Chart a Course to the Conch Republic

Chart a Course to the Conch Republic

I awoke at 0600, prepped the boat, and was on my way to the Ft.Myers mooring field.  I was planning on provisioning there with fuel, water and food.  I was also taking on crew.  Ray has been at Boulder as long as I can remember.  He has helped us with many projects over the years and is a close friend.  We dined at Doc Ford’s which is right next to the mooring field and is a staple for author Randy Wayne White (my uncle’s favorite author).

Ray plotting  a course.


This is the only other Dehler 31 I have ever seen!  This was taken in Ft.Myers.


We awoke early to make the 40 miles to Marco Island.  After bringing the dinghy back on deck we were on our way.  And so was the Key West Express; A 200 foot catamaran capable of 40 knots that runs round trip to Key West  and Ft.Myers.  We pulled over to the side of the channel and let them pass and followed their wake to the gulf.  The wind was light at first and we began by motoring half the distance until the wind finally picked up.  Finally, we were able to roll out the sails and shut the engine off.  It was awesome having another person onboard.  I spent the day in the galley prepping food for the next 2 days and Ray was looking out for crab traps.  Crab traps have lines with a small buoy at the surface which is very difficult to spot even up close.  And they are EVERYWHERE!  Wrap one of those around the prop shaft and you are in a world of hurt.  Upon arriving at the Big Marco Pass we found a rather bumpy inlet with a few twists and turns in the channel.  There are also a few areas of shallow water.  Making our way towards Factory Bay we tied the boat to a floating dock at Rose Marina.  I have not been on a floating dock since I left Boulder and it was nice to be able to just hop off the boat.  After saying goodbye to Ray, I spent the rest of the evening going over routes and plans for the two-day leg toward the Keys.  I also took advantage of the last easy to get to shower that I may have access to for a while.  IMG_5238.jpg

I was up at 5 the next morning and was leaving the marina at the first sign of light.  With all the crab pots and being solo I decided to do the trip  during daylight hours.  My overnight stop would be at Little Shark River tucked deep into the everglades.  The winds were light the majority of the trip and I ended up motoring most of it.  The waves coming off the gulf kept the boat rolling  a decent amount and I was finally able to roll out the headsail and motorsail to help with the motion.  IMG_5271.jpgIMG_5284.jpgIMG_5305.jpg

The wildlife in these waters was absolutely stunning.  I saw 5 Loggerhead turtles, flying fish, dolphins, a number of other fish species, seabirds, and water colors.  Some of the less-stunning wildlife included  mosquitoes, no-seeums, and a whole lot of other things that put you at the bottom of the food chain.  Once the anchor was set I immediately started preparing for the flesh eating bug infestation sealing the boat off with screens and ensuring there were no gaps that anything could get past.  Fortunately my hard work paid off and I didn’t have any bugs.  The next morning was a different story.  I read the bugs were bad at sunset and sunrise.  Great, that was when I was planning on leaving.  When I woke up I noticed a mass of hungry insects attempting to enter my barricaded doors. Inside the boat, I was safe. The problem was I had to go outside.  I soaked myself in bug spray.  On the count of 3 with key in my hand I flung the hatch open, Threw my gear in the cockpit, started the engine and ran forward to haul the anchor.  I think that is the fastest I have ever hauled anchor in my life.  Thank you windlass. I made my getaway a few miles out into the gulf chasing off any stragglers before opening the main hatch.  I was again greeted by more sea turtles before rolling out the headsail and making way towards Boot Key Harbor in Marathon.

This was about the best picture I could get of a sea turtle.


The entrance to Little Shark River

The wind was light and I was worried about a storm cell building above me.  I continued motor-sailing at a good rate of speed to try and make landfall before it decided to land on me.  Finally the storm headed east and it left me with plenty of wind right on the nose. One good thing about this boat is it sails well to windward.  I sailed about 30 more miles close-hauled and just made the channel that leads to the 7 mile bridge opening.  Upon approaching I rolled in the sail and powered through decent sized rollers and wind right on the nose.  As I was navigating through the bridge I could feel the current suck me through and I saw 9 knots sog as I blasted through the chop into the southern portion of the keys.  I continued to give the boat a thorough salt water bath as I pounded through waves enroute to Boot Key Harbor.  Once in the harbor I tied up to mooring ball number s12, grabbed a beer and prepared the dinghy to go to shore to check in.  Upon checking in I made my way back to the boat and watched the beautiful sunset to the west and lightning display to the East.  

7 Mile Bridge


Sunset after arriving tto s12 mooring ball in Boot Key Harbor

It really still feels surreal at this point. I keep having to remind myself that this isn’t a dream.  All the hard work Emily and I put into this boat really did pay off. However, as amazing as this trip has been so far it isn’t the same when you don’t have someone to share the experiences with you.  Fortunately Emily, who has put countless hours painting, fiberglassing, varnishing and keeping me on track will soon be with me to experience our dream come true.  I am counting down the hours before my best friend and spouse becomes the other “captain” onboard.  Because the only thing better than a good memory is sharing it with someone you love.     

Pascagoula Run standing by on channel 1-6.

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