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Beyond the Edge of the World

Our adventure began with the February 2nd chart briefing with Florida Yacht Charters (FYC) staff member Jon Skiff was attended by all three skippers, their first mates and a few other interested crew. They gathered at the Yellowfin Bar & Grill at Ocean’s Edge Marina and Resort. Two of our chartered boats, Wind's Will and Real Escape were tied up there. Kelsey Marie was a 10 minute car ride away at Stock Island Marina Village. Boat checks were to follow, so any early arriving crew were obliged to hang out by the pool or hot tubs. Life is good when your marina is at a resort. Both marinas had really nice amenities and clean see-to-the-bottom water.

After boat checks and lunch, provisioning became the major activity for all three crews. Shopping was followed by the inevitable shouts of “there is not enough storage space on this boat!” But in the end, a place was found for all food, jugs of water, paper supplies, gear and empty luggage. Each crew took advantage of local restaurants for dinner since the following four nights would be dinner onboard. Real Escape’s crew all squeezed into Gary Brubaker’s SUV, which required temporary unloading empty suitcases from both Real Escape and Wind's Will stored inside. The crammed vehicle definitely looked like a clown car when all those passengers got out.

The plan for Sunday was to meet “out in the channel” at 10:00 a.m. for the trip to the Marquesas Keys. Kelsey Marie left the dock at 9:40 a.m. and we were milling about smartly at 10:00 a.m. when we received a radio call from Steve. His boat was missing a few essential items that had not yet been delivered by the charter company. The wait wasn’t that long and we soon saw Real Escape coming out, followed by Wind's Will. By 10:25 a.m. on Kelsey Marie we had both sails up and were underway and looking forward to a good day of sailing. The weather stayed sunny, but the wind dropped to almost nothing by 11:00 a.m. and like Wind's Will and Real Escape, we turned on the motor. Spotting dolphins, taking turns at the helm, and locating the other boats along the way held our interest until we dropped anchor at 3:35 p.m. off the big tree described by Jon S. of FYC. Several people went for a swim and a multi-boat contingent dinghied ashore to explore. Only one or two other boats were anchored in this leeward bay as our threesome anchored. Sunset with a green flash provided the perfect backdrop for a peaceful and quiet first night out among the stars, far from civilization —with no cell phone service!

The weather Monday was overcast, but breezy, with temperatures in the low 60s. We donned jackets and were underway by 8:15 a.m.. Kelsey Marie and Real Escape motor-sailed and were able to maintain six knots most of the way. Wind's Will set out on a broad reach averaging about four knots, but within the hour the winds eased, so in came the jib and it to motor-sailed the rest of the way. The fleet dropped anchor east of Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas about 2:30 p.m. All three crews scrambled to get their dinghys ready. Skippers had to go ashore to pay the fee for using the National Park. Crews from Wind's Will and Real Escape also went ashore to explore because there was a chance the weather would force the fleet to turn around and head back first thing in the morning. Real Escape’s dinghy motor worked well for the trip ashore, but when Mia tried to start it for the return it refused to rev up to cruising speed. Later when Gary started it, it cooperated

At 1:20 PM Fort Jefferson was clearly visible on the horizon

On Kelsey Marie, we took a much slower approach to our arrival. With the cool breeze and clouds, we were content to watch the boat, seaplane and dinghy traffic from our deck and enjoy a late afternoon beverage before preparing dinner. It seemed entirely too busy for us after a seven-hour quiet and peaceful trip.

After dinner aboard Wind's Will, the crew introduced Cindy Hauris to the game of Farkle. Of course she won! Over on Real Escape the nightly round of Oh Shit had everyone laughing so hard it didn’t matter who won. Right.

Tuesday dawned sunny and warm, and the benign weather forecast allowed us to stay. After breakfast the Kelsey Marie's crew was gathering itself for a trip ashore to explore the fort when they received a radio message that the other crews were interested in going to Loggerhead Key to snorkel and check out the reef called Little Africa. After some discussion, it was decided that Wind's Will would travel the three miles to Loggerhead Key and take anyone interested. Thanks to Steve’s generous offer, everyone interested piled onto his boat. His anchorage was not at risk because the traffic leaving the harbor area was busier than any coming in. Several crew from Real Escape joined those on Wind's Will and had a good afternoon snorkeling. Joel Mack shared his experience: “We could snorkel around the (Little Africa) reef in about ten minutes, but the intimidating sight of dozens of Barracuda surrounding the reef stopped us. The shallow water and sunny sky gave us a very good view of the colorful coral and fish.”

Fort Jefferson dominates Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas

Kelsey Marie’s crew enjoyed a walking tour of the fort under perfectly blue skies and flocks of soaring frigate birds. We met Mia and Lisa Travaly as we walked. They had ended up rowing their dinghy to shore to snorkel off the beach around Ft. Jefferson. They found plenty of fish and coral varieties.


Ft. Jefferson Interior

Some history: Construction of the largest masonry fortification in the United States began in 1846 on a reef known as Garden Key, and continued for thirty years, but it was never completed. It was designed to be a massive gun platform, impervious to assault, and able to destroy enemy ships foolhardy enough to come within range of its powerful guns. However, before it was completed, the Civil War broke out and Union military funds were needed elsewhere. It was manned by Union soldiers during the Civil War and became a prison for deserters and its most famous prisoner Dr. Samuel Mudd (who set John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg). He helped prisoners, soldiers and their families when yellow fever broke out on the island. It was made a National Monument by Franklin Roosevelt in 1935, and in 1992 Congress made it a National Park.

Loggerhead Key & Light viewed from Ft. Jefferson


We were all off the hook as dawn lightened the sky for our sail back to the Marquesas Keys. Winds were approaching seventeen knots, but almost right on our nose. On Kelsey Marie, our skipper and multiple first mates made adjustments every few minutes to the sails and although we utilized the motor for the last few hours, we sailed most of that day amid two to three feet waves, flying fish, and dolphins. Wind’s Will motored past us after leaving Garden Key and we didn’t see them again until we anchored. Real Escape also sailed, taking some long tacks to keep our easterly course into the wind. The sailing was so much fun under sunny skies with occasional dolphin nearby, nobody minded the long hours. That morning the skippers discussed via radio trying for Boca Grande Key, ten miles closer to Key West. But as the afternoon wore on it became clear this was overly ambitious and the fleet set course back to the same anchorage on the west side of the Marqueses Keys.

Also during the morning skipper’s meeting the decision was made to hop over to Boca Grande for a snorkel stop before making the rest of the passage to Key West. In the lead, Real Escape found her way to the Boca Grande anchorage while the morning was still young. But crew who jumped into the water soon found that this wasn’t much of a snorkel stop, and checking her notes skipper Mia realized that it had not been recommended a such after all. Kelsey Marie and Wind’s Will decided to skip it, although Kelsey Marie did go a little further and make a stop at Woman Key instead. Wind’s Will raised full sails in a good ten to fifteen knot northeast wind and a mild one to two foot swell. By mid-day, however, the wind all but disappeared, so on came the iron jenny to motor-sail back to port. After four days at sea, the crews all made a bee-line for the showers and pools.

Kelsey Marie Logbook entry: “Day five of the trip and we’re headed back to our respective marinas to re-provision, eat a restaurant dinner. There are some minor boat issues to be checked also. For the last five days, our conversation has ultimately gone to a discussion of the Carolina Seafood Chowder that Rudy and Kim enjoyed the evening of February 2nd. The serving was to be shared between two people, but since they couldn’t finish it all, they provided tastings for the rest of us. We vowed to order it upon our return. It has become an obsession and we’re starting to get concerned we will be disappointed.” That night six of Kelsey Marie’s crew shared three pots of chowder and came away with the recipe. We were not disappointed at all. Lone holdout Pete Ambrose enjoyed the special seafood dinner of the night and assisted those who needed help with their chowder.

On Friday our plan was to pick up moorings at Looe Key, a Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary area, to snorkel as long as comfortable and then head to Newfound Harbor at Ramrod Key to anchor for the night. Kelsey Marie was out of our slip by 7:16 a.m. with the rest of the fleet close behind. Along the way the local Navy pilots treated us to an air show as they conducted training exercises above our heads. We arrived and picked up moorings on the outside ring, as per instructions from FYC. The snorkeling was very good: as soon as you entered the water from your boat there were fish everywhere. A four-foot goliath grouper toured the shade cast by each boat, and we found barracuda, parrot fish, schools of yellow tails, angel fish and various forms of coral, including stag horn. Joel and a few others saw a shark whose length grew from four to six feet depending upon when the story was told. We soon realized why we were restricted to the outer ring of moorings — the inner ones were over shallow coral heads.

We stayed tied up to the mooring and enjoyed a hearty lunch. We were the only three boats there! The sun and wind increased as we bobbed on increasing swells that made the crew who didn’t go snorkeling less enamored of the location. When we finally let go of the mooring ball and set our sails on a course for Ramrod Key, we all felt we should do one more tack and then another. The sailing was fantastic! Since our destination wasn’t that far, we finally started heading into the shelter of Newfound Harbor around 3:45. The channel was not well marked and we gave thanks for Navionics on iPads as we slowly made our way into that quiet harbor.

Arriving first, Real Escape’s crew was startled to see the depth gauge show thinner and thinner water as they approached the entrance. They crept along, still floating even though according the instrument they should be hard aground. Mia constantly consulted the charts while Cherie handled the helm and throttle, frequently slowing down as the gauge said five feet, four and a half, four, three and a half … Real Escape draws five and a half feet

It was one of the most stressful hours Mia and Cherie ever spent on the water. Once anchored, Mia used the dinghy anchor rode to measure the actual depth and estimated it to be seven feet. The depth gauge read four and a half.

When Kelsey Marie arrived Mia radioed an invitation for appetizers. The Kelsey Marie crew gathered what we needed, prepared the dinghy, and enjoyed co-mingling with Real Escape crew and their excellent steak appetizer with superb dipping sauce. Wind’s Will arrived a bit later and Kelsey Marie’s heavily loaded dinghy stopped by for a little chat with their crew before heading back to to prepare dinner.

On Wind’s Will, Cindy tried to teach the crew how to play Canasta. Unlike Farkle, it did not involve dice so failed to interest the others. After dinner Real Escape’s crew broke out the Peanut M&Ms, cookies, and the cards for the nightly game. Alcohol might also have been involved

Saturday morning the sunrise was dulled by pearl gray clouds, but it was warm. A brief morning shower occurred during breakfast, but by the time we were all underway, the sun was breaking through and the wind was rising. On Kelsey Marie we enjoyed some good sailing, putting a preventer on the boom because the wind kept changing direction. Mia held Real Escape wing on wing for a while, then let the jib cross over and angled the bow toward the three mile limit line in order to clear the holding tanks. She and Gary both loved the down-wind run. Wind’s Will sailed under jib alone in the fifteen to twenty knot wind and following sea, which put them somewhat behind the other two boats. Again we spotted dolphins and a sea turtle or two.

As we arrived back at our respective docks the agreed plan for Sunday, depending on wind and weather, was to do a day sail to Sand Key for more snorkeling. On Real Escape, Mia decided to go ahead and refuel before returning to the slip. A while later, lying by the swimming pool, she watched Wind’s Will come into the marina and also head for the fuel dock before ending the day.

Rain showers Sunday morning and clouds building on horizon spurred the skippers and mates to checked the weather forecast. They conferred with crews and the decision was to stay in port due to the rain, wind direction and velocity, and the knowledge that snorkeling would be unpleasant in the chop around Sand Key. Instead most crew used this last day to explore on their own and in groups while some lingered poolside at the resort. Real Escape’s entire crew caught the resort shuttle into town to get temporary tattoos, although a couple backed out in the end

On Monday morning all crews completed packing, unloading, and cleaning out refrigerators and cupboards. On Kelsey Marie, we donated much of our leftover food, water, and paper goods to our slip neighbor in the marina. Real Escape’s crew pressed most leftovers onto Gary and his SUV. FYC staff reported about 10 a.m. for detailed boat check-outs. Those of us with a late afternoon flight or ferry to catch hung out at the resort pools. At Kelsey Marie, we were pleased we were allowed to leave our luggage onboard above deck while it was cleaned. Our sunning was short-lived when a heavy downpour around noon sent us fleeing for cover. We later learned that FYC moved our luggage below when the rain shower started, which was above and beyond good service, and very appreciated.

Kelsey Marie - Skipper:Bob Rainey; First Mates:John Francischetti, Rudy Vallejo; Crew: Pete Ambrose, Linda Baker, Mary Ann Gordon, Kim Vallejo

Real Escape - Skpper: Mia McCroskey; First Mate: Gary Brubaker; Crew: Cherie Comly, Sandy Dakofsky, Anja Freyja, Corry Grant, Lisa Travaly

Wind's Will - Skipper: Steve Krakauer; First Mate: Joel Mack; Crew: Walt Croom, Cynthia Hauris, Jon Hauris, Karen Strouse, Ingrid Vandegaer

Photos by Mary Ann Gordon, Joel Mack, Mia McCroskey.