Saturday, February 13, 2010

Big Pine Key to Stock Island

This entry is out of order - I'm still working on my trip to Big Pine Key, but this was such a spectacular day I had to real quick get it down before I forgot the absolute sailing high from the day. Days like this make the horrible expense of sailing worthwhile.

Everything on Pelican worked like a charm!

After being at Big Pine Key in Newfound Harbor for a week I was getting cabin fever. The winds had been in all the wrong directions at 20 plus knots so even going out in the dinghy was an effort, and a wet one at that.

Still, Big Pine Key has some places I like, like the Big Pine Restaurant (Breakfast Lunch Dinner) and the No Name Pub. There's also the Winn Dixie and CVS if you need those sorts of things.

I had met Carl and Laura of Ekotopia III and they were waiting for a break in the weather which happened Thursday February 11. I was going to wait until Friday (and I'm glad I didn't!).

Anyway, after a quick stop in town for mail, I got underway under beautiful skies and gentle winds for Stock Island. I didn't want to get to Key West so early. There's a little anchorage near Murray's Marina across the bay from the Naval Air Station (Key West), which is not on Key West but Boca Chica. But I digress.

So after the tricky bit of getting out of Newfound Harbor, I set the jib, staysail, and mizzen and shut down the iron genny. Because I was running a broad reach, I didn't bother with the main because all it would do is blanket the foresails. But as I rounded Red 4M south of Key Lois the wind came abeam and I raised the main.

I was towing the dinghy (which I'm looking for names for - "T/T Pelican" sounds so ostentatious, doesn't it?) and started the shaft generator to keep the batteries charged. This added almost a knot of drag to Pelican. Even so, occasionally in the puffs I hit 8 knots over the ground (8 plus through the water).

The day was around 65 degrees, so I was wearing shorts, a fleece vest and a foul weather jacket as well as my life vest and harness for working forward.

About four hours later, I arrived at the Boca Chica Channel, doused sail and headed in. The anchorage is very small for deep draft boats (I mean, 6 feet). But there's plenty of room for shallow draft boats and it shows - there are a lot of boats here in varying states of decay, some lived on, some not. But the anchorage is, as I said, tremendously well protected.

After I anchored, Alan, from the boat next door, stopped by and gave me the scoop about going ashore and how to get around. There's a ramp with a stone quay that you can leave your dinghy at and the bums watch over them. That's a recommendation, huh? There's a bus that travels the keys and costs $3.00 each way. It's nice and runs pretty close to schedule.

I'll be here for a couple more days before hitting Key West for fuel, water, pump out, and getting a mooring ball.

See you on the water!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Miami, FL to Big Pine Key, FL

It never surprises me how many mistakes I can make. It should, but it doesn't.

I left Miami with a beautiful north wind and sailed and motor sailed down Biscayne Bay. Biscayne Bay is a lovely body of water that you can sail everywhere in. Remember that, because as you head south on the ICW, it's the last you'll find.

The southern end of Biscayne Bay is bounded by Elliot Key, Old Rhodes Key and finally Key Largo. I passed through Card Sound and Little Card Sound, and finally Barnes Sound to Cross Key where I stopped for the night at Gilbert's Resort in Key Largo just under the new bridge. It's a very nice little place with a tiki bar and a German restaurant eponymously named. I didn't get the chance to try it, though, and it's unlikely I will on the way back for reasons you'll soon find out.

I had thought I'd anchor in Tarpon Basin, but Skipper Bob's said it was crowded with moorings and lots of live aboards. It was only a few miles past Gilberts, but the siren call of margaritas, free electricity and cable was too strong to resist.

If you have a shallow draft boat, and remember this warning, it's a nice place to stop - across the creek is the Anchorage Resort and Yacht Club that apparently is better because it charges more. There is also an anchorage just south of that.

I left the next day on a rising tide but I really should have looked ahead in the chart book - there are a number of areas where the ICW is charted at 5 feet. It didn't really dawn on me until at the south end of Blackwater Sound that wind from the north had emptied these sounds of water. At high tide, it was barely 5-1/2 feet which happens to be exactly what Pelican draws.

So through Blackwater Sound to Buttonwood Sound where it's charted at 6 feet (but isn't), mostly to the end of Key Largo I ended up making my own channel. Nice.

The one bright spot was Tarpon Basin where there were hardly any boats. It is a beautiful mangrove surrounded basin where anchoring is easy peasy. It's well protected from every direction. I would recommend it if it weren't for the shallow depths on the inlets.

Past Tavernier it's shallow, and it the depth doesn't get better until the south end of Islamorada. At Steamboat Channel near Shell Key it goes to a comfortable 7-8 feet and carries that all the way to Marathon (and beyond).

Lesson learned here is check the charts days ahead - I would have gone outside in Hawks Channel from Key Biscayne if I'd done that - I just assumed I'd have at least 6 feet. In many places, just outside the channel it was 7+ feet, but it was a crap shoot.

I had made reservations at the Marathon Yacht Club for two days. It's on the Florida Bay side of Marathon and it's small and well protected from all but directly north winds. However, the bay is very shallow so even with those winds, it's not bad. I got to sail for the last few hours and with the shaft generator running quite happily arrived with batteries charged.

I had been recommended to back into the slip. Fortunately there were a lot of people on hand to help with that. In 42 feet of space I had to turn Pelican around and back in a clockwise manner (which Pelican does not want to do at all). There are boats within hand's reach to walk the stern around and so forth. So without any damage I got into the slip. Whew!

They had told me that the electric rate was $9.00. I thought that was for the two days which would have been competitive with most marinas. Nope, it was for one day. So I declined the service.

After spending a day beating Pelican up I decided to go to the club's restaurant. The food was very good and the service stellar! Everyone was extremely friendly. It was a lovely experience and I didn't have to walk all that far!

The next day a man who had helped me into the slip, Bob, gave me a ride to the Publix grocery store for food. He told me all the places to see in Marathon, but the one that caught my eye was Porky's Bayside - a little restaurant on Rt 1, just a block east of the yacht club. I decided I had to have breakfast there before I left.

After shopping, I went for a bike ride to Pigeon Key where the Flagler Museum is. You walk or ride 2 miles along the old Seven Mile Bridge. If you're walking, you really have to want to see the thing. It's $11.00 per adult to get in. After that, I did some random exploring.

Later I invited Bob over for cocktails and dinner which was very pleasant.

The next morning I went to Porky's and was not disappointed. They may have great dinners, but the breakfast was all that I could ask for and more than I should have. Highly recommended if you're in Marathon. There are a lot of fru-fru restaurants in Marathon, but as you know I'm all about good food cheap and Porky's fits the bill.

I got underway around 9:30 in a west wind (remember this, as it's important) and headed out to Moser Channel under motor and sail. I figured I'd head out to sea for a while and then tack back to the shallows and repeat as necessary. Well, the wind wasn't directly out of the west but sort of north west making it directly on the nose for the course I wanted to take and at 20 plus knots.

Here's my second mistake. I should have gone back. But no, I sailed out about four miles, tacked, and sailed back about four miles and realized I made about a mile on my course. At that rate it would be twelve or fifteen hours to go 20 miles. I'd be arriving late at night in a channel I wasn't familiar with.

While I was thinking about this I was finding I was only going about three knots. Ok, close reach in 20 knots I should be doing better than that. I was scratching my head and watching my wake when I realized that I was dragging at least one of the damn crab pots that pepper everywhere and are never ending. I could see it just under the water.

As I was trying to decide what to do about this (anchor, dive, that sort of thing) the line parted and all of a sudden I'm going 7 knots. Whew! Sometimes it pays to wait.

The day wore on and eventually I decided that beating into the waves wasn't all that much fun and it was very, very wet so I started the engine and made a beeline to the entrance buoy. Even if the water was green and clear and it was sort of warm, the trip still sucked. So, mistake number two was never travel into the wind directly especially on open water. Wait for favorable winds.

I got into the anchorage about three in the afternoon and had a well deserved vodka tonic. So there.

Newfound Harbor is a lovely anchorage and mostly empty. There is room for a lot of boats but there are only a few. It's worth a stop for Big Pine Key and Torch Key where there are some great restaurants.

I'll be here for a while - and then I'll see you on the water!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Stuart FL to Miami FL and New Canvas

As I write this I'm sitting comfortably at anchor just north of the Miami Yacht Club. It's a beautiful sunny day that should reach 80 degrees with the turquoise water a toasty 80 degrees. Although I'm within rock throwing distance of central Miami it's quiet and there are a large number of cruisers anchored here. But this is just a stop before the keys. My friends Jack and Patricia from Whoosh have left this morning for the Bahamas. We'll catch up together there later...

I stopped in Stuart because I was going to go across the Okeechobee Waterway (even measured my mast in Ft. Pierce so that I could be sure I'd fit). But time constraints (the bane of a cruiser's existence) made me switch plans and go down the east coast. All for a very good reason though that will be revealed later!

I've mentioned the Harborage Yacht Club and Marina before, and I can't say enough good things about them. But while there I had a bit of a walk into Stuart where I found the 'old town' consisting of two streets of shops and restaurants that are so short that you could (and I almost did) miss them.

While I was perambulating, however, I found a kayak shop that had an inflatable two person kayak and who was willing to take mine in trade, so the whole thing cost me only two hundred dollars brand new. It's not a top-of-the-line kayak, but serviceable and surprisingly easy to use and very stable. There will be more about that later.

However, by removing the hard kayak from the coach roof I found out yesterday how badly the hatch above the galley leaked and in a half hour of no rain (and there was lots of it), I removed the glass, cleaned the frame, gooped it up with the proper sealant, and replaced the glass. Ten minutes later, it poured and continued raining all day - enough to clean the boat pretty well! Of course, today dawned beautifully! There is one more leak to deal with and at least I know where it is...

One of the major reason for stopping in Stuart is to get Adel Kahlil of Rainbow Canvas (561) 844 0557 to build me a new dodger - he's been working with my friend Cory for years (decades) and does excellent work fast - it was a pleasure to meet him and he was very professional, easy to deal with, and the results speak for themselves. I asked him for the dodger, a cover for the windows to help protect them, and a shade cover for the cockpit. It's really hard with a ketch to make a bimini, so I passed on that.

Anyway, he wasn't able to get it back to me while I was in Stuart but as I was stopping in Riviera Beach on the way to Miami it was even better - his shop is only a few minutes away. His crew came to my slip at the Riviera Beach Municipal Marina to do the fitting and install - and with a couple of simple alterations had it done by 7:00 at night. You can see the results - the biggest change for me is that I can see through the dodger and I have a window I can open for the breeze easily.

I went outside from Stuart to Lake Worth - it was a motor sail (so what's new), and the wind was just a little bit too far forward to just sail. Still, it was a pleasant if wet (no dodger yet...) ride and just six hours long. It took over an hour to just get from Stuart to the St. Lucie inlet!

As I was coming up to the Riviera Beach Municipal Marina, I was boarded by the Coast Guard. Naturally, I was in a narrow channel, with boats coming down the ICW (large, power, fast) and an incoming current and a mooring field just a few hundred feet away. Of course, I was polite to the Coasties, but they could not have found a worse place or time to board. There's the whole of Lake Worth just a few hundred yards away. Plenty of maneuvering room etc. , etc. But I gave them my TWIC card and told them where the documentation number was and they seemed happy with that. I said I was alone and if they wanted to inspect the boat I'd be happy to have them aboard once I docked but as I a little busy just now, would they mind waiting?

They indicated they were just doing a DHS inspection - where I was from, where I was going, and how long I'd be there. Now that I think about it, it's fairly invasive and Pelican certainly doesn't look like a vessel of interest. There used to be a thing called 'probable cause'. Apparently no longer. This is what is happening to our 'freedom'. Anyway, they were happy with the TWIC card and were off in a few minutes. Then the real fun began!

The Riviera Beach Municipal Marina is pretty bare bones. The fingers are fixed, well above high water level and only 12 feet long. I ended up having to back in against a knot or so cross current. Thankfully, there was a number of helpers on the dock and I managed it without hitting anything. It was quite an experience and reinforced a; you must use the throttle with authority sometimes, and b; the fact that Pelican backs to starboard when pressed. It really helped to keep those in mind.

Once docked, my friend Lou came aboard for a cocktail and pepperoni, our favorite nosh. The canvas people showed up, and a little while later left for their shop and Lou and I left for dinner with his significant other, Jane, and her sister and friend. We went to a place called 'Dockside' in North Palm Beach. The food was really good! And priced well. Very enjoyable! Recommended if you can find it.

I decided to stay another day there and work on some deferred maintenance (that's short hand for fooling around on the boat) and later in the day, Lou and Jane gave a dinner party which was excellent! Good company and food, very healthy.

After the party, Jane gave Lou and me a ride to the boat where we shared a scotch and went to bed. My plan was to leave around 5 am, but we discussed it and got up at five and left at six. The day was overcast but pleasant. As we left Lake Worth Inlet we took a turn right and set the autopilot on a route to Miami - Government Cut.

I should mention the water color is changing daily as I head south - this day it was azure, very pretty. The wind built from the north so we popped out the jib and staysail and off we went at 7 plus knots using the engine just above an idle!

I had used OpenCPN to figure a route and at an estimated 6 knots we'd arrive around 5 pm. At 7 knots plus, we got there at 3! Government Cut is a very easy and well marked inlet. You can't miss it. We ended up sailing into it for about a half hour just for the pure fun of sailing without the engine.

In Government Cut when cruise ships are in port the Coast Guard prevents pleasure craft from going all the way through to the ICW. They make everyone go south of Dodge Island. It's not a terrible inconvenience, but under the guise of anti-terrorism, the private cruise lines have public protection. I think that's wrong. I'm sure they're not paying for it, but we all are.

We ended up anchoring just north of the Miami Yacht Club. The water had changed to a turquoise color. It was beautiful!

Lou got a ride into shore with Bill and Maureen from Carpe Diem eh from Winnipeg. He got the Tri-Rail home and that was that. I stayed the next day and found leaks in the rain and fixed them when the rain stopped.

The Miami Yacht Club has a restaurant and they have awesome burgers - just so you know if you're ever there!

Now I'm at Cross Key and I'll have a report later in the week about Biscayne Bay to Key Largo, Islamorada and Marathon.

See you on the water!