March 9, 2011 – Clifton Forge VA – Buckhorn Campground

483 miles traveled today; 2,861 miles total

Long day, long drive. 6:30 pm EST and we’re finally parked. We had intended on staying at Douthat State Park VA, and actually tried to make that work. AAA camp guide says they’re open March 1, but just to make sure I phoned them yesterday. I couldn’t get the park directly, but did speak to someone in reservations, who assured me that the campground was open. We drove the 5 miles into the park and turned off to the campground entrance only to find a closed/locked gate with a “campground closed” sign on it. It was not quite 6 pm. Time to switch to Plan B. We turned around and backtracked to a small commercial campground we’d passed on our way in. That’s where we are right now. No one around at the office, and only one side of the restrooms is unlocked (I stand guard for Sandy). I’ll worry about registering in the morning. Also, the electric service pedestal only accommodates a 50 amp connection. I dove into the bowels of the king berth and retrieved my adapter, only to discover that it doesn’t fit this campground’s outlets. We’ll get by on battery power and stove heat. It’s 40 degrees outside, not that cold.

It rained most of the day, and I pounded the roads hard getting this far. We got an early start (7:30 am), but lost an hour to the time change. We stuck with I-64 across the remainder of southern Indiana, all of Kentucky, and parts of West Virginia. We played hopscotch with chuckholes in Kentucky which were of epic proportions and frighteningly deep. All of the rivers we crossed were in full flood and out of their banks. You can’t see much of the country when driving the interstates, and even less when it’s rainy outside. We crossed the mighty Ohio River at Louisville in rain and fog. We crossed the eastern continental divide (the Alleghenys) in rain, fog and gathering dusk. The cities of Louisville, Frankfort, Lexington, Huntington, and Charleston all zipped by in turn. We learned the names of some of their favorite sons from street names on exit signs. Roy Wilkens, long time NAACP director, must have come from Louisville, and Huntington WV has laid claim to NBA Hall of Famer Hal Greer. Louisville also proudly proclaimed its connection to Louisville Slugger baseball bats on their minor league ballpark, and acknowledges Colonel Sanders on what looks to be a convention center. I wonder if they offer complementary chicken wings there.

After more than 5 hours of monotonous interstate driving, I was more than ready to add a little interest to the trip as Charleston WV approached. I-64 takes an odd southerly dive just east of Charleston,and adding to the inconvenience of heading in the wrong direction, it also transforms itself into a turnpike. I’ll go to almost any length to pick a route to avoid driving a turnpike, especially when towing a tandem axle trailer, since the toll is usually based on number of axles. In this case it looked like a no brainer. US 60 cuts due east from Charleston, reconnecting with I-64 about 60 miles due east. Highway 60 also appears as a nearly straight line on the map, and many miles shorter than the West Virginia Turnpike. Who cares if the road goes through a few towns and has a few stoplights, I figure. I save time, distance, toll fees, and get a closer look at the country as bonus. Well, I was right on most of the above points.

US 60 starts out as a nice 4 lane divided highway as it follows the Kanahwa River into the West Virginia hills. The valley constricts, leaving just enough room for river, railroad track, highway, and a narrow strip of development. It’s soon apparent that this is coal country, with loaded coal cars parked on sidings, coal barges pushing upriver, and virtually every side canyon gated off, with a large coal company sign at the entrance. The highway transitions to 2 lane after a few miles and gets progressively more crooked, as the river valley narrows. Finally, the road abandons the river bottom completely and climbs into the hills. At that point things get interesting. The road twists its way up hogbacks, clings to ridges and dives into hollows as it struggles mightily to hold an east-west course in mountains which are anything but east-west. Posted 25 mile curves are typical, and one aptly bears a 15 mph warning. Most grades are 8 %. One spectacular stretch follows the New River Gorge while perched high on a ridge above the river. We were above snow level before the road finally descended one last time, down to a town along I-64. I thoroughly enjoyed the break from interstate driving. Sandy, however, vows that if we ever travel this way again, we’re paying the tolls.

March 10, 2011 – Lexington Park MD – Son Dave’s home

245 miles traveled for the day; 3,105 miles total

We’ve safely arrived in Lexington Park MD at our son’s home on the Patuxent River, which is an arm of Chesapeake Bay. We broke free of our snowbound home in Leavenworth, spent frigid nights in Wyoming, Nebraska and southwestern Iowa, stayed just ahead of a plains blizzard, held course north of severe thunderstorms in Arkansas, and punched through driving rain last night and today to complete the first phase of our journey, crossing the continent with our boat in tow. It will be great to park the truck and boat for a few days and enjoy time with Dave, Nikki and our two grandkids, 10 year old Cameron and 5 year old Gracie.

Rain pounded us all of last night, and was still falling lightly when we arose this morning. I knew we didn’t have far to go on this last leg, so we took our time and didn’t get going until 9:30. The RV park office was still vacant when we left, so before leaving I stuck a note and boat card in the door jam, asking the owner to send me an e’mail with his rate, so I could mail him a check to pay for our night’s stay. I programmed “Mabel” with Dave’s address, since our route would exit I-64 near Charolettesville VA and then follow a series of rural state highways. She did a good job of directing us on the best route, through the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, with its wooded rolling hills and fallow fields and over the fog shrouded Blue Ridge, into central Virginia. We drove past wealthy country estates, enclosed by miles of white painted board fence and bearing names like Merifield, Strawberry Ridge and Chopping Bottom. Our route took us directly through 4 bitterly contested battlefields of the Civil War. I felt somber as we drove past the killing grounds of The Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania and Fredricksburg, where so many struggled and died. Shortly after leaving Fredricksburg we crossed the broad Potomac River into Maryland and tangled with a confusing series of country roads before emerging on the main route to Lexington Park. The rain, which had fallen steadily all day, intensified as we neared our destination, and was falling in wind driven sheets by the time we pulled into the Lexington Park WalMart parking lot.

I had phoned Dave on the cell a half hour earlier, so he could meet us at the parking lot and lead us on to the Patuxent Naval Air Station marina, where we would unhitch and store the boat during our visit. Dave, who is a Chief Petty Officer stationed here at Patuxent, would assist us in getting us a pass so we could drive on base. It was still pouring down rain when he met us, but that didn’t prevent us from sharing hugs of greeting. It has been a year and a half since our last visit here, so we have lots to catch up on.

After obtaining my temporary pass, I followed Dave over to the marina, where we parked and unhitched the boat. Dave then led us to his home and the reunion with our daughter in law and two grandkids. They live in a townhouse development located just a mile or two off base. Our first task, following initial greetings, was to unload the 6 dining room chairs and table which I’d hauled with the truck across the country. The set had belonged to Sandy’s folks, and Sandy’s mom wanted Dave and Nikki to have it. I’d spent countless hours sanding, repairing and refinishing the set this past winter. The whole family was eager to see their new table and chairs. We brought the pieces in, unwrapped them, and Cameron helped me assemble the table. It now sits proudly and handsomely in their dining room, ready to host meals, discussions, and family game time for years to come.

March 15, 2011 – Santee State Park, SC

507 miles traveled for the day; 3,616 miles total

For the past 4 ½ days we’ve enjoyed a great visit with Dave, Nikki and our grand-kids. We were grateful for time spent together; mostly just hanging out and doing stuff with Cameron and Gracie. We did make it up to Washington DC on Sunday for a picnic at the Jefferson Memorial and a visit to the Air and Space Museum. On our way there we stumbled onto DC’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, which was very festive and fun for the kids. This morning the visit came to an end with reluctant goodbyes. I drove back over to the Patuxent NAS marina, hitched up the boat, and by 9:30 am we resumed our journey.

Roofs in Lexington Park were covered with frost this morning, and after an hours drive it was still just 48 degrees outside. However, we said farewell to chill air as we drove south. Up until now, we,ve been mostly crossing lines of longitude, but today we began seriously tackling latitudinal lines, and the changes we noted were dramatic. The temperature gradually warmed all day; getting up to the mid 60’s in North Carolina and topping out at 77 in South Carolina, shortly before arriving here at Santee State Park. The change in vegetation which we noted on the drive was similarly striking. In Maryland and Virginia, feathery red blooms on the tips of maple trees were just beginning to appear. By the time we reached North Carolina, those trees were solid red, and leaves were showing on willow and other species. Redbud added their rose/violet tint to the landscape, along with white and yellow blooming trees. Around midday we started seeing bald cypress in some of the roadside swamps, and shortly after crossing into South Carolina we encountered our first clumps of palmetto. Distinctive shrouds of Spanish moss drape the trees here in the state park.

Our driving route was quite simple. Shortly after crossing the Potomac River into Virginia, we hopped onto I-95. Nearing Richmond I followed “Mable’s” advice and took the I-295 bypass, which skirts Richmond to the east and pretty much follows the perimeter defended so doggedly by Confederate troops during four years of Civil War. The National Park Service and river crossing signs we passed told the sad tale of battles between Blue and Gray: North Anna River, Cold Harbor, Chickahominy Creek, Malvern Hill, James River, Petersburg, and Appomattox River where, a few dozen miles upstream, the guns finally fell silent.

A little south of Petersburg I-295 rejoins I-95, which we will follow all the way to Fort Pierce, FL. We finally exited the freeway here at Santee State Park, about halfway through South Carolina. The park is located on the shores of a large reservoir, and is quietly removed from the Interstate. We share the campground with a half dozen or so other campers, mostly older folks in large motor homes. We spotted our first redheaded woodpecker while fixing dinner. For the first time on the trip we were able to set out our folding chairs and eat dinner at the picnic table. After so many days of cold, it’s hard to believe we’ve finally arrived in the Land of Warm.

March 16, 2011 – Fort Pierce, FL – Mike and Carol’s Place

486 miles traveled for the day – 4,092 miles total, from home in Leavenworth to our Florida destination

The morning was cool and foggy out over the lake, but the 58 degree air was warmer than most daily highs we’d previously experienced on the trip. We quickly ate breakfast and got ready for one last day on the road. I swung by the visitor center shortly after 8 am to pay for our campsite, and then we rolled out onto the local highway, headed for I-95 and Florida. On our way out we saw a large group of whitetail deer browsing along the road, and a pair of wild turkeys which flew across the road just in front of us.

Our route continued south, through South Carolina and across the coastal corner of Georgia. The budding trees started showing more and more leaves, and by the time we crossed into Georgia, most trees were bright with the new growth of this year’s crop of leaves. Just after skirting the edge of Savannah we entered Florida, and the landscape abruptly began to change. The trees were all completely leafed out, a solid wall of green alongside the freeway. A dense tangle of palmetto formed the understory, which was overshadowed by a mixed canopy of pines and broadleaf trees. We passed through several expansive stretches of recently burned forest. I recalled hearing on the news a couple of months ago about major forest and brush fires in northern Florida, which actually closed the freeway for a time. We were obviously seeing the aftermath of those fires. I’m accustomed to the results of forest fires in the mountains of the Northwest, with blackened pine and fir studding the slopes, but this was totally different. Dead flat ground, covered with the blackened remains of palm trees and scrubby pines. The occasional burned and partially melted billboard added to the strangeness of the scene.

The closer we got to our destination, the more hectic the freeway traffic seemed to become. I got cut off by a guy driving a small U-Haul truck. Lengthy stretches of construction zone constricted my driving lane. The temperature outside climbed up to 81 degrees, and I finally had to give in and run the air conditioning. I tracked our progress on the map, and watched the distance steadily decline: less than 200 miles, under 100, less than an hour of driving, under 10 miles to our exit. At 4 pm, after driving more than 4,000 miles, we were leaving the main highway for the last time on the outbound leg of the road trip.

Despite being extremely eager to get to our friends’ place, we stopped at a gas station and filled the boat’s tanks with 36 gallons of gas. The time was now near for Chinook to take over as our means of transportation. With “Mabel” accurately calling out our turns, we rolled up in front of Mike and Carol’s mobile home at 4:30 pm. Mike was sitting in a lounge chair, in the shade of the canopy, sipping on a glass of wine, his Amazon Green parrot Pablo perched happily on his shoulder. He waved a greeting. We had finally arrived.

March 17, 2011 – Fort Pierce, FL – Mike and Carol’s Place

The next couple of days will be filled with preparations. This morning I’ll wash the road grit and grime off the boat, and then give the hull bottom a liberal coating of anti-fouling wax. Since I’ve never used bottom paint, I like to start out a salt water cruise with this protective wax, which seems to help retard the inevitable marine growth, and eases the equally inevitable bottom scraping chores. With the boat on the trailer, I can reach most of the hull, but I will have to jack her up, first by the bow and then by the stern, so I can reach where the boat rests on the trailer bunks.

At 1:30 Sandy and I have appointments with the Customs and Immigration Service, which is located at the nearby airport. We will present ourselves, along with passports, boat documentation, float plan and itinerary. After running a background check, Customs and Immigration should be able to issue us a pre-approved permission to reenter the US at the conclusion of our cruise. All we will need to do is phone them on our cell from the dock where we land in Ft. Pierce, informing them that we have returned. With our advanced approval today, we shouldn’t need to report in person then.

Sandy and I will clean the interior of the boat, give the topsides a waxing, and reorganize the stowing of gear. This will be a fairly big job. Things were fairly tightly stuffed into the king berth area prior to the start of our road trip, and some heavy things like food bins, beer, wine and soda were carried in the back seat area of the pickup. They will all need to find stowage locations on board the boat. We’ll be able to begin setting up the boat for cruising, installing such things as the dodger, bimini, dock lines, barbeque, life sling, fenders, and cockpit cushions, all in preparation for launching in a couple of days. Sandy will make a trip to the store for last minute provisioning of fresh foods, and I’ll drop in at West Marine to see if they’ll exchange my binoculars, which have developed a water leak in one of the lenses. I’ll want to have Mike look over my fishing gear and point out items I need to get at the local tackle shop. We’ll probably also try to reserve some time for afternoon dips in the pool, and maybe go out on Mike’s boat for a tour of the local waters. Tonight we’ll partake of the mobile home park’s annual corn beef and cabbage dinner, in honor of St. Patrick. In all, this promises to be a busy time, made all the more enjoyable because of the warmth hospitality of our dear friends Mike and Carol.

March 18, 2011 – Layover day at Mike and Carol’s – Ft. Pierce FL

Yesterday morning Mike helped me wash the boat, and then apply anti-fouling wax on the hull. We managed to jack the boat up off the bunks at both ends, one at a time, so I could coat the entire hull. Everyone had all their fingers when the job was completed, and the boat was none the worse for our efforts. During the afternoon, I removed all gear from the king berth, so I could add the food tubs which we had been hauling in the truck. I stowed the wine in the bilge area, behind the battery box, and also packed 30 cans of beer and around 48 cans of coke and sprite into storage areas. That load, plus the large plastic tub filled with boxes of fruit juice, I’m certain, caused the trailer springs to groan. I sure hope this boat will still float.

In the afternoon Sandy and I drove over to the St. Lucie Airport for our appointment with the Customs and Border Security representative. I’d made this appointment prior to our leaving, via internet. The program is called the Local Boater’s Option, and it allows you to get pre-approval for a return to the US. Instead of having to go out to Customs at the end of the trip, all we will need to do is phone from the boat when we get back. It sounds very simple. The Customs official handled our paperwork very efficiently, and explained that all I have to do is go online before departing, and electronically file a float plan with them. Sounds Simple. With that accomplished, we drove over to West Marine, where I was able to exchange my binoculars for a new pair. The seal on one of the lenses had failed, allowing water to condense inside. They agreed to replace the binoculars without hesitation, and when they determined that my old model was no longer available, they gave me a more expensive pair, which just happened to be on sale. I was very pleased. After we finished in West Marine, we drove down to a marina where Mike was helping a friend of his run some wiring on his large catamaran sailboat. The owner dinghied us out for a tour of his boat, and I was able to copy down some up to date information on bridge names and opening times on the ICW.

In the evening we went out to the St. Patrick’s Day party at the park clubhouse. Tall Pines, where Mike and Carol spend the cold months, is a senior citizen mobile home park, and the residents there have a very active social life. About 100 park residents attended, and virtually everyone was dressed in green. Dinner featured corn beef and cabbage (what else?), and was very good. Following dinner, a very rotund guy, probably in his late 60’s, climbed onto the stage, set up his keyboard, amp, and speakers, and proceeded to belt out a rousing selection of 50’s and 60’s pop/rock standards and favorites. This group clearly loves to dance, and the dance floor was filled for most tunes, including the lively ones. Dancers ranged in age from their mid 60’s to mid 80’s, and they could really move and shake. When “Electric Slide” was played, the floor filled with women, many of whom obviously line dance to it regularly in an exercise dance class. During a break, the club president made announcements of coming events. All announcements were in both English and French, since over a third of the park residents are French Canadians. The party didn’t wind down until 10 pm. These folks really know how to have a good time.

Today was even busier than yesterday. Sandy and Carol made a trip to the stores to pick up last minute groceries, an extra gallon of kerosene for the stove and, most importantly, a bottle of rum for medicinal purposes. I focused on doing as much setup on the boat as possible. Everything I do today will save us time tomorrow, down at the boat ramp. I snapped the cockpit cushions into place, clamped the barbeque onto the rear railing, attached the new stern anchor bag and Lifesling to the opposite corner, hung the fenders on their exterior storage clips, and attached mooring lines. After Sandy got back, she packed food into the boat while I continued organizing gear, in preparation for tomorrow’s departure. Earlier in the day, with gear and provisions piled up everywhere, it looked like things would never fit, and we’d never pull it all together, but almost miraculously, by 4pm, it felt like we had things under control. Sandy ran a final laundry, and we were able to sit down for a fun dinner with Mike and Carol, and also with the owners of the catamaran, who just happen to also be named Mike and Carol. They are live aboard cruisers, and will be departing tomorrow as well, headed north for a summer of sailing in New England waters. We finally retired for one last night’s sleep on land, at around 10:30 pm, with final checklists still occupying our thoughts.

March 19, 2011 – Lake Francis, on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) near Jupiter

31 nm cruised for the day – high temp 85 – water temp 76 – 4.4 hours cruised, all power

After a year of planning, months of intensive preparation, and over 4000 miles of driving, our cruise departure day is finally at hand. I find it hard to believe. So many things could have intervened to prevent us from reaching this point: accident or illness involving one of us, a health emergency involving close family, a serious financial setback, truck problems, boat trailer problems, critical systems failure on the boat. Thus far, none of these problems have occurred, so there is nothing to do but go.

I’m now afflicted with pre-cruise jitters. This usually happens just prior to embarking on a major cruise. I think it has to do with the transition from a land based routine to living on the water, where we are as self sufficient as possible, but totally dependent on the quality of our planning and preparations and the performance of the boat, and completely subject to the whims of weather and the sea. It always takes me a day or so to make the adjustment, to get back into the routine of cruising, and to start becoming familiar with the look and feel of the waters we’re cruising in. Since we often cruise in new, unfamiliar waters, we tend to feel like newcomers in a strange neighborhood during this transition period. I find myself worrying about little things like: will the boat still float with all our gear aboard, and will the motor actually start when I first turn the key?

I realize the best medicine for jitters like these is to get busy. We are up by 6:15 am and have a quick breakfast with Mike and Carol. They are off today as well, to attend a wedding in the Tampa area, and we are all ready to leave the house at the same time. We bid them thanks and farewell, and then drive over to the boat launch ramp, which is just a couple of miles away. Despite all our preparations at Mike and Carol’s, it still takes us 2 full hours to rig the boat and prepare it for launching. I’m pleased I make none of the customary mistakes, but it still takes 2 hours. The launching itself goes flawlessly. I ask a woman who’s waiting for a boat to come in to take our picture at the boat ramp dock. Then I drive the truck and trailer up to the trailer washdown area, give it a good rinsing, and then turn the truck over to Sandy. She will drive it over to Riverside Marina, where we’ll leave it for the next 2 ½ months. While she’ driving over there, I’ll fire up the boat (yes, it fires right up, and puts out a good stream of cooling water) and motor the first few miles of the trip, over to Riverside. I’m using the new Garmin GPS for the first time, and I really like the big color display, although the buttons and features are still a bit unfamiliar.

Sandy’s standing on the dock at Riverside to meet me and help with the tie up. The dock itself is on fixed pilings, but they are cushioned, and the deck boards are extended enough to allow fenders to be effective. I get the truck parked, walk over to the marina (actually more of a working boatyard) office, fill out some paperwork and write a check. The rate for long term parking is $50/month, which is very reasonable. The whole operation takes us right up to lunch time, so we eat our lunch while still tied to the dock. At 12:50 pm we’re ready to shove off. We feel good about our preparations and setup work. Neither of us have yet thought of anything we’ve forgotten to take along.

It’s an absolutely beautiful day. The temperature is in the low to mid 80’s, with a light breeze out of the northeast. We run at just over 6 knots, with empty water ballast tanks, with the engine turning around 2800 rpm. It’s a Saturday, and boating traffic is very heavy along the ICW. Boats of every size, including very large and nearly all powerboats, are ripping along both north and south. Some captains of big, deep vee hull cruisers are courteous and slow when they pass or overtake us, but most just blow on by. We get badly rocked by some, and have to turn into their wakes to keep from sloshing around too severely. This can be a real problem on the ICW where all traffic is constricted into a very narrow dredged channel.

I’m having a lot of fun trying out the new autopilot. I’ve known boaters who call their autopilots “Otto”. I’ve decided to name ours “Ray” (our unit is made by Raymarine). I haven’t yet run the sea trial process described in the manual, which sets the compass and enables the computer to adjust to our boat’s steering characteristics. It’s just too busy out here to do that today. However, I am using it in the manual mode, and “Ray” is doing a great job of holding us to the course we’re on when I activate him. I’m also pleased with how my installation has worked out. The controls are handy, and the steering wheel is still comfortable. I do have to put “Ray” on standby mode whenever another boat approaches. You never know when a radical turn might be necessary around here.

Last night Carol Guay and I looked over the ICW chartbook, and identified Lake Francis as a reasonable destination for the day’s run. It is working out just right. We arrive at 5:15pm, and have just enough time to enjoy our first rum and cokes before the no-see-ums make their appearance. I rather suspect today’s hot weather brought them out. This anchorage is surrounded by mangroves, which usually tend to be buggy. We’ve set up our forward hatch bug net, as well as the companionway netting, and soon, we’re both taking refuge down in the cabin. Sandy fixes up a quick dinner of canned clam chowder. Tasty, and easy cleanup, too.

Night has fallen on our first anchorage. The air is still, and beginning to cool. A full moon has risen into the clear sky. I can’t begin to describe how good it feels to be driving the boat again, knowing that we’re at the start of a cruise to wonderful places. I think I’ll sleep very well tonight.

March 20, 2011 – Lake Francis to Lake Boca Raton, on the ICW

46.5 nm cruised today, all motoring, 9 ¾ hours underway; 77.1 nm total – high temp 81 degrees, water temp 75

Last night we saw the full moon rise through the opened forward hatch. By morning the boat had swung around, and we saw that same moon setting, again viewing it through the forward hatch. We rise while it’s still dark outside, heat water for coffee and eat a quick breakfast. We have a long cruise ahead of us today, so I get right to raising the anchor and getting underway. We leave Lake Francis at 7:50 am, and continue south along the ICW. Soon we’re cruising past some of the most opulent waterfront homes we’ve ever seen. Mega-mansions with stunning architecture and landscaping, and huge boats tied up in front. Tiger Woods has a home here, but we weren’t sure which one was his.

As we near the Palm Beach/Lake Worth area, boating traffic begins to build. Before long, boats are plowing past us in ever increasing numbers; big, fast boats which throw up nasty wakes. It’s very uncomfortable and tiring to steer Chinook through waters chopped up by all these boats. Adding to the challenge and stress are all the bridges. We see numerous police boats, trying to instill some order in the midst of aquatic chaos, but they are too few to really do the job. While cruising through Lake Worth I glance to my right and, just a few yards off our beam is a State Enforcement boat, exactly pacing us like he means to have us heave to. He just grins and says he’s using us to hide behind, while he tries to nab a boating rules violator. I give him thumbs up, and then he roars off, blue lights flashing.

Adding to the challenge of today’s cruise are all the bridges. We pass a total of 21 drawbridges in the course of the day. We are able to time most of them, often with the assistance of the good old 50 hp Nissan. I’m running at full throttle to make some of the bridge openings. One such situation occurs on the approach to the Southern Blvd. Bridge, which opens ¼ to and ¼ after the hour. I can just make it with a 9 knot run. However, less than a mile from the bridge my luck runs out as the engine coughs, sputters and dies. Out of gas! All that full throttle running has sucked my first 12 gallon tank dry. It only takes a few minutes to switch over, but by that time we’ve missed the opening, and must bob around for a half hour, until the next opening.

Palm Beach transitions from exclusive residential to high rise condo to industrial port. We pass through the very ritzy Del Ray Beach before finally reaching the Boca Raton area. Our anchorage for the night is called Lake Boca Raton on the chart, but it’s just a wide spot along the ICW. We find lots of boats anchored there, but have no problem finding a suitably open patch of water to claim as our own. We’re surrounded be several party boats who are playing loud music, punctuated by frequent loud hooting and hollering. We’re too tired from the day’s cruise to be bothered too much. We hope that they’ll be heading home soon.

Before dinner I transfer both 5 gallon jerry gas cans to the empty boat tank, so I can make tomorrow’s run with a nearly full tank. I don’t want to run dry again if I can help it. I barbeque steaks for dinner, and, with no bothersome insects here, we’re able to enjoy dinner at the cockpit table. After dinner I prepare the boat for the night. I set bungees on the halyards, so they don’t clang against the mast. I lower the Washington State and Chinook boat flags, and clip them to the stay so they don’t flap against the shrouds while we’re trying to sleep. Lastly, I test out the anchor light, which I forgot to turn on last night. I’m irritated to find that it doesn’t work. For some reason, I have no power at the foredeck outlet where the wire coming out of the mast plugs in. This also means that my mast mounted steaming light also doesn’t work, since it gets its power from the same plug fitting. As a temporary measure, I hoist my lantern flash light, but I’m not happy with burning up D cell batteries in this fashion. While Sandy is getting ready for bed I drag my electrical parts box out, to see what I can do in the way of repair. I’m pleased to find a 12 volt cigarette lighter plug, along with around 20 feet of wire. Also, I find a spare plug fitting which fits the plug on the end of the mast wiring. Once my new anchor light extension cord is wired up and plugged in, my mast head anchor light beams just like it is supposed to do. Tomorrow I’ll try to chase down the reason why I don’t have power to the deck fitting, but for now, I’ll settle for my extension cord setup.

NOOA weather is predicting some windy weather tomorrow on Biscayne Bay. We were planning on going all the way down to the south end of Key Biscayne, but if we find rough conditions we may pull up short and stay the night in a marina at the north end of Key Biscayne. It’s getting quite windy outside right now, and beginning to sprinkle. We’re hearing some thunder rumbling not far off. I hope we don’t get caught in the middle of a thunder squall. This anchorage is not nearly so well protected as last night’s spot. Before I turn in, I think I’ll let out a little more anchor scope.

March 21, 2011 – Lake Boca Raton to Miami Beach Marina, at Government Cut (entrance to Miami Harbor)

40 nm cruised today, 8 ½ hours underway, all under power; 117 nm total – high temp 83 degrees; water temp 74 degrees; wind blustery all day, 15 knots/gusts to 20; water surface choppy

Rain fell off and on for most of the night, but the showers have ended by the time we get up, around 6:30 am. The strong winds which were forecast have arrived right on time. We have our usual quick breakfast of cold cereal, and I’m ready to haul in the anchor by 8:30 am. That gives us just enough time to motor across the nearly deserted Lake Boca Raton and make our first bridge opening, at 8:40. Once again we’re on our way, and as with yesterday, our course is obstructed every few miles by a drawbridge. In all, we pass another 18 drawbridges today. We time most of them quite well, however I do have a problem with one, the NE 14th Street Bridge in Hillsboro. I follow usual protocol and radio the bridge on VHF channel 9, the standard frequency for hailing drawbridges, as soon as I have the bridge in sight. The bridge tender answers, and says the bridge will open at a quarter to the hour. We arrive in plenty of time, so I slowly ease down the waterway toward the bridge. With only 5 minutes to go before the bridge is scheduled to open, I get close enough to see the open Atlantic Ocean just beyond the bridge. I haven’t examined the chart closely enough, and this bridge is across the Hillsboro Inlet instead of the ICW. The ICW makes a couple of jogs in this vicinity, and those jogs have thrown me off. I rev the 50 hp Nissan up, and charge down the channel, still hoping to make the next bridge opening. I round the final jog and have the bridge in sight, just a few hundred yards away. It’s already open, and a northbound sailboat is passing through. I radio the bridge tender, hopefully inquiring if he can hold the opening until we close the final distance. He apologizes, but says we’ll have to wait the half hour until next opening, since he’s already got traffic backed up for more than a mile. I tell him I understand, and we motor in circles just above the bridge until the next opening.

We are passing by an incredible display of wealth throughout most of today’s passage. The ICW is lined with magnificent homes, and one upsmanship definitely seems to be in vogue around here. Intersecting canals branch off the main waterway, thereby creating more waterfront building opportunities. Most homes have enormous boats moored along the seawall. Plaster and bronze statues grace many homes. We note that the largest, most opulent homes seem to occupy corner lots, where side canals connect with the main ICW. Most seem to be in a Mediterranean villa type of architecture, but every so often, ultra modernism finds expression. In our opinion, a few of these work, but most are just plain garish. Hillsboro, Pompeno Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Port Everglades, Hollywood Beach, and Golden Beach all put their finest waterfront homes on display as we cruise on by.

We decide that, with the wind blowing so hard, we’ll stop short of our original goal, No Name Harbor, at the southern end of Key Biscayne. The forecast for Biscayne Bay is 20 to 30 knot winds this afternoon, and we really don’t want to deal with those kinds of conditions, especially after a long day of racing to bridges and then waiting for them to open. Instead, we’ll head for a marina, where we can fuel the boat, fill the water tank, take showers, do some grocery shopping, and check our e’mail. It looks like the Miami Beach Marina offers the best combination of facilities and proximity to shopping. It is located at the mouth of Government Cut, just inside the exit to the Atlantic Ocean. This is a very congested area, with many bridges and channels, and lots of boat and ship traffic. We see small ferries, excursion boats, towering cruise ships, massive container ships and the tugs needed to maneuver them. Oh yes, we also see the Coast Guard. In fact, we see a 24 foot long rigid inflatable Coast Guard boat charging right over to us, with his lights flashing. A young “Coastie” standing on the bow, right next to an extremely large and nasty looking machine gun leans over to us and warns us that we can’t proceed down Government Cut, as we’d started doing. The channel is closed, he yells to us, although it isn’t clear to us why. We later conclude that this is due to a pair of cruise ships which are in the process of leaving the harbor. Sandy is steering the boat at this time, while I’m trying to look up the phone number for the marina. The guy who hails us apparently notices how big her eyes get as she stares at his big machine gun, so he gives her a smile and a friendly little wave, which sets her at ease. We quickly change course and swing out around the back side of Dodge Island, which hosts a big container ship loading facility. It takes 15 or 20 minutes for us to make the detour, and then at the foot of Dodge Island we still have to cross Government Cut to get to the marina. And right in our way is another Coast Guard vessel, this time a very large patrol boat. I can see the cruise ship slowly making its way down the Cut, and I decide to attempt to cross. I try to hail the Coast Guard boat on VHF Channel 16, to announce my intentions, but I get no answer. I figure if he doesn’t like what I’m doing, I’ll know it pretty quick. Fortunately, he just sits there as I motor across the channel, toward the marina.

I hail the marina on VHF, and put in at the fuel dock, where I register for our slip and take on 24 gallons of gas. We’ve averaged 4.9 miles per gallon, which is really quite good, considering the numerous fast runs we’ve made to make bridge openings. I get directions to our slip, and am told that a couple of marina employees will be on hand to help us tie up. This a very good thing, since this marina, typical of marinas in this part of the world, does not have floating docks. The usual tidal range is 3 feet or less, and so they use fixed concrete docks and pilings instead. This makes tying up a challenging experience. To complicate matters further, last night’s full moon has created an unusually big tidal range, around 4 feet. We’re lucky that we’ve arrived near low tide, since the current, which can run through the marina at 4 knots during maximum flood or ebb, is nearly slack. We get out the pvc pipe and yoke which I made at home before setting out. We are able to rig a loop on a bow dock line, and lasso the top of a piling, while the marina attendants are taking stern tossed lines as I slowly back in. I’m greatly relieved once I’m securely moored. Floating docks are a piece of cake in comparison with this mooring system. Getting on and off the boat is a problem as well. We can’t set the lines so that the concrete dock is too close to the boat, since the boat could get damaged as the tide rises and the lines begin to slack. We must periodically adjust our dock lines.

We fix a quick dinner on board, and then walk into town to pick up groceries. It’s dark by the time we return, very tired, to the boat. We agree that showers will wait until tomorrow morning. The tide prediction in my GPS says that slack high tide will be around 11:30 am tomorrow, so we won’t try to get out of the slip until around 11 am. We only have a short way to go tomorrow, down Biscayne Bay to No Name Harbor, where we’ll wait for a suitable day for our crossing to Bimini. Right now, Wednesday is sounding promising. We’ll keep monitoring the weather before making our decision to go.

March 22, 2011 – No Name Harbor, Key Biscayne

11 nm cruised today, 1 ½ hours under power, 1 ½ hours sailing; 128 nm total – high temp 83 degrees, water temp 74 degrees; wind east, 5 – 10 knots, seas light chop

Easy day today, so we sleep in until 7:30 am, and enjoy coffee in the cockpit. I wash the salt off the boat and top off the water tank. We grab showers, stuff a bag of ice into the drinks cooler, and are ready to shove off. The marina attendant comes down to assist, and we have no problems getting free of the dock, at around 11:15 am. It is slack high tide, which helps a great deal.

I motor out of the marina and head across Government Cut, toward the channel we came down yesterday. Again, we run into an obstruction. This time it’s a Maersk container ship, right smack in our way and being turned around by a tug. We alter course and steer around the ship, and head up the channel, toward downtown Miami. The air is quite clear after yesterday’s wind, and the Miami skyline is a stunning sight from the water. The water is a bright aqua, just like the color of the Miami Dolphins NFL team. Speaking of dolphins, we see several right out in front of the city. I suspect they are paid advertisers for the local football team. Sandy goes below and prepares lunch, and we cruise along, a hundred yards or so from shore, right in front of the downtown waterfront towers.

With lunch completed, we set course for Key Biscayne. The 8 to 10 knot easterly breeze makes for a delightful sail. I’m grateful for being able to get the sails up prior to our crossing. I always seem to have a problem or two getting the main up for the first time (tangled reefing lines usually), and today is no exception. Once things are straightened out, we just kick back and relax. I set “Ray” the autopilot to do the steering, and Sandy puts a Jimmy Buffet disk in the player and fades the speakers to the cockpit. The music puts us into the spirit of cruising to the Bahamas, and also just happens to mask the sounds of the autopilot motor as it holds us on course.

We get to No Name Harbor at the south end of Key Biscayne around 2:30 pm. It’s quite warm, but very pleasant with the light breeze that is blowing. We tie the boat up to the concrete seawall, pay our $20 anchoring fee (this is a Florida State Park), and wander up to the Boaters Grill restaurant for some cool drinks. The Wifi there allows us to catch up on e’mail. Then it’s back to the boat for a few chores, and we have enough time left to go for a nice walk before dinner. We return to the restaurant for dinner, and both order Mahi Mahi, which is excellent. It seems that most of the clientele here is Cuban, for Spanish is the dominant language among diners.

Following dinner we get the boat off the seawall (they don’t allow tying up overnight) and anchor out in the harbor. We’re one of about a dozen boats anchored here. It’s very calm tonight. The forecast for tomorrow is 7 to 10 knots out of the south, which couldn’t be better for a Gulf Stream Crossing. We plan on getting underway around 5 am, and hope to make Bimini by mid afternoon. I’ve got my deep sea pole in the rod holder, all rigged up. It would sure be great if I could hook into a dolphin fish (local name for dorado or mahi mahi) of my own. Tomorrow will be a big day, and it’s time to turn in.