For the past three years, since we began cruising OLOH between the northeast and the…
** Spoiler Alert ** As we sit and write this, we are safely tied in Marathon as the VHF is crackling with drama, interrupting the daily 9 am “Cruisers Net” out of Boot Key Harbor where the wind is kicking up as a storm cell is approaching. It has been reported that a couple of boats are dragging their anchors and there is a swift, collective effort to mitigate the risks. A great example of boaters doing whatever’s necessary to help each other out and keep each other safe. It puts the “drama” that was to lead off this entry about our leg from Naples to Marathon keenly in perspective. That said…
From The Captain: We had what we believed to be an excellent plan. We pulled into Naples on the previous day with the expectation of shoving off on this day at first light. There were a few crucial considerations… our travel day was to be around 105 nautical miles. At our typical cruising speed of ten knots, that’s around ten and a half hours on the water. We’d be arriving at an unfamiliar spot, something we always aim to do with as much daylight as possible. With sunset at 5:45 pm, we’d be cutting it close with a 7:15 am departure, but based on our calculations, that was the earliest we’d be able to shove off given the negative tide at the docks creating a risk of grounding at the marina before we even get going. We’d plan to make up time by running the boat’s speed up to 15-18 knots once an hour for around twenty minutes a pop, something we have done before in similar situations.
With the two prior travel days having gone well, we were feeling settled back into our routine and looking forward to this run. Except for a few light showers, the weather was forecast to be excellent for cruising the Gulf Of Mexico with very light winds and calm seas. This would be our first time running to Marathon from the Gulf side… all of our previous trips down the Gulf to the Keys have been directly into Key West where you travel some forty miles offshore. On this leg, we would be around twenty miles off at most. And even though Key West is around forty miles to the west of Marathon, the mileage between Naples and our Marathon destination is almost identical to the mileage between Naples and our Key West port of Stock Island Marina which surprised us during our planning.
We have written extensively about prepping for this type of a leg – readying the boat, safety considerations, and what to watch with the weather – in this blog entry which is worth a look if you’re planning a similar trip. It’s always nice to have a buddy boat on these longer offshore hauls, so we were thrilled that The Three B’s would be out there with us on our way to our winter home.
So by just after 7 am under cloudy skies with no wind, Jasper had been walked, the generator and engines were running, all checks had been made and we were ready to back out of the basin at the Naples Sailing and Yacht Club. Dockside depths were close to what they were on our arrival the previous day so we didn’t anticipate any issues, despite the low tide. As is typical, Tim released the lines in our predetermined order and boarded from the stern while I stood by to take us off the dock from the port side of the foredeck using the Yacht Controller. After Tim confirmed he was secure I applied a small amount of thrust from our bow and stern thrusters to move us around two feet off the dock so we could back straight out of the basin. Once we were sufficiently off I bumped the engines into reverse for a quick moment to give us momentum. And then after having backed up less than five feet, the boat just stopped moving. I immediately let Tim know over our headsets that I believed we were in the mud and that I would attempt to bring us forward and back to the dock which I was able to do without issue. Hmmm.
That was unexpected. And frustrating. As mentioned, we had arrived with similar depths so we should, in theory, have had enough water to leave the slip. We started recalculating our day, figuring out how we would make up the time if we delayed our departure by an hour, which we hoped would give the rising tide enough time to get us over the apparent hump that was behind us. Frustrated, but fully recognizing that it was out of our control, we plugged the boat back in and waited it out.
When 8:15 arrived we were eager to get going and ready to try it again. We had our contingency plan set, knowing that we may have a repeat of our earlier attempt. So, once again, we came off the dock and began to back up. And once again, after around five feet of reverse travel, we softly came to a stop while floating in neutral. Only this time, when I bumped the engines into forward for a split second to give us forward momentum, “KERTHUNK!” And the whole boat shook. It stops your heart, even for just a second and every possible scenario runs through your head. Did we damage a prop? Did we rip a prop off? Is water gushing into the engine room from a damaged shaft seal? Are we gonna get stuck here for weeks on end if we have a problem we can’t get fixed? It’s a mad rush of chaotic thoughts that must be jammed back into your consciousness so you can figure out what’s actually going on.
This was our third day on the water with newly aligned and tuned shafts and props and we may have just undone all of that work. As we passed each other in the cabin at a determined pace to assess the situation, we didn’t acknowledge the sound, but the looks we exchanged said all that needed to be said. We would not speak our fears out loud, nor would we utter the words, “that didn’t sound good” for fear of being jinxed! Our friends on The Three B’s, who were standing on the dock across from us, heard the sound and came over to check on us. Now, along with compressing time, we had the potential of damage that could preclude our ability to travel. We also were well aware that after this day, the weather was set to fall apart and not be good for travel for several days. Ah, the best-laid plans.
We knew we would have to wait at least another hour and were now well beyond a daylight arrival in Marathon based on our original plan. We called Amanda the Dockmaster who confirmed the tide on her gauge but also mentioned that the basin had just been dredged and thought there should be more water behind us than what we were seeing. She volunteered to call her friend, a local police officer who works on the water, thinking that perhaps he could come by on his center console and sound the depths behind us. Within 20 minutes, Amanda and officer Dan were pulling into the basin and circling behind OLOH to get a handle on the depths. And there was clearly a “hump” around five feet behind us that we’d need more water to get over. Maybe, just maybe, another hour will do it.
We decided to give it another go in an hour and even if we made it out of the marina, we had a contingency plan to return to the dock in the event that we felt anything anomalous with the boat once we were able to run it through its paces on our way out to the Gulf. We also now had to commit to running at fifteen to eighteen knots for most of the day if we wanted to arrive in daylight. The boat is built to do that – we just choose to run at slower speeds for a variety of reasons. And on a leg like this, one of those reasons is the countless crab pots that you have to spot and avoid. We also didn’t feel that the boat was fully shaken down after sitting in storage for nine months. But we were confident in the due diligence we had done and decided to go for it.
So, at 9:30, just as it began to rain, we once again started the process with the decision to stick as close to the dock as possible as we backed down, based on the findings from our friendly neighborhood police officer. We slid a foot off the dock and I bumped it into reverse for a nanosecond. OLOH slowly drifted backward and a few moments later we were over the hump! Whew. Relief – for the moment. We still had to make sure everything was working as it should. We easily backed the rest of the way out of the marina, spun around, and headed south through Naples Bay. It was pretty clear that the “hump” was just a small, elevated portion of the seabed, perhaps spoils from the recent dredging. As far as what we may have hit on our way back to the dock after our second departure attempt, that’s anybody’s guess. Buried treasure perhaps? We may never know.
Once we were clear of the no-wake zone, already having done one engine room check at idle speed, we decided to throttle up. 750 RPM, 1,000, 1,200, 1,500, 1,900… no vibrations, no leaks. Woohoo! While still feeling trepidatious, we were most certainly relieved. After clearing Gordon Pass and once back on the Gulf, we pointed OLOH towards its southerly heading and set our engine speed to put us between 16.5 and 18 knots for a good part of the day.
While we always aim to look at the big picture, the way the morning unfolded definitely set the tone for the day. The weather was great, we were on our way to our Keys paradise with our friends just a couple of miles behind us on their boat and we should have been feeling good. But there was pervasive anxiety and tension as we pressed on at faster-than-usual speeds with a certain amount of uncertainty looming around us. Fortunately, OLOH ran great, the conditions remained spectacular and there were no further surprises to our day.
About five hours into the day with seventy-six nautical miles behind us, we left the deeper waters of the Gulf and dropped our speed from around eighteen knots to ten as we approached the “yacht channel” into Florida Bay as we headed towards the Seven Mile Bridge in Marathon, still around twenty nautical miles away. These were unfamiliar waters to us and the depths dropped from the mostly twenty-plus foot depths we had been cruising into around eight to twelve feet. And we had now crossed the threshold where, even at ten knots, we’d arrive just before the sun started to set. So it felt good to pull the throttles back.
After clearing the Seven Mile Bridge we were out on the Atlantic Ocean side and sped up one last time for the last few miles to our marina. We had an easy arrival and were safely tied seven hours, forty-five minutes after departing, having traveled 105 nautical miles (121 statute miles). It was forty minutes before sunset and we were relieved! The arrival OLOH-Rita? Yes, it tasted especially fantastic on this day fraught with anxiety. And yes, maybe we had more than one.
So – as we like to say in our family – we are here! And even though we’ve only run the boat for a few days, we arrived ready to settle into the warmth of the Florida Keys and our winter adventures! See you out there…
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