As darkness spreads over Boot Key Harbor and the wind begins to die, we settle in for another night on the water. Hooked up to our mooring the routine becomes a little less stressful; for a while anyway. The trip to this point had been anything but stress free.
Thanksgiving in Vero Beach was quite the event. Wonderful food surrounded by great friends is reason for anyone to express gratitude. Out on the water, especially in transit, you miss direct contact with people, especially friends. This opportunity and our stay in Vero Beach gave us a chance to recompress a bit. We had an opportunity to meet some new folks as well as catch up with old friends we havenâ€™t seen in over a year or more. There was even a chance to play a little poker!
Louise and Chris from â€œNo Keysâ€ came to visit and we had a great time driving around in a real â€œcarâ€ and enjoying sights we donâ€™t normally see by boat.
Cruisers affectionately know Vero Beach as â€œVelcro Beachâ€. You can get â€œstuckâ€ there. We broke that bond on December 7th. Weather outside in the ocean continued to be rough. It seems that the east wind has been blowing hard for weeks if not a month or more. This pushes the Gulf Stream close to the Florida coast and makes for bigger waves. Our choice was to continue south to Lake Worth at Palm Beach and then venture off shore to Miami.
The homes as seen from the ICW are pretty spectacular but once you get to Jupiter they go up exponentially. You pass Greg Normanâ€™s â€œhouseâ€ and shortly past Tigerâ€™s (or was Tigerâ€™s). The yachts docked along the way are also pretty impressive.
After anchoring for the night in south Lake Worth we rose early for our outside trip to Miami. Weather forecasts gave no hint to the actual conditions. As our boat crashed its way through the swells we wondered if we had made a good decision. A half mile out we turned to parallel the coats with the waves on the beam. The boat heaved from one side to the other and then back again. This was not to be a good ride. We chose to abort and return to Lake Worth. As we did, a 100â€™+ mega yacht also opted to return. You donâ€™t feel so bad â€œchickeningâ€ out when the big boys join you.
Once inside we are faced with the unpleasant option of an inside trek in the ditch facing a total of 21 bridge openings. This stretch to Ft. Lauderdale is extremely developed and the boat traffic can be tenable at best. With little choice, we headed for bridge number one.
Traffic was light but the weather sucked. It rained off and on all day. Even with the rain the sights were pretty impressive. The houses and the boats docked outside just kept getting better. We chose to stay in a marina in Pompano Beach and so to take advantage of some shore leave. This means cocktails and food prepared by someone else. The outside bar at the Sands Marina and Hotel serves up some of the best wings weâ€™ve ever tasted. Four thumbs up!
We finished up our trip to Fort Lauderdale the next day and the quality of housing and yachts went up several more notches. We were now waiting for bridge openings with 200â€™ mega yachts worth many millions. In Ft. Lauderdale we learned that money has the right of way. As the last bridge slowly receded we turned to port and headed out to sea. A short 25-mile trip to Miami was ahead.
The winds blew a steady 15 to 20 from the east (where else) and we were actually enjoying a real sail. Many fishermen were out as the sailfish were biting. Itâ€™s their custom to set their lines and let the boats drift. Intent on watching the lines they donâ€™t pay much attention to boat traffic. We kept adjusting our course to avoid one small boat but it kept drifting into our path. I figured we had plenty of room but had failed to notice their kite. The kites are used as outriggers and I snagged theirs. Since they donâ€™t use VHF radios, much gesturing and yelling ensued. Mary started the engine and let the sail luff as we turned back towards them. They frantically reeled or let their lines spool as we maneuvered trying to free the kite. After some artful maneuvers we were able to free ourselves and continue on our way. I donâ€™t think they shared in my humor of the whole event.
Later that afternoon we slipped into Government Cut and proceeded to our anchorage at Marine Stadium so of Miami.
The forecast looked bad with east winds increasing to 25 knots and above. This forecast extended for a week. It looked like we would need a place to stay in Miami. I have a doctorâ€™s appointment in Madison on the 20th of December and plane reservations have already been made. On the plus side the plane leaves from Miami, on the negative side there are no inexpensive places to stay.
We agonized for a day before making the decision to at least try to make it out Cape Florida Channel and hopefully Hawk Channel inside the reef would be better. Small craft warnings were out and forecast seas of up to seven feet awaited us. Fortunately for us, none of this materialized. Winds were light and we had a delightful trip to Rodriguez Key near Key Largo. Rodriguez Key has no protection from the east but there was little wind as we anchored. A squall blew through after 2100 and the wind shifted to the north. Now protected by the island we slept comfortably the remainder of the night.
At dawn the race began as five boats left heading west to Marathon. You are never sure whether there are enough moorings for everyone (this time of year there always is) so you want to be first in. Light winds turned to brisk as the day wore on. By 1200 it was blowing about 25 knots from the stern. With the headsail out we surfed along in the waves at a steady 7 1/2 knots.
About an hour out of Marathon we both felt the boat shudder. The vibration could be felt underfoot but there were no lobster pots trailing us and the speed stayed up, we sailed on. As we took our mooring assignment in Boot Key Harbor the wind was now gusting over 30 knots. Picking up the mooring line became difficult especially since the vibration now was very bad. The third try was the charm and we were secured to the mooring. I immediately went below to check things out. No water was in the bilge, which is always a good thing. The dripless shaft seal, a replacement of the traditional stuffing box, appeared to be in the process of disintegrating. It looked like it had overheated. A total failure generally means a LOT of water comes in the boat and you better be confident in your bilge pumps. Once again we were unfortunate to have something break but extremely fortunate to have it break where it did and when it did.
The boat will be hauled out for inspection after I return from Wisconsin. Until then we wonâ€™t know the full nature of the damage or what caused it. In the mean time we plan on relaxing with friends and enjoying our southernmost â€œhomeâ€.