Florida Keys Cruising

Chart of short cruise in Florida Keys

Frank Pappy's Cruising Guide to the Florida Keys.
BBA chart ket, Florida Keys.

We took a short 5 day, 4 night cruise in the Florida Keys from Feb 16-20, 2000.  It is a one day (10 hour) drive from Charleston down to Homestead AFB near Miami, where we stayed for the night.  We launched early the next morning from Sea Bird Marina on Long Key.  This marina has a steep launch ramp, and a good storage yard to leave your truck and trailer.  The fees were $12 to launch, and $7/day for storage. This was a small price to pay for not having to worry about the truck being vandalized or stolen while we were out sailing.  This was my wife's first experience with cruising, and I wanted to ensure she would enjoy it by only covering a very limited range.  Early nights and late mornings reflected the very relaxed pace that we followed.

The wind was steady from the E-SE, at 10-12 knts, giving a nice downwind sail all the way.   We made an easy day of it, and 10 nm later, anchored out behind Channel Key.  The water was still pretty muddy, and Channel Key is a mangrove island, so there wasn't much sightseeing involved.  The next morning, after a swim (to take the place of a shower), we sailed to Key Vaca and stayed at a marina in Marathon to gain access to hot showers. The water here turned the bright green color that is associated with the Florida Keys, and became very clear so you could see the bottom.  We then sailed up past Bahia Hondia, and sailed up Big Spanish Channel.  The wind shifted as we headed up the channel to SE-S, and increased to 15 knts.  We ran downwind under reefed main to Little Spanish Key, behind which I intended to anchor out,  It didn't look very promising, being very exposed if the wind shifted at all, so we turned back to the SE, and beat our way back up the channel to Porpoise Key, which offered much better protection.  The next morning, we continued to beat our way SE down Big Spanish Channel.  After we made the turn next to Bahai Hondia, the wind shifted back to the E-NE (dea on the nose) and dropped down to a fitful 2-3 knts.  We started motoring.  The weather report predicted light winds from the E-NE with thunderstorms the next day.  Rather then end our vacation with a 20 nm motor to windward (and with a 2HP Honda, that could take awhile), we chose to make use of an alternate ramp that I had scouted while in Marathon.  We anchored out that night behind Rachel key in maybe 2.5 foot of water, and the next morning bumped our way to freedom, and docked at the marina we had stayed at a few nights before.  The marina owner was not really happy with the idea of me having my boat docked there for any length of time (even though we were in the same slip that we were in two days ago, and there were a number of empty slips at the marina), so I took a cab to Long Key instead of waiting for the bus to get the truck and trailer.

The US navaids on my LMS-160 chartplotter worked great.  Navigation in the Florida Keys is very simple, with the ICW providing what is equivilent to a highway, with the daymarkers just leading you along.  I was confused near Key Vaca, when all of a sudden the daymarker numbers no longer tracked with my BRAND NEW latest edition of the BBA chart kit (Dang, guess I should have entered that change after all).  Amzingly enough, the daymarker identification on my LMS-160 was correct.  It is comforting to look at a marker through your binoculars, then highlight it on you chartplotter and find that they are the same number.

I brought along a 2.5 gallon gas tank, and a 1.5 gallon gas tank.  Total gas used: 2 quarts. Gotta love this little engines.

I learned alot about cruising on a small boat, which has reflected in changes I have planned or made to the boat:
1.  Invest in many small duffle bags.  We kept gear in plastic milk crates, which were a pain in the neck to shift around.  For our next trip, I have a number of medium sized different colored duffle bags to store food and gear in.
2.  Flexible water jug is a pain in the neck.  Having to cart it around invariably resulted in water being spilled all over the place.  I installed a freshwater system, with a hand sprayer on a hose in the cockpit and a 14 gallon tank underneath the veeberth.  Also, the fresh water rinse follwoing a saltwater bath is not real effective when it comes from a small jug.  The handsprayer will provide a much more convenient shower system.  I am also going to install a saltwater washdown system, which will provide a more convenient saltwater shower.
3. Sleeping quarters.  The mast support makes the vee-berth somewhat cramped and uncomfortable.  Also, in noisy harbors, all the sound carried in the water is transmitted directly through the hull, making things somewhat noisy (off Rachel Key, someone aboit 3 nm away was running a generator intermittantly through the whole night, and it was very noisy below decks, but you couldn't eve n here it from the cockpit).  I am planning on building a supporting platform across the cockpit well, to create a large double berth abovedecks.  A cockpit enclosure will create a much roomier living area).
4. Comfortable cockpit cushions are a must.  The throwable float cushions just don't cut it.  Investing in some quality cushions, like C-cushions, are a must.  They sell some small 18x18 cushionswhich would be just as convient as the ones that cover the entire cockpit seats, and much cheaper.

North Channel Cruising

Lakeland Boating Lake Huron Ports O' Call.
Richardson's Chartbook and Cruising Guide to Lake Huron.

We spent 5 days sailing the North Channel from July 23-July 28, 2000.  It was an 1100 mile drive to get there, but well worth the travel. The North Channel is a beautiful area to cruise.  It has knocked the San Juans off the top of my list for best cruising spots.  Even at the prime cruising time, there were few boats, and it was not difficult to find good anchorages or dock space (unlike in the San Juans in July!).  The whole region is dominated by solid granite mountains which is reddish or pink in color with veins of quartz streaked through them.  The water is very deep.  In some places, we dropped a bow anchor, and the pulled the stern back to land and ran a line to a tree.  The water was 10' deep right at the edge... you could pull your boat up to the stone wall, and step right off.  There is plenty of hiking destinations to keep you busy when you arrive at your anchorage every night.

This trip allowed us to test a number of cruising improvements, including the cockpit tent for sleeping in and installed water and shower systems.  All worked very well.

Slept at the dock in Little Current using our roomy cockpit tent.Strawberry Island light made for a beautiful introduction into North Channel cruising
1. Little Current: We launched in Little Current at the Spider Bay Marina, and spent the night tied up to the dock.  This worked out very well, as they had virtually unlimited parking for truck and trailer.

Met with lots of other small boat cruisers in Browning's Cove.2. Browning's cove, Heywood Island. Trip log: 7 nm.  We ghosted along in light 5-7 knot winds all day, and ended the day early at Heywood Island.  Here we met a number of other small sailboats who were members of the Trailer Sailor Club.  About 30 boats had met for their annual two week cruise in the North Channel.  They were headed to McGregor Bay the next day, a chart that was unfortionately not in our chart book, so we chose not to tag along.  We pulled the inflatable kiyak out to explore the anchorage.  This worked out well for a tender, and we ended up keeping it inflated and towing it behind us for the rest of the trip.

3. The Pool, Baia Fine. Trip Log: 17 nm. Another day with light air, broad on the stbd beam as we crossed  Frazer Bay.  We were able to ghost all the way up Baie Fine close hauled, with minimal tacking, mostly travelling 3-4 knots.  It was a great day, and I didn't want to ruin it with a lot of motoring.  This is where the small boat with a large sail really shines, as EVERY other boat we saw had the sail cover still on and was motoring.  Baia Fine is essentially a fjord, a  channel about 300-500' wide between mountain ranges, that closes at the end to a narrow channel.   We went all the way to the Pool, the front half of which was not too choke with weeds.  We dropped an anchor out the bow, and then took a line off the stern to a tree on shore.

Hike up to blue lake was well worth the trip

4. Snug Harbor. Trip Log: 18 nm.  The wind picked up to about 12-15 knots, and I reefed the main prior to rounding Frazer Point.  We sailed with the wind on the port beam across Frazier Bay.  The wind dropped to about 7-10 knots as we approached steamer reef, which we rounded and headed up LandsDowne Channel to Snug Harbor.  This is an incredibly sheltered anchoragem with enough room for a couple dozen boats.  There were about 10 there.
5. Killerney.  Trip log 7 nm. With very light winds, mostly on the nose, we alternately ghosted and motored for most of the morning, and arrived at Killarney, where we docked about noon.  We ate at the fish and chips place in the old Bus (must not miss attraction in Killarney).  It was the best fish and chips I have ever had, ruining all other fish and chips to me for the rest of my life.  We hiked up to the light house at Red Rock Point.  This was a great walk in the woods and climbing small granite mountains.
6. Little Current. Trip Log: 19 nm.  We left early, as the weather report predicted a change in the weather, and strong thunderstorms in the afternoon.  We pulled into Snug Harbor at noon, and waited out a small thunderstorm, we sailed about halfway to Little Current, and the wind died.  We motored the rest of the way, after nearly being swamped by a flotilla of 8 power boats cruising by on the plane on all sides of us.

We didn't make it west of Little Current, which hopefully I will rectify next summer.

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