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A Challenging Departure from The Keys – A Tropical Storm & A Bump in the Water

When we last left our Great Loop travel journal, we had just left Marathon after Hurricane Irma and found a protected anchorage in Plantation Key to ride out the season’s first cold front.

Now, another tropical system was brewing and on course to pass right over the Keys. We decide to seek out a sheltered marina before continuing our exit from the Keys. But our exit would not be all smooth sailing..

A Challenging Departure from The Keys

As always, the video version:

Stop 1: Mangrove Marina – Tavernier, Florida

Our Navionics chart – 7.1 nm from Snake Creek to Mangrove Marina. Cruising Time: 1.5 hours.

With a tropical system brewing that could impact the weather for the coming days with winds predicted into the 40and 50s, we decided we’d rather be at a marina than at anchor if we could find one.

We called around and found Mangrove Marina who had an open slip for us. They’re located in a natural hurricane hole in Tavernier, where all boats were reported to have survived Irma with minimal damage.

Shallow waters are just part of this inner passage of the Upper Keys, and this marina in particular is well known for a skinny approach. The dock master assured us we’d have no problem with our 3’6″ draft however.

Thankfully, they were right – even though we were kicking up mud.

The winds were still pretty high from the cold front that had just passed through, so we were thankful for friendly neighbors who helped catch our lines.  It took 3 attempts for us to nail our approach into our slip with the cross breezes.

The rates were $3.25/foot per day, or $8/foot for a week.  Since the tropical system could impact us for the next 3-4 days, we opted for the weekly rate giving us more flexibility for no extra cost. (Total cost for the week: $404).

Mangrove Marina is specifically marketed as a live aboard community, and it is a vibrant one. We were immediately greeted by our neighbors and invited to potlucks, happy hours and even had Halloween treats offered (since were mid-way through our Whole30 diet hack, they humored our no candy and alcohol ways.)

After many weeks of limited social time, it was really nice to be amongst fellow boating peers, and this was really our first experience getting to connect with this many boaters in one place.

Invest 93L continued to form and was named Tropical Storm Philippe – and directly crossed right over us. Thankfully, it was mostly a non-event in our little sheltered cove.  We had some gusty winds for about 36 hours and hardly any rain.

We did host a casual live video cast from here as we prepared some Whole30 compatible chili and awaiting Philippe’s arrival.

We took advantage of an included pump out, stocked up at the nearby Winn Dixie on healthy foods and left on November 1st to continue our journey out of the Keys.


Stop 2: Steamboat Creek – North Key Largo, FL

Our Navionics chart – 16.2 nm from Mangrove Marina to Thursday Point. Cruising Time: 2 hrs 47m.

We had our eye on several potential anchorages as we headed north out of the Keys, and enjoyed the slow cruise up the ICW through mangrove cut passages.

We stopped for lunch at one of our anchorage potentials – Thursday Point. While it was perfectly lovely, we decided we had some more miles in us and opted to head to the north of Barnes Sound instead.

Since weather was great, there was very little traffic and no alerts posted – we decided to facilitate our first livestream while underway. Inviting our YouTube audience to join us for a cruise along the shoreline. It was a lovely day and we found anchorage at Steamboat Creek.

Our Navionics chart – 5.1 nm Thursday Point to Steamboat Creek. Cruising Time: 58m

We said good bye to our virtual crew after securing our anchor, and dropped the dinghy for a little exploring through the old Steamboat channels used before the railways and roads were built in the area. A beautiful little exploration.

We set intentions that in the morning we’d try to do some drone footage of the dinghy trip, and hopefully getting some great shots for a future video on our setup.

Ahh, the best laid intentions.

Unfortunately, in the morning, while making breakfast on our induction hob – our generator sputtered out. We had been having intermittent generator problems, but it had never completely died.  And this time, it wouldn’t come back on either.

We did some diagnostics, bled the lines and determined we most likely had a fuel system issue (fuel pump)?  We made some calls around the Miami area and were unable to find an available mechanic to assist.

Since we were on our way for yard time anyway (and installing things like solar, new batteries, alternator charging, etc) – we made the decision to cut our 2-week trip up the ICW short and marina hop our way up the ICW to Ft. Pierce – charging up the batteries in the evening with shore power. We’re adaptable.

Knowing our batteries were very nearly depleted after an overnight, we minimized our electrical loads and set off for the first marina that we could find that was open – some nearly 30 nm north of us. We had a window of opportunity before some critical systems would be offline that run off our house batteries – like our primary VHF radio, nav charts and auto pilot.

Unplanned Stop 3: Homestead Bayfront / TowBoat.US

Our Navionics chart – 17.6 nm from Steamboat Creek to where TowBoat.US picked us up. Cruising Time: 3h 16m

We checked the course ahead of us and set out for a cruising day to north Biscayne Bay to our next stop. There were some rain showers on the way, but nothing else of concern.

We were just about to cross out of Card Sound through a narrow cut into Biscayne Bay.

But just literally feet before we could celebrate successfully leaving the Keys, the boat lifted out of the water and the starboard engine sputtered.

We fully documented our Channel Marker Incident in a real time post earlier if you want to relive the experience.

TowBoat.US out of Homestead rendezvoused with us about 30m later and we made a few miles of our own with one engine. The decision was to tow us into Homestead Bayfront marina (part of the county park) for the weekend and then continue the tow into the only yard that could haul us out in Miami on Monday.

This gave us opportunity to snorkel under the boat and get our GoPro out for some underwater photos & videos to see just what happened.

The prop strut bolts had sheered off when they got struck by what we had determined at this point was a submerged channel marker. We got incredibly lucky that the bolts sheered, as this could have just easily caused a huge hole to be ripped in the hull resulting in sinking us.

But that meant the clunking we were hearing was the strut hitting our hull as the prop continued to spin while under tow. Not good for the upcoming 25 nm tow!

We arranged a diver to come out Monday morning and remove the propeller and strut, and secure the shaft. Which made for a much more pleasant tow with little concern of further damage being done.

Other than that we had 4 nights tied to the seawall of a lovely little county park with a little swim beach and trails to hike. There was also opportunity to explore kayaking and the national park across the canal. But we were frankly just too tired from the experience and busy preparing for what we assumed would be a hectic few weeks ahead once we were hauled out.

On Monday morning, with the damaged parts secured – we started our tow to Miami and the adventure of boat yard time.

But those tales.. will be in the next travelogue.


Great Loop Log (11/2/2017)

  • Distance: 322.8 nm
  • Stops: 20
  • Marina Nights: 169
  • Anchored Nights: 19
  • Bridges : 13
  • Locks: 0

Other Travel Posts in this Great Loop Travel Series:

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on our new Interactive Map!

Current Status:

Can you believe this post gets us ALMOST back to real time!! Hot Digidity!!

Of course that means nearly 6 weeks has gone by and we’re still in Miami. We were splashed from SeaLab Marina late last week after 5 weeks on the hard dealings with not only the channel marker & Irma damage, but also some of the planned Ft. Pierce upgrade projects. We’ll get recaps out when we can.

The timing puts us right up against upcoming holiday and non-boat winter travels. Since we really don’t have time to move the boat further up the coast, we’ve arranged storage until spring time in the Miami area.  We’ll pick up our Great Loop cruising in March or April with a goal of getting ourselves well out of the hurricane zone by mid summer.

In the meantime, we’ll soon be off visiting family, followed by a much needed vacation and then an extended RV trip out to Texas for the RV Entrepreneur Summer in February. We’ll also be getting the bus in storage mid country as our intention is to winter in the bus in the desert southwest in future years.

We’ve got lots of fun stuff ahead and probably a bit more activity than we’d prefer. But what the heck!  Coming up we’ll get our year end re-cap out and who knows what else.

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16 Comments - Still Plenty of Room for Yours!

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  1. Well, I’m back and you ask for comments but you mention produced vs something else and Utube vs something else. I’m in my mid 70’s and don’t know produced from something else and certainly don’t know how to do Utube. I’m watching and reading via techomedia.com which I can find. So whatever platform that is and whatever production it is, I luv it, FWIW. Other than my fishing boat – 18′ KeyWest – here in Portof the Islands, I haven’t had a boat in 40 or more years and it was only 30′ twin screw in Lk Michigan – where we would cruise from Chicago to Mac Is and from east/west across the lake.

    So now that I’m old and solo, I’m watching your “stuff” to get a feel of being a live aboard and more particularly to decide if I could handle a large boat by myself – docking, anchoring etc. I’m looking from 45′-50′ with, of course auto pilot and bow thruster which I think I would need if solo. I’m getting the idea from your blog that if one calls into the marina for slippage/assignment and ask for docking help, they will provide it.

    Anyway, please keep up your material and I’ll watch this spring to see if I cross paths with Zephyr as my intentions are to head out in Aprilish to N. Mexico and then further west & north in my MH.

  2. I follow all your videos. The produced ones are naturally more polished and contain more footage. Easier to watch and great for your archives. However, as you said, it eats up a lot of time. We plan to do the loop when our Canadian dollar comes up to $.90 or more again. That may not be for another 3 years or so. We are watching how you are doing these travel logs as we want to do the same. Your boat choice is the same as ours and that is why we love following your adventures so much more. Thank you for sharing. Looking forward to the next ones.

    • We know in the long term, it’ll be the more polished travelogues that withstand the test of time. Just have to find that elusive balance so we can focus on having fun, not just creating content. 🙂

  3. I look forward to seeing each new adventure you create and hope you can continue with these informative and entertaining chapters of your travels.

  4. I guess I should have watched the rest of the video before commenting!
    Keep up the good work, I really enjoy following you!
    94 Wanderlodge and 53 POC Defever

  5. In the short section of video that shows the shaft log, is the prop shaft slightly bent that is causing the wobble of the log and hose?

  6. I enjoy your live chat videos. I enjoy your travelogues. I would be disappointed if either of them were to either go away or be diminished. I was hoping that everything would turn out when your bus engine was being rebuilt. I was wondering about the wisdom of rebuilding a two cycle diesel engine rather then replacing it with a newer four cycle engine. I was really glad when it turned out for you. I hope to follow you and your RV/bus travels and your boat excursions taking you around the great loop. I was thinking that it would be really neat if after you finish the great loop, you were to motor down to Brazil for our winter and return to the Gulf of Mexico or up the Carolinas for our summer. I know, I am looking at it from the consumer’s perspective, but that is what you were asking us to do.

    • We think the mix between the travelogues (telling the story) and the live cast (more educational and personal) works quite well. We just need to find a balance.

      And oh gosh, not sure this coastal cruising boat is suitable for taking such a journey!

  7. I have really appreciated your videos especially because of the hurricane. I’ve become quite fond of you two and was very worried about you and your boat. So having the videos and you live got me through it with you even though some of it wasn’t real time. I sure appreciate how much more time and energy it takes to do these videos but I’m just putting in my two cents as you asked and to tell you I enjoy that. If you choose not to do videos anymore and just write and take pictures I’m fine with that and will still keep up with you. Whatever works for both of you best works for me just fine. I look forward to you being back on the road in the RV.

    • Thanks Diane.. knowing we had folks virtually along with us really helped us get through those trying times. In no way will we be ending our video content, we enjoy it too much. We’re just trying to find the right balance between ‘produced’ travelogue videos and our more casual formats that don’t take as much time to create.

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