February 1-14 - Cruising Log for S/V Freedom - a Gemini 105 - Jim and Deb Faughn

Previous Log - The most recent past log

All Logs - This takes you to the list of all of our logs

February 1- In our previous log, new link above, you saw that we had explored Key West. On Sunday morning, we dropped Julie off at the dock and she caught a cab to the airport. We expected to make this a bit of a work day where Anna and Deb were going to the pool while I did laundry and picked up the groceries. However, 25 knot winds kept us on the boat to ensure we didn't drag on our mooring. As you can see to the right, we had a unique sunset and the winds shifted during the night just as forecast.  

 On Monday morning, we went to town and accomplished the laundry and shopping then headed back to the boat. After taking the engine off of the dinghy we were off to the Marquesas at about 11:15 am. The winds were from the North East and we had a great sail to the Marquesas. We averaged 6.5 knots and at times saw 7.5 and up to 8 knots in a few peaks. The ride was great because we were partially protected by the islands to the north and we actually got our first opportunity to see what it would be like sailing in some excellent following seas.

We left Key West in our wake and had a great ride to the Marquesas. Arriving at about 3 pm we had time to put the engine back on the dinghy and do a short tour. Next we pulled the engine back off and enjoyed a great dinner looking forward to our trip on to the Dry Tortugas.

Since the only thing on the Marquesas is Mangrove trees, we lost sight of land fairly quickly. We motor sailed throughout the day making about 6 knots on the trip. We saw a number of flying fish and enjoyed the trip as the water changed to a deep blue in the deep water off of the Tortugas. About 6-8 miles out we called out "Land Ho" and in the distance you could start making out Garden Key otherwise known as the Dry Tortugas. At the time this picture was taken, we were still an hour from starting our approach to the island.
The charted entrance into the harbor is on the northwest side of the island. Therefore we made our way around the well marked north side to the deep water entrance. I could see why the Pirates liked this island because they could wait here for someone to go aground and then simply take their "loot."
I took this picture a couple of years ago when we flew out on a seaplane. It is very interesting because on the right hand side of the picture you can see where the island supporting the fort is connected to the island that extends to the right. However, that connection is no longer there. Hurricane Wilma knocked it out and it is now a navigable passage as is indicated on the charts. I guess those hurricanes keep the map makers busy.

We anchored in the anchorage you can just make out in this picture. In the picture above it would have been in the lower right section.

Of course we had to go ashore and walk around the entire top of the Fort and then pick up our paperwork so we could pay our fees for using the Fort. They were a "whopping" $5 per person for a weeks worth of access.

After anchoring, we immediately noticed large, I mean LARGE fish gathering below our boat. We found out they were goliath grouper which were previously known as "jew" fish. These are VERY LARGE grouper and are now a protected species. The largest of the ones in the pictures to the right and below, we were told, weighed 300 pounds.

On Wednesday morning, I caught some fish and kept one which I then cleaned and we ate that night. We used the cleaned remains as food and brought the fish up to the boat. We also saw a shark which was between 3 and 4 feet long swimming around too.

To give you a better idea of size, I measured the distance from the engine to the side of the boat - 38" That means the grouper on the below left and the shark on the right side were over 4 feet long. Like I said, LARGE fish.

The boats you see to the left and below are some of the boats which have been used by Cubans to come to the USA. According to our tour guide, over 1200 Cubans land on these islands each year. Evidently if they are able to get their feet on dry land within the state of Florida, they will be welcomed with open arms, money and other resources for them to get started. I don't know much about politics but I'm guessing this is to help destabilize the Cuban government. I also don't know if it is working or not so I can't make a judgment about the merits of the policy. I do find it interesting the difference between building a fence to keep out the Mexicans while providing all of the resources which were reported in our tour to the Cuban refugees.

Almost 70 miles west of Florida is the Dry Tortugas National Park. Fort Jefferson is the largest 19th century American costal fort. The island was first named The Turtles, Las Tortugas, by Spaniard Ponce de Leon in 1513, these reefs soon read "Dry Tortugas" on mariners charts to show they had no fresh water. In 1825 a lighthouse was built on Garden Key to warn sailors of rocky shoals. To control navigation to the Gulf of Mexico and protect Atlantic-bound Mississippi River trade, the decision was made to fortify the Tortugas. Construction began in 1846 and continued for 30 years but never was finished. During the Civil War the fort was a Union military prison for captured deserters. It also held 4 men convicted of complicity in President Abraham Lincoln's assassination in 1865. The most famous of those was Dr. Samuel Mudd. The army abandoned Fort Jefferson in 1874 and in 1908 the area became a wildlife refuge to protect the sooty tern rookery form egg collectors. (This is the only known nesting area for the sooty tern.) Proclaimed as Fort Jefferson National Monument in 1935, the area was redesignated in 1992 as Dry Tortugas National Park to protect both the historical and natural features.

(Much of the above was taken from the Official Map and Guide by the National Park Service.)

To the left, you can see the sooty terns are starting to arrive to nest on the island just to the east of Garden Key. This island is completely off limits since it is the only know nesting area. Even though their nesting season is still a few months off, they have already started to arrive.

They seem to fly continuously and must be feeding off of small insects which they catch in the air. The island had significant damage in the hurricanes of 2005 and it is starting to re grow. I don't know what the impact has been or will be to the sooty tern but it looks like there are thousands now which seem to fly and cry out 24 hours a day.

 In addition to the sooty tern flying, there are also a great number of Frigate birds flying as well. They have a wing span of up to seven feet wide. It seems like they can catch a thermal above the Fort and glide for the entire day. They would ride the thermals and move between the Fort and a section of another island to roost.

Below you can see a couple of pictures of them along with one of what we think is an eagle.


 Of course it wasn't all bird watching. We did catch a few fish and while Anna and I were off exploring the Fort, Deb caught and then couldn't get in a "big" fish which she estimated the size at 5 pounds. The wind was blowing pretty hard and waves were coming into the dinghy landing area so I elected not to get soaked and fill the dinghy partially with water in order to get back and help. (We had some radios she was telling me the about how big it was while I was on land.) No fresh fish on Thursday night.

While we were in the Fort we also took a couple more tourist pictures of Anna which are below.


 In addition to the tour boats, which deliver many tourists, there are also the seaplanes which land on the water then taxi up to the shore to let their people out. It was fun to watch them take off and land.

Below you will see a bunch of pictures of the Fort from the inside looking out.


We took our time and walked the entire Fort from top to bottom both inside and out just to look at its various parts. Even though there are volunteers who come to help maintain the Fort, you have to believe we will never see it in as good of shape as we see it now. Hurricanes and mother nature continue to erode at the Fort.

As we walked around the moat, you could see the various fish hiding in the shade and feeding off of the walls and coral. On Wednesday I went snorkeling and found the most beautiful coral reefs. They are in so much better condition than the dead reefs at Key West. I guess that is the impact of humans and waste on the environment.

Thursday night was a beautiful sunset and while it was setting, the moon was rising.

We took apart the dinghy and prepared the boat for our crossing back to Key West. This time we plan to take the northern route because the winds are to be out of the Southeast and moving South. As we get behind the Marquesas the waves should subside and we will then have a pleasant ride back.

I was up at 4:15 a.m. and started getting a few more things on the boat ready for departure. I started the engine at about 4:25 and didn't even have to call for "all hands on deck." The crew was up and ready to help although I think they would have rather slept. The wind had clocked around to the South which was great and we quickly pulled both of our anchors, raised the main sail and were making our way out of the harbor at 4:45 a.m. By the time we had made it about half way around the west side of the Fort, the crew were laying back down to finish their sleep. I harnessed in for the early morning watch and made my way to the point where we turned East to head back to Key West. The winds were blowing about 18 knots and the seas were 4-6 feet. It was interesting when the larger of the seas came up on our starboard beam. The boat would rise with the wave and then slide down the other side. After a few times it felt normal and we continued this in the dark with some of the waves higher than the top of my head while standing in the cockpit. By the way, I'm 6 foot tall.

I lost sight of the Tortugas quickly and we were then in the open part of our passage. I was thinking that this is what it will be like when we are making our way to anywhere in the Caribbean. The crew awoke around 8 a.m. and by 9 Deb was ready to relieve me for awhile.

Anna was taking a nap and I did too. I was able to get about a half hour sleep and just lay there for awhile otherwise before getting back up and on watch.

As we got closer to the Marquesas the wind was starting to lay down and we also were behind a shoal which extends out quite a distance. The wave started to subside and by noon we were "smooth sailing" for the remainder of the trip. Our total distance was 66 miles and we made it in 11 hours. I admit we motor sailed quite a bit because I wanted to arrive in the daylight and we also had to be back on Friday so Anna could meet up with a friend on Saturday. We made it with no problems and the boat performed well as did the crew.

Saturday we have a few errands to run and then it is to the pool at Monty's to enjoy a nice warm day in luxury. Life is sure tough. We are enjoying living the dream and sharing it too.

 February 7 - Before Anna left, we joined up with some old and new friends. George, Deb (oops, old friend), Anna, Rick, Bill and Randy at Monty's. We got together to say Hi and to arrange for our trip up to Big Pine Key for the Super Bowl Party which was to occur the next night. Bill was cooking and if you want to know how to smoke meat, you have to meet Bill. He is the Barbeque King especially when it comes to smoking brisket. He works 3 days in advance with the special spices and sauces to ensure the meat is ready. Next he gets up at 5 am just to get the meat started at the right temperature and smokes it for anywhere from 8-10 hours so it is just right. And guess what, it is JUST RIGHT.

Thanks Bill for inviting us up for the party and the great food.


 While we were at the Super Bowl Party, guess who showed up for a free dinner? Yes you are right, Key Deer. These deer are native to Big Pine Key and they were right across the canal from the party. Of course for all of the regulars, this was a non event. However, for us it was pretty cool since we hadn't seen Key Deer since we were at our friends Mike and Gina's house, also in Big Pine Key, last year.

 I had too much fun at the party so I didn't get pictures. Sorry. However, when we started to go back to Key West, we had to arrange seating in the LITTLE SUV Rick had rented. Deb kept trying to get Bill into the rear of the vehicle but he just wouldn't fit. Ultimately, Bill was able to slam the trunk on guess who, Deb. All six of us were able to get back to Key West in time to pick Anna up at the dock and then dinghy back to the boat. We got a bit wet because the winds were coming back up and there was salt spray everywhere on the trip back.

We had a great time regardless.


 Monday the winds came up BIG TIME. I'm talking about 28 knots gusting to 35 knots.
For those non-sailors, this means the winds were about 40 miles per hour. We thought we weren't going to be able to take Randy, Bill and George on a sail trip on Tuesday. I even called Bill to let him know we might have to cancel but we agreed that we could figure it out on Tuesday morning.

As you have already figured out, the winds died enough - 20 knots when we picked them up - that we were able to go in with Freedom and pick them up.

To the left you can see the guys up front, sorry Rick you weren't able to go along and had to go to work, they were out looking for the Legacy.

 On the way out, we ran into the Kite skiers and they were having a great time. I missed the picture where the guy got the Kite going vertical and then lifted about 10 feet into the air and landed gently. I think he had done it before.  

 We went out to see Legacy and you can read about that in our previous logs.

After we motored out, we then turned around and made our way through the narrow channel back to where we could put our sails up. By narrow, I mean it was about 100 ft wide and then it was 1 foot of water on each side. Not a place to make a mistake.

Next we were off sailing. As soon as we got the main sail up, we turned off the engine and sailed back to Key West (George was driving) past the cruise ships and headed out to sea. We had a great time sailing and even got to practice a man overboard drill when a fender went over the side by mistake. After a number of controlled jibs we picked it up. Since it didn't have a loop on it, it proved to be an elusive fender. Great drill. When we came back we came within 100 yards of the cruise ship Fantasy leaving Key West in the same channel we were entering. Thank goodness George missed the ship.

Overall I think the guys had a great time and we had a late lunch on our mooring before I took them back to the dock. By the way, the lunch was some of that smoked meat Bill had cooked and I think it was better today than it was at the Super Bowl party. We had a great time too and for the next few days it is back to laundry, picking up food and of course more boat maintenance. Such is the life of living a dream. Too much fun followed by a little work to get ready for more fun.

 February 13 - Sometimes computers are great and others...... Well, mine crashed on Friday night and shame on me because my backups were from the end of November. I just found out at 11:30 today the computer store can't recover the files. Guess what? That means I don't have any email addresses or my contact information anymore not to mention that I don't have the pictures I took in December and January or our budget information. Shame on me. By the way Vista is somewhat a pain because programs I have won't run such as the one from Verizon that allows me to connect to the internet from our boat. That means we will be running to town for email and uploads. It also means I have to find other options for things like my Creative mp3 player because that software won't load either and of course neither will my high power external wi-fi adapter. I guess in life if you have too much fun, you will be brought back to reality. Oh well, I guess I just have to take allot more pictures.

REQUEST - If you ever emailed me in the past, please email again so I can get your email address along with your phone number and mailing address. I don't have anything so I'm starting from scratch on contacts. We really don't want to lose contact with everyone.


Web Page by Jim Faughn