Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Settled in for the season

We are docked at the New River downtown docks, right in the heart of downtown Fort Lauderdale, Florida (map). We're in a good spot, east of the Third Avenue bascule bridge and on the north bank of the river, which puts us just a very short walk from the dozens of restaurants along Las Olas Boulevard. We're also just steps from the Tower Club, and a short walk from the sparkly new Brightline high-speed rail station.

When last I posted here we had just anchored in Vero Beach, at a new-to-us anchorage. Shortly afterward we splashed the tender and rode the short distance across the channel and into a canal, docking at Mr. Manatee's restaurant, on what used to be the causeway to the old drawbridge. There we met up with good friends Alyse and Chris for cocktails and dinner. We had a great time catching up. We filed both the anchorage and the restaurant dock away in our notes for future reference.

Vector on the New River, before moving from the south bank. Lots of new construction to the right.

On our way back to Vector we noticed another sailboat had come in to our cozy little anchorage, well up toward the shoal on the north side. Saturday morning we had a leisurely coffee before getting under way, during which we noticed this same sailboat firmly aground between the anchorage and the channel. We had good water all the way in and out, thanks to the Navionics charts, but if you cut the corner to the north you run out of water quickly. The rising tide would likely have floated him in a few hours, but Towboat arrived to pull him out just as we were weighing anchor.

Stopping in Vero meant there was no way we were going to make it to Lake Worth on Saturday, and the last usable anchorage is in Hobe Sound, north of Jupiter Inlet. Hence the leisurely coffee in the morning. We had a very nice cruise to Hobe Sound, and dropped the hook just inside the no wake zone in the middle of the sound (map). We had a quiet evening, dining on the aft deck and enjoying the clear water of the sound.

Sunset from our peaceful anchorage in Hobe Sound.

The Hobe Sound stop made it an easy cruise to Palm Beach, which is again the last usable anchorage before the long slog through the bridges down to Fort Lauderdale. We dropped the hook in our usual spot north of the Royal Park bridge (map). As I have noted here before, that puts us in Palm Beach, but there is no way to get ashore on the Palm Beach side, and we tendered ashore to the free city docks in West Palm Beach instead.

This party boat, the Pon Tiki, passed us in the evening and again the next morning in Hobe Sound.

As it turned out, WPB was hosting the Supercar Show on the waterfront when we arrived, and I tendered ashore stag to take it all in. All of the Palm Beach socialites had to come slumming in WPB to admire the cars, which meant that the parking, outside of the show, was full of Bentleys (yes, really), punctuated by the occasional Maserati or Tesla.

The chaos of the show meant all the nice sidewalk-dining restaurants were packed and I muscled in to Grease, one of our old standbys, and made a reservation for later. By the time we came back ashore for dinner the crowds had dispersed and it was just another Sunday night on Clematis. We had a nice sidewalk table and enjoyed the people-watching.

Clematis at night, from our table at Grease.

WPB is a very nice stop, and in the lovely weather it was tempting to stay for a few days. But the month spent in JAX made for a late arrival in SE Florida, and we needed to take a full three months at the Fort Lauderdale docks to get the discounted rate. Every day of delay pushes our departure further into the spring, so we bid a fond farewell to West Palm and weighed anchor Sunday morning for Fort Lauderdale.

We had really hoped that the ocean weather would have permitted an outside run from the Palm Beaches to Port Everglades. There is no shallow water or any other serious obstacle to the inside route, but this stretch of ICW has, bar none, the most drawbridges of any single-day stretch of the entire Intracoastal Waterway, which stretches from Norfolk, Virgina to South Padre Island, Texas.

Vector anchored in Palm Beach.

All of those bridges open only at scheduled times during daylight hours, and invariably we either have to putt along just above idle speed and then station-keep for five minutes, or else crank it up to just below wide open throttle to make the scheduled openings. This involves a lot of shifting in and out of gear (on a normal day I shift just four or five times for the entire day), which explains why mechanics in Fort Lauderdale think our transmission damper plate is way overdue, while mechanics elsewhere think we should get a few hundred more hours.

The last thing we want to do after a long day of bridge timing like that is run up the New River, which is narrow and swift and full of drawbridges (which, thankfully, are on demand), and so upon arrival in Fort Lauderdale we dropped the hook in the New River Sound, off the ICW just north of the Las Olas bridge (map). We've anchored here before, but nowadays it is a tight squeeze, ever since anchoring in the Middle River was outlawed a couple of years ago.

A tiny fraction of the Supercar show in West Palm Beach.

One of the benefits of anchoring here, though, is that it is a short tender ride to one of our favorite restaurants in the whole city, Coconuts. We splashed the dinghy and tendered over for dinner and the de rigeur slice of Coconut cheesecake. We'll be back during the course of our stay here, but it's harder to get to from here.

We spent most of Tuesday right there at anchor, because we wanted to arrive at our slip on the New River at slack tide, around 4pm. It's only a 40 minute trip, hand steering and working the throttle the whole way. We've now been up and down the river enough times that I'm familiar with all the landmarks that delineate the wide spots where megayachts and tour boats can safely pass, but apparently the catamaran ahead of us and the tiny trawler behind us were caught off guard by the two giant tour boats coming downriver.

Our initial slip assignment was just west of Third Avenue, so we had to wait on the bridge opening, and on the south bank of the river (map). That made for a short walk to the office to get signed in, and also an easy walk to the Publix supermarket just a few blocks away. It also gave us the chance to meet Nina and Don aboard the sailing cat Enjoy, our neighbors for a few days. We tied up port-side-to, so it was also easy to get the scooters on the ground.

All of that said, it's a much longer walk to Las Olas Boulevard from that side of the river. You have to cross on one of the drawbridges, which means first walking a full block in the wrong direction. Adding two blocks and a three-story climb to the walk limits how far along the street we can wander comfortably, and so we immediately started working on a way to get to the other side of the river. The dockmaster was going to have to move us from that spot by today anyway, and we lobbied for the move to be to the north bank.

West Palm Beach from our anchorage.

Since our last time here, the dead mall that fronted the river along the train tracks has been razed, and construction is well under way on two new high rise towers on the site, as well as one adjacent to the Third Avenue bridge. So most of the north riverfront is a noisy mess all day long. We asked to be east of the bridge to be away from the construction. We could see 150' of open dock here, so we asked about it.

The dockmaster explained that the service pedestal for these slips was taken out by the storm, and there was also a shoal somewhere in the middle. We paced it out and determined our 100' of power cord would reach one of the pedestals for the adjacent spaces in either direction, and I set about sounding the bottom with my 12' boat pole. We found 70' of wall with enough depth for Vector, even though there was, indeed, about 20' of shoal right along the spot where we had tied up a few years earlier.

While we were still on the south side, we enjoyed walking to dinner at Tarpon River Brewing just down the street from Publix. I also enjoyed having a massage at a new day spa in the NuRiver Landing condo building. Monday we dropped lines, came back through the bridge, and tied up where we are now. A tree overhangs the very aft end of our boat deck, making for a bit of a mess, but otherwise it is a perfect spot. We've already walked to three different joints along Las Olas.

Also while we were still on the south side, we ended up walking to the Brightline station for a trip to Miami. On our way south from Jacksonville, I learned my cousin, the very same one we visited in New Hampshire, was flying down to Miami to exhibit at Wodapalooza. He was there over the weekend, and was able to take time out for dinner with us. I bought round-trip coach tickets for a total of $70.

Fancy Brightline station waiting room, centered right above the tracks.

The Brightline system is brand new, just having commenced operation last year. The trains travel on the Florida East Coast railway right-of-way, and they constructed three shiny new stations, one each in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. There are no other stops, although there are plans to extend the system to Orlando. The stations and train sets are so new they still reek of new, outgassing vinyl furniture. Unlike most train systems, passengers and luggage are screened basically the same way it's done at airports.

What took me nearly an hour on a bus last year from Maule Lake near Sunny Isles took just 35 minutes on the train. We then walked over to the free MetroMover system for the five minute ride to Bayfront Park. It was an expensive ride, but it was certainly fast and convenient, and I will likely do it again if I go down to the Miami Boat Show again this year.

A side note here for the boaters following along: This is the system, known during planning and construction as "All Aboard Florida," about which there has been so much sturm und drang in the boating community. You may recall hearing a lot of doomsday predictions about the FEC railroad bridges being down more than up, and enormous, untenable backups on the rivers as traffic jammed up waiting for the bridges.

We passed this derelict ship at the park docks in Fort Pierce. No idea why it's there.

The FEC bridge is just upriver from us, and, while it is, indeed, closed frequently (about twice an hour, corresponding to one train per hour in each direction), the Brighline trains clear the bridge in less than a minute, and the entire closure runs perhaps five or six minutes. The schedules are published and so it's pretty easy for Steel Towing, who pulls most of the megayachts upriver to the yards, the Jungle Queen, and the other three big tour boats to just work around the schedule. Our observation is that it's really been a non-issue.

The same hue and cry has been raised about the FEC bridge in Stuart, which will become part of the system when Orlando is added. I think what people worry about is that each train will be just like the thrice-daily FEC freight trains, which generally have the bridge closed for close to twenty minutes, including long lead and lag times because the bridge is automated and unattended. But the Brightline agreement says the bridge will get a full-time tender, and I expect it will close for five or six minutes twice an hour just like this one does, and will also be a non-issue.

Just before we left the south quay, an unfamiliar center console pulled up behind us with a familiar couple aboard. It was friends Brad and Lorraine from the Nordhavn 55 Adventure, which turned out to be upriver at Lauderdale Marine Center, where we spent a couple of months last year. They were just wrapping up a refit; today they passed us heading out of the river for Bahia Mar. We'll try to connect with them for dinner later on, and compare notes, since we've each now had refits at the same two yards.

Adventure coming through the 3rd Ave bridge.

Monday evening we met up again with Nina and Don for dinner, along with their daughter whose name I can not spell who is interviewing for sous-chef positions on yachts. We landed the hottest deal in town, five dollar burger night at Township, with two-for-one drinks since we arrived during happy hour. I think we have our Monday night go-to place.

During our very brief move from one side of the bridge to the other, our main engine hour meter rolled to 5,000 hours, where it sits today. As a matter of curiosity, I went upstairs to the flybridge, to find the hour meter there on exactly 5,003 hours. The meters are always on simultaneously, so either the flybridge one is fast or the pilothouse one is slow, but an error of just 0.06% is actually pretty good. We will continue to use the pilothouse meter as the "true and accurate" engine time.

Rolling 5,000 hours. Number on label is last oil change.

We keep the radio on channel 9 here, which is the official channel of the river traffic, rather than 16, and we've been enjoying the free entertainment, watching Steel Towing and Cape Ann Towing bringing the big girls up and down the river, and even watching the neophytes coming upriver for the first time. Weekends are busy with a constant parade of round-trip pleasure cruises. We've put our extra fenders out on the river side of the boat, since we trust no one and everybody stops right here to wait for the bridge.

Upstairs hour meter. Slight discrepancy.

Other than having to move the boat occasionally back to the south bank for pumpouts, which only work on that side of the river, we expect to be right here in this spot until at least mid-April. I will try to post here every few weeks with our latest goings-on, and when we have some clue what we plan to do after Fort Lauderdale I will update you on that, as well. At this writing that is past our planning horizon. Posts here will be sporadic until we are back cruising again.


  1. Greetings. Small world, as I am a long time reader, and we were both at the Santa Clara Hilton on 12/19. I was in town for meetings at Adobe and left the next day. I think you also must know our friends Bill and Vicki Lee from your Red Cross work. Our son has been back and forth to NC and Baltimore several times this year, as his Coast Guard Buoy Tender (ELM) is getting a refit. He heads back to Baltimore in mid February for wrap up and sea trials.

    1. Thanks for your comment and sorry for the delay - I am behind on blog comments. Sorry we missed you in Santa Clara; that's an amusing coincidence. The names Bill and Vicki do not ring a bell, but it's possible we've crossed paths. We have certain crossed paths with USCGC Elm several times.

    2. Glad to hear back from you. Looking forward to some of your new adventures after the rest period. USCGC Elm is relocating to Astoria Oregon. Keep an eye out for USCGC FIR, which is taking her place in the East.

  2. I'm kind of curious what you plan to do with the transmission that seemed to be in need of major maintenance.

    I've been following your blog for ages (fueling my own live-aboard fantasy) and maybe I'm wrong, but it seems like you guys are kind of slowing down? From this and the last blog entry, it seems like you're not real eager to do much cruising for a while. I guess I can see where after a couple of years (maybe less, maybe more) it might be nice to just dock for a couple of months.

    If anything your blog is kind of truth-in-advertising for the cruising life considering how often you're doing something fairly mechanical, and I suspect that might be wearying after a while.

    Do you feel like you're kind of running out of places to go on the East Coast?

    1. Catching up on comments here ...

      You most likely have already read the tale of the transmission repair. The tranny is working fine now.

      I don't feel like we have slowed down. It seems like we go through a 2-3 month "maintenance downtime" period about once every year to 18 months, and that's par for the course in full-time cruising. There are things that can only be done by settling in for a couple of months, and this stop in Laudy was a planned maintenance interval, for the boat and for ourselves, with some family issues thrown in. Now that we are finishing the "great loop" of the eastern US, we'll be on the move for the better part of a year, unless something breaks.

      As far as "running out of places to go," one can cruise the east coast for a lifetime and still not see everything. For that matter, even just exploring the entire estuarine system of the Chesapeake Bay can be a decades-long endeavor. That said, we continue to expand our cruising grounds and expect to add new destinations with each passing year.


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