Monday, July 3, 2017

Marathon Passage

We are docked at Las Olas marina in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (map), a familiar stop. We had planned to anchor on our arrival here yesterday morning, but since Florida outlawed anchoring in the Middle River last July, the very limited number of other anchorages here are full to the limit. While docking after a long passage is never our first choice, we were not heartbroken, considering this is a city marina with a decent rate, and we're happy to have all the air conditioning we can handle in the South Florida summer heat.

Passage Sunset.

The remainder of our overnight passage from Clearwater Thursday night was uneventful and quiet. The Internet connection lasted until just south of Sanibel Island, well into my watch. It was gone by the time Louise took the conn, not to return until we were two hours out of Marathon.

Approaching Seven Mile Bridge. The new bridge is behind "Flagler's Folly."

Unlike most of our open-water crossings, this section of the gulf is quite shallow. Our sounder never registered over 47' or so for the entire trip. But the last ten miles leading up to the Seven Mile Bridge is particularly shallow, with the sounder reading in the single digits for much of that distance. At one point we saw 7.3', meaning we had just 16" under the keel. It would have been much more nerve-wracking had we not already done this section in the other direction a little over a year ago; I followed our old track through the skinny parts.

Vector at anchor in Marathon, framed by a pair of tiki torches at the Sunset Grille. Enormous Adirondack chair is a popular photo spot.

We had some favorable current on Louise's watch, and we arrived at our favorite anchoring spot off Knights Key (map) and had the hook set by 4:30. I had already prepped the tender when we were still 20 miles offshore, and we splashed it and zipped over to the Sunset Grille for dinner. Sunset, on the other hand, we enjoyed from the comfort of our own aft deck.

Sunset over Seven Mile Bridge, after dinner at the fitting Sunset Grille.

We really like this place. It has a Keys beach-bar vibe, open-air seating under a thatched Tiki roof (or out on the poolside patio), low-key live dinner music, and great food, including sushi. It has its own dinghy dock, and, of course, the pool. And now, apparently, breakfast all week.

Seven Mile Bridge from the Tiki at Sunset Grille.

We slept in on Saturday morning and then went right back for breakfast and, for me, a swim in the pool. When we got back to Vector, I took my last opportunity in relatively clear water to don my mask and swim under the boat to check the running gear. All was in order, and there was not much growth on the recently painted bottom, either.

Finally spent some time in the pool, uncrowded in the morning.

We'd been ruminating on whether to proceed to Fort Lauderdale up the somewhat protected Hawk Channel, a two and a half day trip with two stops that would dictate leaving early Saturday, or instead take the outside route in the Strait Of Florida, where the Gulf Stream could give us a push and where we could comfortably run overnight, making it a one-day affair and affording the choice of departing Saturday or Sunday.

Dinner selfie at the Tiki at Sunset Grille.

We opted for the outside run, and we decided to leave Saturday and have some extra time at this end, instead of having to arrive after a long passage and navigate up the New River to the fueling area at the city docks that same morning. We might have been better waiting the extra night in Marathon, as we had quiet steep five-footers for several hours in the Strait on Saturday night.

Another shot of (a diminutive) Vector from the Tiki Bar -- she's between the two uprights, center frame.

We weighed anchor right at 5pm for what could be anywhere from an 18 to a 22 hour passage, depending on current. We made our way through the Great Florida Reef, the only coral reef in the continental US, and out into open water, angling toward the shoreward edge of the Gulf Stream. That's quite far away (some 22 nautical miles) at Marathon but quite close, perhaps a half dozen miles, off Fort Lauderdale.

We steered to intercept the Stream abreast of Alligator Reef, where it's about a dozen miles off the reef. That made the chord some 35 miles long, nearly six hours, where we did just about our typical speed of around 6.3 knots. On the way, as we were abreast Tennessee Reef, we passed a couple of familiar ships going the other way. The motor tanker Galveston we had seen in the Gulf in Mississippi, and the Delta Mariner, the rocket transporter that ferries rocket sections from Decatur, Alabama to Cape Canaveral, Florida, we saw in Florence, Alabama.

In honor of Independence Day, this cloud on our passage formed itself into an eagle.

The transition into the stream was noticeable and abrupt. Within the span of just a couple of miles we picked up a knot. By change of watch it was closer to two. And Louise reported that during her watch at one point we were doing almost ten knots, making revolutions for just 6.2, for a boost of well over three knots.

While we were grateful for the push, seas for the first half of the passage started rough and got progressively worse. We dogged everything down but I could still hear cans rattling around in lockers and it was all I could do to get out on deck periodically to scan the horizon. I estimate five foot seas on a three-second period at the worst of it. I reduced RPM to 1400 from our usual 1500 to minimize the slamming. By the morning it had all calmed back down to a more tolerable level.

Another passage sunset. These never get old.

We arrived here in Fort Lauderdale just a little after 10am. We motored up to one of our familiar anchorages, hoping to drop the hook. Even though it is the off season for cruisers here, and many marinas have space, the anchorage was completely full. Not really a surprise, since one of the major anchorages in the area was closed off last year, and all those boats have moved to the remaining three anchorages in town. We didn't bother checking our second choice, because it would require a bridge opening to even look and another opening to return when we found it inevitably overcrowded.

Arriving in Port Everglades. We had to dance around Palmetto State with her two tugs in the channel. To the left is the largest cruise ship in the world, which we like to call the "Monstrosity of the Seas."

Instead we hovered in our old spot, now forbidden, while I called the city marina and made arrangements for a slip. I hate having to pay for an otherwise unneeded parking spot, but at least we made good use of the power to keep all of our air conditioners running. I also had to recondition a battery, in anticipation of replacing the bad battery in our bank sometime this week. We thus walked to dinner at our old favorite, Coconuts, rather than tendering over as we had planned.


Today we will motor the short distance up the New River to the other city docks, and tie up at their designated fueling area at noon. The truck arrives from Anchor Petroleum at 1pm and we'll take on 1,000 gallons at the best price on the entire east coast. I also have Lauderdale Battery lined up to bring us a replacement for the bad house battery and pick up the take-out; yesterday afternoon I sweltered in the hot engine room getting it out of the rack and over to the hatch where we plucked it out with our davit.

Tomorrow is, of course, the July 4th holiday. I expect we'll end up right back here, as the New River docks were sold out when last I asked. Yet another tropical system is brewing in the Atlantic, and wave heights north of Florida are not conducive to a passage just yet, so tomorrow we'll be looking at where to wait on good passage weather.

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