Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Venice of America

We are anchored in the Middle River, just inside its intersection with the ICW, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (map).  We arrived here Sunday afternoon, after a mostly pleasant cruise from Palm Beach via the Atlantic Ocean.  We remained just a mile or so offshore the whole cruise, so we had good cell coverage (and even Internet access), and I was able to make some holiday phone calls.

We were up early on Sunday to check the forecast, which had dropped to seas of just two to four feet with a period of nine seconds, and light winds out of the north.  We got under way at 8:15, and by the time we passed west of Peanut Island 45 minutes later we had made the decision to head outside, so we alerted our emergency contacts by text message and turned the SPOT tracker on.

This part of the Florida coast is mostly convex, so a near-shore route was the shortest.  We had already pumped out Friday while we were still in Stuart, so there was no need to proceed out to the three-mile limit, and a north wind means progressively rougher conditions the closer one gets to the gulf stream.  It was very pleasant having such a close-in cruise, as we were able to observe the various resorts along the way, many with impeccably manicured beaches filled with matching lounges and umbrellas.  It is the very tail end of spring break, so the beaches were busy but hardly full.  The highlight of the cruise was a close encounter with a pod of dolphins, perhaps a dozen or so, a couple of whom decided to frolic in our bow wave for a bit.

One consequence of the close-in route, though, is that we had to weave and dodge a bit to avoid dive charters and fishing boats.  We were nearly on top of one fisherman, with no day signals whatsoever, who frantically indicated as we approached that he had gear stretched out far shoreward of his position.  I barely managed to get stopped before running over his lines, then had to loop back around behind him.  He looked to have a decent boat and motor, but, clearly, he considers a VHF radio an unnecessary expense.

Most of these fishermen and divers, by the way, emerge from inlets along the route that are unnavigable to us: Boynton, Boca Raton, and Hillsboro.  In between inlets are great stretches of open water where all I need do is put my feet up on the console and look out the window, with an occasional glance at the radar and AIS.

Coming into Fort Lauderdale is another matter entirely.  The inlet, officially known as Port Everglades, is one of the busiest in Florida.  The port is controlled by a Vessel Traffic Service and we monitored their channel on our way in.  We had to hug the north side of the channel to make room for a 600+' barge coming out, and as we made the turn northward on the inside the enormous cruise liner Liberty of the Seas was just pushing off the dock.

Honestly, I am glad I had over 400 hours of experience and over 2,000 nautical miles under our keel before arriving here -- the sheer amount of marine traffic here is overwhelming, especially so on a pleasant Sunday afternoon of a holiday weekend.  By the time we made the Las Olas bridge we were in a giant conga line of traffic, with 100+' megayachts sweeping past us in the opposite direction.  It does not help that half the channel under the bridge is currently obstructed by construction scaffolding as they work on the western spans.

Our plan upon arriving in this neighborhood had actually been to turn south just before our old friend Bahia Mar, and into a reportedly pleasant anchorage known as Lake Sylvia.  It is well off the ICW and protected on all sides, and it would have been a very nice place to spend the four days until our reservations at the city marina at Las Olas.  That said, it is a bit tricky to enter, with charted depths of seven to nine feet only along the very eastern edge of the channel, shoaling rapidly to four feet to the west.  I had some good local knowledge from a skipper we met in Stuart who takes his 80+ footer in there all the time.

Unfortunately, the persnickety depth sounder decided to act up again on our way south.  I had left it on for nearly two weeks in Stuart with nary a further problem, and it got us all the way down the ICW to Palm Beach without acting up.  Everything was fine all the way into the Atlantic and right up until my loop-around encounter with the fisherman.  We were in 80+' of water, but I had to turn shoreward briefly and I knew the bottom came up rapidly, so I checked the sounder only to be faced with a series of dashes where the depth and water temperature readings should have been.

That's not a problem in 80' in the ocean, but I knew we'd have big problems coming into any anchorages here in Fort Lauderdale without a working sounder.  Fortunately, I have a working spare and, in a pinch, we can hook it up and dangle it over the side to take a reading.  That's hardly useful, though, while driving the boat at six knots.

At this point in the trip, we still had more than three hours ahead of us in the ocean, and so I tightened up all the connections and left it powered down for an hour or so, which is how it cured itself last time.  When I powered it back up it came back to life, and has remained working since.  But now we don't trust it, and we don't want to chance being in a very narrow channel with questionable depths and little room to spin around if and when it quits again.  Thus we opted to bypass Lake Sylvia and head north of the bridge instead.

There are not a lot of places to anchor in Fort Lauderdale, and long-time cruisers remember a time when the city would cite you for anchoring here, before the state intervened and put a stop to the practice.  At the end of a long day of cruising, we wanted the first easy spot we could find, and this was it.  There's a nicer, more protected spot another half mile up the river, but we were just done, so we dropped the hook here.  An occasional wake from the ICW moves us around a bit, but we're between two no-wake zones and the big boys can't get going fast enough to rattle our 52 tons of displacement very much.  We thought about moving further upriver yesterday, but decided that we enjoy watching the traffic go by here, so we stayed put.

Yesterday we splashed the tender and headed upriver to Serafina Bistro, a waterside white-tablecloth Italian place, for a nice dinner.  This afternoon we will go a bit further upriver to the city park, conveniently located across the street from the Galleria shopping mall.  We'll probably take the tender to dinner once more before we weigh anchor and head over to the marina.

Fort Lauderdale is one of the few cities in the U.S. where one can explore a significant portion of the city from the water.  It bills itself as the "Venice of America" (notwithstanding there are cities elsewhere in the country, including Florida, named "Venice"), owing to the myriad canals criss-crossing the city in every direction.  Most are obstructed at one end or the other by fixed bridges or other impediments to navigation, but they are nevertheless filled with boats and yachts of every description, many of them over 100' in length.  My AIS currently shows 220 targets, and only a small percentage of boats have AIS transponders, and an even smaller percentage have them turned on.

We are looking forward to exploring the city in our tender, and by scooter once we are at the dock.  We are due at Las Olas Marina on Thursday morning, planning to arrive at slack tide.  We'll spend a few nights there before moving on to another anchorage for a few more days.  At this writing, our plans are a bit fuzzy for when we will leave or even which way we will head.  Most likely we will continue on to Miami when we have had our fill of "Venice."

1 comment:

  1. Hope you can get the depth sounder sorted out. Nothing worse that a critical piece of gear that fails intermittently.


Share your comments on this post! We currently allow anyone to comment without registering. If you choose to use the "anonymous" option, please add your name or nickname to the bottom of your comment, within the main comment box. Getting feedback signed simply "anonymous" is kind of like having strangers shout things at us on the street: a bit disconcerting. Thanks!