We had been hoping that the pandemic would have cleared up enough to allow us to go to the Bahamas for our regular three month cruise. While it is possible to go with pre and post COVID testing we felt that it was just not a sensible decision at this time – more from the standpoint of us getting COVID while out there and having to deal with either getting back or dealing with Bahamian healthcare.
Plus our eldest wrapped a snowmobile around a tree in Montana (hi Claire!) and is scheduled for surgery at the end of April, reducing our cruise time to two months.
So we discussed whether to take a spring cruise or not. Even considered waiting until later in the year and doing the Down East Loop. The latter was dismissed as we had no idea when Canada would open up again, and we really don’t see the value in doing the Down East Loop without being able to visit our northern neighbor.
So we landed on going ahead with a spring cruise down through south east Florida, through the Keys and, if the weather was conducive, out to Boca Grande, the Marquesas Keys and the Dry Tortugas. Then either returning the same way or heading up to Marco Island, Naples, Fort Myers and back across Lake Okeechobee.
We aimed our departure for February 21. For no other reason than it seemed a good time to meet the warming weather south of us!
Day 1, February 21st.
We like to exit our lock and get out through the channel at half tide or better. This meant being away from home dock at 7:30, having walked Bella and put the last things on board. It was blowing 15-20 from the NE as we left, with temps around 50. So as soon as we got to the ICW we headed down to the pilothouse and ran from there.
As we passed through palm Valley a vessel called Nomad hailed us. They read and enjoy our blog! They were on their way to Brunswick Georgia to have their boat hauled for hurricane season before heading back home to Canada. Nomad had been badly damaged by hurricane Dorian while in the Abacos and they had only just returned her to the US after repairs.
As two months gives us plenty of time to do what we had intended we have decided for this trip that we were going to do much shorter days, and take our time. Today we ran for 6.5 hours, and were tied up at Palm Coast Marina by 2:30. Vic and Gigi from Salty Dawg, also members of the DeFever Cruisers Owners group, helped tie us up and we had a long chat with them after getting settled.
We like (always!) stopping at Palm Coast Marina on the first nights of our cruises as it is a nice length of run AND there is a really good Indian restaurant at The European Village The Fifth Element. We highly recommend it if you are ever in the area. After Bella got her afternoon walk we tidied up and headed off for a Lamb Rogan Josh and a Chicken Korma, with poppadoms and butter nan bread – plus a couple of beers each!
Day one successfully under our belt and Sonas is running really well!
Day 2. February 22nd.
In keeping with our plans of short and more enjoyable runs on this cruise we are aiming for New Smyrna today. This is only 43 statute miles down the ICW, taking about 4.5 hours. We really prefer to anchor out as much as we can as we find the quiet of an anchorage much more preferable to a marina. Plus some of the scenery and beaches to walk are often wonderful.
While Sian took Bella for two mile walk Paul completed an engine room check, including changing out the bilge pads and checking fuel tank sight glasses.
Our plan was to anchor in Rockhouse Creek, just inside Ponce Inlet. There are plenty of sandbars there and even a dog beach to walk Bella. However the forecast called for rain starting late afternoon and going all evening and night, so we decided to call the New Smyrna Beach City Marina and book a slip.
We had an uneventful trip through Daytona and into New Smyrna. We arrived off the city marina around 2;00pm and radioed for our slip assignment. The dockmaster indicated the slip and walked down to help us tie up. As we entered the channel a small catamaran cut in ahead of us and radioed the dockmaster. The conversation went something like this;
Boater: I just entered the channel, can you direct me to my slip?
DM: I cannot help you right now, I have another boat coming in.
B: that slip you are standing at, that was the slip I was in the last time I was here, can I have that one?
DM: No, that is for the vessel coming in now.
B: Well can I have the one right next to it?
DM: No that is already assigned as well. Can you please wait.
The boater just carries on into the marina and starts backing into a slip a couple down from us. The dockmaster helped us in and immediately apologized and ran off to corral the other boater. He did come back later to check that we had everything we needed.
Some boaters are strange creatures!
We took Bella for a three mile walk around town, during which time we realized that we had crossed south a some imaginary line which separated north Florida from central Florida, and further identified when we should shed our jeans and long sleeved shirts for shorts and t-shirts – we had arrived in the warmth!
Enjoyed some apps and cocktails at the River Deck bar and grill. Then back to Sonas for chicken enchiladas.
Day 3. February 23rd.
We really are focused on started each day of this trip off at a leisurely pace. In many prior trips south we get up at the crack of light, quick walk for the dog if we have one, untie and get going, having breakfast underway and cruising ten plus hours to our next stop. The destination, usually somewhere in the Bahamas,so get there as quick as we could was the focus! Not this time! This trip we planned on shorter more relaxing days.
We didn’t even set an alarm but just woke up when we woke up! Sian took Bella for a one hour stroll while Paul did the engine room check, prepared the fruit for breakfast and uncovered the flybridge helm and seats. We has a leisurely breakfast and were still off the dock at 8:30.
We cruised south through Mosquito Lagoon, the Haulover Canal (where it is clearly still too early for the hoards of Manatees that live there during warmer water times), past Cape Canaveral, through Titusville and into Cocoa, arriving right at 2:00pm.
Our plan was to tie up at the free dock right by town which we had used before. When we got there it was pretty full. A small sailboat had tied up at one end and left a gap. If he pulled up next to the other boats we could have fitted on the end. But not to be. We called Cocoa Village Marina to see if they had a spot for us but they were full. So we dropped anchor just south of the Hubert Humphrey Bridge. We launched the (still new) dinghy and went ashore. Sian took Bella for yet another walk while Paul went to the famous hardware store for a few things we wanted.
While grilling on board this evening a nearby boater came over and warned us that two boats had been stolen from the free dock last night, one with an outboard and one without – his! So finally before bedding down we did something for the very first time – we put a cable and lock on the dinghy to keep it safe.
Day 4, February 23rd.
There was not a sound in the anchorage overnight and we awoke to a glassy anchorage, with a great sunrise. Paul took Sian and Bella ashore for their morning walk and returned to Sonas to complete the engine room check. Paul changed the fuel valves over so that we ran from the port tank so as to keep the boat balanced.
After dog walkies we lifted the dinghy and headed south again. We transited Eau Gallie, Melbourne, Sebastian, and into Vero Beach City Marina. It was an easy six hour run in warm sun and light winds.
We had one little bit of excitement around 10:20. Our radios picked up a DSC call. Paul took a note of the coordinates and called the coast guard. Coast Guard Miami answered and took details of the transmission. The transmitting boat had properly set up their radio and their coordinates were sent. After a short time Coast Guard Miami got back to us telling us that Coast Guard Station Jacksonville had received the distress call and had all the details. Paul entered the received coordinates into our chart plotter and saw that the distress was sent for a vessel approximately 18 miles in the Atlantic off Daytona.
Vero Beach is Bella’s favorite, because there is a dog park right by the marina. This was the first dog park Bella ever experienced and she gets an afternoon and a morning run here every time we stop!
Late afternoon a couple of teenagers came into the marina fuel dock on fumes. Unfortunately the fuel dock was closed but the boater next door to us had a small three gallon tank to give them and we lent a funnel. After getting the gas they hung around and fished the marina dock.
Day 5. February 25.
Paul checked the offshore forecast for today and it indicated 2 foot seas. So after the morning walk we left Vero Beach and motored the twelve nautical miles down the ICW to Fort Pierce inlet and turned left towards the Atlantic. The seas were calm, making us wish that we were heading across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas instead on turning south and heading for Lake Worth Inlet.
We ran the five hours to Lake Worth, with the seas getting up slightly as the day wore on, but it was an easy and uneventful cruise. We entered the inlet around three pm and were tied up at Sailfish Marina in short order. The marina used to be all fixed docks but they have recently installed excellent floating docks with wide walkways and we were happy to get a slip there.
We took Bella for a long walk around Palm Beach Shores, got back to Sonas for showers and ate dinner at the VERY busy marina restaurant. We walked around outside until our table was ready and were fortunate to get a table in the far corner of the restaurant, so avoiding as many people as possible.
Day 6. February 26.
The weather for an outside run was again very good so after the morning walk we were away from Sailfish by 8:00am. It only took 15 minutes to be through the inlet and turned south towards Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale). We angled east to get outside the three mile line to empty the holding tanks then headed directly for the next inlet. It was another beautiful day outside, and getting much warmer the further south we got.
During the run we heard two DSC (distress) calls over the radio. Both times Coast Guard Station Miami also heard them and called the vessels. One ship they continually called without response was the MSC Barbara. Paul found this strange as it sounded like a commercial ship. He went onto MarineTraffic.com and entered the ship’s name to see if it was transmitting AIS. He found that Mediterranean Shipping Company ship Barbara was actively transmitting AIS, AND was securely tied up at Port Everglades.
Paul called the Coast Guard and gave them that information. They asked him to confirm what he just said, and thanked him. About a half hour later the ship came on the radio, gave their location, and cancelled the DSC! We suspect they called the port and had someone go to the ship or send a CG small ship to sort it out!
Then when we were passing Pompano Beach we heard a single very short transmission from a plane saying he was landing to the east. The Coast Guard came on again and advised that there was suspected plane crash landing and gave the coordinates about 12 miles east of Pompano Beach. They were asking people to keep a look-out and assist if possible. They continued to transmit that message but we never heard or read the result.
We were tied up in slip number 20 at 17th street Yacht Basin by 2:00pm. We were staying here in Fort Lauderdale for three nights as we really didn’t fancy the idea of cruising through Miami and anchoring off Elliott Kay during a weekend!
Tonight we walked the ten minutes to The Boatyard seafood restaurant to find a one and a half hour wait. We booked a table for Sunday evening instead and ate at a nearby Indian restaurant. Since it was a Friday in Lent Sian had a vegetarian meal and Paul had shrimp.
Day 7 and 8.February 27-28.
We awoke to find police at the marina. The center console two boats over from us and another one four boats over had been broken into overnight and their electronics stolen. The police asked if we had heard anything and we said no, neither had Bella made a noise. They think the thieves had come by boat. The poor owner of one stalked the docks all day looking lost. The other, a Yellowfin, was the tender to a mega yacht called Stay Salty tied up at the outer dock.
We took advantage of the non-traveling days to clean both the inside and outside of Sonas.
We also had an excellent meal at The Boatyard on Sunday. Though we did feel a bit aggrieved to see that they had added a 2% COVID charge.