We made it to Key West where we are promptly sitting for about 10 days waiting for the winds to change direction. We have been to Key West many times before and love the architecture, the food and people watching. It is a great walking town with everything we need just a short walk from the dinghy dock. We anchored off the west side of Fleming Key and dug the anchor in deep to prepare for strong easterly winds over the next few days.
Our trip down was really uneventful. Uneventful is a good thing. We departed Tampa Bay at 7am and made it the 190 miles to Key West by 3pm the next day averaging a little over 6 knots. As we exited Tampa Bay and turned south in the Gulf of Mexico, the winds were perfect. And, I mean perfect. Our heading was 170 and 15 knot winds were 45 (NE). For you sailors out there, this gave us a nice broad reach with the wind off our hind port quarter. For you non-sailors: it was a darn good ride. But wouldn’t you know it, after about 2 hours of great sailing, the wind started to die. What the heck! It was forecasted by four different weather sites to blow the same direction for 3 days at about 15-20 knots. Cream Puff loves 15-20 knot winds. The Puffster acts like a puppy pulling on the leash. Let’s go! We can sail along almost upright at about 6-7 knots (about 8 MPH). But alas, the wind completely disappeared and the water became smooth and glassy. We toyed with the idea of bobbing along at 2-3 knots and waiting for the wind to pick up. It would mean we would have to spend another night out in the Gulf. Not a big deal really but it is a little chilly this time of year and we decided motoring was the best option keeping the speed up so we could be sure of a daylight landing in Key West. We decided to start the engine.
When sailing on a trip like this, we try to time our arrival to be in daylight. Going into Key West through the north passage is a little narrow and shallow. And as an added bonus of excitement, there are crab pots everywhere. Floats mark the location of the crab traps located at the bottom of the ocean so the fishermen can find them. We hit a couple. They do not damage the boat but our concern is the rope attached to the pot and the float could get caught on the keel or even worse, wrapped about the propeller. After we hit a crab pot we both turn and focus on the stern to make sure the floats marking the crab traps are not moving with us. Doing all this in daylight is preferred.
I was fast asleep when Cindy shone a flashlight on me. This is our method of waking the other person if they are needed at night. “I think it is windy enough to sail and we can cut the motor”, she said about 1am. We had been motoring for about 15 hours. Anytime we can kill the diesel engine and hoist sails we’re all for it. We turned on our deck lights and took a few minutes to get the sails set. Our sails are electric furling sails. This means we can control the sails from the safety of the cockpit without having to go up on the deck at night. Sure enough the ample winds had now become more easterly and Cream Puff’s rigging creaked as the sails filled with the cool night breeze. We killed the engine and under the light of a full moon continued south in almost perfect silence. At least it seemed silent after the engine was shut down.
Cindy, taking advantage of the lack of engine noise, decided to hit the bunk for a well deserved nap. After all, she did her job well. She found us some wind. I kicked back in the cockpit and gazed at the horizon. We only saw about 2 or three other boats that night and they were over 10 miles away when they passed. The winds continued to build and by 5 am I had to put our first reef in the sails. Reefing sails means we furl up some of the sail to reduce the amount of sail area exposed. This keeps the boat more upright and slows us a little bit. By sunrise we saw winds steady at 25 with gust to 35 knots (almost 40 mph). The waves started to pick up and this meant sleeping was over. Cindy stuck her head up from below, “How fast are you going? It feels like we are screaming along.” We were.
For the rest of the trip to Key West we didn’t have to worry about lack of wind. We just hung on for dear life. We tend to marginally graze on food when in lumpy seas. We grab cheese and crackers, fruit and granola bars when we get a little peckish. Dry foods help keep the nausea away and are easier to grab when the boat is rolling about. We anchored 2 hours ahead of our planned arrival time at about 3pm and treated ourselves to healthy sized bowl of beef stew. By 8pm we were both comatosed.
Because we are stuck here for a few days we decided to take in the sights and enjoy ourselves. Hope you like the pictures.