So, that’s what those white floppy things are for.
It's All About the Weather
A convenient excuse for staying put is that the weather is not what you need to travel in your desired direction. The strong northerly winds kept Bonnie Lass in port at least a week beyond the time needed for her engine maintenance. That was fine for us, since we had no trouble deciding to stay put while they were next door. While a northerly wind would work for us heading south, we weren’t sure we wanted to take on what weather guru, Chris Parker, described as a “Nantucket sleigh ride” on the larger waves kicked up by the winds. Waiting a few more days suited us just fine.
While we were waiting for weather, Dave learned of a new website to monitor the weather and tidal conditions, with a lot of information displayed on a single page. The rather odd name for the site is thiswaytothe.net. It can show a graph of the tides, all the data from the nearby buoys, showing wind speeds, wave heights, wind and wave direction, and wave frequencies. It also shows marine weather forecasts, offshore forecasts and more. Needless to say, it has been added to Dave’s favorites and to our links page.
The weather finally began to look favorable for both Bonnie Lass and us to head out by the last week in January. With a full week of light, favorable winds predicted, it was hard to use the timeworn weather excuse any longer. We made final preparations, re-provisioned, did wash, stowed the dinghy, topped off the water tanks, washed 6 weeks worth of bird droppings off the dock lines (yuck!) and said our goodbyes.
It turned out that by leaving around midnight on Monday, January 28th, we would maximize the favorable wind direction and ensure a daylight entry into Miami. Also, by arriving on a Tuesday, we were relatively sure we would encounter no security zones due to the cruise ship traffic on the primary entrance to Miami via Government Cut. These predictions turned out to be true, and we literally sailed through the night toward Miami. As the winds died and shifted in the morning, we switched to engine power and motored the rest of the way there.
It would not be our last interaction with the police during our stay. Our anchorage was overlooked by a Miami police station. The morning after we arrived, we received a visit from a very courteous police officer, who explained the local anchoring ordinance, limiting anchoring to 7 days in a month, and asked us to sign a statement that we had seen it. He also made it clear that the limit would be easily extended, if needed, due to weather, medical problems, equipment failures or other circumstances. Not exactly the surly “move on” that we have heard tales of from other cruisers in Florida.
Our only real surprise during the trip was the fact that the one opening bridge between us and the anchorage, the Venetian Causeway West, actually did have an opening schedule, instead of being on request. (One of our guidebooks had this right and the other didn’t. Unfortunately, we looked at the wrong one.) The good news for us was that we arrived right on schedule for an opening and easily sailed right through. It rarely works like that.
We made our way down the channel that runs north of the Venetian Causeway and found space in an anchorage near its eastern end between Belle Isle and South Beach. Being a weekday it was very quiet and uncrowded, with only 3 other boats, one of which left before we finished anchoring. One of the remaining 2, and the one were closest to, was leaving at midnight for a run to Bimini in the Bahamas. Their early departure turned out to be a blessing for us.
We checked with the couple from Wayward Wind, the closer boat, to ensure they were comfortable with our anchoring position. They said it was fine. We thought it would be fine, too, but this anchorage had a strong current, so we wanted to see how we would lie when the current reversed, as it did shortly after we arrived.
We weren’t nearly so comfortable with our position when it did.
Although our distance from them was well over 100 feet while the current and winds came in from the southeast, when the tide changed and the current went counter to the wind direction, it turned out that Orion lay more to the wind, while Wayward Wind lay more to the current. (What was that boat name again?) This put us uncomfortably close to them for the 6 hours of the ebb current, and since we were the last to arrive, it was our responsibility to move, if necessary. Dave kept watch in the cockpit for the entire 6 hours, making sure we didn’t actually come into contact. It was with relief that we saw the tide change back to flood around 8pm and we once again had a reasonable distance between the 2 boats. They would be gone before the next change, so we would be able to get some sleep.
Miami to Rodriguez Key
Although the winds were predicted to be from the southeast 10 to 15 knots, which was pretty close to our planned direction of south to southwest, we decided it would not be too rough as long as the seas were not too big. We were having serious second thoughts as we plowed head first into some pretty big waves as we left the inlet. The bow would be awash in water as we plunged into a trough and then the sea water ran in small rivers down the side decks as we rose above the next crest, before plunging again. These weren’t so severe to be dangerous conditions, but when we turned, the waves would be our beam (side) and 10 hours of that would be incredibly uncomfortable and tiring.
Luckily, the waves did moderate as we headed south and were made much more manageable as we ducked behind the first of the reefs along the Hawk Channel that runs the eastern side of the Keys. The winds were higher than predicted though, staying in the upper teens with gusts above 20 knots. Dave suggested (and Cathy reluctantly agreed) that we sail. We put out the full main and genoa and were making good time, but the ride was pretty rocky. Since we had to make Rodriguez Key before dark, Dave was reluctant to furl any sail, but the limited visibility to starboard with a full genoa out was becoming a problem. (Cathy’s suggestion that we perhaps use the engine to make up the difference was met with a snort. Guess that was a bad idea.) We eventually did furl the headsail enough to make it easier to see, without too bad an effect on our ETA and made Rodriguez Key by about 4:30.
We dropped anchor in the huge anchorage with just one other sailboat there. Two more joined us shortly, but that was it for the night. Cathy quickly had Dave’s birthday dinner and brownie cake in the oven. We were able to celebrate with cake, candles and even musical accompaniment from Cathy’s new roll-up keyboard, which has Happy Birthday pre-programmed into it. Dave returned the many birthday phone calls he had received during the run down the coast as we sat next to this uninhabited island, just off Key Largo.
Not too bad.
The big project over the last 2 weeks was our new teak cockpit table. Serving food to guests in Orion’s cockpit has been a problem due to the lack of any central place to place the food and drinks. Also, Orion’s cockpit design creates two obstacles for using any standard cockpit table from a marine store. The center cockpit gives very little room to fit a table, and the fiberglass pedestal means the bracket to mount the table is non-standard. We had long since given up on a standard purchased solution, so Dave committed to finding something custom that would work.
While at Riviera Beach, he purchased a teak board, which was cut into 4 pieces to make a 8” x 17” central leaf with two 4” x 17” side leaves. By hinging the central piece to a 3” x 8” piece mounted to the pedestal, the table can swing out of the way when not in use, but expand to 20” long when fully open. We considered various hinges and support arms in trying to determine the most aesthetically pleasing way to assemble the table. The folks at the nearby Boat Owner’s Warehouse (BOW) were very helpful in pointing us to the right hardware, specially ordering the hinges for the leaves that would be the most visible accents.
That left Dave with the problem of making the plain board look like a finished table. He began the laborious process of sanding the wood to a surface that could be varnished. But there was still the problem of mortising the hinges into the surface and rounding the exposed edges of the table. Through the salesmen at BOW, he was put in touch with a custom wood working business, Nautical Specialties, right next door to the marina. One of the owners, Clint, was willing to work with Dave to help do the more advanced woodwork, mortising the hinges, rounding the edges of the table, mounting the 3” piece to a support block and then filling in the exposed screw holes with teak plugs. He did much more than we asked for, and it was a beautiful job.
After Cathy applied several coats of Cetol, Dave assembled the finished table and mounted it to the pedestal. It looks great! We still need to decide how we want to support the table when it is deployed. Dave devised a temporary solution that is secure, but not what we want to use permanently. We want to study other tables to find just the right thing. But we have time to figure that out. It won’t stop us from enjoying a beautiful new table.
Next Stop: Marathon
Our next stop is Marathon, or Boot Key Harbor, where Slow Dancin’, Interlude and Fortunate are spending a few months. We hope to spend time with them while exploring this cruiser mecca before moving on to Key West.