Well, it is possible! High ZZ’s lost her virginity for the third time. Yes we know, we already claimed two. But this is “real deal” cruising; our leg from Key Largo to Charlotte Harbor FL takes the cake. What was anticipated to be an easy 175nm overnight passage in benign weather turned out to be everything a cruiser fears/dreads/tries their best to avoid. We knew we were in for a bit of a challenge, crossing through Channel Five from the Hawk Channel, on the ocean side of the Keys, to the “backside” (read very shallow, too shalllow ICW side) for a shortcut north (saving a day or two by not going all the way west to Key West before turning north). What we got was so much more.
Seems as though the Hawk Channel is known for a preponderance of crab pots; a cruisers nightmare to keep from getting their float lines wrapped around your prop. But the part of Hawk channel we experienced, from Angelfish Creek to Channel Five was not covered in crab pots at all…we thought: haven’t the people who write these cruising guides ever been to the Chesapeake Bay (where crab pots dot every harbor entrance)? But then, we entered crab pot hell! To the north of Channel Five, behind Long Key and Marathon, and then continuing on for 120-130 miles, we encountered an endless sea of crab posts. Hour after hour, dodging pots until sunset; not just along single or double lines of pots, but often multiple strings running every direction with pots only 20 feet apart in a continuous maze. We tried deeper and deeper water, much further west than we needed/wanted to go…but to no avail. We could not escape crab pot hell! People also complain about all the lobster pots to dodge in Maine. Well bring it on, we are ready! We motored west into deeper water until it got too dark to see and avoid the pots…and then we just turned north and resorted to a common cruisers mantra: “all crab pots disappear at night”. SO, so, glad our big keel deflected all of the lines!
And, for the third lost virginity passage, we had yet another hitch-hiking bird that night. But this one was big enough for Thanksgiving dinner; if we could catch him. You have to look close at the picture; he is above the cabin top hatch. It was dark and he would fly off the boat for a minute if we got closer for the flash to work better.
When we began our offshore leg, we had a great weather forecast: following light (5-15kt) winds, small (1-3 ft) seas, all predicted to last until at least 12 hours after our planned ETA. But just four hours before making landfall, and 16 hours ahead of time, all hell broke loose. Dense fog, 20+ knot winds, 4-6 foot seas…and still the damn CRAB POTS! I don’t remember ever experiencing fog, with such big wind. Isn’t fog indicative of a stable (read calm) air mass? Had we been teleported overnight, somehow mysteriously to the state of Maine?
To top it all off, the boat began making a weird rumble/vibration/sound. It would go away if I slowed the engine or took it out of gear completely… I thought we had finally caught a crab pot line and I would have to dive in this mess to cut off the line. But, I finally figured out it must just be/had to be the folding prop, partially folding in the surging swells, when it is supposed to stay extended. And then, just as the outer marker appeared out of the mist, we thought we would be in easy street once we made the turn into Boca Grande Channel (supposedly a deep, big boat entrance). But I was so, so wrong. It seems that in spots, the channel has shoaled to 12-16 feet deep. Combine that with gusts to 26kts and the same 6 ft seas, but now on the beam…well I needed clean underwear after entering Gasparilla Sound.
As a storm with gale force wind was now predicted in the evening, we sought the shelter of a marina (Active Captain warned about relatively poor anchorages in the area). And luckily, we found a neat little hidy-hole place: Uncle Henry’s Marina. The dockmaster assured us that the 6 ft controlling depth of the entrance channel would be fine at ½ tide for our 5.5 ft draft. And sure enough, we saw 6.5-7.5 ft of water all the way in. But then the final installment in our cruiser’s lost virginity nightmare passage…in the morning when we wanted to get to Venice for Thanksgiving with the kids, the big north wind had blown much of the water out of the harbor, and three attempts to find a way out of the marina at the same ½ tide we came in on resulted in three groundings. High ZZ’s is stuck at Uncle Henry’s until the north wind stops…but we can still move the last 25 mi north to Venice the old fashion way….
Shep rows to Venice in “Following ZZ’s”