The Cruising Adventures of Joan & Ben Schuetz aboard
Part 37: Rite of passage
Saturday, 17 June 2000
It has been a while since Part 36. I guess that the murder of Steve Gartman put a chill on The Adventures and I just didn't much feel like setting down to write. It's time to make up for that absence now. But just so that you know, services are to be held June 20th at the Holcombe Funeral Home in Trappe, Pa.
We had a nice 6 days at Marina Paraiso at Isla Mujeres, Mexico. That really is a nice place and very secure. During the roughly 5 weeks total that we stayed at Isla, we heard of no security incidents whatever. They are renovating one of the streets in town so many of the better restaurants are struggling with the destruction just to stay in business. The food was very good just the same.
During our stay the weather was perfect, 85 or so in the day, high 70s at night and always a nice breeze. It was kind of difficult to leave the womb of Paraiso for the exposure to more than 300 miles of open sea to the next stop. For sailboats 300 miles is not a really big deal, but for a power boat or maybe just for us it was daunting. Sailboats take a lot longer to make such a passage, but those boats are built for the open seas. Trawlers are stout but more often used for short ocean pops and coastal cruising. But after all of our experiences we felt that we were ready for a longer haul.
With the gulf stream currents we calculated that cruising at around 14-1500 rpm we should average about 8 knots. Using that reference it appeared that our time at sea would be only about 38 to 40 hours. The trimaran sailboat Delphys with Mariam and Mark took four days to get to the Tortugas. Weather forecasts don't predict much more than 48 hours, so with that long at sea Delphys had to take whatever came along. And whatever did come along. They had a very rough passage.
We on the other hand could make it within weather prediction timing. Should be a piece of cake. Yeah-, sure. We left Isla Mujeres about 2:00 PM on June 14th. Winds were ESE at about 15 knots. Seas running about 4-6 feet. When we got into the currents, Joan yelled for me to look at a big marlin that had jumped just ahead of the boat. It then charged the stern of the boat, looking like a big black torpedo just a few feet underwater. It veered off when about 15 feet from the boat. Fifteen or twenty minutes later, another large marlin slashed its bill in the water about 200 feet in front of Francesca. What a neat way to start the trip.
When the sun went down, as we had come to expect in the tropics, the wind picked up. Almost every night it would blow 20 to 25 knots. That night was no exception. Of course the seas picked up too and for the next 6 to 8 hours, the auto pilot couldn't handle the conditions. Hand steering at night in heavy chop is really tiring. Joan and I took 20 minute shifts. A few hours before daybreak conditions improved to where “Otto Pilot' “ had the capacity to take over again. Someday, we will replace “Otto” with a newer model that has more sense.
Daybreak and we were pooped. Otto was doing fine again and so Joan and I took 1 hour shifts at watch. Of course the one off watch never really slept, but just getting off our feet or butts was good. I put out a trolling line as soon as it was safe to navigate on the after deck. In a while, some hellacious big sucker hit the lure and peeled off at least a hundred yards before I could move the 20 feet to the rod. Probably fortunate for both me and the fish, he shook the lure just as I was struggling with the drag and Joan was turning the boat.
The day of the 15th was mostly uneventful. Four to six foot choppy seas. The current was bucking the wind which made for a steep chop with very little separation between the waves. It also made it damn uncomfortable. Sometime during the early afternoon, we had 4 knots of current and a really peaking sea. Joan and I hoped that we weren't going to be in that stuff too long even though we were making nearly 11 knots with the engines running at only 1300 rpm. A few hours before dark, we slipped out of the current and our ride became much better. But again at dark, the wind picked up and for another while we were back to hand steering.
By midnight, “Otto” was back in control and we had only another 8 hours to go. I figured that if women can deal with labor for sometimes a dozen hours or more, I should be able to make it through the night without whining too much. I did, we did, and even Maggie did, but when we finally pulled into the anchorage area on the NW corner of Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas at about 8:00 AM, these 61 year olds were proud but pooped. We had our early morning alcohol (for medicinal purposes) and went immediately to sleep. Sometime during the day, the Ft. Jefferson hospitality boat dropped by and left some brochures about the Fort. We didn't even hear them.
Joan and I woke up at 6 PM, had supper and a quick couple of beers to ease the pain and went immediately back to sleep. We didn't rise again until 6:00 AM this morning, Saturday, June 17. By then, Maggie was looking a little perplexed. When it was rough she couldn't go and when we slept she couldn't go. What's a poor girl to do? We dunked the dink and I took the little black eyed beauty to shore. Wow, what a place. Fort Jefferson on Garden Key is really something. The sign said it took 16 million bricks to build it. I started counting, but I guess I suffer from attention deficit disorder or something and didn't get passed 10 or 12 or, what was it I was saying?
The Dry Tortugas were discovered in 1513 by Ponce de Leon and the Fort was built starting in 1846. The construction continued for 30 years, but was never finished. It was converted into a union military prison during the civil war to contain deserters. After President Lincoln was assassinated, Dr. Samuel Mudd was incarcerated here for several years before being pardoned. His cell and the history of his ordeal were appropriately placarded. The park personnel are the finest in the US. Wow, what a difference after the disinterested, often phlegmatic officials from the other countries. I don't mean to be unkind, clearly those officials don't get paid living wages, but it sure is nice to see real professionals who love their work.
Garden Key is only about 45 miles as the crow flies from Key West, but because of intervening shallows and the low lying Marquesas Keys, the route is between 60 and 70 miles by boat. This afternoon the winds are up around 20 knots and the seas are rough. WHO CARES? We plan to stay as long as it takes to get smooth seas.
We're back in the USA.
For you techies out there, our fuel consumption was something extraordinary. In 42 hours running mostly from 1300 to 1500 rpm, we burned a little less than 120 gallons of fuel. Our average speed for the 300 nautical miles was 7.2 knots. About half of the time we had little if any current assist, but were destined to run slow because of the steep chop. During the trip and in calm seas, we have been able to get nearly 3 miles per gallon on some long stretches. These are pretty good numbers that we've not been able to get before because of having to run the generator 3 to 6 hours a day. On long runs, we don't have to run the generator at all.
Old Francesca will make up to 9 knots going downhill at 1850 rpm. But, this trip has shown us the grandeur of slow, steady, comfortable and fuel efficient running. We seldom run the engines over 1600 anymore and then only if we have to get somewhere in a BIG hurry. At lower RPMs we don't use any oil, the trannies are having a good time and during long runs I don't shut down to check the systems. So far, the only machinery surprises have been that there haven't been any surprises. I hope that holds for another 100 hours of running or until we are home again.
As to the Rite of Passage. I am pleased to say that during this trip I have had the extraordinary good fortune to regain some of my humanity, I think long ago lost in the competitive world. I have been searching for it. “Hello Me.”
I have to catch up with some of the stories from the Rio, Belize and Mexico.
I will do that in the next few “Adventures”.
Love to all
Joan, Ben & Maggie