Charleston to Miami
30 December 2018 | Key Biscayne, Outside Noname Harbor
After 2 weeks at home, we returned to Mystic Star late on Dec 5 via a flight from Philadelphia and rental car from the airport. We took the opportunity to do a little touring in the area that included most of a day at Patriot’s Point to tour the carrier “Yorktown”, destroyer “Laffey” and a well done multi-media exhibit on the Vietnam experience. Another nice day was spent touring Charleston on foot, including a tour of the “Old Exchange” and Provost dungeon from the colonial era. We stayed put while a coastal storm swept through the area bringing heavy rains and wind, with snow inland in North and South Carolina. On Tuesday the 11th we headed out so as to clear the IOP bridge before high tide then to wait for the swing bridge that does not open until 0900 so as to limit disruption to commuter traffic from Sullivan’s Island. We finally exited Charleston Harbor proper with lots of chop while the NW winds fought the incoming flood tide and cleared the breakwater by 1005 on course for St. Augustine FL . Once on course we had a good broad reach sail with the genoa alone making speeds of 7 to 7.7 knots. By 1500 the wind had come around to the beam at 15-20 knots, so for overnight safety we switched to a double reefed main and solent jib and sailed on into the night and to 0900 the next morning without a single sheet trim needed, while keeping a 7.2 to 7.8 knot speed for most of it. It was a perfect beam reach sail. We made our approach into St. Augustine under motor and very benign conditions which was perfect for the shifting bars that can make that entrance channel tricky. When we approached from the south in spring of 2017, I had carefully plotted the most recent buoy locations on my chart plotter, but found that none of them were in the same place when we entered this time. Another sailor was approaching from offshore and saw us and asked to follow us in since he had never been through before—I agreed even though the new buoy placement made it new to me as well. But we saw depths no less than 20ft in the new channel, with no adverse wind/tide effects so all went as well as it could have. We passed through the 1300 (Dec 12) opening of the Bridge of Lions to tie up to a mooring ball run by the city marina there. Later we dinghied ashore, had oysters and seafood chowder at Meehan’s Irish Pub and enjoyed walking around the very busy town in the evening with many tourists out to enjoy the Christmas lights and decorations.
Our next planned legs southwards involved several days travel on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) in Florida, where we had never been before. This took us through Flagler Beach, Daytona Beach to a side creek where we had planned to anchor for the night in natural surroundings. Once there we found dredging operations were blocking the entrance and a spoil barge was taking up our intended space so we pressed on to anchor off of New Smyrna Beach (Dec 13). Along the way we were delighted to encounter many dolphins that seemed to enjoy swimming alongside us in our bow wave but well aft so that it seemed they could eye-ball us in the cockpit while they effortlessly moved along. We also spotted a number of flocks of white pelicans on sand bars with groups of cormorants in company. These pelicans apparently migrate from the pacific northwest every year and have very different habits than the more typical brown pelicans. It seems they work in concert with the cormorants to corral fish into tight schools for easy picking.
On Friday (Dec 14) we continued south on the ICW under power and on into Titusville where we took a slip a the municipal marina there by early afternoon. The next day (Dec 15) was showery, but we had planned to meet our friends John and Betty who were on their return drive home from a Florida and cruise ship vacation. It was great to see them and have lunch at the “Dixie Crossroads” restaurant that had great local shrimp and we were grateful to them for stopping by a hardware and a grocery store to pick up supplies, much appreciated!
Sunday (Dec 16) was calm and foggy for the first few hours, not something we expected to experience here in the south. We made our way south on the ICW to the west of Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center as the fog cleared by late morning. We motor-sailed past Melbourne where the waterway was wide enough to allow for yacht club races that we witnessed that afternoon. Then we continued to a spot just off of a spoil island that had been mentioned in the guides, south of Malabar Pt, which was nice, and were able to catch a few NFL games at anchor.
Monday (Dec 17) we proceeded south to arrive at Vero Beach City Marina by noon. This is a very popular spot with cruisers and we wanted to spend a few days to check it out. It is known for its large mooring field where it is expected that you will be rafted with others in groups up to three boats, if the demand warrants it. We were directed to a ball in the far north of the field (no. 53!), the only empty one and were happy to be secure here for the rest of the week. We met our friends Don and Sue who now have a beautiful winter home here after experiencing the place by boat in earlier years—something that others we’ve known have been inclined to do as well, and we could see why. They drove us for a great lunch at a popular deli and to the grocery for a re-supply, which we were grateful for, and to visit their Florida home too. Later in the week, more storms blew through the area, so we stayed put onboard. Friday Don & Sue invited us to join them at a weekly local Power Squadron gathering that happens at the organization’s own facility, very nice to meet folks and See Don & Sue again before resuming our trip south the next morning (Sat. Dec 22).
The next morning was clear and cool (40s) and we actually turned on the diesel heater for a bit to take off the chill. We set off the mooring ball and headed down the ICW for a short (13 nm) trip to the town and large marina at Fort Pierce. This has one of the major inlets along the coast so we would be ready to head out the following day for a coastal sail. We arrived at the marina early enough to catch the end of the farmer’s market held there Saturday mornings just off the marina grounds which was fun and was a perfect clear day for it. We met our cruising friends Gail and Laura from “Fancy Free” who were staying in the marina for a few months as their winter home until more planned sailing in March. It was great catching up with them after not seeing them since March of 2017.
On Sunday we were off the dock by 0720 out of the inlet against a strong flood tide (3 kts) to make it out to open water. From there we sailed a few miles off the coast with a following wind, with motor assist. We hugged the coast pretty closely to avoid foul currents, but found 2 kts against us anyway towards the end. We turned into Lake Worth inlet by 1510 then found a spot in the wide water body of “Lake Worth” south of Palm Beach, just off of a marina for mega yachts. There we watched a little more NFL football and readied for an ICW day next.
Monday, Christmas Eve, we picked up and headed south along this densely populated shore for a 40 nm trip to Fort Lauderdale. From here on, all of the bridges were opening bridges, most of which were on schedules instead of on request. There were 20 of these to negotiate, but we found if we kept up our motoring speed to 7 kts or so, the bridge timing worked out pretty well, without having to stop and wait for most of them. The trip took about 7.5 hours due to the several spots we did have to wait. It was fascinating to see the unending display of mega-homes along the waterfront, many with mega yachts parked at their docks. We ended up anchoring for the night in the heart of Fort Lauderdale in a little side chute to a small lagoon known as Lake Sylvia, which just barely had enough room for us. The lake was surrounded by beautiful waterfront homes with high rise apartments further away. Finding a place to stay was a bit tricky and required some luck since several noted anchorages have become off-limits for overnight anchoring. And the town supposedly has a rule about allowing only one night for overnight anchoring within its large city limits, but we suspected that wasn’t being enforced fully, at least this weekend.
Due to the forecast of very strong southeasterly winds later in the week, we felt compelled to head out on Tuesday (Christmas Day) past the cruise ship terminals at Port Everglades and in to the open once again. There is one low fixed bridge on the ICW of only 55 ft, and is between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, so boats like us have to take the outside route to get to Miami and Biscayne Bay. We had a good fast sail in an east wind along the built up coast with double reefed main and jib to make it to Government Cut, Miami harbor by 1130,staying only a mile or so offshore. Once inside we went around the south side of the mega cruise ship and container ship terminals on Dodge Island and further south to anchor in a man-made basin known as “Marine Stadium”. The place was constructed and used in the 70s and 80s as a speed boat racing venue with a large concrete grandstand for viewing. The structure is now condemned but the site is still used for the huge Miami Boat Show which was being set up for February. The water has perfect depths for anchoring an is protected from all directions, and has a fantastic view of downtown Miami to the west. For Christmas dinner we broke out the BBQ and grilled a steak with the city lights as backdrop, nota bad day. We thought about staying here a few days, but shore access to stores and such was problematic from here so we looked into other destinations and found a spot at the Crandon Marina at the north end of Key Biscayne. This was lucky since the marina is full to capacity with full time residents and has a wait list of 5+ years to get in. From there we could get bus rides to the village of Key Biscayne which had a supermarket and many, mostly South American, fine restaurants several of which we enjoyed. The routine became that of going in for an early dinner, buying as much groceries as we could easily carry, then summoning a Lyft ride back to the marina, all too easy! It was a good place to be for three days while the easterly trade winds blew at 20-30kts steadily until Friday afternoon. We spoke with several slip holders about their boating in the area and got the idea to head south in Biscayne Bay to anchor overnight off Elliot Key. The whole area of Biscayne Bay and outer islands and barrier shallows is part of the Biscayne National Park. The anchorage was not at all cozy like we’re used to on the Chesapeake or elsewhere, but the water was getting clearer and waves were minimal even a half mile from shore. This Saturday a pretty big crowd of boaters anchored all along the inner shore of Elliot Key, but maintained a very wide spacing. I went for my first swim since the summer back home and could easily see the sandy/grassy bottom and the entire boat to check on things down there and everything seemed fine.
The only unfortunate thing about the lower part of Biscayne Bay is that there is no outlet to the ocean for a 6 ft draft sailboat anywhere nearby. We were aware of this so planned to return north to Key Biscayne on Sunday. After a nice leisurely sail in flat water, we arrived at “Noname” harbor at the south end of Key Biscayne which is in the midst of a State Park. This is a very cozy spot to anchor, but this Sunday (Dec 30) was full up with anchored boats, so we went back outside to anchor near shore with about 8 others. This is the typical spot to wait for a “weather window” for a Gulf Stream crossing to the Bahamas. The rare breaks in the easterly trade winds have to be watched for carefully and one must be ready to head out as more favorable winds make their appearance. As of the latest forecasts, it is looking like Thursday, Jan 3, to Friday may be such an opportunity. In the meantime, we have plenty to keep busy with aboard. Happy New Year to all!