Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas in Lake Worth, FL

Wednesday, December 15 - Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Do you ever have those days when you wonder where the time has gone? It's hitting us that we've been here in Lake Worth (Palm Beach, FL, for you landlubbers) for two weeks. We fully expected to be in the Bahamas by Christmas, but somehow we still find ourselves here. Not to worry, Lake Worth is a great place to be "stuck" while waiting on a weather window. There's a dinghy beach nearby, which is just a couple of blocks from grocery, drug, and liquor stores in Palm Beach Gardens. You can also catch a bus to the Gardens Mall nearby, or walk to our new favorite shop, Carmine's Gourmet Market.

We actually arrived at the Lake Worth anchorage on December 15th. We made fantastic time from Fort Pierce, and even managed to get through the four timed bridges without having to wait. If you haven't made the Fort Pierce-to-Lake Worth run, there are ten bridges along the 54nm route. The first six are high-rises or open-on-demand bascules, but the last four really test a sailor's patience. They open on a set schedule, and are spaced in such a way that most sailboats need to really gun the engine to make it through. If you aren't at the bridge at its scheduled opening time, you don't go through until the next opening (typically 30 minutes later). Don't even THINK about asking the bridge-tenders to hold the bridge for you! It can actually get kind of dangerous, given that boats are racing to get from one bridge to another, and sometimes get too close to their neighbors. There were a couple of instances where we had to put on the "brakes" (hard-reverse) because someone ahead of us had to slow down quickly for another passing boat. Fortunately we found ourselves at the end of a 10-boat caravan a few miles out of Lake Worth; as long as we kept up with the end of the pack, we could sneak through the bridges with everyone else.

The anchorage was fairly quiet when we arrived, thanks to a two-day weather window that had everyone running for an off-shore jump to the Abacos. As much as we wanted to be Bahamas-bound with them, we had a few things to do in Palm Beach before we could head out. Rene had a date with our water-maker guy for a warranty repair job, and we were anxiously awaiting Tux's authorization papers from the Bahamas. In the meantime, we bought even more provisions at the local Publix (still love those two-for-ones!) and walked to the ever-so-chic Gardens Mall. Our friends, LA and Susan, arrived a day after we did, so we knew we'd be in good company for however long we ended up being here.

As everyone probably knows, there's been some crazy weather around the country for the past couple of weeks. Even Florida had hard-freeze warnings, with temps in the low-to-mid 20s the first few days we were here. Strong northerly winds meant that no one in his right mind would be crossing the Gulf Stream, and our anchorage saw more and more boats pile in over the next few days. We headed down to Riviera Beach Marina on the 22nd, where we had the water maker serviced and were able to get Tux to a local vet (his papers finally arrived - he's legal for the Bahamas!). We were back in the anchorage Thursday afternoon, and made holiday plans with LA
& Susan for a Christmas Eve brunch aboard Genesis and Christmas dinner on Pipe Muh Bligh. We got a welcome surprise soon after we returned to the anchorage, as Jim and Laurie on Kismet arrived and dropped the hook next to us. We'd first met them on Sojourner in Annapolis over Labor Day, and saw them again in October at the Deltaville Boat Yard. We had no idea they'd be in Lake Worth, and were happy they could join us for the holidays. In the world of cruising, when we're far away from our families for the holidays, it's all about spending time with good friends. Thanks to Genesis and Kismet for sharing Christmas with us!

Remember that crazy weather we mentioned earlier? Well, a front blew through the area the day after Christmas that effectively made us prisoners on our boats for a day and a half. We had sustained winds of 25-30kts on Sunday, with gusts of 35-40kts. Luckily, only one boat had to re-anchor (granted, it took him three tries) and our own anchor held steady. Thanks to modern technology in the form of SSB calls with Sol Mate and Facebook updates from Sojourner, Civil Twilight, and Thate Wate, we also knew that our friends in the Bahamas were about to get hit by the same front. Fortunately everyone was able to find a hidey-hole, and they all made it through safely - albeit with a bit of rockin' and rollin', we're sure.

It looks like our days of waiting may finally be at an end. We've finally spotted a potential window for a Gulf Stream crossing, thanks to a block of days with south-easterly/southerly winds. We'll leave Wednesday evening for an overnight offshore run to Miami, and will sit it out in the Venetian Causeway until Sunday or Monday. We'll keep a close eye on the 5+ weather forecast sources we use, and hope that they'll come to an agreement in the next few days. Fingers crossed...we may actually be in the Bahamas by this time next week!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reaching Fort Pierce, FL: Days 4 & 5

Saturday, December 11 – Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Welcome to Fort Pierce, FL! Fort Pierce is a great stop-over on the way to Lake Worth, particularly because our friends, LA and Susan from Genesis, are in a marina here getting some boat work done. We haven’t seen them since our stop in Fernandina Beach last fall, and are excited to spend some time with them. We arrived here Sunday morning after two more days in the ICW. We cruised through pea soup-like fog on Saturday morning and ended up in a pretty little anchorage behind a spoil island south of Melbourne. The cruising guide warned that the island could be busy with locals on weekends, but we figured no one would be crazy enough to brave the 25 degree overnight temps. Wrong! There were two tents on the island with a bunch of people in party mode. One boat left around sunset, but the group from the second boat stuck it out and spent the night on the island. Brrrr!

We left our little spoil island at sunrise Sunday morning. A cold front was expected to blow through, and the winds picked up to 25-30kts around 10am. Other than a few 35-knot gusts that pushed us over, we had an easy 40-mile run to Fort Pierce and dropped the hook off of Harbortown Marina around 2pm. We had a bit of excitement in the anchorage as we arrived, thanks to a local boat that had dragged into the channel. The local sheriff boat tried to reset the anchor, and finally short-scoped the line to keep it out of the ICW. Given the fact that this boat was about 100’ from us, we decided to keep a close eye on it! Tow Boat US soon came out to the boat with the owner on board, and the boat was re-anchored closer to the bridge. The sheriff’s department asked us to notify the coast guard (or call 911) if any boats started dragging into the channel again, and they were on their way. A couple of hours later, a strong gust sent another boat dragging, and soon two of our unmanned neighbor boats were tangled up bow to stern. We called the USCG as requested, but since the boats were out of the channel, no one came to do anything. We eventually felt comfortable that nothing else would start moving, and went ashore for a grocery run and a quick hello with friends LA and Susan.

The next morning, the tangled boats had freed themselves, and one of the two began heading for the channel. We called the coast guard again, and they apparently sent the local sheriff boat to the rescue. What did they do? They grounded the boat on a sandbar outside of the marina and on a rising tide, ahead of all the boats in the anchorage. Guess where the prevailing winds were coming from…yep, from that same direction. It took about 20 minutes (just long enough for the sheriff’s boat to disappear) before that boat began moving again. This time, it made its way through the anchorage and headed straight for us! Rene ran topside to grab a couple of fenders, knowing there was only so much we could do to avoid a collision. We lucked out at the last minute, when Pipe swung on her anchor and the boat passed by with about 30’ to spare. Rene was immediately on the horn with the sheriff’s office again, who assured him that they were working on it at that very minute. Uh huh, sure. Long story short: the boat eventually crossed the channel on its own and grounded on the other side of the ICW. No one ever came to deal with it again, but at least it could no longer endanger any boats in the anchorage.

That evening, Susan and LA invited us over for dinner aboard Genesis. We were about 50’ from their boat when our dinghy engine died. Oops! Apparently we had water in the carburetor again, and the engine died each time Rene put it in gear. He was finally able to jerry-rig the engine enough to get us to Genesis, and we managed to forget about it while we enjoyed Susan’s delicious veal scaloppini and caught up on the past year. Rene got the engine started again long enough to get us back to Pipe, and thankfully it didn’t die until we were within arm’s reach of the boat...literally. :-)

Tuesday morning was spent tearing apart the carburetor, and Rene had the outboard up and running again in time for lunch with LA & Susan (plus the local marina cats). An after-lunch grocery run ended with happy hour aboard Genesis, and it was nearly 8pm before we looked at our watches. We raced back to Pipe to make dinner and prep for our departure the next morning. Stacy started the generator and got dinner going while Rene raised the dinghy; suddenly, Rene was racing down the stairs to shut off the gen. Massive overheating! Thank goodness he’d heard something “funny” from outside and was able to shut down the gen before we killed another impeller. The culprit? A jellyfish in the strainer. Yuck! Rene decided to check the main engine strainer while he was in the bilge…and found a 3-inch (very dead) fish. Double yuck!

We’ll be leaving early Wednesday morning for the 50-mile trip down to Lake Worth (North Palm Beach). We have some minor boat work and provisioning to get done, plus a trip to the vet for Tux. We’ll likely be there through early next week, at which time we’ll run offshore to Miami to stage in Dinner Key. Bahamas, here we come!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Southbound in the ICW: Days 1, 2, & 3

Wednesday, December 8 - Friday, December 10, 2010

Do you remember how we said we wanted to do a 2-day offshore run from Fernandina to Lake Worth/Palm Beach? Well, Mother Nature apparently decided that we were being too aggressive. We planned to jump offshore Wednesday morning, but a last look at the weather forecast scared us off. 20-30kts of wind, 4-6' seas building to 6-8' plus a 2' northerly swell on top of that, with a 6-second period between the waves. Big waves are one thing; big, closely-spaced waves are a different animal altogether!

So, into "the ditch" we go. We aren't exactly thrilled that our 50-hour trip to Lake Worth has turned into a 6-day voyage, but there's something to be said for calm seas and not having to clean up after a seasick kitty! We've also had three days of low temps in the upper 20s, which would've made for a miserable couple of overnights. On the positive side, the tides have been with us so far, and we managed to travel 65 miles to an anchorage south of St. Augustine on Day 1. As Rene said, it was a good ICW day - we didn't ground and only scraped one bridge! (Fortunately, it was only the VHF antenna.)

Day 2 turned out to be just as uneventful. After being passed by three power boats early on, we had the waterway to ourselves. Our only real excitement came near Mantazas Inlet, where our cruising guide warned of shoals and plenty of groundings. Nothing like being told by the chart plotter that we’re traveling on land! Truth be told, we never saw less than 12’. Note to selves: Linkno matter what the chart says, always trust the markers. We’ve again been lucky with tides, and our 6.5+ knot boat speed has brought us to the Halifax Harbor Marina in Daytona Beach much earlier than planned. It’s a good thing, too, since we’ve discovered a leak coming from…uhhh…”somewhere”. The bilge pump began coming on half-way into Day 1, and while we initially thought it was our water tank leak again, Rene has since determined that it’s salt water…as in “outside water is somehow coming into the boat”. Nooooo! After taking everything out of the lazarette, Rene found the source and was able to fix the problem. Disaster averted…other than having a heck of a clean-up job ahead of us. We spent the rest of the day checking out the city’s rejuvenation of Beach Street in downtown Daytona, followed by a stop at the local West Marine (as a marina neighbor said after seeing our WM bags, “you’ve been to church!”). We couldn’t find a grocery store nearby, but discovered – thanks to Trip Advisor and Google – a fantastic Italian restaurant less than a mile from the marina. If you’re ever in Daytona Beach, PLEASE go to Don Vito’s on Int’l Speedway Blvd. It’s rated #1 on Trip Advisor’s list of Daytona restaurants, and for good reason. The owners, Barbara and Jimmy, are incredibly warm, friendly hosts. How often do you go into a restaurant and get to have a real conversation with the folks running the place? It’s a true “family joint” in every sense of the word (their sons even do much of the cooking), and everything is home-made using fresh ingredients. The marinara recipe has been in Jimmy’s family for five generations, and there are so many mouth-watering dishes on the menu that you want to order a second meal to take home. We started with the garlic knots: think of golf ball-sized knots of dough, oven-baked and served with garlic-infused olive oil and marinara sauce. YUMMY! Our main dishes were lasagna made with tender, homemade pasta, and the owners’ favorite recipe, Boscaiola Alla Don Vito, with meat sauce, peas, and mushrooms. Absolutely delicious! The portions were huge and the prices were incredibly reasonable. Don Vito’s has only been open for four months, but they’ve already got a strong following thanks to local word of mouth and some great online reviews. While we were there, two young guys came in because they’d been told that Don Vito’s had “the best pizza in Daytona Beach”…very useful in a town with three colleges! We had such a fun evening talking to Jimmy and Barbara, and wish them continued success. They certainly deserve it!

Day 3 has begun with a bit of a surprise – RAIN. It poured overnight, and showers have continued to pass through the area. We got out of the marina and into the ICW by 7:30am, and were amazed to find ourselves passing three trawlers traveling together (it turns out one had a mechanical problem, so all were taking it slowly). The skies cleared by mid-morning, and we saw an incredible double rainbow behind us as we reached Ponce Inlet. The wildlife has been out in full force, with rare white pelicans in Mosquito Lagoon and random dolphin sightings throughout the day (I borrowed this pelican shot from Google). It’s apparently too late in the season for manatees in the Hanover Canal (we saw dozens of them last fall), but we may get to see them in Fort Pierce or Lake Worth. We’ve again made great time, and managed to get through the NASA Causeway Bridge before rush hour – very important since it shuts down for 90 minutes! We’re anchored on the south side of the bridge, and have 80 miles to go to reach Fort Pierce. It’s too much for a single day, so we’ll break it up over the weekend and should arrive by Sunday. We’re hoping to hook up with friends LA and Susan from Genesis in Fort Pierce, and will likely be more than ready for a “rest day” (read “non-travel day”) by then. That should put us in Lake Worth on Tuesday or Wednesday, where we’ll get some water-maker maintenance done and will continue on to Dinner Key, Miami.

We’ve learned that our friends Rick and Linda on Sojourner and Alan and Gerri on Civil Twilight have both made the jump from Lake Worth to the Abacos. We’re really sorry we didn’t get to see them before they left, but hope they had a safe voyage and that we’ll meet again somewhere surrounded by blue water. Carryn, Brandon, and Bella from Sol Mate are in Dinner Key now, and we may make it down there before they jump over to the Exumas. If not, we’ll just have to catch up with them further south. We’re also excited to see our old Kemah neighbors, Deana and Troy, who are starting their cruising adventure this month along with another Kemah friend, Steve. We’re meeting up with them in the Exumas as well, and plan to buddy boat through the Bahamas and Caribbean over the next few months. Can’t wait!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Back in Fernandina Beach, FL

Sunday, November 21 - Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Yep, we've finally made it to Fernandina, our top spot for leaving the boat whenever we have places to go and people to see. This time it's a "road trip" to Houston, TX, where we still have 25 boxes of wine sitting in a friend's closet. We're hoping to leave the boat on a mooring ball, get a rental car on Wednesday, attend the St. Mary's Thanksgiving celebration on Thursday, and drive to Houston on Friday. One possible catch...our friends from Civil Twilight arrived in St. Mary's a few days before us, and have heard that Fernandina's moorings have been full all week. We'll anchor out if we have to, but we'd feel a whole lot safer leaving Pipe secured to a mooring ball since we'll be gone for five days.

We left Beaufort Sunday morning for the 125nm trip to Fernandina Beach, FL. NOAA forecasted light winds and 2-3' seas, so imagine our surprise when we had 3-5' seas on the beam. At least NOAA got the "light winds" part right - they were too light to put a sail up, so we bounced left to right...left to right...all night. Good thing we aren't prone to sea-sickness! We arrived at the St. Mary's inlet in time to ride the current up the channel (8 knots, baby!); the gods must've been smiling on us after our rough overnight, because the marina had a single mooring ball available when we called at 7:15am. The trip was definitely starting out right!

We spent a couple of days working on boat projects, and picked up our minivan for the Houston trip on Wednesday afternoon. Talk about luxury! We'd rented the van hoping we'd have enough room to bring back the remaining 25 boxes of wine, but had no idea it would be so spacious. The second and third rows (seats) folded into the floor, leaving what amounted to an incredibly comfortable cargo van. Captain's chairs, satellite radio, cruise control...even his and hers temperature controls. Heaven! The only problem with our impromptu Houston trip was our food supply; we'd already begun freezing fresh meats for the Bahamas (including 4lbs of chicken breasts), and couldn't leave them on board for five days with no way to re-charge the batteries. Our refrigerator and freezer would have to be turned off while we were gone, meaning we'd have to get rid of as much food as we could. We vowed to eat every meal on board until we left, and the remaining items were used up thanks to some creative menu-ing. Stacy came up with a Moroccan couscous salad for the Thanksgiving potluck to use up some of our chicken, and Brandon and Carryn from Sol Mate joined us for a lemon chicken & asparagus dinner after arriving in Fernandina on Wednesday. The last of the freezer contents were used to make meals for the road, and we were finally able to shut down the freezer.

On Thursday morning, Brandon, Carryn, and Bella joined us in the minivan for the drive to St. Mary's. St. Mary's is famous in the boating world for hosting a Thanksgiving feast for cruisers, which has been held every year for the past ten years. Local volunteers make enough turkeys and hams to feed the 100 or so boats filling the harbor, and visiting cruisers bring all of the sides. A local waterfront hotel/restaurant provides the setting, and people can bring their own dishes, wine, and table decorations if they want to make it even more festive. Gerri and Alan invited us aboard Civil Twilight for a pre-dinner refreshment (fantastic bloody mary's, Gerri!), after which we joined the masses waiting in line for the 1pm dinner bell. We walked through the double doors to find two long tables lined with every dish you could imagine, plus rolls, sweet breads, and desserts spread out over the bar. After piling heaps of food onto our plates, we found our places at the table that Alan had reserved for us. The weather was gorgeous, and we sat outside in the sunshine with Brandon and Carryn, Alan and Gerri, and Ed and Sue from Angel Louise. The atmosphere was a lot like last year's Christmas celebration in the Jib Room in Marsh Harbor, magnified to about 300 people. The people of St. Mary's were incredible, and we can't thank them enough for sharing their hospitality with so many cruisers who often find themselves away from family and friends over the holidays.

We got an early start Friday morning, dropping Tux off at the kennel before continuing on towards Houston. We took turns driving every two hours, and got an extra hour of sunlight thanks to the change in time zones. By 3:30pm, we realized that we could make it to Houston in one day if we pushed it; we called friends Donna and Steve to see if they minded having house guests a day earlier than planned, and made it to their place by 9:00 that night. We were thoroughly exhausted, but happy to have made it to Houston. 900 miles in 14 hours...priceless!

The weekend was a whirlwind of errands and visits. We had tea with our "Houston parents", Dave and Sheila, made a run down the international food aisle at Fiesta (adobe peppers in chipotle sauce...you know that'll be good in something!), and had sushi with Donna and Steve, Jennifer, and Chris and Katya and their girls at Redfish Saturday night. Sunday we celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary over quiche and mimosas with Donna and Steve. Stacy got to see Bridget, her friend from Continental, over coffee at Starbucks, and we managed to get a few more hard-to-find provisions at the monster HEB near Donna and Steve's. (That's still got to be the best grocery store in the world!) We made it to John and Bonnie's that afternoon in time to watch John fill his newest toy - a blown-glass liqueur dispenser from Eastern Europe - and were thrilled that Gary, Deborah, Kraig, and Heidi could all stop by for a visit. We even cracked open a few good bottles of wine...hey, the more we had there, the less we'd have to fit on the boat!

Thanks to John and Bonnie's help, it only took us a half-hour to load the wine into the van Monday morning. We were on the road before 9am, and drove for 10.5 hours before stopping in Marianna, FL, for the night. We managed to arrive in Fernandina shortly after noon, and moved the boat to the fuel dock to load our wine and provisions aboard Pipe. The alternative would've meant a lot of trips back and forth in the dinghy - not an attractive proposition, especially with winds blowing 15-20kts that day! It's a good thing we loaded the wine when we did, because the winds increased to 30kts overnight. Rene was on the bow at 2am adding a second line to the mooring ball while Stacy gunned the engine against the waves. The winds continued to blow throughout the next day, and the 30 degree temps reminded us how much we wanted to get south. Unfortunately we now find ourselves in a waiting game; we still have a few packages that are being sent to the marina here, but they aren't supposed to arrive until Monday (12/6). We had hoped to be in Lake Worth by then, but the weather forecast looks awful for an offshore jump until the middle of next week. In the meantime, we'll enjoy a few of our hot spots in Fernandina: O'Kane's Irish Pub, Indigo Alley, and 29 South. Who knows - we may even run down to St. Augustine via the ICW if we get tired of staying here waiting on weather. We've learned that quite a few of our boating friends are in the Ft. Pierce/Lake Worth/Ft. Lauderdale area waiting for a weather window to cross over the the Bahamas. We're anxious to get down there to join them! Til next time...

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