Dovekies Cruise The Keys
by Lee Martin
The newsletter suggested meeting at Bahia-Honda State Park at noon, February 22. After a three-day drive from Texas, Katie and I pulled "Ibis" up to the dock at straight up noon.
It was a pleasant surprise to find two Dovekies in the water and another close behind. These would take the cruise with us: "Moonbow" with Michael Levitt, "Simba" with Ted Tobey and Christina Ryke, and "Megan" with Bob Fowler and his friend Waidell. "Strawberry Short Wake" with Tom and Ardan Reardon left the message at park headquarters that they were ill and would not make the trip.
After getting acquainted, we took the vehicles and trailers to the Key West Oceanside Marina, left them, and caught a bus back to the state park. After the hassles of the day, we voted to spend the night at the park. The hot showers were worth any price.
Sunday broke clear and warm. We rowed under the highway bridge and headed north up the Big Spanish Channel, a twisting, shallow 15 miles. This is the water the Dovekie, with its four inch draft, is made for.
We hoped that the harbor shown at Raccoon Island would be big enough for us. As we rounded the island tip, a narrow pass did appear; we scooted into a basin with 12" - 15" of water...At high tide! Five minutes after anchoring we dicovered that a colony of Rhesus Monk's own the island, and they weren't certain we should be there. They stared. We stared, for hours.
Monday morning we were aground, naturally, so we drank coffee and charted the days sail. We all had copies of the keys cruise according to Hoyle, Neil Hoyles, that is, Dovekie cruiser extraordinary. We deviated constantly, however, as the weather dictated. By 10:00 a.m. we had enough water under the boats to push/sail out.
Dovekie - a Phil Bolger design
We left the harbor with rain on the horizon and Sawyer Key on a broad reach. The group chose to continue to the Snipe Keys for the night; via the outside route, around Sawyer Key, through the middle pass, and into the channels of the Snipes.
The passage was poetry. Rain fell, but it slowed as we wove deeper into the Snipes, expecting the "African Quean" around each bend.
Tuesday was clear and windy. N.O.A.A. was forcasting 20 to 25 m.p.h winds with gusts to 29 m.p.h., hectic for a 650 lb. boat. We double-reefed for an exciting, if somewhat over-powered, reach to busy Key West.
After four harrowing hours we were more than ready to get ashore on the shell beach at Christmas Island, just off Key West. "Simba" and "Megan" sought the peace and quiet of the marina, but "Moonbow" and "Ibis" vowed to rough it in the anchorage.
The holding ground would not ... so we put out both anchors, 180° apart, and strung a line ashore to a tree before we could relax with snapper fillets and a bourbon.
On Wednesday the weather turned around. A skeptical wind and strong cross current nixed a trip to the Marquesas Keys. We settled for a drifter along the Key West shoreline and a snug anchorage in Boca Chica Channel. We tried fishing ... unsuccessfully. I couldn't grasp how to fish the clear water, so different from the muddy water of Texas.
Leaving anchorage Thrusday was tougher than coming in had been. The current was three to four knots against us. Michael, singlehanding "Moonbow", had trouble rowing with that much current. Katie and I rowing and sailing, made it much faster. We anchored and watched Michael struggle.
That afternoon we cooled off with a dive on the reef. On a coral island three miles offshore, we swam with barracudas, walked the sharp beach, and planned an anchorage for the night. We hadn't seen "Simba" or "Megan" for two days and were eager to make contact. We had mentioned meeting at Saddle Bunch Harbor, so we sailed there for the night. We were able to snug against the Mangroves in three feet of water, totally protected.
Friday brought a N.O.A.A. prediction of a strong norther. We decided to stay put, find a dock for the boats, and go in search of ice. Bill Bailey, a local, let us use his dock and pointed us in the direction of ice cream, cold beer, and ice.
Back at the dock a group of onlookers stood admiring our boats. We told them about the boats and the trip, and sailed to a chorus of "Come Again" and "Have a Nice Trip."
Bill Bailey had given us frozen squid for bait, but the fish weren't having any of it, again. As we were putting up the rods and reels, "Megan" came sailing through the narrow harbor entrance. After a brief reunion and a wary glance at the weather, we found an anchorage that offered protection fron the forecast cold front. The wind was picking up steadily in front of the norther.
Disaster struck as we tried to anchor! "Moonbow", caught in a wild jibe, broke a fitting on the sprit, then two minutes later "Megan" broke a tiller. The wind was too strong to sail. Snug and dry on our Dovekies, we spent that night, the next day, and a second night of hard rain and high winds.
When Bob ran out of reading material, he simply waded over for a book exchange. Michael spent the time fixing his sprit so he could sail again, while Bob patched his tiller with a paddle and some duct tape.
Sunday was perfect. It was our last day on the water. The gods allowed us downwind passage to the Key West Oceanside Marina and the boats almost loaded themselves onto the trailers. The showers were lukewarm, nobody complained.
To top off the cruise, we would "do" Key West by car: conch fritters, a drink or two. Key Lime Pie, and the local aquarium were on the agenda. Just as we were setting out, Tom and Ardan drove up, all better now and ready to cruise! But they settled for an afternoon out with the rest of us.
"Everybody write. Send pictures." We all agreed, and Katie and I headed "Ibis" north for the long drive home. The ability of our boats to sail close-up.... to the islands.... to the people... to the reefs... to the monkies... filled our heads with enough snap-shot monories to last... at least until the next cruise.
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