Florida. Lake Worth. The end of our trip south on the ICW.
Florida is a long state and after eight pretty steady days of nothing but motoring (with the occasional motor/sail) it sure felt like a lot of the same old, same old. But, at the same time, Florida is a study in contrast; along the ICW we see unkempt little trailers right next to opulent mansions, derelict live-aboard boats nose to nose with multi-million dollar yachts and throughout the past week and a half, we’ve experienced cold blustery days and now scorching hot (28°C) sunny weather. No wonder everyone eventually heads to Florida – there’s something for everyone. For us, there’s the warmth, the easy anchorages and docks and there’s our planned departure point for the Bahamas, Lake Worth.
We were sorry to leave Fernandina Beach and the great hospitality we’d enjoyed, but we slipped our dock lines at 8 am last Saturday morning in 22 knots of wind and headed 40 miles downstream to a lumpy anchorage at Pine Island. Pine Island was a busy place because, just like after Hurricane Noel last month, the boats were stacked up and many of them landed in at Pine Island with us. These boats were bunched up because of the well-attended Boater’s Thanksgiving dinner held every year in St Mary’s around the corner from Fernandina Beach. It’s a mega potluck with one of the local restaurants supplying all the turkeys and the boaters each bringing a dish of something to share. Seabird joined the group and reported back that it was an excellent party with well over 100 boats in attendance.
Pine Island was not a nice anchorage. The tidal current ruled here and dictated which way our bow pointed despite a howling wind from the north all night. We swung around our anchor chain more than a few times with the changing tides and for quite a bit of the night, the waves broke against our stern which definitely did not make for a rock-a-bye-baby kind of sleep down below. By the time we were ready to leave, our anchor was well and truly stuck. Normally we can pull it up with our electric windlass but this time we had to give the windlass a little help and power forward until the anchor broke free. All that twirling around twisted the anchor chain which got stuck in the windlass gypsy and sheared the bolts that hold the two halves together – a problem that we had once before back in the Bras d’or lakes. So, for the second time on this trip, Blair took the windlass apart and reinserted new bolts when we dropped anchor in St Augustine a few hours later. He’s becoming a pro at that particular job and made quick work of it.
St Augustine was a pretty town with the old fort, Castillo de San Marcos, as its focal point. The town is full of red tile roofs, neat little restaurants with outdoor second-story balconies and lots of narrow-bricked alleys featuring excellent window shopping – I say window shopping as I can’t sneak anything else aboard aboard Strathspey these days because of our power grocery shopping expedition in Fernandina Beach. We dropped anchor in front of the fort and the spiciest boat gossip in the harbour the day we arrived was of a ketch that had dragged into a sloop in a high wind a few days earlier. There was obvious damage to the sloop and, during a break from his windlass job, Blair watched two policemen going from boat to boat collecting statements for an accident report. This was a crowded harbour with a very strong current that changed direction four times over a 24-hour period so anchor dragging in strong winds is a common occurrence. Curious, Blair turned our instruments on and over a 3 hour period, our knot meter registered 0.8 miles traveled so definitely a strong current. Our only complaint in St Augustine was the noise from the almost constant construction on the Bridge of Lions which spans the ICW. We arrived on Sunday when the workers were on holiday but on Monday night they worked well past 8 pm. This bridge was declared an historic site shortly before major structural erosion was discovered. Apparently, historic sites must be repaired rather than replaced so the state built a 36-million dollar temporary bridge while they take ’til 2010 to repair the original bridge. When you hail the bridge for an opening, the bridge tender very precisely answers, “This is the temporary Bridge of Lions”.
We left St Augustine and headed just a short distance downstream to an anchorage on the Matanzas River. It was a leap of faith to enter this anchorage because our charts didn’t show any depths for that area. Skipper Bob’s publication said to turn left to leave the main channel and stay in the middle of the river until we were just opposite Fort Matanzas. Well, sometimes he’s right and sometimes he’s not. This time he was bang on though; a peaceful little river with beautiful scenery as a backdrop and the bonus in this out-of-the-way spot was a half decent wifi connection to get our emails.
One thing we’ve really noticed this past week is that Florida is fishing country and Floridians love to fish. You see them out in their huge sport fishing boats, perched precariously on the bow of their little runabouts and even standing on the piers under the bridges we pass by. They love fishing so much that when they build new high rise bridges here, they don’t even tear the old bridges down – they leave them for fishers to cast from. Also, as soon as we hit Florida, any semblance to lake sailing completely disappeared; south of Daytona Beach especially, we were in a real honest-to-goodness ditch. It was about 300 feet wide, anywhere from 7 to 15 feet deep and straight as an arrow. Our view of the surrounding countryside was pretty limited because of either dense trees lining the shores or wall-to-wall houses. Daytona Beach was a slight widening in the ditch and from our ICW-centric view we figure it must be a fairly large center because within three short miles we passed under two 65-foot fixed bridges and requested an opening from two swing bridges.
Blair played his pipes at dusk in Daytona and afterwards, on the VHF radio, a wonderful thick brogue accent said, “Thankyou Strathspey, that was the loveliest rendition of The Dark Island I’ve ever heard”. As per usual, we know this Scot’s boat name but haven’t yet discovered his name. He’s traveling on a catamaran called Sam the Skull (I’m sure there’s a story there…)
The next morning we left Jim, who had been soloing on Madcap since Fernandina Beach. Jim had pulled into a marina to do some boat work and wait for Beth to fly in from Halifax later that day. Shortly after heading off, we got a phone call from John Page of Trident Yacht Club, to say that he was in Daytona getting some boat work done. Unfortunately, at that point, we were a good five miles downstream so we didn’t connect but we’re just starting to realize what a small world this ICW travel club is and at this point, we’re all heading in the same direction so I’m sure we will meet up eventually this winter.
As we made our way downstream from Daytona Beach, the silos and buildings of the Kennedy Space center were visible for hours and when we dropped anchor in Titusville harbour, we decided that this would be a primo place to watch a space shot from. There are two coming up soon; December 6th, the shuttle is going up and December 10th, an Atlas 5 with a “classified” payload. Boats are starting to fill up the good anchorages, marinas and mooring fields around Cape Canaveral in anticipation of these launches. In Titusville, acting on a recommendation from our friend Evan Gamblin, we had dinner at the Dixie Crossroads. His tip was to have the Rock shrimp, so named because the effort to pry them open is akin to splitting rocks. This restaurant has mastered the technique and shrimp aficionados from all over the country flock here (this must be true because Gourmet magazine said so….). We both opted for a shrimp comparison sort of order with a sampling of Rock shrimp, Brown shrimp and White shrimp (these are the ones we get at home in Ottawa). Although fairly small, the rock shrimp were our favourite; delicate, a little salty and broiled to perfection with a light brush of butter. Thanks Evan, this restaurant is definitely worth a return visit.
We left Titusville planning a relatively short day to Melbourne but with great winds we made our planned destination just after noon so we continued on. The next anchorage down the ICW had been recommended by Skipper Bob and this was one of those times he was wrong. We turned off the channel to anchor behind an island and saw our depth drop suddenly to 5.5 feet. Rather than chance a grounding, we spun in our tracks, got back in the channel and continued on down to the Jones Fruit Company dock. This is basically a front yard dock and the owner, Dick Jones, lets transient boaters stay here just to meet them and hear their stories. Mr. Jones’ neighbour, Scott, took our lines and told us Mr Jones was in the hospital but to please put our money in the box on the wall and enjoy our stay. It was a bargain at $10/night and we were the only boat docked at this psychedelic-painted dock in the heart of upscale Vero Beach area residences. We’d heard that Vero Beach is often referred to as Velcro Beach – basically because the community provides such a welcome that many snowbird boaters arrive here and go no further. Scott told us that the locals refer to it as The Black Hole because the transient boaters heading south disappear into Vero Beach and aren’t heard from again. Not us – we passed on by with our eyes set on North Palm Beach and Lake Worth.
We passed Vero Beach and we passed Ft Pierce, another jump-off point for the northern Bahamas but one that we decided to forgo so as to make a shorter hop over from Lake Worth. South of Ft Pierce, motoring down the ICW is like driving through the Prairies; flat and uncommonly straight. I’ll zip that thought though because here the weather is hot and sunny which more than makes up for this particular passage. We’ve been hearing that the weather is cold and snowy across most of Canada. I seldom get weather-gloating rights over my friend Karen in Nanoose B.C. and this is definitely a first as they are getting snow out there also.
So here in Lake Worth, we’re giving Strathspey her last fresh water bath until April (I say last because water in the Bahamas is mostly via reverse osmosis and quite expensive, so only for drinking) and getting our fill of being on the grid (again, not a common occurrence in the Bahamas, mostly because marinas are few and far between once you start heading into the southern Bahamas). We’re pouring over our Bahamas charts, thinking about being in those crystal clear waters and hoping we get a good weather window soon. This crossing is shorter than most of the other big ones we’ve done but it has the complication of the Gulf Stream, a fast flowing river that is going to sweep us northward off our course as soon as we enter it. It varies but is approximately 50 miles wide and can run up to 3 or 4 knots so there will be some definite dog tracking going on during our crossing.