After spending several weeks preparing, it was time to leave Key West. We enjoyed being the tourists as well as staying long enough to feel like locals. As much as we loved the Southernmost Point of the United States, it was time to pull anchor. Oh, how I will miss Cuban Coffee Queen though!
** Only in Key West can you stop by the greatest coffee shop in town and head to the Bait and Tackle shop next door for an alcoholic beverage while you finish off your coffee!
We checked the weather, finding that the winds were a bit strong but predicted to die down in a few hours. We discussed the weather situation and decided it was still a good plan to head toward Marathon, as it usually takes an entire day for this trip. We had hope in a great day of sailing!
With much anticipation, we pulled anchor and motored out of Key West. We made just about a mile southeast of Fort Zachary Taylor when the engine died. It didn’t help that a cruise ship was headed our way. No engine. No sails. What a great way to start a journey!
We were literally 300 feet from the red channel buoy, being swiftly pulled toward it by the current. We didn’t have our sails up yet so the engine was our only hope for movement in the right direction. Willow continuously tried to restart the engine with no luck as we inched closer and closer to the channel buoy.
In the midst of panic we were radioed by the Pilot boat of the cruise ship to notify us of the oncoming cruise ship. As if this ship could be overlooked! Mercedes quickly grabbed the radio to notify them that our engine had died and we were drifting toward the path of the incoming cruise ship. No copy. No anything back from them.
I suggested hoisting the mainsail. Willow advised it would be nearly impossible at the moment with winds coming from our side and no engine. We were headed directly into the channel as the cruise ship was coming through it. We were all panicking, trying to figure out what to do.
Willow was still trying to start the engine, Mercedes was waiting on it to start to drive us away from the ship the size of a city while I just watched standing by the mast in case he changed his mind. It got closer and closer to our stern. I kept contemplating whether it would be logical for us to jump overboard. I quickly realized it wouldn’t matter. The current would pull us into the ship either way.
I’ve never been on a cruise aboard a cruise ship. But I can say this was the closest you could get to one without being aboard it! It was a scary experience that I never want to go through again.
It barely missed us as it barreled its way through the channel toward Key West. After it passed we drifted at around 2 knots back a few miles into Key West; almost exactly where we started from. Willow dropped the anchor again so he could inspect the engine.
After some time he was able to get it started. The cruise ship incident was in our past and we were ready to move forward so we pulled anchor to give it another try. This time we pulled the sail to ensure if the engine died again we would have some control over the boat.
Within ten minutes, the mainsail ripped. Luckily, we had our old sail as a backup and Mercedes brought her Hank-On sail for the jib replacement when the winds died down. Willow quickly switched out the mainsail, as we proceeded on our way.
We were determined to sail!
While it was cloudy, we made some great time toward Marathon. We stayed within Hawk Channel inside the three nautical mile line due to the southeastern winds. There weren’t many shoalings in our path so it worked out perfectly.
Once the winds died down we were able to fly Mercedes’ Hank-On sail. I had no clue how to attach this type of sail but Mercedes was quickly able to show us and we had it up in just a few minutes.
It had gotten dark as we sailed our way toward Marathon. The winds had died down for a few hours but picked back up again. We were getting a perfect 8 knots speed for a few hours. While we couldn’t see much, we were able to see the blinking tower lights disappear behind waves as they came up in the horizon.
Once we made it close to the Boot Key Harbor Inlet we realized we were going too fast to make it through the channel, especially after dark. A storm front had moved in bringing more winds and waves than we anticipated. Night sailing is amazing until the weather gets bad. Then you can’t get a feel of your surroundings, especially those waves that become huge and taller than the boat.
The crashing waves brought water onto the deck, making it dangerous to be pulling down sails in the dark. We really had no choice. Mercedes headed up to the bow while Willow was at the mast ready to pull down the main. I tried to get us pointed into the wind with very little area to maneuver, without taking us directly into a shoaling.
Mercedes was able to quickly pull down the Hank-On while Willow successfully got the main sail pulled down. As we neared the shoaling Willow decided to take the wheel while I helped secure the sail on deck with Mercedes.
The waves were crashing so hard I slid and almost slipped off of the bow. I was able to grab a safety line and catch myself as I took my place holding onto the sail so it wouldn’t catch wind before we got it bagged.
I also decided I needed to not move again until we were safe in the channel out of the waves. Mercedes and I were braced onto the bow so that we wouldn’t be thrown from the boat.
We made it safely to anchorage inside of Boot Key Harbor. We were so exhausted we slept in the next morning to catch some extra rest and sleep. Even Komodo was exhausted!
While it was a rough start and more than one attempt, we kept going. We were so determined to start our journey heading up the Gulf Coast.
“The capacity for hope is the most significant fact of life. It provides human beings with a sense of destination and the energy to get started”.