Homestead to Elliott Key
by Ed Combs
Homestead is 325 miles from Wesley Chapel and we hit I-75 well before rush hour. We bypassed Alligator Alley in favor of SR 41, a two-lane road that is the same distance to Homestead, based upon several fellow WCTSS members' recommendations. We had a very pleasant drive and arrived at the Homestead Marina around 10:30. Ted with his Hunter 19 and Frank with his Potter 15 were just finishing up rigging when we pulled up. After saying hello to everyone my wife and I got busy rigging Minnow. One quick word about Homestead Marina: Yippee! $10 for as long as you want to park, nice ramps, plenty of parking, inexpensive ice and supplies, lots of staff taking care of things, etc. We will use this place again, maybe for a Key Largo New Year's Eve 5-day sail instead of doing 10,000 Islands this year. We had Minnow in the water by 11:10., and were just getting ready to leave when another Ted pulled in with his Precision 21 followed by Charles with his Flying Scott. We decided to go ahead and launch since the Elliot Key Marina was nearly due east of our current location and the wind was going to be on our nose for a true tacking drill.
Four hours later I fired up my 5 hp Honda and motored the last little bit to a spot at the Marina. The wind started out at 10 kts or so and built to 15+ with a 2 ft trough and whitecaps an hour or so into our sail. The only problem we had was when we were pointing NE and screaming along and I couldn't kick the jib sheet loose when a 20 kt gust hit us. My pucker factor found a new notch on the oh-shit scale! It was my fault, we were both riding the windward rail as far forward as we could get and enjoying the ride, but when we went over and I couldn't immediately fix it, I was terrified. I just kicked the rudder over a little and rounded up into the wind to luff the sails instead but that 5 seconds or so wasn't fun. We reefed the main, and loosened everything up to sail a little slower and flatter. We were never in danger of going over, but I am pretty much a flat sailor give or take 10 degrees or so. The Elliot Key Marina is very nice. $15 a night, pack out your own trash, cold showers, no electric or water at the dock. That said it was still a nice place for us. We used their BBQs and picnic tables, were left alone by the rangers who threw out some loud Ya-Ya music playing/yelling bunch of power boaters around 10:30 and fraternized. Saturday morning we woke up, took showers, and ate eggbeaters with ham and cheese with our morning coffee.
Our friends Ted and Sher were moored next to us and we were talking back and forth while we drank coffee. I was putting another pot of coffee on the stove when Becky started yelling for the fire extinguisher.
I popped it off the compression post and handed it to her and she jumped on the dock as Ted was throwing cockpit cushions over the side of his boat. I saw flames in their cabin and started climbing out of Minnow to render assistance since what I had assumed to be a grease flare up was obviously worse than that. Charles, Flying Scott, was in Ted's boat having breakfast with them and had already grabbed Ted's extinguisher and was putting out the flames. It turned out Ted had sat a hot pot down somewhere and some alcohol from their stove just ignited. It burned a few cushions, but Ted had 1st and 2nd degree burns on his legs. After things got calmed down we pulled the affected cushions out and beat the worst of the fire extinguisher stuff off them and let Ted have a few minutes to be treated for his burns. Frank with his Potter 15, Ted with his Precision, and Charles with his Flying Scott decided to return immediately so Ted could go to the doctor. I'm thinking I like Butane better than alcohol for cooking.
There were 3 boats left of our original 6 so we sat around and waited for high tide to go out Sand Key Cut to the Atlantic and an American Coral Reef. Ted and I motored out the cut and my depth gauge was blinking for a good 4 minutes (it blinks under 2 feet). Becky asked me what all the white lines were on the bottom (power boat scars in the grass). Bill was sailing behind us in his Sea Pearl and caught up later. Ted caught one of the mooring buoys on the reef and we threw him a line and hung off his stern. The reef was beautiful! There were Octo and Stony corals, with some colors: grays, browns, light orange, and purple. Quite a few colorful fish (black and yellow striped whatevers, blue ones, lots of grey ones). We had 12'+ of visibility. I've snorkeled on coral in Guam, Micronesia, Hawaii, Cuba, the Bahamas, etc., but for 2 miles off Florida, with no one else around, it was great. The reef itself was between 4 feet and 12 feet of the surface and had plenty of variety. Bill showed up about 20 minutes after we got there and hooked up to another mooring buoy nearby. We spent a very pleasant 2 hours or so snorkeling, talking, and eating bobbing around in the Atlantic Ocean. We sailed off the reef and started south for Caesar's Creek Cut around 12:30 There was a storm front to the west that seemed to be moving south but staying inland that we were keeping an eye on. The wind was from the south and we were doing some long gentle tacks in 5 or 6 kts of wind that started building so we dropped the genoa and put up the lapper. Ted had already passed us and Bill would get ahead of us and then come back to check on our progress. Around 2 or so it became apparent that the storm was turning east and was going to run over us. Ted was right under it and getting ready to enter Caesar's Cut while Moon Shadow and Minnow were on the northern edge of the storm but with the turn the storm made we ended up getting pasted. Ted decided to run his motor through it while Bill suggested we anchor, button up, and ride it out on the hook. I agreed. We had a pretty wild 30 minutes with lots of rain, some thunder, and 30mph or so winds.
I sat on the cooler and drank beer with a hand fan while Becky lay in the V-berth with a fan on her. Every now and then I could see Bill through the forward ports bobbing around ahead of us. My 76C has an anchor drag alarm so I wasn't too worried about it. I also had 15 ft of chain and 90 feet of line out in 10 feet of water. After the storm we decided to motor in rather than sailing because the wind on the backside of the storm was a lot lighter.
We got to Caesar's Cut and the wind was 5 - 7 out of the SE so we raised the main when we got in the cut to push us a little faster, after crossing 1' of water on the side of the channel instead of going way out to come in with deep water. It was a good thing we did because minutes later my Honda stopped shooting out cooling water. With powerboats all around and a narrow channel we popped the lapper and sailed through the cut. We sailed out of the cut and turned north as the wind clocked around more to the south. We were about 2 miles from Elliot Key Marina when I mentioned the storm to the west that was forming. I kept playing around with the motor because the storm was starting to worry me, but it fired up and had cooling water shooting out so we dropped the sails and started motoring. Suddenly we were spinning around and I was panicked again. The pivot bolt, nylock nut and all, was gone from the rudder! I was forced to steer with the motor only. We finally got in, put out our lines, and helped Bill ease into his spot. It was stronger than the one we had survived at anchor and was beating Bill up pretty bad. I held his bow off the dock and he held the stern and we laughed as the worst of the storm happened for 10 minutes or so. We were soaked, sitting in a thunderstorm, and laughing. Bill got another line aft to prevent his surging forward so I went back to Minnow to see if Becky would let me in. She had supper ready for me (hot dogs and chili as well as my last beer). I dried off and had a great meal. It is so nice to have crew. I was sitting in the cabin naked when Ted beat on the hatch and handed me an iced cup of Bushmills whiskey. He said it was for Becky, so I shared it with her. Ten minutes later I popped my head out, told Bill and Ted goodnight, and descended into sleep.
Sunday morning another storm came through and we decided to leave for Homestead as soon as it passed. We had a cold breakfast, and sailed out around 8. We had a steady 10 kts of wind out of the south, but there was another storm lurking to the south. We got about 4 miles out on a nice beam reach. The waves got a little steeper and were off the beam with the wind so rather than keep rolling like crazy we dropped the sails and motored further into the waves/wind just as the storm hit us with rain. It was never too bad as far as rain and wind but there were a couple of big waves that came in sets every 2 minutes or so that I had to keep turning into. We made the channel to Homestead, pulled and rigged Minnow for the trip home.