A decision had to be made during our Jamaican 14-day quarantine. We were anchored out in Kingston bay that was full of trash and jellyfish. Everything was closed, we weren’t allowed on shore and we didn’t feel welcomed when we made calls to the marina for assistance. (which they told us we could do) We had to ask ourselves some questions….. Why were we here? What if we get sick? What if one of our family members gets sick? How would we get out of here?
We were hearing more and more stories of countries closing down their borders and boaters not able to leave. We have multiple friends/acquaintances in Panama (on both side of the Canal) & Costa Rica that are stuck. No place to take their boat and no plane flights out. The countries have shut down entry and exits. No movement allowed even between marinas.
The answer was pretty clear, we needed to go back to the United States as soon as possible!
Our next struggle was getting into Key West, Florida. The Florida Keys are in Monroe County and they had closed their borders to all incoming vessels and to non-residents of the county. I can’t even image a US citizen, like us, taking a multiple day run in the ocean and not being able to come to shore. Going to the next county, Miami-Dade was at least 1 more additional day journey. We were not willing to risk going an additional day up to Miami. We were either going to find a marina or have to anchor out and rest.
I was in communications with OLOH Motor Yacht via email. They have a blog that I was following and I knew they were in the Keys and they knew the area well. I reached out to AJ and asked some questions about marinas. They were in a good marina and thought that the marina would take us too. So we made the call and asked the question. We were accepted in with only time enough to come in, get re-provisioned and do any repairs we needed. We then had to leave. We were very grateful we found a nice marina willing to risk us coming in and gave us “safe harbor” from the ocean. Thanks to our friends on OLOH!
Now we had our plans, we just needed a “PERFECT” weather window. This trip was going to be another long one, as was our cruise to Panama & San Francisco. But on each of those we had one extra crew member. This one would be just Dan and I from Jamaica through the Cayman Islands, around Cuba’s West end and North side and up to Key West Florida. With the pandemic going on we wouldn’t be able to have friends or crew join us. It would be the longest trip that we had taken with this boat. We would be alone for 3-4 days, just two of us, A LONG trip and if weather wasn’t the best we would need to make some safety decisions.
We did plan for a safety stop, one night anchored close in around George Town, Cayman Islands. We would stay one night, rest and then take off again. We were hoping the weather would be nice and we wouldn’t need this stop. We also knew we could get lucky with the strong trade winds/currents. We would be going with the current, rather than against it, it could give us a good push from behind us. This map shows the currents and directions around Cuba and up to the Florida Keys.
We saw a weather window that looked good out about 5 days away. We just kept watching it, sometimes the window will change and/or disappear. We watched it every day, over time it kept getting better and better. We could see calm seas with a 4 day opening and we made the decision to leave as soon as we got checked out of the country.
Checking out of Jamaica was also a struggle. When we arrived and checked into the country, custom, immigration & a health inspector came to our boat via a small shuttle boat “pay for service” WE PAID for…..$60 usd. We of course, didn’t know it at the time and got suckered into it. While planning our departure, we didn’t want the same thing to happen. We explained we were not going to pay for someone to shuttle folks out to see us. So we were asked to meet the customs agents at a nearby location at Port Royal. We took our dinghy on Monday morning, the day of our departure, which worked well. Immigrations wanted to meet us the evening before at the fuel dock, so we wouldn’t really come a shore. (they never showed up for the planned appointment). Which again added to our frustrations with Jamaica. We explained it to the customs agent and all seemed to be fine.
We left Kingston Jamaica on Monday 2/23 at 10:30 am. We had planned a fast and hard run to keep the trip as short as possible, 72 hours non-stop was our plan. We were planning on going at top speed of 1300 rpm which gave us about 10-11 knots speed. As we headed out into the ocean it was a bit rough for the first few hours but once we turned around the tip of Jamaica the wind and waves were at our stern (back of the boat) and pushed us. We had a small amount of swells, but looked like a good trip was in front of us.
First 2 days were totally uneventful, nice weather, sleeping in rotations, eating, manning the helm and repeat. Dan and I were doing our normal watch rotations and we were both tired but really enjoying the trip. It was a nice calm trip so far.
All would not remain so perfect
On the 3rd night’s watch I was up at 2:30 am to take over for Dan. He had noticed that the oil pressure on the starboard engine was fluctuating. He went down to check it out and add a bit of oil. At that very moment, both engines started sputtering and losing power. I wasn’t sure what was happening but I was for sure frightened. I in no way wanted to be in the middle of the ocean with no engine power, in the dark of night. Dan noticed the engines too and quickly changed fuel tanks, we have 4. We were running low on fuel and needed to change fuel tanks. Dan wasn’t quite quick enough and we lost the starboard engine. He came back up to started the engine, but it wouldn’t start. Dan’s assumption was that it pulled some air and lost fuel. He went back down, took care of the oil issue and added some fuel in the Racor fuel filters and tried to start the engine again, multiple times without luck. My thought and question was… is the fuel filter clogged? He didn’t think so, because it was just changed a few weeks ago. He checked and sure enough it was black and in need of a change. He swapped it out, filled the Racor again, and the engine took off and we were back with full power. We then assumed that the filter was clogged due to the bottom of the fuel tank being sucked up.
BUT still we had another issue
We were using way too much fuel going as fast as we were. Dan had done his calculations, but they were off a bit and the engines were using more fuel than he expected. We still had 250 miles to go and only 500 gallons of fuel remaining. We would run out of fuel just as we arrived in Florida with none to spare, at this pace. We had to slow down and sip the remaining fuel, versus gulp it. We had expected to arrive Thursday late in the day. It was now going to take an additional 10 ish hours, which would include another overnighter and just more hours out at sea.
For the remainder of the trip we slowed down to 1000 rpm which gave us about 7-8 knots of speed. Dan also did a regular check on the fuel tank to see the “new” burn rate. We were doing much better and happy with the consumption. We were lucky that the Gulf Stream current was pushing us which increased our speed to about 9.5 knots.
We arrived in the Florida keys around 1:30am Friday with 200 gallons of fuel to spare and a total of 88 hours underway at sea. We were really glad to make it, no matter what time it was. Whew…..
We needed a place to anchor for the night and Dan found one just off Wisteria Island in Key West harbor. In the morning we planned to get fuel and head to the marina. We were grateful for a lot of things during this trip. Yes it was longer than we would have like, but we made it safe and sound. We had a safe haven from the sea at a marina and we didn’t run out of fuel in the middle of the ocean! All good things!
We were able to check into the US by our new ROAM App. We checked into the marina and I quickly got an Uber to the local grocery store for provisions , while Dan worked on a few repairs, a few new zincs on the bottom, new belts on the engines, new batteries for the the genset, cockpit bilge pump repairs, and a few electrical issues to stimulate his brain.
We are staying safe on our boat and rarely going out other than for food or supplies. I hope you and your family are staying safe too. I know it is hard to stay inside, but the more people go out in public, the longer the virus will take to settle down.
SO PLEASE, stay safe and inside!
Blessing to you and your families during this crazy time.
Dan and Angela on Angelique