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Old 18-11-2009, 11:17   #1
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Fort Myers to Dry Tortugas via Boot Key Harbor and Key West

I am planning a 'mini' cruise this Christmas break and wanted to share the itinerary with you to see if there are any issues with my planning.

The trip will be on my 1978 O'Day 25. I have updated most of her systems over the last two years and I consider her a reliable boat. She has a new outboard engine, new batteries (210 amp total), and other small modifications.

She has a 10 gallon water tank (used only for dishes) and the ice box is newly insulated but without a compressor.

I will be going single-handed most of the way, but may have friends join during certain passages.

Here's is the itinerary:
  • Friday, December 18: depart 5:00 am, arrive Marco Island 1:00 pm. (33 NM/4kn= 8 hours)
  • Saturday, December 19: depart 3:00 am, arrive Cape Sable 5:00 pm. (57 NM/4kn= 14 hours)
  • Sunday, December 20: depart 7:00 am, arrive Marathon Key 3:00 pm. (32 NM/4kn= 8 hours)
  • Monday, December 21: shopping Marathon Key
  • Tuesday, December 22: Marathon Key
  • Wednesday, December 23: depart 2:00 am, arrive Key West/ Garrison Bight 3:00 pm. (50NM/4kn= 13 hours)
  • Thursday, December 24: Key West
  • Friday, December 25: depart 8:00 am, arrive Marquesas Keys 2:00 pm (22NM/4kn= 6 hours)
  • Saturday, December 26: depart 3:00 am, arrive Dry Tortugas/ Garden Key 3:00 pm (46 NM/4kn= 12 hours)
  • December 27, 2009 until December 29, 2009: Dry Tortugas
  • Wednesday, December 30: depart 3:00 am, arrive Marquesas Keys 3:00 pm (46NM/4kn= 12 hours)
  • Thursday, December 31: depart 8:00 am, arrive Key West 2:00 pm (22NM/4kn= 6 hours)
  • Friday, January 1: relax, sightseeing
  • Saturday, January 2: go directly to Ft. Myers: depart 3:00 am. (130 NM/4kn= 32 hours)
  • Sunday, January 3: arrive Ft. Myers: 11:00 am.

I know this itinerary is optimistic at best, always assuming great conditions for sailing. However, under power, the boat can make about 4 knots so I am assuming that the times are a good prediction even if we have to motorsail, or motor.

I am curious about a few things:

How do you feel about Boot Key Harbor? I have downloaded a lot of info, including their local newsletter. It seems like a nice place, however, I got the impression that it might be packed there this time of year. Will it be difficult for me to find a mooring ball there?

I have also done quite extensive reading on the Dry Tortugas. I know of issues on Rebecca Shoal during northerly directions. I am curious to find out what the passage from the Marquesas Keys is going to be.

I have sailed the boat in 15 - 20 knot winds and found her to be swift (5.5 - 6 knots). She draws only 2'3" (centerboard up) and 6' (centerboard down).

You can also check out a more detailed itinerary which I have posted on the boat's site by clicking here. It's a PDF and includes screenshots of all major anchorages, etc.

I'm really curious to hear from you!

Thanks a lot!

Alex
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Old 18-11-2009, 13:34   #2
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I am sure you have heard this before but keep in mind "the most dangerous thing you can have on a boat is an itinerary"
Let your friends choose either a date or a place to join meet up with you not both.
If you are pressed to be somewhere on a certain date you might take a chance with the weather.
You have some long sailing days scheduled, remeber the reduced daylight hours that time of year
have a great trip!
Steve
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Old 18-11-2009, 14:36   #3
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You've put a lot of time into a detailed schedule. All well and good, but I suggest you also put some time into knowing what you will do if your schedule is thrown off by half a day, or even a whole day. For instance, what's the plan if you get a ferocious Norther blowing for 2 or 3 days just as you get to Marathon? Got enough supplies if weather keeps you at the Dry Tortugas for a while? Listen to the weather and know your options.
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Old 18-11-2009, 18:40   #4
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Two comments:

1. The north east winds right on the nose can be relenting heading back up to Ft. Myers. You can end up with 6 to 8's easily heading north from Key West on the straight north route. If it kicks up you may end up going back through Moser and heading across Florida Bay.
2. There is abosolutely nothing to do in Boot Key and Marathon. The Marathon Marina is the closest to Moser Channel, but is in renovation. Cheap fuel if needed at Panchos.

Enjoy but be safe. We do this trip from Cape Coral to Key West and Dry Tortugas often. If you haven't been to Ft. Jefferson yet, it is a blast.

Ken
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Old 18-11-2009, 18:41   #5
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@stevensc:
Agreed. Actually, my friends know that I can either tell them where I will be if they want to visit, or, I can tell when they can meet me. I can't do both. The agreement has been that people can join once I've told them that I'm in Key West. I view Key West as a point of return in case weather delays have lengthened the trip, or I chicken out continuing on towards the Dry Tortugas.
I've checked sunrise and sunset times for the time of the trip and they hover around 6:30 am and 5:30 pm. That's partially why I'm planning on leaving anchorages earlier in the morning (2:00 am in some cases).

@FSMike:
A Norther unfortunately ended a similar trip two years ago. Having learned that while ambition can be fun in planning, reality can quickly put an end to said planning. Mostly, I want to have fun. It that means I have to stay in Marco Island for the entire time, I'm ok with that. I have very little interest in dealing with the occasionally nasty December weather in Florida. Regarding supplies in Dry Tortugas, I recently read this story about a guy who was trapped there for two weeks. That was an eye-opener. I've always been a bit worried about the Key West to Tortugas passage. Most reports that I have read speak fondly of the 'island-hugging' passage from Ft. Myers to Key West. However, once people venture past Key West, the positivity in the trip reports quickly diminishes.

Thank you both for your replies!
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Old 18-11-2009, 18:53   #6
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@Ken:
Thanks also! I was hoping Marathon would be fun. It seemed like a busy place. Maybe restocking only is more than enough time spent there and I can, weather permitting, continue on to Key West.

In reading up about the last leg, from Marathon to Key West, I have read more reports about travel along the Atlantic side than the Gulf side of the lower Keys. Most referenced that the Gulf route was more challenging navigationally due to coral heads and the Atlantic route could be challenging in certain wind conditions due to swell. Is that a fair assessment?
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Old 04-12-2009, 05:38   #7
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Sail Direct?

It's been a while since I tried it, but I have twice made the passage from Fort Myers directly to the Dry Tortugas. both times without incident. You might consider this option since it gives you much more flexibility both coming and going. As noted by the other writers, you will most likely have to allow for many changes in your itinerary, and that means your companions will have to adjust. Also even when at the Dry Tortugas, there is always the chance of weather complications. You might want to jot down a Plan B, Plan C, etc.
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Old 04-12-2009, 07:22   #8
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Kruso, looks like an over-engineered schedule given the inevitability of a front...but it also sounds like good fun. Some add'l comments:
-- Like Kerry, I'd suggest you consider a direct run to the Dry Tortugas from FM or Marco, at the front end of your trip. If weather creates a delay, you still have your whole time span to play with while - sooner or later - making it to the best destination first. When making this suggestion, I'm assuming you have absolutely reliable self-steering (since that's the one challenging issue with short-handed sailing, provided the boat's holding together).
-- In your shoes, I'd give a close look at the centerboard/trunk area. No stress cracks? Reliable pin/bracket and lift mechanism? That area, the rig and the rudder attachment points (pintles/gudgeons to rudder & transom, and hinge/pin arrangement of the tiller to the rudder head) are where wear shows up when things are worked hard on the open water.
-- If you haven't already, I'd encourage you to play a bit with sheet-to-tiller steering. Especially with your board, you should be able to make that work well for you on all points of sailing and it is the ideal self-steering back-up as there's nothing to break and cost is next to zero.
-- There are a host of boats in Boot Key Harbor, as of several months ago, that are not on moorings but scootched in, here and there, in the semi-shallow areas of the basin. I've got to believe there's room for you as well, if a mooring in a more convenient location isn't available. And no, it's never struck me as a pleasing, entertaining stop. OTOH you have to appreciate the nearby Publix, Home Depot, new laundry facilities & wifi at that marina, and a simple way to top up the water tank. So from a logistics standpoint - and shelter in a stiff N'ly wind - it does appeal.

Let me be the first: Happy Holidays on the hook.

Jack
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Old 04-12-2009, 07:29   #9
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Good rule of thumb for cruising:

You can tell someone where you will meet them or you can tell someone when you will meet them but not both.

Mike
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Old 04-12-2009, 07:31   #10
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Jack--

With his shallow draft why not anchor out on the Florida Bay side, say up between Palm Island and the Marathon YC, and avoid all the BS in Boot Key?
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Old 04-12-2009, 08:00   #11
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Originally Posted by MJWEENZ View Post
... rule of thumb for cruising: You can tell someone where you will meet them or you can tell someone when you will meet them but not both ...
Avoiding any planned rendezvous with other (especially non-boat) people while on a time-restricted cruise is a strategy worth considering.
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Old 04-12-2009, 11:31   #12
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My reason for not anchoring out in FL Bay, which in fact we did during a midnight approach to the 7 Mile bridge, is that a) it may not offer as much protection as a 25' c/b boat would want, b) the bottom may be unsuitable (coral or rock and not deep sand), and all the conveniences of being inside the harbor, which I would think are especially attractive to someone on a 25' sailboat. But that's just me...after having been cruising on a 20' sailboat. <s>

Kruso, someone should probably also mention the issue of navigating out in Florida Bay at night. The pots aside (which were far fewer in June than we expected; out of season?), there are a series of sand boors and shallows (even for your depth) and the nav aid lights can get pretty confusing in the areas where marked channels cross or merge. When we last approached Vaca Key in the dark, we were thankful for the radar, electronic charting and a good pair of binocs. It's not an area I'd want to pilot thru via DR when approaching the area closer in to the Keys themselves.

Jack
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Old 04-12-2009, 11:52   #13
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you might consider heading to the newfound harbor area east of key west if you need shelter from the north winds that could be blowing during december.
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Old 04-12-2009, 11:57   #14
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You have done a lot of planning.

I haven't done it in 20 years so can't help, sorry.

Have fun.
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Old 06-12-2015, 06:30   #15
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Re: Fort Myers to Dry Tortugas via Boot Key Harbor and Key West

We based out of Charlotte Harbor (Punta Gorda), FL west coast for a few years & I posted the following route info from our travels. Like everyone else, we'd caution you to be flexible for weather. Last week we were "stuck" in Boot Key Harbor for over a week with 30 knot winds and storms. This week we're in Key West & the storms haven't quit training yet from a stalled front just south of us - major flooding in S FL - I heard the other night there was the 6th most rain ever in one day a few days ago. Here's hoping the weather will allow you a long enough window to enjoy your adventure! But winter in the Keys isn't far enough south to escape the twice weekly northers. Buena Suerte!

Sail the Southwest Florida Coast to the Keys 8 Hours at a Time
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