New Providence to Marathon, FL

February 17

I’d been regretting my gripe about perfect days yesterday.  Yesterday really was a beautiful day, and the whole spinnaker fiasco was probably my fault.  Today, however, really was perfect.

We left New Providence around 7am.  It was light and rolly until we got away from the island, then something like ENE 15-18 settled in.  There was a north swell that we didn’t get rid of for a couple hours, which had the kids grumpy and lethargic.  Eventually we set the spinnaker and had a great downhill day.

It was about 40 miles from New Providence to the Northwest Channel.  We put some lures out as we approached the banks, since I figured that was the best place to find the fish, and the presence of sportfishing boats seemed to concur.  Nada.  The lines stayed out onto the banks and I caught my smallest barracuda to date — not even 2 feet.  He went for a lure about half his size.  Typical barracuda.

There were no confirmed whale sightings as we crossed the Tongue of the Ocean, but Sarah saw something that was likely a pilot or beaked whale.  She said it was bigger than a porpoise and had a very blunt nose.

The spinnaker started getting a little high maintenance as we bore off for a 50 mile leg to the South Riding Rocks.  It seems happiest with the wind around 120 apparent, and we can get it as high as 90.  150 is about the deepest we can carry it, though.  At least without constant adjustment for wind shifts and Otto’s steering.

Otto has been giving a lot of trouble lately.  This is not good since he is a crucial member of the crew.  His best trick is to silently switch from Auto to Standby mode.  We had a nice accidental jibe today because he took a nap at the wheel.  We’ve decided he’s narcoleptic.  The primary job of the person on watch is to keep him company and make sure he stays awake.

We took the spinnaker down at dusk and decided to go with just a main.  After an hour or so we put a reef in.  After the accidental jibe Tanya was a little shy about sailing deep on her watch, so we ended up a little north of our line to the Rocks and had to put in a couple (intentional) jibes at the end to clear them.

From the Rocks it’s 50-something miles to Florida.  I was hoping for a full moon for this crossing and we nailed it.  I don’t particularly like sailing at night and moonlight helps a lot.  I don’t know exactly how far the crossing is because we’re not there yet and I’m not sure where we’ll end up.  The stream is really making itself felt.  I don’t want to fight it, and the breeze is about E 17-21, so I’m heading 275.  The GPS shows us going about 285 over the ground.  If it keeps up, we’ll end up about 10 miles north of our waypoint.  

February 18

It was a pretty uneventful night, which is exactly the way we like it.  Tanya had to contend with one cruise ship.  It crossed about a 1-mile ahead of us by her estimate.  That’s a little close.

The wind stayed E 17-21 and we stayed with a single-reefed main.  It was slow, but predictable.  The course deviation did keep up and even increased for awhile, and we did end up well north of our waypoint.  This was somewhat expected, and the reason we chose to a longer, but more southerly route from the South Riding Rocks, rather than Bimini or Cat Cay.  The Rocks were also much easier to negotiate at night.

On the midnight-3am watch I got disgusted and started jiggling Otto’s wiring.  I found a loose one and he appears to be cured.  By the time we get home we can be sure.  It will be nice to scratch a large and expensive project off the summer list.

As the sun rose, we could see and smell Florida (yes, from upwind).  The water was noticeably less clear, and there were seabirds plying the waves.   There were also hundreds of what I initially thought were plastic water bottles floating on the water.  If I passed one within 50 feet or so, I could see that it wasn’t really a bottle, but had a ridge on it, like a sail or fin.  It wasn’t until later in the day when I pointed one out to the kids that I learned they were in fact Portuguese man o’ war.

Other things that remind us we’re in Florida are actual, honest-to-god navigation channels.  With all the markers too!  And big sportfish boats that buzz right by sailboats thowing the biggest wakes possible in those channels.  And crab and lobster fishermen that think marked channels are a great place to put their pots.

The crab pot situation in Florida is something I’ll never understand.  They’re a hazard.  Navigating a marked channel in Florida requires more diligence than an unmarked one in the Bahamas, and it is highly unwise to run a boat at night in the Keys.  I hit two pots in broad daylight.  One I hit with my port propeller and broke up the float.  Another I snagged with my starboard rudder.  This has happened to us several times.  The pots drag along in our wake until I cut them loose with a knife.  I’ve gotten off easy (so far); poor Niels wrapped one around a propeller, tore up his transmission, and had to spend a week in the Marathon Boat Yard.

We crossed the reef into Hawk Channel and began a long day of working down the Keys.  We stopped near Marathon and will take a day’s rest, then continue to Key West and finally head north for Tampa Bay.  Crossing to Florida only represents the halfway point of our trip from a distance standpoint, but we already feel home.