Fort Lauderdale to the Exuma Islands – Part I
by Elizabeth Gregory on 14 Feb
My CS30 is great for local west coast sailing, but I happily accept invitations to sail in warmer places. This time, I accepted an invitation to sail from Fort Lauderdale to the Exumas.
Part I: Fort Lauderdale to Miami Harbour
Warderick Wells Cay park mooring Bluewater Cruising Association
Our first day in Fort Lauderdale was spent provisioning the Jeanneau 44 J’Sea, privately chartered from a BCA member. We are six, three of whom are under thirty, with appetites to match, so we invested $1,000 US in Costco and Trader Joes for supplies. A cold front with northerly winds was blowing through southern Florida at this time. What we didn’t know then was that it was our first of many.
Monday, we backed out of Cooley’s Marina on the New River and headed outbound through the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). Glenn radioed each bridge of our position and voila the bridge was lifted a few minutes later. We continued on through the well-marked but shallow narrow channel dodging inbound and moored boats admiring the houses, parks and towering condos. It was like Venetian canals with newer buildings.
Glenn spotted an iguana sunning itself on a dock and David pointed out four manatees swimming beside our boat. We wended our way several miles to Port Everglades where boats over 56? high have to head to the Atlantic. At 62? to the waterline, that was us. So we turned south about three quarters of a mile offshore with a 15 knot breeze and put up the sails for a downwind ride to Miami. A wise decision was to stay close to shore to stay out of the northerly Gulf Stream. The skyline was predominantly highrises all the way from Fort Lauderdale to Miami.
At dusk we neared the channel south of Dodge Island into Miami Harbour. Radioing ahead for moorage, we were taken aback by $5/ft for a 44ft sailboat so we planned to anchor in Marina Bay instead. I started the engine to stay head-to-wind as we lowered the sails. No power! More precisely – no transmission, no gears. We unfurled a little jib so that I could control the boat, while Glenn analyzed the problem. It was obvious that the transmission coupling had given way from the shaft.
Nightfall is quick here and it’s now very dark. I was trying to stay close to but out of the major shipping channel. A cruise ship came steaming outbound and I was making little progress getting out of its way. The ship radioed us but I was too preoccupied trying to sail out of his way to even answer. When you recognize all the words to the songs they’re singing on deck, you know you’re too close!
We had no ability to fix our problem, so a call was made to Vessel Assist. Did I mention that they charge more at night and even more when there is a Small Craft Warning? Under tow, we admired the lights of the Miami skyline I’d only seen on TVs Miami Vice. Five hours later at 2300h we were finally anchored in 7.5 ft. in choppy Biscayne Bay.
We went below to breathe a sigh of relief. Just as we prepared to settle in with some sipping rum, we heard a pump. Alice said she’d just run water. Ok. But then the pump came on again and then again. Oh nooo… the bilge pump.
While I reassured myself that the boat couldn’t sink far and if we were taller, we could just walk ashore, Glenn deduced that a rubber tube had been torn by the coupling and water was coming in there. He tried unsuccessfully to stuff it with a patch. Then David, our human pretzel plumber, wormed his tall, skinny body into the engine area and secured the fitting with scavenged hose clamps. It was now 0100h and we could finally sleep.
The next morning Glenn arranged another tow to a haul-out at Norseman Shipbuilding Co. and an engine mechanic to meet us there. We were towed through the Bay into the Miami River, right behind a container ship that was being manoeuvred by tugs fore and aft. The river wound between office towers and condominiums, moored mega-yachts, chi-chi restaurants offering waterfront dining, then smaller industrial buildings, fish boats and tackle shops.
There are seven bridges to go under or to open on our route. When you gaze up the 62’ mast height, the bridge clearance of 65’ barely seems enough. Rick, Norseman’s owner, was waiting and had us hauled in no time. The mechanic advised us that the fix wouldn’t be done until Friday at the earliest.
We could stay aboard overnight, but all the workers warned us to be careful as they said we were in a very sketchy area. They told us to make sure we lifted the ladder when we were aboard, even though we were surrounded by a chain link fence topped with razor wire and manned by an overnight security guard.
Wednesday morning, we rented a car and headed out for Cuban coffees and ‘pastel el guayaba’, Danish-style pastries filled with guava fruit. Glenn’s son Jeff dropped Alice and I off at Coconut Grove and the Swiss couple, Colette and David, at a mega-mall. We wandered through Barnacle National Park, home of one of the first settlers in the Biscayne Bay area. I tried to use my Vancouver Rowing Club reciprocal privileges to hang out at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club but was met with a rather inhospitable attitude. The “white-haired, little old lady” approach doesn’t seem to work in Florida. Too many of us, I guess.
After a trip to a chandlery for more boat parts, we were back at Norseman to check on progress. They were still waiting for delivery of a new stuffing box and coupling assembly for the shaft and transmission.
We spent the next day driving a couple hours south to Everglades National Park so that at least we could do some sightseeing while in Florida. We had a great day hiking many of the Park’s trails. It’s a great place for canoeing and kayaking, except for the alligators!
Back in the city, we picked up Glenn and set off for upscale South Beach to celebrate our last night in Florida. After supper at a ‘taqueria’, we window shopped down the pedestrian-only street lined with restaurants and fancy shops. A place to “see and be seen”. The next forecasted storm was already whipping the palm trees flanking the street but the rain held off. We were still wearing jeans, hoodies and windbreakers, wishing we’d brought long underwear. Florida was experiencing its coldest rainiest winter in years.
With our fingers crossed, we hoped to be back in the water the next day, Friday. The stuffing box was to arrive in the morning. Our splashdown was set for early afternoon. All went according to plan except that, once we were dropped in the water, the engine wouldn’t start. The batteries weren’t holding a charge. The mechanic jump-started the engine so he could check out the coupling, shaft and stuffing box. Five new batteries were ordered to replace the originals, but they couldn’t deliver them until Monday. Once again we were out of luck. Would we ever get to the Exumas?
We really didn’t want to spend another day at the shipyard so we departed to get outbound through the seven bridges before they closed for supper rush hour traffic. After manoeuvring once again through the shallow harbour we motored out the government cut, heading to Bill Baggs State Park at the southern end of Key Biscayne. The entry to No Name Harbour was about ten feet deep but with the strong winds (25+knots) we weren’t the only ones heading there.
There wasn’t much room to safely anchor another boat but people on the cement quay said we should tie up beside the large block letters, NO OVERNIGHT MOORING. The reasoning was that they wouldn’t throw us out into the coming storm.
It’s a lovely park with bathrooms, laundry, a casual restaurant and paved walking paths. Alice and I walked the beach to the lighthouse admiring the Stiltsville lifestyle where houses have been standing on stilts in the ocean for many decades. Kite surfers were having a fine day. I stayed with the boat while the others walked into town. A Winn-Dixie employee offered a ride back to the moorage with our groceries.
Sunday afternoon we headed back to Biscayne Bay and once again downriver to Norseman shipyard for our new battery installation. A week after first arriving at Norseman Shipyard, we couldn’t wait to say goodbye and we raced outbound through the bridges before the noon lunch closing. The river currents made staying still until a bridge opens rather tricky. I was glad that other boat traffic was light and we used the bow thrusters to hold us away from the concrete abutments.
We made a quick decision to head 50 miles east to Bimini rather than back to No Name Harbor or Rodrigues Key. The forecast included a cold front with thunderstorms and heavy rain for several days. We felt that if we didn’t high-tail it out of the Keys, we’d be there all week. (We later learned that this storm overturned several cars just south of Miami.)
This article has been provided courtesy of the Bluewater Cruising Association.
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