The pace slows considerably once Cutter Loose is securely docked at Harbour Cay Club in Marathon. Here, we will pause to enjoy Christmas in the Keys.
Harbour Cay Club is somewhat unusual in the sense that each slip is owned by a live-aboard boater. Collectively, the slip owners share in the cost of operating the marina. Certain slips are available for rent to the public when an owner’s boat is not in residence. Since slips in Marathon are difficult to secure during the winter months, we are delighted to learn that HCC can accommodate Cutter Loose for a relaxing eleven-day visit.
HCC is a small, friendly marina. Every day at 5 PM, a small group of owners and renters gather at the waterfront Tiki Hut for libations and conversation. Within a few days, we are on a first-name basis with most of the owners and renters.
A strong cold front is expected to arrive on Friday night, bringing with it 25+ knot northerly winds. Since HCC is exposed to winds from the northwest through northeast, it is likely that 2-to-3 foot waves will pound the marina. Friday is a day devoted to adding fenders and doubling dock lines in anticipation of the front’s arrival later in the day.
Fortunately, slip #13 proves to be one of the better protected spaces in the marina. Equally advantageous is the fact that the bow of Cutter Loose is pointed north into the strongest winds. The weekend brings windy, bouncy conditions, as expected. The motion, however, is quite tolerable and does not interrupt our sleep. By Sunday evening, the wind clocks to the northeast and subsides to 20 knots, ushering in a prolonged period of settled weather.
On Monday morning, we board the public bus for a day trip to Key West. The one-way geezer fare is a mere $1.50 per person for the 50-mile journey through the Lower Keys to the nation’s southernmost city. Unlike Marathon, which is a never-ending series of shopping plazas along a busy, four-lane highway, Old Key West is a traditional walkable village that is pedestrian friendly.
One of the best ways to enjoy Key West is to stop first at the Old Town Bakery on Eaton Street, then stroll the residential neighborhoods, avoiding the bizarre t-shirt shops, rowdy saloons and the unusual spectacles on Duval Street.
Back in Marathon, a visit to The Turtle Hospital provides interesting insights into the capture, rehabilitation and release of injured leatherback, loggerhead, and green turtles.
Injured turtles discovered by fishermen and recreational boaters are nursed into good health by hospital personnel. Typically, turtles are injured by boat propellers or by ingesting man-made objects (e.g., fishing hooks, monofilament line, plastic bags, etc.) that cannot be digested. Most often, turtles in distress are found floating on the surface of the water, unable to dive for food or to safety.
At the hospital, injured turtles are x rayed and diagnosed. Sometimes, surgery is necessary to remediate injuries. The turtles are then placed into salt-water pools and nursed back to good health under the careful observation of veterinarians and support staff. After a suitable recovery period, healthy turtles are released near their initial point of rescue.
During the days leading up to Christmas, we enjoy the abundant warmth and sunshine of the Florida Keys. One of the attributes of Marathon is its paved bike path alongside Route 1 which extends about ten miles from the Seven Mile Bridge to Grassy Key.
In addition to sightseeing and exercise, bicycles serve as an efficient means of transportation to grocery stores, outdoor concerts, church services and restaurants.
Chef Sandy has organized a Christmas Eve group dinner at Harbour Cay Club, to be prepared on the premises by 14 attendees who have signed up in advance to participate in this event. Her delicious entrée is a hearty Cioppino tomato base “seven fishes” stew with a generous side of angel hair pasta and conch.
Other attendees prepare assorted appetizers, salads, side dishes and desserts. While it may not seem like Christmas here in the Keys, it is comforting to be in the company of congenial people, especially at this special time of year.
On Sunday, December 27th, it is time to depart the comfort and conveniences of Harbour Cay Club. Although it may seem counterintuitive to travel north in early winter, our plan is to travel to the west coast of Florida for the month of January. Today, Cutter Loose is underway in the shallow, crab pot-infested waters of Florida Bay, bound towards Cape Sable in the swampy, southernmost segment of the Florida Peninsula.
Although we enjoyed our Christmas respite at Harbour Cay Club, it feels good to be underway again this morning. Under sunny skies and with 20 knots of wind just aft of the beam, Cutter Loose makes short work of today’s 47-mile journey to an overnight anchorage in the Little Shark River. This is Everglades National Park territory, where mosquitoes and other airborne critters rule. The wind keeps bugs at bay while we enjoy some late afternoon relaxation in the cockpit. At sunset, we beat a hasty retreat into the protection of the cabin.
The anchor is up at 7 AM on Monday, at which time our bodies become breakfast for the ravenous stinging and biting insects that have been waiting patiently all night for our departure. Our course today takes us into the Gulf of Mexico, skirting the western edge of Cape Romano Shoals before transiting Capri Pass, the entrance channel to Marco Island. With 70 miles under the keel for the day, the anchor is down in Factory Bay at 3:45 PM.
Ashore, Marco Island offers many convenient amenities for the cruising sailor. A Publix grocery store, Starbucks, West Marine and several restaurants are located within a ten-minute walk from the dinghy dock at Rose Marina. Each day during our stay is spent walking along the palm-lined streets of the island. A brief overnight visit from friends Carey and Julie helps to while away the hours in Marco.
After a quiet New Year’s Eve at anchor in Factory Bay, the anchor is up on Friday, January 1st for the short 12-mile journey from Marco Island, through Gordon Pass and into Naples harbor. At this juncture, our winter cruise will transition to slow motion as Cutter Loose will remain in her slip at Naples City Marina for the entire month of January.