Saturday, February 29, 2020

From the Keys to the Cape

We are anchored in a familiar spot, South Lake, in Hollywood, Florida (map). I last posted here on Valentine's day, and today is Leap Day, making it  little over two weeks. Notwithstanding my ambition at the end of that post that I might update the blog before we left for Orlando, we simply got too busy, and, in fact, we've been going non-stop the entire two weeks.

Back then it was also my hope that we'd be leaving for the Bahamas right about now, and until yesterday, it looked like we might have a crossing window on Monday. In which case, I'd have held off to type this up under way. That window collapsed by yesterday evening, and there is not another one in sight, and so we just settled in with some time on our hands here in southeast Florida. It would have been a mad scramble to be ready by Monday morning, so perhaps it's just as well.

Shortly after my last post, we crossed outside the three mile limit to test the macerator replacement. Sadly, it did not work, and I resigned myself to ordering yet another unit and spending another miserable hour in the bilge within the next week, installing the "spare" that I already had on order.

Miami skyline from our anchorage off Virginia Key.

We turned shoreward at the Biscayne Channel, locally known as the Stiltsville Channel because it threads through what's left of Stiltsville. Regular readers may remember we've used this channel before, snapping photos of the decaying stilt homes. Inbound from sea, the channel splits in two before reaching the stilts, with a branch turning northeast toward the Cape Florida light. With more detailed soundings available than on our last transit, we took this Cape Florida Channel and proceeded along the shore of the cape.

That took us past the lighthouse and also a small harbor called No Name Harbor, where many boats wait for weather to cross the gulf stream. We stayed in this harbor on our first trawler training cruise, way back in 2009, and we hoped to stay here the night before our crossing as well. As we passed, though, we could see that it was completely full, and, in fact some two dozen boats were also anchored outside the harbor and across the channel. In all, probably 30+ boats were stacked up waiting on decent crossing weather.

We made it through the skinny sections of the channel without issue, and are happy to now have bread crumbs that we can follow back out when we make our crossing. We rounded the SW corner of Key Biscayne and proceeded directly to the south shore of Virginia Key, where the Miami Boat show was in progress. There is normally a lovely anchorage at Virginia Key within the remains of the Miami Marine Stadium. But that's where they put the temporary docks for the show, and the anchorage is closed for several weeks each year.

Cape Florida and its lighthouse, on Key Biscayne.

With winds out of the north, we had no trouble anchoring south of the key. We settled in among a half dozen or so other boats, immediately across from the main entrance to the show (map). After getting settled in, I pulled the inflatable kayak out of storage and set about inflating it; the south shore of the Key is a swim beach, so no motorized vessels are permitted to land. Sadly, after a couple of years stored rolled up in a damp locker, the kayak was in bad shape.

It's a cheap consumer item from Intex that we bought on Amazon for less than a C-note nearly five years ago. Like many such things, the PVC skin has started to break down and exude plasticizer, making a sticky mess. The sticky plasticizer in turn attracts all manner of dirt, and the kayak was all but unusable, covered in black sticky filth and mildew. It inflated OK and was holding air, and I found that Purple Power removed a good deal of the mess on a test area. I figured I could clean it out thoroughly once it was in the water, and put a plastic sheet in it before I left for the show in the morning.

As I lowered the kayak over the side from the boat deck, the painter slipped through my fingers, and then I had a runaway boat on my hands. I raced downstairs as fast as I could, but by the time I got to the aft deck, 15 knots of wind had carried it too far to reach with the boat pole. I stripped down to my skivvys and jumped in after it; fortunately, the water here is 79°.

Vector at anchor in Biscayne Bay, as seen from Virginia Key. Rickenbacher Causeway and Miami at right.

With some effort I managed to catch up to it and clamber in, but, of course, I had no paddle. So I laid face-down with my arms over the bow and dog-paddled back to Vector, where Louise had thankfully deployed our swim line and buoy, so I only needed to get within 50'. The aforementioned black filth was, by this time, all over me, and I marched right down to the shower. Of course, once I cleaned myself up, I still had to clean out the kayak and get it ready for the morning.

The wind laid down by evening and we had a lovely dinner aboard, with the Miami skyline as a backdrop. I had no issues paddling ashore in the morning, but I made a strategic error in where we had anchored. The police were not letting anyone cross the street where the show entrance was located, since there is no traffic signal there, and I had to walk a half mile out of my way to cross at a signal.

The Miami show is an enormous affair, with indoor exhibits arranged throughout a half dozen cavernous tents, and hundreds of boats in-water at temporary docks. I had no need to see the in-water boats, although sometimes there are some interesting examples, but I did walk down the dock first thing in order to meet up with Jason and Nikki Wynn. We've been on something of a parallel journey with them and share a common circle of friends from the RV and cruising communities, but we've somehow just missed meeting in person for nearly a decade, from back in our RVing days.

After a lengthy and heated discussion about replacing our worn kayak after my little swim, I spotted these "kayaks" at the show -- jet drive!

After a very brief hello, I beat a hasty retreat into the tents, as it started to rain. It would turn out that pouring rain was the order of the day for my entire visit to the show, and that was the last I saw of the docks. No matter, because I had a good size checklist of vendors I wanted to talk to in the tents, including ACR (makers of our EPIRB and spotlight), Highfield dinghys, Spectra Watermakers, two radio manufacturers, and Northern Lights generators. I knocked out the whole list, and still had time to take in some new products before closing time. In a stroke of good luck, the rain let up just as I started walking back to the kayak.

I had hoped to maybe tender over to the Rickenbacker Marina for dinner at Whiskey Joes after the show, but the calm in which I had paddled back was short-lived, and the evening proved to be windy and rainy. We had another nice dinner aboard before spending our final night at Virginia Key. In the morning we motored two and a half hours to Maule Lake, where we dropped the hook in our usual spot (map).

We passed Haulover Beach en route to Maule Lake. There always seems to be a festival here, and on this very windy day the kites were also out in force.

I've written here before about the Maule Lake anchorage and all the services available at the nearby Intracoastal Mall, which has a day dock. On this stop we revisited many of our old standbys, and took advantage of the nearby grocery store to start some of our provisioning.

I also took the dink around through Dumbfoundling Bay and down one of the canals to get close to the Amazon locker where I had shipped a number of items, including the aforementioned macerator. I had one non-Amazon order arriving by UPS, and we arranged receipt with the UPS store across the ICW in Sunny Isles Beach. We took the free shuttle bus over, and while there we had dinner at the Mexican place we like, although it has changed hands (again).

I stopped at Mo's Bagels & Deli for bagels on my way to the Amazon locker. Nothing says real NY kosher bagels like the Hatzalah parked out front. And built on a scooter, no less.

One evening that we spent in Maule Lake found us glued to the VHF, as a search-and-rescue drama unfolded just a dozen miles away. You may have seen it on the news: a car launched off the end of the Fisher Island Ferry and into the Miami Ship Channel, where it sank in 50' of water. We heard the initial mayday call and followed the whole event; the ship channel was closed to all traffic until 1:30am when they finally recovered the car.

We had a number of car-intensive errands and provisioning to do, and I had booked a rental car at Budget, just a block down from the Intracoastal Mall. Budget called me at 8:30 to tell me the car I booked for 9:30 was unavailable, and would remain so for "hours." At noon we gave up waiting, but the last-minute re-shuffling of plans added to the workload.

The day before our marina reservation in Fort Lauderdale we weighed anchor and motored north up the ICW to better position ourselves to transit up the New River. Even though conditions on the outside were too uncomfortable for a passage or even a coastal run, we ran out the Port Everglades inlet and out past the three-mile line to test the macerator I had replaced, again, in Maule Lake.

Sunset behind a high-zoot condo from our anchorage in Maule Lake.

We would not normally bash three miles out to sea and back just to test a macerator; that's more the kind of thing we would reserve until the next time we went to sea, using shore-side pumpouts if needed. But a working macerator is a requisite in the Bahamas -- there are no pumpouts at all throughout most of the islands. It's important enough that we always carry a spare. In this case, I really needed to know if replacing the pump was all that was needed, or if we had some more insidious problem elsewhere in the system. I am happy to report that it is, indeed, working.

After coming back in the inlet we proceeded north past Las Olas Boulevard to a familiar anchorage known as the New River Sound and dropped the hook (map). As is our custom here, we splashed the tender and ran back under the bridge to Coconuts, one of our favorite restaurants in all of Fort Lauderdale, which has a courtesy dock.

Shortly after we returned to Vector, while enjoying a glass of wine on the aft deck, FLPD came by and made us move. They claimed we were in the channel, which we were not, but these sorts of arguments can not be won whilst afloat. Neither was it worthwhile to me to take a summons and argue it in court. A space further from the channel had opened up just before we went to dinner, and so we weighed anchor and moved 100'.

When the PD asked us to move I took this screen shot (in night colors). The channel is clearly shown at left in gray, with the sailing line in white. We are the green boat and our anchor circle is shown. The red lines are mostly old tracks. We were 100' from the edge of the charted channel.

In the morning we weighed anchor to make the 0845 opening of Las Olas, which put us at the series of New River bridges in downtown Fort Lauderdale just after the 0900 end of the morning lock-down. We had an uneventful cruise upriver, ending at Bradford Marine, where they first directed us to a slip under a shed just a tad too low for us at high tide. After I squawked they re-directed us to a different slip, under a slightly taller shed (map).

We were all secure in plenty of time to go to Enterprise to pick up our car at noon, but they had no drivers to pick us up. We ended up taking a Lyft, for which we have yet to be reimbursed. And then began the mad scramble to run some of the errands that we had planned for the non-existent Budget car down by Maule Lake. In quick succession we hit Total Wine & More for eight cases of beer, Costco for a variety of dry goods as well as bottled wine, and Walmart for 15 gallons of motor oil and as many non-perishable provisions as we could carry. We ended with dinner at an old favorite, Vignetto's.

We kept seeing this guitar-shaped building on our errands from the marina. It's the new hotel at the Seminole Hard Rock casino... we remember them from when they were tiny.

That did not leave us a lot of time to prepare for our road trip to Orlando. We ended up rolling out of the marina close to noon the following day, after thoroughly briefing security about the local miscreant who's already stolen two of our scooters (and all their contents), and thinks he has a key to the boat. He's a boatyard contractor, so no telling what yard(s) he might show up at.

The cat stopped complaining after the first mile, and we had a pleasant drive to Lake Buena Vista, where we checked in to the pet-friendly Hilton Garden Inn. They have a bar on-site with a happy hour from 5-6, and my cousins met us there for a beer before dinner at an unremarkable restaurant nearby.

That's Angel in the window of our 8th-floor room, looking at us and wondering why we left her.

We had a great time with them over the next two days, catching up over meals and generally relaxing. We spent one day driving out to Cape Canaveral to tour the Kennedy Space Center; it was a blast to do it with them, and so many things have changed there since our last visit that we got a good bit out of it, too.

Knowing we were going to be in Orlando for a couple of days, I had made tentative arrangements to connect with long-time good friends and fellow Red Cross volunteers Kathleen and Tom. When I texted him upon our arrival in town, however, Tom informed me that Kathleen had been admitted to the hospital for a heart valve replacement and coronary stents, a double operation, expected within a day or two.

In lieu of meeting up as planned somewhere between Orlando and their home in Wildwood, we instead ran up to Leesburg to catch up with them in her hospital room. We had a great visit, the sort where we had to close the door to avoid disturbing the other patients with our laughter and general carrying-on. We also enjoyed meeting their daughter, Erin, who had come in for the surgery.

As good a time as can be had in a hospital room. Photo: Erin Roberts.

We took our leave of family Monday evening after dinner, and Tuesday morning we loaded everything back in the car for the trip back. We made a quick stop at the VF Outlet before leaving town; these are few and far between and I needed a few items that I routinely purchase there. We arrived back at Vector in the afternoon, got the cat squared away, and immediately headed back out for more provisioning and errands.

We had been scheduled to return the car Wednesday and depart the marina shortly thereafter. But we simply ran out of time to get everything done, and since the car was on a weekly rate but only day five of the rental, we extended our stay another day.

A whole new look for historic Pad 39-A, with the SpaceX assembly building and launch gantry. This will likely be the site of the first humans launched from the US since the end of the Shuttle program.

Serendipitously, our friends John and Laura Lee arrived in town aboard their lovely Selene, Division Belle, Tuesday evening, and we made arrangements to collect them from their marina Wednesday evening and go to dinner at 15th Street Fisheries. Of course, one of the last errands I ran Wednesday was to fill 14 gallons worth of gas cans for the Bahamas, and the car reeked of gasoline on the trip to the restaurant and back, but we had a great time catching back up with them. They, too, are hoping to cross to the Bahamas at the next window, and we hope to lift a glass with them in Bimini.

We returned the car Thursday, once again having to Lyft back to the marina, and shortly afterward we dropped lines and came straight here. On our way downriver we had to do-si-do with two towboats and the Jungle Queen, but it was otherwise uneventful. We splashed the tender and headed ashore to one of our old stand-bys for dinner.

The VAB, with the mobile launcher for the SLS visible inside the open High Bay 3 Doors. Launch Control (the Firing Rooms) is visible at lower left. This photo defies scale; the union of the US flag is the size of an NBA basketball court, and the stripes are 9' wide.

Even after the whirlwind trip and the scramble to provision while we had the car, there was no rest for the weary, as I immediately launched into project mode in the hopes that the Bahamas crossing window would hold. That included repairing one of the SSB antennas, whose lead-in wire had corroded through and broken off the last time we lowered it for a bridge, and spending hours trying to repair a slow leak in the air horn system.

With this morning's decision to wave off a crossing Monday or Tuesday, I now have some breathing room. I have more parts coming tomorrow for the air horn, which I will pick up an an Amazon locker here in Hollywood, and we'll have a chance to stow lots of items that would have had to ride to Bimini loose for stowage after arrival. Sadly, there is no window predicted in at least the next week to ten days, so it's really a bit more breathing room than we'd like.

Sunset over our anchorage at South Lake.

We'll be right here in Hollywood until at least Monday. We like it here; the anchorage is comfortable and the Broadwalk is an interesting diversion in the evenings. At some point we will continue backtracking down to Miami, and whenever the window arrives, we will squirt out the Cape Florida or Stiltsville Channel and cross to Bimini. My next post will likely be under way on that crossing.

1 comment:

  1. Not sure if your draft is too deep for Bimini harbor, but I just got an email from Explorer Charts that the channel markers into Bimini harbor are missing. It is recommended to enter using your eyes, not GPS, several boats have gone aground relying on GPS.


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