Florida Keys, United States of America

10 - 28th May 2004


In the Land of the Free, our first few days were spent on retail therapy, mostly in West Marine, where nothing was free but the friendly staff helped us find all the spares we needed to repair the wear and tear of the previous few months' sailing.    

Our first major job on board was to install a holding tank to the ship's head (or toilet) to comply with US regulations.     Trying to find a space on board to fit the nine gallon tank was not an easy task.    The whole bathroom had to be taken apart and finally we managed to fit the tank below our shower, a spot it will never be able to leave!

As a reward for all the hard work, we treated ourselves to a water heater, so we no longer have to take cold showers, however this meant a couple more days of hard installation labour.


"This tank is never coming out again!"


In preparation for our months in the States, we purchased a mobile phone and signed ourselves up for TowBoat US's unlimited towing service.    After a couple of years in the Caribbean islands where if we had a problem at sea we were basically on our own, it was refreshing to be in a place where the Coastguard and towing services were standing by to help you out.   We hoped never to use their services, however with the average tow costing $500 and unlimited towing $119 for a year and taking into consideration our 6.5 foot draft and the shallowness and recent lack of dredging on the Intracostal Waterway, we decided our chances of finding ourselves aground were pretty high, so it's a good investment even if we never use it! 



Our next trip would be to Miami, which lay to the north east of Key West.   However due to two weeks of continuous twenty knot winds from the east, we found ourselves "stuck" in Key West, which was no real hardship as it was a wonderful place for us to be, very bike friendly, quaint and quite compact by American standards.    

We equipped our PC with wireless and enjoyed the free wireless internet access (and delicious iced chocolate!) at the Coffee Plantation coffee house on Whitehead Street, run by friendly Theo from Holland.

Theo at the Coffee Plantation Internet Cafe.

Downtown Key West.



After all the hard work, it was time to have some fun.   We were able to see all of Key West's major sights by bike, well nearly all the sights!   Our first trip was to the botanical gardens, two or three miles from the dinghy dock.   We cycled against the strong headwinds, which gave us badly needed exercise.   Key West has excellent Cycle Routes which means normally you don't have to mix with the motor traffic.  When we arrived at the Botanical Gardens we found they were closed for construction work and then a downpour started, so we spent an exciting hour sheltering in the entrance lobby, waiting for the rain to stop and eating our packed lunch.   When the rain stopped, we decided to visit the fort instead at the opposite end of the island.

"Who's idea was it to visit the botanical gardens?"

Fort Zachary Taylor (good name!)


Fort Zachary Taylor, named after a President who died in office, was located in a beautiful beach park with shady pine trees.    We took the free tour of the fort and learned that although it is now a low building, it used to be three stories high.   The top two stories were torn down to make an emplacement for larger cannons.    The fort used to be located on an island of its own but is now joined to the main island of Key West.   Unfortunately due to a lack of fresh water on the island, where mains fresh water from the mainland is a relatively recent development, the cement used when they built the new gun emplacement wall was mixed with salt water, which didn't really work, so much is slowly crumbling.

Key West is famed for its sunset ceremonies in Mallory Square, where huge numbers of tourists gather to watch street performers.   The most amazing thing we saw there was a group of performing cats.    Unlike the nearby performing dogs, who eagerly showed off their skills, the cats would coolly sit, lick their paws and look bored until they were finally persuaded to perform their trick or they might just wander off to take a look at the crowd instead.  It was very entertaining.   Sunset cruises were popular too, with a large number of sailing vessels, including several tall ships, offering cocktail cruises.   We were often surrounded in our anchorage as the sun went down, by the beautifully maintained boats.      We were pleased to see that "America", a recently built replica of the boat which won the America's Cup, was still based in Key West.    We'd been invited aboard to look around when she was just built, on our last visit to Key West about 8 years ago. 


The America.

Cat deciding whether it wants to perform today or not.

After a fun 10 days in Key West, we decided the wind was never going to drop and that we'd try to make our way to Miami.    After an hour motoring at two or three knots against the wind, we decided it was hopeless and turned around and made our way back to the anchorage.   Lucky we did for two reasons!   Firstly we discovered that the fuel hose on our engine was badly perished and had started to leak, so in quite a short time air would have found its way in and Anju would have come to a sudden stop.  Secondly our return gave us the chance to visit the Coastguard Tall Ship "Eagle" which was docked in Mallory Square and offering free visits.   So we replaced the fuel hose, enjoyed our visit to the "Eagle", waited a couple more days and left again for Miami when the wind died off altogether. 

The US Coastguard's "Eagle".

Our route to Miami took us up the "Hawk's Channel", a passage between the chain of islands which make up the Florida Keys and a reef, which protects you from the ocean swell.    The total distance was about 150 miles and many of the anchorages were too shallow for Anju but we managed to find a couple of places to stop and spent one night near Marathon Key and another behind Rodriguez Key.   As we entered the anchorage in Marathon Key we were delighted to be called up on the VHF by Habitat, friends we hadn't seen since we'd been neighbours in the yard in Trinidad!

As we approached Miami we also approached Memorial Day, a holiday weekend in the States and spent a day enjoying the wakes of a constant flotilla of power boats heading from Miami down the Keys for the holiday.   There were a few moments of stress too, as they seemed to use a different set of "Collision Regulations" to the rest of the vessels in the world!


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