Sunday, 16 June 2013

FLORIDA Travel Report No 64

FLORIDA           Travel Report No 64 

For photographs and captions go to Picture Gallery 64

Written by Diana, 16th June 2013

The overnight sail to Key West was in a moderate NE breeze which gave us comfortable sailing, but took us a bit west of our destination, and we had to motor the last 20 miles along the shallow coast through a maze of navigational markers and fish traps. As we approached the town on April 4th, I called the port authorities who didn’t reply, but we got information over the VHF radio from a marina that we had to first find a place to have the boat, then call the customs by ordinary phone.  The only marina of the four I spoke to that had room for us was Westin’s Marina, which was right in the most attractive area of town, but gave us a bit of a price shock! At 3 dollars per foot per day, it was the most expensive marina we had visited so far.  One could anchor, but no nearer town than a long dinghy-ride. However, it was so pleasant and practical to be there, with use of facilities at the Westin Hotel next door and in walking distance of lots of local attractions,  that we decided just to stay there for our few days in Key West.  Frode and Andreas had only two more days before their flight home from Miami, and were happy to relax in this pleasant town and enjoy some beers together in the numerous drinking establishments.  

Welcome to Key West!

Having phoned the customs, we were soon visited by the first officials, who on hearing that we came from Cuba, confiscated some of the dairy products in our fridge.  I knew they would also take all fresh fruit and vegetables, and had gathered the little we had left of these to give to them. Then we had to visit the immigration officials at the airport, a 15 minute taxi ride to the other side of the island. Here they were correct, but a bit gruff about us coming from Cuba, checked us in, but wouldn’t give us a cruising permit immediately, so we would have to come back to formally check out when we were going to sail on up the coast.  Anyway it was good to be officially checked into the great USA!           

A manatee in Key West

Curious tourists:'They are huge!'

Key West is a charming old town with historical buildings, an interesting harbour with all types of craft and a waterfront lined with pubs and restaurants and other tourist traps. Quite a change from Cuba!  As we walked along admiring the old boats, we saw a group of people looking down into the water, and to our surprise there was a huge manatee under the jetty! Its back had scars from old propeller-wounds, and it is amazing that these big and slow mammals can survive in such a busy place. Americans are fond of these gentle giants who actually are a bit useful in keeping the water-ways open as they eat huge amounts of sea-grass every day, and up and down the coast there are numerous signs in areas where they live, asking boaters to keep a sharp look-out and slow down.
Again our good crewmen were generous and treated us to great meals at two of the town’s better restaurants.  They were due to leave from Miami on 6th April, the same day that two other good friends, Finn Hall Torgersen and his wife Sissel Levang, were coming to join us. We found out that the simplest way to get Frode and Andreas to Miami and bring the others back was to hire a car, which would also give them and us a drive through the Florida Keys.  The chain of islands were not so exciting from the road as from the sea, but it was a taste of suburban America, and when we stopped on the way for a morning snack, we discovered  that one American portion of pancakes and maple syrup is enough for four Europeans!
It was a bit sad to say goodbye to Frode and Andreas. It would have been difficult to find a better crew than these two good and patient friends. This year, March had been an unusually bad month weather-wise due to strong trade-winds and several cold fronts from north, and the sail from Panama was much tougher than any of us had expected.  But they were both uncomplaining, willing to help in any way, and always ready with a joke or a good story.  Thanks for making this such a memorable trip, Frode and Andreas!

Finn and Sissel’s plane was a couple of hours late arriving, rather a shame because it meant that most of the drive back to White Admiral was in the dark. However they were very happy just to get to the boat and get settled inn after their long journey.  The plan was to sail with them back up through the Florida Keys to somewhere near Miami.  But first we enjoyed nearly two more days in charming Key West, with morning swims in the hotel pool and more sightseeing, including the Butterfly Conservatory, and the house where Ernest Hemingway had lived for about 10 years. He loved cats and had a succession of 6-toed cats, the descendants of which inhabit the big house and garden. There is even e cat cemetery in the garden behind Hemingway’s Key West house!

Finn in front of Hemingway's Key West house

Before leaving, Stein and I had to go back to the immigration office at the air-port to check out. First we met a young, rather officious immigration officer, who told us that it was illegal to come by yacht from Cuba to USA, and that we would have to check in and out of every port we visited. Fortunately as we were filling out the forms, and were about to pay 38 dollars to check out, an older colleague of his came in, saw what was happening, took the younger man out for a chat, and end of story was that since our boat and we were not American and we had obtained  US visas back in Oslo, a one year cruising permit was provided, no charge taken, and no need to check in or out anywhere! The Americans need to study their own rules, or better still; get rid of their daft Cuban embargo!   

FLORIDA KEYS                                                                                                                                                        

On 8th April we decided it was time to leave our expensive marina and get on our way to free anchorages. This area was quite unknown to us, but we had bought a sailing guide and had got good information from two solo sailors who were also in the marina, Patrick from USA and Diny from Holland, one of the rare breed of woman solo sailors. It was after 2 p.m. when we were ready to leave, and when we got round to the south of the island, there was (of course…) a fresh NE wind blowing, so we just motored a few miles until we found a place to anchor. After a few days in a marina, it was good to have a swim and feel White Admiral swinging on the anchor again. We thought we had found a very quiet place between two mangrove islands, until we discovered that there was a military airfield on one of them, and many jet planes returned one by one with a loud roaring before sun-set!  We got up early the next day in the hope that the wind would be less here in the early morning, but there was still a fresh NE breeze, and we had another bumpy drive right into it along the Hawke’s Channel. This was not what we had ordered for our guests, so we only used half the day, then anchored at the south end of Big Pine Key.  

Our anchorage near Big Pine Key - this part is a nature reserve

Christian Genest let us use his jetty and even gave us coconuts, lettuce and Key limes when we left. Here with one of his daughters, Finn, Sissel and Diana

We wanted to go for a walk to get some exercise, so off we went in the dinghy. But it was not so easy to find a place to leave it. This had never been a problem in the Latin American countries where people never bothered where we left the dinghy, but here there is much more feeling of privacy, or perhaps more fear of crime, as there are signs everywhere with ‘private’ or ‘beware of the dog’ or ‘no trespassing’.  After a long row, and a couple of refusals, we finally met a friendly Canadian called Christian who took pity on us and let us use his jetty. We went for a good walk in the surrounding suburban area, and when we came back he and his wife gave us a present of home-grown coconuts, lettuce and Key limes. Maybe he was a bit embarrassed by his neighbours’ unfriendliness?!  The weather improved during the next days, and at last we were able to take Finn and Sissel sailing! We continued along the chain of islands, stopping first at Bahia Honda, which is a national park with an anchorage between two bridges. One of these is the motorway which goes all the way along the chain of islands over many bridges, an amazing feat of engineering, and the other is a remnant of a railway bridge, a failed project from the 1930s which was destroyed in a hurricane and known as Flagler’s Folly. Here we had no trouble leaving the dinghy on a public beach while we enjoyed walking along the beach and the old railway bridge. Our next stop was in Marathon, the biggest town between Key West and Miami. Here we found a diesel jetty to fill our tanks, then got ourselves quickly into in the nearest marina as the heavens opened and soaked us to the skin as we tied up.  Fortunately downpours don’t usually last long in this part of the world, so we could soon have a walk in town and use the marina  facilities, including Wi-Fi and a pleasant swimming pool. This was one of the touristy marinas, even slightly more expensive than the one in Key West!  We ate in their restaurant ‘Lazy Days’ that evening,  sponsored by our guests, another excellent meal with huge portions of sea-food and Finn made a hit with the American ladies at the next table.

Huge helpings and great quality at 'Lazy Days'.

He is an extrovert who likes to chat and joke with other people, and the ladies enjoyed ‘the funny man from Norway’! From here the weather was on our side, and we had more good sailing up the coast, first to Indian Key, which is a historical site. This is a public island, a National Park where we could go ashore and wander around in the warm April evening.  It was the home of an early settlement in the 19th century. They had a good and steady income as pilots and wreckers ; a dangerous profession of rescuing ships,  passengers and cargo. The  island was attacked by Indians in 1840 and 13 of the 60 or so inhabitants were killed, and the community never recovered from this massacre . Only the foundations of the houses are left, with signs telling who lived where, and what happened in the tragedy. 
The next day’s pleasant sail took us to Largo Sound. This is a big area of water almost surrounded by mangrove islands, only a few long and shallow channels joining it to the sea, so that it feels like a lake.  Thanks to a very comprehensive buoying system, we were able to meander our way through one of the main channels, and picked up a mooring buoy in the shallow water of the lagoon, only one and a half meters deep; a magical calm spot among the mangroves.   Finn and Sissel had a plane booked from Miami on the 16th April. This was Sissel’s  first trip to USA, so they wanted to spend some time together in the big city.  We were now only about 50 miles from Miami, and we booked a taxi to take them to a hotel near the airport the next day to give them time for some sightseeing before flying home.  They seemed very happy with their week aboard White Admiral, were relaxed and appreciative guests , good company and first-class dish-washers!


This was the first time Stein and I were alone on board for about six weeks. We enjoy having friends with us, but get on fine with each other too! Now we had to go north up the coast of Florida to find a safe place to leave the boat for the hurricane season.  First we had a gentle sail to Miami, where it was interesting to drive right  through the busy port. From here we could travel up the ICW - Inter-Coastal Waterway, a channel which stretches from Miami all the way north to Chesapeake Bay,  mostly only one or two miles inland from the coast. It is well buoyed, so it is easy to follow, and there are numerous bridges which open for larger motor boats and sailing yachts. Some do this at certain times, usually every half hour, but most open on demand. We would call up the bridge ahead on VHF radio Channel 9, and soon we would see the traffic stopping and the bridge open for us. 
Heading for the opening bridge

Amazingly there is not even a fee for this service! The area around Fort Lauderdale just north of Miami is called the Miracle Mile, where the rich and famous live. The standard of housing is breathtaking with palaces lined up along the waterway, usually with a mega-yacht at the jetty.  Most of them seemed deserted, just a servant or two watering the garden while their rich owners were at home attending to their businesses and other properties.  Stein had been in contact with Woody Fisher, who is a rowing friend of Stein’s as they both row in the annual FISA World Masters for Occoquan International.  He had invited us to stop at his holiday apartment in Delray Beach, a bit farther up the waterway.  He and his wife live in New York State, but spend some months each winter in this apartment in Florida. 
With all the help we had from Woody, it was great to
at least ham aboard for dinner

Woody was very welcoming, had everything to make us cruisers happy –jetty to tie up White Admiral, lovely flat with a shower, Wi-Fi, washing machine, and a car to take us shopping!  As a bonus for Stein, he took him to his rowing club on a lake (actually a drinking water reservoir), the Palm Beach Rowing Club, where Stein was able to borrow a scull for two magic early morning outings.   Woody’s wife was already back in new York, so he was happy to spend some time looking after us and I was happy to cook for him. We got on great as long as we kept off certain political topics!

We motored off from Woody’s slip on the morning of 18th April, with clean clothes and fruit and vegetable nets and fresh water tanks filled up. We decided that we would have to go back out to sea to get north quickly, the waterway is too slow, and has to be motored. So we left by the next passage out, and with a good weather forecast and a nice southerly breeze we made good headway, and hoped to sail right to St. Augustine, where we had made a reservation to leave the boat. The following night was great and the next day also began with the same comfortable breeze, and the morning weather forecast was good for one more day, but there was an approaching cold front from the north expected the next morning.  By late afternoon it was a bit cloudier, and when I listened to the evening forecast, I realized that the bad weather was nearer than expected, and we quickly changed course to get us to the nearest passage, Ponce de Leon, 12 n. miles straight west and hopefully back into the sheltered waterway.  

Still sailing in a warm, southerly breeze, in a few minutes
we  are being hit by a gale from  north!

No sooner had we done this than a black wall of clouds began to build up ominously to the north, and we were soon in one of the worst squalls we have ever experienced with sudden change of wind and torrential rain, the wind increasing  up to 52,8 knots, the highest we have ever recorded on White Admiral. This was of course impossible to sail in; we had taken down the sails and had to drift for about half an hour until the worst was over. Now it was too late to get to the passage in daylight, but we decided to go in anyway, thanks to the excellent American navigational markers. We motor-sailed with a small genoa to the leading buoy, when suddenly one of the engines stopped!  The sea was very rough with tides and wind at opposite angles, and we deliberated if we could motor in on one engine, but took the chance and followed the lights through the channel only doing about two knots.  It was still raining, and Stein sat and steered while I followed the course on the GPS, shouting instructions from the doorway.                                    
It was wonderful to eventually come round into shelter and find a place to drop anchor!  We always reflect on what we can learn from an unpleasant experience. This was not all our fault as the weather forecast was wrong, but I could have listened to one more in the middle of the day, and realized sooner that we had to get to shelter. It was certainly an example of the advantage of having a catamaran with two engines, otherwise we would have had to stay out  at sea in the bad weather.  The next morning was cold with a northerly wind, the cold front was certainly over us, and we would have to motor the last 53 nautical miles to St Augustine in the sheltered waterway. Stein found the engine problem caused by a dirty fuel filter – probably due to Cuban diesel (although we had filtered it carefully), and managed to get it going again. With only 12 degrees centigrade and a cold wind in our faces, it felt more like a Norwegian than a Florida spring day.  Our last anchorage for this trip was a deep spot at the side of the channel in Matanzas river.  Just 16 miles to go on the last day, but we were not finished with problems.  After a few miles the starboard engine made an awful noise and had to be stopped. Stein had a look and found that the ball bearing for the fresh water pump was worn out, not something that could be fixed on the spot.  So on we went with one engine. But one hour later, to our amazement, the port engine alarm went off due to over-heating and it had also to be stopped!  We had to quickly drop anchor at the side of the channel, and this time Stein found a broken V-belt, which could fortunately be replaced quickly. Only six and a half miles to go, but even this was not without a problem, as on the last curve in the river before coming to the marina, the boat got stuck in the mud near the side of the channel! By this time I was at the end of my tether, and could barely conceal my anger at Stein who was driving. But it was actually not his fault as he was in the buoyed channel! This is something which happens often here due to the shifting mud-banks.  Anyway, he rowed out an anchor and we pulled off quite easily (kedging).  It was a relief shortly after to tie up to the jetty outside St. Augustine Marine Center!    
This is the oldest city in USA, as the Spanish first settled here in 1565. It has a long history of warfare, especially between the Spanish and the British as well as skirmishes with the local Indians. 

From Castillo da San Marcos, St. Augustine
 We spent one day sightseeing in the old city and visiting the huge fort, Castillo da San Marcos, but most of our time was spent on the usual jobs which have to be done before the boat is lifted. This was done on 23rd April, no problem with a big travel-lift. After the expensive marinas in South Florida, we wondered how expensive it would be to leave the boat here, but this boatyard is a working yard, and the prices are reasonable, in fact cheaper than the marinas in Panama. Among the jobs, we had time for a little socializing with other yachties, first Keith and Jennifer on ‘Jack’s back’, a chatty couple from Australia, then Ric, an American on ‘Synchronicity’.  We felt a bit sorry for Ric, he had a lovely catamaran, which he had bought so that his wife might learn to enjoy the cruising life, but she had not only left the boat, but left him too. This is the old story that boating seems to appeal more to men than women.  He is a really nice guy, and good-looking, so we expect he will meet a new partner who likes the sea.                                                                                                                                                       Since the prices here seemed reasonable, we thought we might get White Admiral smartened up with a new paint job. This is a big job, involving removing the rigging and covering every fixture on deck before spraying several coats of two-component polyurethane paint. We asked for an assessment, and decided that we would be willing to pay up to 20.000 dollars for the job.  We could hardly believe the offer we got of 65.000 dollars – so we will certainly not be doing this here!                             

ICW - Intra-Coastal Waterways- is seen clearly parallel to the coast as we approach Miami irport
 We left as planned on 25th April on the morning plane from Jacksonville to Miami, then to London where we had a couple of days with Elisabeth and family, before getting back home.
Hugh, Finn, mormor Diana, Elisabeth and Soren in Chiswick, London. And some bubbly wine to celebrate a cruise completed and  a most enjoyable reunion!
The snow had gone, and we look forward to Spring in Norway, the most beautiful time of the year.

1 comment:

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