We carefully planned our route from Marco Island to the keys through protected waters stopping at Indian Pass and Shark River. However, we made the horrible mistake of not realizing these safe harbors were controlled by the National Park Service. The National Park Service does not allow Jet-skis towed or otherwise into its boundary waters. At 3 PM Christmas Eve we were ordered out of the protected anchorage at Indian Pass. We pleaded that we promise not to operate our jet-ski for the period and explained small craft warnings were forecasted. The Park Ranger explained rules are rules. We can anchor outside the boundary waters which varied from about 1 to 2 miles off shore. The picture below shows our anchorage with 2 other sail boats prior to leaving.
We left anchorage in a hurry because his words were “This is your only warning. I will not tell you what may happen.” I never argue with someone carrying a fire arm. We left the harbor, immediately into 10-15 mph winds. The National Park Boundary waters were clearly depicted in our chart plotter, so we understood where we could go.
We headed south, because we we will not be able to travel the 80 miles to the keys without anchoring. And the National Park Service controls nearly 100 miles of coast in this area. So no safe harbor for us. We motored about 15 miles till sunset wind on our nose. We are not able to sail over night because of the thousands of crab pots in the area would make it unsafe. We anchored in 10 feet of water outside boundaries about two miles off the coast in 15 MPH winds.
Winds died down at about midnight, so we were able to get some sleep. We left at the break of dawn because we had about 65 miles to go. It is not possible for us to motor into wind and waves fast enough to get us out of the impending weather by nightfall. Fortunately, the winds turned easterly and we were able to sail on a close haul. Winds started building and we found ourself in 30 mph winds and 5-7 foot waves. Crab pots were everywhere.. Worse than we have seen yet.. Some only 40 feet apart. In our haste to exit the Park waters, we failed to rig a reef. In these winds, a reef is a necessity; otherwise, the sails could be destroyed. I rigged the reef in 30 mph winds and 7 foot seas by climbing out on the boom.
In a pinch the first reef could take us to 40 mph. After we would require a second reef. It could happen the main might not come down to the first reef, so I rigged a downhaul using the topping lift. No chance to move the gen lines to the storm track, so I protected the heavily furled gen by tightening the gen sheets to the shrouds.
I depowered the main a bit. Our speed was reasonably brisk at about 7-8 knots and we had a comfortable heel angle. At this speed we could make it the 60 miles to the keys prior to sunset.
The crab pots were everywhere.. much worse than we had ever seen.. It required a spotter midship to point out the small buoys in the 5-7 foot waves. Very difficult to see. We missed some by only a few feet and had a few slide down the side of our hull. We strapped Jane to a life line and put her up on deck, with PLB. Her antics in pointing out the crab pots and lines of crab pots reminded me of the dancing police officer at an intersection. In this picture there are dozens of crab pots within only a few hundred feet, but invisible in the picture. The worst was in a 30 mile stretch. This is how we celebrated Christmas Day. We pulled into Marathon and finally anchored at about 4.30 pm. Just before nightfall. The lesson we learned was to carefully check our cruising waters for restrictions prior to heading out.