Monday, April 27, 2009

Return to St Augustine Apr 25-26

Back in September along the coast of New Jersey we met Jock from Port Dover on his self built catamaran. We caught up to each other a number of times along the way and the last we had heard was when we left St. Augustine in December he was radioing into the marina to arrive here. I guess it has been good to him because he has stayed the whole season and we met up with him here again today. It is a very good spot and I can see why it would be worth spending a long time here.
It is also a good spot to get a few things done – like haircuts! The picture shows Christopher going through his transformation from one of the Beatles to an army personnel! It will be more comfortable and manageable during the hot months ahead.
Once again we met up with Chris and Divya on Maggie M for a final dinner ( declared as the next part of celebrating Shirley’s birthday!) and jam session. Tomorrow they head off shore for a 500 mile passage out in the ocean up to Beaufort NC.
After fueling and watering up Tiffany Rose we changed our anchoring spot to be on the north side of the Bridge of Lions in order to be able to slip out first thing in the morning. From our new spot we took the dinghy out to explore and landed on a beautiful intermittent island – it is mostly submerged at high tide – covered with oyster shells and nice firm sand. It was a great spot for Christopher to be free from us and go wandering on his own. That night we were treated to the most spectacular fireworks display we’ve ever seen. No idea what it was celebrating but it blew our socks off!

A birthday, a boarding and a bypass April 22, 23 and 24

The last three days have been “go-go-go”. Up before dawn and leaving when there is enough light. We left Vero Beach and cruised up the waterway with fabulous travelling weather. We were able to put the sail up often and take advantage of the fine south east wind pushing us north. Christopher has been very keen on keeping track of our progress and watches for familiar spots like Eau Gallie where we kept Tiffany Rose over Christmas. When we passed this spot we crossed the line of our route where part one of our journey ended. Another milestone.
We anchored north of the bridge at Cocoa. On Thursday, my birthday, we left at the crack of dawn. My first present of the day. I had asked for an easy spot to leave from in the morning, and it was just that. Once the anchor was free we could just head out to the channel, no worries about hitting any shallow spots. We wanted to get some miles behind us and felt like we had when we pulled into Rockhouse Creek near the Ponce de Leon Inlet. Then the festivities began! I got to relax in the cockpit while Dave cooked up a nice feast in the galley below. Then the party planner (Christopher) and his assistant organized the cake and candles event followed by some fun gifts, souvenirs from the Keys, like a t-shirt from the ‘Shirley Can’t Surf’ shop.
On Friday we headed out, looking forward to ending our day anchored outside of Fort Matanzas. We had stopped there on our way south and had looked forward to being there in warm weather, the beach nearby had looked inviting and Christopher had really enjoyed the fort. As well, my friend Margaret was on vacation nearby and it seemed a good location to meet. There would be parking for her and it was a short dinghy ride to shore.
Well, Friday didn’t quite go as planned. Our first interesting event of the day was when we were boarded by the Sheriff. I was at the helm and was a little surprised when their boat sidled up and he told me to keep going and that he was coming aboard. Feeling a little rattled I was happy to let Dave take over and I went to welcome our surprise guest. Seems they were doing a marine sanitation sweep and just wanted to check that our holding tank was in order. He went below and flushed dye into the head (toilet) while his partner drove their boat along side ours to see whether the dye came out from our boat. We were fine, they gave us a little form saying all was well and he jumped back onto the police boat to accost the next boat.
We made good time and were happy to be approaching Fort Matanzas by mid afternoon. As we rounded the bend in the river though something didn’t seem right. A boat that had been ahead of us was anchored in the middle of the channel. That didn’t make sense. I called to the lady on board to ask which side we should go around them for the deepest water as we were near low tide. She pointed but then we saw why they were stopped. Right where we were to turn off into the anchorage was another boat aground blocking the entrance. What to do? We went really slowly weighing our options. We looked at the chart for another spot nearby to anchor. Eventually we realized that we’d have to forgo this stop and keep going to St. Augustine. We were really disappointed. I got hold of Margaret by a really bad cell phone connection. St. Augustine was not going to work out for her. It was a really long travel day. Instead of the tranquil Fort Matanzas anchorage we picked our spot amongst the many livaboard and transients boats anchored south of the Bridge of Lions which is under construction. Dave who was tired as well, declared that it was still my birthday and took care of getting supper made. What a guy! Even though we hadn’t intended to get here now, the early arrival will give us time to get some errands done. The city is a very pretty one and the marina here will let those who anchor here use their facilities (showers, laundry, water, trash) for a $10 charge.

By The Way Side April 20-21

As we travel north we begin to say goodbyes to crews who are ending their trips in the south. Unlike Tiffany Rose which is completing her journey by heading home, many of the people we have met along the way are leaving their boats down south with plans to return again next year, and the next... This will let them begin their next trip already in the warm zone. It is funny to be bidding farewell to these new friends and wonder if and when our paths will cross again.
The last few days we have been back at Vero Beach taking advantage of the ease of shopping and other errands here. And of course the beach itself. We have had days of large, bone crushing waves pounding in and some time of more gentle, Christopher friendly waves. One time there was wildlife commotion in the water and the word “shark” spread along the shore. The lifeguards blew a horn and raised the “do not go in the water” flag. Turns out the action was from a pair of large manta rays fondly but awkwardly embracing with occasional fins poking out looking a bit sharkish. They kept the beach closed for a while not wanting any swimmers to get caught up in their activity.
Our rafting partners (the boat we are tied together with on the mooring ball) is Maggie M with Chris ( Christopher’s “same name” friend) and Divya on board. This has been great fun especially since we love to play guitar together in the evenings. And since we are tied at the hip we have been sharing our suppers as well. Dinner and music is a great way to end any fine day! We hope to connect again along the way as they head up to the Chesapeake Bay as their destination.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Retracing our steps with some new stops, April 16 and 17

Yesterday we had a shorter day as our destination was Peck Lake, a place we had wanted to stop at on the way down but didn't. You pull off the waterway, anchor, then a short dinghy ride to shore, and there's a path over a sand dune and voila!... a beautiful ocean beach. It's like a little bit of paradise so we had to stay another day.
Retracing our route like this we are being surprised continually by bits of information that Christopher noticed and remembers from the trip down.

We came up to one bridge and he reminded us that when we were coming down that bridge had a problem and could only raise one span. Another one he reminded us that we had gotten too close to it before it opened and that Dad had to back up. There are 85 bridges on this route!

There is a spot along this route that is 1000 miles from Norfolk. On the way down we did a celebratory "cheers!" when we passed the spot. There's no marker there or anything it is just something you can see on the chart. So we were getting close today when he reminded us about it. We did cheers again of course but then silently took a deep breath. Ok, 1000 miles to Norfolk then between 800-900 miles after that. Onward ho!

When we pulled into this anchorage there was a boat here that Dave and I thought we'd seen somewhere on the route down. Christopher pipes up " I took a picture of that boat on the way to St. Augustine." Now, he takes a lot of pictures, and those who have seen him in action will agree that I mean A LOT of pictures daily, so we were a little doubtful that it really was that boat and we've had so many travel days how would he remember that it was on the day to St. Augustine. "Show us" we said. It took him less than a minute of looking through his picture folders on the computer to say "There it is!"... and there it was, in the folder labelled "to St. Augustine, Dec. 2".

The beach was great fun to jump around in the waves and a joy to walk along a beautiful and totally undeveloped stretch of ocean.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Back through the bridges, April 14 and 15

We left Haulover shortly after sunrise on Tuesday morning and headed north on the Waterway towards Fort Lauderdale. Our original plan had been to head out of the inlet at Fort Lauderdale and sail the ocean to Lake Worth, thereby missing the numerous bridges that open on rigid schedules between these two locations. However our weather guru and travel advisor (Christopher) told us that the conditions were not right to go "outside". So, at Fort Lauderdale we continued up the Waterway with Dave and I thinking that we still could change our collective minds before the Hillsboro inlet not far north from there. As we neared there, the weather forecast was still not favourable so we resigned ourselves to the route of many bridges and kept going. Not too much later the skies opened up, thunder crashed and lightening flashed around us. Our advisor was right again.

Our timing for the bridge openings worked out well that day and we anchored when we got to Lake Boca Raton. We were pleased when we saw Chris and Divya on 'Maggie M' pull into the anchorage an hour or so later. Besides being excellent musicians, another attraction for Christopher is that Chris' full name is Christopher James as well, so he has started affectionately calling him "same name guy".
Wednesday we continued on and made it to the north end of Lake Worth. Chris and Divya showed us where to take the dinghy to shore and we explored the area a bit with them and traded stories over a supper out. Returning to the boats, the wind was calm which usually means a peaceful night at anchor. However, with no wind to make the boats all swing one way, boats were all meandering around often in opposite directions from each other, and we found the boat next to us that had no one on it kept getting too cosy with Tiffany Rose. With a gentle push (it was that close) it would meander away for awhile. I had this brilliant idea that we should sleep in the cockpit to keep an eye on things. Dave thought that a good idea for awhile, then wisely retired below. I was still convinced that I should sleep with one eye open so did so until the wind began to blow a bit and all the boats started behaving as they should. The other eye then closed but it was almost dawn. In retrospect we should have moved our anchor spot when we saw there was a problem but the decisions made in the middle of the night are often different from those you make in the light of day.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Easter Happenings

Yes - the Easter Bunny can hop across the water and land on a boat! On Easter morning an egg hunt around the boat with clues eggs and a couple of small gifts was in full motion. Christopher seemed to think this was just great. He read each of the clues and wandered through the boat looking for the things tropical easter bunnies hide. What we noticed is that a chocolate egg hunt in 80+ degrees results in eggs of a different texture! Depsite some gooey eggs the hunt was a success and we hope we don’t find any wayward eggs fully melted in some inconvenient spot later. Later in the day we hit the trails in the local park. While eating lunch by the water a spotted ray swam into our range and gave us a great show for about 15 minutes - see the video clip below.

Another highlight of the day was a potluck Easter supper aboard Tiffany Rose. The crews from Lucky, Whisper and Maggie M came over (see picture) and provided a fabulous spread of food and drink. In a crowd like this everyone has a story about something and so the evening was full of chatter and laughter. To top off our 6 days here, the next night all the same crews came over for an evening of music – The Concert on Tiffany Rose! Chris and Divya from Maggie M make great music together and we jammed into the night. The rest of the gang provided their voices whenever a song was played that they knew the words to…or not. Christopher was fully involved as well and made a few requests including a rousing rendition of Down By the Bay! Good choice sitting on a boat.

Thanks Chris, Divya, Sharon, Richard, Vic and Marilyn!!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Bakers Haulover April 10-11

This place has turned out to be a good spot for a few reasons. First it is a great anchorage, easy to get to shore and there are facilities available on shore to use. The water is nice, and swimming off the boat has become our preference, even though there is a very nice beach here. And then there are the people. Since we've anchored friends on other boats, Lucky, Whisper and Maggie M also arrived here and it has been fun to get together with them.
The other day we had a spell of good fortune. First, Sharon from Lucky graciously dinghied us to the University Campus and let us off to catch the free shuttle bus. But it wasn't running on the weekend. While asking around how to get to where we needed to go one bus driver provided us directions and we said thanks and began walking across the campus with our packs on for the two miles or so it would take. When we reached the edge of the campus this same bus driver was starting his route. He stopped the bus and waved us over and took us to town for free! Not sure what it was about our look but he thought we really needed the ride. Then when we got to the area we needed with grocery stores we discovered that the road was right beside the tracks and within minutes a very long freight train came barrelling along. Woo-hooo! Christopher hasn't seen one since we were in Ft Lauderdale in January. Heading north is good!

Shirley and I really enjoyed touring around the University - FIU. It is a beautiful campus and it is always a neat feeling being at a place that is energized by people learning. Christopher liked it as well because that is the spot we were able to tap into from the boat for an internet connection. He also found the sculptures on the grounds very intriguing and wanted a picture put on the blog. So there he is with one of the sculptures. During our exploring of the North Miami area we went through a nice natural area called Arch Creek Park and saw quite a few iguanas. This one posed for the camera!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Keys through the rear view mirror - April 8

Today it really felt like we are starting the journey home as we waved goodbye to the upper Keys and headed up through Miami. We spent the last couple of days waiting out 25-30+ knot winds at Crandon Park marina. We got fuel, water and a pumpout there. With the winds picking up we had a bit of difficulty leaving the pumpout dock. Shirley and I deliberated for quite a while figuring how to best get away and with the help of the attendant we slipped out of this awkward spot without hitting the other boat at the fuel pump. Whew! A bit later another boat came in and he was pinned to the dock. The winds were pushing that much stronger and even with the help of a few guys and three valiant tries he was destined to be there for the night. Luckily we had just tucked into our slip by then.
While exploring around here we came upon a police officer who was watching a very large manatee. It was quite a site in the clear water - over 13 feet long and covered with various forms of plant life. It also looked like it had quite a few motor boat propeller scars, it biggest enemy. Looking at the picture it is easy to see how the ancient sailors, after a long time at sea, saw these creatures as mermaids. Guess there was a different criteria for female appeal then...

Here we met some other folks who were just a week or two into their journey south. We sat around with them and gave them our "sage" advice on where to go and what to look out for. It was after this that Shirley and I looked at each other a bit amazed at how far we've come. A year ago the Green Giant looked pale compared to how green we were to all this cruising stuff. And now here we were confidently giving advice to other cruisers who have probably been sailing 10 times longer than we have. It was a good way to feel as we prepared to leave this area. Hmm - hope we actually gave them good advice. We'll have to check their blog...

Our departure the next day was marked by Christopher's concern about the wind and the forecast - he diligently listens to the forecasts and then authoritatively lets us know what is OK to do that day. With the high winds of late he insisted we get help from Kevon (who we met the here back in January, who also drove us to Miami the day before). Of course Kevon offered his assistance as usual, and our departure was smooth as silk.
We also said bye to the myriad of creatures that live around this park. There are about 20 ferrel cats that get fed by the cat lady. This feeding of course brings others. So at any time there may be 12 cats, 9 vultures, 10 white ibis and a rooster. All getting along very well it seems.

We slowly slid back into Biscayne Bay for our final glimpse of the Keys that we have become so attached to the last two months. Then we turned north under the Rickenbacker bridge and into the bustling Port of Miami. Tonight we are anchored at a beautiful spot off of Oleta River State park at Bakers Haulover inlet. We hope to hang out here to explore over the Easter Weekend.

Contrasts - April 5-7

We have been sailing back and forth around Biscayne Bay getting some final Keys experiences. We returned to Dinner Key to get laundry done and pick up a few groceries. Then we headed back to Key Biscayne to try a different anchorage called Hurricane Harbor. This is a neat little spot that is very well protected from wind and waves because it is almost totally surrounded by monster size estates. Here Richard and Sharon from Lucky came over for a highly competetive game of Farkle.

The next morning we set off to anchor for the day off of Soldier Key. It is a tiny Key sitting all by itself and too shallow to get close in, so we were actually anchored just out in the open water. It was a great place to jump in and swim with the temp up to around 90 again. The solitude of the water and the gentle lapping of the waves made for a very lulling day. With the wind picking up we decided to head back to Key Biscayne to anchor for the night. And it is the weekend - the start of Easter break here. When we returned to Key Biscayne we were greeted by a very different sight. Out on the sandbar extending from the Key were about 100 power boats of every size imaginable playing every kind of music. Party time!! All these boats were rafted together in different groups with sea-doos darting around all over the place. A very different view than we have been accustomed to the past few months and especially the last few hours of solitude. And then by the time the spectacular sunset was upon us the throngs (many in thongs) had dispersed and we were once again at a peacful anchorage with a couple of other bobbing sailboats.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Upper Keys Delights April 1-2

The sun and the wind came up together and we weighed anchor and opened the sails on a much brisker day. Christopher enthusiastically jumped into his role of turning the engine off to let the sails take over and then assume his position of helping to steer at the helm. Up Biscayne Bay we went, remembering how in February we discovered how fantastic a body of water this was to sail on. After anchoring off Elliott Key for lunch and a nap we headed for a more protected anchorage off of Sands Key for the night. There we met our friends on Lucky – another boat from Ontario. These brilliantly clear waters were calling us again with the temperatures still in the upper 80’s. Sploosh! We were in again frolicking with some fish watching us from the shade of the boat. Not sure what they thought of these shiny white bums! Sands Key also promised to have some interesting exploring available. So we put the motor on SeaJay 2 and wizzed to shore into a tiny little key-hole looking harbour. It looked intriguing with a path leading out to the ocean side. Only minutes down the trail a scene from a comedy thriller ensued. The three of us came scrambling back down the path full speed, arms waving and shouting as we were pursued by the fiercest swarm of mosquitoes we have seen. Without grace or finesse we flopped into the dinghy, shoved off and sped out of the key hole – never to return again! Another swim helped heal the wounds.

The next morning Sharon and Richard on Lucky invited us for a very fine breakfast of crepes with fruit. What a treat! We also got to realize that Sharon is an excellent artist seeing a couple of her fabulous sailing paintings. Later we dinghied over to Bocha Chita Key where we had stayed a couple of nights on the trip down. With the warm weather and water we took turns snorkeling in the channel that leads to the ocean. It was slack tide which means no current was running for a short amount of time. Otherwise the current could be too dangerous to be in. Christopher was content to wade around the shallows near shore and take pictures. Out in the deeper channel was an incredible sight. There were at least 2-3 or maybe 4 gazillion fish here. We have never had the chance to swim right through one of those huge round schools of fish – so thick that you could not see any light on the other side of them. Tres cool!

0 Degrees - March 31

After much discussion, deliberation and weather watching (still not great for crossing) we have decided to forgo the crossing to the Bahamas and begin the journey north. What a mix of feelings this has conjured up. For the first time since we left Lasalle Park marina in September Tiffany Rose is on a northern heading back to Canada. We bade Adventurous a safe journey and nosed Tiffany Rose out of the protection of the Key and into the ocean with a fine southeast wind pushing us north. With all sails up and the engine off we peacefully rode the waves and quietly reflected on where we are on this journey. Shirley and I can get caught up in our thoughts of making tough and emotional decisions and then –pow! Christopher brings us right back into the here and now. What a guy! Christopher began to rhyme off every place we stopped at on the Florida coast and how he was looking forward to seeing them again. Now we are able to seize the opportunities that this decision has created. Our journey down was a very chilly one and we quickly went through many fabulous spots, not able to fully enjoy them in the cold. The cold is long gone now (90 degrees F today) and these places are waiting for us. Our sail was great and we headed in from the ocean at Angelfish Creek (in picture) at the north end of Key Largo. Our planned anchorage being little Pumpkin Key – or as Christopher calls it – Halloween Key. It was a perfect stopping spot to swing gently on our anchor. We watched four other boats arrive – all of whom had departed from Boot Key Harbor the same day we did. After chatting with them a bit, a swim off the back of the boat, a BBQ steak dinner and the sunset blowing of the conch we all felt good about the real beginning of Part 3 – the journey home. A heading of 0 degrees.

Decisions on the Ocean - March 30

When we last updated we were getting ready to head out of Marathon- that was 4 days ago! As we have come to expect and are getting used to, the weather is really the one in charge of where and when we could go. So here we are on Monday having planned to leave on Friday. Finally we have re-entered the ocean and are heading east along the outside of the Keys. Since we’ve been in the Keys we have been able to do more ocean sailing because of the ease of getting in and out and the protection the large coral reef provides. We have been intrigued by the few small Keys on the ocean side where we could be anchored out in the ocean. So today we set off for a 50 mile stretch to Rodriguez Key – an island just off of Key Largo (in picture above). It felt great to be underway and going somewhere new after being relaxed on the mooring ball for over 6 weeks. Christopher is excited with the prospect that we are starting “Part 3” of our journey. The seas were fairly gentle and the wind was almost right on our nose, which meant we motor sailed most of the way. It was wonderful to spend the whole day gliding over the crystal blue waters being both excited to be moving on but a little sad that that part of the journey was over. By 5 o’clock we were tucking in behind Rodriguez Key where we met up with friends Jack and Alois on Adventurous. It was Alois’ birthday and so we went over for cake. And then the talk turned to our next major decision – can we make the crossing to the Bahamas still? Adventurous is going and we would like to travel over together. But they have a lot of time to cruise over there and we are now down to a very limited time since our journey north has to begin soon. Not only has it been long waiting for the weather to cross ( and tomorrow’s forcast has generally nice winds but possible thunderstorms and waterspouts!) we are also anticipating having to wait to cross back again. Had the favourable weather window come a week ago it would have been much easier. We need to talk long into the night…