Prologue.  Following is the record of our latest cruise.  I have been recording these cruises since the first one 40 years ago.  They now comprise a good-sized book of one family’s experience on the waters of the east coast from Nova Scotia to the Dry Tortugas and most of the Bahamas. 


As we and the family around us grow older, it gets harder and harder to throw off the lines and head off on a cruise.  That wonderful little gadget, the cell phone, can keep you in touch anywhere in the United States, but getting from some remote anchorage to a medical facility or to a relative’s bedside is still a nightmare.  While I am on the subject, you can still forget the internet when you throw off the lines.  Unless you have pockets filled with gold, you won’t get reconnected until you are tied up in your home slip.  TV is another problem that is commented on in boring detail later.  


Tuesday, May 15, 2007.  The latest family medical crisis having abated somewhat, we take departure from Fort Pierce on a pleasant day and cruise south to Stuart, Florida.  At Stuart, there is a beautiful, protected little bay called Manatee Pocket.  The Pocket is rimmed by marinas, restaurants, and private properties.  It is such a perfect anchorage that it has been necessary to limit anchoring there to three days.  There is even a West Marine here that you can reach by dinghy. 


As we head south, I am happy to find that both drawbridges that connect the lower part of Hutchinson Island with the mainland have been replaced by high rise fixed bridges.  Bridges are a bane on the life of the boatman, and being able to cruise through this area without interference is indeed a pleasure. 


The trip is uneventful, and we drop the hook in Manatee Pocket in the early afternoon.  We had considered tying up at the dock of one of the waterside restaurants, but a quiet dinner aboard and a good night’s sleep seems a much better deal. 


Wednesday, May 16, 2007.  The night has been blissful.  The only problem is that TV reception is not all that great.  We weigh anchor and head on down the ICW.  Soon we are in Hobe Sound.  The guidebook tells us that the barrier island that separates Hobe Sound from the Atlantic is so exclusive that you are not permitted to even enter the area without an invitation.  I don’t know… All millionaire’s houses look the same to me.


Jupiter and Jupiter inlet are soon astern and we make our way into the Palm Beach area.  The guidebook tells of a perfect anchorage just off the ICW so we go to check it out.  It is cozy, but it gives no room if the anchor should drag, so we go on to Lake Worth.  The north end of Lake Worth is a popular anchorage.  We have been advised that if we anchor on the west side of the lake, we will be visited by the marine police, and they will take information on the boat and owners, and levy a fee.  So we anchor on the east side and are not approached by anyone.  The anchorage is quiet, there is no one close to us, and we have a good night after a good dinner.  (Once again the TV is not very good, even though we are within a few miles of the transmitters in West Palm Beach.) 


Thursday, May 17, 2007  thru Sunday, May 20, 2007  The trip from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale is not that long, less than 40 miles.  But it is crossed by many low level bridges.  No less than 8 bridges would have to be opened to give us passage.  And most of them open on a fixed schedule, twice per hour.  It is much easier to go out the very large Lake Worth Inlet and cruise down the coast to the even larger Port Everglades Inlet at Fort Lauderdale.  This is the perfect day for such a trip.  Seas are 1 to 2 feet.  Our biggest problem will be from the wakes of some very large motor yachts. 


We get out the inlet and I set the Amberjack up to cruise about ½ mile offshore.  With the boat on autopilot, I toss a trolling lure overboard in the hopes that I can nail a Mahi-Mahi for dinner.  The trip is a pleasure.  My biggest challenge of the day was trying to identify Donald Trump’s beachfront house with the flag that has neighbors upset.  I think I saw it, but who knows, it may have been another hotel...  Alas, the fish aren’t hungry today and we get not a single strike.


In midafternoon, we enter the Port Everglades Inlet and make our way up the New River.  Every time I come here, it is like coming home.  For a year or two, we based the Amberjack at Cooley’s Landing on the New River.  Cooley’s is a city marina, and all the Fort Lauderdale city marinas leave little to be desired.  Cooley’s is in a park-like setting.  It is within a long walk of the major shopping district, Las Olas Boulevard, and a shorter walk to the River Walk Center.  There is a movie, several restaurants, and other shops.  The problem is that there is no grocery store nearby. 


I have had it with the TV situation.  We had a FollowMe device on the boat that would keep the satellite dish aligned while at anchor.  This unit proved to be very unreliable, and each repair was costly.  I spent more on that thing than a good satellite antenna would have cost me. 


The West Marine store in Fort Lauderdale is the largest I have ever seen.  I call them to see if they have a KVH satellite dish in stock.  Alas, no, they do not.  Their customer services tell me that if I order the unit by the end of Thursday, they can have it in the store on Monday.  It doesn’t take much for us to decide to stay over the weekend.  We rent a car and are able to go to some of our old hangouts.   


Monday, May 21, 2007.  True to their word, West calls in the morning with the news that the satellite antenna is in.  I pick it up and start the installation.  This should be simple, but nothing on a boat is ever simple.  In the late afternoon, it becomes evident that we should stay another night at Cooley’s. 


Finally, the installation is complete and it is time to enjoy satellite TV.  The manual (I read manuals) says that the unit should lock on to the satellite after a minute.  I turn the unit on, but all it does is whirr and growl.  No TV.  It is too late to call KVH, so I turn it off and we wait until morning.  Before the morning call to KVH, I turn the unit on to see if it works.  No, it does not.  I get a technician on the line and discuss the problem with him.  He recommends connecting my computer to the dish so that he can troubleshoot.  Just in passing, I turn the TV on again, and there is the satellite program, as big as life.  We finally determine that the unit was tested in Rhode Island, then shipped to Florida.  The elevation of the satellite in Florida is much different from Rhode Island, and it takes the unit a half hour to search the sky until the new location is found.  None of this appears in the manual.  So now we have satellite TV while in motion. 


Tuesday, May 22, 2007  Ft. Lauderdale to Boca Chita  We depart Cooleys and travel down the New River then on the ICW to Miami.  There are two bridges that have to be raised for us.  The first, Broad Causeway, is scheduled, but the second, Venetian Causeway, is supposed to open on demand.  When I request an opening, I am informed that Venetian Causeway is on a schedule.  So we wait.  Meanwhile, the wind has picked up out of the east and it is rather tricky holding the Amberjack in the channel, so we take a cruise up a side channel until the bridge opens.  I don’t know why this bridge needs to be on a schedule, as there is very little traffic over it.  I suspect some politician uses it, and that’s why it is scheduled. 

Soon we are in Biscayne Bay and heading south.  The guidebook speaks briefly of a small Cay called Boca Chita, so I decide to head over to it and see if it would be a good place to spend the night.  Boca Chita Cay is located south of Key Biscayne and north of Key Largo, in the string of small keys that form the dividing line between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.  Biscayne Bay and many of the cays form a national park, and Boca Chita is part of the Park.  Boca Chita was created from a mangrove stand in the late 1920s or early 30s when southeastern Florida was being overdeveloped.  The key was created by bringing in fill to a level of 17 feet above the former mangrove stand.  The developer installed a beautiful 65-foot lighthouse made from the native coral rock.  He also built a 2-story house, a generator building, a garage, and a very spacious pavilion, also made of native coral rock.  In 1937, it was purchased by Mark Honeywell, founder of the heating controls company.  Honeywell used the key as a retreat and party site until his wife, Olive, fell there.  She perished in their house in Miami a few months later from injuries suffered in the fall.  This caused Honeywell to be unhappy with the place and he eventually sold it.  Several other owners followed, the house disappeared, presumably in a storm, and eventually the US Park Service purchased the key. 


Today, the lighthouse, (which never functioned), the pavilion, and the concrete lined harbor remain.  There is a solar powered bathroom building, and several of the original outbuildings.  The house is gone.  There is a small beach on the Atlantic side, and campsites line the beach.  Part of the ocean side was roped off as a nesting site for sea turtles and birds.  Access to the harbor is via a channel that carries 5 or 6 feet at low tide.  The harbor is lined with concrete bulkheading with strong cleats.  There is a wide walkway around the entire harbor The key is populated with palms and other tropical plants.  The grassy areas are mown regularly.  This is a premium place to tie up overnight.  There is no water or electric available.  The dockage cost is $ 15 per night.  For us Golden Age Passport holders, it is $ 7.50 per night. 

When we arrive, the east wind is blowing a steady 20 knots with higher gusts.  I want to tie up on the windward side so we do not have to worry about fenders.  With shoreside help, we get a line on the bow, and it takes quite an effort to get the Amberjack warped in to get a stern line on.   Once fully secured, the full beauty of the place becomes obvious. 


Wednesday, May 23, 2007  Boca Chita  The wind is still howling, and so we decide to stay another night.  Thanks to the wind, there are no insects.  Boats start arriving and lining the bulkhead on the west side.  I soon notice that there are no women on these boats.  After 4 or 5 of these boats arrive, I begin to worry, but then a few heterosexual boats arrive and I feel better.  We are approaching the Memorial Day weekend, a time when a large part of the Miami boating community goes to the Bahamas.  But nobody is going to the Bahamas in this wind.  The seas in the Gulf Stream are 15 to 20 feet.  So most of Miami is going to Boca Chita.  It turns out that the all-male boats are part of a Miami Rainbow coalition. 


Thursday, May 24, 2007  Boca Chita  A couple of boats show up and tie up to the north of us.  They ask us if we would move further south, so their friends can tie up.  I reply that they can move the boat if they wish, but I am not about to attempt it in all this wind.  They apparently think better of it for they do not reappear.  The wind is steady and does not seem to be ready to abate for days.  So what, we have a secure tie up in a beautiful national park, so we stay for another night. 


Friday, May 25, 2007  BC  More and more boats pile in to the harbor.  I hold a discussion with Marilyn.  We either get out now, or accept the fact that someone will want to raft up with us.  Rafting up will commit us for the entire weekend.  We decide that we are in no hurry, and decide further that we will get something out of whatever comes along.  Hey, it looks like a party weekend, all we need is a gang to party with. 


It turns out that the group behind us, to the north, is the Homestead Yacht Club.  Soon enough, they ask if one of their members can raft to us.  We say yes, but at a price.  Shortly, we are temporary members of the Homestead Yacht Club.  These people know how to party.  The Friday night social at dockside is augmented with rum hurricanes that are “lethal.”  I guess I had a good time… I can’t remember much of it. 


Saturday, May 26, 2007.  Boca Chita  Saturday afternoon, they take over the large pavilion on the west side and put on a champagne barbeque.  Two ladies, who put me in mind of Phyllis Diller and Bette Midler, keep the group laughing non-stop, while the Commodore and his minions make sure no champagne glass gets empty. 


Sunday, May 27, 2007.  Boca Chita  No one is stirring much.  The revelry of the night before has everyone prone.  I get out and take a walk around the harbor.  By this time, there are more than thirty boats rafted two and three deep all along the harbor.  The posted park rules specify that there shall be no pets, and that no generators shall be operated between 10:00 pm and 6:00 am.  I counted about six dogs being walked and nearly every boat had a generator purring away.  Most of them could not be heard a few feet away.  There were three pocket cruisers, perhaps 25 feet long.  Each of them had a Honda portable generator off in the grass, purring away, with an extension to the boat. 


All in all, it was a whole lot of boaters having a great Memorial Day weekend. 


Monday, May 28, 2007  Boca Chita to Tavernier  The holiday is over, and our rafting friends depart.  We get underway and proceed down the Bay to Card Sound and Jewfish Creek.  Once through the Jewfish Creek Drawbridge, it is a clear shot down the ICW to Tavernier, on the southern end of Key Largo.  We opt for the Manatee Marina at Tavernier.  We’ve been a week without supplies, and Tavernier seems to be the best bet.  The water is really thin here.  Our props must be touching the mud.  Great clouds of mud fly as we move into a slip. 


The marina is a 15-minute walk from a small mall with a Winn-Dixie, a movie theater, and several restaurants.  We stock up with what we can carry.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007.  Tavernier, Key Largo  Pirates of the Carribean” has come out, so we decide to stay over another night and take it in.  The theater is very small, maybe seating 100 people, and all the seats are taken except for those in the very first row.  We watch the entire movie looking up at giants on the screen.  A quiet restaurant dinner follows.  The only negative is the 15-minute walk back to the boat in the dark.  We forgot insect repellant, and there are mosquitoes.  We dance and slap all the way.


Wednesday, May 30,   Tavernier to Tarpon Basin  We pull over to the fuel dock and take on fuel.  Then it is an easy run about 20 miles north to Tarpon Basin on Key Largo, just below the Jewfish Creek bridge.  We drop the hook and it immediately locks in.  I carry 200 feet of 5/16-inch chain followed by 300 feet of nylon rode.  Before this, I have never had a jolt on the chain, but this time, the chain brings the Amberjack up with a shudder.  I worry all night that the anchor may have gotten fouled in a wreck or something.  Still, it is only about 7 feet deep, so what can be down there?  The night is quiet and uneventful.  The evening weather report gives me the willys.  I tell Marilyn that it looks like the genesis of a tropical storm to me. 


Thursday, May 31, 2007  Tarpon Basin to Boca Chita  After breakfast, it is time to see what the anchor has gotten into, but it comes up quickly and squeaky clean.  It may have hooked a bit of coral, but we will never know.  The short run to the Jewfish Creek bridge is uneventful.  After a short wait, the bridge is opened and we are on our way. 


Things do not stay pleasant for long, however.  As we cross Card Sound, the wind pipes up, and soon we are taking an unpleasant sea on the starboard bow.  Once we are in Biscayne Bay proper, I veer over to the east to stay in the lee of the outer key chain and hence get smaller seas.  This puts us in line with Boca Chita key, and we decide to pop back in there for the night.  We get tied up and watch the wind steadily build through the evening.  The evening news tells us that the low in the Gulf has now been named Barry. 


Friday, June 1, 2007  Boca Chita to Dinner Key  Tropical storm Barry is in full blow at Boca Chita.  The wind is 25 knots sustained and gusting.  Still, we have had it with this paradise and the end of our cruise, which is defined by our having to babysit our grandson, is looming.  So we loose the lines and head out into the storm. 


Loosing the lines has gotten to be a highly practiced ritual to us.  First, we pull in the boat and get a waist line on tight.  Then I get off and release all the bow, stern and spring lines.  Then, when I am back at the controls, Marilyn releases the waist line and we are on our way.  Dock neighbors often comment, “You’ve done this before, haven’t you?”  It is nice to have helpful folks standing by, but they are not always there, and they can do the wrong things. 


Once out in Biscayne Bay, I hug the eastern shore, as the wind is really kicking up a nasty sea.  As we make our way northward toward Key Biscayne, the ride gets really bad.  This area is a 10-mile stretch of shoals and deep channels to the Atlantic.  Of course, the shoals break the seas, but every couple of miles there is a deep water channel that allows the tortured Atlantic seas to roll right through.  It is bumpy, and rain showers come and go, but the Strataglass enclosure on the fly bridge keeps me dry and the rolling isn’t too bad.  I aim for the lee of Key Biscayne and after an hour of bumping and grinding, we are in quiet waters.  Now all we have to do is cross Biscayne Bay almost due west and slip into Dinner Key marina.  With the seas squarely on our stern now, the westerly run is a piece of cake. 


Except for the charter boat captain who is headed north to Miami.  Somehow, he thinks he has the right of way, even though I am on a collision course with him from his starboard side.  Being the standon vessel, I hold course and speed, but I have one hand on the throttles and the other on the shifts.  The Amberjack passes about fifteen feet off his stern and he gives me a “what are you doing?” signal with the hands.  I grab the hailer mike and give him a piece of my mind, adding that he should take a Power Squadron course.  I sit down smugly and realize that the hailer is set to intercom.  Marilyn got the whole tirade at high volume in the cabin.  He didn’t hear anything.


We get tied up at Dinner Key Marina, which is run by the city of Miami.  It is a very nice marina, but it has the drawback of being vast.  It takes ten minutes just to reach dry land from the slip.  We are in the mood for a dinner out, so we hike to land and turn north.  Miami City Hall is right next to the marina.  Next to City Hall is a huge dry storage marina.  An employee of the dry store marina takes time to kindly give us a 5-minute orientation.  It turns out that right next door are two very good restaurants.  First is Scotty’s, and right next to that is a Chart House.


We wade through the rain and wind and enter the Chart House.  Our waiter there is a walking historian of the Chart House company.  We thought that the Chart House in the mountains above Denver, in Genesee, was the founding restaurant, but we were informed that the first Chart House was established in Aspen, Colorado.  The dinner was excellent, and the rain lets up a little as we head back to the boat.    


Saturday, June 2, 2007  Dinner Key  Tropical storm Barry is holding forth and about to make landfall it the Big Bend area of Florida.  So we decide to take another night at Dinner Key.  If we traveled, we would be in protected waters, but the wind would make piloting a full time job.  We go out and explore the Cocowalk area that is touted in the guidebooks.  Rainstorms are still passing through from Barry, so we take shelter now and then under awnings and overhangs.  Cocowalk turns out to be a Hooters, a couple of stores, and a multiplex theater.  We wander down Main Street a little further, but nothing interesting is discovered, so we go back to the Amberjack. 


Dinner this evening is at Scotty’s.  The meal is great until I discover that I have left my wallet on the boat.  There is nothing for it but to hike back to the boat and then back to the restaurant.  I left Marilyn as a hostage.


This area is steeped in history.  In the years when I was a toddler, this was home to the Pan American Clipper ships to South America.  Little remains of those glory days, but the immense hangars used for the amphibious planes are still there.  The largest are used for dry storage of small boats, but the smaller hangar houses a fine organic supermarket. 


Sunday, June 3, 2007  Dinner Key to Ft Lauderdale  In the morning I explore the bus system in the Coconut Grove area.  It is advertised as running every 15 minutes and free.  It says so right on the signs.  But when you get on the bus, after waiting 30 minutes, the driver requires a quarter.  It doesn’t seem to go anywhere of value to a boater, like to a shopping mall, but I am able to pick up a few essentials at a small Bodega.  On the way back to the boat, I discover the rather extensive fresh market, described earlier, within easy walking distance of the marina.  It has a vast supply of veggies and a fair supply of other things a supermarket carries. 


It is still blowing a bit, but the rains have ended and the sun is out, so we cast off the lines and head north for Fort Lauderdale.  We are awed by the sheer numbers of small vessels anchored or beached wherever shoal water can be found.  One particularly busy spot is the shoal water area at Baker’s Haulover, north of Miami.  This triangular shoal is jammed with anchored small boats.  Dozens of people are standing in the waist deep waters next to their boats, enjoying the Sunday afternoon.  It is also very congested and very few seem to know any rules of the road.  I decide that on future cruises, we will sit out the weekends and travel during the week, when the weekend warriors are at work.  I must admit that it is no worse than Barnegat Bay on a weekend. 


As we enter Port Everglades from the south, two Coast Guard boats go ripping out of the station headed into the most congested area of the city.  When we get up there, we find another shoal anchorage, but here, there is the bottom of an overturned small boat.  As with so many of these situations, we get no further information about the event. 


I do not want to negotiate the several miles of New River again, so we reserve a slip at Las Olas Marina, which is a city marina right on the ICW.  In the last quarter mile, I have yet another small boat coming right head on at me.  I’m about to sound the horn when a PA system pipes up.  It seems my 6-inch wake has incensed the local Kojak  So I slow down to a dead idle and go on my way.  The tie up at the marina is uneventful, but it is on the inside of a face dock that has a 150-foot yacht on the outside.  I must say that the crew of the Morgan Star were the most pleasant boaters I have seen in many years.  They were off that megayacht and taking our lines in an eyeblink. 


Monday, June 4, 2007  Ft Lauderdale to West Palm  The TV weatherman says it will be a beautiful day, but I take a hike up to the beach to get a first hand look at the ocean.  The breakers are all of 6 inches high.  This will be a good day to run outside and avoid those 8 bridges.  We pump the holding tank and get ready to depart.  Marilyn and I employ our standard procedure of singling up to one line, but once again the crew of the Morgan Star appear to help us off.  Nice people!!


We go over to a fuel dock near the 17th street bridge and take on some needed fuel.  The price gives me a shock.  $ 3.599 per gallon.  While we are fueling, two mega sail boats come by, one overtaking the other.  Despite the obvious vulnerable situation we are in, the rag wagon throws a 3-foot wake in a no-wake zone and causes a really dangerous situation.  So don’t tell me it is all power boats.  Where is supercop when you need him?


Once out the inlet, the sea is still calm, and we set the autopilot for the 40-mile trek to the north.  The fishing line goes out, once again to no avail.  As we move up the coast, the wind picks up a little and small seas start hitting us from the starboard quarter.  It is nothing much, but just enough to set the Amberjack to rolling.  It makes the ride a little less than comfortable, but we make the Lake Worth inlet in good time and are soon inside in quiet waters.  We travel on up to the north end of the lake and drop the hook.  This day is over. 


Tuesday, June 5, 2007.  We get an early start from our anchorage in the north end of Lake Worth.  We will do a decision when we get to Stuart.  If I don’t feel up to it, we will anchor in Manatee Pocket and finish the journey tomorrow.  If possible, we will just continue on to Fort Pierce and our home slip.


The weather is great this morning, and the run up the ICW is marred only by the many idle speed areas.  Still, we can make 5 knots and not make enough of a wake to upset anyone (except maybe a certain anal retentive marine policeman).  Jupiter, Hobe Sound, and Peck Lake fall astern and we are at the mouth of the St. Lucie River, the lower end of the Indian River Lagoon.  It is early, and we have only 20 miles to go, so we proceed north to Fort Pierce and our home slip. 


Epilogue  We didn’t do everything we intended to do, but then we never do.  We found a couple of superb places to hang out.  The boat performed excellently.  South Florida boaters really know how to have fun, but they need to learn more about the rules of the road.