Eastern Front Report

by Ed Combs

Homestead to Elliot Key, Pumpkin Key, & Key Largo

Dec 29th to Jan 1st, 2007

            We got on the road officially at 5:10 with Starbucks in hand.  Ran 70 mph down I-75 stopping once for breakfast burritos and coffee and again to gas up just in Naples before hitting SR 41 for the run across to Homestead.  Mapquest gave us some really weird route when we got into Homestead, we won't use Krome Ave again.  Arrived around 11 thanks to the slow traffic on Krome Ave.  Red Tag and Gostosa III were rigging when we arrived.  Stin of Lilly P fame strolled over a few minutes later.  He had launched on Thursday and spent the night at the guest docks.  While we were rigging Frank, Potter 15 Zun Zun, drove up with his buddy to see us off.  Frank had family commitments and had to cancel but took the time to stop by and say hello.  Ted and Sher, Sundancer Precision 21 ( I always thought it was a 23 because the interior is so big), arrived shortly after that.  We got in the water and hoisted sails after a short motor out the channel.  Winds were around 10 with a few whitecaps in Biscayne Bay.  We sailed with a reefed main and 110 lapper to the NE making a lot of little tacks to the SE in our attempt to come as close to a straight line to the Elliot Key Marina.  The wind was coming straight out of the marina so we finally just took a SE tack and pinched in as much as we could for an hour or so.  We hit 5+ kts most of the way across but Stin still passed us.  Red Tag went to the NE and kept in radio contact but they decided to go out Sand Cut to the Atlantic, which was pretty rough compared to the bay, and return to the sandy beach anchorage on the northern end of Elliot Key.  We got within a quarter mile or so of the marina to the S and dropped sails and motored in. 

            Met a nice Potter couple at the marina from Montana.  They spend a couple of months a year in the area on their Potter.  They have an RHI that they use to pop around and they can ride the marina shuttle back and forth to resupply.  An interesting idea, but we would probably get cabin fever if we tried it.  Now if I had a Mac we might be able to do it.  They are massive and seemed to sail pretty well on the few times we were near them.  The group, except for one of the Macs, made it to the marina but Stin and I decided we didn't want to take the chance on noise at the marina so we motored out of the marina entrance, hoisted sails, and scooted 4 miles or so down to Billy's Point for our nights anchorage.  We anchored in 5 feet of water and set 50 feet of rode out on the anchor.  We enjoyed a salad for dinner, watched a beautiful sunset, read until 8pm or so, and slept pretty well.  We seemed to hunt a lot, but the wind picked up to around 20 most of the night, but some type of staysail may be on our shopping list in the future.  Ted and Sher, on Sundancer, used one on Saturday night and they did not seem to hunt nearly as much as we did.   The keel didn't bang after I lifted it up 2 inches and stuffed a coolie cup in the forward opening.  As always we bungied the halyards to the side stay and did not have any slapping disturbing us.  The report the next day from the marina was that it quieted down around 10 pm and everyone slept well, but I like an anchorage a lot better than the dock.

            Woke up around 6:15. I could have slept but Becky wanted her morning coffee,  and had a nice cold breakfast.  Stin took off for Elliot Key around 7 to let his dog, Nakita, have a potty break.  There is not an accessible shoreline on the southern end of Elliot Key and the poor thing had been holding it for over 12 hours without complaint.  We got underway at 7:30 and sailed north behind Stin making 4+ kts back to Elliot Key Marina on a reefed main.  Contacted both the marina crowd and Red Tag via radio and reviewed our intentions for the day.  We turned just past the marina and started a downwind run to Alabama Jack's 16+ miles away.  We sailed along without a care in the world at 4 to 5.5 kts.  We were helped by both the current and a following sea that often had me sawing the tiller like a lumber jack as we wallowed in the trough or crested a wave; occasionally getting a good ride down the front of one.  Two o-poop events.  Both caused by power boats in the two narrow points we had to share space with them in.  Once off Totten Key in a nearly 2 mile long channel through some shallows we were blasted by a mega yacht and again going under the bridge at the southern end of Card Sound.  We sailed the entire way and dropped on the other side of the bridge to motor up the canal to Alabama Jacks.  Stin, of course, sailed almost to Jacks! The frigging purist!  We were passed on the way down by Sundancer sailing reefed main only, and Joy, flying too much canvas for my taste. I'm chicken, and they screamed by us a couple of times.  Alan sails the snot out of his boat and told us he dipped the rail a few times while sliding through turns.  He enjoyed himself as did we with our more sedate sailing manner. 

            Alabama Jacks was nice, similar to the Hide-a-away place at Lake Harris, only a little busier and noisier.  Nice docks, cold beer, and very good conch fritters made it well worth the trip.  They did not have any ice for sale, too busy a weekend I guess, and had no supplies.  I thought I read that they had a ship's store, but I guess something happened.  Everyone else ate cheeseburgers while I opted for the Combo Platter, a massive Conch Fritter, crab cakes, and Grouper Fingers with onion rings and macaroni salad.  When you add 3 Heinekens to that you can understand why we sailed slower than everyone on the way back to Pumpkin Key for the evening anchorage.  We left AJ's just as Red Tag arrived.  Dave and Theresa had spent another hour getting ready before they left their anchorage north of Elliot Key.  Dave reported hitting 6.8 with his Potter, aided by current and waves of course.  We motored out the channel, but ended up idling for a few minutes while we determined what had happened to Stin, who had left behind us but moments later pulled into the bank of the canal.  Turned out his internal fuel tank had run dry and he had to add some gas.  It looked like it made for a few interesting minutes but he was motoring again shortly.  We motored under the bridge to avoid the worst of the powerboat wakes and raised sail on the other side.  Unlike Sundancer we decided to try pinching up for a more direct route to Pumpkin Key.  That idea sucked as we noticed shortly afterward when Stin passed us on his tack up the channel and again when Alan passed us.  We passed Gostaso III going the other way and exchanged pleasantries about Alabama Jack's as he sailed by.  Paul had a full main and most of his genoa out on his Mac 26X as he sailed by.  It looked good.  I am still interested in them but they are big boats.  We watched Joy and Lilly P tack across our bow toward Pumpkin Key and finally figured we needed to come off the wind some to make time.  Red Tag was quickly coming up behind us and I figured I could beat someone in to the anchorage.  Even if they left AJ's an hour behind me.  We had been going 2.5 to 3.5 most of the way and I was figuring we would beat them on a straight line approach as opposed to the long backward tack they had to make. Wrong again, a theme I repeated the next day.  I don't learn very quickly it seems.  We finally fell off and picked up to nearly 5kts and watched Sundancer cross our bow.  The wind was starting to die a little so when we tacked north of Pumpkin Key we hoisted the lapper and made a nice run down to the SW tip of Pumpkin Key at 5kts.  Stin announced on the VHF that he had found a nice protected little cove with 5 feet of water for us.  We went inside Sundancer and dropped anchor 50 feet or so off the shore in the shadow of some beautiful homes on the water.  Minimum price of these behemoths was probably 1.5 million but we didn't mind.  Got everything set up for the evening, had a nice salad with some chips and dip for dinner, and watched a pretty sunset.  We rigged the electric lantern and played some Yahtzee in the cockpit, read for a while, since we were bug free, and went below around 8pm.  We seemed to hunt a lot more than Sundancer, with their new anchor sail, so Sher was nice enough to send me the plans and we will make one soon.  I did set an alarm to check our position every two hours since my anchor alarm on the GPS kept lighting off while we were playing Yahtzee.  I think with 50 feet of rode we were swinging more than the 40 feet I had set into the alarm so it got confused.

            Woke up around 6:15, when the crew started making noises about hot coffee.  We had a nice ham and cheese omelet, cleaned up the boat, and pulled anchor around 7:30.  We announced our intention to return to Elliot Key via the VHF and raised sail as soon as we cleared the anchorage.  The wind was pretty steady at 16kts and my omelet must have had too much grease on it so we pinched in again to keep from rolling so much from the waves.  Sundancer and Lilly P left shortly after and passed us quickly since they were out in the channel on a much better point of sail than we were.  I figure it was only 10 degrees or so but they were hauling.  Sundancer was running a reefed main like us and Lilly P was running their 110 Lapper.  At the choke point channel from Card Sound to Biscayne Bay we caught up with Stin and fell in behind him.  He promptly ran off and left us with his lapper flying.  I saw Joy just screaming up the western edge of the bay and figured Alan was either going home or was planning on outrunning everyone up the bay before cutting across to Elliot Key.  He had an 80% jib up with a full main and was repeating his speed trials of Saturday.  I just can't sail that hard! I'm chicken and I will admit it, just like at AA.  "Hello, I'm Ed and I am a chicken sailor."  Anyway we kept plodding along and had bouncy ride back up the bay.  Saw winds to 22kts when we passed each of the channels leading to the Atlantic on the way up.  Although the wind was supposed to clock around to the SE it stayed pretty much the same all 4 days out of the East.  We saw both the Macs sailing further out after the channel choke point.  They looked to have a lot of heel but were going pretty fast.  That is another thing I don't do well, heel.  I like my Potter even better after this trip after watching the other boats.  We got in behind a few of the other boats and had a nice COLD shower after hiking to the Atlantic side to check things out.  Partied like a dog on New Years Eve and paid for it the next morning.  We were up by 6:30, had breakfast and a shower, stowed everything and pulled away around 8 bound for Homestead Marina.  Nice easy winds of 8kts or so from the East so we polled out the lapper and ran near 5kts most of the way back.  Stin started catching us so we shook out the reef and he still passed us.  I guess singlehanding and not having a bunch of crap onboard like we do really does make a difference.  Stin pulled slowly but steadily away from us.  We dropped the pole and tacked around behind Stin but it was too late to catch up with him before the 6 mile trip was over.  We pulled Minnow out and let a 30 second stream of water out of the bilge thanks to the wave action we had on Sunday while beating back to the marina.  We didn't get enough for the bilge pump to get anything but there was plenty of water under the liner.  We rigged for towing and hit the road by 11:15.

            Stin had mentioned how much he disliked Mapquest while we were discussing routes and after two turns out of the marina we were in the ghetto and lost.  We finally found the Florida Turnpike and gratefully got on it.  We took 41 back across, which we may not do again, and got caught behind a travel trailer running 40mph.  We stopped at exit 193 and washed Minnow.  Shortly after we pulled back onto I-75 the skies opened and we drove in rain the rest of the way home.  We pulled in, put Minnow in the boat house (garage), pulled the trash/clothes/pottie out and fell exhausted into the hot tub. 

Lessons learned:

I could put up more sail if I wanted to, which I don't

When everyone else sails on a certain tack, we probably should too!

Don't drink too much on New Years Eve ever again!