We begin to get our "sea legs"

Saturday, 10/23/04, 11:50 am.
At anchor in Oyster Bay, FL, 6 nautical miles inside the Everglades

° 19.6'N,  81° 04.2'W

We are really excited to be where we are right now, both physically and emotionally. Physically we are 6 miles deep into the Everglades, a place we had hoped to visit but had no certainty we could accomplish, because the charts show only 4 feet of depth in this "bay" (actually a brackish lagoon behind several miles of mangrove islands), Wind Song is 3' 6" deep loaded as she is, the chart is old, and in large shallow areas tenuously connected to tides the depth can vary with weather conditions. Emotionally, we are feeling much more like the cruisers we once were as we have gotten the boat basically working, have been through a few bits of weather, have accomplished our first overnight passage, and have sailed and anchored a few times. We're starting to trust the boat in this new environment, and we're starting to trust ourselves.

Last you heard, we were in Blackburn Bay in the western Florida Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). (This is to distinguish from the Atlantic ICW which runs from
Miami, FL to Norfolk, VA, and which we'll traverse next year for the second time in our lives.) We took another hitch south, though Charlotte Sound, past Boca Grande ("big mouth" in Spanish), a large opening to the Gulf of Mexico, and down to a quiet anchorage just west of Useppa Key with a view west across the ICW to Cabbage Key. The weather continued hot, fair, and mild, with scattered thunderstorms over the area that produced spectacular sunsets, as Lynn views below.

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We hung out at anchor for two "lay days" while we worked some more on Wind Song's sailing gear and storage arrangements, and Tania's schoolwork setup, then we motored our final southbound ICW leg down Pine Island Sound to an anchorage on the shoal-bound west side of Kitchel Key, just a mile north and in direct sight of the Sanibel Causeway Bridge (near Fort Myers, FL), beyond which lay the Gulf of Mexico and the southern third of Florida's west coast.

Our next intended stop was an inlet into the Ten Thousand Islands called West Pass, which lies east of Cape Romano and near the northern extremities of Everglades National Monument. Since this objective lay 64 nautical miles (nmi) away, and we wanted to sail if we could, and Wind Song will reliably travel only 4-5 knots (nmi/hr) under sail in mild breezes, we knew the passage would take 13-16 hours. And since for safety (visibility) reasons we needed to be making landfall no later than about 3 pm, we had to leave our anchorage no later than 11 pm. At the time it was 3 pm, and Tania was still doing schoolwork, as she has been doing maniacally these days in an attempt to catch up and be back on schedule by the end of this month, before we leave the US. One other logistical consideration: we generally have stood 3 hour watches at night at sea, which means 3 hours on, 3 hours off (hopefully asleep), twice per night. In this case, we planned to give Tania a school-related exemption for one of her watches, and since Lynn is not
yet as familiar with Wind Song as she once was with Daybreak, it became clear that Lane would have to be on call at a moment's notice. This led Lane to decide that, if he was going to spend the entire night on deck, he'd rather start immediately.

Accordingly, he and Roxanne spent the next two hours preparing Wind Song for sea, and we raised anchor at 5:15 pm and transited the Sanibel Causeway Bascule Bridge at 6 pm. Since we did not want to arrive off West Pass until dawn (7 am EDT), we sailed under mainsail only to keep our speed around 4.5 knots. Later on we shifted to motor as the wind diminished, and when it re-arose later on we elected to stay with the motor because Lynn was due to come on watch without Tania, and a turn to windward was coming up in an hour, and Lane was by this time dead on his feet, and Lynn pathologically loathes wind. (Why is she sailing? Well, it may have something to do with her being married to Lane.)

    (below left)  Caught in the act by a shutterbug daughter: macaroni and cheese with bacon bits for dinner,
        just south of Sanibel Causeway. The buildings at the right are on Punta Rassa, just east of the bridge,
        which is behind Lane. BTW, that thing hanging around Lane's neck is a safety harness and tether (for night or storm sailing)
        with a water-activated inflatable lifejacket attached.
        Note that when comfortably clad for cruising in the tropics, one's adipose condition is difficult to disguise.

    (below right)  A faint rainbow near sunset presages a violent cloudburst about to roll down
West Pass like a freight train.
        The rain comes down so hard, the first two feet of air above the ocean turns white with spray splashing up from the impact.

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So the passage was completed under power. We arrived at West Pass right after dawn and made our way 2 miles up the inlet to an anchorage in 8 feet of half-salty water and half a knot of current out of the Pass. We were immediately visited by an Everglades National Monument ranger who was whizzing by in his center-console speedboat on his morning rounds. He cordially read us the minimal list of rules for visiting yachts, we shared our cruising plans and backstory with him and gave him our web site address, he left, and we all went to sleep.

We spent the next day on small jobs around the boat while Tania did schoolwork, and as the heat of the day waxed, we dove off the boat, hung onto the anchor chain, and let the current bathe our bodies in (relative) coolness. We got our comeuppance around sunset as a violent thunderstorm hit us with rain and 20-25 knot winds, blowing two of our (inadequately secured) cockpit cushions overboard. Lane, after checking to make sure the anchor was holding in the gusts, dove in to retrieve the cushions before they got too far away, then hung onto a safety line Tania had prepared for him as Roxanne got the boarding ladder deployed for his recovery. "No harm, no foul", as Chick Hearn used to say.

The Ten Thousand Islands are uniformly vegetated by "relatively" immature mangroves, say 20-25 feet high. These plants are self-propagating in that they not only reproduce, they also make new land for themselves to grow on. Mangroves spread in two ways: by dropping seed pods that float to new shallows and take root, and by dropping numerous long "root vines" from branches that overhang shallow water, that grow downward to take root in a few inches of water, thus allowing the plant to "creep" and cover more ground. As this latter process progresses, the resulting large areas of tangled roots trap silt that forms new soil, thus expanding the land.

The next day we had a delightful sail another 38 miles south to Little Shark River, on a full-sail beam reach (wind perpendicular to the boat's centerline), then skimming across the shallows near the inlet at over six knots with less than a foot of water under the keel. We dropped sail right in the mouth of the river, then began a fascinating motor trip through a veritable Amazonian wilderness. We had visions, but no certainty, of making it all the way to Oyster Bay, the first of two inland Everglade "lakes", respectively one by five miles and roughly five by seven miles in extent. We reached Oyster Bay and managed to cross it to an island marking its eastern shore by skating across a mile of mud flats with our centerboard up and barely a foot under our keel. An accidental grounding would have been ill-advised, because, having climbed up a couple of feet in altitude over the 7-mile length of the river, there was very little tidal action available to assist a stricken vessel off the mud.

    (below left)     Lynn steers Wind Song on a delightful sail from West Pass to Little Shark River, southwestern Florida, while
    (below right)   Roxanne finishes sewing a new pair of pants for herself, and
    (bottom left)   Tania studies for her Political Behavior class under the shade of the mainsail.
    (bottom right) Roxanne in prime spectating position as we navigate up the Little Shark River to Oyster Bay

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A mature mangrove forest: 75 feet high, resting on several feet of tangled roots over a brackish estuary.
    Land? What land? You can't tell land from tree roots.


We make it to Oyster Bay!

Afternoon thunderclouds darken the western horizon from Oyster Bay

A beautiful sunset, but only until . . . the mosquitoes arrive. Gaaah!

Which brings us to today, which we are taking as a lay day before departing tomorrow for the mouth of the river and then Monday the daysail to Marathon, FL, in the middle of the Keys. The chores and shopping lists for Marathon are daunting, so we've allowed ourselves nearly a week there. And then -- the Bahamas!

Tuesday, 10/26/04, 6:09 pm
At anchor in Boot Key Harbor, FL, adjacent to the town of Marathon

° 42.3'N,  81° 06.0'W

We motored most of the way from Little Shark River to Marathon in a slick calm and intense heat under a cloudless sky that impeded the sun not one whit. This stretch of Florida Bay was pocked by literally thousands of crab traps each connected to a float by a piece of (floating) polypropylene line, a horrendous minefield for propellers requiring constant vigilance and avoidance maneuvers for the entire 7 hours. This process was compicated by a 1 knot westerly cross current that set Wind Song down sideways onto the floats to starboard, requiring the helmsman to steer too close for comfort to the floats on the port side in order to maintain adequate clearance to starboard. The margin for error was often no more than a few feet, which, to a novice helmsperson (Roxanne), proved to be inadequate for her level of skill . . . twice.

The first time, Lane was maintaining watch from the bow, saw Wind Song broadsiding the float, and yelled to Roxanne to shift to neutral, which she did, too late for the prop to miss the line but in time to avoid wrapping it on the shaft. We ended up slowly dragging the trap downcurrent. We picked up the line with a boathook, cut it, and Lane dove over to remove the offending float and its remaining tail of line. Of course, this took place miles from land, with the boat anchored because otherwise she'd be drifting through this minefield collecting more traps, which meant Lane would be swept away by the current unless tethered to Wind Song. So that's what we did. We were underway again in 30 minutes.

The second time, again on Roxanne's turn at the helm, we were not so lucky. Lane saw it coming again but not soon enough, and our propeller wrapped the trap line but good. The boathook trick did not work this time, so Lane tethered up again, dove, and cut the line, which freed Wind Song to drift. Roxanne and Lynn got the anchor down, the boat rounded up into the current, and in several dives Lane got all the remaining line off the shaft and prop blades. For this purpose he used a brand new, razor sharp Kershaw "Leek" knife that he had received as a gift from a colleague of his at Northrop Grumman, Jim Klein, that could be deployed with one hand while in the water. Thank you, Jim! This knife has its uses!

We came into Marathon, fueled and watered up -- we were nearly empty of water -- and entered the harbor to look for an anchoring spot. While in the process, we were tailed by an old fellow in a fiberglass runabout that said "T/T Nomad" on the side. This means "Tender to the vessel Nomad", which was the largest yacht in the harbor, a brand new 60 foot Defever trawler with "Aspen, CO" as a hailing port. His name was Pete, and it turned out he'd been a sailor/cruiser most of his life until he "got too old for sailing", and he bought Nomad. Obviously an astute judge of sailboats (heh heh), he recognized Wind Song as a particularly lovely and interesting vessel (we suppose), had decided to invite us over to Nomad for cocktails, and he was alongside to issue this invitation as soon as our anchor was secure.

We naturally accepted with alacrity and jumped into his very substantial "dinghy" for the ride over to Nomad, where we met his delightful wife Carol and embarked on a wonderful two hours or so with these folks on a boat that was nicer than our condo back home -- and seemingly almost as big. Cold soft drinks! Unlimited ice! Chilled Chardonnay and slightly sub-ambient Merlot (because Florida ambient is, after all, properly too warm for red wine).

Pete and Carol were cruising in company with friends of theirs, Ray and Paula
from Texas, on a 40 foot trawler named Sandpiper, and they were due to show up for dinner aboard Nomad, so we got to meet them too. Ray immediately made big points with Lane by recognizing Wind Song as a "bugeye" design (more info here), and Paula was an effervescent soul. We returned to Wind Song happy, and with Lane tipsy enough to promise Lynn that someday they would, indeed, own and cruise together on a motor yacht -- probably not as large as Nomad, but with comfort, security, amenities, and, most important to Lynn, a substantial immunity to wind, which, as I mentioned earlier, Lynn loathes. Sometime the next morning Lynn figured out that Lane meant it.

Marathon stretches over a three mile length of US Highway 1, and today we walked about half of it, visiting along the way the local public library, where we checked our email, then West Marine Products, where we bought a few boat odds and ends, then a Cuban restaurant for lunch (recommended to us by the West Marine cashier), then Home Depot for some more boat-related stuff, and finally a mini-mart for ice cream!

For $20 we are landing our dinghy for a week at the Marathon City Marina, which also offers a laundromat, showers, a mailing address, a "TV lounge" (a cubicle with a chair and a TV), a lending library, water for Wind Song, local knowledge, and cold soft drinks! A civilized arrangement, at least as low-rent sailboat cruising goes. This is all housed in a ratty old warehouse run by a martinet cop-wannabee "dockmaster" whose first words to us were a stentorian lecture on the legal requirement to carry life jackets in our dinghy, and how by god we could just go back and get some before thinking we were gonna land on his dock. By the way, you should understand that the
Marathon City Marina does not actually have any docks or slips. It does have some moorings.

Along those lines, we were also visited this evening by "officer Johnson", who admonished us that we must show an anchor light from sunset to sunrise -- which of course we know, but we usually don't turn it on until our house lights are off, to save battery power. What struck us, though, was that this admonition came from a guy who was intentionally running around Boot Key Harbor -- a busy place full of anchored boats and small dinghies making their way hither and thither -- with his running lights off. In order to "sneak up on the bad guys". What the latter could be doing, we can't imagine.

Speaking of "civilized", we've also arranged to, ahem, rent a car on Thursday, when we'll do our final shopping before jumping to the Bahamas. And with our arrangement with the City Marina, we can bring Wind Song alongside the city quay to top off water and schlepp groceries the easy way, rather than ferrying them by dinghy.

If that does sound civilized, then for those of you unfamiliar with cruising on a cramped sailboat, Lynn says "Think of it as four people living in a diner booth"  -- in sick heat, with no AC, no cold drinks, no
waitress, and no cook. And it moves ALL the time, and weather threatens it, and it's costing us in low 6 figures for the privilege. And we're just nuts enough to think all that is a good idea!

A message from Tania:

A special shout-out to all mes amies in the circle! Emua, nita/phil, Willy Wally and Cathy, Lili, Cacie-bacie, Abush, Jaime, Guy, Joshie, Pauldo, the real Eydie Moh and anyone I forgot! I love you all!!! Also a great big "Hi!" to the greatest geography teacher ever, Mr. Harris and all my freshmen in Period 3. I love the mints! Important News Update: I will be coming back to El Segundo for AP tests and the SAT around May 2nd, so I'll see all you guys then.

A message from Roxanne:

I'd like to begin by mentioning the unforeseen difficulty of writing for an unknown audience.  I mean, I know some of the people reading this, and they're all different. It's like I'm speaking in front of all of the people I know in my life, and they're all hearing the same thing. Which is weird. You wouldn't talk the same way in front of your grandmother that you would in front of your friends, right? Right. That's my problem here.

I would like to write, though.  Don't worry. It'll be fun. Probably painless, too.

Moi aussi je voudrais un shout-out, to my superduper buddies Christina, Joyce, Jessica and Katharine, aka Ace, Oyster, Viking Kween and Sweet n' Pretty Katarina. Je vous aime bien! Portez-vous saines!

Friday, 10/29/04, 2:41 pm
Still at anchor in Boot Key Harbor

Time to finish up here and move on. According to our itinerary, we're supposed to leave Sunday for Long Key Bight, a protected cove and jumping off point for the Bahamas about 45 miles east of here, and then a couple of jumps: first, the 100 mile crossing of the Gulf Stream to South Riding Rocks, an exposed perch on the western edge of the Great Bahama Bank, then 65 miles across the Bank to our first Bahamas anchorage, SE of Joulter Keys, which is just north of the northern end of Andros Island. The latter must be done in daylight, so unless conditions are very calm it may have to be two day-hops, with an utterly exposed anchorage in the middle of frigging nowhere between them.

We did rent the car yesterday (just turned it in this morning), and boy was that the right thing to do. The girls stayed at the boat, where Tania did schoolwork and Roxanne read while Lynn and Lane did a grocery run, filled a propane tank, and made a final stop at West Marine Products. We loaded everything into the dinghy, leaving just enough room for Lane, who ferried it out to Wind Song, offloaded it, picked up the girls, and headed back to shore. Then off we drove in the mid-afternoon for Key West.

It is odd that there is virtually no Halloween activity down here in the Keys, except . . . well, Key West has something called Fantasy Fest on that weekend. Actually, it starts out slow early in the week and gets totally nuts by the weekend, a Mardi-Gras sort of thing marked by lots of people in very skimpy clothing and a lot of body paint and other decorations parading up and down Duval St -- the main "drag", as it were. "Skimpy" here means "a G-string", irrespective of gender. Not included among the prerequisites for such display were body type or condition, sexual preference, or age, so . . . if it was ambulatory, it was on Duval St, essentially naked. "A Chorus Line" it was *not*. Some of these images will stay with us for awhile.

We walked all of Duval sightseeing and souvenir shopping, until it was time for some sort of dinner. By this time the bars were looking pretty scary, so we were ready to punt and go eat at Denny's (there is one on Duval) when we passed by Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville bar-restaurant-night club, which was surprisingly nice-looking, had a decent menu at reasonable prices, and was virtually empty. We stopped in, and were glad we did.

After dinner it was time to leave central Duval St, so we got in the car and, on our way out of town, swung north to the Gulf side of Key West where things were seriously cranking up. It was sunset, the party was spreading across town and intensifying, and it was only Thursday. Imagine Saturday and Sunday! We dodged a zillion pedestrians not one of whom was paying any attention to the traffic signals, and drove "home", which means Wind Song for the next 9 months. We're pretty used to her now.

Today we're cleaning up loose ends -- mail, bank stuff, etc. -- and tomorrow we'll run one or two final errands. Then, weather permitting, we'll start out for the islands. Right now the forecast is for northeasterly to easterly winds 10-15 knots, which is pretty close to "on the nose" in cruiser parlance. The Gulf Stream will probably be pretty lumpy but not prohibitive, and we expect we'll get across OK. Once on the Great Bahama Bank we don't expect too much trouble.

Wind Song at anchor in Oyster Bay, where it was hot, muggy, and buggy.
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Roxanne prepares to support Tania in her schoolwork by reading The Namesake, on which Tania must write an essay in December.

We approach Seven Mile Bridge at Moser Channel on the Overseas Highway (US1 to Key West).
Note the crab trap floats in the foreground. Four are visible here. At higher resolution one can count nine in the photo,
and this was about a tenth of their concentration further north in Florida Bay.


Lynn and Lane navigate between crab trap floats with an intensity not often necessary when motoring across a flat calm.

Underneath the Moser Bridge (65 foot vertical clearance), then a quick left turn and the final two miles to Boot Key Harbor.
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We stop for fuel and water at the first fuel dock we espy, and gorge on ice-cold Diet Cokes in the shade of an umbrella.
We coulda stayed there all day!

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Three days later we watch another sailboat emerge from beneath Moser Bridge as we drive west out of Marathon for Key West.
    (That's the "old road" over to the right.)


The fluourescent black-lit stage backdrop in Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville nightclub . . .
 . . . and a giant portrait of the man himself, spotlit on the wall, behind street signs apparently stolen from the nearby intersection.

Since we're so close to being done with Florida, we thought this would be a good place to show you our entire route to date, superimposed on a MODIS image of Florida from space. (Recall that Lane worked for the past 3.5 years with Raytheon Santa Barbara Remote Sensing, which built the two MODIS instruments that fly on the two NASA Earth Observing System satellites named Terra and Aqua.)