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Unmentioned in the previous post is that as the time kept slipping we were also trying to time our departure from Harbour Towne Marina to Key West to coincide with my first cousin, Mark, and his wife, Connie coming down to visit.  They were going to accompany us on the trip down to KW and then hang a few days afterward.  Aside from the fact that we couldn’t really plan their trip down until we knew when the arch would be completed, there was also the weather to contend with.  The worst case scenario was that they would go ahead and book their flight and then we’d have to sit on the boat waiting on the arch completion.  Or, just as bad, they’d come on down and then the weather would tie us to the dock.  I hadn’t visited with either one of them in years and wanted it to go well for them.

They were both wonderful as they waited for the word on when to book their flights, I gave them regular updates.

As the arch project finally came together, and doing my best to read the weather bones, we finally gave the go ahead for them to book their flights for August 9th, for a dawn departure of Thursday, August 10th.


Connie was to arrive first around 1830, flying out of New Orleans…Mark, working out in Midland, Texas was to arrive much later, just after midnight.

It was so great when Connie got there.  Always bubbly, we picked up as if we’d spoken the day before.  We got her squared on the boat and then retired to the cockpit for a drink or ten before starting the long process of catching up.  Was wonderful.

When Mark got in, it was Ver 2.0, but without all of the drinks.  We finally got to sleep in the wee hours with a 0430 wake up for Chuck and I.  The plan was for Chuck and I to get us off the dock for the earliest possible departure to Rodriquez Key, about 70 nautical miles away and where we were going to anchor for the night.  An easy sail.

The plan didn’t work out.  They seldom do for cruisers.

The reason the plan didn’t work was, of course, the weather.  After weeks of good weather, we awoke to severe thunderstorms, lightening.  We hung out at the Harbour Towne fuel dock until 1045 or so before judging the weather was marginally acceptable.

We were off.  A half mile down the channel to the ICW we weren’t off.  We turned around.  Our engine had reared its ugly head.  Steam was coming from the exhaust at RPM.  After returning to the fuel dock and cleaning the sea chest we were back off, still with steam but very little…all other engine parameters were acceptable, including engine and exhaust temperature reading.  I wasn’t happy to be leaving with the engine as it was, but accepted the risk.  As it turned out the engine performed acceptably for the rest of the trip.

Getting off to such a late start yielded a dilemma.  The approach to Rodriquez Key is quite shallow and we’d never been into it before…and it would be night time when we got there.  In addition, though we’d be outside the reef in deep water on the way down, eventually we would have to go inside…and inside was a virtual mine field of crab/lobster pot floats…each one capable of wrapping around our shaft and bringing us to a profound stop…again, at night…in possible thunderstorms…shaft spurs be damned.  It was a fairly large risk.  After facing down a huge thunderstorm, Chuck and I decided we would bypass Rodriquez Key and sail straight on to Marathon, arriving around dawn.  The plan was to anchor out in Marathon on the second night anyhow; continuing on would put off of Marathon just before daylight.  We could stop there and rest, hang out, etc.  We decided to sail on.


Though the entire sky was spotted with intense thunderstorms in the distance, we managed to avoid them all with the exception of that one mentioned above.  The night actually turned out to be beautiful with partly cloudy skies and a near full moon rising in early evening.  The conversation was easy.  At different times we got substantial lift from our headsail, pushing us to eight knots at times.  We traded off the watch though generally all four of us hung out in the cockpit.

Around 0230, just off of Islamorada, Florida, while I was at the helm, under the moon, a noise that sounded like outboards revving caused me to look over my left shoulder.  As soon as I turned my head toward the port stern rail we were lit up by a barrage of high intensity spot and flashing blue and red lights from a boat that was no more than ten yards off of our port quarter.  As our eyes quickly adjusted we saw the go fast was an ICE boat…Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  We knew it was ICE by their hull markings…the entire five months we were in Dania Beach we were berthed adjacent to a very similar boat, often speaking with the four customs agents who crewed it.

We were doing almost eight knots at the time, sailing under genoa only, the seas were flat even with the steady breeze.  They didn’t contact us via VHF.  They didn’t ask us to heave to so we didn’t.  There were two officers standing on their foredeck, one at the helm, and one at their starboard amidships.  One of the guys on the foredeck said good evening, we returned the respects.  Then he asked how many people were aboard; we told him.  He asked if there was anyone below decks; we said no one.  The entire time they were at most five yards off of our port quarter, easily matching our speed.  After finally asking where we were coming from and where we were headed, they wished us a safe voyage, cut their engines to idle, and drifted off into the dark.  Though they didn’t show up on our AIS (a collision alarm would have sounded if they had), they did show up on our radar.

The ICE officers were most professional and it was an interesting experience.  When we were first lit up both Chuck and I later mentioned to each other we initially thought it was the US Coast Guard.  Almost certainly they were monitoring our AIS and our boat is documented…so they had to have known who we were before they even hailed us.  Either way, it gave us a bit of excitement and something to talk about for a while.

Somewhere between Rodriquez Key and Marathon Chuck and I made the decision to simply continue on to Key West.  We stayed outside the reef in deep water; it was an easy and enjoyable night sail.  After taking a nap, I awoke right at dawn with Marathon off the starboard beam.  Chuck had the route way points already punched in; ETA to Stock Island Marina Village with around 1300 hrs local.

Rested, we all piled in the cockpit for the last several hours.  Mark manned the helm.  It was most hot, and the seas were calm.  Just off of the Safe Harbor channel I took the helm and fifteen minutes later we were safely tied at the marina fuel dock.  After taking on fuel to top off our tanks, we settled into a slip.  Many of the friends we had met last years in Stock Island turned out to greet us.  It was a great ending to a good trip.

Later that afternoon, the four of us rented scooters, the only way to get around on Key West.


For the next few days we all four hung out together.  We toured KW on our scooters, and hit as many restaurants as we could. 

Mark and Connie had a great time.  So did we.  In fact they are coming back to visit us at the end of October for Fantasy Fest.  We can’t wait to see them again.


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