The Amazing Grace

Let Your Dreams Set Sail

Ft. Myers Florida to Cancun

We got the new generator and headed to a marina so Scott can install it.  The way we figure it, if we were paying someone it would be at least $80 an hour.  So we went to a marina, for about that price a day, so Scott could have power and stores close by to get anything he needs. Luckily all the connections were very similar to the old one and he was able to get it installed fairly easily.  We also bought 4 new, nice (expensive), marine gel batteries.  Before we only had two.  Getting them in place was easily but it took a couple of days to get all the cables made, installed, and attached to the new battery charger. 

Off we went back to the mooring ball to test everything for a few days.  The one station we had trouble getting with our antennae was CBS and of course that was the channel for the Super Bowl.  Finally we brought the antennae in with us inside the boat and were able to see the end of the game pointing the antenna by hand...Whatever it takes!   Every day we would listen to and watch this pirate ship go out.  We know that all the kiddos we know would love to go out on this ship.   

Our luck would have it, the winds died to 5-12 kts, with occasionally gusts to 17, which means we had to motor sail all the whole 339 miles with only about 10 hours of sailing without the engine.  The waves (mostly 2 -4s), currents, and wind were all very interesting in the Gulf Stream.  At times we were just making 2 knots and sometimes were heading into negative numbers.  With all that behind us, we are finally in warmer weather.  We love the Mexican Sun!  We are sitting in the boat waiting to clear customs immigration, and agriculture. 

We have heard that our next job that was scheduled for March/April in Houston has been delayed until the end of the year.  So we are beginning our second loop of the Caribbean.  We will plan to head down Mexico, Belize, and into Guatemala’s Rio Dulce for hurricane season.  Thank goodness we got our sunshade back from my nephew Deren.  We may need it during the summer.  We will continue to post updates as often as we can find internet cafes. 

Here we are over half way through the month  and they are already saying on the news that it is the coldest February in history.  What is it about the weather and our Great Loop Adventure?!!! 

Finally, we have a two day weather window to south to Dry Tortugas.  It took us 27 hours to go 130 miles.  The first 18 hours we had calm seas and motored sailed. Once the wind picked up in the morning we had a nice brisk sail in.  During the night we heard the coast guard asking for any information about 2 kayakers that had gone missing near Dry Tortugas.  The winds would have taken them away from the way we came in.  YEAH!   We have crossed our own wake and finished the Great Loop! We can now hang our gold burgee with pride. It felt like we had pulled in to see old friends here at Fort Jefferson.  

  The cruising books warned that… “because of erratic and sometimes severe weather in the area (unpredicted fronts packing high winds are not that unusual), passage to the Dry Tortugas requires planning for the unexpected and packing everything – water, food, fuels, clothing, and all supplies – for a trip of substantially longer duration than anticipated.  Schedules are not recommended. Weekend trippers, Caribbean-bound cruisers, and fisherman alike frequently find themselves holed up for a week or more in the modestly protected harbor off Garden Key in persistent 25 – 35 knot winds attending stalled fronts in the Gulf of Mexico or off the Cuban coast.”   How True!  What an interesting time we had here at Dry Tortugas.  During the next two weeks we had front, after front, after front, after front…..  The first sign that one was coming was that over 10 shrimp boats would come and anchor south of us behind the reef.  When they quit fishing, you know it will be bad. At night the lights would like a city behind us.    It was interesting that the wind would completely clock around 360 degrees, sometimes in less than 24 hours.   Luckily our anchors would re-set themselves.  Two days the weather was even too bad for the tourist boats from Key West to come out for the day.  We used to think gale force winds were bad….now we have spent the whole night on anchor watch with 25 – 40 + mph winds.    After the first front the other four boats cleared out and we were the only boat at anchor in front of the fort. What an oddity.  Even the guidebooks say that 6 to 15 boats are usually always at anchor here.  We also heard that they had found the kayak and the two remains.  One morning we woke up to the National Park Service (NPS) communication with a sailboat in distress about 8 miles west.  They went out and towed the sailboat La Nina in to the outer harbor.  The captain Miguel was having trouble with his engine.  That night he got bounced around pretty good during a front.  The next day I spoke to the fisherman, in Spanish, close to us in the inner harbor to go out and tow him in and to help him with his engine. They weren’t successful. A few days later we woke up to another conversation between a shrimp boat and the NPS.  They had been two days out and had a crewman who needed medical transportation to Key West.  We listened for two hours while they arranged to bring him in close to the fort, transfer him to a smaller boat, bring him to shore, and get him life–flighted. 

We have been able to go ashore a few times but most the time the winds are above 15mph and too rough to dinghy in.  We also got to see the Fort Jefferson Clipper supply boat pull in for its two day provisioning of the fort. 

Finally after cruising for almost 10 months Cindy got to do what she loves best on the boat, sit and read from her hanging chair in the sun.   One thing we are good at is provisioning.  We have eaten really well the whole time.  We did run out of fresh fruit and vegetables and had to hit the stores. Luckily Miguel got a care package and more water from the Fort Jefferson Crew.   We (but especially Scott) are thrilled at how well our wind generator, new batteries, solar panels, and the new generator have performed. We only had to start the generator once during the two weeks to charge the batteries, but we did start it twice to make baked potatoes in the microwave.  ;) Scott has spent the time learning how to use the single side band radio and figuring out how to hear the weather, get weather faxes and satellite pictures downloaded, and learning how to use it all to predict the weather.  Being 70 miles from Key West, there are no services on the island.  We have had the satellite phone on the whole time and have been able to send/receive phone calls and text messages,.  We sure do miss being on the internet…especially Facebook. 

                                    Dry Tortugas to Cancun

Finally after 12 days we have a weather window to head south.  As we were getting ready to leave, Miguel and his nephew on La Nina, asked us for a tow out to open water.  He has had no luck fixing his engine or getting someone out here from Key West to look at it.  They have decided to head to Cuba to get it fixed.  Here we are towing them out. 

They asked us to go with them and Miguel would have been the most wonderful guide.  Since we have AIS (Automated Identification System) we decided it wouldn’t be a good idea to broadcast to the world that we were in Cuba.  AIS is our boat’s identity transponder.  It tells other boats in our area our name, size, course and speed.  We also have the receiving radio that will tell us who the same information as well as CPA (Closest Point of Approach), time to CPA, and next port.  We have used this the whole 6,000 miles.  It still surprises us when someone calls us by name.  Which actually happened at 5 in the morning, during my watch, on my birthday.   The Cuban Navy called us by name, “Amazing Grace,” to find out what kind of ship we were and if we were heading into Cuba.  We were just about past the most western tip, San Antonio Knoll of Cuba..  No, we aren’t going to turn around, we are headed for Cancun. You can visit Cuba but you are not allowed to spend any money.  If US can prove you spent money there, you can receive up to a$10,000 fine.   We saw on the AIS about 10 various kinds of ships going across the Florida Straits, shipping lanes.  They were going to New Orleans, St. Thomas, Rotterdam, and even to Africa.  We learn a lot more about the ships and never have to talk to them.  Two of them were close enough that we altered course to show our intention to stay clear, duh, they are bigger.  We figure AIS is another way to make sure the big guys see us. 

When we left Dry Tortugas the weather was calling for NW,N, and NE winds for the next 4 days at 15-20 knots with 3-5 waves and 5 – 7s or two feet higher in the Gulf Stream. 

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