Ready, set, go! The boat was ready and the rental car was returned. Time to set sail for Key West.
As we left the dock from between an 85′ power yacht and a 96′ power yacht with the captains both watching us very closely, the wind was blowing 10 knots. We heard a small vessel wind advisory about 2 hours after leaving. We were expecting the wind to get up to 25 knots and were prepared to sail through. Therefore, we ignored the advisory and continued on our way. For 8 hours, we had awesome sailing with 10-15 knots of wind with a single reef in the main, since we didn’t need speed but expected harder winds.
So far so good, right? Well, by 6:00 pm the wind averaged 20 knots but gusting up to 30 knots. At this point, we doused the main and sailed by jib only. The wind was already harder than expected and earlier than called for and we had a long way to go yet. At 7:30 pm, the wind averaged 25 knots with gusts up to 30 knots and we reefed the jib by furling it in part of the way. By 8:00 pm the wind averaged 28 knots. Then things started to go bad. Dave felt woosy, maybe just because he was nervous about getting sick again. He had prepared by taking Dramamine early. Mom lost her dinner to the fishes and was out of commission even though she had also taken Dramamine an hour or so before.
By 9:00 pm, we averaged 32 knots of wind with gusts up to 40 knots and Dave furled in more jib. The conditions were rough with growing swells and breaking waves, the sounds were loud, and anything not fastened down started moving around. Gizmo was completely confused and feeling insecure but was okay with some attention and reassurance. At 11:00 pm, Dave furled the jib until only a tiny triangle was remaining and still the boat moved along at 4 knots. The wind averaged 40 knots and the swells continued to grow. Already this was by far the worst conditions we’d ever been in.
No more picture taking!
At midnight things went from bad to worse. The wind hit 48 knots (~55 mph) and the swells were at least 8′ and it was my turn to feed the fish. It was my first time ever to get seasick. They say that there is some condition that will affect everyone at some point and I found mine. Fortunately, Dave was still feeling good and took on the brunt of the sailing from here on. I could only help in short spurts. The last log entry was made at midnight. I could no longer look at the book or instruments and Dave didn’t want to risk getting sick as well, so I am not sure how much worse the conditions became. Around 3:00 am, we reached the Northwest Channel to Key West much too early and Dave sailed us back and forth for a while before giving up and basically heaving to without sails. This had the effect of hovering around the channel entrance. This also had the effect of the swells and waves hitting us broadside and exaggerating the motion of the boat. Gizmo needed constant human contact by this point and mom came inside to lay down with him.
Even though the sun came up around 7:00 am, I was too queasy to look at the charts and chart a route to the mooring field by Fleming Key. Dave called the mooring office at 8:00 am to verify safe passage under such rough sea state conditions and I eventually routed out the path on my iPhone for Dave to follow to the moorings. It wasn’t until 10:00 am that we attempted the channel and we didn’t arrive until 1:00 pm. Two wonderful other boaters gave us assistance, without which we would not have been able to tie up to the mooring. Have I said yet how much I love the boating community? Anyway, we are now tied up safe and sound and will remain here for several days until the wind subsides.