C'est la Vie is a 1966 Charlie Morgan 34.

Her home port is Everglades City, FL. Our typical cruising area is Southwest Florida, the Florida Keys, the Southeastern Atlantic Seaboard, and the Bahamas. We are C'est la Vie's third owners and purchased her in 2005. We continue to maintain and update this classic vessel. Please post any questions or comments about C'est la Vie or our travels via the comment links below.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Boot Key Harbor day 3

Anne and I paid for another day on the mooring ball in Boot Key Harbor.  The winds and small craft advisories continue so we are staying put for another 24 hours.  The daily showers and wifi internet connection are also alluring.  Anne is becoming more confident with the new dinghy outboard.  It is good to have a motor that she is able to pull start.

We are both very impressed with our new wind generator (visible over Anne’s shoulder in the image above.)  Our older unit was much louder and was never able to generate enough power to keep up with our refrigeration.    With the new unit, an AirX Marine, we have steadily added charge to our house bank over the last 48 hours.  The steady 15+ knot winds over the same time period have certainly aided in this feat.  All in all we are very pleased with the new wind generator.

We have also used our time in Marathon to do laundry, grocery shop, pick up a new fuse and other supplies at West Marine, top of fresh water tanks, etc.  Basically we are ready to head out. 

We are still looking for a weather window that will allow us to cross the gulf stream.  The tropics are void of any potential storms – good news for crossing, but the local winds are consistently blowing from the east – bad news for a crossing.  Ideally we are looking for 24 to 48 hours of south winds.  We could make it on some southeast breezes, but it would likely mean a long day/night of motor sailing – yuck.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Act Two: Installation

Our primary reason for returning to Boot Key Harbor was to pick up our new wind generator.   Our old wind generator, silenced by a squall in the Dry Tortugas, was so old that Southwest Wind Power no longer offered parts for the model.  They offered to sell us a replacement unit at cost.  We accepted and had the part shipped to the Marathon City Marina.   This is the second time in three years we have had a manufacturer ship replacement parts to Marathon City Marina (last time was a Balmar regulator in 2008).  Both times the system has served us well – thanks City Marina.   When we registered for our mooring ball the package was waiting for us.  Despite the continued threat of more squalls, Anne and I dove into installing the new unit.  Since we were simply replacing nearly identical units this should be a quick fix, right? 

If you answered yes to the question above, then my guess is you are not a boat owner.

We did manage to have the wind generator installed and producing power by dinner, but not before blowing C’est la Vie’s 200amp fuse.  I could take the obvious out on this mistake and blame the previous owner for locating the wind generator’s 50 amp fuse on the wrong wire, but ultimately I was the person that did not check the wiring and caused the direct short to the battery.  Fortunately everything worked properly and the only casualty was a $10 fuse.    Perhaps I should be thanking the previous owner for installing a proper fuse in the house bank installation.

Thanks again to Marathon City Marina and Southwest Wind Power for their excellent customer service.

Deteriorating Conditions

Fortunately after a short visit to the rail, Anne regained her sea legs and shook off the malaise.  Despite the gradual increase in winds and seas she was feeling better.  Unfortunately, Origami struggled with the increasing sea state.  In an effort to prevent her from dipping a gunwale and shipping green water we tied her close to C’est la Vie’s stern.  Shortening Origami’s painter from 12 feet to 12 inches greatly reduces her tendency to yawl about on large waves.  If she ever fully flooded while in tow, I think our only recourse would be to cut her line and wave goodbye.  For this reason we typically fold her up and store her on deck when sailing offshore in coastal waters, but today’s trip was only 18NM and does Hawk Channel really count as offshore?

It seems to be a law of nature that whenever we choose to tow Origami offshore the conditions will deteriorate.  When will we ever learn?

With approximately half of our 18NM astern, showers appeared off our bow, the wind began to gust into the 20 knot range, and ominous cumulonimbus clouds grew skyward over the Gulf Stream.    We tuned into NOAA weather and learned of a severe thunderstorm warning just west of our destination – “from the west end of seven mile bridge west to the Dry Tortugas can expect wind severe thunderstorms, gusts into the 50 knot range, frequent cloud to ground lightening, heavy rains, etc, etc, etc.”  For our current position the oddly mechanical voice of Perfect Paul predicted, “scattered and intense storms with winds in the 30 knot range, etc. etc. etc.”  Paul’s  final words of advice, “all boaters in the middle and lower keys should seek safe harbor immediately!”  Well immediately for a twin 300 hp center console 34 foot motor vessel is a bit different from immediately for a 34 foot 1966 Morgan sailing vessel. 
Conditions at our present location were holding.  Continuing a consistent 7 to 8 knots under our current sail plan, full genny and one reef in the main, seemed like the best way for us to achieve the immediacy NOAA advised. 
We covered another 7NM in under an hour before obvious squall lines to our east called on our better judgment to reduce sail.  Expecting the worse we started the motor, stowed the genny, and placed a second reef in the main.   Our timing could not have been better.  Minutes after completing the second reef in the main the winds climbed into the 25 to 30 knot range with seas increasing into the six foot range.   The heavy rains passed to our stern and fortunately we were spared the “frequent cloud to ground lightening” portion of the forecast.

The shrunken mainsail reduced our roll in the seas and provided some assistance to the motor.  C’est la Vie and her crew handled the conditions well.  We turned downwind for the final leg of our approach to Boot Key Harbor.  The VHF was alive with reports of vessels in distress … “37 foot center console overturned and stuck in the mud between Channel 2 and Channel 5”  and “38 foot sailing vessel activated epirb 60 miles west of Dry Tortugas”.  The USCG was having a busy day.  We were stowing the main and steaming into a safe harbor.

Fresh Breezes in Hawk Channel

Entering Hawk Channel via Channel Five at Long Key the trip down to Boot Key Harbor is approximately 18 NM.   

 We cleared the Channel Five Bridge under a full main and the motor.  Once on the outside we welcomed the early arrival of the 15 to 20 knot east winds forecast for the afternoon.    I put one reef in the main and raised the genny while Anne took the helm and silenced the motor. Sailing on a close reach southward to the red day mark we were over canvassed and placed our leeward toe rail close to the water.  As the red day mark passed our port side, we turned westward and eased our healing as we rounded onto a broad reach.  The seas were already building.  Three to five foot swell with some white caps overtook us on our portside stern quarter.  The swell made for some good surfing and C’est la Vie would occasionally hit 9 knots. 

Since we would need the dinghy at Boot Key Harbor, we already had her assembled, and she was in the water we elected to tow Origami.  She handled the early morning conditions deftly.  Her starboard gunwale can be seen in the lower left of the image above.

Unfortunately Anne went green.  Following seas are her nemesis and after falling onto our broad reach she gave up the tiller and headed for the rail.  In the words of Captain Kim, Anne began “chumming.”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A day with Captain Kim

Captain Kim and her 41’ Morgan Out Island Rainbow Connection are chartering out the Boy Scouts of America Sea Base.  Kim had the day off as her crew of scouts were in port for their mid week break.  She had some errands to attend to so we rode along to enjoy her company.   We lunched and lounged at the Islander Resort pool then did the usual day off requirements… banking, grocery shopping, etc.  

Returning to C’est la Vie late in the day, Anne prepared some yellow tailed snapper, from the Tortugas.  With dinner for three in hand we returned to the air conditioned bliss of Rainbow Connection and spent an enjoyable evening with Kim.

The image included is of an outbound Rainbow Connection and her crew of Boy Scouts

Morning Rainbows

Terminating a bug free slumber, the sights and sounds of an imminent squall on Florida Bay foretold refreshing rains, but dreaded lightening.  Shortly after lifting the anchor and getting underway the curtains of rain closed around C’est la Vie our celebration of cool, fresh water from the heavens was tempered by lightning strikes within uncomfortably close proximity.  Fortunately the worst of the squall was short lived and continuing our short hop over to the BSA Sea Base we were treated to morning rainbow.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sombrero Key Reef

A couple of mosquitoes found their way aboard C’est la Vie during the night, but our night off Bahia Honda provided a better night’s sleep. 

We arrived at Sombrero Key Reef at around 11:00.  The crowds were already there and we claimed the lone available mooring ball.  Swinging on the mooring’s tether brought us over some amazing patches of reef (see image included.)  Before ever dipping ours heads in the water we watched a ray and some barracuda parade past our hull. 

The dive rivaled Looe Key for quality of coral, but lacked some of the larger predatory fish.  Still Anne and I continue to be impressed with the reef dives along the Keys.

Consistent east winds forced us to motor on towards channel five.  Otto took the helm for the afternoons travel while Anne and I did our best to surf what shade we could find on deck.  While underway we did adopt a new, hopefully daily, workout routine of sit up pyramids.

As we turned toward channel five bridge we joined in a line of inbound vessels that Anne and I correctly assumed we headed into the Boy Scout’s Sea Base.  We hailed our friend Kim on Rainbow Connection.  She was among the returning fleet headed into Florida Bay, but astern of C’est la Vie.   We made plans to meet up in the morning.   With continued light winds forecast for the evening Anne and I headed two miles out into Florida Bay to anchor.  HA – lets see if the bugs can find us out here!  BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Monday, July 12, 2010

Anchored off, FAR OFF, Bahia Honda Key

The typical anchorage at Bahia Honda is to pass through the break in the old bridge (see at left in image included) and anchor off the beach between the old and new bridges.  Based on our previous night’s experience at Key Lois and a forecast for continued light and variable winds; we elected to remain on the south side of the key approximately ½ NM offshore.  The evening was pleasant with an stunning sunset viewed through the girders of the old bridge.  Now lets hope we are beyond the range of the no-see-ums.

Looe Key Reef

Judging by Anne’s welts and our overall lack of sleep, we did not anchor far enough off shore of key Lois to be beyond the range of the no-see-ums.    

Our lack of sleep lead to a slow start.  By noon we reached our next dive spot… Looe Key Reef.    Anne and I were amazed by the number of boats and bodies on and in the water at Looe Key Reef.  The image included is looking off our stern into the mooring field provided by Reef Relief.  There are an equal or greater number of vessels looking forward.  If this is a Monday afternoon in the off season, then what must this place look like on a spring weekend?

Anne and I were relieved to discover a healthy coral ecosystem at Looe Key.  Along with the obligatory reef fish we observed black tip sharks, goliath groupers; eagle rays; tarpon, and large barracudas.   It is a good sign of a healthy reef to find apex predators. 

Anne and I were so relieved by the health of the reef that we spent the majority of our day in the area making two separate dives.

The continued lack of wind made for great diving, but where to anchor to avoid the bugs?  Bahia Honda with it’s popular state park lies less than 10 nautical miles to our NNE.   

Motoring towards Bahia Honda we finally take the time to initialize our new auto pilot.  The initialization process requires that we make two circles at less than 2 knots that last over 3 minutes.  This maneuver allows the compass in the auto pilot to accurately orient itself and discover the local deviation.   Six minutes of circling later the autopilot gives us the happy beep and we resume our heading to Bahia Honda. 

Now Otto, our name of the auto pilot, should be able to take the helm… and engage… and hasty circle to port.  Hmm let’s try this again… engage… hasty circle to port.  *&%$ (frustration expressed in verbal form)!  Guess it is time to read the manual.   Buried in the set up instructions I find the section on reversing the controls for a port side set up and then the light bulb goes off.  The auto pilot is set up to starboard, but because it connects to our Cape Horn wind vane system it must be programmed for a set up on the opposite side of C’est la Vie.   A couple of key strokes later Otto gives us another happy beep.  Here we go again… engage… success!   Otto is steering a accurate course to Bahai Honda.  Anne and I sit back and make happy beeps.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A bit of afternoon breeze!

After paying our dockage at the Westin Marina and a pit stop at the Conch Harbor fuel dock, we put Key West in our wake.  Flowing out the channel with the ebbing tide we comtemplated our next destination.  Our next commitment?  Meet our new wind generator in boot Key Harbor by week’s end.  Until then we are footloose in the Keys.

Other than our recent trip to the Dry Tortugas, Anne and I have never explored any of the reefs the separate the FL Keys from the Gulf Stream.  This line of barrier reefs, the third largest barrier reef in the world, lie between 4 and 6 NM south of the Keys.   Reef Relief a not for profit based in Key West maintains mooring buoys at the more popular sites along the barrier reef.  Armed with the Reef Relief Lower Keys map and inspired by the slick calm waters of Hawk Channel we set a heading for West Sambo Reef. 

Picking up a mooring at the reef proved uneventful and the conditions for snorkeling the reef were ideal.  The health of the reef and accompanying fish life left us saddened.  If what we found today is indicative of the other dives in this area, then we fear a depressing week ahead.

 Departing the area a freshening breeze gave us the opportunity to hoist C’est la Vie’s sails. Our spirits rose along with the canvas and we enjoyed a couple hours of eastward progress close hauled on a NE breeze.

With overnight winds forecast to be light and variable we elected to anchor far off of Lois Key in an effort to remain out of reach of no-see-ums or mosquitoes.   Reading Managing the Waterway, Anne discovered Lois Key’s odd history, “Locals call it Monkey Island.  This small key is home to Rhesus Monkeys, which can be aggressive, until 1999, the island was a commercial site to breed monkeys as lab animals for the USFDA.  About 1,600 monkeys roam the key.  There is not enough food or fresh water, so everyday someone comes in a boat bringing water and monkey chow.  The official name of Monkey Island is Key Lois.  The owner of the island wanted to name the island after his wife, Lois.  The state refused his request.  He ultimately got his way by having his company rename the island ‘Laboratory Observing Island Simians.’  The island became known by its acronym, Lois.