Boca Grande Key

img_4496.jpg Our month in Key West is almost over, and we're preparing for our trip north. The past few weeks we've gotten out sailing regularly, practicing and gaining confidence with many of the skills that we'll need as we work our way up the coast. Along these lines, we recently made our first overnight sailing trip, heading over to Boca Grande Key and setting our anchor for a change instead of sleeping peacefully attached to a mooring ball. It proved to be a great weekend and a good experience for us.

img_4334.jpg There were light winds blowing against us when we left on Saturday, so we practiced tacking, getting comfortable with pointing in a different direction than we wanted to be going. It was fun to watch Key West fade away behind us as we entered new territory. Jamie spent much of the time steering, so I went below and worked on a few little boat projects that I had been meaning to get done for too long already. We spotted a few dolphins underway, and were followed by a hungry Pelican for some time, obviously used to boats throwing scraps his way.

img_4448.jpg Par for the course, we had gotten started later in the day than we intended, and combined with the mellow winds we still hadn't arrived at Boca Grande by out intended time of 4pm. So, we started the engine and motored the last little way, allowing us to get there in the daylight with plenty of time to spare for picking out a good anchorage.

img_4472.jpg Arriving at the island, we slowed way down and dropped our sails as we compared what we could see in the water to what our charts said. On the eastern side of the channel, it was quite apparent that there were some new sand bars with deeper, darker water found on the western side. We cautiously began our way through the shallow water toward the deep water channel on the west side of the island. Our arrival was dramatically greeted by a large pod of a dozen or more dolphins who surrounded our boat and followed us for twenty minutes as we slowly worked our way in the channel, playing and slapping the water with their tails. Their commotion was enough to attract our cat's attention who frantically ran around the boat trying to figure out what they were, and possibly wondering if it was worth jumping into the water to catch one. A couple of motor boats passed us due to our slow speed, and we were pleased to see that our dolphin friends stuck with us rather than going off to play with our noisy neighbors.

img_4405.jpg The island doesn't offer much protection, being mostly tidal flats that disappear under the water at high tide. But on the second try we managed to get our hook to stay, putting our engine hard in reverse to convince ourselves that it wasn't going to drag. We then took Nigel Calder's advice and brewed a couple cups of tea, which we sipped in the cockpit while watching our surroundings, further convincing ourselves that we were here to stay.

img_4389.jpg We jumped in the skiff and walked in the sand briefly before the sun set, but minutes after we got there it became apparent that the tide was changing, so back to the boat to see how our anchor would handle a 180 degree change in the current. I sat up on the bow reading about anchoring while Jamie prepared another wonderful dinner, occasionally coming up to glance at the setting sun.

img_4396.jpg That night we were treated with an amazing sky of stars before the moon rose. We sat in the cockpit and talked for hours, just enjoying the beauty and peacefulness of the area. The moon rose around midnight, and with it came a few gnats, so we retreated into the safety of our boat to get some sleep. I set an alarm to go off every hour so I could check the anchor, and we fell asleep.

img_4442.jpg By the time the first alarm went off, we realized we'd made a mistake by not closing our hatches. The boat had filled with little gnats who were gleefully feasting on both of us in the v-berth. We each moved aft to the settee where the bugs seemed to be less and tried to get more sleep. Jamie completely cocooned herself in her sleeping bag liner, but still managed to get bitten up. I was too warm and too stupid, so I simply let them bite me as I took my forty five minute naps between anchor checks. After the tide changed again, I was much more confident in the anchor, and allowed myself several hours of sleep until the next tide change at dawn.

img_4437.jpg It was a long night, but somehow still an enjoyable one. I was out on deck the following morning checking the anchor as the sun rose, a beautiful sight. And our anchor had held through multiple tide changes, improving our confidence a little bit more.

img_4455.jpg Later in the day we went ashore again to walk the beaches and take a swim. We walked to the far side of the island to find our own piece of sand, away from the other visitors that had arrived mid morning. A nice change from life on the mooring ball in Key West.

img_4324.jpg A little after noon, we weighed our anchor and said fair well to Boca Grande. The tidal current kept us pointed toward our anchor and actually made it a quite simple task. Our dolphin friends were waiting for us as we headed back out to sea, once again guiding us through the shallows back to deeper water. On the ocean, the winds had clocked around 180 degrees, and once again were blowing out of the direction we wanted to go to, so we spent the day further practicing our tacking. As the day wore on, the winds picked up, with our inclinometer telling us we were heeling over at 20-25 degrees -- enough that we finally dropped the jib to make it a more comfortable sail. We arrived back in Key West just in time to sail in front of Mallory Square as the sun set, and arrived back at our mooring ball in the dark. What were once challenging tasks for us have started to become more routine, a nice feeling as we gain confidence with our new home and prepare for new adventures.

2 comments on Boca Grande Key

  1. captain ron's picture
    captain ron
    Fri, 04/17/2009 - 14:41

    I can't tell you how many times I used to get up to check the anchor in my early adventures. Anchoring is one of the most frightening parts of the cruising lifestyle, not just because of your worries about your own anchoring skills, but the fear of your neighbors' inability to keep their boat in one place. It will be one of the big differences between your adventures in the warm and wonderful tropics and my adventures in the cold and sparsely populated Alaskan wilderness. Here we have the unspoken rule that if you come to your anchorage and find someone in it, you go to the next one. That will be pretty hard to do in your travels.

    Congratulations on adding one more trip to the memory list. I hope that you're using that new Cruising Log and recording all of those favorite memories and special nuances that come with every trip.

    Keep writing! We are always looking forward to the next entry!


  2. alaskamarge's picture
    Thu, 04/16/2009 - 12:24

    Hi, I really enjoyed reading about and seeing the beautiful pictures of your sailing trip. Thanks so much for sharing this with us. Wish we were there to enjoy your adventures...the dolphins greeting and swimming along side, with your pictures sounded like so much fun. MOM