Misadventures on Christmas Tree Island

After dropping anchor in Key West we spent a day doing nothing but recovering. We’d dropped anchor in twelve feet of water right off of what our chart said was “Wisteria Island”. The island right next to it was called “Tank Island”. Tank island was full of very expensive looking homes while Wisteria island looked like it was left in its natural state with shrubs and scrub brush growing on the skirts but taller things growing in the center.

Being so close over the next couple of days we were able to observe kayaks and dingies heading to shore there and people seemed to be milling about. I began to form the assumption that people would travel to this little uninhabited island to take a walk or hang out. I’ve read blogs for so long I had visions of cruisers having a little beach bon fire at night or a pot luck. I was wrong.

Staying next to Wisteria was a mistake for two reasons. The first one became apparent very quickly. The day after we dropped anchor we watched two different boats drag and collisions occur. Commercial traffic from Key West Bight (read charter boats, fishing boats, parasailing boats, and occasionally a coast guard boat) would zoom between the two islands, sometimes actually cutting right through the anchorages and throwing massive wakes. On the second day we actually felt like it was calmer crossing the gulf than being anchored in that spot so we upped anchor and left for Flemming Key which has proven to be a MUCH nicer anchorage. We dropped the hook in 25ft and have been happy as clams over here. It had the side benefit of letting all of our muddy chain out to be washed in the clean waters.

After recovering and having been to town a few times we got antsy for some adventure, hopefully meeting other cruisers and generally doing non-touristy things. We decided to visit Wisteria Island, which we had learned was also known as Christmas Tree Island by the locals. Apparently the island was renamed Wisteria because of a ship wreck on the side of it that was used as some sort of shark processing facility in years gone by. The island itself was man made by dredging up lots of old broken coral. Sounds like fun right?

We parked the dink on the side of the island next to a bunch of other dinks.
Dinghy on side of Christmas Tree Island

I met an old guy sitting there shooting a BB gun at some cans with a much younger girl. The old guy said it was where he lived in a wigwam and told us some stories about how the island’s ownership was in dispute. The guy seemed like an old war vet type that kind of migrated to the fringes of society. Being from New Orleans we’re used to that type. The girl seemed like your average gal. Maybe his daughter. Either way we asked if the island was open to be walked and they said it was fine so we set off.

It was picturesque at first.
Plants on Christmas Tree Island

We made it some way enjoying our stroll. We met a guy cleaning his dink that showed us hermit crabs and conch shells. I smoked my pipe. Dani posed in the sun.
Dani on Christmas Tree Island
Tate on Christmas Tree Island

As we made it to the opposite side of the island there was a place blocked by a tree but a small trail seemed to lead inland so we took it hoping to make it back to the beach. Then things got weird.

A guy in shorts but no shirt with a pony tail was walking towards us dangling a machete from one hand and had a very tattoo’d woman in tow that looked as if she had been crying. He asked what we were doing and “If he could help us?” I said we were just trying to get around the fallen tree. He came right up to me with wide blue eyes, looking to be in his late thirties and with streaks of grey in his curly hair. He said, “Do you have a cell phone?” I said no. He was perplexed for a moment muttering, but then he looked at me again and said, “My wife has been raped.”

Que up the record screech…. What?

He explained that the girl with him, his wife had been raped by a guy on the island, who was apparently still prowling around. Dani and I exchanged looks. He asked if we could bring her to shore. I said I only had room for one in my dink but he asked if we could just bring her. I agreed. So he says to follow him and sets off into the interior. Dani was having none of that and I told them we’d walk around the beach to get back to the dink. So they followed us. I had a really sinking feeling.

The story they told us along the way was that they lived on the island in a tent. There apparently a whole homeless community out there. The “rapist” was a trusted marine mechanic that had befriended them and brought the husband “Mr. Machete” ashore that day then returned to the island and taken advantage of his wife, who called herself “Butterfly”. Apparently Mr. Machete figured out something was up and returned to the island somehow to find his wife had been raped and then we entered the picture.

After learning all this we made our way back to our dink, which thank God was still there, and got aboard. As I’m getting in there is another older guy in another dink and they point at him and say, “That’s him.” It was apparently the rapist staring at us. He asked if he could come ashore. I said very forcefully, “No.” Mr.Machete asked if our outboard was fast. I said it wasn’t. What was he insinuating? That we’d be chased by a rapist across the bay? This was getting more and more crazy. But we set off at the highest speed we could with “Butterfly” talking gibberish and waxing religious that we were angels sent from God to save her and then telling us her life story about how at 38 she was a grandmother and a cutter. I really can’t make this stuff up.

We dropped her at the first dock we came to, not wanting the locals to see us with riff raff and went back to the boat post haste. Dani was shaken up really badly. Were all her fears about the dangers of cruising coming to fruition? I speculated that they were just using some ruse to get a ride to shore. We got some stuff on the boat and decide to go to town for a drink. We needed one.

As we’re getting ready, the rapist comes by our boat waving. I realize we’ve seen him passing by every morning, he always waved. I waved back not wanting to incite trouble. A sort of, “We are staying out of this shit” wave. When we got back to the dock we sighted Butterfly with cops around her. The rapist was on the other side of the dock with cops around him. I told Dani not to make eye contact and we slipped away from all that drama.

We eventually calmed down from it all. It has had an up side. We tell the story to locals who gobble it up. They don’t seem surprised. Most of the them say Christmas Tree Island is like “Lord of the Flies”. I believe them. We checked the local arrest reports and no one had been arrested, so who can say what really happened.

We’re going to check with local knowledge before randomly visiting islands from now on. Its a little crazy out here, but we’re staying together and trying to stay safe.

PS> Please don’t let this post worry our family and friends too much. We’ve both seen FAR worse in New Orleans. We just wanted to report what turned out to be our first real misadventure.

Dani’s thoughts on the Gulf Crossing

Before I left my mom gave me a journal and suggested I write about the trip in it. It’s funny…the last time I wrote in a journal (dear diary, snickers) was around age 14. It’s something they used to push in school even allotting time for it in English class. Ugh, writing…Something I’m not particularly inclined to do. I think college soured writing and also reading “for pleasure” for me. With so much damn writing and reading for scholastic purposes I felt absolutely NO desire to do these things outside of school. This lack of ambition followed me beyond college and into my work life. That is, until I met Tate and we started this blog. At first it was hard to write and I didn’t know what to say or how to be interesting as I’m sure you can see at the beginning of this blog.

While I’m still not sure I’m actually “interesting” I do think my writing skills have improved and I derive a lot of pleasure when looking back at all we have done and because of this I didn’t fake a smile for my mom at Xmas and happily take the journal to resign it to a life of boredom, collecting dust on a shelf. No, at this point I realize the value of capturing life’s moments as they happen with all the raw emotion and inner self it exposes.

This was reverberated further by Tate’s world traveling best friend (and mine) Alan Comer. Recently he confessed to me how important it is to write everything down when you travel so that you capture it all in its virgin glory. Over time he said the experiences get dulled and it’s easy to gloss over in these interesting new places and lose that childlike view of wonder. I took his advice to heart and have been writing in my journal every few days and especially (when possible) during our first blue water passage across the vast Gulf of Mexico. Tate shared his point of view of the trip and because mine was a bit different I think it’s important to share it here, most coming from my journal.

“Monday Jan 12, 2015
Today the weather is finally better and we decided to leave. We are headed out into the Gulf of Mexico. The winds are coming out of the southeast and are predicted to come of the north for a few days until Thursday. This is the time to go! The anchor was very hard for Tate to get up. It was stuck way down in the clay mud. After he got it up I went forward with my rain pants and jacket and washed the deck with a salt water using a bucket with a rope and a brush. It was a lot of work but I REALLY enjoyed the activity.

We left under a dense fog but guided by our GPS we were able to see what course to take. It’s scary actually to be able to depend on a piece of electronics to guide you through foggy seas. What if we didn’t have it? I suppose things would take a lot longer while we waited in order to be safe. But it is really nice with one. We had lots of dolphins right off the bat. They were HUGE and got so close to the boat when they jumped out they scared Tate and I and even splashed us.

We are headed south now, out into the Gulf. I wonder what our families are feeling right now watching us on the tracking map. Soon we’ll raise the sails and start sailing to Florida. OH HAPPY IS TODAY!

Tuesday Jan 13 2015
After my night watch I rested and awoke to news that Tate has set course for Key West! That’s 450 miles from here. It’s ambitious and exciting! We have a great north wind on the beam for days and so we are heading east to then turn south. There are lots of family and friends watching our path online.

Wednesday Jan 14 2015
This is our third day at sea. Conditions are the same. Northwind 10-15 knots, waves 2-4 feet hitting us on the aft quarter. The motion of the boat is better today or maybe I’m just getting more used to it. I am not seasick at all! Which is super nice. I’ve been taking Meclizine (Bonine), 1 pill 25 mg every 4 hours and it keeps it at bay. I don’t have a lot of side effects from it either. The boat rolls back and forth but the motion is ok. Tate put up our double reefed main along with our jib and we are making 5 knots. Key West is 300 miles away. We should be there in a few days. How wild our arrival will be. I wonder if people will think what we did was exciting and brave or just run of the mill? Not to curse us but the weather has been so favorable for us. Nothing nasty yet but we believe in our boat Sundowner. This is what she is made for.

Night time is scary but it’s easy to stay awake for fear of hitting something. I’m constantly getting natural shots of adrenaline. Both nights so far it has been pitch black except for the dimmed GPS and the Tricolor light. Tuesday night was particularly scary as I came on at midnight and there were lots of barges anchored nearby and many other structures littered throughout the water, most lit. I couldn’t take my eyes off the horizon. The sails were set and the windvane was steering a fast course as I stared, frighteningly around the horizon scanning every 5 minutes or less. At 6 am at the end of my watch the boat came within 2000 feet of a tall and completely unlit structure. It was like a death beacon in the night. Over there was death and here was life. It’s wild for two fates to be so close together. Now we are in 1,000 feet of water and it’s getting deeper all the time. There’s nothing out here anymore.

Nightmares fill my sleep when off watch. The boat is so noisy with creaking sounds and water rushing by outside. The boat rolls in different directions at irregular intervals. I dream of the boat breaking apart, of sharks, death and other tragedies. But I trust Tate and he says we are safe. I also trust the Westsail and the thickness of the hull makes me sleep a little better.

Thursday Jan 15 2015
We saw Phosphoresce for the first time last night. It’s like the water is so clear and you can see the foam from our wake deep beneath the surface and also lots of little lightning bugs in the water. It’s beautiful and I feel a new spirit coming over me. I can feel the tropics getting closer. It’s a wonderful feeling. Last night around 2 am out here in over 2,000 ft of water a huge barge came within less than half a mile of our bow as we crossed paths. Events like this grip me with fear and anticipation. Are we going to hit it? What if it’s engine stops or they misnavigate?

This morning again around 8 am Tate was coming on watch and an hour later dolphins about 30 of them, smaller variety, started playing in the bow. This is the second day in a row that he has seen many dolphins and I have seen none.

The watch schedule has been natural. Whoever is tired can go to sleep first and the other will stay up until they can’t anymore and then wake the other person up. It’s been about a six hour watch schedule. Works for us especially since the windvane is doing so great. That’s an amazing piece of equipment. I would have easily paid 10k for one, they ROCK.

It’s been overcast for DAYS! Since Monday evening really so while the water here is definitely a different color and very clear it’s gray in the overcast sky. Looking forward to the sun lighting it up. Speaking of the water, the water is so clear that we have started to wash dishes in it instead of the fresh water. We are still on the first 40 gallons since we filled up on January 6th. I wonder how long we will go.”

That was the last entry. Thursday night around 6pm I was trying to rest up for my late night watch and we got into some wind and waves. The boat sounded absolutely insane down below. The rail kept dipping over far and I could hear water shipping over the side and rushing back into the cockpit. Many times for the next 6 hours I opened the companionway to peer out and ask Tate if we were ok. He assured me we were. I couldn’t sleep a wink and came on watch at midnight. I wanted to be outside and see what the hell what going on plus I was almost seasick, for real. The boat was rolling and pitching so much even with all the medicine I was on the cabin was doing me in. Being outside helped a lot and also wasn’t as noisy. The tired picture you see of me is after that night.

Friday came with a little bit of sun and we were almost to Key West. We started to get super excited and couldn’t really believe we had come this far. I essentially lived in foul weather gear and I laid waterproof mattress covers over the salon cushions to minimize saltwater mess. The boat was very comfortable for being at sea for 5 days and Tate I worked together well as a team. It was wild and kinda scary being out there in the wild open blue water. More than being afraid of all the unknown things I was excited. I knew we ran the risk of death but I didn’t care. We needed the practice and this trip was life changing for the both of us. After this trip I can fully say that I am even more excited about our trip across the Pacific. We had plenty of food and can definitely stay under 80 gallons of water. It’ll be one of the highlights for sure of my journey.

We pulled into a VERY wavy northwest channel as we approached Key West on Saturday morning around 8 am, even taking a breaking wave on the beam that shipped about a 6 inch wall of water into the cockpit. We were still tied in and finally made it in just fine to Key West. We quickly spotted an anchoring ground and have been here ever since. This is us right after we anchored. We were mighty tired.
Dani and Tate on their arrival to Key West

The water color here is so beautiful and different from Louisiana. If it weren’t still cold (It is January after all though you forget in the 70 degree temps) we’d go swimming.
The Key West water color light green

A view of the boats anchored nearby. It feels weird to not be moving after 5 days at sea.
Key West anchorage off of Christmas tree island

Saturday we just chilled on the boat, cleaned up some and then Sunday and Monday we found a dinghy dock and have gone to town. Today we are about to go explore a nearby small island. More on that later.

Sundowner anchored in Key West, Florida
Sundowner anchored in Keywest

We are cruisers now. Hard to believe.
Sunset at Key West

Crossing the Gulf of Mexico Jan 2015

After sleeping for days at Rabbit Island, I felt the pressure dissolving. Slowly at first but then in a rush all the stress and worry and nervousness of leaving home (of finally cutting the dock lines) had left me. It had been good for that at least. We had partied and visited with friends and family almost continuously up to the point of our leaving and our bodies had been tired and our livers pickled. Our minds were both in a fog born of the mix of grief and excitement. We’d be leaving our families and friends but by God, we were on our way now!

A couple of days into our rest I started to wonder what we’d do next. We discussed the topic lightly over the next few days. We’d gotten so used to people asking us “when are you leaving” or “where are you going” that I think we both felt the need to avoid any discussion of movement. It isn’t that we don’t want to talk to people about these things but that we don’t have a satisfying answer because we’ve become slaves to the weather. The weather dictates all. And so the answer was always, “When the weather is good.” Which is not exactly a great and forthright answer. So we just danced around the topic not really discussing it.

However, once we had been at Rabbit Island for almost a week another type of pressure crept in. That of the cold. Louisiana got really cold and foggy and so every day Dani and I were living in bundles and layers of clothes and hardly daring to go outside at night for fear of rattling our teeth out of jaws with the shivers. Other thoughts began to creep in too. Was the boat *REALLY* ready? Were we *REALLY* ready? What about all the people that would ask us, “Have you done a blue water passage?” and then look at us slyly as though they’d discovered some secret when we answered no?

Something inside me brought me around the the realization that staying in Louisiana any longer was wrong. And that coast hoping might be fun in the spring or fall, but I wanted to get someplace warmer, and further, and perhaps deeper, I wanted to cross blue water.

I told Dani. We decided on the weather window we wanted. We planned to wake up early and head out on Sunday, but the night before neither of us could sleep. We both laid in the v-berth, bundles of raw nerves dreaming about what would come when we finally set off “for real”. Sunday came, I called the whole thing off. I thought it was pretty stupid to suddenly set some sort of arbitrary time table for leaving and Monday’s weather looked just as nice. So I told Dani we’d just wake up when we felt like it on Monday and go. It worked a trick and we slept better and woke up refreshed and excited to be leaving our home waters.

Despite the fog…
Marker out in the fog

And despite it taking an entire hour to raise the anchor, due to gobs of horrible Louisiana muck all over the chain, we made a fair departure and motored through the ICW and then cut under Cat Island to head in the Gulf Of Mexico. The early going wasn’t too bad and having AIS was very nice because we could track all the barges around us. Shortly after entering the Gulf, the fog lifted and we were in a very gentle swell with just enough sunlight left to engage our windvane for the first time. (I had finished rigging the lines while at anchor). So as the sun dropped low in the sky we set the sails and let go of the tiller, setting a course for Key West.
Sunset first night at sea

The first night at sea was the only night of the trip that the sky was truly clear. I took the first night watch and let Dani go below to experiment with domestic duties at sea. She made PB, her speciality.
Passage food peanut butter and things

And while I’m not one to complain about PB, the real bright spot that night for me were the stars. They were so bright I could see the deck by them. The dipper was almost unmistakable and I could see how mariners in times gone by were able to navigate by them. They’re so much more obvious than the sky we see from the cities. That first night I had a lot to the think about.

The night passed well and I came off watch and slept without any real problems. One of the things that we found interesting about going below to sleep was how intensely noisey it can be. We’d gotten used to the sounds of slapping halyards and banging boats and fenders in the marina. I began to call the mast’s the Devil’s wind chimes. But once we anchored at Rabbit Island we were in an aural hole. Almost complete silence. Now that we were underway again, there was again noise. The sound of the water on the hull, the sound of the wind howling through the rigging, the wood creaks, and sometimes waves crash. Luckily, we brought ear plugs. And I slept like a baby.

The next morning, we have coffee..
Dani clipped in having coffee on the first day
as became a sort of ritual. We make coffee in the morning out of freshly ground beans that we use a ceramic hand grinder on and then brew the coffee in an Aeropress. It makes for better coffee than I had been having at home all these years in a drip brewer. And don’t worry, it wasn’t all just Peanut butter almong the passage. Dani had made fresh loaves of bread and we cooked eggs for 3 of the nights.
Eggs for dinner 3 nights

After getting my sea legs though I actually got brave enough that on the last two days of the passage I was cooking real meals. Chicken and rice type dishes that went down exceedingly well after a long watch. There is just something about having a warm meal after a particularly cold and trying time. And there were times that the watches could be long and trying. Dani and I decided not to break it into the classic “4 hour shifts” but instead to just wake each other when we got tired. This seemed to work for us. Typically Dani would take more of the night watch and I would take most of the daylight watch.

What makes a watch hard you might ask? Well believe it or not, it has nothing to do with steering or sail changes. It has to do with stress. Late at night seeing a light far away deep in the fog sets your mind a reeling. What is that? Is it coming this way? Will I hit it? There were several watches that I was awakened so we could take bearings on a target and watch it for safety. Things like this are out there:
A Huge Barge out in the Gulf of Mexico

After a long watch:
Dani after a very long watch

Most of the time we’d hail the traffic we saw on the VHF in addition to making sure we weren’t on a collision course. Every one of them answered and saw us. Apparently all that double bubble foil insulation we put into the boat really lights up radars.

To make the nights a little less stressful I shortened sail every evening. It became a thing. In the evening take down sails. In the morning put up sails and throw flying fish off the deck.
Flying fish on deck

Speaking of sailing… We did really well for our boat. We motored for a total of 8 hours in the crossing. We also hand steered the boat for only 8 hours, those being the ones during which we motored. We rode a front from the north south making for mostly a a nice beam reach. Sail configuration during the first day was genoa only as the wind was actually out of the west for a time and variable. But after that we switched to a double reefed main depending on the wind or time of day, the genoa and full staysail. That gave us between 4 and 7 knots almost the whole way.

I’m truly convinced we could have made the trip even faster if I hadn’t shortened sail in the nights, but this being our first blue water passage, I didn’t want to “stress” the boat and I didn’t want to stress the crew. We could afford time. Only one night did the weather get pretty fierce. I believe it was the fourth night when the wind and waves kicked up to the point that I notified the mapshare/FB friends we’d no longer be able to respond to messages that evening. We don’t have a wind speed instrument on board but I estimate 30kts. The waves were probably around six feet. Totally manageable under double reefed main and staysail. We weren’t dipping the rail and all was stable and good, but it sounded scary. The wind would howl through the rig and the boat was going so fast that all you could hear inside was the sound of very fast moving water. Dani tried to sleep but had dreams the boat was breaking apart. Probably her subconscious mind at work with all that noise.

Where we slept while underway (table converted to bed so you can sleep on either tack):
Living quarter in salon during passage

But it wasn’t all bad. There were dolphins. And there was a lot of rest and just laying around being able to think and enjoy the sail.
Tate tied into the boat

We were also blessed by experience in one other way that helped us relax… The terrible mal de mar (sea sickness) Dani had at the Harvest Moon Regatta was an invaluable lesson. We both took meds the entire trip and both of us stayed free of the affliction. In fact, after about two days I believe I could have stopped taking it and been okay. I finally got my “sea legs”. Reading below didn’t even bother me and my hungry grew. It was a great thing. Dani had a bit of nausea in the really high windy weather but recovered quickly. The meds she takes had little to no side effects. I’m sure she will write of it later.

So somehow, before we knew it we were “almost there”. On the last day at sea the sun FINALLY came out. We enjoyed the beautiful blue of the real ocean. It was like nothing I had seen before. We scooped it up and put it in a glass and compared it to tap water and you couldn’t really tell the difference by sight. We’d never seen water like that. And when you’re sailing over parts of the ocean that are thousands of feet deep it took on a greyish blue hue that dazzled us both. And finally, on that day before landfall, we were treated to a sunset.
Sunset on the last night before Key West

That night we really had to slow down. We were going to make landfall before morning which is not good. You always want to arrive in daylight. So we timed it pretty well and dropped anchor safely in Key West the next day after having travelled 639 miles and averaging better than 5kts. We sailed in bigger waves than we’d ever seen and through 30kt winds. We were further from “help” than at any other time in our lives. We were living our dream. We were in love. And all is well.

Now, if all those words up there were just too much to read, please click on the video below and it will give you an idea of what it was like.

PS> We apologize if we cannot respond to everyone individually. We don’t have “regular internet” anymore and most of our time is spent uploading video or writing this. We love reading the comments and wish we could comment more back to you guys and also on the fellow blogger’s blogs. Just know we’re smiling and listening, if not able to comment back all the time. You guys are great.

First anchorage, Louisiana’s marsh lands.

“Tuesday January 6th, 2015:
Today we left on a round the world trip. A sailing trip that we have worked, I have worked, so hard for. The last few weeks getting ready to leave was absolutely insane, so much work…Provisioning the boat, getting the vehicles sold, saying goodbyes and quitting my job. All very difficult. Today was particularly difficult since we left the dock. I was so busy. So busy yesterday and so stressed Tate and I had some “disagreements”. Last night I was so tired around midnight but I still had hours left of work to do packing the boat. I felt as though I might explode tearing the boat to pieces, but the night passed and today came with a new found sense of adventure.

We have worked for over 5 years at this trip. Blood, sweat and tears were poured into our project boat “Sundowner” and finally she is ready to go. It’s hard to comprehend actually. I no longer have a regular job. My job is the boat. My life doesn’t seem to understand. I live a life of work. I work in many ways, that is what I do. But now…a whole new world is out there.

The goodbyes at the dock were hard. It hit me then more than ever that we were really leaving our families, our whole worlds behind. My sister Frances, Ethan and Evan (nephews), Dad, Kate (stepmom), Mom, Paul (stepdad), Paige and Carley (sister’s in Law), Gabe (nephew), Grant (Paige’s husband) and even Skipper Glenn came to see us off.
People on the dock at our departure
Tate and Dani aboard Sundowner at departure

As we were saying our goodbyes a Bald Eagle flew right overhead. Half the party saw it and half did not. It was undeniable with its bright white head and tail and black body. I’ve never seen one in Louisiana before. I can’t believe it. I think it is a good omen and how lucky are we to get to experience it? The trip away from the marina was sad and I cried waving goodbye to everyone on the dock, trying hard to burn the image into my mind to always remember it. As we left though a new found happiness emerged. We are beginning to live out a dream” (excerpt from Dani’s journal)

Sundowner pulling away from the marina (courtesy of Paige, Tate’s sister)
Sundowner leaving the marina

We motored away from the dock with the staysail partially filled, giving us a little speed. The middle sail is easy to raise and handle, I imagine we’ll use it quite a bit. The day was ABSOLUTLEY BEAUTIFUL and the calm lake was easy to move through. I took one last picture of New Orleans as it got smaller on the horizon.
New Orleans skyline as we were leaving town

Without issue we were making over 6 knots (with the help of the current) and at about 3:30 approached our last bridge, the Rigolets railroad bridge, leading out into the Gulf of Mexico. We were eager to get through in order to make it to our anchorage well before dark to give time for any changes in plans, such as a sailboat already anchored where we wanted to. But the opening of this creaky old rusted swing bridge took over an hour with the passing of a train and what seemed like a manual intervention to get the thing open. We were worried for a while that it wouldn’t make it all the way but finally it did and we were through, heading fast towards our anchorage just to the right of this bridge down the ICW.
The Rigolets bridge our last stop for quite some time

We approached our old anchoring honeymoon spot but saw on the GPS (thank goodness for technology) that a horseshoe area a bit before our planned spot was oriented with land to the northeast and was deep enough, perfect for the 25-35knot NE winds that were expected. We anchored here, in 10 feet of water instead. I helmed the boat while Tate dropped the anchor, manually counting the feet. We reversed the engine a good bit to make sure we were stuck.

At last we had made it! We could finally relax and hunker down for the freezing temperatures that approached. You can see how close we are to the Rigolets bridge in this photo. This is us on the first night of truly being a cruiser.
Tate and Dani First night hanging out

The sunset was comforting. This is a familiar sky pattern here in Louisiana and I love it out on the water even more. We are still at home in our home state, resting and preparing for our next leg.
First night sunset
Clouds sunset on the first night.

Back on land Tate and I voted and decided instead of champagne we’d have Chimay “champagne”, Tate’s favorite beer, to celebrate our first night out. He saved the best cigar from a Christmas care package from my dad and smoked it like there was no tomorrow.
Tate smoking a cigar on his first night

The stars out here are magnificent, the brightest I’ve seen in a long long time but still polluted from the cities nearby. I imagine the stars in the ocean far away from land will knock my socks off. I only pray the boat is steady enough for me to photograph them.

I went to sleep around 11pm and naturally woke up at 9:30am feeling refreshed. It was incredible to just sleep until whenever and wake up energetic. This is a feeling I am NOT used to. For years it seems after college it was just work, work, little sleep, more coffee, so much coffee and now I think maybe…maybe I’ll be able to catch up on sleep. But really, I’ve had it easy compared to people with kids. How on earth do they do it??

The anchorage when I awoke was so calm and beautiful with mild temperatures. It was actually warm in the sun! The dodger, bimini and other canvas blocks most of the wind at anchor since the boat faces into the wind. This is something we haven’t experienced yet in the marina with winds coming at all directions. We relaxed and felt we could stay at this place for weeks, or at least days to regroup.

The animals must have felt the same way we did. As Tate and I sat in the cockpit throughout the day drinking our one cup of coffee and many cups of tea we watched a multitude of critters in various states of activity. The coolest thing we saw was a group of 5 otters that made their way from one marsh grass line to the other, playing and swimming in the water in between. The suckers were so fast and slippery though so photographing them was difficult, especially at such a distance. I apologize for the low National Geographic quality of some of these photos but I’ll get better with time. (The camera zoom is unwieldy).

Otter head and one jumping back into the water:
Otter head
Otter about to swim in the water

Many ducks also hang around here, diving under the water every 30 seconds or so. How do they deal with the cold? Forget leather, I need a duck jacket.
3 black and white ducks
Mystery group of ducks

An Osprey got hungry and hovered over the water nearby before scooping down to grab a fish.
Hawk in the sky soaring high
Hawk with fish

There are many pelicans around these parts (It’s the Louisiana State bird for you non-locals). One even landed right on our lifeline, swaying the boat back and forth.
A pelican sitting in the water
A pelican landed on our lifeline

As the wind began to howl and the temperature started to drop I went below to make our first two loaves of bread on the boat. I’ve been practicing over the years and plan to make A LOT of bread on this trip. The oven warmed the boat a bit. To go with the bread I modified some canned soup with canned chicken, freeze dried mushrooms, celery, lentils and onions. It was hot and delicious.
making bread down below
Eating Bread and Soup

The night brought heavy winds and freezing temperatures but as the boat swayed in the wind it stayed relatively calm in this anchorage. I kept an eye on the depth which hovered around 10 feet, probably because of the horseshoe shape. New water was being pushed in and then was being blow out the other side. The next morning, Thursday, the temperature inside the boat read 33 degrees! That’s 12 degree’s colder than the 45 degrees I noted in the marina. The vberth however was very warm.

We don’t use a heater but I do heat water on the stove used to fill a coveted hot water bottle that passes between Tate and myself, although mostly to me (since he’s so nice <3). We basically live in long johns (pants and shirts), multiple layers of clothes on top of that, wool socks, sherpa slippers, hats, scarfs and sometimes even gloves. As I write this I have 6 layers of shirts/sweaters. We also live under wool and down blankets. It’s comical really but it’s working. I started my workout routine, 45 minutes each day, of pushups, crunches, leg exercises and arm exercises…this helps with the cold and in fact last night before bed I did some just to warm up.

It got so chilly at one point we tried an old Russian method for staying warm…I won’t say we got drunk, but we got warmer.

We’ve been reading a lot and I just started a new book, “The Dragon Rider’s of Pern”. This book is pure fantasy, something I’ve never read before and is starkly different from the book I just finished, “Unbroken”, which btw is an AMAZING read and I highly suggest it. It’s essentially a WWII survival story to put it lightly. Tate and I are both huge history buffs so he is reading it now (Thanks Dad). It’s nice to have the time to read. We also tried to fish with our Cuban Yoyo but to no avail. We are short on fishing line (I didn’t remember to bring everything) and don’t have the right tackle set up. Soon we’ll arrange this better, it’ll be easier when my hands aren’t so cold.

So far we LOVE cruising, or anchoring as it were. I can’t help but feel the twinges of guilt for experiencing so much free time and joy but I’m getting there ;).

This brings me to today Friday, still chilly but warmer than yesterday. Fully refreshed from enough sleep we started various projects on the boat getting her ready for the next leg. I reorganized the boat for the umpteenth time and Tate got the windvane operational. We still need to rig the reefing lines on the staysail but after that we are pretty much ready to go. Right now we don’t have a day targeted but when the weather warms up our first choice will be to head across the Gulf, as east as possible. Tate says the winds come from predominantly the north or east this time of year so if we set our course to as East we can we’ll probably get blown south east and towards the Keys. If this plan doesn’t look feasible though we’ll hug the coast to the panhandle of Florida.

If you are curious the DeLorme only seems to post our position if we are moving. Like currently the last update was days ago but we are in the same spot it shows on the map. When we are underway it should post an update every 4 hours as to our position. I am writing this post using my cell service that I’ll only have another month. The next blog post will probably be from somewhere far away. Until then throw another log on that fire, just for me.