On our way back to Key Largo from Boca Grande we had found our motor dripless dripping (that obviously is a bad thing ;-)), so we hurried back home. We were hoping for a quick repair without having to haul out, and our friends Ray and Genna came to the rescue. Ray assessed the problem and ordered the parts, but it would take at least a week for the parts to get to Key Largo. So we settled in for a stay in Port Largo for close to 2 weeks – not what we had hoped for but necessary.
Since we had slept so well without air conditioning and just a fan, we settled on a middle way – we set the A/C to 83 degrees and slept with a fan, and enjoyed our air conditioned home during the day, which made for much more fun repairs down below.
Almost 2 weeks later we were ready to leave again, thanks to our “motor whisperer” Ray and his wonderful Genna. Ray found a few more problems in the process, so more motor and helm parts were fixed, and we planned to leave a day later. Realizing we still had lots to take care of we delayed another day, and Monday the 12th of August we gave up both of our cars and got ready to leave. Rob was not feeling well with an infection, and so we ended up at Urgent Care instead of leaving the dock. He would be ok, and armed with antibiotics we finally set out on Tuesday.
We waved goodbye to all our friends on the dock, and about 6 minutes later (we were still in Port Largo canal), the engine overheated again. What a deja-vu nightmare!!! We limped out of the jetty and achored to see if we could find the problem. We were both VERY intent on not going back into Port Largo! With the help of our friend Kim to the recue again on the phone, we tested every raw water system we all could think of, but found nothing wrong. Next on to the freshwater system, and finally found the coolant leak that was causing the overheat. Fixed the leak, refilled the coolant, everythig worked again, and we were off again, not having to return to the “harbor of shame”.
By then it was almost 4 pm, so we headed north to moor up at Elbow Reef, that was as far as we were going to get considering there was no wind. We spent the night rocking and rolling (with pretty unhappy cats) and started heading into the Gulf Stream the next morning.
Early this morning we passed Carysfort Reef Lighthouse which has an interesting story. Begun in 1848 and finished in 1852 it was the first Screwpile Lighthouse built . By screwing the legs deeply into the coral and having a circular profile the intention was to lessen the wind impact . It was manned until the 1950’s and is still running today . Can’t imagine sitting through a hurricane out here !
We made good progress going north in the Gulf Stream, after having realized that sailing was out of the picture as the wind was blowing between 1 and 3 knots. We rode the Gulf Stream up to Key Biscayne, and followed the breadcrumbs from our delivery trip to a nice anchorage Mark had shown us. Very nice and calm anchorage with a nice view of Miami:
The cats were really happy that the boat was not moving fromside to side, and finally came out of their cubby holes :-). Tomorrow is an early start to ride the Gulf Stream again and get as far north as possible…
The next morning (July 20) we headed out early again towards Key West. We had a pod of dolphins accompanying us part of the way, swimming directly alongside and looking at us from right beneath the surface, as we were hanging over the safety lines staring right back at them :-).
We made good headway, doing 6 to 7 knots in about a 12 knot wind, and passed some sights that we had only seen from land before, never from the ocean, for example Bahia Honda:
Having done some research and spoken with Chris from SeaTow Key West, it was apparent that our plan of re-provisioning fresh fruit and vegetables (and of course beer) was not going to happen in Key West – Key West was completely full due to Hemingway Weekend.
We opted to anchor in Ramrod Key, where there is great protected anchorage in Newfound Harbor. Captain Bob from SeaTow Ramrod Key / Big Pine came out to greet us, and offered the dock at his house (right behind Newfound Harbor) to leave our dinghy while we re-provision in Big Pine. So we got to shakedown the dinghy too!
A 30 minute dinghy ride (we are still using the 5 HP dinghy motor, which is sloooooow) took us to Captain Bob’s dock, and we opted to walk the 5 miles to Winn Dixie in Big Pine. It was strange to be back on terra firma after 5 days on the boat, and we were really looking forward to some exercise…
1 ½ hot walking hours later we arrived at Winn Dixie, got what we wanted, and took an Uber ride back to our dinghy.
We were so happy to get such great support from our SeaTow family, thank you so much Cheryl, Bob and Chris!
As we were coming into Newfound Harbor, we had seen a big houseboat moored up with lots of boats around it, so we asked Captain Bob about it and found out it belonged to Captain Jack, a really nice salty dog that lets people raft up and party around his “house” and invites them on for a chat. It was Saturday, so we were in! Another dinghy ride took us over there, and how cool is this! We were welcomed on the houseboat, had a great chat with Captain Jack and some of the other boaters, and had a cold beer we had brought (knowing that Captain Jack doesn’t sell anything, just invites people and gives them food).
Sunday we left early again to get past Key West towards the Marquesas Islands. Good wind in the morning again, died down again in the afternoon, as usual. We passed Key West with it’s busy harbor and big cruise ship, and headed towards Boca Grande Key, which we had picked for our anchorage. A quick look at Google Earth (last remnants of cell phone coverage) revealed that Boca Grande has a nice beach, what a treat!
On the way to Boca Grande we went through a huge Sargassum carpet, and found these 3 “birds on a wire” sitting on a piece of wood in the middle of it:
Once we had tacked into the channel at Boca Grande, we realized we were having trouble furling in the mainsail again, so there were some frantic moments of “can we ever get this sail in” before we figured out what was wrong. We made it to our chosen anchorage at the last of daylight, anchored and then snorkeled the anchor, and being satisfied that we were safe we finally settled down for a nice leftover dinner and some much needed rest after being underway for 12 hours. We decided to stay another day here at this beautiful beach at Boca Grande (we’re the only boat here :-)), break out the paddleboards and explore!
Tonight we had the stars out in force. Without ambient light from nearby cities or towns the Milky Way was clearly visible and the view spectacular. To easy to forget all that surrounds planet earth.
A leisurely next morning on Monday with a nice view of the beach, getting the paddleboards into the water, and off we were to explore! We first went over to the beach, and it is beautiful:
Then we set off to circumnavigate the island by paddleboard (Rob: “Eat your heart out Magellan”). Boca Grande is a bird sanctuary, and you are not allowed to walk on the island, but the Mangroves are beautiful. There are some nice Mangrove tunnels as well:
We saw numerous turtles, stingrays and baby sharks in the shallows, mostly Nurse Sharks but also a Blacktip Reef Shark. Then as we rounded a corner, a sailors’s worst nightmare, a beautiful sailboat beached in the mangroves, far into the shallows and likely a leftover of Hurricane Irma:
It took us over an hour to get around the entire island, and when we got back to Ronya it was time for a light lunch of tomato salad and home-made pizza baguette. The afternoon was then spent reading, swimming and relaxing, and Anya went over to the beach on her paddleboard for a while. Then some maintenance on the generator and some mainsail furling “drills” :-).
Dinner consisted of a nice leisurely “Brotzeit”: bread, various cheeses, olives, beets and a fresh side salad. And after dinner we got to watch another beautiful sunset:
Rob slept in the cockpit to find a little breeze to cool off and awoke at sunrise to find a small bird sitting on his chest staring at him. Very different to any alarm he had ever set!
Tuesday July 23 still found us at our anchorage by the beach. We had found our resting place and decided we were going to stay as long as we wanted. Anya went for a morning paddle to the beach and the adjoining inlet, but the tide was too low to get very far. It was obvious that there was a Blacktip Reef Shark nursery in the inlet, with many babies swimming around the entrance to the inlet. We both went back ay high tide and were able to paddle far into the inlet, baby sharks swimming all around us and eyeing us curiously.
After having spent a long time in the inlet, we paddled back along the lengthy beach, went for a walk on the beach, and then back to Ronya. A dinner of Caprese Salad, Crab Cakes and freshly baked Ciabatta rounded up our day, and we toasted to the beautiful sunset with a glass of red wine.
The next day we slept in and then went about setting up the Rainman watermaker. The water in the channel is not blue enough, but we wanted to set it up for working so we could “shake it down” on our way back up the Keys when we would be in blue water. Having accomplished that, we did a few more small projects on the boat and then settled down for more relaxation before high tide. When the current stopped because the tide was high, we snorkeled over to a shallow sandbar on the west side of the island. We saw lots of seagrass and a few fish, and found some lobsters (which we didn’t take although it was the first day of lobster mini-season), then snorkeled back to the other side to “our” beach for some snorkeling and walking along the beach.
The day was getting late, and back on the boat we started thinking about the way back to Key Largo. There had been no wnd for days, and the forecast was for not much more, so it would take us quite a long time to go home. We decided to stay here one more day and then set out early Friday morning to make our way back.
A meal cooked on our BBQ grill (to keep the heat out from down below) consisted of chicken sausage, grilled onions and a toasted bagel, with a salad of garbanzo beans with fresh basil and mozzarella cheese. And then another spectacular sunset with a following great view of many bright stars in a black sky.
Thursday morning had us rolling around in our bunk from 3 foot seas because of unforecasted 16 knot winds. We contemplated leaving right away to take advantage of the wind, but we could already watch the wind dying down, so we stuck to our original plan of leaving Friday morning.
We spent another leisurely day reading, swimming and paddleboarding and the cats spent another day sleeping (what else).
It was fun to watch the daytrippers from Key West on the beach, one boat brought a blow-up Flamingo that was even bigger than their boat:
After a nice dinner of broccoli stir-fry and cucumber salad, we settled down for the night, to get up early on Friday and start our trip back to Key Largo. Since there was no wind at all that night, the no-see-ums finally found us, and we were eaten alive, so we didn’t get much sleep…
Friday morning July 26 found us leaving our anchorage about 6:30 am and heading east. By 9:30 we had motorsailed at 6.5 knots to Key West. Back to civilization: cellphone service and thus internet and thus a long blog post!
After a relaxed day at anchor behind Tavernier Key, we got up at 6:30 to get an early start and hopefully make it further south past Marathon. Setting both sails and with 12 knots of wind, we got a steady 6 to 7 knots heading towards Marathon. We got there 2 hours earlier than we had anticipated, and then the wind died down.
There was fresh water at the base of our mast inside the boat . We stripped off the bed and mattress to check the fresh water tank and found that was the source. The very slow leak the has sinced disappeared after we reduced the water level in the tank. We’ll have to empty the tank and located our leak .
We decided to reef the genoa to give it some more wind, but – next shakedown challenge – the furler was stuck! We had sloppily let it out without any tension on it, and it had made a rat’s nest inside the furler. It was not budging!
Anya to the rescue of the fouled furler ! She sat on the bow and began the process of freeing the line and rewrapping the furler , without any audible cursing I may add . Forty five minutes later she had sucessfully fixed it .
When we got to 7-Mile-Bridge, we were very careful and slow – the chart says the bridge has a 65 foot clearance, but who are we to trust a chart with our 57 foot mast? 😉
We made it through the bridge of course, and started to find a good anchorage, but the current was so strong we had to head back north and anchor behind Marathon. The trip there under motor gave me the time to prep a nice dinner, and after we had anchored, we enjoyed Chicken Masala with Basmati Rice and Cucumber Salad:
So far I have been truly spoiled by Anya’s cooking and look forward to more of the same !
The cats came out of their holes to join us for a sundowner, but the sun was behind the clouds:
We had a rocky start leaving Key Largo – as soon as we got out of the harbor our engine overheated. We dropped anchor right at the jetty and called our good friends from SeaTow. They arrived almost immediately, and towed us back to our slip, and we were able to maneuver ourselves back in without overheating again.
A day of trying to find the problem with much testing followed. Take out the thermostat and test it (boil it in water on the stove to see if it opens) – it worked. Replace the impeller, but oh my, where is it? Kim, our whisperer in all things sailing came over and helped (again), and the impeller was replaced, however the old one was fine, so that wasn’t the problem either. And then – we found the leak in the saltwater cooling system!
The engine having been fixed, we decided to leave the next morning after a new provisioning run, as we had used up most of the fresh produce provisions by then.
Tuesday at noon we finally headed out again, and started sailing southwest along the Keys with a perfect 12 knot southeast wind, giving us 6 knots of speed with both mainsail and genoa up.
Needless to say, there were more challenges. We had a bad vibration on the starboard stern, and nothing was running, so that needed to be taken care of. And a water leak at the water pump, so we could not use the sinks without our freshwater leaking into the bilge. A decision as made to pull in behind Tavernier Key and anchor there – after all this is a shakedown cruise and we are in no hurry to to anything except fix up Ronya and make her perfect!
After a nice evening with some cold frosty beverages (the fridge works) and a really good night’s sleep in 90 degrees with the fan on, Rob the Plumber fixed the water leak while Chef Anya made a huge breakfast. With our bellies full and in a very relaxed mood, we decided to spend another day at this perfect anchorage and work on some more projects (as well as relax and snorkel). Tomorrow we will get up early and head to Boot Key south of Marathon, which should be a trip of about 8 hours.
We are extremely happy with our solar system, and have been able to test it a bit now. With our Engel freezer, the fridge, the fans, the pumps and even a running inverter, the power in our house batteries remains consistently high, even climbing.
We are finally on track for our big adventure! We will be sailing away from the Florida Keys the first week of July. Our first weeks of sailing will take us to the Bahamas, and then we will probably head up to the Chesapeake Bay for a while, before we head south again to the Caribbean. Our dreams will be coming true!
We have been living on our beautiful boat full time for over 4 months now, and we are really enjoying it. It gives us the opportunity to sail more, anchor out more, and most importantly fix more :-).
The cats have adapted incredibly well to living on the boat, and they each have their own little cranny on the boat where they like to “hide”. They do quite well sailing, only Wilson is still unhappy when we are motoring (but that is getting better every time).
Of course we have wished a few times that we hadn’t donated or given away some items because we could have used them on the boat, but none of those items were very expensive, so the loss is bearable ;-).
Dad gave us companionway doors for Christmas, they should be arriving soon, and that will make life on board even more comfortable. One door will actually have a cat entrance built in, how cool is that!
Every day after work we spend a few hours on Ronya. Sometimes we sail, but 90% of the time we work to get her ready for the big cruise. It is not really “work” since we are enjoying every minute of it. She has never been a cruising boat (the former owners really only daysailed her), so there is a lot to be done, but we are slowly making her our home. Baby steps (pictures, galley stuff, and lots of cleaning, the hardest piece is getting the cats used to wearing life jackets!) and big steps (solar panels, bilge pumps, through hull fittings, sails, major maintenance). Lots of paperwork too!