Monday, December 30, 2013

Jumpin' and Buckin' Like a Hobby Horse: Crossing the Bank and Tongue of the Ocean

Sunday-Monday, December 29-30, 2013. Journal from our crossing (“passage”) from North Bimini Island--our refuge for six days--to Nassau, a way-point in our journey to the Exumas.

7:00 am.  Sunrise. The first cruisers pull out of Brown’s Marina, North Bimini Island. We batten the hatches, secure loose items, and manually move the boat closer to the end of the slip. Confer with our neighbors on sailboat Pearl; we are heading the same way today and will stay in touch. We will be sailing "buddies" for the crossing. (Pearl on the left, Echo II on the right, at Brown's Marina.)

7:45 am. Echo II is on the move. Wind 15-20 mph, out of the southeast (the direction we are headed, so it’s “on our nose.”)

9:00 am. Round the north end of North Bimini Island and North Rock. Let jib (front sail) partway out, giving the engine extra speed, up to 5.5 knots. Keeping up with sailboat Pearl so far.  Pearl's Captain Bruce snaps our picture on Echo II.
10:00 am. Cloudy day. Heading directly into wind and waves of 2-4 feet. Splashing and pounding. Give up on sailing—too close to the wind. Call Pearl on VHF radio, to say we are unlikely to keep up. Continue motoring only at 4-4.5 knots.

12:15 pm.  Salt water dripping down sides of v-berth from seam of hull and deck, and from edges of closed hatches. However, not streaming in freely as it did during passage from Florida.

1:00 pm.  Sailboat Pearl, a second sailboat, and a trawler disappear over the horizon ahead of us. Pope and Amber lament that this has been our status since leaving Maryland: all the bigger boats pass us and leave us in their wake, alone.

1:30 pm. Violent thrashing in the waves. Echo II creaking and groaning, as if she is wrenching apart. Conditions reminiscent of those we experienced crossing from Miami to Bimini, though the wind and waves are supposedly only about 50% as high. This crossing is twice as far in distance, more than 100 miles. We will be sailing all night.

2:15-2:45 pm. Pope snacks and naps in cabin while Amber takes wheel. He will bear the brunt of the night-time watches.

3:15 pm.  Round Mackie Shoal. Attempt to call Pearl to update our status. Pearl’s crew can hear us (superior antenna); we can’t understand their reply through static. Out of the deep ocean and crossing Great Bahama Bank now, a shallow sea between island chains.

3:45 pm. Continued roly-poly conditions under cloudy sky. Pope refers to an item earlier in my blog: “We're in the washing machine again; slower agitation this time.” Cushions, blankets, charts slipping out of bunks onto floor. Legs and arms bruised and aching from holding on tight and bumping into steel, wood, wire, rope.

4:00 pm. Amber meditating, praying: “Dear weather gods, please let it stop.” Wind shifts to south.  We let out the jib again. Speed increases to 6 knots with combination of engine and sail (“motor-sailing”).

4:30 pm. No letup in wind, despite forecast of dramatically diminishing winds in the afternoon. Fewer large waves splashing over the deck, but just as bouncy as earlier. Amber and Pope agree that, since the weather forecast has been wrong every day for two months, why get our hopes up that that could change? We agree: this will be our last sailing trip; we will sell this boat in Florida upon our return to the U.S.

 4:40 pm.  Hallelujah! A second sailboat appears on the horizon behind us. No longer alone. Will probably catch up and pass us within a couple of hours.

4:45 pm. Crew of Pearl calls on VHF radio; not visible over the horizon in front of us, yet still within hailing distance. They will slow down and rest later while we catch up.

5:00 pm. Amber and Pope agree on night-time safety measure: whoever is on deck/at the wheel must wear lifejacket and “hook in” (attach harness from lifejacket to a line tied to the boat). Standard practice for sailors on watch in the ocean at night. Great Bahama Bank is relatively shallow; however, we don’t want any surprises. (Amber shudders at mental vision of waking up in cabin and not finding Pope in cockpit.)

5:15 pm.  Sun low in the sky, behind clouds. Bouncing getting violent again, just in time for dark. Amber dreading the night-time passage in these conditions. (Or in any conditions, actually.)

5:45 pm. Sailboat behind us passes as the last glimmer of pink and blue fades into cloudy gray. Alone again.
7:30 pm. Dinner: canned beef stew for Pope, quinoa salad, prepared last night, for Amber. Radio traffic and lights to starboard indicate several vessels anchored for the night on the Bank. Try calling Pearl; no response.

8:15 pm. Great Bahama Bank drops off into the Tongue of the Ocean; from 17 feet deep to several thousand. Goddess of the ocean unleashes her fury, sending waves to toss us into the air then shove us down into her maw. Wicked goddess! Even Pope--an experienced blue-water sailor-- is anxious. Amber decides that drowning would not be the worst fate; being adrift in the sea would be worse than death.

10:00 pm. Still riding the hobby horse. Weight on legs, knees loose, sway with the movement. Like riding a horse or a mountain bike. Amber spots red flashing light in distance; on Chubb Cay, 17 miles away. A beacon of safety. Attempt to hail Pearl on the radio; no response. (Pearl's version of events here.)

11:30 pm. Sky clears; stars come out. Flashing red light a promise in the distance. Portable VHF radio stops working, joining my camera (which produced all the beautiful photos for this blog) as another casualty of salt-water spray and humidity.

12:15 am. Decision to abort the all-nighter; too much for us in these rough conditions. We head a few miles north for that flashing red light on Chubb Cay, a spit of rock and scrub where millionaires have erected mansions.

12:30 am. Pope sweating buckets as he guides us into Chubb’s channel in the dark, narrowly avoiding unlit markers. Hallelujah! Boats already at anchor here; one of them gets on radio to tell us where to anchor out of the channel. Three feet of water beneath our keel.

1:00  am. Rocking gently at anchor. Stowing computer for the night.

6:45 am. Sunrise. Lift anchor and leave. This island charges $100 to go ashore.


10:00 am. Dear ocean goddess, please free us from your brutality. Pope acknowledges, and even agrees with, my point of view: that this trip is not about living on a sailboat in an island paradise, like I envisioned.  Instead, it has been mostly hard work in trying, sometimes brutal, conditions, interspersed with rest and clean-up periods. Right now, is it about survival.

11:00 am. Finally:  A CALM DAY. Wind lowers to level predicted, under 10 knots. Seas calm to 1-2 feet. Hallelujah!! Put up the mainsail AND the jib, for the first time in weeks. This is what sailing is supposed to be about (says Pope). We leave lifejackets and harnesses on for good measure, since we are in 9,000 feet of water.
12:15 pm. LAND HO. Tall buildings of Nassau in the distance. We survived!

2:30 pm. Nassau Harbor. The familiar towers of Atlantis resort. We hear a familiar voice on the VHF radio; it is the crew of Pearl, already in a marina, welcoming us to port. They sailed all night. All is well!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Nassau Bound

We are staying at Brown's Marina on North Bimini Island. The island and marina were made (somewhat) famous by frequent guest Ernest Hemingway and his novel, "Island in the Stream."

The island is big enough to house several small towns; ours is Alice Town, which boasts four marinas, four markets (one-story, one-room buildings containing a few shelves of mostly packaged groceries), three liquor stores (where a lot of locals hang out), a smattering of clothing and craft shops, a fuel pump, and a bakery that specializes in rum cake and cinnamon rolls.

Since Christmas. the boaters at our marina (who shared a holiday potluck) have continued to hang out together, walk to the beach at sunset, talk, share drinks. Finally, Pope and I have emerged from the isolation of the Intracoastal Waterway and are immersed in the cruising life!

Our bedding, clothes, and boat are slowly drying out. We have continued to have intermittent rain for three days, interspersed with hot sun that dries clothes fast. Combatting sticky salt residue is more difficult. Today, however, I gave the cleaning a rest and just hung out, walking the town, swimming in the clear turquoise blue ocean, looking for stingrays (no luck) and bull sharks (scored three). I cheered on neighbor Bruce--my hero--who rescued our rug that blew overboard in 10 feet o water, with bull sharks circling. Talk about a successful catch!

Other boaters have assured me that all cruisers have obstacles to overcome--they just have different ones. Dampness and mold is a common theme, though engines and other motors are the big-ticket items.

The majority of cruisers are headed to the Exumas, like us. It's a popular island chain among boaters. The journey will require several stages of island-hopping. We have reserved a marina in Nassau two days from now, when the wind is expected to be calm enough to cross the Grand Bahama Bank, an extensive shallow area between island chains.

Here's how it works on the Bank (and just about everywhere in the Bahamas): You study the charts and peruse the internet for stories of routes people took, where the shallows are, and how to avoid hazards and obstacles. Then you post someone on the front of the boat to watch for sandbars and coral heads in the clear, shallow water. You turn on the depth sounder, feel your way carefully, and pray. There is no US Coast Guard here to pull you off a shoal, no Towboat US to tow you to shore if coral or oysters poke a hole in your hull!

We hope to spend New Years Eve in Nassau, for the overnight celebration called Junkanoo. The big costume parade starts around 1 or 2 am and continues until sunrise! Pope is trying to convince me to stop obsessing over little things like a leaky boat, sticky salt residue, bruises, and insect bites, and instead just relax and enjoy the beauty of the land and culture. He knows I have been feeling a bit "broke up," so today, in an attempt to cheer me up, he played me this song popularized by the Beach Boys--"Sloop John B" (Pope's emphasis in red, though it's not really my worst trip ever...).
We come on the sloop john b
My grandfather and me
Around nassau town we did roam
Drinking all night
Got into a fight
Well I feel so broke up
I want to go home

So hoist up the john bs sail
See how the mainsail sets
Call for the captain ashore
Let me go home, let me go home
I wanna go home, yeah yeah
Well I feel so broke up
I wanna go home

The first mate he got drunk
And broke in the capns trunk
The constable had to come and take him away
Sheriff john stone
Why don't you leave me alone, yeah yeah
Well I feel so broke up I wanna go home

So hoist up the john bs sail
See how the mainsail sets
Call for the captain ashore
Let me go home, let me go home
I wanna go home, let me go home
Why don't you let me go home
(hoist up the john bs sail)
Hoist up the john b
I feel so broke up I wanna go home

Let me go home

The poor cook he caught the fits
And threw away all my grits
And then he took and he ate up all of my corn
Let me go home
Why don't they let me go home
This is the worst trip Ive ever been on

So hoist up the john bs sail
See how the mainsail sets
Call for the captain ashore
Let me go home, let me go home
I wanna go home, let me go home
Why don't you let me go home

© EMI Music Publishing

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Beginning of the End? Or Just Another Chapter?

The day started off sunny and warm. The ocean was calm.

The boaters converged on the dock for a Christmas potluck.

Then, the skies let loose with a torrent of rain in the middle of the picnic. The party moved indoors to a large trawler with a house-sized living room. I stopped at our boat to close the hatches.

What to my wondering eyes should appear, but rain streaming in from here, here, and here! Having spent a couple of hours the day before cleaning and doing laundry, removing salt spray from towels,  bedding, and cushions, I was chagrined to see that they were damp again (although, this time, with fresh water).

To top off my day, during the rain the sand flies converged at their own Christmas feast, on my legs and arms. This morning, I counted 19 itchy red welts on my left leg and 21 on my right.

Rain continued on and off for 24 hours, while I vegetated, meditated, and stewed--tucked into the damp v-berth--on my extremely faulty decision-making: the fact that I reluctantly agreed, back in the early summer, to make the Bahamas trip aboard a boat. I knew the boat had water-intrusion problems, having spent days cleaning up mold left over by the previous owners. But my protests and objections met stone-faced resistance. THIS was the boat Pope was taking to the Bahamas. It's his toy, and he loves it.

Pope, being a former whitewater kayaker for upward of three decades, is used to being underwater. Damp sleeping bags and leaky tents were routine in his world,and part of the game. I, on the other hand, had always packed up my backpack and tent and headed home in miserable conditions.

Dear readers, as much as I would like to continue entertaining you with my adventures and misfortunes, I am seriously considering an orderly retreat from the nearest airport. If there are any psychiatrists among my readers who can help me through this rough patch, feel free to volunteer!

Who says a cruise to the islands is fun? WHERE'S MY CRUISE SHIP?

Will Amber's adventure be saved by the prospect of more sunsets, like this one today on Bimini?

Will she be persuaded by the warmth and camaraderie of the boating community to stick with the plan, despite the boat and the bugs?

Stay tuned for the next chapter!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Agitation on the Atlantic

Dear readers, we made it to the Bahamas. The crossing was like the heavy-duty cotton cycle on a Whirlpool: tossed and turned for 11 1/2 hours. We left at 3 am, past the lighthouse marking the shoals at the south end of Key Biscayne. Southeast into the ocean. It was immediately apparent that NOAA had missed the boat with its favorable forecast of 9-mph winds; they were 15-20 mph, on our nose. For the first couple of hours, we made only 2 knots/hour, fighting against headwinds, Gulf Stream current, and 5-foot waves. The misery meter was so high even Pope suggested turning back.

We persisted only because I swore that, once I got off, I would never set foot on a boat again!

I am covered in bruises. Pope is covered with cuts. Loose objects (of which there should never be any on a boat...) flew across the cabin and smashed. The boat creaked and groaned and, when we ignored its immediate symptoms and kept going, got really sick: vital fluids oozing through all its seams, i.e., salt water streaming down the walls and through the ceiling.

The boat cushions may recover. But the bedding is soaked, pillows and mattress pad ruined. Salt water is an insidious, corrosive killer--eating away at nuts and bolts and sticky and damp forever on fabric. It will be our constant nemesis here.

Fresh water in the Bahamas, by the way, is 50 cents a gallon, prepared from sea water by reverse osmosis. There are no aquifers on the islands. Laundromats charge $10/load. To wash the sticky salt off the boat deck and inside walls could cost $40 or $50.

Anyway, back to the adventure: Five miles out, I yelled those magic words: "Land Ho!  (aka "end of wash cycle")  I noticed the sun had been shining brightly. We followed a trawler into Brown's Marina on North Bimini Island--an easy way to locate the deep water--and docked.

We emerged from the cockpit, still decked out in our crossing duds: raincoat, life vest, and harness for tying yourself to the boat.

Pope raised the Bahamian flag.
We were warmly welcomed by dockmaster Cordera and by neighbors Gayleen and Bruce, who live on their large, comfortable sailboat and know where to find laundromats and cheap rum here in Bimini.

Cleanup will commence immediately. After that, vacation. That is, if I recover from the wash cycle and overcome the instinct to flee to the nearest dryer: the air-conditioned, mosquito-free comfort of a Best Western.

My only comfort in having survived yesterday is the fact that, today, the winds are expected to rise to 30 mph and the waves to 9 feet!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Did You Hear the One About...the Anchor?

Did you hear the one about....?

Tall tales. They're part of our culture. But this tale is true, dear readers! Pope insists I bring you up to date on our adventures since our somewhat calamitous Friday. (So soon? I'm worried about wearing out my welcome!)

Yesterday, hauling up the anchor, I had trouble bringing up the chain--heavier and heavier and heavier. Pope left the wheel to help, letting the boat drift...closer and closer to neighboring boats in the crowded harbor off Venetian Causeway.

All anglers have told their share of tales about the big one they caught, right? Remember also the jokes you've heard, or cartoons seen, about fishermen pulling up rubber boots or spare tires at the end of their line? Well, wrapped around our anchor chain was an old, rusty outboard engine! Picked up on the bottom of Biscayne Bay! Is it a message that we shouldn't trust our current engine? Well, this one certainly had no life left in it.

A cruising partner, Dave, once said that "for Amber, everything is a crisis!"  Well, I don't think my fears and anxieties are THAT bad. Well, maybe they are. I am certainly having some heavy-duty qualms about crossing a portion of the Atlantic in the next 24 hours.

At any rate, the anchor issue turned out to be NOT a crisis. Instead, just a minor inconvenience, quickly banished back to the depths of the harbor. A welcome change as we prepared to leave the Miami skyline behind.

However, someone ELSE was having a crisis. After we unwrapped the tangled mess and cruised out of the harbor, we heard "MAYDAY" on the VHF radio. The first time Pope had ever heard one in all his days of sailing!  A sailboat had passed under a highway bridge. They are normally a standard 65 feet, but this one was clearly marked 56 feet on the charts and on the bridge piling itself. This sailboat, who thought his mast should have easily cleared 56 feet, had scraped the top and gotten stuck between the twin spans of the bridge!

Boy, was he having a bad day. Cursing those damn charts and bridge operators. Can't trust officialdom!

We watched him through binoculars, drifting in the middle of the bridge spans, waiting, hoping, probably praying for help. But what could anyone do? Wait for low tide and hope to "scrape by," literally, I guess.

We headed south past the cruise ship docks at the Port of Miami.

Now we are re-anchored in a popular party cove called No Name Harbor on Key Biscayne, southeast of Miami, next to the inlet where we will enter the ocean in the wee hours of Monday morning. Re-checking the forecast hourly while people-watching. Lots of Miami-ans, especially Cubans, pulling in to the waterside fish restaurant here in small and very very big motor boats,

Latin music blaring. Blue skies, drifting clouds, warm water, boaters, swimmers. A party scene on a beautiful Saturday afternoon!

And, naturally, a glorious ray of sun the following morning; a positive omen as we prepare to pull out of the relative safety of the mainland for points east. In case I can't write again soon, wishing a happy holiday to all!

South Beach, Art Deco, and a Crummy Day

We moved south a few miles, closer to our departure point for crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. We have been waiting and waiting--six days--for winds in the right direction for the crossing.

Now, we are in the heart of Miami! That sunk in immediately when we anchored and cruised over to shore in our new dinghy with the new engine, about 10:30 am.


The other dinghies were locked up every which way—extra-long bike cables, heavyweight chains, large hardened padlocks.  Hmm. We immediately had grave doubts about our plan to tie up (wih only a rope) and take a leisurely walking tour of the South Beach art deco district.

Thank goodness for iPhone data plans. We looked up Ace Hardware, only a few blocks away. I stayed with the dinghy; Pope sauntered over and cringed at the $40 price tag for a 12-foot chain. (Yes, they must do a booming business with naïve suckers like us.)

Not so fast, suckers! The chain was too short, and we needed a second lock for the other end! What else didn’t we think of?

We moved to a canal with fence posts closer to the water. Got chained up. Joined millions (or so it seemed) of cars and people moving in the general direction of South Beach. By now, it was past noon. We were hungry and discouraged by the wasted morning and extra cost.

On and on and on we walked toward the ocean—17 blocks--feeling weary but wanting to see the ‘40s and ‘50s turquoise, pink, and sea  green stucco-and-glass architecture.

Arund the bend, we found a different (better, cheaper) hardware store with a superior solution for keeping our dinghy out of the underground resale business: a 30-foot, heavy-duty bike cable. Only $44.95.

With heavy hearts, we shelled out more greenbacks. This whole cruise down the waterway, we lamented, has been a massive, two-month-long shopping spree—credit card bills of $2,500 a month; wallets thinner than a credit card. Pope says it's the waiting and waiting for weather windows that encourages us to spend money. Have the merchants near marinas got that figured out?

The costs have definitely added up. Did we need to stay in marinas? No, but the hot showers were a blessing after a sweaty day. Did we need all the spares and other emergency gear? Probably not. But more stuff gives me at least a cursory illusion of having some things under control.

Not everything, of course. Returning to the dinghy at 5 pm, feet aching, the engine wouldn’t start. We had forgotten to shut off the fuel valve when we left, flooding the carburetor.

What else could go wrong?

Fast-forward to 7 pm dinner: vegetables roasted in foil on the propane grill. The grill hangs over the water, off the back of the boat. This same innocent little grill caused Pope to sprain his leg, ankle, and finger before we left home, slipping on a wet dock while trying to attach it to the stern railing. The finger still throbs and swells.

Tonight, it was dark, the grill was hot, the foil was slippery, we were clumsy with exhaustion.  PLOP.  Into Biscayne Bay went carrots, potatoes, and peppers in miso. I hope it didn’t whack any fish on the head!

What next? Better shut down the day and escape into slumber before the jinx catches us again!

Mother Earth in an Organic Garden

As I noted in previous two blog posts, we are getting around here in Miami. Most of our excursions are on water or on congested, traffic-thick urban boulevards. A few days ago, however, we immersed ourselves in a Garden of Delights.

No, it wasn’t one of the cheap motels out on 79th Street. It was a throwback to 1968: an exotic organic “farm”—a large garden and campsite populated by aging hippies and young people with dreadlocks, flip-flops, and alternative lifestyles. A throwback to communes of the ‘60s (or so Pope says; I wasn't part of that scene...).

Living in treehouses, cabins, and tents, they prepare meals in an outdoor kitchen, use a composting toilet, and play volleyball on Sunday.

Owners/managers Ray and Leslie reside in an older house filled with antiques, at the front of the farm.

 They grow amaranth for its greens (delicious!), papayas, and other organic ingredients. They have also rescued goats, emus (photo), hogs, and parrots—a menagerie that people hear about by word-of-mouth, so we encountered parents and children as well as tenants along the tangled paths.
Pope was very happy to be back in a garden!!

I was happy to use their wifi to update my blog!

Ray and Leslie are fellow sailboat cruisers, traveling frequently to the Bahamas and recently to Cuba with nine people crammed into a 41-foot boat to “attend” a conference related to food production. (With a little sightseeing on the side…. Permits for U.S. travel to Cuba require a humanitarian or educational purpose.) They shared tales of their excursion to the island of old Chevys over homemade lentil soup.


As the goats bleated and parrot Lucy squawked “hello” (over and over again), we shared left-leaning political views. Here, tenant Jessica puts parrots Lucy and Mom to bed.


Having worn out our welcome, we snapped on our headlamps and hopped back on our bikes for the late-night trip back to the marina.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Surviving the "Capital of Latin America"

It’s not home. But Miami is a major metropolitan area, just like the one we live in, with the same conveniences we take for granted and hazards that trip us up. Pope can get his morning bagel, and I can run to the supermarket for milk and eggs. We bike on the sidewalks to stay out of traffic.

On Monday morning, rush hour was heavy on 79th Street. Drivers treat the 35-mph boulevard as a superhighway, speeding toward the shore and away from the decreptitude of the neighborhood at the northern edge of the city where we are tied up behind locked gates at a marina. The street is lined with nude bars.

And pink and blue motels with names like Sinbad and Shalimar.

The narrow sidewalk is obstructed with parking meters, bus stops, benches, and feet.

Pope and I are ultra-cautious on our folding bikes, easing around obstacles and making eye contact with drivers before crossing in front of them. On Monday, traffic was so thick on 79th Street, I thought there was no way the driver of the white Mazda waiting on Bayshore Court could pull out. I couldn’t make eye contact through the smoked glass.

I started past his front bumper. WHAM!  Next thing I knew, Pope and the driver were peeling me off the pavement.

He spoke about as little English as most Miami-ans we’ve encountered. Offered to take me to the hospital. When I got my bearings, I indicated I would wait a few hours to assess the damage. Took his insurance information just in case. (Note that Pope was too busy expressing his opinion to the driver to take a photo of me lying in the street, so no visuals here.)

I couldn’t walk, but I could pedal, so we hobbled onward to Rte. 1 and waited an hour for the southbound #93 bus (which was supposed to run every 20 minutes). Mounting the bikes on the front, we headed downtown for our appointment with U.S. Customs at the Port of Miami. (Note the Carnival cruise ship at the dock."

We were processed by smiling and helpful Officer Delgado. What a refreshing change for a bureaucrat! By joining the Local Boater program, we won’t have to check in at an airport on our return to the U.S. Frequent cruisers to the Bahamas love the program.

My injuries seemed to be settling into a profusion of contusions, rather than broken ankles. We decided to bike slowly the 9 miles back, checking out the sights of Rte. 1. Limping into the Peruvian café Limon y Sabor, I relished the black beans and rice with cilantro and lime while Pope attacked a huge beefsteak.

I chatted with Sirhan at The Honey Tree natural food market. He loved the idea of my excursion to the islands, and helped me stock up on arnica for my injuries and herbal supplements for a long winter away from cities and convenient medical care.

After icing my legs and loading up on arnica (a plant that eases bruising and pain), I pedaled to a second appointment, at an eye center. The strong winds on the waterway had been causing me another problem besides uneasiness operating the boat: irritated, swollen eyes. The ophthalmologist diagnosed an inflammatory condition that can result from dry eyes. Again, I bought enough medicine to last several months.

On the way back, I knocked off items on our provisions list, exchanging smiles with Spanish-speaking clerks--since they couldn’t figure out what I wanted--and filling two bike bags and a backpack: sunblock, propane, Triscuits and oatmeal, olive oil, coffee and tea, bleach. Mung beans, lentils, and sunflower seeds for a sprouting experiment, since raw lettuce and vegetables won’t be safe unless we wash them with bleach.

Back at the boat, Pope had negotiated a decent price for a used outboard engine, found on craigslist, for the brand new dinghy I bought a few days ago at West Marine.

Now we are feeling almost ready. We appreciate the ability to get things done in Miami, and, other than the language barrier, feel like we’re in almost-normal America. The forecast for the crossing is for favorable winds no earlier than Sunday, five days from now, so I might actually have time to hobble downtown for some sightseeing along the Gold Coast!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Getting to Miami: 1,000 Miles Under Our Boat!

I can’t believe I did the whoooole thing!  Dear readers, Pope and I arrived in North Miami Friday night, having traveled 1,085 miles on the Intracoastal Waterway from Chesapeake Bay. Only 12 miles to go before leaving the coast for the islands. It went slowly along the way, yet now that I’ve practically arrived, I’m wondering: where did the weeks go?

South Florida has been a culturally entertaining experience.  The waterway environs switched from marsh to mansion; from wide shallow channels lined with seagrass, where we struggled to find enough depth for the keel of our boat, to rows of elegant (and sometimes grotesque) estates, high rises, and deeply dredged channels for megayachts.

As we cruised along, we dreamed of our next big adventure: coming back to search for real estate. So many houses are for sale, we thought perhaps we could pick up a bargain.

Surely there must be some foreclosures and short sales…? This one was my personal favorite. If I made a low-ball offer of a couple of million, maybe they would snap it up!
Of course, I would want a suitable sleek yacht to match. I am confident this boat is cleaner and has more fresh water on board than our own good ol’ boat.

Some people prefer lslightly arger floating vacation homes. However, this family apparently took a break from the spacious quarters on their boat and checked into the Hilton.

We observed some other interesting phenomena that are probably endemic to South Florida. Here, for example, is an interesting sport. Kind of like opening the valve on a fire hydrant, I guess. Will it replace surfing?

Only in Florida: pink building and sky-blue boat.

Down here they have a novel method of moving house.

And here is the way they move boats and file them away for later retrieval. Notice the anxious owner standing by to supervise.

Here is another way to move your boat: on board a container ship.


We passed one of those container ships, squeaking by her on the very edge of the channel. They don’t move over to give you room.

I kept thinking: what if one of those containers fell on our heads????

And then there is the juxtaposition of urban development and nature.  After all, this is South Florida. Right next door is the Everglades. In our marina in North Miami, we encountered a flock of ibis—a graceful bird with long pink beak. Looks like a small flamingo.


Small iguanas grow up to be big iguanas, the local nuisance. Residents warned us to keep our distance. They bite and they poop.


We also encountered wonderful, helpful people. Captain Stevie and Donna, who are friends of friends in North Miami, allowed us to forward our mail to them, including a pair of shoes I ordered.


It’s a romantic fantasy to lounge around in bikini and flip-flops on the deck of the boat, at least if you’re cruising the waterway. It’s hard work, and it’s so easy to get injured, I elected to wear sturdy shoes. After 45 days, I wore them out.

I arrived in North Miami to collect the mail and my new shoes. Now my feet are happy.


My soul is also experiencing a renaissance.  Taking a break for a few days, waiting for good weather to cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas, has been a relief. Steve and Donna got us an invitation to an organic garden and homemade soup.
Of course there is still lots of cleaning and provisioning to do on the boat, and Customs to visit, before we leave the country. The next few days will be busy!