Christmas in The Keys
21 December 2012 | Harbour Cay Club, Marathon, FL
PHOTO ABOVE: Far Niente tied off at the Harbour Cay Club.
Nothing says you are a cruiser like sailing down and spending Christmas and New Years in the islands, or in our case the wonderful Florida Keys. I am really looking forward to working on my tan on Christmas Day with a glass of rum punch versus say, an egg nog by the fireplace. But that's just me.
Our arrival and the Harbour Cay Club (HCC) was proceeded by a 31 hour, 225 nm off shore passage from Vero Beach, FL to Marathon via the Hawk Channel. This plan required us to navigate the northern portion of the Hawk Channel at night, which we did back in winter 2010/2011. You have to have faith in your chart plotter/navigation system as many of the channel marks are not lit. It was especially dark Wednesday night as the moon set just as we passed the Miami commercial inlet. We really wanted and needed to get to HCC by Christmas, as it appeared weather was coming in right on our stern as we motor sailed south along the Florida east coast. The front came in this morning and we enjoy 25 knot north/northeast winds as Far Niente is tied off at HCC.
Here are the details of our transit legs down to HCC.
St. Augustine to Daytona Beach
Distance: 47.4 nm
Move Tine: 7:34
After 3 days of fog, and one day of celebrating our cruising friend Bill's 70th birthday, we looked forward to a straightforward leg. Some 47 nm later, we anchored just after 4:00 pm right off the ICW in the Halifax River, just south of the Halifax Harbor Marina and north of Red '44'. As we were getting ready to sit down and relax, a very strange sound blasted from my iPhone. I picked it up and found an Emergency Weather Alert on the screen. "Tornado Warning for Daytona Beach." I pulled up the weather radar app on the phone and sure enough, a very nasty line of thunderstorms was clipping along and headed toward our location. By 6:00 pm most of the primary squall nastiness had passed south of us towards where, we learned the next morning, there were 50 some homes severely damaged by wind and perhaps a tornado. Forecast for the next day was more of the same with storms forecast to arrive in early afternoon. We opted to head to New Smyrna Beach and tie up dockside. It was a short 12 nm ride and we could leave in morning once other transient boats depart the marina to make room for us.
Daytona Beach to New Smyrna Beach
Distance: 12.7 nm
Move Tine: 2:13, 3:00 total with grounding
At just after 7:00 am our call to New Smyrna Beach (NSB) City Marina was made. They weren't sure if there was space as none of the other transient boats had yet departed. We received a call back about 9 am and told us they had room, so we hauled anchor and motored south. To get to NSB you must transit a cut to avoid going into the Ponce deLeon inlet. It is notorious for being shallow and tides here run 3-4'. Our departure time put us in the cut just before low tide. Great. Just as we cleared Red '2' we saw shoaling down to only inches under the keel but it quickly deepened and we motored south at a speed that would allow us to catch the 11:20 am opening of the Coronado lie t bridge. As we approached the point where the cut joins the Ponce inlet (another area notorious for shoaling) we proceeded slowly with a course mid-way between Red '18' and the Green/Red lateral mark. There was a second red bout just east of '18' indicating more shoaling and I planned to pass it well east to avoid the shallow water. Suddenly, bump. Stop.
In mid channel, with about 6" above low tide we had run aground. I immediately tried to reverse but my experience has been once you get the full keel on the ground you are immobile.
Now if this had been any other day we would have waited until 3 pm when the tide was back up another 1.5 ' and float off. But the reason we were here in the first place was the specter of the early afternoon thunderstorms with possible tornados. I promptly called TOWBOAT U.S., a MUST HAVE towing insurance and service for every boater. The tow boat and captain arrived a mere 15 minutes later. He quickly sounded the area to find the best way to pull Far Niente off the shoal. We attached the tow harness to Far Niente and the tow boat pulled the bow 90 degrees. Suddenly Far Niente was off the shoal only to hit ground again as the tow boat tried to pull Far Niente into the deeper water in the channel. After another maneuver by the tow boat and we were free again.
We processed the paperwork as we waited for the noon opening of the Coronado lift bridge. We tied off at the NSB City Marina at 12:15 pm.
New Smyrna Beach to Cocoa Beach
Distance: 45.3 nm
Move Tine: 6:29
We arrived Cocoa Beach at 3:45 pm and dropped the Rocna in 10' of water just south of the 65' bridge that connects the mainland to Merritt Island. The sun was out, the storms were gone and for the first time since we arrived in Florida, it was warm enough to take shoes and shirt off. I enjoyed the warmth of the sun and a cold frosty libation sitting of the deck. Finally feels like Florida. Off to Vero Beach tomorrow.
Cocoa Beach to Vero Beach
Distance: 47 nm
Move Tine: 6:47
We planned a few days at Vero Beach City Marina on a mooring. This is a very popular place for cruisers to stage from. So popular that it is one of the only places we have moored where as many as 3 boats share one mooring. I called and made our reservation and asked about space but could not secure any guarantee we'd enjoy our own 'ball'. We arrived around 2:00 pm and swung into the fuel dock for diesel and a pump out. I put on 75 gallons of diesel and learned we had mooring #27 which was empty. Excellent. I did not really want to approach and then try tie off to another vessel when the owner/captain was not on board.
We planned on staying 3 nights so we could provision mail Christmas gifts and wait on weather. There looked to be an opening on Wednesday and we started thinking about a nonstop transit to Marathon to arrive before Christmas and beat a major cold front pushing down from the north. We really like the whole Vero set up and experience but we did not want to get stuck here as so many do. Hence the nickname of 'Velcro Beach',
Vero Beach to Marathon (HCC)
Distance: 225 nm
Move Tine: 30:49
The stars aligned and we had our weather window.
We departed Vero right after sunrise, motored south 13 nm and hit the Ft. Pierce inlet just a bit before slack tide. Great timing; the currents here (ebb/flood) run up to 3.5 knots and in the past have made for some interesting entrances from the Atlantic when we experienced wind against the tide. Once out in the Atlantic winds were very light and out of the south. Yani was cranking away and we made 7.3 knots as we traveled south about 3 miles off the Florida coast. We were hoping the forecast wind shift to the east would occur so we could raise and carry sail.
Wind moved to the southeast mid-afternoon as we approached the Lake Worth inlet. But it was very light. Seas were a calm 2'-3'. It is at this general latitude where south bound vessels start to experience the northerly Gulf Stream current. It comes very close to shore here and can reach 2 knots. We saw 1-1.5 knots northerly and we slowed down proportionally. Far Niente pressed on south and the wind built a bit, but not enough to overcome the Gulf Stream current.
We hit the Ft. Lauderdale (aka Port Everglades) inlet at dark and were thankful that the usual parade of massive cruise ships exiting the port was not happening. We pressed on south toward Miami. Once in Miami we encountered quite a bit of traffic including in bound and out bound cargo ships and a slew of large motor yachts anchored just off the coast lit up like small cities. We slalomed through the traffic and proceeded toward the Biscayne light as the moon set and the wind built. Now south of the Gulf Stream's current, we picked up speed and made 7.5+ knots. The Hawk Channel was dark as can be and we navigated by chart plotter and radar. By day break we were abeam of Key Largo and the wind started to fall off a bit but the seas were quite confused. We proceeded southwest through the Hawk Channel in seas as rough as we have yet experienced. Fortunately it was sunny and warm, so the rolly beams seas were almost tolerable. At 2:00 pm after close to 31 hours, we were greeted at the docks of HCC by several of our friends; both HCC members and some fellow cruisers we met in past seasons.
Time to enjoy the ambiance of Marathon and HCC. We are happy to be back here for a 3rd season.