My how time flies when-
You thought I was going to say: “when you’re having fun” didn’t you? Well, in reality it flies when you have kids. With kids, time soars like an eagle.
I literally can’t believe it’s been over a month since we started this journey.
I was going to title this post “The Bridge that Didn’t Open all the Way” or, The Wires,” or “The Barge,” (could have used that one twice). All of these being recent encounters of the sailing variety that might inspire a second look from my lovely readers, You.
But, in the end, I know the most memorable experience I will have is the Miami skyline which has welcomed me into the fold with its seductive night lights and rainbow painted skyscrapers.
I am finding my spirit animal one cigar at a time.
I am saying “I” and not “we” because this is a singular experience. Adam is somewhat sickened by the ostentatious boats that are so fancy there is no purpose to their existence except to flaunt wealth.
But a lot of things are like that aren’t they?
Marine Stadium in Miami is the craziest anchorage I have seen yet.
It’s situated in a protected body of water just over the Biscayne Bridge, where (at the time) the worlds largest poured concrete structure was built as a modern stadium for motor boat races.
No longer a boat racing venue, it is now a protected anchorage for sailors jumping off to the Bahamas, or for the many, many, motor boaters anchored to drink many, many, drinks and take in the decadent skyline of Miami on the horizon.
It was spectacular. And wild. The music went on all night.
It felt pretty monumental arriving here. No more sweaters! Except today of course. Today I am in Miami STILL wearing a sweater. What can I say? It’s been a cold ass winter. And windy!
The cold just hasn’t quit. Even as we crossed into Georgia, it was a whopping 32 degrees. I wore my sunglasses not just for the sun, but to keep my eyeballs from freezing.
I kept packing away my winter gear the further south we went, only to wake up the next morning to frigid temps and bust it all back out again.
The biting cold wasn’t the only feeling in the air as we continued south. The history on the coastline of South Carolina and Georgia is deep. You can’t escape the thick feeling of our country’s slave history. And if you try to, you will be reminded when you come across “Runaway Negro Creek” on one of your Charts.
Beaufort especially carries some big baggage along the slavery front. Not all of it is bad.
After the the Battle of Port Royal, Beaufort became a role model for the rest of the country before the reconstruction era. Known as the Port Royal Experiment, Beaufort set the stage for the Reconstruction Era. Beaufort’s Reconstruction Era National Historic Park shed a light on this fascinating topic.
I am reading more about it now in Willie Lee Rose’s Rehearsal For Reconstruction.
Passing into Georgia, aside from the cold, was a beautiful experience. The remote swampland is indescribable, so for once, I won’t try.
The tide however,
a 10 foot tide is hard to miss.
We stayed a night next to a lovely and almost eerie beach with a graveyard of trees all along the coast.
We almost had to climb those trees after the tide began its massive ascent.
2 nights into Georgia and we opted to anchor outside of Fort Federica. We got the kids all ready to go and dropped anchor and got in the dinghy to ride over to the national park. But upon closer look, we saw that the dock entrance to the park was no longer under water. The 10 foot tide was bottoming out, leaving our entry to the park only accessible by ‘fluff mud’. The term pretty much describes the terrain. Impassible.
So we waited it out and got to the park right before they closed.
And wow, worth the wait.
Fort Federica is one of the prettiest places I have ever seen.
The trees dominated the grounds like towering chess pieces over flat manicured plantation grounds.
The wind was muffled through the branches by pillows of Spanish Moss making the scene even more ethereal.
I woke up early the next morning to explore the park some more, and I saw a couple picking up Spanish moss throughout the park in a golf cart. It turns out they pick up the moss in exchange for living on the property in their RV.
Adorable and dreamy.
We’re talking: scatter-my-ashes-here kind of pretty. Even the park service employees were pausing to take it all in.
After Fort Federica, everything else was just sub-standard.
We trudged along south, the days slowly warming.
Always finding ways to play.
The kids have made this trip equal parts unforgettably precious, and incredibly challenging and demanding. I thought I was busy before this trip.
Im just hoping that she remembers the good parts, and not the times where she’s melting down like Mount Vesuvius. It helped when a mom remind me that toddlers will have their meltdowns here, or at home. But regardless of where you are, the meltdowns will be ever present.
Hoping she’s right.
We know Kikio is having a blast.
“He’s turning kind of brown,” she says now. And soon, we all will be!
As we crossed into Florida and headed through Fernandina Beach, everything got really big. There were so many shipping containers around us, it was hard to tell which ones were moving and which ones were docked. The size of them! They loomed ahead like buildings on their sides.
Adam was coming up through the channel in the middle of it all where an inlet was crossing the ICW. There was a blind spot in the inlet crossing after coming out from under a bridge. By the time he cleared the bridge and came into the crossing he heard an enormous horn just in time to see that a huge container ship was barreling across the inlet on a collision course. There was a security boat behind us who started yelling at us as there wasn’t even time to pick up the radio. Adam hit the breaks so hard that I reflexively picked up the phone to call tow boat us because I assumed we had run aground.
That was exciting.
After the crisis passed, the security boat hailed us on 16 and asked us about oriental and talked about his military past for like 5 minutes. Not sure what that was all about.
I can imagine that sort of thing happens a lot. The landscape of the place really did make it hard to see which boats were moving and which boats were docked. The timing was singular.
That day continued on into especially windy conditions.
Gusts were pushing 30 as we passed Fernandina Beach. And they were only predicted to get worse on my Predict Wind app.
This day was a great example of all the factors that go into anchoring.
It feels like a 7 step program at least.
Skipper Bob is our ICW anchoring guide book. He has ALL the spots on the ICW, and rates them for holding, wind, current, wake, scenery and provisioning.
There are so many factors that we have to consider when picking a spot.
First: the wind. If its blowing, you want protection. And you want to be windward of the blow. And then, you want to check to see if the wind will change direction while you are anchored and of course you want your protection to stay with you. So if the wind is predicted to shift, you need protection from more than one direction.
Second: Scope. We try to do at least a 7-1 scope. If the tide is going to swing you around, or the wind if its shifting, you want to make sure you don’t swing into shore (which involves some MORE math if you are anchoring with a 10 foot tidal shift), or into another boat if you are in a crowded anchorage. That should be easy enough. Because if you are swinging, the other boats will also be swinging.
Well, not if the boat next to you is on a Bahamian anchorage. If the guy next to you has an anchor out from his bow, and one from his stern, he will only swing half as far, making your boat a lot closer to his if the tide turns you around. Just one MORE thing to keep in mind as you try to drop anchor into the wind in a crowded little cove somewhere fancy and the wind is gusting 30 knots. (Just an example)
Third: Provisioning, can I get to a store from this spot? If we need provisions, we need to be at least a few miles from a store, on a road that is walkable or electric-scooter-able. (Dweeb alert on the electric scooter, I want to love it, but I abhor it.)
And of course, timing: How long will it take you to get to the anchorage? How many bridges will you have to wait too open before you get to it? What if the bridge before the anchorage doesn’t open from 4-6pm? Then you have to anchor in the dark if you miss the 4 o’clock opening! The tide will determine your speed throughout the day, and any bridges you have to wait for. And horror of horrors, what if you finally get there just before dark and there’s no room for you? Best to have one or two back up plans.
Lastly, and something that we have come up on a LOT, how up to date is your info? Many of skipper bob’s reported dinghy dock access points have been closed. What good is an anchorage chosen for land access if there is no access? It’s pays to check Active Captain for the latest reviews on anchorages. Garmin bought active captain, so that’s a fun new navigational challenge. But the info is all still there, if you can find it.
It really is an endless wheel of meticulous planning.
I ran us aground pretty good right as we turned into our carefully chosen anchorage for wind protection. And upon doing so, I learned a great lesson:
If it looks like a shoal, it’s probably a shoal. Especially if it barks like a shoal, and even quacks like a shoal. According to Adam, this one was barking pretty hard.
I even said, “I think we are going to run aground here”, right before we hit bottom.
In my defense, Skipper Bob led me astray on this one. His instructions were to “hug the shore line”, when he should have said, “hump the shore line.”
I already had us in the queue for Tow Boat US when I felt Adam used his boat ungrounding powers as he backed us off.
It was blowing a steady 25 knots and gusting 35. I did not want to spend anymore time there than necessary.
Continuing on to..
Where it all started. It was SO nice to return to the place where the boat buying extravaganza all began.
Until of course, aNOTHER cold front hit with a mighty blow to back it up. For 3 days.
I was not giong to be stuck in the boat again.
We braved the wind and the rain and Emilia and I walked for miles in St. Augustine, determined to see the city dammit.
And to buy one of happy pappys glowing balls of course.
We stopped to look at the toy boats bouncing around in St. Augustine’s municpal mooring field.
Glad we didn’t go that route!
After the blow in St. Augustine, we continued our long long journey south.
We made it to coco beach and decided on an anchorage just south of the bridge.
Following the bridge were some overhead cables that had a clearance of 87 feet. No problem, we were 62 feet high. The anchorage was just before the wires, and just past. Boats were scattered throughout the wires. There were less boats before the wires, but most boats were in lee of the wires. The dinghy dock was just past the bridge so we decided to anchor with the few boats that preceded the wires. I anchored us just before the wires, not thinking much of it. But as we let our anchor chain sink into the mud, we got to thinking: “I wonder if the overhead clearance for the wires is lower if you aren’t in the channel?”
I looked around and saw that all the boats that anchored before the wires had very short masts, or none at all.
I figured, in case we drag, we should probably pull anchor and head to where all the OTHER tall masted boats were anchoring.
I wont go into to detail as to just how close to the wires we actually got during this entire ordeal.. We will leave that to the imagination.
Sometimes it pays to be a turkey, and just do what most everyone else is doing.
In our defense, from our vantage point in the water, the wires look like they are at a uniform height all across the river. Just one of many illusions that can get you on the water.
The biggest part of the illusion is that boats are anchored on both sides of them.
It turns out that the wires are much lower closer to shore. The charted “overhead cable clearance” is in the channel only.
Those wires it turns out, have been hit by many a mast.
We walked through the adorable town of coco beach (ICW side) and shopped and ate and tried not to get Omicron. The next day we motored along with still waters and warmer weather. Florida was finally starting to feel like Florida.
Until a motor boater passed us at 60 mph shattering our sill water landscape and knocking EVERYTHING over on the boat.
So the real adversary in Florida Waters is:
Can I get an extra can of airhorn with that motorboat sandwich?
Seriously. I am going to run out of airhorn.
But we got used to it pretty fast. By necessity.
As we approached the Palm Beach area the bridges increased in variety and quantity.
We came up on one that literally: didn’t open all the way. I don’t understand it. The bridge tender rushed us through, telling us to speed our approach, and then opened the bridge maybe 20 percent. I had to scoot along the left bridge fender just to make sure my mast didn’t hit the barely opened bridge! I don’t know if he did it on purpose or if the bridge wasn’t working right, or what. The worst part was that there really wasn’t anything we could have done differently to make it safer.
After that, we passed into the clear blue waters south of Lake Worth, near West Palm.
Wow, definitely feeling like we made it now that I’m seeing Manatees and Rays.
I decided to take a quick dinghy ride to peanut island, where the crystal water was irresistible. With a little lagoon in the middle of the island to tool around in.
I made it over there with the wind on my back no problem. The wind was crazy that day (again), and it briefly occurred to me that I should turn the dinghy around to feel what 20-25 knots of wind on my nose is like before I fully committed to cross the ICW all the way to the island.
But I didn’t.
After a short lived manatee adventure near peanut island, I started making my way back to the big boat. The wind was on my nose and pushed me so hard I thought the boat was going to flip over backwards. The motor is heavy and the dinghy isn’t all that big so with me sitting near the back, it really wasn’t impossible. But it probably would have taken a big wave to actualize that disaster.
Nevertheless, it felt awful to feel the wind pick up the nose of my dinghy. So I hugged the shore of peanut island before I decided to make a run for it and commit to crossing the channel back to the boat. I gathered my shrinking confidence and started to make for it and took a quick look over my shoulder to make sure there wasn’t a boat coming up the channel.
Long dramatic foreshadowing pause here.
Somehow, in the time it took for me to turn the corner of peanut island, a massive barge came flying up the channel behind me silent as a snake. The barge was in a blind spot from that side of peanut island until he was right on top of me, and the roaring wind made it impossible for me to hear anything behind me.
I was like phytoplankton in the path of a blue whale.
Not an ideal scenario. But I scooted out of there back to the shores of peanut island, where I almost stayed.
I’m embarrassed to say I looked for alternative ways that I could get back to the big boat without getting back in the dinghy.
There were no other options.
So I gathered my shriveled up confidence and LOOKED BOTH WAYS, and headed into the blow across the channel back to the big boat. I sat up front with the tiller extended and the nose of my dinghy stayed low.
No damage done except to my shattered nerves. And to Adam, who watched the entire scene from the big boat.
In retrospect, I really wasn’t that close to disaster. I wasn’t close to collision, just close enough to feel the enormity of modern day industrialism.
From there, the waters muddied and we said goodbye to blue water for a bit.
The anchorages were starting to get crowded fast. No more marinas south of coco beach. “No spaces available for transient dockage for catamarans till May” was what every marina told me from here to the Keys. Not that we needed to dock the boat, I just wanted to know what my options were. And docking the boat for a night isn’t one of them. Not anymore.
Luckily we’ve got our anchoring confidence built after a few anchorages in some 20+ knot wind.
We anchored in Peck Lake, a beautiful spot with a gorgeous beach just a short walk away. After we dropped the hook we packed up the kids and headed for the beach. We really haven’t had much opportunity till now to even go to a beach. Not since Edisto.
While we were walking along the trail, Emilia spotted a coconut and picked it up. It was a perfect round little ball and I was thinking about all the fun things I could make with it when Emilia started screaming actual bloody murder.
Huge red furry ants started pouring out of the coconut onto her hands.
Luckily she only sustained one sting. and some mild trauma.
Turns out, they weren’t ants at all, but wasps in disguise as ants. “Velvet ants” is what they are called, or “cow killers”.
We are going to have to work on a little bug trauma.
Emilia isn’t a fan of bugs. She is already calling Florida “Mo-Florida” because of all the “Mo-Squitos”.
Adam had some fun helping push a motor boat off the beach before heading back to our anchorage.
One thing that does seem to be uniform along the boating community, is helpfulness. We still haven’t had to dock the boat alone because someone is always running up to catch a line.
By the time we got to Boca Lake, the water was clear again.
We dropped anchor in the north part of the lake, and dinged over to what used to be a park with an access point to land. Now it’s a construction zone.
Boca Lake is probably the Ritziest place I’ve ever been to with the exception of the Persian Gulf.
So Adam dinghied over to a nearby sailboat in our anchorage and asked where we could get to land.
“Nowhere” was their answer.
Well, that wasn’t going to work for us.
South of Fort Lauderdale there’s a 47’ fixed bridge on the ICW. Not enough clearance for our mast. We had to go outside. But I still didn’t want to put the kids on the boat outside until at least one of us went into the ocean with someone experienced first.
Captain Stan came to our rescue and offered to go out from Boca Lake with Adam to Miami. I was going to meet them by car with the kids. We are so fortunate to know someone so knowledgeable, experienced and helpful.
But how would we make the switch if we couldn’t get to land?
So I tooled around and found a marina/hotel with a “dock and dine” service. We had a fancy dinner in exchange for docking our dinghy on their overcrowded tiny dinghy dock. The kids threw their Mac and cheese all over the lovely cushions of our booth.
Turns out the hotel staff didn’t care when we used the dinghy dock, and there was 24 hour access from the outside restaurant through the hotel to the parking lot.
So we coordinated a day break switcharoo where I hopped in the car with the kids and Adam and Stan went out into the ocean for a 30 mile jaunt.
WOW it was nice to be in a car again!!!! I drove on A1A to ft Lauderdale, where we stopped by the water to walk along the ocean for a bit and kill some time.
We made it down to the beach and there was just one amazing little sea shell after another. Emilia and I were picking up our little treasures when a monster of a tracker trailer came blazing up behind us with no care for our little sea shell picking family.
We stepped out of the way as he barreled past and literally ‘combed’ over all the sea shells with a ‘beach comber’ trailing behind the monstrosity.
What the F—?
“What just happened?!” I asked to no-one/everyone on the beach around me.
“They are cleaning up the beach”.
But… its a pristine lovely beach with nothing but a few sea shells.
Well, leave it to south Florida. I bet the sand isn’t even local.
It reminded me of Qatar. In the middle of Doha was the Souk, a central market place where vendors sell all kinds of amazing things and people spend hours perusing, dining, smoking a hookah, or just socializing. Once Qatar became a (very) wealthy country, they made short work of tearing down the historic souk, and rebuilding it, while making it look old and historic.
The beachcombers of Ft Lauderdale was such a quintessential Florida experience.
Emilia said when she finds that tractor man she’s going to tell him to give her back her sea shells.
The rest of the drive to Miami was nice. And I finally got to see Miami. It reminds me of New York, but in the tropics and with lots of Cubans… and Puerto Ricans, and Italians, and well..
I love it.
Aside from a quick grocery store pick up, and a chaotic west marine trip, the rest of Miami was seen from the drivers seat.
By the time all my errands were run, Captain Stan and Adam were already anchored in Marine Stadium.
The FL Keys.