailing on SV Coddiwomple that just so happened to be the exact same make and model of sailboat that we’re sailing. They left from Toronto in July and sailed all the way to Miami in 6 months with the same plan of making it to the Bahamas. Somewhere along the way they picked up Michel, a crazy French-Canadian singlehandedly sailing SV Mino III, a 26ft Mirage.
I know it’s cliche to say things happen for a reason, but we met this crew for a reason. They are simply THE BEST and they have had a huge impact on our trip. We all found one another in a time of need. Tye and I definitely needed a pick-me-up and it seemed to be the case with the other group as well. Since traveling together we’ve had a blast and we can’t imagine this trip without them now. When I take a step back and think about it, it’s so funny, because never in a million years would the six of us had ever planned a vacation together, but the universe had a plan, and here we are on the adventure of a lifetime...some days.