Have Bagpipes Will Travel

We move slowly south on Biscayne Bay, sometimes pulling our anchor only to move five miles south to an area that we think may be more favourable to shelter us from the persistent 20 knot winds from the East or sometimes just to get a change from the neighbourhood. Our neighbourhood just outside Hurricane Harbour is a wee bit upscale at one point as there is a 110 foot Vicem yacht anchored near us. They have a crew of six aboard and there’s a big group of guests having fun, using an assortment of kayaks, paddle boards, jet skis and other water toys. At sunset Blair plays his pipes and immediately after, two of the guests race over and invite us aboard this huge yacht for drinks and appetizers. They (or I should say their crew) roll out the red carpet for us as we join the crowd on the back sundeck. The stewardess offers appetizers of beef carpaccio but when I said no thanks, they immediately assume I am a vegetarian and hurry back with a vegetable antipasto platter. They insist we stay for dinner and served steak, roasted baby potatoes, asparagus and Caesar salad. The stewardess makes me a special plate minus the steak. No helping to clear the table afterwards as our plates are whisked away when empty and wine glasses refreshed whenever they fall slightly below half. Blair brings his pipes over and gives a them a demo of how they work and plays a few tunes which are a big hit. It was a fun evening and, after a tour of the yacht, we dinghy back to Strathspey very aware of how the other half (or maybe the other 1%) lives. As we head out into the dark toward Strathspey, they call out ‘Come over for breakfast tomorrow!’. Haha, we think that may be the wine talking but it’s a pretty generous offer nonetheless. The next day we’re busy on Strathspey, making water, reading, swimming etc and around 11 am, two of the guests ride over on a jet ski with breakfast for us. Perhaps we looked destitute compared to their big yacht but, more likely, they just really liked those bagpipes and were just really generous people. Have bagpipes, will travel!

Breakfast at Key Biscayne

Breakfast at Key Biscayne

We spend a few hours each day and run our reverse osmosis water maker. It’s not like watching a pot boil as we are usually lounging in the cockpit, reading or swimming most mornings. This task has become a regular part of our day as all the research tells us that to keep your water maker in top form you need to run it once a day. All this fresh water isn’t hard to get rid of either. We can rinse the salt water off us after a swim, hose down the cockpit, and wash dishes without the usually worry about water conservation. We can even use the excess water to quickly hose off salt accumulated on Strathspey’s decks. Such luxury…..

It’s a relaxing time here. Both Blair and I are reading books that can keep us from looking up for hours. Blair’s reading Homo Deus and I’m engrossed in The Little Paris Bookshop. This is a book I’m not quite willing to pass on just yet as I’m sure I will read it again, more slowly, more thoughtfully – one of those books that I will keep on my shelves for a long while. The sun shines constantly these days. The air temps are 27-28 Celsius and the water temp around 25 C. We’ve found a nice anchorage for swimming and hanging about so our days are lazy and relaxing as the month of February stretches out ahead of us. There’s a manatee in this anchorage that keeps us company, surfacing with a slight splash that catches our attention, especially after sunset. We can hear him out there periodically throughout the night. There is also a small group of dolphins that visit every morning as the tide changes. Both the manatee and the dolphins sigh loudly as they break the surface and then just as quickly they’re gone with an arch of their backs. So graceful.

Beautiful but with a nasty stingy

Beautiful but with a nasty sting

We dinghy to No Name Harbor and lock our dinghy to the concrete wall there and walk through the state park to the ocean. The beach here runs from Cape Florida all the way up to the Miami inlet and it’s wonderful to stretch our legs after being on board Strathspey for this length of time. The ocean waves are fairly big most days because of the persistently high East winds and the beach is so littered with Man of War jellyfish that most often we walk with our eyes to the ground so as to avoid stepping on them.

We head out into the ocean via the Biscayne Bay channel and we sail by Stiltsville. This is a group of buildings anchored on concrete piers driven into the ocean bed in the middle of the channel. It’s quite shallow where these structures stand (2-3 feet) but it’s odd to see them out here in the middle of nowhere. A Google search tells us that these 7 or 8 buildings are all that’s left of a much larger group of men’s clubs and gambling houses that did a roaring business back in the 40’s and 50’s. Apparently the law enforcement didn’t pay too much attention to anything that was happening out in Stiltsville so it was a really popular party place for the Miami crowd. Hurricane Donna, sometime in the 1960’s, destroyed most of the houses out there and now the remaining few are owned by the Cape Florida State Park.

One morning we wake up to a flat calm, not a ripple on the water surface and not a breath of wind. As I do my yoga practice on Strathspey’s bow, I see two boats in the anchorage quietly haul up their anchors and slowly make a 180 turn to leave. Weather guy, Chris Parker, has finally given a 2-star rating for a Gulf Stream crossing. It’s only a 2-star because boats must motor all the way but the winds are less than 10 knots on the nose and the seas 1-2 feet. February 16th and finally a good window! We won’t be taking this window as we have a haul out booked in Ft Pierce in less than a month. Our sail drive needs a new seal between the engine and the sail drive so we’re handing that job over to Whiticar Marine as well as some deck and hull work.

Stiltsville

Stiltsville

The water on this side of the Gulf Stream is the same Bahamian turquoise as on the other side of the Stream but it’s silty so the visibility isn’t as wonderful and when we swim we can’t see the sea bottom even though it’s only 7 or 8 feet deep. We’ve had a string of unusually calm days though and one morning as I am swimming I see a really big fish underneath Strathspey. It looks huge to me (like shark huge) and my heart leaps and I quickly swim over to our stern swim platform, ready to scramble up the ladder. The fish ignores me and actually remains fixed under the boat. I briefly consider that this big fish enjoys the relative coolness of Strathspey’s shadow but then sheepishly realize that what I’ve seen is actually Strathspey’s keel, not a shark. It is the first time I’ve seen the keel in this silty water.

For the first time in weeks we wake up to a cloudy sky and then by 9:30 it’s raining. Blair’s happy because this rain means Strathspey’s decks are rinsed clean. I’m happy because it’s Monday and the weekend party boats that swarmed us yesterday have all gone home and this anchorage is quiet once again. Biscayne Bay is a popular area for boaters because it is shallow and relatively calm so we’re seeing quite a few more boats these days, both motor and sail. If you’ve ever been amazed (annoyed!) at the number of people texting and driving a car, then you’d be doubly so looking at all the people texting at the wheel of their boats. It’s more the rule than the exception to see these captains texting rather than focussing on driving. There have been a few times I wanted to sound a blast on our air horn to alert an oncoming boat on a definite collision course with us. Idiot! Put down the cell phone! On a quieter note, there’s a children’s sailing school near this anchorage and on the weekend they are all out in force in their Optimist dinghies, sailing up and down the bay. I think there’s a lot more fun than skill with these 8-10 year olds as, during their so-called races, some are sitting on the bow with their legs hanging over into the water, some nonchalantly unpacking their lunches and trading sandwiches back and forth and some of the older ones are holding their boats together for a good old gossip session.

Cape Florida lighthouse

Cape Florida lighthouse

Early one week Brooklyn surprises us with a really quick three-day visit which was wonderful. We ate excellent meals, swam, walked on the beach, went for dinghy rides and really packed a lot of activity into this short visit. It was just what I needed because I’d really been missing both her and Sandy this season. It was just what she needed too; three days of warmth and sun after a long Ottawa winter. Her visit reminds us that spring is just around the corner and we begin to look for good weather to start the trip north to haul out. It’s time.

Cruising and planning in pencil

The weather is warm and sunny most days but the wind, she blows. We heel at dock even in this protected marina. We have four fenders positioned between Strathspey and the dock and two of them are squished almost flat from the strength of the wind pressing us against the dock. We lower our courtesy flags because their constant thrumming against the stays keep me awake at night and threaten to shred the flags to ribbons.

Piping at Old Port Cove

Piping at Old Port Cove

The extended time at a marina allows us to find and fix any issues in the various systems aboard Strathspey. Our friends and family worry that all we’re doing is repairs down here in the south but it’s a whole other aspect of cruising that only other cruisers can appreciate. When you live on your sailboat 24/7 you become atuned to every little nuance of your boat’s behaviour. You hear a persistent rattle that may turn out to be a faulty set screw on the Bimini frame or it may be a critical piece of your steering that has come loose over time. You feel a slight hesitation when you put the boat in reverse that may be just strong current rushing by or it may be something wrapped around your propeller or, worse, a loose linkage. You smell a hint of diesel fume that may be from a passing boat or it just may be your engine needing attention. Although you most often will regret it, you can sometimes ignore performance that is less than 100% but Blair (being Blair) doesn’t. He’s on holidays and has the time and some of his best memories aboard Strathspey are when we’ve successfully troubleshooted a problem and implemented a fix. Finding problems are the lows of cruising; fixing them successfully are the highs. So, yes, we’re working on Strathspey every day….sometimes 10 minutes, sometimes an hour, sometimes the whole day. But it’s good work, it’s mostly satisfying and, best of all, it keeps Strathspey in top notch condition; one of the prettiest girls at the dance.

We rent a car and drive up to Cocoa Beach one day to view a boat that our Ottawa friends are interested in. It’s a fun day, vicariously spending other people’s money! On the way back to Strathspey, we stop in for lunch at the Riverside Cafe in Vero Beach where I have my favourite blackened fish tacos and Blair has Red Snapper with tropical fruit salsa and yellow rice.

Wind speed at our dock

Wind speed at our dock

Now, there is a good window to sail further south. We prepare to leave Old Port Cove Marina and it seems that we really need to get our ‘house’ in order. When I say ‘house’, I mean house. For the past little while we’ve not been aboard a sailboat because Strathspey has morphed into a floating house and if we head out as is, there will be all manner of flotsam and jetsam strewn about the boat. We put the laptops away, along with all the books and charts littering our chart table and settee. All the shoes and sandals that have made their way out of their hidey holes are stuffed back in. The toiletries that have migrated out of the cupboards and shelves are swept up and stored securely. We disassemble the doghouse (enclosure) and pack away the cockpit cushions and pillows. Blair threads our foresail lines through the genoa cars and back to our winches. I set our binoculars in their usual place on the steering pedestle and reconnect our RAM VHF microphone in the cockpit. Blair fills our water tanks and coils up the hose and our electrical cable and stows them in the starboard locker. I pay our bill at the marina office (ouch!). It’s time, feels good. Strathspey’s a sailing boat again!

Approaching Miami

Approaching Miami

We sail from Lake Worth down to Miami in 15 knots of wind but as we get further along the coast the seas are sloppy and coming on both our bow and our beam. Strathspey has a lurching gait through these waves and I feel queasy all day and have to focus on the horizon at all times. As we make the turn into Miami, Blair pulls in our foresail but the furling line ‘malfunctions’ and so he goes forward to the bow to try to fix the problem. The waves are bigger now because the tide is flowing out of the inlet so it’s a scary thing to have him up on the bow as it plunges up and down through the waves. We end up sailing into the inlet, surfing down waves and rocking from side to side. My queasiness definitely gets worse. Once we are in the shelter of the inlet break wall, we can pull in the foresail but we don’t reach calm water for another 10 minutes as we have a strong current against us. The sun is setting as we motor slowly through Miami harbour and it’s after sunset when we make our way into our anchorage south of the Rickenbacker bridge that leads to Key Biscayne. It was a long day, a challenging day and Strathspey’s decks are sticky and greasy with salt. Blair and I are no better but after nice hot showers and dinner in our cockpit our perspective changes. We’re just that much further south, that much warmer.

Miami skyline viewed from our cockpit

Miami skyline viewed from our cockpit

One afternoon we take a really long dinghy ride north of our anchorage. We have read that there are new anchoring bylaws that stipulate no anchoring north or south of the Venetian Causeway in South beach and we want to check it out. The bylaws are directed at all the derelict boats that litter the south Florida waterways. People actually live in these boats – they live rent-free in the heart of one of the most expensive areas of Miami where real estate prices are beyond most of us. Many of these boats are eyesores to the surrounding property owners, with their decks cluttered with all their worldly possessions; much like the hobos you see pushing their ladened shopping carts around. In some areas these boats have been sitting for years and have shaggy fringes of algae and other growth along their waterlines.

Despite these bylaws, we see lots of boats anchored in and around the causeway. Perhaps the bylaws get enforced periodically and everyone moves and then, over time, they start creeping back in. We do note, however, that Sunset Lake, one of our favourite anchorages in the South Beach area, is empty. This is a lake about the size of the Parliament Hill lawn surrounded by multi-million dollar homes so we think that whenever a boat dares to anchor in Sunset Lake, there are immediate calls to the Governor and lots of hoohaa raised.

It’s downright hot here in Biscayne Bay. We swim for the first time on this trip and the forecast for the next week is for sunny days and 26-27 Celsius. We’re going to explore the keys in Biscayne Bay and further south for the next while and hopefully do lots of swimming and just generally relaxing. Aboard Strathspey this season we’ve been doing lots of that plan in pencil stuff, as my friend Karen calls it. The strong Easterly Tradewinds that conspired to prevent any good weather windows to cross the Gulfstream are keeping us in Florida this season. The Keys are an area that we’ve not ever been to, either by car or boat, so we look forward to exploring here.