From Naples, we could have gone the back way to Marathon, which is halfway up the chain of Florida’s Keys, and Mary likely preferred to have done so, but John wanted to see the Dry Tortugas from his own boat, and the weather (mostly) cooperated, so around the Keys we went. The first half of the overnight sail to the Tortugas was placid. After the first two hours, there was no wind to speak of. We were just motoring on down, relaxing on our first night sail in quite some time. On my first off-watch, I was awakened by the howl of wind and the boat heeled over such that my face was wedged into the lee cloth. “John?? Is that wind???” “Yes. Lots. All of a sudden.” He then rolled out the jib all the way, for some unknown reason, before realizing that this was precisely the wrong thing to do, and he called for my help. We were sorely out of practice, I had had about 1 hour of sleep, and it was midnight. Wrenching the Slappey into the wind to reduce the sail, and getting rid of our autopilot (good for motoring, not for sailing) took some time. Once reefed and under control with our excellent windvane, we got on course and got our wits back, only to find that along with the wind, we now had nasty swell and chop right on our beam (side,) which always rolls the Slappey like a pig. The swell was not excessive in height, only egregious in character, which we have found about sums up the waters on this Coast. We lurched, jostled, thwacked, and rolled the entire following 12-plus hours.
Luckily, I found a visit to the Dry Tortugas just almost worth it. We spent three relaxing days, before heading into more gusty East winds toward Key West. This was done in two legs; the first to the Marquesas Keys, which competed with the Tortugas leg in an uncomfortable bash to weather….for 11 hours straight. Luckily, seeing Key West was just almost worth that one, too. Finally, we did have a really nice, comfortable sail from the Marquesas into Key West Bight. Neither of us had ever been to Key West, and I had visions of crusty pirate types and vomiting Spring Breakers. There were plenty of those, but also quiet and beautiful back streets for strolling, and some interesting history. I knew about Hemingway and Key West, of course, but did not remember knowing anything about Truman’s Little White House. I also never knew that PanAm was started right there, with a flight from Key West to Havana.
Finally, we left Key West on an easy two-day leg to Marathon, where we now sit, waiting to head North up the East Coast. The weather is not cooperating, but is scheduled to abate in the next few days. All told, we will have spent nearly two weeks here in Marathon. I know it is a big cruiser hang-out, and supposedly very popular. Many boats come here and stay the entire season. We, however, are struggling to grasp the allure. It is made up of a highway strip, dotted with some palapa-type restaurants, dive and snorkle charters, no shade, no crosswalks over the busy highway…it’s just like Mexico! Except Mexico is cheap, and this is very expensive. So…..the winds cannot slow down fast enough for us. I am looking forward to getting up to the Carolinas and seeing all the little towns and villages on the ICW. Many East Coast cruisers hate the ICW, and have no interest in the little towns. They are probably the ones hanging out down here in Marathon. To each his own.
So, that’s our shortish visit to the Keys for you. We will check back in from somewhere on the mainland.