In order to get to the Bahamas, we still need to get around Key West and start north up the keys on the Atlantic side. The original start point was Miami, but weather has not been cooperative and plans have changed. Now we plan to meet Jeff and Jean from Two Can Sail in Marathon and start from there, stopping in Bimini. So now we just need to get to Marathon. After conferring with Jeff about weather, wind, and sea state, we decided to leave Key West but only go as far as Stock Island. Stock Island is right next to Key West on the Atlantic side, a short 10 nautical mile (nm) hop from the mooring field.
As we prepared to untie from the mooring, the winds were already blowing 18-20 knots and over 30 knots were expected later today. We needed to hustle! We untied, motored around Fleming Key, and were back in the Northwest channel to pass through Key West without fanfare. Then we spotted a cruise ship coming into the channel ahead. More than willing to give the right of way and plenty of space to this big boy, we changed course and left the channel. Meanwhile, as we were avoiding the cruise ship, there was a US Coast Guard ship and three or four USCG Zodiac inflatable boats coming towards us from the other side. Not wanting to appear that we are aiming at the USCG ship, we point for a course between them and the cruise ship.
Next thing we know, the USCG is making an announcement over the vhf about all vessels having to give 100 yard security clearance around the cruise ship and that the Coast Guard is there to assist and provide security to the cruise ship. Oh crap! We quickly changed course to point in front of the USCG ship and this is when one of the Zodiac boats came flying out to greet us. We were instructed to tuck in behind the stern of the ship and the other Zodiacs cleared the path for us. We tried to hover as best we could but with 21 knots of wind and some sizable waves, we had to keep up a certain amount of speed to keep steerage. Before long, the Zodiac came back to question us. “what are your intentions?” “What direction do you plan to go?” “Will you be heading west anymore?” I explained we were on our way to Stock Island and needed to proceed east. We did not need to go west, only turned that direction to avoid the cruise ship. We are trying to hover but need to keep steerage (so we don’t run into the Coast Guard ship – but I didn’t say that). Satisfied with our answers, the Zodiac returned to their ship.
Well after the cruise ship passed, we figured there was more than a football field between us and them, so we resumed the correct heading and sped up. Pretty soon ALL of the Zodiac boats as well as the mothership pointed towards us coming quickly. But but but… we should be clear. Oh great! Now we’re in trouble. Dave slowed down again and waited for them to catch up, but they steered around us and kept going. Shew! Then we hear another call over the vhf that a naval ship is coming in and required security clearance of all vessel traffic. Oh boy! Dave poured on the speed (a whole 4.5 to 5 knots going head to wind and into the waves) to get out of the way. Now we think this is the reason why they returned the second time and questioned our intentions and planned route. They were making sure we would not get in the way of this new beast coming in, which we could now clearly see at the horizon.
Wow, all that drama behind us, the rest of the passage to the Stock Island channel was uneventful but not quiet. There were two fighter jets flying in formation back and forth and back and forth over us. We finally reached the channel and headed towards the marina just as a fleet of shrimp boats were headed out. If you’ve never seen one, they have crane-like arms that lower on both sides like wings – and they were lowering them inside the channel before they even reached us! Dave squeezed as far off to the side of the channel as we could get, but there was not a lot of spare room! Man! We just want a quiet couple nights safely tucked away in the marina! We made it and Stock Island Marina is very nice, but that was the most eventful 10 nm ever!