The Cruising Adventures of Joan & Ben Schuetz aboard
Part 15: Fantastic voyage
Before continuing with the events of the crossing, a couple of errors need to be corrected. First and most importantly, in the list of friends that we have left behind, I left out our special friends Peter and Monica on "Taua" (pronounce Tawa). They were docked at La Ceiba while we were there. Their home is in Switzerland and they are going home for a visit this summer. As with many of the folks in the NW Caribbean, Taua has cruised extensively. Also, the German couple, Rita and Tony at the Lagoon Marina who made our stay there so very memorable. Through incredible energy, they have carved a lovely place out of the jungle.
The second error needing correction is a reference to the tuna we caught in Mexican waters. With insufficient identification data aboard, we mistakenly said they were bluefin tuna when in fact they were blackfin tuna. The misidentification did not detract from their excellence as a food fish, but blackfin do not get much larger than 40 lbs while the bluefin can be many hundreds of pounds.
OK then, back to the crossing. The weather forecasts had been consistently predicting very, very settled conditions for the Gulf of Mexico. Enkidu was delayed because of some minor repairs, but we really wanted to take advantage of the calm seas. It is nice to travel with a buddy boat, but nicer still to travel comfortably. So, at 6:00 AM Wednesday May 29, we left the Marina Paraiso dock at Isla Mujeres. It was a beautiful morning with a very light breeze out of the northeast.
About 10 miles out and just as we had seen on the previous trip, broad off the port beam at about one hundred yards, a magnificent marlin jumped high out of the water twice as if to say have a good trip. The sea was running only 2 to 3 feet and we set the autopilot for the rhumb line to Key West. The throttles were set for 1350 rpm, a good economical setting. They were not touched again until entering the harbor at Key West. We had expected to pick up the Gulf Stream current and gain a few knots here and there, but this was not to be. If anything, we bucked a 1/2 knot current most of the way. But our progress was a steady 7.0 knots.
On crossings we usually troll a couple of lures and after about two hours we began picking up a few tuna. Unfortunately, they were not the good kind. It is sad though, because tuna exhaust themselves so badly when caught, that even though released quickly, their survival is unlikely. After leaving Mexican waters and going off soundings, there were to be no more fish until the following day.
Around midnight, a squall moved through producing winds in excess of thirty knots. It was fast moving though and within a couple of hours it had passed while the seas only kicked up to about 3 feet. Francesca needed a good rinsing anyway. A little later, a 3/4 moon rose accompanied by a glistening sea. All was calm and peaceful. From the fly bridge, one can only hear a whisper of the engines, just enough to synchronize and not enough to annoy. Joan and I took one hour watches. With the sofa on the fly bridge, it is easy to trade off. Maggie, in her typical fashion, slept undisturbed usually taking more than her share of the couch. Even in relatively heavy seas, Maggie finds a place to wedge herself in and goes comatose for the duration.
On Thursday, in midstream between Cuba and the Keys, we picked up a 48 inch dolphin and then a 20 lb skipjack tuna (a good one). Had we realized the skipjack tuna was a good food fish, we could have caught many as they were school feeding and easy to spot. Next trip, we will have a good fish ID book aboard. About mid-afternoon, Joan saw another marlin jump. A little later several enormous wahoo cleared the water off our starboard beam. These guys were spectacular and easily 5 feet long. I have hooked many wahoo, but never landed one. Without a heavy wire leader, they just cut the line. Someday perhaps.
Friday morning at 8:00 AM, after 50 hours, we entered the harbor at Key West. After a brief search, Francesca was docked at the Key West Bight Marina. The next test was to check in with US Customs.
Offshore cruising requires a "cruising permit". It's funny that when talking to Customs and referring to it as a permit, they say it isn't a permit. Yet when they refer to it, it is. Huh! It is a sticker and number that costs $25 a year and allows you to call in to Customs to clear in. Thus, unless they want to inspect your vessel, you don't need to be visited by Immigration, Agriculture or Customs. It is a good system, when it works. This day, it didn't work very well. I started calling at 9:00 AM and held on the phone for over an hour. I called another customs number and they said, "Yup, we have been having some trouble with long delays". Back to the clearing in number. After many calls, I finally got a live person at 4:00 PM. When you haven't had much sleep, calling on a pay phone in the hot sun is a routine even less palatable than physically clearing in. The system almost works, but. . . . Still, in the past, we have had trouble like this only once before. Usually, it goes fairly quickly.
Joan, and I had our sundowners and slept for 12 hours. What a great crossing.
On SSB, Endiku said that they would be leaving Saturday morning, traveling with another boat. We will talk with them every evening at 8:00 PM to check on their progress. The weather appears to be holding and they may even get some helpful breezes with which to sail.
In the morning, we cruised a short day over to Marathon. Boot Key Harbor is worse than ever. The local government has put in moorings throughout the harbor. The moorings are all taken with mostly 25 to 30 foot very tired looking local boats.
Many moorings are simply taken up by dinghies and junk to keep them from being used by others. There is little room left for cruisers. The once very charming harbor is now sterile and has little to attract cruisers. We chose to anchor outside of the harbor on the west end of Boot Key. This is a sad state of affairs which all cruisers warned would be the case. Where we once liked to stop over for weeks or even months for repairs and provisions, Boot Key Harbor is now only a haven for derelicts. Marathon has cheated itself out of income, and character.
We will wait here for Enkidu and catch up on some boat cleanup and routine maintenance.
More to come.
Joan, Ben & Maggie