3 Mistakes … Our Sail from Marco Island to Indian Key

We have certain “guidelines” to judge whether the weather is acceptable to depart on any passage, whether it’s a daysail or a multi-day passage.  When we left Marco Island on a spur of the moment decision, we violated all three of our rules.  And paid the price, not dangerous, just uncomfortable!  So what were our 3 mistakes?

Indian Key, 10,000 Islands, Google Earth

Indian Key, 10,000 Islands, Google Earth

1.  Rule #1.  Never depart on a passage when the forecast is for 11 knots and it’s blowing over 20 knots – IN THE ANCHORAGE!    It was a calm, beautiful morning in the Factory Bay anchorage just off the Marco River, Marco Island, SW Florida.  We’d been watching for a weather window to dayhop south, but the wind had been relentless for weeks, and much stronger the further south we went.  Watching the NOAA weather buoy off Marathon at Sombrero Key Light only confirmed that the winds were 25-30 in the Keys.  Not something we wanted to sit through – that’s why we’d been dallying along the west coast of Florida.  But we’d been anchored in Marco for a few days already, done our dinghy exploring, visited the Little Marco beach even enjoyed a great dinner and sunset at Snook Inn.  But we were getting impatient to sail south, our 3 month window to enjoy the Bahamas/Exumas was slowly slipping away.  So mid-morning, along with our buddy boat, War Dept, we decided to put the dinghy on deck and sail to Indian Key.  Wouldn’t you know, by the time we got the dinghy on deck, ready to raise the anchor, 20+ winds.

War Dept Hard on the Wind, Crossing the Romano Shoal

War Dept Hard on the Wind, Crossing the Romano Shoal

2.  Rule #2, there’s a REASON for the old saying “Gentlemen Never Sail to Weather”.  The wind was forecast out of the SE – exactly the direction we needed to sail to clear the Romano Shoal.  But being optimists, we convinced ourselves that the wind would cooperate.  Apparently we forgot that Mother Ocean doesn’t necessarily listen to what WE want.  When we first exited the channel, the wind was more than we wanted, so we put in one reef, but it was allowing us to sail close-hauled.  The square waves were too close together in the shallow waters, but no green water over the bow so we hoped as we got further south, the wind would clock further east (after all that WAS the forecast … along with 11 knots, not 18 gusting well over 20….).  Boy are we suckers!

The Next Day, Anchored Indian Key, 10,000 Islands

The Next Day, Anchored Indian Key, 10,000 Islands

3.  Rule #3.  Never start a dayhop late in the day leaving yourself no room on the other end if things don’t work out as planned.   The 27 mile sail should have taken us 5 – 6 hours – starting at 11 AM, we should be anchored around 4 -5 PM, with sunset at 7:40.   No problem, right?  We knew two hours into the sail that things weren’t working out as planned.  We could not sail close enough to our rhumb line.   Our little 30 hp diesel won’t push our heavy boat into square waves, so we had to tack back & forth getting down the rhumb line.  Rather than arriving at the turning point to cut through the Romano Shoal .. which was only 12 miles down at 2 PM, we didn’t arrive until after 4 PM.    And another 15 miles to go east to arrive at Indian Key, putting our arrival at 7 PM, leaving no time at the end for unplanned mis-adventures.

Luckily, all went well after we entered the channel and made our way up to the Russell Bay anchorage and dropped the hook, which set well the first time.

So a 5 hour sail took 8 hours on a beautiful sunny day in paradise.  We probably should have stuck to our original plan, waiting for some component of wind from the North, since we were sailing south. This is not a lesson we learn easily, however!  🙂

Comments?  Do you have more departure “guidelines”?   Leave a comment and share!  Cheers!  Jan

3.  Rule


  1. Well, we live on a trawler and so things are a little different for us. Our boat is like an apartment with stuff everywhere that would fly around in rough weather (like when we lost both engines off Sandy Hook). Our limit is 15 knots of wind and 3 foot waves, either in the forecast or seen from our boat.

    Sailing friends of ours have another very good rule. If either one of them doesn’t want to go, the boat stays put, no questions. We implemented that rule too.

    Glad you made it safe.

  2. Question, what was your draft and did you find Indian Key easy to navigate once you got past Romano Shoal? Also, how far around Romano Shoal did you go?


    • Hi Kris! Our draft is 5 1/2 feet. We cut across Romano Shoal just to the north of the light — it’s clearly shown on our Garmin Charts, but you do have to be careful. I wouldn’t want to cross it with any big waves just because it’s shallow. Indian Key was easy to navigate. Just pay attention and stay in the channel. Our Garmin charts keep us exactly on track. The only tricky place for us is right at the turn to go to Russell Bay — there’s a green marker, don’t recall the number offhand, but I barely have an internet signal & wanted to get this reply off if I can. Anyway, just as you hang a left at the green marker along the mangroves, it can get really shallow. We like to wait for a rising tide, although I think we could get out at low, just now low low low. 🙂 If you have specific questions, e-mail me at the address on the site & I’ll be happy to reply when we have more “civilization”. Cheers! Jan

  3. Thank you so much. I’m planning on going around the Cape Romano light and anchoring at the Russell creek area. Your tips were very insightful.

    Safe travels,


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