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.

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