Challenging Sail.
1.Today was the start of a few days down in the keys. The forecast wasn't the best with 40% chance of thunderstorms. I launched out at 6am from the slip with of course a cup of Joe in hand. It was a motor-sail the first 3 hours with winds 1-3 knots. There were thunderstorms all around and I had to thread a needle through them. At 7 am the boat got a washing. The weather was going to dictate which route down to Key Largo I was going to take: the inside route ICW or the outside route down Hawk Channel. There are couple of options to get to Hawk Chanel from Key Biscayne: Florida Lighthouse (my usual way), Broad Creek, and Angelfish Creek. Both creeks require high tide and slack tide to get through them in a sailboat because both entrances and exits are only 5' deep (I draw 4'11”). With a careful eye towards the sky going through Broad Creek was looking good. Having not been through before, the sails were rolled in. Broad Creek channel is well marked. My charts did not show this. So that was some relief. Going dead slow I enter the creek with a foot of water under the keel to spare. It was a beautiful run of 3 miles through the mangrove islands. Once out in Hawk Channel the winds were good enough to sail at least. With an average speed of 5 knots it was one of the few comfortable sails down the channel. There were still thunderstorms on each side of me but none threatening. My plan in sailing down was to try to get the downdrafts from the cumulus clouds. It worked out very well, at times seeing 7 knots of boat speed. Of course the wind as always was were I was going so tacking was required every hour or so.
2.I reached Rodriguez Key at 4 pm, the south part of Key Largo. I dropped both anchors; Ronca and Danforth in grassy bottom. This anchorage is known for poor holding. After settling in I dove both anchors to make sure they were set. They weren't in the very very slick grass. So I dug them in by hand, pushing them as deep into the grassy sand as best as I could. Swimming around I saw a few fish and some jellyfish which were kind of cool. There were only two boats anchored here; a mega zillion dollar yacht and me. So nice and quiet. My new dinghy and I got acquainted with each other. Got used to steering her and just generally having fun. I hope Rhapsody isn't jealous of the new addition to the family. BBQ steak, salad and rum was the order of the night along with a good book. By nightfall the berth was calling. At first I tried to sleep in the v-berth but it was 90 degrees in the boat and the fan wasn't helping. I finally ended up in the cockpit where a nice breeze was blowing, the stars were out and about 15 degrees cooler.
3.Captains Log: 1am (All hell breaks lose, the heavens open up)
I was in a semi-state of sleep, when I first felt it: boat moving more than normal, wind on my face a little stronger, distant rumble in the background. . Than Ding,Ding Ding Ding coming from the chartplotter. Like a shot of lightning (no pun intended) I rose to be met by an approaching thunderstorm from the east. When I looked at the instruments, the wind was blowing at 18-20 knots, and I had dragged 100 feet into the shore. Not a good thing! Normally this would require a call of “All Hands on Deck!” but my crew of stuff animals are worthless in this situation. Actually they are worthless in most situations unless food is involved. LOL.. There a million things to do to save the boat: start engine ( saying more than one prayer covering all religions for the engine to start), raise anchor, batten down all hatches, get foulies on, clear the deck and cockpit of lose items, electronic gadgets, secure dinghy to name a few. . Having about 1 minute to do all this is near impossible with crew and fat chance solo. They heavens opened up 1 minute after awaking with winds at 30 knots and gusting, rain so hard no visibility and me in PJ's to boot! The engine started after frantic attempts to get the key in. I put the boat in gear to try to hold the nose into the wind. With the autopilot on, I went forward to put the two hatches down and see where the anchor rode was. It was 90 degrees from the bow due to the boat sideways to the wind. Note: I need to know where it was so I didn't run over it with the prop and foul the prop in a full blow emergency. Running back to the cockpit., Banging the toes, shine and elbows along the way, I tried my best to hold the boat in place during this blow. I marked the spot on the chartplotter to have some reference of where I was. It was the smartest thing I did.. With no one to raise the anchor nor keep an eye on it at the bow I only had the chartplotter to keep me in position and nose pointed in the right direction. It took full power on the engine at times to keep the nose pointed in the right direction. She fell off the wind so easily it was frightening. I was scared. The shore and/or shallow water was only about 500 yards away. It took all my fiber to keep the boat in position. The rain was hitting my face so hard I could barely see. I know why some sailors carry sky mask when sailing. I saw a HUGE blue arrow on the chartplotter I have never seen before. It filled the entire screen covering up my spot. Not sure if it is the wind arrow or current arrow. When the stormed passed 30 minutes later it was dead calm. I was so high on adrenaline I was shaking. The anchors were raised to try and rested them in pitch black sea. When I got to the Danforth, it was gone. Tore off the rode. I was heartsick and now really scared for my Ronca anchor won't dig in the grass without the Danforth in series. I motored to another spot, further way from land and real shallow water to drop the anchor again. I set the anchor and she seem to be holding. I let out 120 feet of scope in 9 feet of water. The mega zillion boat also dragged so I didn't feel so bad and also reposition too close by. It was a comfort to know that someone else is out there. After cleaning myself and the boat up, I went to bed.
4.Captains Log: 3am.... Ding Ding Ding. Another storm hits.
I felt like a player on a sports team when the coach is pissed off. Terrible things happen when the coach doesn't like the way you have played or work out. He makes you do it over again. This time I grabbed my foul weather jacket, batten down all the hatches as I made my way topside. Started the engine, again covering all the bases with prayers from every religion, marked my position and repeated the same process I just went through. Only this time I was dry, no wet T-shirt contest or looking like a drown rat and diving goggles in on my face. One for the home team. Now I am so tired after two adrenaline rushes, I can sleep through a nuclear war. Out like a light at 3:45am
5.Captains Log 4:30am.. Ding Ding Ding Bang Bang Bang
OK coach, what did I do wrong last time. Nothing, get out there and do it again. Practice makes perfect. Yes sir!!
I don't know what scared me the most the lighting or the Bang Bang Bang. I figure out the bang part pretty quick; it was the rudder banging back and forth as I grabbed the wheel. Captain Dumbshit forgot to tighten down the wheel before tucker herself into slumber land. This one wasn't so bad as the last two. It only lasted 15 minutes. I only dragged about 75 feet this time. Getting better at it. OK coach you think I got it this time. Get to bed young lady. Yes sir!

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Comment by Capt Chuck Creel on February 14, 2010 at 12:24pm
makes for good reading , but wouldnt wanna go through it again. This MElissa is what seperates us from paper captain who managed to pass a writen test. The test comes at night in strange places with adverse weather.

Happy sailing and fair winds,
Comment by Terri on November 9, 2009 at 1:03pm
Holy S#%T!!!!! Glad I'm still a toodling round the Bay sailor...LOL. U did good Sailorette!!! Not a day of sailing unless there's an adventure and at least one banged shin!

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