As Mark told you in the last blog, we had a great trip from St. Lucia to Fort Lauderdale. We did not anticipate making the trip nonstop but again we must learn that with sailing no plans are carved in stone. It did not feel like a nine day trip because every two or three days we were planning on stopping so in the end we just made three, three day trips. A small but important distinction. So much for my previous blog entitled, "The Last of the Long Passages."
One thing that did happen which is worth mentioning on this trip was an encounter with a cruise ship. I was on watch during the day and I was well aware of a Carnival Cruise ship that was passing us. According to our AIS, the ship was passing us on our starboard side and would pass us at a distance of about .3 miles. A little close to my liking but we were sailing wing on wing at the time and I had changed direction as much as I could without necessitating a sail change. When the ship was less than a mile behind us, it changed direction and crossed our stern. The end result was the ship passing us within 700 feet. I called the ship on the VHF to make sure he was aware of our presence and to see what was his intention was in terms of passing us. He was aware of our position and responded that he was just about clear of us. I "thanked" him and then ranted to Mark for about a half an hour about how discourteous it was for the ship to change direction so close to us. I took this snap shot of the ship.
We hit a very large storm right before crossing the Gulf Stream which was unfortunate. We had 35 knot winds and big seas. We decided to delay our crossing of the Gulf Stream by about eight hours in order to enter in more favorable conditions. Unfortunately, during those eight hours we were waiting it out at the edge of the Bahamas with about twenty plus large cargo ships. There were no anchorages we could tuck into and heading back into the Bahamas was going into the wind and waves. We ended up amid many cargo ships (many were at anchor) and waiting out the storm in rather uncomfortable conditions. Once the storm passed, we had a very calm Gulf Stream crossing but again hit a thunderstorm just outside of the harbor entrance to Fort Lauderdale. We again spent several hours waiting out the storm with many large ships before entering the harbor. We were glad when the sun began to peek through the clouds and we finally could head in.
Once inside, we encountered our first bridge of the intercostal waterway! Unfortunately, we did not have a cruising guide so we mistakenly thought it opened on the hour and half hour. We timed it perfectly to get there for the 3:30 pm opening. At 3:32 we called the bridge tender to find out why it hadn't opened. He informed us that we needed to call ahead of time so the next opening wasn't until 4:00 pm. So, we were waiting again. I headed the boat over to an open area of the canal to wait. We were then approached by a Sherriff's boat which informed us that we were in a security zone and needed to wait on the other side of the canal. Again, a cruising guide would have been very helpful here. Mark and I laughed that we were having quite an auspicious return to the United States!
Finally, we landed at the Bahia Mar Yachting Center and had a very nice dock hand, Tom, guide us into our slip. We were exhausted but happy to be "home."
The next day after our arrival, we went to customs to check back into the United States. We had called the Coast Guard the day before we arrived and they took information over the phone and informed us that in addition to needing to go to the customs office, our boat would need to be boarded. We went to the customs office thinking that we would spend the better part of our day sorting it all out. We arrived at the customs office, they checked our passports, confirmed that they had the information we had given to them over the phone on their computer, and then told us to have a great day. Mark asked if that was it. They said yes. We were on our way. This was the easiest customs check-in process of our trip, as it should have been.
Our next stop was to the largest West Marine Store in the country, right in Fort Lauderdale. What a great experience. Not only were we able to get everything on Mark's list, the sales staff were extremely helpful and quite chatty with us about our trip and future plans. Even I had a great time. Next, Mark ran some other errands while I went to the local Publix to go grocery shopping. When Mark came to get me I was close to tears. Not from the sheer joy of a large grocery store but rather because I was completely overwhelmed. The store was the size of a football field and I had way too many choices.
While in Fort Lauderdale we were able to get quite a few television channels and we reconnected to Sirius Radio. After not reading the news, seeing the news, watching television or listening to NPR for over 1.5 years, we were plugged back in. Mark's brother has a cell phone for us and once we reach Tampa, our connectivity to the real world will reach a great new level. I cannot wait.
Here are some things that we re-experienced over the past six days that we have truly missed....the evening news with Brian Williams, NPR including Car Talk and Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, PGA golf, Law and Order SVU, the Young and the Restless, doing my own laundry in commercial grade washers and dryers at the marina, appetizers of pepperoni and great cheeses, tide laundry detergent, Bounce dryer sheets, real diet coke and really cheap, tacos with all of the fixings, fast internet from the boat, La Crema Chardonnay, 60 Minutes, Ketel One Vodka, a shower drain pump from West Marine that we have been searching for since before South Africa, going to a restaurant where the menu is in English and we know what everything is on the menu...Some of these things may sound silly, but they have all brought us great joy and appreciation to being back in the United States.
Since the day we arrived in Fort Lauderdale, the weather was full of rain and thunderstorms. We originally planned to stay here for two days but ended up needing to stay six due to the weather. According to the locals, it was unseasonably wet and stormy. We used the time wisely and ended up doing many, many jobs on the boat. Mark had a spectacular time unclogging the anchor locker drain which had a mud blockage. While being very helpful and supportive, I took this picture of Mark hanging upside down trying to get at the blockage. It was quite the sight!
We are leaving tomorrow for the sail to Tampa. It should take us about three days. We are not planning on stopping unless we run into some unexpected bad weather. We have now purchased a cruising guide for Florida and the Florida Keys so we will know where to stop if we need to. While in Tampa, we will fly to Austin to visit Mark's Mom. Other than that, we plan to have fun with Mark's family there. Maybe just a few more boat projects!