The mighty St. John’s River and beyond, Monday, December 1, 2003
We didn’t get going until; 8:55 , and really didn’t know where we were heading, just thought we would go until we found a good anchorage. So off we went past Amelia Island, and soon we were approaching the St. John’s River, which heads down into Jacksonville. We knew we wanted to get south to St. Augustine so we just headed straight across the St. John’s River and kept heading south.
We put bridge after bridge behind us until we went under the Palm Valley Highway Bridge, a 65 foot bridge that seems to head over to some expensive Jacksonville suburb, now we had nothing between us and St. Augustine but twenty miles and one anchorage. Since it was already 4 o’clock we decided St. Augustine was out and we headed for the anchorage south of Pine Island, six miles south. Don’t be confused with this Pine Island being one you may have heard of, I have discovered on this trip that every state has numerous Pine, Hog and Bull Islands. The ones that are on the ICW do not usually house large settlements, in fact most islands we anchor behind are really just specks on a river and if the names of these island weren’t on the chart noone one would probably refer to them at all.
St. Augustine, Our second walled city, Tuesday, December 2, 2003
Since we had already visited Charleston, we knew we couldn’t miss St. Augustine if we wanted to see the two only walled cities in the US. So we woke early the next morning to get going so we could make it to St. Augustine with enough time to have a look around. We raised anchor at 7:15 and soon we were racing down the ICW with our jib up enjoying the 15 to 25 knot wind from the north. We only had 12 miles to go to St. Augustine and 9 o’clock we were waiting at the Bridge of Lion’s for the 9:30 opening. We could have anchored north of the bridge, but with the north wind the boats anchored here were pitching in the 1 to 2 foot waves. This looked very uncomfortable, and even dangerous. Our guide told us that this was the better ancorage, as the one on the other side of the bridge had only fair holding ground, and was crowded. We decided to take our chances on this one instead of stay out here and get pummeled all evening. The only trouble was that we missed the scheduled bridge opening, and so we had to spend the next half hour circling in front of the bridge in the wind and the waves. A commercial tug came along about half way thru our wait for the next opening and we were hopeful that the bridge would open for him. Unfortunetly, the bridge tender was not even opening for him because he did not have a barge with him. Once through the bridge, we anchored on the south side of the bridge where the waves were much lower. We anchored behind the biggest hulk of a boat we could find so it could further knock down the seas. We set 2 anchors just to secure our position. Even though it was a little calmer in here, it was still crowded and dragging was not an option. We sat and watched our position for about an hour before going ashore to be sure we were really holding. Our Bruce anchor had been really good up to this point, but better safe than sorry.
Soon the dingy was launched and we headed in to take showers and have a look around. Once on the dock we again ran into our friends on “Sirius”, who had been in St. Augustine for a few days. They were at the city docks and because of the weather were getting pitched around quite a bit. The waves were coming in with such vigor that we were getting wet just standing on the dock next to their boat chatting. We made plans to get together for dinner and headed off to the showers.
Our first stop was the Castillo De San Marcos, the fort we had sailed by on our way by St. Augustine before anchoring. It was a quick walk having only to fend off a few carraige ride solicitors. Our desire to go in was quailed by the fact that they wanted $7 for entrance. We had seen quite a few forts in our traveling days and our $14 dollars would be better spent treating ourselves to ice cream or prehaps a delicious beverage. We settled for walking around the fort which had a style similar to El Moro in San Juan, Puerto Rico, but it didn’t have the same grandeur (we did pay to go into El Moro). Then we followed the replica of the old city wall to St. George street. St. George street is a sort of colonial Williamsburg in the heart of St. Augustine. It is part tourist trap shops and part old world history lesson. We walked down the street passing the oldest wooden school house in the US and replica buildings of the old days. All these of course were flaked by restaurants, junk shops and public restrooms. It was a nice walk through, especially since there are no cars aloud on St. George street, most any street in the US is pleasant to walk on when there aren’t cars whizzing by.
Soon we were on King Street, the main drag leading out of town. We headed out of town past Flager College, a magnificent college all built in the Spanish Renaissance style. It was built by Henry Flagler in 1888, as the Hotel Ponce de Leon, but is now teaching coeds, many of whom we passed along the street as we walked toward our next destination. This destination is a place you have to own a boat to truely appreciate – the Sailor’s Exchange!!!! (http://www.sailors-exchange.com)( it is a used marine parts store). These sorts of places are huge buildings usually in the low rent part of town, and are sort of a antique shop for sailors. Everything you could possible imagine for a boat is usual there, it’s just up to you to figure out where. We sorted through all sorts of things until I noticed Jen starting to get bored so we purchased our wears and headed back into St. Augustine. Jen finds these stores a little creepy as most of the parts are recovered from wrecks or old boats. The sheer amount of parts etc.. can be overwhelming.
On the way out of town we passed the San Sebastien Winery http://www.sansebastianwinery.com (the building they make and sell the wine not the fields of grapes). We never turn down a free tour or tasting, so we headed in to check it out. They showed us a movie, of which we missed the most interesting part (why most grapes won’t grow in Florida), then they showed us where they made and bottled the wines. This of course was followed by everyones favorite part of the tour the tasting. I was looking forward to trying their champayne (sparking wine since it is not made in the Champayne region), but they didn’t seem to give tastes of it because they didn’t want to open a whole bottle without finishing the whole thing and they didn’t plan on that. We were a little disappointed with San Sebastine as none of the wines sparked our interest enough to actually purchase it.
We walked back in to the docks where we made arrangements to go to dinner with Harry and Fran from Sirius. First we wanted to drop off our goods at the boat, so we dingied out hoping not to get to wet and then headed back in. The wind and waves were lesseng, but it was still rough so keeping completely dry on the dingy ride was almost impossible. After having a beer with Sirius at the A1A Brew Pub we headed over to the Cuban Restaurant where we had some dinner. Soon we were motoring out in the dark, and fortunately the wind had calmed so the ride was dry and our sleep would be calm.
Did Ponce de Leon have to pay, Wednesday, December 3, 2003
Our second day started with us scrubbing the boat. The boat had gotten many stains on the deck and some would not come off, so it was time to don the gloves and get out the high toxic acid to clean off some off the deck stains. Some after breakfast Jen and I scrubbed the cockpit with toothbrushes, the glamorous life of a cruisor. Before we new it our cockpit looked respectable again (this would last about as long as we stayed off the boat that day) and we headed in to scrub ourselves down with a shower. As we got to the dock we noticed Barramundi and Good News, some of the boats we had met in the Dismal Swamp, pull into the dock in St. Augustine. So we all greeted each other look long lost friends and caught up with the goings on.
After awhile we made arrangements to continue our banter later and Jen and I headed off to scrub the dirt from the boat off of ourselves. That day we decided to have a look at the attraction of St. Augustine, the place where Ponce de Leon though he had found the Fountain of Youth. Always feeling the need to feel ever more youthful, we headed down the street towards it, which was also where the library was so we could communicate with the friends and family we had left behind. On the way we walked up to the Mission of Nombre De Dios, a gaint cross where Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed in 1565 and said to be the place of the first Catholic Mass in the New World, It overlooks St. Augustine harbor and is an impressive cross that sores high into the sky above. It only lacks the mountain grandure of similar religious symbols that stand on mountain tops like the one in Rio de Janiro. We walked around the grounds before continuing on our way to youthful existence for the rest of our lives. As we neared the “archaeological site” where the suppose fountain is we new we were in trouble. Adorning the road leading to it is a large neon arch you get to drive (or in our case walk) through. On the arch written in neon it says “Fountain of Youth”, across the street there is an equally tacky sign instructing you to turn and drive two blocks to the “Fountain of Youth”. I felt more like I was going to get on a Disney World ride similar to “It’s a Small World”. Dispite all of this we walked our two blocks before our greatest fears were realized, the few dollar fee we hoped it would be to all the youthfulness you will ever need was actually $7 dollars. Did Ponce de Leon have to pay 7 bucks to dip him,self in this swamp in Florida, I think not. So since the reviews of the place we had heard ranged from “There isn’t really anything to see!” to “This is it?” we decided to forge forever being youthful in order to get to the library to communicate with others back home.
After the library we picked up some grapefruits at a roadside stand next to a gas station (they were delicious) and then fed ourselves to youthfulness buy purchasing a Dairy Queen Blizzard, which besides a few peanut butter crackers was our lunch. Hoped up on sugar we walked back into town hoping to find a place with Wireless Internet or at least a place I could plug in the laptop to do so journal writing. This brought us to the Casa Monica Hotel, an upscale hotel in the heart of downtown. We both did some writing before heading back to the dock to see what was happening on the dock with the new arrivals.
We found our friends on Barramundi having cocktails on board and after biding them by offering a few grapefruits we were having a cocktail as well. Bob and Vivian on Barramundi were one of the many Canadians we had met on our journey south. I don’t know whether it is the cold weather up north or what, but there seem to be more Canadian cruisers then US ones. We were welcomed onto the foreign soil of there vessel and catching up on each others trip down when we were joined by Bob (yes both named Bob) and Margery from Good News. before we new it it was well after dinner time and we headed back to our boat so the others could head in to get some dinner. We would be headed south to Daytona Beach tomorrow, sadly once again leaving the friends it had taken so long to catch up to.
Running in the dark, Thursday, December 4, 2003
We were not leaving all of our friends, Fran and Harry abroad Sirius had anchored out near us that night and were going to head to Daytona as well. We left St. Augustine, with Jen somehow keeping me from the St. Augustine Haunted Pub Tour http://ghostaugustine.com (there is always the way back north), about a half hour after Sirius. Being slower then most all boats on the ICW we were quickly the only boat in sight accept when a power boat decides to swamp us in his wake.
The whole way from Marthas Vineyard I had been very good at figuring out the tides and when they would be with us and against us. Today the tide started out against us so I figured once we got close to the Matanzas Inlet we would have the tide with us, just like it had been on North Carolina and other places with inlets to the ocean. When we got to the inlet it was not only not with us but even stronger against us. This was a little vexing, so then I figured once we pass the inlet we will surely have it with us, because if it is flowing in the inlet and up the ICW, it will surely be flowing in the inlet and down the ICW as well. As we passed Fort Matanzas, where more than 300 French Huguenots killed by the Spanish in 1565, at the mouth of the inlet we still had no tide with us. This was tough as since Bumbre is a little slow under power alone any tide against her hurts our speed even more, which meant getting to Daytona that night, over 50 miles from St. Augustine, was going to be tough.
We keep going and as we passed the last anchorage before Daytona (a land cut that leads to an old cement plant) we were still 20 miles away. This lead to a bit of a problem, we didn’t want to anchor in the cement plant, and we were also worried about getting into Daytona after dark. We just kept going anyway and we would just have to see what happened. We got closer and closer to Daytona as it got darker and darker, before long the sun had set and we were straining to see the next markers. We probably could have anchored just off the ICW channel, but as darkness fell and the lighted markers (they aren’t all lighted) came to life I found it could be easily navigated. This was mostly because the lights of houses and buildings on the outskirts of Daytona were lighting the way and the ICW in this area in very straight. As we went under the first bridge we saw Sirius anchored there, but I wanted to make it to the anchorage just beyond Daytona and through the bridges in downtown, so we kept going. After passing under the last bridge the lights of downtown dimmed and we could only really see the lights blinking on the markers ahead. Soon we were turning off to head out of the channel and into the anchorage, getting the anchor down at about 7:15, two hours after sunset. Looking around I thought we might have gone even further, but Jen was not so adventurous so we settled into our anchorage and perpared some dinner. Unfortunately we ran out of bottled propane for the grill, so we settled for baked chicken and headed off to bed for to get some rest for another 50 mile day to Titusville.
The friendliest town in Florida, Friday, December 5, 2003
We awoke early and were off a little after 7, Jen didn’t want a repeat of yesterday and I hoped to find a diesel mechanic to teach me how to change my fuel filters and bleed my engine. Titusville is suppose to be a good cheap place to do that so we thought we would head there and maybe stay a extra day to have it done. We had heard little else good about Titusville, but good cheap services in Florida are tough to come by especially south of Fort Peirce, so we really hoped the people of Titusville could help us out.
By 8:15 Sirius had caught up to us and we were leading them toward the Ponce de Leon Inlet. Shoaling near the inlet had been reported and the chart showed very strange marker locations. I entered with caution, but not enough caution as I still had up my sail because of a favorable wind. Soon after the first marker with Sirius only 50 yards behind us I ran it right onto that shoaled area I had heard about. She was hard aground, compounded by the fact that the jib was still up, so we quickly lowered it. I thought we might have trouble getting off, but with the sail down she backed off easily and soon we were following Sirius threw, thankfully. They of course made it though without incident only compounding my embarrassment of plowing head long into the shoal with my jib up.
Soon after that we get threw the Coronado Bridge and into the Mosquito Lagoon. This not so flattering name is the beginning of a very interesting section of the ICW. Here the ICW starts to widens where at some parts it is 5 miles wide, but you can only travel on a narrow section as it shoals quickly on either side. It continues like this from the Mosquito Lagoon, then into the Indian River (once you go through the Haulover Canal) past Titusville until you get near the ST. Lucie Inlet. This is the area where Cape Carnival is and you can see the vehicle-assembly building of the John F. Kennedy Space Center from bearly 20 miles away. On the we back up if NASA is launching shuttles again we hope to see one from an anchorage near Titusville.
For now Titusville was our destination and we watched the dolphins play next to our boat we also watched some gray clouds come over the horizen. Being that this section is so wide it is also not a good section to get caught out in a blow. We watched Sirius disappear ahead of us and again we were alnoe on the ICW, but the rain did not come and we enjoyed a wonderful day watching dolphins play, and pelicans drive near the boat.
We entered the Indian River after going through the Haulover Canal, and now had a little over an hour to Titusville on the Indian River. The Indian River is home to the famous Indian River Citrus Company, where some many of us up north have received oranges and grapefruits in big boxes from Florida in the winter months. The fruit grows all along the Indian River in this section of Florida. We made our way across the river to Titusville and headed into the marina from diesel and hopes of a diesel mechanic to change our fuel filters. As we tied up at the marina’s fuel docks we were greeted by the deckhand, a nice middle aged fellow who was very helpful. He informed us about a diesel mechanic who would come down and help us and that we were welcome to tie up to the dock while he worked. Unbelievable I thought a marina in Florida that will accommodate a small boats needs and won’t charge you an arm and a leg. We payed for the diesel and I called the mechanic who had just gotten home from the marina. He was happy to change the filters, but he new the kind I needed were sold out of the local stores, but he started calling others stores in hope of finding one so he could help us out that day. While this was going on we decided to get a pump out, that undesirable job that needs to be done ever so often. Again the dock master was right there helping us and in the end didn’t even want the $5 dollar fee. Since we were tied up to the dock waiting for the diesel mechanic to call back we decided to take showers at the marina. Of course these were five dollars each as well, but again the lady in the office wouldn’t hear of it and we were of to clean ourselves again. This was a first on our journey, to find someone at the marina who didn’t make sure to charge a kings ransom for a shower, we felt we had hit the jackpot. After all the nice people on the dock were having a Christmas party and invited us over, we declined and headed back to the boat to call back the mechanic. The mechanic had no luck finding our filter, so we reluctaly left the dock to anchor out. On the way out we were thankful of finding so many nice people to help us out and even though we would not be staying very long in Titusville, we will not forgot how nice and welcome we felt during our two hours stay there.
We headed out around sunset and went through the bridge anchoring near Sirius. Tomorrow we would head south again, but this time only 40 miles to Melbourne, Florida to visit “The Dragon” of Dragon Point, which sits at the southern tip of Merritt Island.
The dragon has been slain, Saturday, December 6, 2003
We awoke to a very cold morning in Titusville, we were bundled up with gloves and hats as we headed south, it was time to visit Dragon Point. The story goes something like this, the man who owned the land on Dragon Point decided to build a huge concert Dragon on the popint for his kids to play on. Well he did and now it sits on the end of Merritt Island on the point named after it. I had seen pictures and read about it on countless cruising websites, so I was excited to have a look at it myself. We headed off at 7:45 and since the cold wind was blowing from the north (we learned later our friends in Boston were hit with 2 feet of snow this day) and were making great time under the jib. We passed under bridge after bridge until we saw the bridge that lies directly after Dragon Point. As we closed in on Dragon Point I couldn’t pick out the dragon, but you could see some starnge green point rocks in the binoculars. As we rounded the point we noticed it, the dragon had been destroyed and had crumbled down upon itself. It was a sad sight. As far as I was concerned there was no other reason to come here. We anchored out near the now defunct dragon and decided to go ashore to go to the grocery store. We dingied over to the local yacht club where we were imformed that the dingy dock is at the marina. AT the marina we got some fuel for the dingy and were informed that there was no dingy dock at all. We asked about the dragon and were informed that it had been destroyed in August of 2002 and plans to rebuild were uncertain. We were also informed that we could probably “land” our dingy at next door where the crew team launches there shells. We had hoped to be offered a place to tie it up quickly there to go to the store across the street but no such invitation was extended, so we headed off to the crew team launch sight next door.
We looked at the steep grassy bank they she had told us to pull up our dingy on and thought maybe we would just forget it. That combined with the fact that she had informed us that only once had the police been called for somebody trespassing on the property. This again did not go over well with us, but finally we decided to give it a go. I raised the engine on the dingy as much as I could and gunned it. The dingy ran up onto the bank nicely and we only had slightly damp shoes on our walk to the grocery store. We were pleased to find our dingy still there when we returned and soon we were off before the cops had to get involved.
Once back on the boat we unpacked our goods and headed off again to find the bar and library so we could check email and relax. It turned out the directions the women at the marina gave us were wrong and we would have to cross the Indian River to get to the library, since the chop in the river was quiet high we decided to forget that idea and head back to the boat. Instead we started to clean the boat which had gotten a lot of dirt and grime on her since the start of the journey. Well doing this I was inpect a thru-hull (a drain for the various things that need to drain from the inside of the boat like water etc.) and it broke apart. Fortunately in was above the waterline and the main part of the hose was still draining outside. But it was something that should be fixed asap. So that meant a stop at the next marine store we could find. Dragon Point had turned out to be a bust and we looked forward to moving on, the bad luck continued as we turned on the stove to cook dinner that night and suddenly ran out of propane for that as well. Dinner was not going to be cooked that night.
Cruising Capitol of Florida, Sunday, December 7, 2003
Running out of propane and needing a thru-hull put us in a position where we had to find a place that could fill all of our needs conviently. This is hard when you have no transporation besides a boat. We decided the best place to go would be Vero Beach, as in the guide it talked about being able to take a bus to shopping. So off we headed in another cold morning, this time though with no hot drinks to warm us up in the cold northerly breeze. We wound down the ICW as the houses started to get larger and larger we turned the corner into the Vero Beach town marina. We thought we might get a slip for the night instead of a town mooring, but we had no such luck.
What we did find was a sea of mooring balls, most of them with at least three boats rafted to each one. We started to wait to get fuel and see if there was a way to get a slip, but this seemed futile, so we called the dockmaster on the radio and he assigned us to mooring number seven. We had to reft on to a boat named Latitude and soon after we tied up to them, a boat named Felocity who we had recently pasted on the ICW rafted up to the other side. So now we had three boats on the mooring like most of the others in the harbor. Vero Beach mooring field is located in Bethel Creek, and as soon as we went in to pay we discovered we had stumbled upon some sort of cruisors meeting ground, as everyone we met seemed to be there to provision before heading over to the Bahamas. After we payed we moved the dingy over to the proper dock which was around the corner. It was about a hundred yards long and was filled with dingies to or three deep along it. We lucked out and caught someone leaving, so after they pulled out, we did the customary dingy ram to get ours through to the dock. The dingy ram is an art where you line your dingy up with a small space not wide enough for your dingy to actually fit into. Once lined up you crank up the trottle on the dingy and literally ram it into the spot. This usually has one or two effects, if there is enough play with the other dingies you just part them and yopu end up right next to the dock. If you do not hit the space just right or the dinghies are so packed in there is no place for them to go you tend to bounce off and shoot backward. This can be very unpleasant and cause your passengers to be thrown off or at least make them mildly upset at you, so it is best to get it right. There is another way, but it can be not so effective and certainly isn’t as fun. This is to slowly pull up to the space and have your passenger in the bow try to part the dinghies with there hands. You usually end up fustrating yourself as you swim your into one dingy and another, never seemly making any progress.
We did successfully get to the dock and once there we had a look around. What we discovered was cruisers of all sorts working hard to get themselves ready for the crossing. Vero Beach had become the defacto meeting place for them all. This seems to be for a few reasons, one they have a great free bus system that can take you into all sorts of stores, like a grocery, marine and book stores. That combined with the marina which has all of the needs of the cruising sailor, like laundry, showers, internet, mail delivery and a wealth of other cruisors to milk information from. We were overloaded with tips and information on everything from the Gulf Stream Crossing to tips on what canned meats to buy. It was overwhemling. The first day we were there was Sunday, this of course meant no bus service, which in turn meant no filling the propane. So we decided we would walk to the beach and get some dinner. First we wanted a shower, this is when we started to figure out what a goldmine they had at the marina, they wanted a dollar each plus tax for a shower. This fee was not included with our $8 dollar a night mooring. Little charges like this tend to drive me crazy and before I was even there an hour I started to sore on the place a little. We both had our showers, $2.22 after tax and walked toward the beach section of Vero Beach.
After walking through some nice suburbs we found the beach section mostly closed except for a few bar/restaurants right on the beach. We ended up at Mulligan’s where the menu is so cowarded with graphics and colors you couldn’t read it. But we didn’t mind that much since they sat us near an outlet so I could plug in the laptop to write. After about two or three hours of having a couple of drinks and dinner I finished my writing and we walked back to the dingy dock. The harbor was quite, so were our neighbors so we climbed in to bed and slept soundly until morning.
A day of chores, Monday, December 8, 2003
We awoke to the sound of dingies heading into the dingy dock. Since we had a lot to do as well we got up to start our day. Soon we were in the dingy ourselves, after starting our laundry and inquire about the propane and wireless internet (which they had as well), we wanted for the bus. The propane would have to wait, as the place to get them filled required a taxi to get to (and taking a propane tank on a public bus is frowned upon), but the bus would take us to a West Marine and a grocery store.
We talked with others as we waited and because we knew it we were all pilling into the bus that was full of cruisors. Every wanted to know if it was going to be your first cross (across the Gulf Stream) or where you planned on going from. Most of the advice was good, but you got so much it was almost to much. One thing we had planned on ordering but had yet to do was canned meats. It seems we were the only ones who hadn’t tried them (they are supposed to be surprising good), so we listenned and planned to order some later when we got on the internet. West Marine had what we needed as did the scuba store next door, a few other things and we were ready to catch the next bus.
Once back to the marina we switched the laundry and headed back out to the back to drop off our wears. Unfortunally I flooded the dingy engine before I got it started and sat there frantically pulling to try to get it started. Offers from others cruisors to help came from everyone, but I thought she would just start right back up after a short wait. When she didn’t one of the husband and wives that we had taked a lot to on the bus came over in there dingy and were only to happy to tow us out to our boat. As we got paraded through the marine by the nice couple embarrassment of having being towed to our boat was overshadowed by the fact that it was this sort of kindness we had been recieving from must everyone since we left. I believe it is one of the main reason people love to cruise so much, as it is hard to find kindness like this many places anymore. On the water it is still consider the norm.
Once at the boat I quickly fixed the thru-hull while Jen unpacked the other stuff we had gotten. Afterwards I read the manually to the dingy engine to see how to start it up once you flooded it. The advice was simple enough in theory, just keep pulling the cord until it starts. This was the opposite of what little I had learned about a flooded engine in my years, which is you should let it sit, but I took there advice and after many pulls and a lot of swaring under my breath so the rest of the marina didn’t hear me it turned over and I looked up like a champion boxer after a hard fight. The chores were not over, we still had to finish the laundry, get on the internet and fill the propane. This combined with the fact that I wanted to fit in a shower for both of us without having to pay a dollar each and shower together doesn’t count as only one.
I called a taxi to pick me up and got Jen on the internet. The taxi picked me up and before I new it we had more propane, minus the $12 taxi ride and $3 propane fill up. We were back in business and by now were ready to head down the road the next day. Jen had ordered our canned meats and had them shipped to my mom in Fort Myers, now with the laundry still in the dryer all we had to do was shower. I paied my dollar which got me a key to both showers, so I let Jen in as well and we got two showers for the price of one, my day was complete. We were ready to head down the road, many of the people here planned on leaving from Fort Priece or Lake Worth, but we planned on going down to Miami, the end of the ICW (not really, but that is where our chart book stopped).
Another Bridge, Tuesday, December 9, 2003
Today would take us down the ICW past Fort Pierce and an area of Florida that only gets more and more ritzy the further south you go. Today we were going to pass Jupiter Inlet, which leads you into Hobe Sound and Jupiter, from there Florida is all big boats out front of big houses, next to lush golf courses. This was also the start of what is considered the worst part of the ICW. This is not because all of the large houses make you feel inferior, it is because from now until Miami there are so many bridges it slows you down quite a bit. A lot of these bridges are on “resticted schedules” as well, meaning they didn’t open during rush hours. We went through bridge after bridge inspecting the homes along the way, wondering where all those people get all that money to buy homes that don’t appear to be lived in. All along the way we could hear our friens aboard Sirius who we had not seen since Titusville calling bridges far down the line.
The wind was in our favor and we sailed under as many bridge as possible, sometimes even having to goose the engine with the sails up to make it under certain bridge before then closed on us and we would have to wait for the next openning. All our efforts got us 50 miles that day and we anchored just after 5 next to one other boat. We were anchored on Conch Bar in Hobe Sound, surrounded by million dollar homes and a few trailor homes owned by people who wisely had refused to sell out years before. We had wanted to get this far for one reason, we had now travel over thousand miles on the ICW (over 1600 miles for the whole trip), and now we got to celebrate. SO we cracked open a bottle of Champayne and drank to our good fortune of having made it this far safely and helply. Being in this part of Florida made us look even more forward to heading off to the deserted island of the Bahamas. For now we were still miles from Miami and even further from the Bahamas, but with some luck we would be there soon.
Our luck just ran out, Wednesday, December 10, 2003
We had heard on the weather radio that today was suppose to be strong southern winds, but being on the ICW we didn’t worry to much about that, but toward mid-day we were going to be entering Lake Worth, this small inland Lake is only a few miles wide, but as with any body of water if the winds were strong enough the waves will kick up to uncomfortable heights. The day started with high winds, but we plugged along under power, about mid morning we entered Lake Worth. There our luck ran out and we were greeted with 2 to 4 foot waves on our bow and quite a few boats heading toward us to the protected anchorage on our stern. I wanted to make it at least to the Lake Worth Inlet and hopefully beyond that. The wind and waves made progress slow and soon the rain started near Peanut Island. We had heard that some bridges south of Lake Worth were locked down until 12 and I wanted to get fuel so Jen called a few marinas and we decided that if the weather was still bad when we went in to get fuel we would just stay in Lake Worth that night.
This suited me as Lake Worth was a great jumping off point to go outside and sail down to Fort Lauderdale. If the weather improved hopefully I would convince Jen to dust off the sails so we could forget all of these bridge and go out into the ocean again. So we pulled up to the fuel dock at Rybovich Spencer, weeving our 28 footer past monsterous luxury yachts, many over 100 feet long, some 200 feet long. The dock master had waited for us and before we knew it we were fueling and waiting for him to come back to “help” us tie up into a slip. The whole time we could hear a boat waiting to get into the fuel dock we now occupied. We were told to wait for the dock-master to finish up lunch before moving to our slip and since we didn’t know where it was we had no choice but to wait. So we tidied up the boat and about an hour later the dock-master come back to help us into a slip in the corner of the marina, behind many larger boats. We pulled and and started getting squared away for a shower when we heard the sound of very large engines. From our corner in the marina we couldn’t see the fuel dock only 50 feet away because of the large boats we were hidden behind. So I walked over to the fuel dock to see what we had held up all that time. What I saw was a huge boat called Big Pond, with a glowing blue hull that took up the entire 150ft long fuel dock. He had back in and his engines were so loud you could hardly get near them because of all of the noise. I proudly told Jen about the large boat we held up for over an hour and she just smelled mildy.
After showers we had a walk around our new home and discovered we were easily the smallest boat in the marina. We were used to be the smallest, but when you are the smallest by one over 50 feet it is a little overwelheming. We attermpted to peak in the windows of the luxury liners or prehaps luck out and get invited on one to have a tour. It wasn’t meant to be as either we saw nobody on board (very common) or the people on board had no intention of inviting two ragga-muffins from a boat the size of there dingy onto there yacht. It was fun to know that our trip would be less expensive then pulling one off these monster’s out of the harbor (it costs them over $150 a night just for power), so we felt superior in that and we went back to our boat to have dinner and watch a movie on our entertainment center (the laptop).
So this is how you sail, Thursday, December 11, 2003
That night before bed I heard that the winds were suppose to be 10 to 15 knots from the north. So I convinced Jen that since the wind was less then previously forecast we should go outside and shake out our sea legs. She agreed to this with great apprehension, but hearing more about the almost twenty bridges we would have to go through to Fort Lauderdale Jen warmed up to the idea. More than a month in the ICW had made us soft, proven by the fact that getting up the mainsail was a chore. Remembering all the little things proved impossible and after a small struggle we had the mainsail up. We successfully avoided the large container ship coming into the inlet and headed out into the Atlantic.
Before we were out of the inlet we were called on the VHF by our friends on Sirius, they to were in Lake Worth and were now going to head outside as well. We started out under main and jib with the engine on as the winds were light. Soon we were pulling out ahead of the pack, because we were obviously the only ones motor sailing. This suited us just fine as it felt good to be passing boats for a change. We kept it on until the winds picked up about mid morning. Once we turned it off we noticed immediately the other boats started gaining. We were putting up a good showing holding off the other boats at about seven knots. We had all our sails up, which with the wind at between 15 and 20 was probably a little to much sail, but the boat was flying along at seven knots and it was good to strech out the sails again.
We had a fun time showing the others our dirty bottom paint as they slowly passed us, before long we were again the last one in line. We followed everyone into Port Everglades and avoided the cruise ships before heading into the canals. Fort Lauderdale is refered to as the Venice of America, trying to draw any reference between Fort Lauderdale and Venice is not really truthful to what is really there. Where Venice is a beautiful old stinking city, Fort Lauderdale is the apitamy of American excess and and in your face attitude. Going thru there in our little 28 foot Cal we new we wouldn’t be given the time of day at one of there over priced marinas. But as we followed in Sirius toward the Lake Sylvia anchorage we knew we were going to be surrounded by expensive homes occupied by people with expensive attitudes.
We anchored out and invited Fran and Harry from Sirius over to celebrate our first ocean leg since entering the ICW way back in the beginning of November. After cleaning up a bit I launched the dingy and headed over to give them a ride over. They had not yet even inflated there dingy yet and so we were only to happy chaufer them to and from there boat. The anchorage was crowded with boats, many of who had sailed down from Lake Worth with us, most probably heading over to the Bahamas from there or just down the line in Miami, where we were going tomorrow.
We had a nice dinner with Harry and Fran while we talked over our explots from the way done. We would be separating here once again as Harry and Fran were going to spend some time with friends in Fort Lauderdale and other places in Florida before heading down to Miami to make the crossing. If the weather did not cooperate with us we might still be there when they got there in a week or two. As cruisors you always share the belief that you will run into your friends again, whether you will or not, so goddbyes are lite. Enjoyed the evening and headed off to bed soon after I rowed them home. Tomorrow we were again heading out into the blue ocean to Miami and I wanted to get to Miami early as my mother was suppose to meet us at the dock and I wanted to beat her.
Slummin it in Miami, Friday, December 12, 2003
We raised anchor at 7:45 which Harry and Fran must have though early because of there VHF call to us before we had even left the Port Everglades inlet. Our late bedtime hadn’t worried me, I only had the official end of our ICW journey in mind. In Miami we would go know further in the US before heading east and the islands of the Bahamas. So we headed out the inlet and into the sunshine, setting the sails toward Miami at about 8:30. I had started trawling off the stern the day before again, hoping my luck would change in the warmer climates. I took off the useless lure I had on before replaced it with a spoon, a metallic lure shaped somewhat like a spoon, in hopes of improving my so far poor perfermance in the ways of hunting and gathering.
We moved along nicely making between five and six knots under motor and sail. Soon I glanced back at the line and noticed a something dragging behind us. I finally had a fish on and I intended not to less this one. I thottled down and started winded in (I was trolling with hand line instead of a rod), but I soon understood that what was back there was know Moby Dick, he was coming in to easily on two primitive a device to be considered anything worthy of a Big Game prize. That didn’t matter to me as I was only hoping for something for dinner or maybe even some sushi for lunch. When I boated the monster I had to admit I was shocked by the size of my catch, it looked to me as if I had caught a fish that in human terms might have not been eligible for preschool yet. It was a beautiful (be it tiny) False Albacore, and Jen realizing that this fish was not a keeper quickly snapped a few pictures before I released it hoping that it would be just a dumb when it got older and so I could catch him on the way back up and eat him.
With all the excitement seemly over for the day we only had the condo tower of Miami Beach emerging in front of us to keep us entertained. After many calls to my mother I finally got through and was informed that she couldn’t meet us on Friday, but planned to be there Sunday. This changed our plans again as we had friends in the Coconut Grove area of Miami and we were planning on staying just inside Government Cut near South Beach. Our early start gave us plenty of time to change our plans and continue on to Dinner Key (the harbor right off Coconut Grove). So I called our friend Emerson and told him we would be in town tonight.
A little after 1 in the afternoon we entered Government Cut and headed past the huge container ships being unloaded at the docks in Miami. We sailed by the behemoths keeping as close to them as we dared so they could block the strong wind. Slowly we neared downtown Miami, it’s skyscrapers loomed over us as we turned south once again toward Biscayne Bay. We went under the Key Biscayne Bridge and headed toward Dinner Key. Once at the channel in we noticed how mant boats were anchored in what seemed to me to be a pretty exposed anchorage. As we neared the boats we noticed something else, most of these boats didn’t seem to have moved quiet a while, in fact we wondered if many had been abandoned. Some you could hardly call boats, they were more like floating barges with Winnebago placed on top of them. Others were open power boats, with enclosures built over top of them made out of plywood, the whole place had a graveyard of pleasure boats feel to it.
We navigated through the Dinner Key entrance where you pass through the shallow barrier islands to the main marina called Dinner Key Marina. From there we circled one of the barrier islands back out to the anchorage again to find a spot for ourselves. We weaved in and out of boats that from the look of them told us they weren’t likely to move anytime soon until we found a spot between two of the better kept boats near the main marina. We thought about heading farther out to where the anchored boats thinned out but since it was better protected in here and our small boat could squeeze in many tight spots we dropped the hook and waited to see how we looked. What we found was we had dropped the hook right around the time the tide was changing, which meant that the boat didn’t really know there to go. We sat there watching the other boats at anchor turning on there moorings and started to get a feel to where we were going to sit. Once it looked like most of the other boats had settled into the places we raised our anchor. The water was amazingly clear, you could see clearly another on the bottom, it was sort of emerald green, I guess because of the algae on the bottom. As we dropped our anchor again, I watched from 10 feet above it as it slowly dug into the sand and mud. I let out the chain and rope, again seeing it lay itself on the bottom in a perfectly straight line. When we caught the boat drifted forward over the anchor again and I called Jen up. At first she didn’t understand what she was looking at until I told her that was our anchor firmly planted in the ground and that she could sleep well tonight.
We had basically reached the end of the line until we will crossed over to Bahamas, we would spend the rest of our time in the United States in this general area, moving only to go to South Beach to meet my mom on Sunday and to go to Key Biscayne before heading west to the islands. It was a weird feeling to not have anywhere else to go. We were now controlled by the weather, and until the winds blow from the proper direction, Southeast to West, we only had to provision and wait.
We decided to go in to Coconut Grove to investigate our new surroundings. We had seen most of the liveaboards in the anchorage rowing in, so we launched the dingy and hoped there would be a dock to tie up to. We did find a dock to tie up to, unfortunally ever other dingy there was locked to it with large chains. This seemed unusually as most of the dinghies were very old rigid dingy and it seemed that the big chains locking them to the dock where worth more than the dingy itself. We hadn’t brought in anything to lock our dingy with, so I headed back out to the boat while Jen checked out what was around.
Once back in Jen waved for me to head over to pick her back up. It seemed in my absence she had sweet talked an employee at the marina to let us into the showers, the employee had also told her to just tie up the dingy along the marina pier and that it would be safe there. This we did and we were soon allowed into the showers which was perfect as we were soon headed out to meet Emerson.
We walked around looking for a suitable spot after having our shower and soon came across Scotty’s Landing, a local bar open to the harbor. There was really no inside, accept for the roof over the bar, everything else was open, covered only by a tent. We saddled up to the bar and called him, telling him we were there while ordering a beer. Soon he joined us and we discovered many of his friends were there as well. We had stumbled across the friday after work meeting spot, so we got to meet a lot a nice people who did everything from fishing charters to merchandish distribution. One friend of a friend was of particular intrest to us, since I was unable to get someone to help us in Titusville I still needed a deisel mechanic to help me with my fuel filters. Here I was able to meet a superintendent of one of the biggest yards in Miami. We chatted for a bit and before long we were getting directions into the yard which was up the Miami River. The night went on and before we knew it it was way past our bedtime, not used to staying up that late we headed out as Emerson headed of with the others. Our new Miami Home,
Our new Miami Home, Saturday, December 13, 2003
Saturday we decided to have a look at our new surroundings in earnest. So we headed of early with a list of things we wanted to get done before we headed out in the big blue ocean again. We didn’t really know where to go, our directions we had gotten last night were a little foggy in our heads, so we headed over to a nice looking Wyndham Hotel and tried to look our best so they might believe we were staying there. It wasn’t all that easy since we were wearing backpacks we looked more like hikers, but they were more then happy to give us a map of The Grove, and point out where we might find grocery stores etc.
So now we started our journey of provisioning the boat for real. Certain stores on the map I discounted as useless to use like Gap, Banana Republic, and other typical mall stores that dotted Coconut Groves “CocoWalk”, an outdoor mall on the main street, were quickly brought back into the fray by my wife who seemed to need “some shirts” of somesort. So our list of “important” stores was growing, but not that much since Coconut Grove doesn’t really cater to the sort of stores the traveling boater needs. We did find a few things and before we knew it we were heading to the library to check our e-mail.
After that we started toward the large Borders Book store on the main drag in Coconut Grove. We had nothing else to do and we knew it had a cafe, which meant we could sit there and read without having to purchase a thing. I also had the computer with us and so it would be a good place to sit and write without having to be hassled. When we got there we got an added bonus, first was that it was a T Mobile Wireless Hotspot (it had wireless internet) and the second was that once I logged on I discovered it was free because they were upgrading the system whatever that meant. So we were in heaven as we had a spot to sit with power and internet, so while one of us used the web the other was surrounded by thousands of books and magazines to caught up on the events we had missed the two months we had been gone.
Always the last to know, Sunday, December 14, 2003
Sunday was a rainy day and Emerson kindly invited us over to his house with stops at West Marine along the way. He had Cologate triumpately beat Florida Atlantic to make it to the Devision 1-AA finals in football (Emerson is a Colgate Alum and there football team had been a preul doormat for years), so he was excitly telling me over the phone about the victory when he interupted himself and asked us if we knew?
“Know what?” was the only reply a person who lives on a boat with know access to news can give.
“They got him.” It seems that this Sunday Saddam Hussien had been captured. Thankfully Jen was inside of Borders and was still writing e-mails, so I wasn’t the last to know. Emerson was picking us up soon and so I headed back in to tell her. After West Marine we enjoyed a fine day at Emerson’s, just laying around on the couch, watching football and talking. He even cooked us taco dinner before we headed back out to the boat. During our TV watching Jen and I had discovered it was the “Survivor Panama Final”, that being a very guilty pleasure before we left home we had not since it but once in Charleston since we left. Now it was the final one and I could tell Jen was very interested in catching it.
We were dropped of at the dock and discovered Scotty’s, next door closed, so we entered the Chart House Restaurant hoping they might have a TV and we could hide in the corner watching our show. They were very nice in there and when the hostess who asked about our discover found out that the TV had been removed because they were replacing it she went so far as to go into the back to see if it was still around. All was for not and it looked as if we would miss the last Survivor. As the Captain of the vessel I understand how important moral is, so I figured a moral boost like this was worth one more shot. So we decided to head over to the Wyndham in hopes they would have a lounge with a TV.
We walked into the hotel like we owned the place, heading straight for were I believed the lounge would be. We entered a room, with a bar in the middle and nice leather chairs all around, but no TV. There was no one in the room at the time and we started to have a look around. Soon we found it, hidden in a corner surrounded by comfortable leather chairs, the TV. Soon the bartender was giving us the remote and we switched it on with delight. It wasn’t just finding the TV to watch the show that was so exciting, because to most people this may seem silly, but to us it was the fact that we were able to accomplish something that before we left we had taken for a given right. It is one of the great things about cruising, when you find a place to shower, get on the internet or any other convenience before we took for granted now they luxuries. The more outragous the luxury the sweeter the success once you get to enjoy it. So we sat there sipping our overpriced drinks we purchased from the bar and enjoyed this one a lot.
Up (and down) the river, Monday, December 15, 2003
Today we were finally going to meet my mom in Miami Beach, but first we had to head up the Miami River that winds right through downtown Miami. This meant going through quite a few openning bridges. We left after nine because those bridges don’t open during rush hour and headed into the river just past 10 o’clock. We went under bridge after bridge that were open promptly for us thankfully. The further up river we headed the worse Miami looked. The neighborhood this yard occuppied was not going to be prime real estate. When we got there we tied up to an old rusty sailboat and waited for our friend to get free so he could helpo us out. All around us on both sides of the skinny river were large open wharehouse look buildings with huge motor yachts being worked on inside. Outside along the bulkhead were more huge motor yachts. We looked around wondering who or what owned these beasts. Before we new it we were joined by our new friend and he got right to work showing me how to change my filters and bleed the fuel line. He was of great help and before I knew it he was done, changing three filters, and even tightening the stuffing box (where the prop shaft goes through the boat and into the water). After talking to us a bit after-wards we asked what we owed him, but he would here known of it. We were so thankful and felt incrediblely lucky to have meet somebody who would help us out that way and send us on our way. We wished him Merry Christmas and untied our lines to get threw the bridge infront of the yard.
The bridge tender wanted to wait for a barge before openning, which made Jen and I a little nervous because there wasn’t much room on these side of the bridge to maneuver. I proved this fact not a minute later when wind the tide swept me into a rusty hulf of a fishing vessel that was tied up at the other end of the yard we left. Not wanting this to happenning again, I turned around and headed up river again, against the tide and wind. There was now another boat on our side waiting to go through and still no barge to be seen coming the other way, the river which because of all the mega-yachts tied up in this area is barely 75 feet wide was getting seemly skinny and skinny as time passed. This combined with the fact that the yard decided it would be a good time to move one of these gaints that sat directly in front of the bridge. While this was going on the barge did show up on the other side, but now the mega yacht was pulled out and taking up the entire channel. It was so big they could seem to get it all the way out, which was discouraging as now we badly wanted to leave and get out of this traffic nightmare. Eventually the bridge tender I believe got the yard workers to move the boat back into it’s slip a bit and the bridge started to open. We quickly slipped past the mega yacht under the bridge and barely past the barge into the safety of the empty Miami River behind him. From there we continued on out of the Miami River and again past all of the unloading container ships to the Maimi Beach Marina, a very swauk upscale place I chose becasue of the fact that if we got a weather window while my mother was here we could easily just head out Government Cut and be off to the sunny Bahamian Islands.
Oh the things you need, December 16-17, 2003
Since we now had a car to use we used it, a lot. We went to the West Marine, Crook & Crook (another marine store), Costco, Publix (the grocery store), Walgreens, Kmart (Walmart was MIA believe it or not), T Mobile, Nextel, Cingular (to see if they had agreements in the Bahamas, answer NO), UK Sailmakers (to get a patch for the brand new sail!), I got my haircut, we even went to a linen store where my mom took pity on us and got us a feather bed to make our mattress more comfortable. We would go back to the marina, unfill the car, and head back out, never seemly being done with it all and certainly not having enough room for it all. You do this of course because things in the islands are expensive so you only want to have to buy the essetials. We filled ever place imaginable on the boat with everything imaginable, before lonf we could fit no more “undercover and we just started filling the quarter berth (in the back). Toward the end we could handle it no more and my mom headed back of to Fort Myer’s and we headed back to Dinner Key to escape the crazy prices in South Beach.
The long weather wait, December 18-22, 2003
We went back to Dinner Key on a windy rainy afternoon. We took our same spot and started what for cruisors looking to cross the Gulf Stream is the biggest event of the day, listening to the weather on the radio. NOAA who forcasts the weather on the VHF radio updates it about four times day so four times a day you listen to hear if there are any changes, surprising there are, but usually very subtle.
This can be very boring so fortunally we had the our friend Emerson to help us keep entertained. We went to Christmas parties and over to his parents house for dinner (they are all old family friends), but we always wanted to be able to answer there question, “When are you headed over?”. We couldn’t, so the people who worked in Borders got to recognize us pretty well and boat projects started to get done.
I drove under the boat and replaced the prop zinc, Jen started cleaning the hull that by now how started to get a bit fuzzy on the bottom, and then she hulled me up the mast where I unsuccessfully fixed the Masthead light. I was even getting work done on Travel Outward for my partner at the office, that is what we refered to Borders as by now. For all our sitting there Jen did buy something, much to my dismay. She bought a couple of Christimas Carol CD’s for the boat, so I had to edurance Nat King Kole belting out some carols until Christmas, but thing couls have been worse.
On Saturday Emerson took us out to some very nice Cristmas Parties whcih helped us feel more into the Chrsitmas Spirit (the CD’s weren’t helping me much). Then it happenned a slight change in the weather, winds were shifting from East to Southeast on Tuesday, it appeared a weather window may be openning. We found other cruisors talking on the VHF, it appeared that the time may be coming. Over the last week a not to be missed event had happy at 6:30 every night. You see there is a magical little weatherman up north and if you have the right connaction or a Single Side Band radio you can find him. His name is Herb and from what I know he is on old sailor from many years back. For one reason or another Herbcan’t come down to the Bahamas anymore, so he does his next favorite thing, gets the weather and broadcasts it to sailors all other the world. Herb is a bit of a ledgend to sailors and just who he is I have only heard secondhand or through rumors. What I do know is that Herb’s forcast is considered gospal to many. Well at 6:30 there was guy guy who had contact with herb and ever night at 6:30 he would broadcast it to all of us less connected boats over the VHF. Afterward there would be sort of a Q & A about it for which people would make there conclusions about what to do with what they heard. Over the past days the forcast had been sounding better and better as the winds started to sound as if they would shift from East to Southeast to South at under 10 knots. These are magic numbers from cruisors, so chatter started about possible crossings on Tuesday or Wednesday.
We awoke Sunday to tired after Saturday’s party’s to do anything but listen to the weather and the more we listenned the more our minds started working. It looked to us that if all went well we could leave on Christmas Eve to cross over to the Bahamas, it was time to pull up our anchor again and prepare for our first Gulf Stream crossing (one not on a fast motor vessel).
The longer weather wait, December 22, 2003
Today we were moving over to No Name Harbor on Key Biscayne. This is a popular jumping off point for boats heading over to the Bahamas. We just had a few chores to do before we lefted our anchor and worked to meet some cruises for the trip over. The first thing we wwanted to do was have me dive under the boat and change the zinc. I had though this would be an easy chore once we got to Miami where the water would be warm and inviting. Today it was in the 60’s and rainy, I jumped in and the water felt as cold as it did in New England, but soon the job was done and it was time for chore number 2. This one is one I have been putting off, it was getting Jen to raise me up the mast so I could see what was wrong with our light at the top. Being not so found of heights the trip up was long and unnerving, but once up the I get down to work, careful not to drop anything. What I discovered was that I had bought the wrong blub and if it was anything but that I couldn’t fix it anyway. So after taking a few pictures Jen lowered me back down to earth and we decided we would have to go without light up there for awhile.
At about 2:30 we pulled up the anchor and headed over. About an hour and a hour later we had crossed Biscayne Bay and were headed into No Name Harbor. The anchorage was crowded with quite a few boats, but we managed to squeez in between two of them although I’m not sure they thought there was enough room we sat fine and we settled in for the day cleaning the boat before the sun went below the horizon. Soon it was time for the 6:30 weather forcast and everyone was out for it. We had moved into No Name and we didn’t recieve it as well since he broadcast it for Dinner Key, but what was forcasted raised a lot of chatter so we listenned in on as many conversations as we could. Many people were hoping on leaving that night now re-thought there plans, while people like us just sat tight because we weren’t planning on leaving until Wednesday. It seemed everyone was more confused on whether to go or not after the farcast then before, so Jen and I happy stuck to our plan and hoped someone would still be here who would like to cross with us.
Don’t Go, December 23, 2003
The next day we awoke to find a beautifully calm sunny day and many boats starting up there engines to head out across the Stream. I had meet a few boats who were undecided on whether to head over or not and we went over to another boat to talk it over. They decided they would head across and round North Rock near Bimini and keep going across the bank. I had hoped that they would stay and wait until tomorrow so we could travel with them, but no such luck. We sat there and watched the harbor clear out, but we were determain to stick with our plan because the weather tomorrow was suppose to be better then today.
So as the harbor cleared out we perpared to head into town to check the internet one last time and pick up some last minute supplies. The day was hot and the sky was clear, everywhere we went it seemed we were running into people preparing to head off tomorrow. We headed back into Bill Bragg’s State Park where the boat was anchored and when we got to the entrance we had to play two dollars each as an entrance fee. This seemed strange since we were already in before and was doublely strange when he didn’t seem concerned about the case of beer I was hauling even though I was steading next to a sign that read “No Achoholic Beverages”.
We got back to the boat and started packing up and doing last minute cleaning before we headed back in to walk out to the point to eye the channel we would be headed out at two in the morning. It looked straight forward enough and as we looked out the water looked beautiful and calm, it appeared as though we had picked the perfect time. Outside many boats had anchored out also ready to make the passage, but not wanting to pay the anchoring fee at No Name. Little did they know that the harbormaster had been fired a few days before for letting a boat tie up to the bulkhead over night, so presently boats were not being charged for anchoring. There were more boats anchored outside then inside the harbor, which didn’t leave us many to go by and talk to to see if they wanted to be out “buddy boat” for the crossing. Many people have a buddy boat to talk to during the crossing for safety sake. I was sure we would have no problem finding one once we were there, but most had either left or had different plans from us. This left us alone as we went to bed that night.
Jen was very nervous as I sat there thinking about the passage. Everything was looking good, and as rain storms went overhead that night around eight just as forecasted flet all would be great, we would cross tomorrow and Jen would see it was no sweat.
The point of no return, December 24, 2003
I awoke at 1 in the morning and started getting ready, everything was already ready so I just started turning things on and getting the charts and everything in the cockpit. When Jen got up and got ready it was around 2 and I really wanted to get underway. We rasied anchor and headed out. The wind was light from the east and we headed on our course far south from our destination. We were headed to Bimini, but to get there with our speed we had to head far south of that target. I had us averaging just below 5, but with the wind and waves still out of the east we were only making four knots. The waves were pretty big, but they were nice long ocean swells so we kept heading out on our course.
About two hours out I noticed a dark cloud behind us, and soon we both so lightning ahead of us to the northeast. That was already past us, but I didn’t like the like of the dark cloud covering the stars on our stern. Soon I felt the rain and we turned on the radar. There I could see a small dark patch about to over take us, we were going to get wet, I could only hope there was to lightning in this cloud. It started to rain hard soon after and the wind picked up, but I assured Jen it would be over soon and in about 10 minutes it was, but soon after it passed us that cloud also started giving off lightning, thankfully it was sparing us the light show when over top of us. Another cloud could be seen coming in behind us and Jen was thinking we should turn back. This didn’t seem like such a bad idea, ecept it was still going to be dark for two more hours or so and I had no desire to nogiate the channel in the dark. I told her we should keep going and look at what things looked like in the daylight.
Daylight broke, and we had not had rain for some time. There were scattered clouds in the sky, but none looked threatning, so we kept going. Jen was not enjoying the passage the way I had hoped, but the light calmed her so we kept going. The wind was changing to the south and south so we raised sail and started to make better time. The Gulf Stream had us in it’s grips now taking us three knots north as we fought it by heading southeast. It was winning the battle, but not to badly so I changed course again to help stop it from taking us to far north. We were not doing as well as I had hoped on speed which was why it was taking us farther north than I had estimated.
Soon we were surrounded by a huge pod of dolphin jumping all around us. It was eery and calming at the same time. We kept heading east hoping Bimini would show itself before to long. At about 10 we started to see other boats on the horizen, which made Jen happy knowing other boats were out here in the seas. The 2 or less forecatsed wasn’t even close as there were easily waves of eight feet or more the whole way. ABout 9 miles out she showed herself, Bimine started to emerge on the horizon. We were still a long way, but we would make it. It seemed to take forever, but soon we started heading south to the harbor entrance right at the same time a catemeran started in. Bimini is reported to have a very tough harbor to navigate, it is shallow and has a bad swell in a west wind. We had planned to get to Bimini during high tide which is one reason we left so early, but because of our slow passage it was now about 3, dead low tide. The wind had also swung around to the southwest now so there was a 2 to 3 foot swell entering the channel. These are the conditions the guide books tell you not to enter. We were determained, tired from the passage we started in behind the cat. I had asked for depth readings from him and at first I was getting them, but right at the cortical part they staopped and never returned. We headed in the old channel near the beach, but it quickly got shallow, so I backed out and started to try the other rout, out near the sand bar, but as we headed in a big 70 supple ship ran aground. This didn’t go over well for us, as I was going to follow his path in, but I tried to head around him, only to hit sand when a swell came in and placed us on the bottom.
Again I quickly reversed out of there, and decided to head into the marina on South Bimini. It was right there in the channel (they are one of the reasons the channel here is so bad), so we headed in and tied to one off the numerous empty docks. The place was new and seemed very nice and very empty. No sooner had we tied up that a dockmaster came by and told us we couldn’t stay there. We told him about running aground and he quickly dismissed it and told us to just stay near the beach and go straight in. We told him we had attempted this and he stopped short of calling us incompitant, but told us what to do anyway. We were unhappy about it, but decided to have another attempt. We talked to numerous people on the way out of the marina who all gave us the same advice, “Do it tomorrow during high tide, don’t attempt it now.” I felt I had to give it one more try, so we turned the corner after the small jetty and headed in along the coast. It was a fetile attempt, we started toward the North Bimini Harbor only to run aground soon after the jetties. This time I headed right back into the marina and tied up again. The dockmaster was not happy to see us, but after Jen explained that there was know way we could get in until tomorrow morning he reluctately decided to let us stay the night. First we had to check into the Bahamas, so he called us a bus.
A bus on South Bimini is really just a taxi, and before I had even gotten to start filling out the paperwork for customs and immigration, the “bus” was there. The driver took me to the airport, which on such a small island was probably walkable, and showed me into customs and immigration. Then he informed me he would be waiting outside. Custon in any country is always an interesting experience, but in the Bahamas like so many other Caribbean island, it is a lesson in patience. I was directed to a table where I started to fill out the paper. Soon a yound “immigration” official came over and informed me that I should have filled the forms out before getting to the airport. I tried to explain to him that the “bus” had come before I had the chance, but he didn’t really care, I believe he just wanted to give me a hard time. The forms where long and each one of the many forms I was filling out asked the exact same things. Things like my address, boat name, and reason for my stay were filled out so many times I started to wonder about the possiblity of using a copy machine. The forms were basically the same, but at the top each one was labeled something like, Health and Medical or Bahamian Fishing Permit. Slowly I made it though them and once the immigration officer came over he took great joy in pointing out all the mistakes I had made. It seems many forms didn’t like asking questions the same way so to spice it up they changed them. One for would ask, “List crew of you vessel.”, while the next one would ask “Below write the names and addresses of the Captain and Mates aboard.” They were actually both asking the same thing, wanting a list of everyone on the vessel. But I wasn’t sure whether I had to list myself everything as well or just Jen. It turned out they always wanted us both listed, so I had to go back and list myself a few times. When he asked where the rest of my crew was I imformed him that I thoug only the captain was aloud to disembark to check in. With this he looked at me quizlly and informed me that Jen was suppose to sign a form which she hadn’t, so he went into the other room while Jen amazing signed it out of nowhere. When he returned we finished the maze of paperwork and he stamped a few pages, informed me he would not give me the 6 months of time I wanted in the country, then sent me off to customs.
Customs was one crate away on the opposite wall of the hallway. Here my customs officer was much nicer when she pointed out still more mistakes I had made on the forms. She even laughed as I joked about my stupidity in not being able to fill out the forms correctly. Soon she was also stamping my forms and taking my $150 fee for a cruising permit and fishing licence. Right as I was about to be set free in the Bahamas she realized that she had been stamping my forms with yesterdays date and I had to get them all stamped again. After a half hour or so I was free and I went back outside to get a ride back to the boat. As I stepped to find no “bus” waiting for me. I looked around sure this must be some sort of joke. All I saw was a sort of junkyard of deralict automobiles, it seems the airport also doubled as the junkyard. I stepped into what served as the terminal buildings, but got know reaction at all. This was surprising as it is hard for an obvious tourist not to be accosted by many taxi drivers in almost any Caribbean Island I have ever been to. Here I was seemly invisible, which if I hadn’t wanted a ride back to the boat would have been terrific. I finally asked a lady who I believe was the tickey agent if the had seen “the bus”. She told me it was right outside, which to my amazement it was. I walked out and saw the driver driver unloading a strange assortment of boxes which appeared to be stero equipment. I asked no questions, I just hoped in and waited for him to finish. Soon I was back at the boat, now officially in the Bahamas.
Jen and I had a flag raising ceremony and afterwards I went up to pay for the marina. This took an amazingly long time as again I had to fill out a strange amount of paperwork before being informed that he wanted me to pay in cash, but he had no change. This was a problem not easily solved until he went up to the restuarant after searching the office for change for 10 minutes. Finally we could relax so we took a walk out to the jetty where we watched other boats calmly sail right into the harbor in North Bimini. We left a little foolish not being able to do it ourselves, but tomorrow we would go in at high tide and all would be ok. For now we made some dinner and had champayne to celebrate our successful crossing. Then we headed off to bed because it had been a very long day.
A warm welcome to a lovely place, December 25, 2003
We awoke the next morning and had a shower at the marina. The Bimini Sands where we were staying was a very nice marina, but since all the action was on North Bimini we were headed over there. High tide was about 9 so we nervously pulled out of the marina about 8:30 so we were still on a raising tide when we attempted to make it into the channel to the North Bimini Harbor. We rounded the jetty yet again and headed in. We had watched a few boats enter the night before, but there was still a bit of a swell so Jen and I were both a bit nervous. Well it proved to be silly as we glided over the bottom not touching once and headed in Bimini Harbor.
We had planned to stay a Weech’s Bimini Docks, because the price was right, but as we pulled up the dock was pretty full. I found a spot on the inside the the last dock and as we pulled up all the cruisors already there were right there taking our lines and helping us tie up. We talked to the cruisors on the dock and exchanged horror stories about each other crossings.
After that it was time for Christmas, Jen’s sister had remembered to give us some presents to open on Christmas day so we opened them up, getting some DVD’s to play on the computer and a neckless for Jen. It felt great to have something to open on Christmas, but afterward I was feeling pretty bad. I was coming down with something and after talking for about a hour then openning presents I had had it and I laid down for awhile. So as Jen explored Bimini and meet new people that first day I was down below sleeping off a cold that hit me like a ton of bricks.
Soon the afternoon was getting near the evening and Jen had just come back from walking around when I heard some shouts above deck. I pulled myself off the settee and went above to find our friends from Orienta who we had not seen since Elizabeth City, NC coming down the dock. They had left from Angelfish Creek and had crossed the same day as us. Here they were with there two children and we had a very joyous reunion. Soon after the other cruisors had arranged a Christimas cocktail party on the dock so we all gathered and we all again got to meet one another and get to know each other better. It had been a great day except for the cold I had and from the minute we got to the docks we had a wonderfully warm welcome. It doesn’t take cruisors long before they are comfortable with each other and soon it was like talking with old friends. Unfortunally, I tired quickly as my cold was still keeping me down and I left Jen to rest aboard. Jen joined me soon after and we celebrated the rest of Christmas watching our new DVD Finding Nemo. Down for the count on Boxing Day, December 26, 2004
I awoke the next morning to the sounds of Junkanoo at 5 o’clock. This festival is is celebrated all over the Caribbean and I could here the beats of the drums on the boat. We had planned to get up and check it out, but I was feeling no better then before and Jen was peacefully sleeping so we did no celebrating on Boxing Day. Once up we took a walk and I got to investigate our surroundings. There was talk of leaving today and I felt like prehaps I could go. Once back at Weeches we got the weather report from Kelpy and it called for 15 to 20 knot winds from the NE. This didn’t excite Jen or I so along with Kelpy we declined to head out as we noticed the waves starting to build outside. This didn’t stop many other boats and by mid morning the dock was starting to empty.
By lunchtime the winds had really kicked up and we were glad to be sitting comfortably at Weech’s. We went to the beach with our friends from Orienta Xavier and Christine. There two lovely daughters Natelia and Daniel where playing in the sand and collecting shells. I introduced them to collecting seashell, which Jen and I have discovered seems to only be a New England hobby. Once I introduced it to them they vigrously went around the beach collecting me sea glass. They are traveling on a 27 foot Vega sailboat and with four of them there shell collecting is limited to only the best, so as they collected shells they were carefully looked over by Christine to see which ones were keepers. It was great fun.