This “chapter” covers our adventures from Vero Beach, FL to our Bahamas crossing departure point, No Name Harbor, Key Biscayne, FL.
Hello and Goodbye to the Ditch (Wed, Dec 19)
We got an early 7am start, and were soon on our way to Ft. Pierce. We had decided that we would try our best to avoid the dozens of restricted draw bridges that lay ahead, and go outside (to the ocean) at the Ft. Pierce inlet. By the time we turned at Ft. Pierce to go out the inlet we were making great time, with a favorable current. That ebb tide soon became our nemesis, as a strong east wind began piling up steep 8 foot waves at the entrance. Sogno, and her 63 hp diesel were up to the task, but we still managed to “drive through” (smash) through a number of waves and send the salt spray flying into our cockpit and on us. Soon the mainsail was up, and we were motor sailing down the coast toward our next stop, West Palm Beach. It was fun not to have to glance at the depth finder all the time, and worry about whether we’d be too late for the next bridge opening.
We crossed an ICW milestone of sorts even though we were off shore, by passing south of the ICW 1000 mile mark. It seemed much more than 51 days since we were rushing by mile 0 in Norfolk, VA to make it to the Dismal Swamp locks.
We arrived at West Palm Beach around 4:30 and anchored in Lake Worth. There were plenty of other boats, but there was still a lot of room for more. Lake Worth is a popular jumping off spot for cruisers going to Grand Bahama Island and the Abacos. Our plan though was to go further south to Miami, with a stop at Ft. Lauderdale.
A Bridge Too Far (Thur, Dec 20)
We were underway and heading out the inlet by around 7:30. The waves at the inlet were again steep, but not as high as at Ft. Pierce. The wind was just off our bow, so it was going to be another day of motor sailing, with some occasional squalls to go through before we entered the Ft. Lauderdale inlet.
We had arranged to stay in the Downtown City Docks Marina run by the city. At the end of the inlet, we turned north on the ICW, leaving the big cruise ships in Port Everglades behind us. We waited for the 57 foot draw bridge to open, although we should have been able to clear it by 3 or 4 feet (we were clearly getting nervous about shallow water and low bridges) and then turned off on the New River.
At first it was just a narrow river, well marked that wound past some very nice houses. Then it began to get more urban, and soon it was like a Venetian canal, passing by large yachts “parked” near hotels, with cars driving past us besides the nearby canal walls. It was really wild, especially when we came up to a series of small draw bridges that seemed to open and close within 2 or 3 minutes (like very long traffic lights.)
We actually went one bridge to far, and had to back track (turn around) through the Andrews Ave. bridge before we found our assigned spot along the canal wall. (We actually were assigned a spot way too close to the Third Ave. bridge but were able to tie up at another spot so we would have some maneuvering room when it came time to leave. We were impressed with the constant flow of mega yachts up and down the river, many of them being towed to and from the large yards that were located further up the river.
After getting ourselves settled, and out of our damp foul weather gear, we discovered that our fresh water system was not working. The pump appeared dead. Luckily one of the “must do’s” in Vero Beach was fixing our manual galley sink pump, so we could still easily get water for most uses. But we didn’t have water for showers or the sink in the head and – you guessed it – this marina didn’t have showers! Tomorrow would be a busy day.
We decided to deal with this plumbing crisis in an adult fashion, and headed to the Downtowner Saloon (located a few yards from the marina office) for some quesadilla appetizers with a followup session of fish and chips at the Briny Pub Riverside across the river. We also had a chance to chat with a member of the catamaran Long Reach directly across from us. She and her husband, plus one other crewman were crossing over to West End, Grand Bahamas the following morning and would be underway well before the bridges were closed down for the morning rush.
It’s a Very West Marine Christmas for Buds at Sea (Fri, Dec 21)
The next day we headed off to the bus terminal, and boarded the bus that would take us to the nearest West Marine. We were so busy referring to our city maps,that one of the passengers (in broken English) took pity on us and pointed out where we were every few minutes. He even reminded the bus driver where we needed to get off, so that when we arrived, he made a loud announcement that we were at our stop. We have always found that fumbling with maps will always attract some help from nice people – at least during the day.
The Ft. Lauderdale store, is the largest West Marine we’ve ever seen, with one huge retail area, and a separate building catering just to inflatables. It was suddenly Christmas shopping time for us and Sogno. Besides the exact water pump replacement we needed, we found a lot more things to buy (e.g., some water filters to use when filling our tanks from shore water). Needless to say we had quite a lot of stuff to tote back on the bus.
The water pump was successfully replaced, we took our showers, and we even found some free Wi-Fi to do some email. Things were definitely going well, so we headed to the Downtowner’s happy hour for some spinach and artichoke dip and other special price items! The bartender even remembered our name! We then headed for the shopping and restaurant area on Las Olas Blvd and decided to have some great pizza at the Café Europa. We slept well that night.
Circles in the New River (Sat, Dec 22)
Our getaway the next morning was not pretty. The run to Miami was a little more than 20 miles down the coast, so we didn’t get going as early as usual. Secondly, we had some hiccups to deal with in our navigational PC and electronics, which involved some software re-installs. By that time, there was a good ebb current flowing toward the bridge, and we took nearly 30 minutes walking Sogno back along the wall to give ourselves more maneuvering room.
When we were all set, and there was no other traffic nearby, we cast off our lines, and put it into reverse, neatly backing away and swinging around in the current which was taking us toward the Third Ave. Bridge. From there we simply shifted into forward to pull away from the Bridge and request an opening. Easy to describe, but certainly a thrilling way see that your engine and transmission is in tip-top shape. I’m sure the bridge keeper had watched our struggles and was happy to get us on our way.
The rest of the trip out of the city, was in bright sunshine and very pleasant. We had to wait for a mechanical delay of the big drawbridge near the inlet – it would not open -- , but by 12:30 we were on our way out the inlet. Wind was light, so it was another motoring day, and we arrived at the entrance to Miami around 3:45. We called TowBoat/US to confirm that Government Cut (where the Port of Miami passenger ship terminals are) was closed to pleasure craft for security reasons. This meant we had to detour down Fisherman’s Channel, go north on a section of the ICW, before we could turn east to our planned anchorage along the Venetian Causeway. f
Venetian Causeway is a series of bridges and islands that crosses from Miami on the mainland to Miami Beach. For Sogno, the initial channel is pretty shallow and narrow, but it opens up to a broad bay with good water with many potential anchorage spots. The first ones we looked at seemed to either have some significant current or were in cable areas, where you shouldn’t anchor. We finally settled on spot behind a small un-named island, just north of Hibiscus Island.
After dinner, we were pleasantly surprised to see a parade of lighted boats coming out our way, with Salsa music blaring. We had finally lucked out and been able to see one of these Christmas parades. The weather was perfect and the parade went on for at least 40 minutes, so we had a chance to see quite a variety from big yachts to small runabouts. No sailboats were in the parade, apparently since the parade route included passing under a 35 foot fixed bridge. It was nice end to a day that had begun somewhat badly.
Grocery Shopping by Dinghy (Sun, Dec 23)
After breakfast, we launched our dinghy so we could go for one more provision trip. On the way we stopped to chat with Shamrock, our neighbor in the anchorage. John and Jennifer were from New Jersey and were slowly working their way down toward the Keys. They filled us in on the Collins Canal that would lead us to Publix where we could do our grocery shopping.
With some further directions on the Miami Beach side, we motored for 15 minutes up the very small canal (you ducked as you went under the small bridges) which ran alongside a city street. We locked our dinghy to a cable someone had securely installed along the bank, and just had to cross the street to be in the Publix parking lot. This was very cool – and convenient.
We were back aboard Sogno, re-stowed and under way by 2pm. We followed the ICW south to Biscayne Bay, took a trickier than expected short cut over to Crandon Marina on Key Biscayne and topped off our fuel tanks. We then headed down to No Name Harbor near the southern end of the island.
No Name Harbor is a popular jumping off spot for cruisers going to Bimini in the Bahamas and was pretty full when we arrived around 4:30. We finally positioned ourselves comfortably apart from other nearby boats on our second anchoring try. The harbor is very snug and protected, and located in a Florida State Park. The weather forecast for the following day was a hot topic of discussion among the fleet, but we decided that it would be safer (and more comfortable) to wait an additional day.
Christmas Eve in No Name Harbor (Mon, Dec 24)
After a hearty pancake breakfast, Brian spent the morning preparing our navigational plan (and alternates) for going to Bimini and then on to Nassau. If the crossing was good, Plan A would take us north of Bimini by late afternoon, crossing the Great Bahama Bank by dawn, and then down the Northwest Channel to Nassau by mid afternoon. Sue focused on creating a weather cloth to protect the cockpit from the annoying engine exhaust spray that occurred when the wind was blowing over port side.
That afternoon, we had a pot luck dinner organized by some of the cruisers planning to depart the next day. It was a very different kind of Christmas Eve party, with most of the talk about when people were leaving (anywhere from 4am to 8am), where they were going to clear customs (Bimini, Gun Cay, Nassau) and where they were going after that (Exumas). We also wondered how the boats that had left that morning had fared, but no one had gotten any emails or calls. We broke up just after sunset (we saw the green flash!), and made our way back to Sogno for a very early lights out.
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Brian and Sue
Buds at Sea