This is Part Two of our three-part, first year aboard, recap of our life aboard our sailing catamaran Giro from November 2016 – March 2017. If you missed Part One (July – October 2016), click here.
We left St. Petersburg on October 29, 2016 after enjoying our time in the city. We arrived at Marina Jack in Sarasota and grabbed our first mooring ball!
October 29 – November 17, 2016. Fancy Sarasota, FL
We aren’t fancy people. Sarasota is for fancy people.
BUT we had a great time in Sarasota with the crew from The Kraken. We hit up a medieval festival one weekend, which was hilarious and crazy and ridiculously fun.
And our friend Shelly came for a visit (our first overnight guest!)
We also visited Caspersen beach (Sharktooth beach) and Siesta Key beach while we were in Sarasota.
Sarasota also has a fantastic farmers market… and the local library is within walking distance of the marina. We were able to work/school in the library on their large tables. Plus we took advantage of the free air conditioning, wifi and power.
The mooring field is pretty great, and at a very reasonable price considering how fancy the area is. The first ball we were assigned was way the hell out there, and we were waked over and over from the passing boats in the channel. But we were able to move after a couple of days, and had a nice stay the rest of the time. Also, the marina showers are definitely the fanciest we’ve ever seen.
All in all, we enjoyed staying at Marina Jack in Sarasota, and we’d grab a ball there again for sure.
November 17, 2016. Overnight Sail to Key West.
We originally planned to take our time down the coast of west Florida. Stopping and anchoring along the way. However, on our Gulf crossing, Matt noticed our saildrive oil was milky. Frustrating for us, as we just had our saildrives “serviced” when the boat was hauled out in August. But when we called the guy to confirm that he serviced them, he said he only changed the oil. He didn’t actually fix the leak, EVEN THOUGH WE HAD HIM SERVICE THEM BECAUSE THE OIL WAS MILKY FROM A LEAK. So, that meant the leak that was causing water to get into the saildrive oil WAS STILL THERE. And the only way to fix the leak was to haul the boat out AGAIN.
We found a DIY boatyard in Key West that could haul out Giro (having a catamaran limits options on haul-out) over Thanksgiving break, so that Matt could work on the boat without having to take time off work to do repairs. After looking at weather, the best day to move was Thursday, November 17. We didn’t even plan on moving that day… we had planned to try to move over the weekend, but cruisers know that weather gods dictate when you sail. So Thursday was the day. We literally threw everything together quickly, loaded up on fuel, water, and took off around sunset, into the Gulf.
November 18 – 23, 2016. Garrison Bight Mooring Field in Key West.
Unfortunately, we arrived in Key West after sunset. Into a mooring field we have never seen before. With wind and waves unlike any anchorage, harbor, or mooring field we’ve ever encountered (before or since.) We may as well have still been in the Gulf of Mexico trying to grab a ball. In the dark. But with boats all around. It was by far the most challenged we had been on the journey. There were cuss words, and raised voices, and possibly a thrown boat hook. BUT we did finally grab the ball, and we settled in for a rocking, rolling night of sleep. For the next five days.
The mooring field is like 8 miles from the dinghy dock (possible exaggeration.) There is absolutely no wind protection. We went ashore on the 19th, only to be drenched by waves on the way back to our boat (at night) – the waves were 2-3 ft and the wind was like 18 kts. With our little 5 hp motor on our dinghy, we didn’t stand a chance. The waves crashed over our bow over and over. We were literally soaked head to toe by seawater when we got back to the boat. It was a little scary, a little hilarious, and a little wtf. It scared us from wanting to leave the boat again. I mean who wants to leave the boat, when you know you won’t make it back without a soaking?? No one.
We decided right then that we needed to buy a 15 HP outboard ASAP. I found one on Craigslist that was in Key West, but attached to a skiff. The guy was pretty adamant that he wanted to sell them together. But because I can beat a dead horse like no other, I convinced him to just let us buy the outboard only. Two days later, we had a new dinghy motor.
Matt proceeded to scare the hell out of us all by getting us on plane the first time. I was sure we were going to flip. Then another time, we slammed into a bridge support after we were waked by a much bigger power boat going under the bridge at the same time. The fact we were still alive after five days in that mooring field is a mystery to us all. (Matt would like to edit this to say he was in control the whole time we were slamming into the bridge. Mmmmhmmm…. )
November 23 – 28, 2016. Thanksgiving on the hard.
We spent Thanksgiving on our boat in a boatyard on the hard in Key West. Not awesome. But not entirely the worst. At least it wasn’t summer in Texas. I prepared a proper Thanksgiving feast, with stuffing, and gravy, and cranberry sauce, and a small hen (a turkey would never fit into our easy bake oven.)
Big props to 3D Boatyard… the office manager had a personal golf cart that she let us borrow for the entire weekend since they were off all weekend and she didn’t need it! We were able to drive over to a restaurant one night. And I was able to drive over to an RV park to take advantage of their showers (since the boatyard bath facilities were probably the grossest thing I’ve ever seen.) Oh, and Matt fixed a bunch of shit while we were there. Including the saildrives that should have been fixed in August.
November 28 – Dec 7, 2016. Back to the mooring field.
Yes. We went back! So, why did we go back to that crazy Key West mooring field?? Because when we were on the hard, we pulled out all of our anchor chain to check it. We wanted to make sure the chain was in good shape because we had lots of plans to anchor out the rest of our journey. Guess what! At least 2/3 of the chain was bad… As in, you wouldn’t want to rely on the weakest link breaking off while anchored out. There was talk of regalvanizing it all… but the most cost-effective, quickest solution was to just buy new chain from West Marine. (Lucky for us, another guy we met at 3D boatyard let us use his Port Supply account to get like 50% off the chain.) Yay for nice people! But it was going to take a week to get the chain delivered. Boo.
Without an option to anchor out. And with marina prices at $4/foot, our only option was to make our way back to the dreaded mooring field. We were better prepared this time, and with our newly purchased dinghy outboard, we were able to avoid the drenching by getting on plane. So we enjoyed our time in Key West.
We did all of the touristy things – went to the Southern most point, saw mile marker zero, went to Fort Jefferson, ate conch fritters, and walked Duval street.
We visited with Matt’s cousin and her daughters.
And we were reunited with The Kraken! They made it to Key West and we got to hang out again!
Let me tell you – the most fun we had in Key West was at its annual Christmas Parade. OMG… it was a little like Bourbon Street in New Orleans mixed with St. Paddy’s Day Parade in Dallas. Theoretically, it was kid-friendly. They threw out lots of candy, and the boys were in heaven. Mostly it was adult-friendly. You can drink on the streets in Key West. The spot we picked out to watch the parade happened to be in front of a gay bar, and Matt and Kevin were mad they weren’t hit on at all as they bought beer after beer after beer from inside the bar. haha…
December 7, 2016. One night at anchor in Key West.
Finally, our chain came in… we left the mooring field and headed to fuel dock to load the 200′ of chain and also fill our tanks. Matt threw his watch in the water. (haha… actually, the band broke and it fell off his wrist while he was loading chain. In slow motion we both watched the trampoline kind of catch it and then the watch bounced and then plopped below. And that was that.)
Then we headed to an anchorage! Our first night to anchor out since we were struck by lightning. The anchorage to the west of Fleming Key was so nice and calm, a stark contrast to the mooring field. If/when we go back to Key West, we will anchor there for sure.
December 8, 2016. Sail up to Marathon, FL.
If you talk to any cruiser, they will tell you to go to Boot Key Harbor in Marathon, FL. Never heard of Marathon before? Neither had we. And for the life of us we could not figure out what the draw was. I mean, it is in the Florida Keys… but other than a huge mooring field, we weren’t really sure why the town would be a “do not miss” for cruisers. So, because everyone and their mother told us we HAD to stop there, we stopped in Marathon.
Our friends on The Riot were already there on a ball, so we thought we’d visit them for the weekend and then head up to Miami. There was a wait list for balls when we arrived, so we anchored out. We didn’t even put our name on the waitlist because we were only going to be there a week at most. We needed to leave to get to a dock in Miami we had reserved, so that we could drive to Texas for the Christmas Holidays.
December 8 – December 19, 2016. Anchored in Boot Key.
Well, it only took us a couple of days to meet up with other boat kid families. AFTER SIX MONTHS ABOARD, IT WAS OUR FIRST TIME TO HANG OUT WITH OTHER CRUISING FAMILIES. And they had boys! Our boys were so excited to have friends to play with. We played soccer at the park. We played on the playground at the park. We went to the free movie in the Park. We went to the free Christmas party in the marina. We went to the beach. We had dinner on each other’s boats.
And all of a sudden, we were trying to figure out how we could both stay in Marathon, and also get our boat to a dock in Miami so we could drive to Texas. Then it dawned on us… why don’t we just find a marina in Marathon?? After calling around to every marina in Marathon for a slip over Christmas break, I found ONE that said they had ONE catamaran spot available, but was only available until Dec 31. PERFECT!! We cancelled our Miami dock, and booked the Marathon dock.
December 19 – December 31, 2016. Docked, but not there, for the Holidays.
We moved our boat to the marina dock, so that we could leave it and drive to Texas for the holidays. We weren’t on a ball yet (although we finally put ourselves on the waitlist), and there was no way we were leaving our boat at anchor while we were gone. A marina was the only option. Our new friends on Izula took care of our kitty cat, Ninja, while we were gone. We made it back on December 30th, and then we spent New Year’s Eve at the marina swimming pool with Izula.
January 1 – March 31, 2017. Boot Key Harbor locals.
Well, well, well. For people who couldn’t figure out why everyone recommended stopping in Marathon, FL, we sure did stay a long while. hahaha.
So here is the low down on why everyone recommends Boot Key Harbor… it is cruiser-focused. The net is on every morning at 9 am. You can literally listen in on your VHF radio, and find out what’s going on that day, that week, that month. There are festivals, and bocce ball, and softball, and skate parties, and yoga, and movie nights, and holiday parties, and happy hours, and live music, and turtle releases, and dinghy drifts, and hundreds of liveaboards and cruisers who all want to help you fix your boat, or give you a lift, or buy/sell/trade boat parts with you, or watch meteors, or sailaway on Sundays, or buddy boat to the Bahamas (or Cuba.) Seriously. This is THE PLACE to be to connect with other cruisers/sailors/boatkids.
We joined the local homeschool PE class every Tuesday. We coordinated and attended field trips to the Dolphin Research Center, the Turtle Hospital, the Nature preserve, Pigeon Key, and the movie theater. I think we attended at least half a dozen festivals in three months. We played at the park, the skate park, the beach. We took the kids tubing behind our dinghy. We sailed over to Sombrero Reef, only three miles offshore, and snorkeled. The boys went fishing. We absolutely loved the families and cruisers we met. It was like our own little cruising village. We did laundry together, and grocery shopped together, and celebrated together.
At one point, we moved our boat from one mooring ball to another just so we could be closer to our friends on Izula. You usually can’t do that in a house on land. The Izula boys would get in their kayak and come over to see if our boys could play. Just like in a neighborhood. Marathon was really the most ideal location to hang out through the winter.
We now know why Boot Key is so popular among cruisers. And we would totally recommend Marathon, FL to anyone (especially if you have kids) to stop in and stay for a bit. “You HAVE to!” 🙂
Next up in the three-part series… we FINALLY make it to the Bahamas!!