Gateway to the Islands

Eleven days later we’re still in Vero Beach. It’s warm, albeit a little overcast off and on as various cold fronts blow past. As we wait for our water maker part to arrive, we’re sharing a mooring ball and it’s a Strathspey sandwich with friends of ours from Maine (sv Seabird) on one side and New Jersey (sv Cookie Monster) on the other side. We met Seabird in 2007 on our first trip south and Cookie Monster on our second trip south. Every time we see them, our conversation begins like there was just a 10-minute break instead of six or seven months. So…. definitely good people to share a mooring ball with.

Blair cleaning Strathspey's stanchions in Vero Beach

Blair cleaning Strathspey’s stanchions in Vero Beach

We’re busy here in Vero; Blair replaces our Honda outboard motor carburetor and installs our new alternator regulator. He takes each stanchion apart and cleans it to remove a light layer of surface rust. He re-plumbs our water maker to eliminate a small but persistent leak. And I go shopping – grocery shopping that is. I make trip after trip into the Fresh Market and Publix stores and, returning to Strathspey, I fill our tiny freezer and tuck yet another bottle of dish soap into a hidey hole I didn’t know we had. Blair says it feels like Strathspey is sitting an inch lower in the water. I say I don’t want to run out of anything down in the Ragged Islands or on the south coast of Cuba. We celebrate my birthday here in Vero with Blair rising to the occasion and making me blueberry pancakes for breakfast and lamb shanks a la pressure cooker for dinner.

American Thanksgiving dinner is Thursday and we attend it along with over 60 other cruisers. It’s nice to have a big turkey dinner and visit with all our friends but, at the back of our minds, we constantly think….we’ve been here 11 days! So, Friday morning at 6 am, we help Cookie Monster to un-raft from us and drop their mooring ball line. We say goodbye to Seabird about a half hour later and turn left down the ICW toward Fort Pierce. As we motor South, I call weather guy, Chris Parker, on the Single Side Band (SSB). I can’t hear him very clearly so I shut off our refrigerator and the transmission is now crystal clear; often we find that our refrigerator generates a radio interference with the SSB so it’s just easier to turn it off.

Chris Parker gives me the forecast and it sounds good to sail outside on the ocean and, even better, it might stay good enough to get all the way down to Miami on the outside. Blair and I are happy, thinking that when we turn left to go out to the ocean via the Fort Pierce inlet, we are done waiting for bridges to open on the ICW. About twenty minutes before arriving at the inlet, we call Cookie Monster and they report back that it’s a little rolly but fine. We make the turn down the inlet and an hour later we are sailing south.

The wind is directly behind us out of the North, the seas are sloppy and Strathspey fishtails down the waves rolling under our stern. But, we’re outside and the sun is shinning so all is good. The waves come in sets; three or four small waves and then a few larger ones and then a really big one that we’re now calling rogue waves. Our auto-pilot struggles because of the following seas and over-corrects each time the larger waves reach us. This makes Strathspey round up and heel over from side to side and the sails collapse and then snap open with a bang so we start hand steering. We notice that our VHF radio isn’t receiving clearly; other boats can’t hear us unless they are very close. We decide to turn into Lake Worth at 4 pm to take a break from the hand steering, trouble-shoot the VHF radio problem and get a good night’s sleep. We drop anchor in 19 knots of wind near our friends, John and Barbara, on sv Sam the Skull. With the high winds and the long fetch here just south of Peanut Island, the waves discourage all of us from getting together for a face-to-face hello and we just chat on the VHF. It’s too rough to winch Blair to the top of the mast and we set about cleaning up the disorder caused down below because of the big seas all day. No matter how well we think we have put things away before setting out after a long rest at anchor or a mooring ball, something usually works itself loose and drags other things along onto the cabin floor with it.

At that point I realize that when I turned the refrigerator off, 10 hours earlier (!) to hear Chris Parker’s weather on the SSB, I had forgotten to turn it back on. Darn! I don’t worry about the contents of the fridge but I do worry about what’s in our freezer. Our freezer is pretty small – remember the old 1960’s refrigerators with the little freezer that hung down from the fridge roof….well that’s pretty much the same model on Strathspey. When we left Vero Beach, it was full; 10 boneless chicken breasts, four pork tenderloins, three pounds of ground turkey and four pork chops all nicely frozen for our trip to the Bahamas (courtesy of three nights in Jim and Nancy Aadland’s home freezer). Here in Lake Worth, we see that all the meat on the top layer of our freezer is now thawed so I make pressure-cooker pulled pork out of two pork tenderloins and spaghetti sauce and meatballs out of the rest of most of the ground turkey. I’m not a particularly big meat eater so I figure we’re set for dinners for a long time now. Darkness comes early at 6 pm and the waves settle down and we have a great pulled pork dinner and a quiet night’s sleep.

Those buildings in the far distance are Miami

Those buildings in the far distance are downtown Miami

The next morning the waves and wind are down so Blair connects our big 28 Volt Makita drill into one of our forward winches and I use it to pull him to the top of the mast where he replaces our VHF radio antenna. We call sv Carolina Breeze, a boat that rode our coat tails all the way down to Lake Worth yesterday. They are back outside on the ocean heading further South and they tell us that it’s much nicer than yesterday so we pull up our anchor and head back out and have a fast ride all the way down the coast from the Lake Worth inlet.

Again there is a following sea so neither of us wants to be anywhere but in the fresh air with our eyes on the horizon if we want to avoid queasiness. The sandwiches I made before we left our anchorage at Lake Worth have been eaten long ago and a half bag of granola as well, but neither of us opts to go below to rustle up anything more to eat and we settle for apples and bananas instead.

We are halfway down the Government Cut into Miami when the sun sets and a parade of exiting cruise boats greets us. Channel 16 on the VHF is busy for the next hour as the Miami coast guard coordinates an air rescue from one of the cruise boats; just as they left the marked inlet channel to head down to St Martin, one of their passengers was taken ill. We listen to all the details as the cruise ship slows down to four knots and the helicopter pilot instructs the captain to put the boat on a heading of 330 degrees and tells the fire rescue boat to position themselves a quarter mile East of the ship so they can use its flashing lights to help position themselves. All the other cruise ships at dock in Miami port wait for the crisis to resolve so they can leave but we’re sure their passengers are unaware of the delay. All ends well. The ill passenger is airlifted via helicopter and their relative is taken off the cruise boat by the fire rescue boat. The captain thanks the pilot, the pilot thanks the captain and they all said Bless you.

Entering  port of Miami just after sunset

Entering port of Miami just after sunset

We make our way through the busy Miami port area in dusk and then darkness. Moving slowly from flashing buoy to buoy down into Biscayne Bay just past the Rickenbacker Bridge where we finally drop anchor at 7 pm. It’s been a long day and, while Blair reports our coastwise movement to the US Customs and Border office, I put the spaghetti sauce and meatballs on the stove to warm up; we’ve been talking about that spaghetti and meatballs all day and we’re really hungry. After nice hot showers, the sauce is ready and I go looking for the spaghetti. We empty every bag in our aft locker, I dig through the large storage space under our Nav station seat even though I am sure I haven’t seen it there. I take all the spices out of my spice cupboard and empty the last miscellaneous-item cupboard to no avail. All the while, Blair is morosely commenting….’No wonder this boat is sinking, it’s full of everything except spaghetti’. Clearly, he really wants spaghetti for dinner…..Eureka! I finally find all the pasta stored in a fairly unlikely spot and all is well.

All the beach umbrellas are down in the high winds

All the beach umbrellas are down in the high winds

The weather is forecasted to be extremely windy and that wind will be from the wrong direction so we’ll sit here in Miami probably for the next week, waiting for a good window to cross to the Bahamas. Our friends on Sam the Skull are here now and we’re making plans together to check out the food and music in Little Havana. The temperature is measurably warmer than in northern Florida, we’re tucked into a nice little anchorage here and we are at the gateway to the Bahama Islands here in Miami so all is well aboard Strathspey.

Happiness is a cold fridge

Launching a cruising boat after a six-month hiatus is like opening up the cottage. Just like you don’t arrive at the cottage, pour yourself a glass of wine and contemplate the good life while sitting in your Adirondack chairs on the dock, there’s no just moving aboard your sailboat and casting off of lines.

Strathspey in travel lift ready to launch

Strathspey in travel lift ready to launch

Because this is hot, humid Florida, over the summer Strathspey had become home to a few crawling critters, some interior mold (both green and white) and a family of birds (an empty nest nestled cozily below our solar panels). We remove the sunshade netting that protects Strathspey’s decks from the harsh sun, make a cursory check of the interior and then set off three ‘bombs’ – these are bug bombs or insecticide foggers that blast out all at once and kill every unwanted guest aboard. Once we set off the bombs, we close the hatch to keep it all below decks and drive over to our storage locker to familiarize ourselves with what exactly we have to move back aboard. We can’t go back aboard Strathspey until tomorrow because of the insecticide and, despite all our pre-planning back in Ottawa, now that we’re down here in Florida, we’re just a tad overwhelmed by all the ‘stuff’ we have to find places for aboard Strathspey. At the same time, we’re pumped that we’re here in the warm and Strathspey has fared well over our six months apart.

Madge helps Holland Marine staff launch a Nonsuch 33

Madge helps Holland Marine staff launch a Nonsuch 33

This summer we splurged and we left Strathspey in the care of a full-service marina, Holland Marine/Reynolds Marina Park. As part of the spring haul-out and fall launch service, we happily accept that Strathspey’s bottom is painted and her decks scrubbed for us. Once we’re launched, a quick diluted bleach wipe-down of all interior surfaces and we are ready to start moving all the contents of the storage locker aboard.

Installing radar

Installing radar

As I make trip after trip to retrieve cushions, bedding and all manner of sailing ‘stuff’ from our storage locker, Blair starts testing all the onboard systems:
Instrumentation operational: Check
Engine operational: Check
Raw water impeller (cools the engine): Not working, replaced impeller….works now…Check
Radar installed, recalibrated and operational: Check
Bilge pump working: Check
VHF radio operational: Check
Sirius FM operational: Check
Deck wash pump operational: Check
Anchor windlass operation: Not working, replaced three plugs and a fuse holder, working now….Check
SSB radio (for weather routing and email offshore) operational: Check
Reverse Osmosis watermaker backwashed: Check
Refrigerator: Bah humbug, works a little, stops working, works some more, then not so much…..this keeps us from leaving dock.

Receipt from one of many provisioning trips

Receipt from one of many provisioning trips

We call a refrigeration expert from St Augustine and he purges the coolant from our system, installs a dryer and recharges the system with coolant. We’re happy to see the refrigerator dial slowly creep down to 40 Fahrenheit.This little issue delays our departure from Green Cove Springs for four days but we keep busy by making multiple grocery runs, a daily trip in to St Augustine for boat parts, teak boards, varnish and one excellent lunch at King’s Bistro. Blair uses his heat gun to strip the varnish/cetol off our companion way doors and frame and, once we receive new teak frames he paints and installs them.

It’s not all work though and, amazingly, I am able to buy tickets to see Randy Newman at Flagler College in St Augustine on Sunday night; we have great seats and, as usual, he doesn’t disappoint.

Pepper spray for sale at UPS counter

Pepper spray for sale at UPS counter

I dig out our Eastern Florida charts to give myself a refresher on anchorages between Green Cove Springs and Miami (the plan-in-pencil jump-off point to the Bahamas). We package up about 50 pounds of charts for areas North of Florida, knapsacks and suitcases that are taking up too much space and I mail them home to Ottawa via UPS. I wake up in the middle of the night with the thought that I have shipped our Skipper Bob anchorages book home by mistake. We download an ebook version of the book this morning and all is well.

It’s been lovely and sunny and warm here most days but there is a cold front moving in for the next two days; nothing like what is moving across Canada but there’s a chance of rain and the temps will be down around 10 Celsius which is chilly on a boat. We cast our lines off tomorrow morning (Thursday) and head down the St John’s River for a 2 pm date with the FEC railroad bridge opening. The bridge is scheduled to close for a week starting Friday so we’re determined not to get stuck on this side of it!

Our mat at the bottom of Strathspey's companionway stairs

Our mat at the bottom of Strathspey’s companionway stairs