Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Boca Chita Key to Boot Key Harbor

     Wind, tides and weather are the main controlling factors when traveling south on a sailboat. Our decisions to move or stay put are always dependent upon the forecast. We'd been monitoring the wind forecast and predictions that called for increasing winds from the north and east. Our planned trip to Boot Key Harbor in Marathon would take two days from Dinner Key. One night was planned at Boca Chita Key a small uninhabited island at the southernmost end of Biscayne Bay now owned by the National Park system.

Officially, it's not considered part of the Florida Keys. This picturesque little island with its ornamental tabby lighthouse was once owned by Mark Honeywell the heating magnate who used it as a weekend getaway for himself and wealthy friends in the 1930's. Now the island is used by boaters and weekend campers who like us can stay for a nominal fee of $20.00. The island is a tiny tropical delight that seems worlds away from bustling Miami, yet it's only a 25 mile day trip by boat.

Biscayne Bay is a relatively shallow bay with depths averaging around 9 feet. Water depths at the southern end drop even lower to 7 feet. We took our time leaving Boca Chita Key since we needed a rising tide to transit both the channel out of Boca Chita and high tide at Angelfish Creek which is the only southern passage from Biscayne Bay into Hawk Channel on the ocean side.

     Shortly after turning to port into Biscayne Bay a small pod of dolphins spotted Simple Life and to my delight rushed toward her hoping for an exciting bow wave ride.Their disappointment was evident as they swam under her bow and darted off to starboard. Since the water was so shallow I was able to witness and photograph the entire event. It seemed that the largest of the three dolphins was in charge. When he or she decided to sheer away from the boat the others obediently followed.
     High tide was around noon and our arrival at Angelfish Creek was perfectly timed for the passage through to the ocean side. We were cautious since eight years ago we held our breaths as we'd recorded depths of five feet and less in the channel. This time we never saw depths less than seven feet. There appeared to have been quite a lot of development along the shoreline and we speculated that some dredging in the channel may have been done.

    Our arrival in Hawk Channel on the ocean side of Key Largo felt like a homecoming for us. My parents had lived in Key Largo for thirty years and we knew it when it was a rough and tumble sort of existence, long before it was gentrified. Both Joe and I have fond memories for those days. Rodriguez Key on the oceanside of Key Largo would be our anchorage of choice for the evening. Not that there were any other choices of anchorages in the area. The reality of transiting Hawk Channel is that protected anchorages or I should say any anchorages are few and far between.
     Fortunately, we anchored on a windless night. That meant no rocking and rolling and a restful sleep. Boot Key Harbor, our destination was 59.34 nautical miles away. That's a long day on a sailboat. The anchor was raised by me at dawn! I am not a morning person and I'd barely finished one cup of coffee. Joe's back problem had improved but, I didn't want to exacerbate the situation by having him weigh anchor. So, even though I was still bleary eyed the task was mine. With a cup of coffee in one hand and a lever for the manual windlass that wasn't in proper working order in the other it took half an hour to pull up 80 feet of chain even with Joe motoring over the buried anchor to lighten the load of 18,500 pounds of "Simple Life" the task was not one that I relished at such an early hour. It's a good thing there wasn't a squall!

     Winds were under ten knots during the morning and afternoon. We needed to motor sail in order to arrive at Boot Key Harbor before sunset. Rumor was that during January the 226 moorings at the Marathon City Marina can fill up quickly as southbound cruisers arrive at their winter destination. Upon arrival, Joe anxiously called the marina hoping for a mooring assignment. The friendly voice of Ann one of the City Marina administrative assistants responded asking, "How can I help you today?" Joe requested a mooring for a month. We were in luck! Ann assigned our mooring and told us to come in to the marina office when settled to pick up our welcome packet and sign the contract. For now we are settling into living aboard in Boot Key Harbor, a winter destination for many and for us, as each day passes in paradise it's beginning to feel more and more like home.

Boot Key Harbor

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Florida Keys

Friday, January 18, 2013

Dinner Key, Coconut Grove

     In some of my previous blogs I've mentioned the benefit of making "laundry friends." The physical act of doing laundry in public laundry facilities affords people the opportunity and time to have a chat. So far, I have gained some of the best cruising information from quite a few of my laundry friends.
One of those tidbits of knowledge was acquired while tending to laundry tasks in St. Augustine at the city marina. Roxanne aboard a catamaran Dawn Dancer gave me so much useful cruising information. She told me that one of her favorite mooring locations was at Dinner Key in Coconut Grove, Miami. As our laundry exchange continued she also offered information for useful iPad apps for wind (Realwind) and tides (Realtides). She also suggested that Dinner Key was a good stop to provision and visit the historic enclave of Coconut Grove before traveling to the Florida Keys.

     We downloaded the suggested apps and found them to come in handy during our trip down the ICW. The new apps were utilized everyday to calculate optimum departure and arrival times at inlets and anchorages. Dinner Key wasn't a destination that we'd previously considered. But, after being informed that there was an extensive mooring field decided that this would be an alternative to anchoring in Miami.
 It was a pleasure to be in Biscayne Bay where the water was cleaner, the breeze seemed fresher and to no longer be at the mercy of moody bridge tenders along the ICW.

     Roxanne thought that being a writer and photographer, I would find Coconut Grove interesting. Bohemian artist and writers have always called  the Grove home. Eclectic and intriguing, Miami's Coconut Grove can be considered a loose tropical equivalent of New York's Greenwich Village. A haven for writers and artists, the neighborhood hasn't outgrown its image as a small village. Outdoor bistros and sidewalk cafes are packed with patrons young and old on weekends.

Joe loves his ice cream
     On Saturday morning we had breakfast at Le Bouchon du Grove. Afterward, I wanted to visit an organic farmers market on the outskirts of town. The only problem was we'd taken a wrong turn along the way and ended up in a seedy area. You know you've taken a wrong turn when billboards posted in the neighborhood read: Drugs ruin neighborhoods! Report all drug dealings to the authorities! Yikes! Joe's stride quickened as he periodically glanced over his shoulder. I was doing my best to stay calm suggesting that we might want to swing our arms to try to look more nonchalant, as if on a fitness hike. His heightened caution began making me nervous. I'd never seen him so concerned. The neighborhood continued to worsen. Barred windows, abandoned houses, junked cars on cement cinder blocks, barking pit bulls tied on short leashes. He said, "This is just great Michele! I don't like the looks of this. It's getting worse instead of better. Someone was lit on fire in a neighborhood just like this one in Miami last week!" As our pace accelerated I was hoping to see anything resembling the farmers market. We turned a corner and spotted tents set up in an empty lot. We practically ran toward them. The aroma of burning incense wafted from tents. Joe said, "Are you sure this is the right place? It smells like church." The crowd of Birkenstock wearing patrons sampled vegan food, soy based ice cream and even an alfresco massage table.

 The following day irreverent humor was brought to Coconut Grove in the form of the King Mango Strut Parade. The thirty-first annual holiday parade tradition took over the streets of downtown Coconut Grove on Sunday, mocking and punning the biggest local and national news events of the year.
Mango juggler

     Some of the participants carried black caskets in a mock funeral for the Twinkie. "Pot heads" promoting the legalization of marijuana paraded with ceramic pots tied to their heads while tossing bags of weed (cut grass) to the crowd. I was the lucky recipient of one of the bags. A vintage VW Beetle called the Auto Bong sported a giant blunt tied to its roof.

     Other featured guests included Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez on his death bed, Fidel Castro in a wheelchair and former Gen. David “Betray-us along with a float with call girls and secret service men called "Secretly Serviced."


     The parade was a hoot and was all in good humor. An all afternoon and evening block party kicked off after the parade dispersed. Joe and I had dinner that evening at LuLu's a sidewalk cafe that offered a perfect view of the evening's festivities.

     One or two days is more than enough time to cover Coconut Grove. There is no protection from an easterly wind direction in the Dinner Key mooring field and can become extremely uncomfortable due to the fetch in Biscayne Bay. Therefore, we found it prudent to have alternative plans to move prior to an easterly wind change.
     Winds had been forecast to switch to north east and due east within a couple of days. A gentle 10 knot northeasterly afforded us an easy 17 mile run down to Boca Chita Key in Biscayne Bay where we spent only one night.
      The forecast also called for increasing winds of 20 knots and higher within a few days. It was time to continue south in order to arrive in the protection of Boot Key Harbor, Marathon before the onset of heavy winds and seas.

Location:Miami, Florida

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Las Olas to Coconut Grove

When the holidays were over it was time to point Simple Life south toward the Florida Keys. Even though we'd planned to eventually cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas we wanted to revisit the Keys for a few weeks where we'd spent much of our youth.

The first stop after leaving Pompano was Las Olas in North Fort Lauderdale. The municipal marina offers ten moorings for hire directly off the ICW. Even though Las Olas was only eight miles from Pompano it seemed the perfect opportunity to visit Fort Lauderdale Beach. An early afternoon arrival gave us time to tie up to the mooring, dinghy to the municipal marina, and enjoy a walk along the beach and experience so far one of our best "people watching" opportunities.

We planned a long day of travel the following day from Las Olas to Dinner Key in Biscayne Bay. It wasn't only the thirty miles in distance that proved challenging, but the additional ten bridges which opened only on the scheduled hour or half hour with tempers easily turning tense between bridge tenders and us. It seemed that there was always at least one bridge tender who would see the boat coming toward the bridge, acknowledge our request for an opening and minutes later inform us that it was two minutes after the hour (even though the bridge didn't open). This caused half hour delays in our trip due to time circling around in front of the bridge waiting for the next scheduled opening! It was infuriating because there was limited maneuverability in the ICW and it wasted time and fuel.

The trip along this stretch of ICW is called the canyon for a reason. Cement sea walls line relatively narrow canals. High rise condos also line the canals. It resembles guiding a boat through New York City. Boaters in this area seem to lack the courtesy that we'd become accustomed to during the journey south. They were basically oblivious to the size of their wakes and the fact that the wakes bounced off the sea walls and seemed never ending. They waved as they sped by and expected a friendly wave in return!
We didn't wave...It definitely wasn't scenic nor was it a pleasant trip on a weekend. There was a whole lot of name calling and cursing going on aboard the Simple Life aimed at the "offenders." If Joe's back issue had been better and we were able to sail, sailing offshore would have been the preferred option.

You're probably getting the impression that everything is not always "sunshine" along the way. You're correct. It isn't always pleasant. The journey is long, at times difficult and challenging. Why then is it so wonderful?

Balmy breezes! Warm sunshine! Clear aquamarine ocean water! Dolphins! Manatees! Do you get the picture or should I continue? I can, but, I don't want everyone up north to become more depressed about their lives in the chilly northern climes.
Life here still has its challenges. We still need to cook our own meals, go ashore to do laundry, jerry can water back to the boat, grocery shop on a bike, etc. It isn't as easy as living ashore, but I must admit, it sure is more fun! Stay tuned and we'll see how life aboard progresses.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Cruising Community

The definition of Community- a group of interdependent organisms inhabiting the same region and interacting with each other.The cruising community is composed of a motley crew of individuals (organisms) from all walks of life with one commonality, they travel about in boats, socialize in small groups and come to each others aid when needed. The boaters do not necessarily travel together, but often catch up with each other in anchorages along the way. These communities usually form during the annual southerly migration in the fall. But, it's not uncommon for communities to form even in the north where there is a shorter season.

The holidays were fast approaching and most boaters were making plans to leave their boats in a variety of ICW marina locations in preparation to travel home to be with their families. Joe and I planned to visit his mom in Deerfield Beach for Christmas. We'd made reservations to dock Simple Life at a Pompano Beach marina for a few days while we were gone.

I checked my messages one last time before departure and had a Facebook message from our friend Daria. She and her husband Dan of SV Nixie du Nord, with whom we sailed with in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island were also visiting Dan's family in Florida. She'd read one of our recent blogs, knew we were nearby and offered to drive us to Deerfield Beach from the marina! They arrived at the marina with Dan's brother Dave and Joe insisted we all start the morning off on the "right foot" with Bloody Mary's at the marina restaurant. Daria and Dan are wonderful cruising friends whom we've known for many years. They're also perfect examples of kind hearted cruisers who always makes us feel welcomed.

Our stay in Deerfield was scheduled only for three days due to limited reservations at the marina. With plans to depart the marina on the 23rd of December we expected to move south to Dinner Key in Coconut Grove and take the TriRail back to Deerfield Beach for Christmas. The dock master informed us that another boater cancelled a reservation and we could stay through the holiday! Merry Christmas to all! Joe paid for the additional four days and headed back to Simple Life to give me the good news. On his way he ran into another sailing couple whom we'd met while holed up during the hurricane at Dowry Creek. Bob and Pat aboard Chanticleer were visiting their son nearby and were also spending the holidays at the marina. After a quick chat Bob said that he'd rented a car and offered to drive us back to Deerfield Beach! Thanks to Bob and Pat we returned to visit Joe's mom that afternoon. Warmhearted comes to mind when I try to put my feelings about the thoughtful, kind people we've been fortunate enough to meet this season. Their generosity and sincerity is simply astounding and that is why we consider ourselves fortunate to be part of this terrific community.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:South Florida