Thursday, April 28, 2016

Cruising the west coast

We are anchored in a quiet bay off Manasota Key, in the community of Englewood, Florida (map). This is a new anchorage for us, on an otherwise familiar route. We passed by here a year ago in the other direction.

Sunset over Cabbage Key.

Monday afternoon we steamed into San Carlos Bay, leaving the Sanibel Lighthouse to port, and arrived off the landward side of Sanibel Island. We dropped a "dinner hook" just east of the Sanibel Island Causeway's "C-Span" (map). Not to be confused with the TV channel of that name.

The Sanibel Island Causeway connects the island to the mainland, at Fort Meyers, by means of three separate bridge spans and two man-made islands. Together they span the entire mouth of San Carlos Bay, some three miles. The A-Span, closest to Fort Myers, crosses the main navigation channel and has a vertical clearance of 70'. We can easily pass under this, of course, but the main navigation channel leads to Cape Coral, Fort Meyers, and the Okeechobee Waterway, whereas we wanted to continue north along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

We could have simply continued up the main navigation channel to the Caloosahatchee River entrance and then turned left into a dredged channel that carries the ICW across San Carlos Bay. That route was four miles out of our way, most of it against the current. Moreover, it would take us across one of the most unnerving stretches of waterway we've ever traversed, a narrow, shallow channel with so much recreational boat traffic it is known locally and throughout the boating community as "The Miserable Mile" -- even guidebooks call it that. We traversed that stretch last year on our way up the Caloosahatchee and found it lived up to it's name; we were not eager to repeat it.

Instead we opted for the shorter route, which crosses the causeway at the C-Span (the B-span, between the man-made islands, has a ten foot air clearance across shoal-draft water, and is only navigable by very small boats). The C-Span has a full-draft navigation channel under a hump in the bridge with an air clearance of 26'.

The C-Span, from the west, with the tip of Sanibel seen through the navigation channel.

Vector's "air draft" is 27' with the antennas down, which means we can not pass under this bridge at high tide or any time within a foot of it, and it was high tide when we arrived. Consulting the tide tables we learned the low tide in the morning would not be low enough, either (the tide is bi-modal here) and we'd need to pass through at the evening low or close to it, hence the dinner hook.

Another issue with this bridge is that the tide board, which informs mariners of the actual clearance of the bridge accounting for tide, is missing on the east side. (Fortunately, we knew this before arriving.) We wanted to double-check the clearance, and so when slack tide came, not long after we anchored, we launched our new inflatable kayak for the very first time and paddled through the bridge and over to the west-facing tide board. The clearance turned out to be even lower than published, so we're glad we did. The kayak worked surprisingly well for something that cost just a hundred bucks, and we foresee using it to reach places the tender simply can not go.

Sunset over Sanibel Island.

We had a very nice dinner and enjoyed watching the comings and goings at Sanibel Island throughout the afternoon. We spotted quite a few dolphins all around us, also enjoying their dinner. Just a little before sunset, we weighed anchor to move literally just a few hundred feet, to the other side of the bridge. We dropped the hook just west of the bridge (map) and settled in for the night. And what a night it was.

Just after twilight a huge storm cell hit us, with lightning, torrential rain (nicely cleansing the salt spray from the boat), and 20-knot winds. No problem at all for Vector, but just a few hundred yards from us we could see several small pleasure boats, 20-odd-foot center consoles, who were having the proverbial "worst day fishing."  Everyone in these open boats was drenched, notwithstanding some of them trying to take shelter under the bridge, and we watched as one small boat tied up to a bridge support and everyone got off onto the abutment. We got no answer from them on the radio and ended up calling the Coast Guard in case we were witnessing an abandon-ship (there was no way for us to reach them). When the storm let up they got back in the boat and left, so apparently they were just trying to escape the swells.

Vector in front of Useppa Island, as seen from Cabbage Key.

We had a quiet morning at anchor Tuesday morning, as we waited on a favorable tide to continue north. After only a short distance, we rejoined the ICW and our track from our previous visit, retracing our steps back to Cabbage Key, which we quite enjoyed last year. We could easily have made more distance, but we wanted to enjoy dinner there in their quirky restaurant. I described this anchorage last time through, so I won't repeat it here; we anchored in very nearly the same spot (map).

Cabbage Key.

Last year we had made the run from Sarasota to Cabbage Key in a single day. At 47 nautical miles, with several bridge openings, that makes for a very long day, around eight hours under way, all of it requiring constant attention to the helm. This time we wanted to break the trip up into two sections, but anchorages for our draft are few and far between here. We set our sights on Manasota Key, which looks from the chart to be inaccessible, but notes from other cruisers said otherwise. We weighed anchor yesterday fairly late in the morning, so as to arrive here on a rising tide of at least a foot.

It turned out to be no trouble at all, and we could easily have made it at low tide, too. It's a calm, quiet, and spacious anchorage, and other than a few local boats being stored here on the hook, we had it to ourselves. We dropped the tender and rode to local favorite Flounders Beachside Restaurant for dinner. We also walked across the street to the beach where we had a Manasota flashback -- long-time readers may remember we had a bit of an incident here in the bus.

Today we will proceed the rest of the way to Sarasota, where we will most likely take a mooring ball again at Marina Jacks. We enjoyed our last visit there and are looking forward to returning. Ahead of us on today's route is one of the shallowest spots on the ICW, so we are timing our departure with the tide.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Neapolitan Cruise

I am again typing underway, just a half mile off the west coast of Florida. We are just passing Naples; we've visited there more than once in the bus, so it is not worth making a very challenging shoal-water entrance to access the extremely limited anchorages there. We'll continue north to the protected waters behind Sanibel Island instead.

Naples from offshore. No sign of Sorrento or Capri...

Friday afternoon we dropped the hook inside Everglades National Park, at the mouth of Ponce De Leon Bay and the Little Shark River, nearly a mile offshore (map). We had planned to travel another mile and a half to a protected anchorage in the river, marked on our charts. We certainly could have done that; depths are 8' MLLW all the way in, and 11' or so in the anchorage, and we arrived at nearly high tide with another three and a half feet under us.

Leaving the keys for Shark River. That's Moser Channel and the Seven Mile Bridge behind us.

What stopped us in our tracks offshore was bugs. Had we arrived here even a month or so earlier, we probably could have spent a lovely night among the mangroves. But the bug season has started, and numerous reviewers related that they are plentiful and vicious. We have screens, but many of the worst bugs here can pass right through them. I would probably fare OK, but Louise, who is considered a delicacy in the bug world, would be eaten alive, or possibly carried back to the nest.

As we approached we could see boats in the anchorage upriver, but we resisted the temptation. Reviewers had said that the bugs started a full mile offshore and recommended remaining at least that far for the most bug-free experience. With steady winds out of the east, we figured they'd have trouble detecting us (although a free ride to catch us), so we took a chance on coming in another quarter mile. With only three quarters of a mile of fetch, we had relative calm at anchor, and it was nearly flat overnight. I'm sorry we did not get to see more of the Shark River; perhaps we'll pass this way again outside of bug season.

Marco Island from sea.

We awoke to a bit of pitching as the seas picked up in the morning, and so we prepared to get under way without delay. Our next planned stop was an anchorage in Russell Pass, just off the Indian Key Pass channel leading to Everglades City. As we looked at the charts and read anchorage reviews, we realized we would face the exact same bug problem there as well. We had no plans to go ashore at Everglades City -- we've been there before and there's not a lot to see, plus it's a loooong tender ride. Realizing our anchorage offshore at Ponce De Leon cut at least a half hour off our route, and with an early start, we opted to press on ahead to Marco Island instead.

That made for a long day Saturday, with a 54-nm cruise. Bypassing the Russell Pass stop did cut twenty miles off the total, as the enormous Cape Romano Shoals make for a circuitous departure to the north. We made Capri Pass, the inlet to Marco Island, by 5pm, and dropped the hook off-channel at the entrance to the Big Marco River (map), across from the Snook Inn and Pelican Pier, by 5:30. Before arriving I had forgotten that it was Saturday, and it was boats akimbo from the sea buoy all the way to the anchorage. Seas in the gulf had picked up to three feet with a short period by the time we made the inlet, and we were happy to be in protected water.

Vector anchored at Marco Island, as seen from the Snook Inn. The heavy current makes her appear under way.

We splashed the tender and rode over to the Snook Inn for dinner. In the time it took us to anchor and get the dinghy ready, the sheriff's patrol pulled over two boats for speeding just a couple hundred yards from us -- dinner and a show.  The restaurant has customer dockage, busy at lunch but nearly empty at dinner time. We enjoyed a nice meal in the dining room, opting to skip the hour-long wait for the patio. We had a window table and could see dolphins coming right up to the docks and hamming it up for the tourists gathered there; we might as well have been at Sea World except these were wild animals that had figured out how to fleece the tourists all on their own. Dolphins are incredibly smart.

The courtesy docks at Snook Inn. These people are watching the dolphins frolic while waiting for their tables.

The forecast for Sunday was more of the same, short steep waves, and we decided to just sit it out right where we were. We both enjoyed a day of downtime after our full-day cruise. In the evening we made the half-hour tender ride through the canals and bays of Marco Island to tie up at Winn-Dixie's very own dock. From there we walked to Gino's restaurant for a nice Italian dinner before stocking up on a few necessities at Winn-Dixie. Grocery stores are seldom this close to a dock.

This morning's escort.

We returned to Vector to find a couple of other boats in the anchorage, which we had all to ourselves Saturday night. This morning we weighed anchor in time to catch the last of the ebb, clearing the Coconut Island bar by just under two feet at low tide. Seas in the gulf today are calm, and we've already had a two-dolphin escort for part of the trip.

I would be remiss if I did not mention here that Louise has started her own blog to cover her quilting activities. I think she did not want to expose her quilt followers to my endless droning about boat repairs. She's already copied over the relevant posts from here (they're still here, too) so interested readers can find all her quilt-related posts in one place, at Quilt Odyssey (natch).

I spent a half hour Sunday driving around Vector taking pictures for Louise's new blog about pretzels quilts.

This afternoon we should be anchored in the protected waters behind Sanibel Island. From there we have the option of traveling a protected inside route along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. (There's an inside route from Marco Island to Naples, too, but it's too shallow for Vector.)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Boot Key Harbor

We are again under way, after a week-long stay in Marathon, Florida. We have crossed the Overseas Highway and are now on the gulf side, northbound for Shark River with following seas. I still have some cell signal from Marathon; we'll see if I have anything when I'm done typing. Otherwise I will have to upload it tomorrow when we get back to civilization.

Vector at anchor off Knight Key, with the Seven Mile Bridge in the background.

We arrived outside of Knight Key, the westernmost part of Marathon, last Thursday, after a very nice cruise from Key Largo. We dropped the hook not far from where we did on our last pass through, just a bit further north and closer to the Sunset Grille and Raw Bar (map). We splashed the tender and rode there for dinner across some chop. The "inside" portion of this restaurant is really a giant palapa, and we chose that shadier option over the poolside patio where we ate last time.

The Sunset Grille from our anchorage. Lots of people walk out on the bridge for the sunset.

Friday morning we tendered all the way in to the city docks in Boot Key Harbor to see about getting a mooring ball. There are 216 moorings in this enormous harbor, but only 15 are for boats longer than 45'. We lucked out and snagged the last open ball, Victor-3 (map), which had me thinking "what's our vector, Victor" our whole first day. The ball next to us, V-4, while rented out, remained empty for our entire stay.

We had planned on taking just four nights, with the possibility of extending to a fifth. As long as we had a good address, we placed some Amazon and eBay orders, including the repair carcass for my laptop, and had our mail sent, which was scheduled to arrive sometime Tuesday. When we checked in, though, we learned that a full week was the same price as five nights, so we just signed up for a week instead. That gave me the chance to place another Amazon order as well.

This manatee was in the canal when we stopped at the office. Covered with the same growth that Vector has on her bottom.

It's hard to paint a picture of Boot Key Harbor for anyone who has not been there. It's a sea of boats; from some angles it looks as if you can walk across the harbor without getting your feet wet. Outside the margins of the city-run mooring field, another several dozen boats are anchored. Rules for both the moorings and the anchorage require the vessel be able to navigate, but many appear not to have moved in years. The landlubber image that comes to mind, with no disrespect to some of the nice folks we met there, is "trailer park." (I've lived in trailer parks, also with some very nice folks.)

I don't really grok the popularity of these kinds of anchorages (neither did we understand similarly crowded RV parks), but to be fair, we came to understand some of the reasons. The city marina provides some very nice and well maintained dinghy docks, and decent shoreside facilities. The WiFi does not extend to the harbor, but there is a large room with tables and power outlets that can accommodate a couple dozen folks using laptops or tablets at the same time. There are two theater-style TV rooms, a large exchange library, and even a "workshop" room with cruiser-contributed equipment such as a drill press. Rentable lockers in the workshop area allow for longer-term repair projects.

The larger and less popular of the two enormous dinghy docks. Usually it was more crowded than this.

The marina also provides recycling for motor oil, fuel, oily rags, coolant, and lead-acid batteries, in addition to the more traditional single-stream household recycling. Mooring or dinghy-dock tenants also get parking privileges and use of the enormous bicycle rack; coded tags are provided for dinghys, cars, motorcycles, and bicycles. And, of course, there are bathrooms and showers, as well as a nice, if pricey, laundry facility.

On top of all the services at the marina, a half dozen or so restaurants are in walking distance, as well as a Home Depot, a gas station, and a few other conveniences. A bicycle or a $5 cab ride will get you to almost anything else in town, including a West Marine and other chandleries, two nice grocery stores, and yet more restaurants. A morning radio "cruisers' net," similar to the one we experienced in Georgetown, provides announcements and a buy/sell/trade/assistance forum.

Tiki hut at the marina. Cruisers organize events here on a regular basis.

On Saturday we rented a car from Enterprise to make a Sunday run back up to Fort Lauderdale. Louise's folks were embarking on a cruise and we thought it would be nice to see them off over lunch, and I wanted to pick up a few things. We even thought about a Costco run, but waved that off since we did not want to have a bunch of meat on a ~2 hour car ride (the closest Costco is in Miami). Ironically, the cheapest thing Enterprise had on the lot, which is at the minuscule Marathon International Airport, was a full-size pickup truck, so new it still had the dealer sticker in the glove box ($38,400, in case anyone wonders what a four-door Dodge Ram with amenity package runs; gulp).

Sailorman marine salvage, one of the stops we made in Fort Lauderdale.

On our way back from Fort Lauderdale we stopped in Islamorada for dinner; having already sampled the more famous establishments there, we instead tried a Mexican place that proved disappointing. Monday morning I ran some errands, including picking up some hard-to-find fasteners at the well-stocked local hardware store, before returning the truck to the airport. Enterprise is very laid back here, with a one- or two-person staff. They pick you up and drop you off as a matter of course, and Saturday's "pick up" was in the form of sending a taxi, then knocking the cab fare off the total bill.

As long as we had the car, we went a bit further afield for dinner Saturday, to the Marathon Ale House, an unassuming joint in the corner of a strip mall. Off the tourist-beaten path, it was one of the best deals on the island. Without a car or even a bicycle on the ground, we walked to Keys Fisheries one evening and Keys Steak and Lobster another, and we also took the tender down to Burdine's Waterfront, which has a dock. All were quite good, albeit at island prices. At Keys Fisheries we got our food at the window (how it's done there) and carried it up to the tiki bar, which had a better view as well as better people-watching.

Enjoying a beer upstairs at Keys Fisheries. It was trivia night.

With the remains of the week, and the newly acquired hardware, I got a few things done around the boat, including securing the flybridge compass and replacing a sheared machine screw on the now-spare macerator pump. I never did get to swapping computer parts around (a big job), but I did get the new hangar queen up and running, and tested it with Linux. I'm proceeding carefully; I don't want the parts swap to invalidate my software licenses, or scribble a bunch of hard-to-reverse setting changes on my disk.

The other project on which I made great progress is the rebuild of the main engine raw water pump, which I started back at the dock in Fort Lauderdale. You may recall I was stymied by some recalcitrant bearings; as it turns out, one of the cruiser-supplied tools in the shop at the marina was a 12-ton shop press. With the help of some PB Blaster the shop press made short work of those bearings, and I now have the shaft, with the bearings attached, out of the now-empty pump housing. I'll need to pick up a bearing separator to get the bearings off the shaft, probably in Tampa/St. Pete.

Sunset from the deck at Keys Fisheries, across the highway from the marina.

Our full week was up this morning, so we dropped lines and headed out of the harbor just as the radio net was starting. We had figured to go around the north side of the islands and anchor again if we had to wait on weather, but today turns out to be a great day and we're ready to be moving along.

We're now about halfway to our planned stop at Shark River. As I predicted, we left cell range before I could finish the post. But I am happy to report that our macerator pump is now working; we're in a very short 20-minute stretch of offshore water that is outside the nine mile environmental zone (it's three miles everywhere else, but the gulf coast of Florida is an exception), and we just successfully emptied our tanks. We had deliberately shunned the free pumpout boat in Boot Key Harbor just so we could test; by the end of the week the pumpout skipper was giving me the eye (a pumpout is mandatory after ten days in the harbor).

I expect we'll have the anchor down somewhere in the Shark River area, inside the boundary of Everglades National Park, by around 4pm. I don't expect to have any cell signal there, so you will likely be reading this after we come back in range somewhere near Everglades City tomorrow afternoon.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Starring in our own late late show

This morning found us anchored off Key Largo, in the lee of Rodriguez Key (map). It's a great anchorage, and we had it all to ourselves at 3:30 when we dropped the hook, in water so clear we could see the anchor and all its chain. By sunset a half dozen sailboats had joined us, including one we had passed several hours earlier. Most, however, were headed north.

Sunset over Key Largo.

The rest of our cruise from Key Biscayne was very pleasant, and we enjoyed cocktails and dinner on our aft deck, opting not to splash the tender for a one-night stay. We would have spent a second night, and gone ashore at the Tiki Bar at Mandalay, of not for the fact that the nice weather on this side of the archipelago will not hold through tomorrow.

This morning all the sailboats were gone by the time we had our first coffee. We weighed anchor around 8:30 and I am typing now east of Channel Five, between Matecumbe and Long Keys. We have about another three hours to Boot Key in Marathon.

Enough boats have started the northbound migration that the mooring field at Boot Key has some vacancies. We'll anchor tonight somewhere outside the harbor, and pick up a ball tomorrow so we can stay and enjoy Marathon for a few days before cutting across and heading north. The charge for a ball is the same as the charge to use the dinghy dock, so we might as well be inside the harbor for our stay.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Headed for the Keys

We are under way in the Hawk Channel, en route to the Keys. As I type, we are completely off-line, east of Elliott Key. I'm hoping we'll have enough signal as we pass Ocean Reef or Key Largo to upload this post.

Sunset over Biscayne Bay from our anchorage off Key Biscayne.

Yesterday morning we weighed anchor in time to make the 9:30am opening at the West Venetian Causeway bridge. The more direct (and deeper) route, via the East Venetian Causeway bridge, was unavailable, on account of the East Venetian bridge being closed to navigation until at least December due to mechanical problems.

Transiting at low tide, the depth sounder squawked a few times, but we passed without difficulty. As we were waiting for the opening at the causeway, we heard a radio announcement that the Port Of Miami railroad bridge would be closing for the passage of a train, but these trains are usually pretty short.

When we arrived in the turning basin the bridge was closed. Complicating matters, a pair of tugs were maneuvering a barge into position in the place where we'd normally wait for the bridge. We just hovered in the turning basin and called the marina to make docking arrangements.

While I was talking to the marina, another radio announcement informed us that the bridge would remain closed an additional 20 minutes for some kind of technical issue. That meant we were going to be late for our appointment with JT, the watermaker guy. Moreover, any time a bridge tells you there is a technical problem, you should be prepared for an indeterminate delay; we figured 20 minutes was a best case.

We briefly considered going out the ship channel and around Dodge Island, then back up Fisherman's Channel to the marina. With only a single cruise ship in port, the channel was open to us (they close it to pleasure craft when more than one ship is docked). But it's five miles around to get back to a marina we could literally see from where we were holding -- a 50 minute trip. We decided to take our chances with the bridge, and I texted JT that we'd be at least that late.

Fortunately, the bridge opened in just fifteen minutes, and JT had only been waiting on the dock a few minutes when we pulled up. Even though we were coming in for just a three-hour stay, the marina assigned us to a very tricky slip -- I barely had room between the pilings and an expensive megayacht to get the boat turned and lined up -- but we docked without incident. We filled the water tanks while JT got to work on the membrane.

Sure enough, the bore was just a bit short. All it took to fix it was a steady hand and a long drill bit -- I'll be buying the proper size so that I can prepare a new membrane myself next time, if need be. After JT finished boring it out we used the air compressor on the flybridge to blow the plastic shavings out; then he reassembled and tested the system. All looked good, and today's outside run confirms the water maker is working at full capacity.

Vector at Miamarina Bayside, with downtown Miami in the backgroud. Yes, that's a giant pretzel on deck, a story unto itself.

Since we were paid up for a full three hours, after JT left we walked over to Largo Bar and Grill in the adjacent Bayside Marketplace for lunch. The "Marketplace" is really just a mall, like almost any other in the US, and might as well have been a Westfield Shopping Town in any suburban neighborhood, except it's open-air and wraps around the marina. This latter feature makes it heavier on restaurants than most malls, ranging from a Hard Rock Cafe to Hooters and a food court, with just about everything in between. Every one a tourist trap; we picked Largo based on above-average reviews and a waterfront patio, and it was fine.

When our three hours were up, we dropped lines and backed in to the pumpout dock -- it will be another few days before we are outside the offshore limit for overboard discharge. By 1:30 we were all done with the marina, and headed back out to the ICW, doing the do-si-do around the myriad tour boats that operate out of the marina.

The Miami skyline from our anchorage off Key Biscayne.

With today's weather being excellent for the run down Hawk Channel, we continued south past the Marine Stadium and Virginia Key in favor of a convenient anchorage in Key Biscayne Bight (map), not far from the Nixon-era presidential helipad and where we anchored last time we were here. This is a popular day anchorage and also a sunset viewing spot, so there were several party yachts here when we arrived, along with a couple of cruising boats.

We picked a spot some distance away from the nearest party yacht; no matter how many thong bikinis or guys with six-packs are in view, it's never worth the noise level, or the annoyance of a swarm of Sea-Doos. That did not, of course, stop a different party yacht from anchoring so close we could hear every word and every note from their high-power sound system. You, too, can enjoy having your eardrums shattered for just $5,750 for the day; I can only imagine the crew wears earplugs most of the time. Fortunately, they weighed anchor and left before sunset.

One of the remaining Stiltsville structures. That's Key Biscayne to the right, and Miami to the left.

We weighed anchor this morning at nearly dead low tide. For that reason, we opted to go a bit further to the Stiltsville Channel rather than the more direct Cape Florida Channel, which would take us across a 7' bar. Stiltsville deteriorates a bit more each time we pass; in just a few years I expect it will be gone forever.

Looking back at Cape Florida on Key Biscayne. The lighthouse is the oldest structure in Miami-Dade.

We have great conditions for our passage south. Seas are calm, and in the crystal clear water we can see the bottom some 16' below. I expect tonight we will be anchored off Rodriguez Key, not far from where we were last time through. We will probably be off-line. Tomorrow we should be at Boot Key in Marathon.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Relaxing in South Beach

We are anchored in a familiar spot, just southwest of the Sunset Islands, near Sunset Harbor, Miami Beach (map). We arrived here mid-day Friday, after a very nice cruise from Maule Lake. We took a new route this time, heading down the eastern side of the bay after passing the Broad Causeway Bridge. The eastern channel is less well-marked than the ICW, and as shallow as 7' in places, but I found it a more pleasant cruise and we got to see some new scenery. It turned out to be about a half foot shallower than charted in some places, but we passed at mid-tide and the depth sounder never squawked.

Sunset over the bay and Miami from our anchorage; this never gets old.

We arrived here in time to drop the tender and make our way to the main post office to retrieve our packages. That involved taking the "South Beach Local" bus, which is just 25 cents a ride. Some confusion about the route and stops (it seems the stop we chose is temporarily bypassed due to construction) had us on a bus that would put us there just a hair after closing time; I ended up bailing off the bus when it was immediately across the island from the post office and hoofing it several blocks to make it, while Louise stayed on the bus for the rest of the loop and got off at the proper stop.

The box lobby of the main Miami Beach Post Office.

I managed to grab all four packages before closing, and together we stood in the rotunda lobby, which remains open an hour after the window closes, opened everything up, and condensed it down into two backpacks. That included the contents of one box I had brought with me to mail; we inadvertently used the wrong Priority Mail box and they would not take it. The rotunda of the WPA-built, 1939 art-deco post office retains its original furnishings and decor.

The ceiling of that same box lobby. This is actually a skylight.

We walked a few blocks north to Lincoln Avenue, which is now a pedestrian mall lined with restaurants, and had a nice dinner al fresco at Numero 28, an Italian place about mid-mall. We re-boarded the bus to check out the rest of the loop, which included going past the familiar convention center, now in the chaos of a major remodeling project.

Lincoln Mall looking east from our table at Numero 28.

Saturday morning I had to get the aforementioned item, now properly re-packed, back to the post office. Fortunately there is a post office much closer to the dinghy landing, just a short walk away, so it was an easy matter to get it in before the 1pm collection time.

Looking west. Many people stopped to photograph these trees in bloom.

Our one "scheduled" item in Miami Beach thus ticked off the list, we were free to leave any time, but we hate moving the boat on a weekend if we can avoid it, the weather is perfect, and the anchoring brouhaha does not seem to be affecting this anchorage or the very nice dinghy dock on the Collins Canal across from the Publix store. We opted to stay through the weekend and then move closer to the ocean today, to wait for weather for the passage south to the Keys.

An almost hourly occurrence through the weekend -- groups of paddleboarders came past Vector after renting their boards over by the boat ramp.

Saturday afternoon I was in the engine room digging out parts for another project when I put my hand down in something wet. Generally nothing should be wet in there so I immediately started hunting around for the source, which turned out to be one of the sensors on the watermaker. The fresh-water flush ran on Saturday and some of it leaked out around this sensor, which was dislocated by the installation of the new membrane last week.

I sent an email to the guy who changed the membrane, and he called me on Sunday to talk me through a couple of things. The membrane cartridge on our unit needs to be bored out to accommodate this sensor, and it looks like the bore was just a bit short on this one -- not something I can easily fix myself. We decided he'd drive down to Miami and come aboard to take care of it tomorrow morning.

The Miami skyline at night, as seen from our deck.

We need to make a marina stop anyway, to pump out and fill the fresh water, so we'll head to one of the Miami-Dade city facilities in the morning, "Miamarina" at the Bayside complex, and take advantage of their three-hour day rate. At just $30, it's a much better deal than spending the night for $2.85 a foot. We'll take care of our housekeeping, get the watermaker fixed, maybe have lunch at Bayside, and then head to an anchorage further south in Biscayne Bay to position for the outside run.

Since we've been "stuck" here an extra couple of nights, we've been back ashore to sample some more of the seemingly limitless number of restaurants in town, and do some provisioning as well. This is really a great stop once you know how to get around town.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A trip down memory lane

We are anchored in Maule Lake, a former rock quarry between Aventura and North Miami Beach, Florida, on the Oleta River (map). We've been here since Sunday, after a very short cruise from Hollywood. We stopped here because it is the closest decent anchorage to Sunny Isles Beach, where I wanted to make a quick visit; we ended up staying nearly a week because it turns out to be a nearly ideal anchorage in many ways.

Vector in Maule Lake, with the skyscrapers of Sunny Isles Beach in the background.

I'll get to that later in the post, along with some photos and tales of what we've been up to. And, of course, no blog post from me would be complete without a couple of boat project updates. But first I want to take a little trip down memory lane, the reason for our stop here in the first place.

One of my earliest and fondest memories of my childhood was a visit here. I was perhaps eight, and I was with my dad, and his friend and business partner, who was also my godfather and whom I called "uncle," though there was no blood relation. As far as I can remember, it was my first ever airplane flight (on maybe a 707?) and I remember it as a trip "to Fort Lauderdale," even though we are halfway to Miami here, probably because that's which airport we used.

Vintage postcard showing the Florida Riviera. Our motel is about mid-photo or so.

As an adult I've been to Fort Lauderdale a couple of dozen times, and Miami perhaps half that many, and yet nothing about any visit felt familiar from that time long ago. I remembered we had stayed on the beach, at a resort called the Sahara, and a couple of years ago on an extended visit in Fort Lauderdale I was motivated to see if I could find the actual spot. I have some vivid memories of the hotel, and when I looked the place up, I was quite surprised to learn that the buildings were still there, and also that it was closer to Miami Beach than Fort Lauderdale.

The Sahara and Thunderbird today, at left, with new high-rises to the north.

High-rise development had not yet begun then on the barrier islands, and this stretch of beach was developed end-to-end in the 50s with one- and two-story motor courts, mostly U-shaped with a pool in the center and views of the ocean. The area was known as the Sunny Isles and also the Florida Riviera. Although in unincorporated Dade County, it billed itself as "Miami Beach," it's swankier neighbor just across the Haulover bridge to the south.

The Sahara in its glory days, perhaps a few years before our visit. The pool is just as I remember it.

The Sahara was one of dozens of these motels lining the beach, and several across the street on the "bay" side of the island, with names like Thunderbird, Dunes, and Castaways. The vast majority of them have been razed in the last two decades to make way for luxury high-rise condominium towers; just south of the Sahara are three enormous towers bearing the Trump moniker (it seems we can hardly anchor anyplace out of sight of a Trump Tower).

The view south from the Sahara today; at far right is the Trump complex.

A small handful of the old motor courts hang on, a pale shadow of their former selves. The Sahara is now a dilapidated condominium complex; the Thunderbird immediately north of it is now a Days Inn. The strip incorporated in 1997 as Sunny Isles Beach and now sports the modern amenities of a resort-living community well-funded by upscale developers.

Another vintage postcard.

I don't remember how long we stayed. Maybe a week? I do remember spending some time every day in the pool. I already knew how to swim, but I remember learning to "dive" into the pool here. Other than the disappearance of the high diving board, the pool is exactly the same today as it was some 45-odd years ago. The smaller "kiddy pool" closer to the beach has been filled in with concrete, and the pool now has a separate fence around it in compliance with newer codes.

The Sahara pool area from the beach. Just the same as it was, more or less.

Our room was in here, about center-frame.

I only vaguely remember the camels and Bedouins out front; they're still here, albeit with less elaborate paint, and moved a short distance to accommodate parking. What used to be a dining room is now a real estate office, and the old lobby is an underused common area. The place looks more or less exactly as we left it nearly five decades ago. The condo residents appear to be mostly octogenarian Cubanos, and the level of maintenance tells me that it won't be long until this property and the two older adjacent lots give way to yet another quarter-billion-dollar high rise complex.

The famous camels. I'm not sure why the condo kept them.

The camels in better days. Steps between them let you sit on the closer one.

The "lobby, as best I could see through the locked doors.

In addition to our stay at the Sahara I remember going out on a sport fishing charter, which likely left from near Castaways down the block to head out Haulover Inlet. Somewhere there is a photo of me holding whatever it is we caught, and the skipper let me sit at the helm for a brief stint in open water, making this the first time I ever steered a vessel.

My dad and I at dinner.

In those days, dinner was a jacket-and-tie affair even here on the beach, and I remember going out a couple of times. I'm pretty certain this photo of my dad and me (with hair! and a smaller nose!) was taken at one of those dinners. Absolutely everyone smoked at dinner back then -- you can see someone holding a cigarette in the background. I don't remember where this was, but it might even have been right next door at the Thunderbird, which still today sports a bar, dining room, and live entertainment.

The interior of the Thunderbird.

The Thunderbird, from its courtyard pool area.

I'm glad I got to see the place one more time, before development or maybe mother nature claims it. To get to the beach side of the property I had to walk past the Trump complex, a stark contrast. We returned to Sunny Isles Beach later in the week to pick up a prescription at the CVS, and stayed for dinner at one of our favorites, a kosher (really) Mexican joint in a strip mall. The town is a real melting pot, and is sometimes known as Little Moscow for its large population of emigrant Russian Jews, many Orthodox. We'd encountered this restaurant on previous drives up the beach-side highway.

The Margaritaville Resort in Hollywood Beach, opened since our last visit, when I snapped it under construction.

Sunset over South Lake, Hollywood.

Getting back to our usual goings-on, we left Hollywood shortly after my last post here, after a final pleasant evening on the lovely Broadwalk. We had a very pleasant cruise of just an hour and a half or so to get to Sunny Isles, although we did have to station-keep in Hollywood for a bit to get the bridge timing right.

Our lone neighbor in South Lake, Hollywood, an old steel ketch, Thunderbird 5, with a storied past as Sir Martin II.

Heading out to the ICW from South Lake.

We had our sights set on a small bay just across the street from the Sahara, but shortly after turning off the ICW we promptly ran aground. Not that there is any good way ashore there anyhow. The chart said it was 7', and we had a half foot of tide when we hit the sand, so the chart is off by a foot and a half now. I was ahead dead slow and bumping in and out of gear at the time, so we were easily able to back off just with engine power. I backed all the way to the ICW and we came here instead.

Given that the lake is enormous and could easily accommodate hundreds of anchored boats, we were surprised to find ourselves the only cruising boat in the lake. A handful of boats on moorings or at anchor are clearly "parked" here, but no one is aboard. Over the course of five nights we've occasionally had perhaps one other cruiser in the lake. It's a bit off the ICW, requiring a short trip down the narrow Ojus canal, but many anchorages are at least this far.

Sunset over Maule Lake and the new Marina Palms complex behind Vector.

I later learned that the lake is private, one of the few pieces of private lake-bottom in the state. It belongs to the heirs of the Maule family, who owned the quarry before it flooded, and they've been trying to sell it to private developers for years, to the tune of $27M or thereabouts. Back in 2012 or so, representatives of the owners would come around the lake and chase off any anchored boats, threatening towing and penalties.

The legality of that is questionable; once the lake was connected to the ICW it became navigable waterway and it is now lined with houses, condos, and marinas, all of which have docks and boats that need access via the lake. A year or so ago a developer finally came up with a plan for the lake, involving 29 floating mansions; after public outcry from recreational users, the city of North Miami Beach re-zoned the lake as water (as opposed to land) and designated it as a conservation zone, thus denying the developer a permit and nixing the sale.

We've been undisturbed for our entire stay, and clearly some number of boats are permanently moored here. Also there are no restrictive signs on the way in to the lake from the ICW. We later found such a sign on the smaller entrance from the Oleta River, attached to the low bridge we ducked under in the dinghy.

This sign is only visible if you approach the lake from the Oleta, accessible only to the smallest of craft.

The Oleta wends its way back to the ICW through the mangroves of Oleta River State Park, navigable by boats of perhaps 18" draft and 3' clearance. At some points in the river all you can see are mangroves, and you can convince yourself you are miles from the heavily developed Miami Beach area. A small dock in the park affords dinghy access to shore, and the historic Blue Marlin Smokehouse fish restaurant in the park. A short walk from this dock can be found gas, sundries, food, and access to the extensive Miami-Dade transportation system. I got myself to the Sahara by boarding a bus here, and a different bus took me to Home Depot and later West Marine, making the lake quite a convenient stop.

As if access to all the above was not enough to make this a fantastic place to spend a few days, a somewhat longer dinghy ride either back out the Ojus Canal or else all the way down the Oleta, leads to a large dock on the ICW belonging to the Intracoastal Mall shopping center. This dock, free for day use and large enough even to accommodate Vector, is lined with several restaurants with dockside seating, and we sampled Duffy's (which also has a pool for guest use) and Lique Miami, both dockside, as well as Portobello's in the landlocked part of the mall. We purchased groceries at the Winn-Dixie, got massages, and shopped the dollar store and Old Navy during the course of our stay, stopping at this dock almost daily.

The free dock and "restaurant row" at the Intracoastal Mall. That's the pool at Duffy's to the left; our dinghy, Scalar, is a mere dot just to the right of center. Taken from the Sunny Isles bascule bridge as we walked across to the barrier island.

While we were here I got a few projects done, and with easy access (by bus) to Home Depot I was able to get the last of the needed parts for a long-standing project on the flybridge, to wit, adding a proper fill for the steering reservoir.

The hard-to-access steering reservoir, with a pipe plug in the fill fitting.

I'll spare you the technical discussion, but suffice it to say a hydraulic steering system like ours needs a fluid reservoir that is at the highest point in the system, in our case just a bit higher than the flybridge helm. Unsurprisingly, the reservoir is located in the helm console, just below the instrument panel, where it is above the helm pump by a couple of inches. Like many "finish" items toward the tail end of the build, this system got wrapped up in a somewhat less than professional manner. They stuck a 3/4" pipe plug in the upper reservoir fitting as a filler cap, and left the compass "loose" (unbolted) in its mount, with the idea being that you'd just pull the compass out of the console to access the fill.

Another view, showing the compass out of its mount.

There's lot of reasons not to have precision instruments rattling loose in their mounts. And filling the reservoir (fortunately not done frequently; we've only had to top it up once in three years) in this arrangement still requires some kind of flexible hose attached to a funnel, and a close eye on the level gauge. I've been meaning to address this for a while, and recently having to top up the fluid pushed me over the edge.

New fill system, involving a barb fitting and a hose to a more accessible spot.

The rest of the hose and the new fill fitting.

I replaced the pipe plug with a 90° barb fitting, ran a 3/4" vinyl hose over to an empty spot on the console, and then added a fitting with a garden-hose thread and a gasketed cap. I can now fill the reservoir without removing the compass, although I still need to stick my head behind the console (through a locker door) to read the level gauge. I don't have the right size bolts handy (and neither did Home Depot) but I will be bolting the compass into the console as soon as I can get some.

Unscrewing the "hose" cap reveals a large fill port.

Completed fill with the console back together and the compass back in place.

I also managed to source a complete replacement for my ailing computer, a used unit with a trackpad problem, and had it delivered to General Delivery in Miami Beach. Louise had our US Mail forwarded to the same address, and as of this morning it looks like it's all there. So in a short while we will weigh anchor and head south to a familiar anchorage off Miami Beach, where we know we can get ashore at perhaps the last remaining legal dinghy dock. We'll probably remain there until sea conditions are favorable for the outside run to the Keys.