Good morning readers. 6:30 am. Up and Adam. (Where does that phrase come from, anyway?)
- I quickly make sausage and eggs for breakfast.
- Radar is clear.
- Beautiful morning.
Our destination today, for the 2nd leg of our sailing journey, is Highland Point Beach. Based upon my calcs, this should be another 5-6 hour sail. Easy-peezy, right? What could go wrong?
Incoming tide, so the sailboat is floating again off our little island. Awesome!
We set sail Northwest. Goodbye little island.
My next waypoint is a Coast Guard buoy off the coast of Florida - SW of Cape Sable. The first cape on the SW coast of Florida.
We are deep in the Everglades at this point, hugging the ragged Florida shoreline. There are absolutely no other boats around. We definitely feel the isolation. No cellular, no radar. VHF Radio kinda "buzzes" - but that's about it.
Nick is enjoying the sunshine. He is getting tan fast. Me - not so much.
Perfect sailing weather:
But the weather remains unstable in the Everglades. Apparently, it rains a LOT in the Everglades in the summer. Who knew? A storm chases us into something called "Little Shark River". This is the leading edge of the storm:
We head into the river, of course, to get out of the strong winds and lightning. Neither of us are excited about sailing through another storm like yesterday's. Although we are near the Florida shore now, we are definitely deep in the Everglades - so it isn't really "shore" so much as it is "swamp" and mangroves. We haven't seen another boat all day. If something bad were to happen - finding us... Well, let's not think about that.
We anchor a short way into a river and hide behind some mangrove islands. While we wait for the storm to pass, another beer seems appropriate (they are kinda still cold at this point). I drink one while I fish. I catch nothing.
Major Mistake #3.
Although the boat is anchored in shallow water, it keeps twisting around in a funny (not ha-ha) way. At first we think it is just the tide in the river, but Nick asks me to pull up the keel in case it is hitting bottom. No matter how hard I pull on the keel rope - I can't budge it because the anchor rope, apparently, is wrapped around the keel. Hmm. Neither of us are thrilled about swimming under the sailboat in this brackish water in "Shark River"! Lots of fins everywhere - and they aren't porpoise. We work the problem; discuss cutting the anchor line; but we need that anchor. We work out a strategy and solve the problem together by maneuvering the boat with the motor. The rope loosens around the keel. Keel comes up. Problem solved. Teamwork, baby!
Time for another beer. It's fricking hot! 100+ degrees:
And yes, if you are wondering if we are drinking water, I can assure you that we have like 10 waters for every beer.
We get rained on of course, but after a while we can see that the storm has passed us. Time to exit the river and continue North. We sail for a while, hugging the shore, but again - another storm - so again - another trip into some obscure river to hide. This time - just North of Shark Point. Nick took this picture as we try to beat the storm into this river. What you see is the leading edge of the storm - like all the others today, it is moving from left to right (West to East). We are trying to get to the river between the mangroves:
We make it before the worst part hits us - again. Damn storms!
The rain is stronger in this storm. So what! We play poker in the (very dry) cabin during the worst part of the storm, but then we figure it's a perfect time to shower, so we stand outside and get rained on - grab a little soap. Nature's shower. I fish in the rain - cause that's how I roll! Sharks are all around the boat feeding. I think one of them is staring at me, wondering WTF I am doing here in his river. I've never seen so many sharks. Oh, wait - Shark River, Shark Point. I finally get it. Aptly named whomever chose it.
Storm gone. We exit the river; sail North again.
I have no idea which particular storm this is, or at what point in the day, (they are starting to run together) but they all kinda looked like this as they stealthily approach us:
They really are unsettling.
Go little motor go!
We keep this routine up all day: Severe storm coming. Hide. Peek-a-boo. Exit mangroves. Severe storm coming. Hide. Peek-a-boo. Exit mangroves. I didn't factor these peek-a-boo events into my distance and time calcs.
14 hours later - we reach Highland Point Beach. Yes, the beach was intended to be our final destination for Day #2 - but that was supposed to be after an easy sail. The sun is setting. We're tired. It's hot. Who knew that being chased by storms in the Everglades could be stressful, time-consuming and tiring?
The sailboat comes to a stop about a quarter-mile from the beach - only 1.5 feet of water. I look over at the beach. That is a LONG walk in shallow water. Well, that sucks. But we are determined to be on this beach! It's been a couple of days since I have been on dry land.
We quickly gather up some supplies - including some firewood and tequila (we do have standards to uphold) - put them in Nick's dry bag - and start walking through the shallow water towards the beach. At first, not bad, its sandy, but my crocks keep getting sucked into some of the mucky spots. Then, as we get about halfway, we start sinking up to our hips in "muck" aka mud. And, there are sea urchins that we keep stepping on. Those really hurt. We both cut our feet - Nick's is worse. At one point, I get so stuck that Nick has to pull me out to get "un-suctioned". Then Nick gets stuck. This is difficult and tiring!
Did I mention that we are determined to get to this beach? We arrive on dry land about 25 minutes later. We earned it.
Now I know when most of you think of the word "Beach" (just like I do), you might think of umbrellas, jet-skis, boats, bikinis, children, "people", coolers, para-sailing - whatever... There is NONE of that here. This is an extremely secluded, remote beach in the heart of the Everglades. In fact, I wonder, while I am standing here, EXACTLY how many people have EVER stood on this particular strip of sand. Ponder this: You must have a very small boat to get here. Everglades City is a LONG way away through swamps. You must walk 20-30 minutes through shallow water and muck and you must not be afraid of sharks or other sharp things. It is definitely one of the most secluded (and most difficult) places I have ever been in my lifetime - and I have been a LOT of places.
It is surreal - and beautiful. All-in-all, pretty cool. Lewis and Clark would have been proud of us. I actually wouldn't be surprised to see some never-before-seen native tribe coming out of the swamp.
We take some quick pictures:
Nick is determined to build a fire.
Gotta admit, that's a great shot.
Getting dark fast.
Believe it or not the sailboat is IN this picture, but it is a long, long way away.
The sailboat is just left of the sun on the horizon.
Why do we take quick pictures? Because, while we remembered the tequila (priorities), we did NOT remember to bring the bug spray with us. Unlike last night, the "absence" of mosquitoes is definitely NOT a thing here. I'm pretty certain that there is a species here called "pterodactyl mosquito."
I tell Nick that I'm not thrilled about walking back to the sailboat, through 2 ft water, in the dark, so while it is definitely beautiful here on the beach, and the fire is comforting, it is definitely time to go. Without hesitation, he agrees.
After walking 20 minutes away from shore, in this picture below, we are about 3/4 of the way back to the sailboat (still walking through shallow water) Wait, what kind of fin is that to my right? I wish my foot would stop bleeding.
We make it back to the boat just as the night turns dark:
First aid, then I make us a quick dinner on the grill, but even covered in bug spray, the mosquitoes are a force to be reckoned with, so we quickly pack up, close the cabin, kill the remaining mosquitoes in the cabin and attempt to go to sleep. It is easily 100 degrees.
But we have a new problem. The tide is "out" - waaaaaay out. Have I mentioned that the tides are severe here? Unlike last night, where the boat was sitting evenly in "muck", the sailboat is now keeled over on hard sand. I did NOT get out and take a picture, but if I had, it would look almost exactly like this:
Have you ever tried to sleep at this angle? Probably not. Trust me - it ain't easy. I'm on the high side, but Nick's plight isn't that much better crammed at the bottom. Like I said, it is at least 100 degrees in the cabin. No mosquitoes in the cabin though, (the glass is half-full, I suppose).
The tide comes back in around 4 am and the sailboat rights itself.
At 4:45 am, I hear Nick say, "Screw this, we're leaving. I'm not spending another night here if the tide goes out again." He opens the cabin and quickly steps out, closing it behind him.
Aaah, man! Mosquitoes start buzzing all around my head again. I hear Nick pulling up the anchor rope. I really, really, really, don't want to get up. But I do. It's not like I was sleeping soundly anyway.
Nick tries to turn on the motor, but it won't start. He pulls the cowling off (after carefully removing the bungee cord) and returns the fuel line to it's proper position. The little motor sputters and starts. We head away from shore.
The night is completely still - not a breath of wind. The moon is out, but it is still extremely dark and eerie. Is this a good time to remind you that we are in the middle of NOWHERE?!! With only a 9.9 HP 1983 Johnson motor to propel us and a Garmin handheld - of which the batteries died last night. Yes, I brought two more as a backup, but as soon as I put the backup batteries in, I receive a "Low Batteries" indicator on the Garmin. Navigate by compass in the pitch dark? Sure. If we need to.
Remember those Coast Guard buoys I talked about in previous chapters? Well, we hadn't been following them because they are 5 miles offshore - and we needed to be close to the shore because of the relentless storms. The buoys mark the "safe" boundary for vessels. Navigation inside them is considered "unsafe". We really don't want to sail/motor in unsafe waters in the pitch dark, so we head for the next offshore buoy. Since we had been hugging the shore and running from storms the day before, being 5 miles from shore makes us rather anxious. But what really makes us nervous? There is a pissed-off thunderstorm on the exact same heading as the next two offshore Coast Guard buoys. The lightning is getting worse. We really DON'T want to head into the storm in the middle of the night, but we don't want to stay here either, and we don't want to hug the shore and hit a shoal, or worse. All of our options kinda suck at this moment.
Nick turns to me and says, "I'm not sure this is a good decision."
"I'm not sure it's not", I replied.
We are 5 miles offshore - feels like 50. The Coast Guard buoy is ahead of us - blinking red in the pitch darkness. I would like to say that it's blinking is comforting (we at least know where we are on the chart), but it really isn't. We are all alone out here - and we feel it - the feeling sucks. This heading is not safe. We are committed at this point though, so we put back on our PFDs. I, once again, clip the ePIRB to me. We make sure the cabin VHF is on, but we only hear static. I turn on the portable VHF on my belt. The lightning storm is looming ahead of us. We feel the temperature drop. Lightning, once again, illuminates the entire sky directly in front of us. We feel the thunder.
The 1st day storm overtook us quickly as we ran from it, and we had specific maneuvers to perform just as quickly that kept the boat from capsizing, but this is a slow, conscious, risky decision in pitch blackness that we have made to drive towards and enter this thunderstorm. I admit now (as I write this), that this is the most scared I have been on this trip. Why is it that the anticipation of something bad always seems to be worse than the actual bad? The darkness is creepy and enveloping, offset only by jagged lightning directly in front of us. My mouth is extremely dry. Nick and I are very quiet. Our little Johnson 9.9 HP motor is running - sputtering at times. The sails are down. Lightning intensifies - we see it hit the surface.
I say a prayer for the two of us.
This is gonna be bad.