Two days after Connor joined us in Marathon we exchanged the sheltered anchorage of Boot Key Harbor for the reef-lined waters of Hawk Channel. Hawk Channel is utilized almost exclusively by crabbers and cruisers whose draw too much to sail comfortably, or at all, through the ridiculously shoaled Florida Bay.
Our biggest concern with Hawk Channel was that once you enter it, you are fully committed. There are very few inlets once you leave Marathon and most of them are, yet again, too shallow for our boat to fit through (I don't know how Florida got its reputation for being such great sailing...).
The morning we left, Patrick and I were up at dawn to ready the boat for departure and retrieve the anchors. It was way too early for Connor so we didn't bother waking him. Hawk Channel was rough all morning. It was so hard to steer against the wind and waves that the hydraulic steering failed on our wheel, forcing us to use the tiller. The tiller, lacking the mechanical advantage of the wheel was too hard for one person to operate, so we had to steer for about six hours together muscling the tiller back and forth, one of us escaping occasionally to plot us on the chart. Sailing was exhausting. Meanwhile, our "crew member" Connor slept until 3 in the afternoon completely oblivious to the fiasco on deck.
After eleven laborious hours we arrived at Rodriguez Key, which is the only anchorage off of Hawk Channel. Unfortunately, it provides little to no shelter from winds over 10 knots. We were so tired when we pulled up, we didn't give it much thought but the moment we crawled into our v-berth to get some sleep the winds kicked up to around 20 knots. How perfect! Waves rolled right in from the ocean and flung the bow around all night while wind gusted until the boat was vibrating. Patrick and I were too worried to sleep, which was unfortunate because we had been up since 5 that morning.
Somehow that blessed anchor of ours held against the adverse elements over the night, however we awoke grumpy and bleary eyed after only an hour or two of sleep. We felt so uncomfortable at the anchorage we were actually relieved to be sailing in the open water again.
Despite our exhaustion, we were pleasantly surprised by strong favorable winds that morning. The Cape Dory sailed beautifully between 6 and 7 knots all morning and we arrived at Angelfish Creek, the first passable inlet by noon.
We had heard conflicting reports about shoaling in the area. Patrick was so nervous to attempt entering the poorly marked, narrow inlet that he made me decide. Either we attempt Angelfish Creek and risk running aground, or we play it safe and sail 40 miles out of the way and enter through Biscayne Bay. I was not in the mood to sail another day from sunrise to sunset so I decided to take the risk. We asked Connor if he would be willing to snorkel ahead and explore the inlet so we would know where the deep water was. When we made our approach however, the water was so clear we could see the shallow areas and made it through the creek in less than ten minutes. We were making such great time, and having so much success (ie: not running aground) we made it all the way to Blackwater Sound, the northernmost part of Key Largo which hosts a quaint little community of liveaboard sailors.
Within a day anchored in Blackwater Sound, we met another cruising couple our age living on a 21 foot sailboat. The Cape Dory looks like a luxury yacht in comparison. The don't even have a toilet on board; or they do, it's a bucket. This made us feel rich for the first time.
By Tuesday Uncle C.J. arrived with his class from Blue Water Sailing School. This anchorage was precisely the same stop we made with our sailing school only two months ago. It was an incredible moment sailing in to the same spot we learned how to sail on our own boat. C.J. has been an incredible help over the past couple months, and our greatest source of encouragement besides Ed and Karen. We have been looking forward to celebrating our inaugural sail with him at a favorite local sailors bar, Gilbert's.
Connor seems to have been enjoying himself, even though the Cape Dory is almost too small for him to stand up in, and just too small for him to stretch out completely when he lays down.
In an attempt to fully embrace the cruisers' lifestyle, we did our laundry by hand, soaking it first in saltwater and then rinsing it in a mixture of freshwater and ammonia. Reportedly this is an effective method, however after an hour of scrubbing, wringing and hang-drying, our laundry came out somehow dirtier than before and we were forced to row it all to shore and pay three dollars to use the laundry mat.
Tomorrow we are heading for Miami to give Connor a more authentic "spring break" experience. Hanging out with 50 year old sailors just doesn't seem to cut it for everyone.