Let The Cruise Begin

It's been four years, tens of thousands of dollars, cuts, bruises and a few curse words that have never been heard by human ears, but we're finally off the dock and underway. Words can not express the feeling as we headed out the channel from Goodland, Florida and watched the marina fade from view. The only thing that kept playing in our minds was "it's finally happening." We had been at Walker's Coon Key Marina for about a month while we finished the generator installation, the Argus system and a few other minor projects. Walker's hauled the boat, painted the bottom and replaced all of the zincs while we were in Maryland for Thanksgiving. When we returned, everything was ready and all we needed to do was to restock our provisions and turn in the rental car. We had dropped off both of our cars at a relative's until our cruise was finished. As we headed toward Gullivan Bay, we encountered a raccoon swimming across the channel and when we had barely reached open water, pods of dolphins began to cavort in our bow and stern wakes. We saw them off and on all the way to Marathon.

First stop, Indian Key. It's only about 15 miles from the marina to Indian Key, but we wanted a short run and a night at anchor to just rest and relax and let the reality sink in. We have anchored here on several occasions but it was usually well into a cruise and not at the very beginning. Indian Key marks the beginning of the channel up to Everglade City. We considered taking the boat up the channel and then decided against it since we had been there a few times by land. It's a nice little town but there's not much there except a lot of restaurants. Anchoring just off the channel can get a little uncomfortable at times since the commercial fishing boats, tour boats and guides come out of Everglades City at full throttle and it can get bouncy. This time we headed up the channel into Russell Pass (25.50.1268, 081.26.4906) to get well out of the traffic lanes. This area is part of the 10,000 Islands and is absolutely spectacular. We spent a peaceful evening sharing a distant part of the anchorage with a very large yacht.

On to Little Shark River. The next morning we exited Indian Key along with two other trawlers that were also heading south. We guessed they were probably also going to Little Shark River since that's the logical jump off to the Keys and very few boats want to cross Florida Bay at night. More on that later. The weather was great and we had a northeast wind at about 10 to 15. That put the wind slightly on our port side stern and as long as we stayed close in to the coastline, we had only slight seas. On this trawler, any beam seas can get very uncomfortable. Also, by staying within the park boundaries, we avoided the many crab pots along the way. Our 4-foot draft allows us to stay close in and take an almost direct route to the Little Shark River entrance marker. The anchor came up at 0845 at Indian Key and we dropped the hook in the small bight just inside Little Shark River at 1415 (25.19.713, 081.08.800). This was another short day of about 36 miles and we spent another quiet night with the two trawlers from Indian Key and a total of about 5 sailboats.

Our first mechanical problem reared its ugly head by the time we reached the Little Shark River. The whole idea of this part of the cruise was to do a thorough shakedown of all of the equipment and work we have done on the boat. We had the heads removed, reworked and reinstalled with new head gaskets and manifold gaskets. We replaced all of the gaskets associated with removing the head except one. So wouldn't you know it. The gasket that sits under the fresh water coolant tank and around the thermostat had been overlooked when we ordered new gaskets. The old gasket looked like it was in good shape so we reused it. The few times we used the boat until now it had never shown any signs of leaking. But now it was. It was nothing major, but a leak is a leak and it never gets better. Now, there isn't anything out in the Little Shark River. No facilities, no people, no cell phone or internet service. This isn't a place you want to break down since it's a long way to any civilization. But the problem was slight at this point and we knew we just needed to get down to Marathon to fix it.

Crossing Florida Bay can be uncomfortable in some conditions and downright dangerous in serious weather. There are many shoals and reefs that can do serious damage if you don't pay close attention to where you are. But even that is not the biggest problem crossing over to the Keys. It's the bazillion floats attached to traps that turn Florida Bay into a virtual minefield. One of these lines tangled in the running gear can stop you dead and require a dive over the side to cut everything loose. Navigating through them calls for constant vigilance. Which brings us to the reason no one wants to make this crossing at night. Our winds were forecast to be 10 to 15 from the east, which would put the seas right on our beam, but fortunately, as usual, the NWS was less than accurate and the winds were light and more northeast, putting them more on the bow than the beam. Five boats from Little Shark River all headed toward the 7 Mile Bridge and converged on Moser Channel near Marathon.

Revisiting Boot Key Harbor. Beach House arrived at the outer channel markers of the west entrance channel to Boot Key Harbor at around 1400. The weather was overcast with light winds and we considered anchoring just outside the channel entrance for the night. But having to deal with the leak made picking up a mooring a better choice so we could work out the logistics of getting the gasket, pulling the engine apart and putting everything back together. It's a fairly easy repair, but not something to do at anchor outside the harbor, just in case there was a problem. It was strange to be back again after being gone for so long. After all, we were based out of Marathon for 10 years while we cruised the Caribbean. Once in the harbor, it was like we had never left. Many of the same boats were either at anchor or on the City Moorings. We decided to pick up a mooring for a couple of days until we worked out some details. We settled in and ordered the parts we needed. In a couple of days, we moved over to a friend's private dock to give us better shore access since the parts were coming to her house. Besides, it was nice to catch up. Just about as soon as we arrived, we met some new friends; some that knew the boat from our blogs and some members of AGLCA that had made the crossing with us. (Remember those two trawlers?) Now the repairs are done and we are in full cruising mode. More to come.


  1. Outstanding work over the last few years! As I've read your blog, I often feel you rebuilt your boat from the ground up. We still work our land jobs, but admire your work from afar, especially since we have ships of the same family. What is your general cruise-plan? I think I remember earlier Bahamas and the Great Loop?


    Sand Castle
    35 MT Sundeck (136N ADC Lehman)
    Neuse River, NC.

    1. Thanks Ben. Our plans are always written in the sand at low tide. We will be in the Florida Keys doing a shake down of the boat and all of the equipment we installed and visiting friends. Sometime around the first or second week of December we will cross over to the Bahamas. late April or early May we will return and head up the east coast and begin the Great Loop. We are working on something for Cuba so if an opportunity presents itself, we might change directions. That's the great thing about boating. We do need to get the research done for the Bahamas edition of The Great Book Of Anchorages. Chuck and Susan


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