welcome to our blog!

This blog tells the story of our 22-month sailing journey from Oakland, California, to Bristol, Rhode Island, aboard our beloved Bristol 32 sailboat, Ute. Please feel free to browse through the archives (partway down the sidebar to your left) to see pics and read stories of our adventures in North America and Central America . (Sorry the first 3 months of the trip are missing - they vanished somewhere in an internet cafe in Mexico - but all you're missing is CA, Baja and Western Mex).

If you're trying to track us down now that we're landlubbers, try us at uteatlarge at yahoo dot com. Thanks!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

oh say can you see............

The rumors are all true....well, at least the one about us re-entering the motherland. We're anchored just off of Key West....being in Florida is cool but....if this is the land of the free, why is everything so expensive?

We arrived late last night after a mostly relaxing passage...checked into the country this morning...said a teary goodbye to Danny after a wonderful lunch with his parents...and wandered around the streets of Key West doing touristy crap for the rest of the day. Way fun!

The passage here really was incredible. We left Isla Mujeres Thursday morning and had astoundingly good weather (or a lack thereof, really - no news is good news in the Florida Straits) straight through until about Monday afternoon. Just a few hours out of Isla Mujeres we encountered the fabled Gulf Stream, lurking almost exactly where the charts predicted it would be. Wow! what a current....we knew it would be strong in some places, but what we didn't know was that it could be so DISTINCT. It's hard to describe it now, but the current was so sharp and so powerful that it was like a conveyor belt, or one of those people-movers at the airport. You could actually see the edge of it - so weird. we'd be going our normal speed in one spot, then enter the Gulf Stream - like taking an on-ramp onto the freeway - and suddenly our speed would double. It was a wild ride. It carried us at an easy 7+ knots for about the first 150 miles of our journey, and we were thankful for it! It veered off towards Texas a little further than we were willing to follow it, but it was fun while it lasted. (click on the Gulf Stream link in our "Links" section in the sidebar to see a very cool image of this wondrous natural phenomenon. Thanks NOAA).

After that, we putt-putted contentedly towards Key West. Most of our passage consisted of blissfully calm motoring on the flattest ocean we have ever seen, anywhere. Not a breath of wind. A little boring, perhaps, and yes we were burning diesel like crazy, but these waters have a malevolent reputation for a reason - so calm was just fine with us. At one point the water was so glassy that the few clouds in the sky were crisply reflected in the sea - something I've only seen on lakes. The boys focused their energies upon building the perfect lure, and their efforts were rewarded when they landed a 20-pound dorado (that's mahi mahi to you West Coast folks) which we promptly transformed into about a gallon of delicious ceviche, and tasty pan-fried fillets. Yum yum..........

Since we'd coerced Danny into rearranging his travel plans and staying with us as far as Florida, we were thrilled that the passage was so relaxed...one afternoon included a swim, fresh-baked key lime pie, and - very exciting - a movie watched on the laptop in the cockpit! so fun. As we neared Key West, we entered a countercurrent that cut our speed down to an anemic 2.5 knots, but since there was little we could do so we just plodded along.

On Monday afternoon, with just 12 miles left to cover between us and the Key West ship channel entrance, a bolt rattled off of our heat exchanger. I shut off the autopilot and grabbed the tiller to steer while the boys attempted to fish the offending bolt from the bilge. The good news was, they managed to reattach the bolt. The bad news was, in the brief time it took to solve that problem, the weather totally deteriorated and suddenly we found ourselves in that notorious Caribbean short, steep chop with building winds on the nose, lightning flashing all around and rain on the way. Suddenly it didn't seem like such a sure thing that we'd be anchored in Key West later that evening. It shouldn't surprise us anymore how fast things can change when sailing.

As night set in the weather just got nastier. Nothing dangerous, but extremely frustrating as the wind and current were both gathering strength against us, lowering our speed to zero and leaving us unable to navigate in any point of the compass between about 5 degrees and 185 degrees. Rather inconvenient seeing as our destination lay about 10 miles due east of us. It was a really long night, with each of us doing short shifts of hand-steering, trying with all our might to claw out some eastbound progress. Twelve hours later, after tacking back and forth all night we had actually lost ground and were three miles west of where we'd started. ouch! We'd point the boat towards the east, only to have the GPS inform us that we were actually going straight north or straight south, no matter which way we were facing. As the weather showed no signs of mellowing out we were getting pretty stressed about our options, or more accurately the frustrating lack of options.

Tuesday morning's sunrise brought some optimism, as sunrise often does, and the three of us put our heads together to figure out if there were any rational alternatives to our planned route. This is where having a non-seasick crew member with nav skills really came in handy - Danny has the vestibular fortitude to go belowdecks in cruddy weather and stare at charts for half an hour without wanting to die. (We're grateful and jealous at the same time). We were relieved to find that there was an alternative that just might work - backtracking through a maze of shoals and smaller channels, heading west, then north, then southeast to enter Key West from a totally different direction. So that's exactly what we spent all of Tuesday doing - the funny part is we ended up going about 95 extra miles after being just 9 miles from Key West on Monday! But I guess that's what sailing is all about......and when we finally rolled in here at 8:30 last night we sure were happy to kill the engine, drop a couple anchors and pass the grog.....

I inspired (read: forced) the boys to sing "America" by Neil Diamond as we entered the channel into Key West harbor. How could we not?

It was such a joy for us to have a good friend aboard for the last six weeks - thanks again Danny for coming down - we'll miss having you here!

We expect to stay in Key West for at least 4 or 5 days, hopefully allowing us to see Hebe (they left Isla Mujeres on Monday) and wait for a good weather window to head North. We were so sad to narrowly miss Hebe in Belize and Mexico so we'll be thrilled if we can see them here (we tried and tried, unsuccessfully, to let them know our plans and whereabouts over the shortwave radio nets, but I think they actually slipped off the map for a week into that part of the chart that says "There Be Dragons"). We need to make some decisions about our northbound routing....will we ride the Gulf Stream once again or will we explore the ICW? We'll have to decide soon.....

Thanks everyone for welcoming us back to the USA and for all the blog comments - we do so appreciate all the support of our friends and family. xoxo UTE


Anonymous said...

Hot Damn! You made it all the way around. I recall when the prospect was too much to mention, and now it is done. Congratulations! Great story, right up to the extra 95 miles of sailing in the end. Well done. Fair winds going North.

s/v Maia

Susan and Jeff said...

Yea you! You rock. So glad you're in our hometown, but wish you could stay longer. Hardly enough days for the kind of partying KW requires. Get yourselves down to the Green Parrot Fri. or Sat. nite. We mean it! Luv ya, Miss ya, S & J

Rebecca said...

Yay! I'm glad to hear your trip was (mostly) uneventful. Is it weird to be back in the US?

Anonymous said...

"Got a dream to take them there/
They're coming to America"
Welcome back.

Anonymous said...

Can you say Guinness? Welcome back to the states! DTW

Randi said...

Um, I just wrote a comment on the last blog by mistake. I guess I should walk the plank. What a lame joke that you must be so over. I am not original; I just recycle everything.

jon said...

i want to hear what the plans are ahead of you...New Hampshire? Are you comitted to the sailing life, or looking forward to a return to shore?
I mean, it's not over, but the time for reflection has begun. I'm curious.