In our 2 years of owning the TRUE LOVE, this was our longest stay aboard, the furthest out to sea we've been, and our first overnight passage. We were aboard for 15 days. It was also our first waterspout encounter, but I'll get to that later.
The crew was my wife, our 7 and 9 year old boys, a family friend from Tacoma happy to get to warm water for a change, and me.
We left our home base of Tarpon Point Marina in Cape Coral at 4pm on Saturday, June 24. The plan was to get down by Marco Island and anchor for the night by the time it got dark at 9pm. But in that the weather was good, the boat was running fine, and the crew was excited for the trip, we decided to drive on through the night and arrive in the northernmost keys (Content Key, Tarpon Belly, etc.) in the morning. We cruise at 8 knots so we were looking at about a 14 hour passage in total this night. Point of interest here: I knew it was the new moon on exactly that night and would be dark. But boy, was it DARK.
As we cleared west of Cape Romano and moved S but further offshore, the chop picked up to 2-3 on the port bow. It was not comfortable. A sort of 3-dimensional pitch and yaw and roll action. I tried several different angles of attack, but in the end we just slowed down to 5.5 knots and it was much better. Next point of interest: never turn on your iPad at 2am when you've been rocking for 6 hours and try to read anything. Within 15 seconds of looking at the screen I had to run to the back of the flybridge to vomit over the rails. I wasn't feeling ill before nor after, but the motion, the disorientation due to pitch dark, and then trying to read was all it took.
Buddy Rick and I each got about an hour of sleep that night, while my wife and kids did just great down below. As the dawn approached in the east, my wife and 7 year-old took over on the flybridge, and I went down to bed. After dozing off in about 15 minutes the next thing I heard is my wife at the foot of the bed saying there was a tornado right in front of us! As I asked her to repeat that twice more, and was trying to wake up, we climbed the stairs, and yep, by golly, about 2 miles ahead of us was a very tall, but slender waterspout right in our path. Being driven by a SE wind, I figured turning NE would be the best escape, and that worked. It blew harmlessly past our aft starboard. Of course the 7-year was thrilled to see his first real "tornado".
After the 115 mile passage, we enjoyed visiting Content Key, Tarpon Belly, and Snipe Point. Even on a Sunday, Snipe had over 30 boats along the beach and they were having a great alcohol-fueled time. About 4pm we headed for Key West and our preassigned slip at A&B Marina. I had been in and out of the Calda Channel many times in the past, but of course today would be the day that we ran soft aground right at the entrance at Marker 1. The NOAA chart, the Navionics chartplotter, and both Navionics and BlueCharts on the iPad show enough water even at low-tide, but it was not to be. TowBoatUS arrived within an hour, and promptly ran aground 300 yards short of the end of the channel himself. He called another TowBoatUS, this time a smaller outboard and he also got stuck briefly. The little boat managed to get the big boat free, but they just radioed and said we'd float free eventually, which we did... 4 hours later. By then it's pitch dark again, so we follow the chartplotter into the deepwater Northwest Channel into Key West and uneventfully reach our slip at exactly midnight. My buddy and I were exhausted after only an hour's sleep the previous night. We slept like logs until 9am, then headed across the street to Pepe's for breakfast and Tequila Sunrises. All was well with the world again.
After filling up with diesel and all the ice we could hold, the following day we headed off out the southwest channel for the Dry Tortugas. The weather was spectacular, with a slow 1 foot swell and dead downwind. We stopped at Boca Grande in the Marquesas for a swim and some beers, and it was a lovely place. Later, just south of the Quicksands we entered a large area of 10 foot water with a clean sand bottom and the clearest aqua water this side of the Bahama Banks. It was awesome, and again we shut the boat off and floated and swam for an hour in what looked exactly like a swimming pool.
We arrived in the harbor at Fort Jefferson, made an easy anchor in 20 feet of water near the seaplane landing, and watched 200,000 birds on their island, while dozens of Tarpon swam all around the boat. With the birds yapping 24/7, it wasn't quiet but it sure was pretty. The next day we spent a couple hours exploring the fort, watching their little video in the air-conditioned office in the fort, and looking at the fish in the moat. The seaplanes come and go all day dropping off and picking up passengers. The big Ferry arrives about 11 and leaves about 3pm. It was a visit worth doing once, but as we aren't big fishing people or snorkelers there is just nothing to do out there. Two days is plenty.
Wednesday we headed straight back to A&B Marina and enjoyed 3 days in Key West, partly because we lost our starboard air conditioning but $3900 later my wife was cool and happy again.
We then headed to Marathon on the bay side, which was upwind but only 1 foot chop, as opposed to the Hawk Channel which would have been upwind into 3-5 seas. That was an easy decision to make. In the summer, with prevailing E-SE, the bayside is always calm. We enjoyed 2 days at Faro Blanco Bayside Marina. Hyatt has pumped a lot of money into the facility, with a nice pool 20 feet from the dock, a good bar and restaurant, and really fast-pumping diesel.
On Monday, July 3rd, we made the 85 mile passage from Marathon to Marco Island and stayed at The Marina at Factory Bay. Nice place with free laundry and a comfortable lounge. Here we bid farewell to crewmate Rick, who took a car across to Ft. Lauderdale for a flight back to Seattle.
On the 4th of July, we made another 50 mile trip up to South Seas Plantation on Captiva Island. South Seas is our very favorite place and we stayed here 3 days, albeit going out cruising each day as the weather was so nice.
At trip's end we returned back to Tarpon Point Marina and promptly checked into the biggest suite the Westin hotel had, as we really wanted proper showers, big beds, and room service!
We traveled over 500 miles, spent $500 on fuel, which at about $2.30/gallon equates to just under 220 gallons, for over 2 mpg. That's just about our expected 3.5 gph, and we ran the generator the entire time we were not on shore power. The gen burns just under .5 gph, so our propulsion burn was closer to 3.1 gph. Pretty happy with that.
All in all, a big success. The kids were never bored, and never did anything stupid. My wife did fine too, but only because we ran the AC 24/7. I truly don't know how some cruisers do Florida summers without AC. My hat's off to ya.