As our third major sea going experiment, in April of 2011 we gathered up Andrew's sister Sarah, some of our best friends Brian and Terra Kremer, and their one year old Elliot to charter a 46 Foot Hunter in Key West, Florida. Go big, or go home? At this point, we had owned Windchime for almost three years, we had taken our charter lessons in Hawaii in 2008, and we sailed with our friends on the SS Poo….what could go wrong? Indeed, nothing major went wrong. We returned a week later with the one year old still alive and the charter boat afloat: success.
We flew into Key West's tiny little airport, picked up the boat, and headed out to shop for provisions. We stayed the first night in the slip, packing groceries away, and looking over the paper chart of Key West. Where is the ruler? I need to plot this course. The next morning Andrew took away my chart and fired up the GPS.
We all enjoyed* a spirited sail downwind to Conch Harbor. Seasickness is a thing, apparently, even in the reef protected waters of Key West. We all held onto our cookies, even the one year old, and we congratulated ourselves as we motored up current into the channel. We arrive at an anchorage filled with boats dissolving from the bottom up, soon to be left as nothing but a sludge of rust and fiberglass under a pile of random bits of live-aboard rubble. Our new neighbors clamor on deck over plastic jugs, buckets, crumpled sails and other worldly live-aboard possessions to stand on their side decks, arms akimbo, and glare at us. I give a wave as I prepare the anchor, but in return I receive a chorus of snarls and growls. Nice neighborhood.
We lay down the anchor, and I return to the cockpit to see if it set properly. The neighbors continue to glare at us, and we eye the long distance we will need to ride the dinghy in order to reach town. When the GPS indicates the anchor is slowly dragging, we decide this is not the place for us and rang up the Conch Marina to announce our arrival. After one false start attempting to pull forward into an ill-sized slip that requires us to back in, the marina realized they had amateurs on their hands and moved us to an end tie. Perfect. We brush the afternoon off, and head to dinner near the famed Duval Street.
The next day, we gathered up some scuba gear and headed out to try to scuba the famed Key West reefs. The sail was, again, spirited at 25 knots of wind with a double reefed main, upwind. Andrew was getting seasick so he requested a sandwich. I went below to make sandwiches, and so then I got seasick. As I finished said sandwiches, it was time to tie up to the mooring ball near the reef.
I took the boat hook to the bow, which was bucking around like a wild horse, and tried to snag the mooring ball line to tie up. We missed. I try to call back instructions to Andrew at the helm, but the wind was blustery so he couldn't hear me. Instead stood staring back, just blinking, without any further physical or verbal response. This annoyed me. I went back to the cockpit to explain the situation and reformulate a plan. The wind was blowing the bow away from the mooring ball as we approached, and therefore, I could not reach the rope and tug the giant vessel into place like we usually do with Windchime. Andrew was going to have to steer in a manner that holds the weight of Banana Wind in place while I secure the mooring ball.
We circled around, but it still took two more tries complete with yelling, hand waving, and ever increasing mal de mere to get us settled in place. Andrew's sister and I were going to watch the disgruntled one year old while Terra, Brian and Andrew were going to take the first dive. Andrew donned his scuba gear - wet suit, flippers, googles, BCD, tank - and after a good half hour he hopped in the water then .puked. Little fish started swarming around him. He got out and took off his gear. Terra and Brian hopped in and tried to dive below the surface but didn't seem to be properly weighted for the salt water. When Terra started floating away in the current and it became obvious that that water was too churned up from the wind to see anything anyway we called it a day. This was obviously a bad idea.
We sailed back to the marina, escaped the confines of sailboat prison, and ordered cocktails at the marina pool. Elliot pretty much expressed how we all felt in that moment:
At this point, everyone needed a break from sailing. So, we spent the third day exploring Duval street, hanging out on the boat, and shopping.
On fourth day, we began The White Sand Beach Odyssey. What would make a one year old's island vacation complete? A lovely white sand beach to build sand castles, play in the ocean. Yes, we must find a white sand beach. Unfortunately, though, Key West has no natural white sand beaches. They best there is to offer are the man-made versions attached to private bars or hotels with the exception of one that is about 25 feet wide, and is generally inhabited by vagrants. Hm…We walked from one end of the island to the complete opposite looking for a white sand beach. We finally found a bar that we could buy drinks and use their white sand beach.
That fit the bill and everyone was a bit happier. When we bought coconuts from a guy in a truck who drilled a hole in the top and inserted a straw, everyone was happier still. We explored the butterfly conservatory and a hammock shop. Elliot found he liked playing on the stairs, and Andrew found that he liked pretending to be a pirate in the dinghy. That night, we ate our best meal of the trip at the restaurant Brian chose (because he knows his restaurant stuff), and it was a great day.
Andrew and I are generally early risers. But, because Elliot spent the hours of 2:30 a.m. - 4:30 a.m. happily wide awake, the Kremers needed a bit later start. So, each day Andrew and I would walk to this little bakery, pick up pastries for everyone for breakfast. These walks were filled with analysis and anxiety as the week developed. This was our friends and sister's summer vacation, and we were mucking it up with sea sickness, no white sand beach, and unsuccessful attempts at scuba diving. We would analyze and plan our next move, like we were playing the sea in a game of chess.
On the fifth day, we worked up our bravery to try another day sail. We went out, zipped around in the 25 knot winds for a few hours and returned. No one got sea sick. Elliot enjoyed his sail, too, and things were looking up. We returned to the slip, and everyone concurred: we were ready. The next day, we would sail out to an uninhabited island and anchor off a white sand beach.
**Note the scraggly rope we used to harness the child to the steering column. He looks pretty happy about it.
On the sixth day, we officially set sail to master the space between Key West and Boca Grand. There, we found exactly what we were looking for. A white sand beach, clear blue water, sand crabs, a tree swing, a beautiful sunset, snorkeling (although it lacked prolific sea life), stars interrupted by city lights arching above us from horizon to horizon, and the silence of being alone at sea.
But of course, no day could pass without "adventure," and so, we set upon some anchoring drama. After a fast reaching sail all the way to our destination, we had to navigate a sand bar and a current like neither Andrew nor I have ever seen. We attempted to set the anchor once, but as the tide went out, we seemed to be surrounded by a muddy, dry reef. Luckily, just enough water remained that Banana Wind was not left high and dry. So, we decided to try a different spot. As As I pulled and tugged, the anchor pulled and tugged back. Why won't the anchor come loose? It had somehow wound itself around an old box tied up with steel lines to wind itself fast. Fighting the current, a heavy anchor, this crazy box and a fair amount of marital discord, we bent the boat hook into an unnatural shape trying to escape. Miraculously, though, escape we did.
Soon thereafter, we set our hook into the sand, leaving the beach an easy swimming distance from the boat. Once the Captain and the First Mate had worked through their philosophical differences regarding anchoring technique, everyone was ready to party.
There was one last mishap involving a 3:00 a.m. explosion of a fire extinguisher in the Kremer's bunk, just to keep things exciting. On the last day, we were sad to leave our anchorage, but we had a fun sail back to the marina. We successfully* backed Banana Wind into her slip (using the Dinghy as one giant rear end bumper), and readied ourselves for our respective travels back home. No one was injured and we all gathered fun and silly memories to share. Banana Wind experienced minimal collateral damage, i.e. one bent boat hook and one fire extinguisher that had been flung overboard in an attempt to minimize the foam covering the baby.
All in all, it was a success. We learned many lessons, not the least of which is why one should always clamor on deck to give charterers anchoring nearby the stink-eye. It's a safety procaution, really.