Wind and waves are the essentials which a sailor’s existence revolves around, one my family and I have come to realize methodically. With elements that aren’t always favorable, it’s nice to have the safety of a seaworthy vessel and a loving family to duck below with. Even though the nine of us might not always get along, we’ve yet to become familiar with mutiny- so that’s an admirable start.
The amount of practice, pleasure, and knowledge gained in this past month alone is immeasurable. After leaving the safety of the IntraCoastal Waterway, we delved into the Gulf of Mexico head on, and came out quite victorious, if I do say so myself. We went from Naples, Florida, where we spent time with relatives, onto Marco Island, merely a pit stop before attaining the goal, the Florida Keys. After several days exploring the islands of the Dry Tortugas, we headed straight into the flurry of civilization, Key West. It is difficult to share in one article the things we’ve seen this past month, especially when accounting for all that life has presented to us. I shall attempt, with mere words and memories, to paint for you the image of our highlights, hence this month’s story.
“If you’re not good, I’ll toss you to the crocodiles!” We giggled at the threat Mom jokingly had implied as we walked over the drawbridge surrounding Fort Jefferson, the largest offshore fortification in the U.S., built in the middle of the 19th century. We definitely felt as if we’d traveled back in time during our stay in the secluded beauty of the Dry Tortugas and it wasn’t just because there was no cell or internet service. ‘Peace’ may have also been an adjective to describe the island before our landing, but once our boatload of children arrived it was hard to find serenity anywhere on the small land mass.
The enormity of marine life that greeted our eyes, and nostrils amazed us from the moment we stepped upon the sandy white beach of crushed coral. Conches, both living and decomposing, were numerous along the water’s edge, along with other small creatures whose names, and existence up to that moment, were unknown to us. Our little marine biologists in the making had collections of shells and broken coral that fluctuated as much as the tide. Alas Invincible, our 41-foot Morgan Out Islander, has only so much storage of the frivolous sort, so most everything was left for the next explorer to discover and marvel at.
The fort was enormous, “built with over 4,000,000 bricks,” Kathryn, age 12, informed us by quoting from the visitors guide. Meandering through the arches, we admired the architecture and learned a great deal; even the littlest of our minions learned a thing or two during the inauguration process of becoming Junior Rangers. In fact, with our family, and two other children, we doubled the amount of badges given out since the first of the year; at least that’s what the Ranger said. Zachary while flaunting his adulthood, being on the verge of turning 15, chose not to subordinate himself with the frivolities of adolescence by becoming a Junior Ranger. Though when the young scouts were all offered ice cream as a reward for their effort, both Zach and I quickly concealed our nonexistent badges and ducked into line to take pleasure in the frozen sweet reward. Talk about a first-class example from the oldest two!
Snorkeling along the moat and amongst the sea grass was voted, unanimously, the most enchanting experience we’ve had on our escapade, up to this point. The mysterious world that can be witnessed from the surface is no longer obscured from our gaze and Hannah, 10 years old, used all the research guides located aboard to connect the colorful fish with their scientific names. Everyone is looking forward to many more undersea explorations! Sara and I got a fleeting glimpse of a small Barracuda, about 2 feet in length, which seemed to have no interest in our suspended bodies as he continued swimming along, fading amongst the weeds, and leaving us very giddy with our succinct encounter. A nurse shark made his presence known too! Being out of harm's way, on the stern of the boat, many a joke was passed around amongst us kids as to whom we would throw in for his afternoon feeding. Bella, the youngest of the crew at six years old, was chosen as our adverse sacrifice. But no shark, big or small, feasted upon her adorably spoiled rotten little body that day. We managed to achieve the crude hilarity, and stern disapproval of the parents, upon hearing her yelp in terror.
With two beady eyes, sharp teeth, and nine feet of scaly reptilian flesh, we came to realize the innocent jest mom had articulated at the beginning of our stay, the implication of a crocodile in the moat, wasn’t far from reality. Turns out the “No Swimming in Moat” sign we had examined wasn’t just there to ruin our fun; the presence of an underwater guard was very real. We inspected under the drawbridge and roamed around the entire fort on the lookout for the scaly stowaway. Finally, he was detected, floating on the side’s edge, but as the camera materialized to capture our little victory he quickly disappeared into a pipe, only allowing for a few snapshots. Our cruising neighbors, missing the entertainment, hunted for him too, but he continued to elude all of us for the rest of our stay.
Kids in the cruising lifestyle, particularly in the younger age range, are a rarity upon the water. We were thrilled to discover our neighbors, Paul and Stacey, who were not daunted by the prospect of two young kids. Nicholas, age 4, and their 6-year-old daughter, Samantha, quickly bonded with our little rascals and became inseparable while studying and exploring the island, and local wildlife. As the parents spoke of future plans and past experiences, we found similarities in not only boat size and model,and kids aboard, but also in the rushed time frame allotted between purchasing the boat and setting sail. Turns out we aren’t the only people crazy enough to sell all we own and in a few short months set out for adventure; this family did the same, bought their Morgan 41 in October and were off and running in a month! We were sad to leave our new friends so quickly, and wished them “fair winds and following seas till we meet again,” and I expect somewhere along our journey we will get together again!
A short sail and one day later, the world had transformed! Scooters honking, drag queens singing hoarsely from open bars, and college kids in raucous groups drinking their spring break away made it obvious we weren’t in the Dry Tortugas anymore. We entered the very rushed civilization of Key West, Florida. Though the night life may have been amusing, sporting around 6 young children we decided not to put their sanity at risk by staying out past sunset. We ventured down to the Atlantic Ocean, wetting our toes in its frothy waves and made a special point to visit the “Southernmost point in the U.S.A.” We also ventured into tourist shops, and repeated incessantly to the kids “no touching sculptures in art galleries.” While playing tourists, we enjoyed our time on populated land and devoured everything scrumptious presented before us.
Being back in the presence of a large population, we only thought it convivial to groom our appearances to be more socially acceptable. With that thought, on Connor’s 8th anniversary with life, his birthday, March 7th, we transformed our cockpit into a high-class hair salon. Mom emerged as a master stylist after waging war against the boys’ heads full of hair, and a few of the girls. When she passed the baton and permitted me to wield the scissors and battle her split ends, I was a bit daunted, seeing that in all 18 years of life I’d only cut hair once, my own at the age of four, and ‘twas not a very flattering look, or so I am told. There was nothing to fear, though, for when she emerged from beneath my gaze she was as beautiful as ever, even with a few stray hairs. With everyone appearing more presentable, we journeyed off on our little dinghy to explore the streets trying not appearing as gypsies on the run.
Read more about the Hogan Family next week!