Short trip to Islamorada (long)

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Ixneigh
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Joined: Thu Sep 09, 2010 11:00 am
Sailboat: MacGregor 26M
Location: Key largo Florida

Short trip to Islamorada (long)

Post by Ixneigh »

From tarpon basin, I had planned to travel down to snake creek and around into the Atlantic. But for a few days the weather was so hot that I nearly lowered the mast and drove the boat under Adam’s waterway bridge, and just called it a day. But the East winds appeared again. The east winds, the Tradewinds. The steady, reliable, day in day out 15 knot breeze that I grew up here with, the east winds that aren’t here any more. Or not nearly as much as they used to be. My ticket to actually sailing south instead of motoring, wafted into the heat of the stagnant pond that tarpon basin turns into during the summer. Come hither, yon little blue and white piece of fiberglass, the winds whispered. I pulled up the main, catted the anchor and staggered out into the mangrove creek that would take me into Sunset Cove and then, south. At the far end of the creek, I had to run the motor because of the fluky winds that are ALWAYS present in these places. The MacGregor is not heavy enough to carry her way through these little wind flummoxations. In my 33 ft keelboat I could do it though. Tack through these creeks, turning with the bow railing just grazing the mangroves, time and time again, flogging of jibsheets, clunking of deck blocks. At last, free!
Out in sunset cove, I shut the motor off, and the wind teased that I wouldn’t need the jib. No ones in a rush except the center console fishermen roaring by me. We were doing four knots with the main. The wind just aft of the beam, no centerboard. Not bad. It was later in the afternoon. And there was a cooling cloud cover that had formed a few hours ago. Even though I had left later, I could probably make it to the Cowpens anchorage by dusk. As I closed in on the cut that marked the exit to sunset cove, I noticed a sail. Some other loony tune was out here as well.
As we closed the distance I purposely steered a course under his lee, to get a look at the boat, who was a quite handsome green painted cat ketch. All sails drawing well, a pretty nutshell pram danced along behind her. Two old guys gave friendly waves we passed. Well drat. Maybe I could set the jib after all. Soon my little boat was moving every bit as nicely as that other one. The dogs eyed the extra sheets in the cockpit with concern. We can make it to islamorada in one tack, I informed them. They did not appear to believe me. Now, this was probably the nicest sailing I’ve had the entire season. This is always a pleasant leg, in the lee of the land, with the easterly wind on the beam. We were doing five knots now, the boat light on the helm and heeling little. She felt like a keel boat. I’ve done quite a bit of underwater trickery to my particular MacGregor and this is what it was all for. Lovely. I turned on the gps to locate a tiny cut in-shore of Pidgin key, a popular shortcut for small boats. The light was getting a bit funky but I did pick out the stakes and sailed through, and past Tavernier creek, and, lol, toilet seat pass lol. There was a strong current setting me out of the channel there but I did make it through without the engine. I decided to keep sailing since the conditions were so nice. I love not having to worry about the board here abouts. Rudders kicked up a little coming out of toilet seat pass but soon we were in deeper water (sort of) and passing snake creek and the well known Ocean View Lounge. It was dusk now. The sun was setting behind the lavender clouds on the horizon. I struggled to find another little cut between cotton key and the mangroves to its southeast. I had it marked with a skull and crossbones on the chart plotter but couldn’t remember why. Submerged pipes? Concrete piles? Rocky bar? I eased the sails and ghosted closer. The water shoaled. I was like, right on top of the skull and crossbones icon. On my gps there’s a multistep process to assigning a custom icon to a point on the chart. Id bothered to do it for, no doubt, a good reason. Ok there was the little sticks in the nearly invisible channel. Looked like the tide was high too. From here it’s not far to the “harbor” where most boats anchor near the Lorelei Restaurant and bar. I sailed over and stuck the jib shortly before selecting a place to anchor on the far side of the main group of boats. I could move closer to the shore access tomorrow. While tidying the anchor line, I inspected the motley collection of houseboats and other dubious floating objects nearby. Every time I visit, there seems to be fewer and fewer actual cruising boats. Several sunk or grounded vessels litter the shallows. You have to have good ground tackle here in the winter. The anchorage is exposed to the west and a raging cold front will kick your ass. People buy these boats cheaply, or get given one from a homeowner who no longer wants it on their dock, and they don’t know how to anchor. Every derelict sailboat here is a better boat than the MacGregor. Terrible Shame.
In the morning, after breakfast, I motor slowly past another sunken 30 ft sailboat, mast sails and rigging intact, and anchor in my favorite spot, about a hundred yards from the public launch area. the last time I was here I got yelled it by some dipshit with a large poweryacht tied to the dock kind of catty corner from me. I hope he sees me now and is annoyed (I’m not quite sure but I think he though I would drag because he kept on about the bad holding ground) anyways, my dogs are desperate for shore so I ferry them in on the paddle board. The access is jammed with all manner of small watercraft. Kayaks, skiffs, rubber ducks, jonboats. Kayaks are pretty popular with the permanent residents. Through this morass, a twin engined sport boat is being launched. There’s a handy dumpster where I leave a small bag of trash and noticed two identical bikes inside. I’d like to salvage the frames for a possible project, so that takes a few hours. After I secure them on the deck of my boat, I grab a sub sandwich from the 24 hour grocery a block away. In the afternoon I run the ice maker for an hour to make about a cup of ice. It’s really pretty lousy. But it’s using excess power. I probably won’t keep it on board however. I debate staying where I am for the night. There will be more bugs this close to shore but Mr poweryacht guy is sure to pop a button. Meh. I think I might like to go skinny dipping so that means I need a little privacy. And the way to get that around here is to park the boat in a particular deeper area bordered on all sides by shallows. I discovered I could get in here even at dead low tide if I was careful. And the tides high so no worries. There is a Seaward RK26 on the other side of the shallows. Not sure why he’s out there and not in here where there will be no other boat traffic at all. The Seaward looks a wreck, sails left out, unfurled. Is there even anyone aboard? That’s a pretty expensive little boat to be abandoned. I remember I’d looked at those while boat shopping. I couldn’t even afford a used one. They are supposed to be well built, fast sailing and pretty, everything the old salty dogs say the Mac is not. I didn’t like the layout, and some models have low headroom. I also doubt they sail in shallow water as well as a Mac, or as well as mine, at least. That rotating mast makes a big difference in light air lurking.
The spot I’m anchored in now is a wonderful little harbor for the MacGregor-inclined. Once inside, the depth is 5-6 feet. You have protection from weather of any direction. To the west is Shell Key. To the southeast is a series of mangrove fringes. To the south is a long distance of bonefish flats and to the northeast is the shallow bar you crossed to come in. This would be my go-to harbor in bad winter weather. As long as you can anchor securely you’ll be safe from waves, or other boats dragging.
Most of the next, gorgeous, classic, tropical sunrise morning is consumed with some chores, and a few things I needed to do on the web. In the afternoon I did return to my little spot near the shore access to walk my dogs again and while I’m
doing so, I decide I will leave for key largo Oceanside tomorrow instead of staying in the Islamorada area all weekend as I had originally planned. It’s Memorial Day. It’s going to be a madhouse. After walking the dogs I paddle board over to have a look at the collection of wrecks. All perfectly fine boats at one time. The saddest one for me is a Tavana 33. Recall, I used to own one. She was anchored the last time I was here, but now she has been blown way up into a Mangrove thicket, in about a foot of water. She’s in rough shape. Could she be salvaged? The house has a huge hole in one side. Rot is extensive in other places. The cabin is a shambles. She got here on a hurricane tide and that’s the only way she’s getting out. I suppose one could clean her up, build a makeshift dock around her to effect repairs while waiting for said storm…but not at my age. Not now. At dusk I finish a late lunch at the dockside restaurant named after a mermaid. Tourists take pictures of the technicolor sunset, and flies annoy the diners, as most of the tables are outside. The food here is nothing to write home about, but I can see my boat as she sits serenely at anchor, so it’s worth it. I’m going over by cotton key tonight. The wind is very light when I leave my day anchorage much to poweryacht man’s probably delight. While motoring out of the harbor I notice someone is attempting to sail the Seaward, I guess she’s not abandoned after all. But there’s just no wind. Cotton key has always been a melancholy location for me. I don’t know why. Sometimes I feel as if maybe I’ve spent more than one lifetime in the keys. Some areas really give me a strange vibe. So much history here, and a lot of different cultures have passed through. A lot of blood sweat and tears to wrest a living from a fairly inhospitable environment. The pineapple farms gave way to the Flagler railway, a feat of engineering that even today would be difficult to match. The railroad became a horribly narrow two lane road that I recall driving on in the late seventies before the modern bridges were built. At that time “you could play tag on the highway” because cars were so infrequent. The Lawson Shopper grocery store in key largo was located where CVS drugstore is now, how I loved going in there. It was eclectic and quaint, but had what you really needed. kind of like the 24 hour grocery in Islamorada.
I’ve got cotton key all to myself it seems. It’s only real appeal is as an anchorage off the ICW for through travelers. It’s been a decade since I shared this anchorage with another boat. There are less cruising boats in the keys now. I think the economic stratification that seemed to really kick in after Covid, is a big reason. The people who could once afford to do it on a modest yacht, people like me, can no longer. The people who can afford larger yachts are probably going farther afield, out of the country, across oceans. I ponder this while bathing on the paddle board. It’s after dark now, I don’t swim due to sharks. Dumping buckets of water over myself that are warmer than the air. The first time I anchored here, I was 20, on a very different boat. Almost forty years ago. You’d think I’d have grown bored of the Keys by now. Or disgusted with the changes brought by modernization. But the necklace of twinkling lights and low dark land stretching into the sunset resides in my heart still. The pastel paintings of clouds over the Florida bay, never the same, ever changing, purples blues, pinks peach, yellow gold orange, streaked with sapphire like a slice of the finest opal. It’s familiar and comforting. I can sail large areas without ever looking at a chart, save to locate a gap in the flats even some locals don’t know exists. Familiarity breeds content, sometimes.

Ix
"Shoal Idea"
2011 M, white
Etec 60
South Fl.
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NiceAft
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Re: Short trip to Islamorada (long)

Post by NiceAft »

Finest piece of writing I’ve ever seen posted on this site, it just flows, especially the poetry; “ Come hither, yon little blue and white piece of fiberglass, the winds whispered. ” Well done👍

Did you photograph one of those pastel sunsets you so aptly described?
Ray ~~_/)~~
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Russ
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Re: Short trip to Islamorada (long)

Post by Russ »

Nice read. I'm living vicariously. Makes me want to sail the Keys.

BTW..I enjoyed your Toilet Seat Pass video. So interesting.

--Russ
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Ixneigh
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Re: Short trip to Islamorada (long)

Post by Ixneigh »

So I left cotton key at daybreak. The full moon hung high in the western sky, so startlingly beautiful in its silvery radiance that I actually tried to take a picture of it. Which came out lousy because, well cellphones just are not that great of camera. The breeze was very light. My instinct was that today was a day for the powerboat crowd. Now it just so happens that I do have a powerboat, if i was inclined to use it. But I was in no rush. That incredible moon faded to transparency as the sun rose. It was warning up already. It was going to be a hot, cloudless tropical day. At snake creek, numerous boats formed a line to proceed under the bascule bridge while I lingered, doing lazy circles, waiting for the bridge to open, apparently only on the hour now. Once under the bridge, most captains accelerated to plane quickly and blasted out of the channel that meandered across an extensive shallow bank. That meant I spent most of that part of the journey getting rolled around. As soon as I could, I made my turn to the northeast, skirting the seaward edge of those shallows. About that time my low oil alarm kicked in. I couldn’t remember how long the etec can operated after that. Should be at least a couple hours, right? I decided I would take the inshore track to Tavernier key, and refill the oil there in the Lee of that island. As I approached the opening of this haphazardly marked passage I realized that the tide was so high, that I could probably just cut right across another shallow grass flat. In the end I decided against it. Some of this flat, like others in the Keys now, are delineated with “no motor zone” buoys intended to protect the fragile seagrass from damage by boat propellers. The park rangers would not care that the tide was high. I did kind of have to invade the no motor zone a little bit, to get close to Tavernier Key where the water was calm enough to add oil. I carefully, using the paddle board to stand on, accomplished this without spilling drop of precious XD100. There was a guy in a bonefish skiff, poling the shallows. He yelled at something, which made a large splash. Tarpon, perhaps. I decided I would put the main up and drift out past the east end of the island and maybe I could make it to Rodreguiz key in a couple hours. What followed was a study in slow sailing, 2 knots about, mostly on a steep reach. There wasn’t even enough wind to fill a Genoa or spinnaker had I had one. The water was pretty and clear, not a cloud in the sky. Boats loaded with weekend revelers hurried past, eager to arrive at the place where the most revels could be had. I had my sunshade, which is almost always in place, my dogs were pleased that we had no jib up. I had my revels, no need to go anywhere else. So we proceeded to go nowhere slowly. Wait is that even possible? From horizon to horizon I was the only sail visible. That there is a special kind of crazy. In due time we did approach the sandbank and flotilla of boats by Rodriguez Key. This shallow spot is a popular destination for boaters to anchor, swim, put up flags and beach chairs and generally be part of a crowd. I sailed slowly around the perimeter, taking in the spectacle. It’s a fun place to anchor but I avoid it when it’s this crowded. I wanted to swim for a while after sitting in the cockpit all afternoon, and the other end of Rodriguez would be nearly abandoned since there’s no sandy bottom there. I’d seen a few fair sized sharks around here in the past, so once I got the sail put away, I didn’t stray far from the boat. Holding onto the rudder pennant allowed me to inspect the grassy bottom my feet dangled above. Whenever I’m back here I habitually check the zincs, the rudders, motor brackets etc. the ballast valve needs to be replaced this year. The plastic handle is broken. I decide I can make my own valve out of fiberglass similar to how I made my stern light replacement. Add it to the list.
My sailing season is at its end. My beautiful M has carried me and my canine companions on some wonderful adventures over the past few months, and provided a cozy platform for my various creative bents, and what more can be asked of any small boat?
"Shoal Idea"
2011 M, white
Etec 60
South Fl.
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Ixneigh
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Re: Short trip to Islamorada (long)

Post by Ixneigh »

Some pictures


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"Shoal Idea"
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Be Free
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Re: Short trip to Islamorada (long)

Post by Be Free »

Thank you for the memories. It's been almost 15 years since I was last in the Keys but you had me right back there again.
Bill
2001 26X Simple Interest
Honda BF40D
"If I were in a hurry I would not have bought a sailboat." Me
Bill at BOATS 4 SAIL
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Re: Short trip to Islamorada (long)

Post by Bill at BOATS 4 SAIL »

I spent some time in the FLAKEYS back late 60's early 70's. A buddy kept his Hunter in Islamorada in the winters. I would go down and do some sailing, etc with him. One of the reasons it took me 9 years to graduate from college (in the top 80% of my class). He kept it in the marina at Holiday Isle, or maybe it was Graceland. I don't remember. Kind of like I don't remember why I went through Alabama on my way back to Wisconsin from Woodstock, or when, where, why I got that tattoo. I do remember eating Thanksgiving dinner in a Chinese restaurant in Key West one year. And sitting next to a chick in a bar that told me she had taken hog tranquilizers. She laid on her bed for 5 days. She p'd in her pants, she poo'd in her pants, but "boy that was some goods hit".
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