Having 17 days in a row of guests put us in a new mindset. Our visitors, Cay, George, Kenny, and Jenna all live in Maine, and spending time with them caused us to happily wrap our hearts around being back home there with them and all the other people and places we love. So, as soon as we finished our planned inland trip to San Ignacio, we set off for home.
While on our way north 45 miles to San Pedro to clear customs and leave Belize, we heard some of our OCC friends on the VHF. They were wishing Mary, on Echo, a happy birthday. Of course we jumped in on this and also sent her radio greetings. During these conversations, we learned that Shamal and Echo were going to be staying at Cay Caulker that evening. Oh, so quickly our plans change! We figured one more night in Belize couldn’t hurt, so we dropped anchor there too.
Celebrating Mary’s birthday was wonderful. Pelican, the restaurant, was excellent, and the company of Echo and Shamal was even better. We put our heads together to figure out when it was best to head north, and what route to take. All six of us had our hearts set on stopping in Mexico to see the country and to have one last OCC party when Suzie Too returned from the UK the following week. We considered all of the information we had gathered over the past week, regarding the high costs to clear in and the upcoming cold front, and decided to skip Mexico this trip. We all resolved to visit Cozumel, Cancun, and Isla Mujeres next year.
Our next challenge, was to figure out how to get through a cut in the reef that protects Belize like a strong fortification. This reef runs north to south with only a few breaks large enough for Alembic. The problem was that the wind was pretty strong from the East; excellent for a brisk sail north, but terrible for the cuts. When we went up to San Pedro by water taxi, we zoomed by the cut there, and saw boats trying to get out. The waves were so steep, causing the boats to pitch up and down violently, preventing any forward momentum. We watched them turn around and come back into the anchorage, giving up the hope of passing through there.
Echo and Alembic made plans to head south thirty miles to the ship channel, passable in any weather because it is wide and deep. This was the exact wrong direction for our destination, but the right decision for our safety. Shamal decided to wait another day for the seas to calm down. We knew a cold front was coming in a few days and that we had to be hunkered down in the Dry Tortugas or Key West by Wednesday afternoon, so we sailed north in time for this plan. This cold front would provide much wanted north winds, after the squalls passed, for our trip from Dry Tortugas to Miami, a course that usually has east winds, right on the nose, for weeks on end. While the seas were choppy and confused, we had a great sail, riding the currents which ran as much as 3 knots on parts of our three day passage.
Just a few hours earlier than Chris Parker, our weatherman had indicated, the cold front hit on Wednesday morning at 1 am. On my watch, I lay on my back reading my kindle, oblivious to the spike in wind. Bill came up the companionway, bleary-eyed from sleep, asking “what’s going on?” My book must have been engaging, because I hadn’t realized a squall was upon us. We quickly doused our big genoa and the mizzen and double reefed our main sail, just in time for the squall to finish. We only clocked 31 knots and this only lasted fifteen minutes. We sailed easily into Dry Tortugas, arriving that afternoon. Unfortunately, Shamal and other OCC friends on Blå Ellinor and Mad Romance were hit pretty hard by much stronger squalls a few hours later.
The Dry Tortugas was beautiful and sheltered many species of wildlife that I wanted to explore. Unfortunately, the rough weather made dinghy riding, snorkeling, and swimming unpleasant, so we just lounged around and visited with Echo and other boats in the anchorage. Legally, we were not allowed to go ashore anyway, since we had not cleared customs and there is no place here to do so! We stayed only two nights, waiting for the calmer weather, and set off Friday morning for a long day sail to Key West to clear through customs.
Home at last. Not quite. Actually, far from it. First, the customs were giving us such a hard time over the phone. Phone! Our Verizon phones had a signal! This was the first time we used those in a long while. I mentioned it was Friday, right? And that it was a long day sail? So we were arriving at about 6pm. Calling them while still offshore at 5pm, they told us they were about to close their office. For the weekend. And that we had to clear in within 24 hours. They suggested we clear in at the Miami office. That couldn’t work. We couldn’t, or wouldn’t, get there in 24 hours. UGH. Finally they indicated that we had a clearance number, by this call, and that we could maybe clear in at the airport the next day.
Another reason we were far from home was that Key West is nothing like Maine. Wild. Loud. Crowded. I had fun, though, visiting with Shamal that night at a packed noisy bar. They had skipped the Dry Tortugas and came in to Key West the day before, having been kicked around a bit in the stormy weather. Bill couldn’t wait to leave this busy spot, so we left the next morning and sailed through the night to the upper Keys, traversing Jewfish Creek, a skinny mangrove opening we had discovered thirty years ago on Wings, our Westsail 32.
Spending Mothers’ Day at Boca Chita and Sands Key, just north of the creek, was a real treat. We have many fond memories here from when we chartered catamarans and taught our kids to snorkel. I can still feel Lindsay’s hand in mine, as she watched a huge Spotted Eagle Ray swim beneath us when she was only about seven. And I can hear Erica’s sweet voice singing as she danced on the heavy decorative fence around the Boca Chita lighthouse. I smile with the memory of Kenny begging to go spear fishing again in the cut between the islands. Miami could wait. I was savoring these moments here for the day.
Raising the anchor, heading into Miami late that afternoon, was anticlimactic. After squeezing through a few bridges, and ducking out of the way of far too many wild speeding power boats, we dropped our anchor in a safe spot. Most of the traffic here was just jet skiers, who couldn’t produce much of a wake, thankfully.
Miami seemed so different from how I had remembered it. We lived in the Miami Beach Marina on Wings for two years before the kids were born. The marina is now packed, very fancy and expensive, as opposed to the unfinished facility that we lived in. South Beach has turned into a lively scene, packed with vacationers, where what I remembered was a wide open beach for us to ride our ten dollar yard sale beach bum bikes. We felt like strangers in a place we once called home; helping us to keep up the desire to keep moving to our actual home in Maine.
Next trip, Ft Lauderdale, only twenty-five miles north, was our next adventure. Arriving here was surprisingly pleasant and peaceful. We picked up a mooring in a tiny cove with only a few other boats. Our mooring neighbors hailed from Canada, France, New Zealand, and the Netherlands, making us feel like we were in a foreign port again.
Visiting with Paul and Ann was the highlight of this stop. Almost twenty years ago, they welcomed us warmly to York Maine, and helped us to settle in to that community. In like fashion, Paul and Ann went above and beyond to help us enjoy our five day stay here, as we waited for better weather to head offshore again.
Seeing Blå Eleanor and Mad Romance safe in Fort Lauderdale was a relief. They were hit quite hard by a very brief, but dangerous storm cell on their way to Key West. Asa mentioned recording 57 knots before their wind speed instrument went blank. They tore sails and their bimini pole became dislodged, pinning her to the wheel. Asa shared the details of this event with her heavy Swedish accent and her unshakable positive attitude. “The storm was so beautiful: everything went black at mid day, then the lightning created the most beautiful show”. Mad Romance experienced the same wind, along with the wild darkness and lightning. The instruments on both boats have been acting wacky ever since. It’s possible they encountered proximity lightning strikes, without the more dangerous direct hits. All were in great spirits, enjoying the protection of a safe harbor, and making plans to fix things so they could head out again for more extended adventures!
This trip home has become a wonderful blend of past and present. Combining old favorite places and people with new places and friends makes my world jell. We are transitioning back to Maine, warmed by the many events in our lives, from long ago to today, that make me smile.