Old as Dirt!
Join Date: Nov 2008
Location: Tampa Bay Area
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I suggest you take a look at the Pilot Charts for the Gulf of Mexico for April (click on Pub 105 at the bottom of Maritime Safety Information ). As you’ll notice, in April more than 70% of the time the winds are from the east or southeast at Force 4 (11-15 knts). Given that I would head directly to Key West and then to the Tortugas as the schlep to windward from Garden Key back to Key West can be a trial..
We normally try to get through Boca Grand at slack water sometime in the morning. About 11:00 is ideal. From there to Key West is about 138 (nautical) miles. As we average about 6 knots, that usually puts us in Key West at about the same time the next morning. We usually make Smith Shoal Light right around day-break and from there its an easy sail down to Northeast Channel which is wide, deep and well marked. The easterlies/south easterlies usually ease in the early morning so its generally a motor sail the last 6-10 miles, which isn’t bad. The only part of this leg of the trip that can be a pain is getting past Cape Romano and Cape Romano Shoals. For some reason we always seem to encounter a lot of squall activity between there and Smith Shoal and it can be a pain in the neck. If you can see thunderheads building to the east, or pick them up on radar, you will have to deal with them overnight. If so, I usually tuck in the first reef at sunset and proceed apace. With that, we can quickly furl the headsail if necessary and we’re set. With radar one can usually slip between at least some of the squalls and sailing at night is pretty easy as one can see lights a long way off. If you’re lucky you’ll not have squalls and will see a lot of phosphorescence in your wake and bow wave, which is pretty neat. If you see shrimpers, avoid them as the trawls are very long. .
From Key West to the Tortugas is easy. Head down southeast channel until you get to 24º-30’ and turn west, staying on 24º-30’ until Rebecca Shoal Light bears about 320º (M) and the head up for Marker No#2 at the beginning of the southeast channel up to Garden Key. You go up, over and around the west and southwest side of Garden Key to approach the anchorage east of the Coal Dock from the channel on the southwest side. Depending upon the wind, you’ll want to tuck up as close to Bush Key as possible but it can be noisy and a bit smelly given the bird population. If the wind really starts to howl out of the east, you can move around to the west side of the Fort and anchor so long as you’re out of the channel and not inside the swimming area which is denoted by red-white buoys near shore. (You might want to scope that out and punch in a way-point on your way in so you’ve got it if needed.).
From Key West to Garden Key is about 64 nm. For us that’s about a 10-11 hour trip. You’ll want to arrive with good light so, in April, you’ll need to be there by say 17:30 which means leaving Key West by 06:30 unless you plan to stop for the night. If so, you can tuck up on the west side of the Marguesas Keys. That’s only about 30 nm from KW but a nice stopping point.
From Garden Key we head direct for Sanibel Island. It’s about 124 nm from Garden Key to the Sanibel Island Bridge, or say about 21 hours. By leaving Garden Key at noon, you should make the bridge by 0800 the next AM. IF the winds are unfavorable however (ie northerly) you can divert to Naples and make the return in two legs.>>
"It is not so much for its beauty that the sea makes a claim upon men's hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from the waves, that so wonderfully renews a weary spirit."