Truckin’, The Grateful Dead
“Measure twice, cut once” When we moved across the river to a bigger place with a dock, I too late found the dock was too narrow by six inches for our boat. The solution? Buy another boat. This began a 3-month long quest to find “the perfect boat”. I heard the story of the man who never married. When asked why, he would reply, “When I was young, I decided I would only marry if I found the perfect woman.” Someone asked, “And you never found her?” He said, “Actually I did, she was perfect in every way.” “Well why didn’t you marry her?” “The problem was, she was searching for the perfect man”.
So, although a boat may be well suited for your intended use, I have yet to find a perfect one. We settled on a 34-foot trawler with most of the things I wanted. It lacked a steering station inside and twin engines, but it was safe, solidly built, about the right size for chilling at anchor or the dock while moderately fuel efficient to cruise up and down the river or ICW.
It was one of the first models I looked at, but we never found one in good enough condition to pull the trigger. Eventually we found one 30 miles south of our new place. Financing and closing took much longer than usual and by last Wednesday, my deposit had been in wire transfer limbo for several days and we didn’t know when I could actually take possession of the boat.
I have a local area code Google voice number on the website. I got a call from a desperate captain begging me to take over a delivery of a 36’ sailboat “Whidah” from near our home in Stuart FL some 120 miles down the coast to Dinner Key Marina in Coconut Grove, south of Miami. He had to do another delivery and wondered if might take over for him. Without really thinking, I said yes.
For some reason, I thrive on tight schedules and uncertainties. I was waiting to hear when my deposit wire reached the seller before I could pick up the 34’ trawler we just bought in Palm Beach Gardens. The repair yard didn’t know for sure when Whidah would be ready to go. Weather was just OK for but that has never been a serious factor for me, I usually go unless the weather is impossible. Waiting for the perfect weather window may be a long wait.
My good friends Sue and Glenn volunteered to help me not really knowing what they were signing up for. I asked them to pack a bag and get some food for a 3-4-day trip. Ideally, we would have west winds 10-15 and have a leisurely sail outside near shore with little waves and enough winds at the right angle to sail all the way. Instead, we had 10-15 from the south which makes directly sailing south impossible or impractical at best. Motoring down the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW aka “the ditch”) became our only option.
Whidah was loaded with sails, sail bags, lifejackets, boxes of miscellaneous cleaning and lubricating fluids, tools, etc., rigging, a small window air conditioner, a hard dinghy lashed to the foredeck, a spinnaker pole, and covers for all wood trim on deck. I was nearly impossible to walk below deck and difficult on deck.
The diesel fired up and we slipped the lines at 4:00PM on Thursday. We motored to a fuel dock, topped up the tank and headed to the ICW. A few miles later we attempted to raise the main. The slides were small and difficult to thread especially when one hasn’t done it on this system before. We did get it up though and the wind was east of south enough that we could motor sail and gain a knot or so of speed.
The ICW presents several challenges, it is narrow, windy, has shifting currents, is sometimes crowded with boat traffic, and frequently blocked by bridges that open, some on request, some on a schedule. It’s bad enough during the day but doubly challenging after dark. Some aids to navigation (floating buoys and signs on fixed posts), aren’t lit and hard to see.
We reached Jupiter and got confusing information on the radio as to when or if the two bridges would open. While distracted by the chatter, I briefly touch bottom at the edge of the channel. Fortunately, between the sail and the motor I was able to slowly get off. We were following a large catamaran sailboat and made it through the first bridge without problems. The second only had one span open making it have the normal width. Boat traffic complicated the passage, but we made it through. I found what seemed like a wider spot in the channel and decided to take the sail down. As hard as it was to raise, it was even harder to bring down. I tried to keep the boat pointed into the wind to help the process but that made steering towards the shallow water. Another complication was the lever linkage to shift in and out of forward gear was extremely hard to move. I was worried it might break not allowing us to shift at all. I ran aground a second time during this maneuver but again got off and got the sail down.
Between Jupiter and Palm Beach there were several large homes a few of which were beautifully left with Christmas lights.
After two more opening bridges and another 10 miles and 2 hours later, we arrived at Lake Worth Inlet and the Port of Palm Beach. There is a large and safe anchorage just beyond the inlet, so we deployed the anchor and turned in for the night. It was calm and smooth, but several items were clanging on board from the wind. I was too tired to address them initially as getting into and out of the cramped, berth was hard. A couple hours later I got up to relieve myself and fixed one of the two most annoying sounds. We woke up at first light and raise the anchor. The last several boats I've owned had electric winches or windlasses that allows you to press a button to raise the hook. This boat had a manual windlass requiring one to crank with a winch handle. It wasn't too hard and there wasn't much mud on the anchor so before long we were heading down the ICW again. I slipped and almost did a header the second morning as dew made the handle slippery. Fortunately, I just hit my shoulder on the bow pulpit, not my face.
This stretch has multiple bridges all of which are on the schedule none of which really work with a boat motoring at 5 miles an hour. Several times we reached one within a minute or two of the scheduled opening only to be told we had to wait 30 minutes until the bridge opened again with the current pushing the boat either back away from or towards the bridge and the difficulty in shifting into gear this made holding position hard. Still, we were able to make it.
The further south we went, the larger, more palatial, and more ostentatious the homes lining the “ditch” were. Most of the homes along the shore of Palm Beach or far enough away that they're hard to see but we did pass Mar Largo. Further South we went through Lake Worth, Lantana, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Boca Raton, and Deerfield Beach. Although the wind was still blowing pretty good, I thought it might be worth it to try to go out the Hillsboro inlet. Unfortunately, the waves were three to five feet and tossed our small boat around so much that I deemed it unsafe. We turned tail and ran back in the inlet. We continued to Pompano Beach, Lauderdale by the Sea, and finally Oakland Park and Coral Ridge. Judy and I had spent three months near here seven years ago, so I knew the area well. We anchored across from Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, just North of coral Ridge Yacht Club. Two 200-foot motor yachts crowded with young revelers playing music at full blast shared this anchorage. Fortunately, they got tired or went on to bigger and better places and the anchorage became still. The wind had died to nothing and the banging had stopped so we got more rest this second night.
We set our alarms for 6:30 in time to get up and raise the anchor in time for the 7:00 AM opening the sunrise bridge. 15 minutes later we were at the Los Olas bridge and didn't have to wait long for it to open. In addition to the larger and larger homes there were also larger and larger yachts. 200-350-foot boats were the norm. $10, 20, $30,000,000 maybe? Probably10 to 20% of that a year to keep running with crew insurance fuel dockage etc. I somehow missed career day when the told how to get a job paying enough to buy one of these.
Then it was on to Lauderdale Marine where we topped off the fuel tank got our first coffee. We hadn’t figured out how to light the stove. Since the wind had died, we decided to go out the Port Everglades inlet into the open ocean.
The run outside from Fort Lauderdale to Miami is often one of the most pleasant. Especially when the seas are flat the weather nice. There was still no wind and the seas are flat calm. The water is a beautiful blue there was little boat traffic except the occasional yacht making a big wake. A giant cruise ship was anchored off Government Cut. There was only moderate boat traffic going into the port of Miami. But once we passed south of it, the choke point was clogged with plenty of fishing boats, motorboats, and several large yachts. Still, it's a familiar passage and I had no issues navigating past downtown Miami under the Rickenbacker Causeway Bridge and onto Biscayne Bay.
I called the owner and he said that there was a change of plans and instead of slip 7 pier 3, I needed to go to slip 56. He texted me as we entered the Channel 2 dinner key and he said there was another change, and he didn't know where we needed to go. Finally, once we were inside, he said yes bring the boat to 56. We found it and docked the boat.
It was 12:45 in the rental car company closed at 1:00 PM. The owner gave me a ride and I got there at a minute till. Electric hurricane shutters were closing as I was standing outside the office. I knocked on the window the young lady poked her head out the door and said yes, we see you. Will get to you in a minute. Eventually a young man came out and pointed me to a two-seater Mazda and said this is the only car we have left I won't charge you extra for it. I said well that's a problem, there are three of us and we have like luggage. He thought about it for a while and then found a 4-door sedan with an ample trunk that needed oil changed. He gave that to me instead.
Dinner key Marina was severely damaged by a storm at least two years ago if not longer. I was there a year ago and construction was ongoing. They haven't really done much since then. Three of the seven peers are still unfinished, and parts of the parking lot are blocked off. Eventually I found a spot as close to the boat as possible but still a hike. We loaded the trunk up and headed to Palm Beach Gardens.
My phone had died just before I picked up the rental car and I planned to charge it in the car but there was no cigarette lighter or USB plug. I had shared the trawler sellers contact with Sue and we use her phone to contact him as well as navigate to the dock where the boat was located. We were hungry so we stopped and got a bite at Wendy's before meeting him at the dock. He gave me a ride to the rental car return, then gave me a quick lesson on how to run the boat. We loaded our luggage up and headed out.
Since it was Saturday night there was tons of traffic on the ICW making it a rocky, Olly passage. I made the decision to go out into the open ocean. We were reasonably close to Lake Worth inlet and they did out without problem. The winds were 10 to 15 out of the North. We were bashing into two-to-five-foot seas. The boat handled it better than we did; we had about 3 hours of that before arriving at the Saint Lucie inlet.
This can be a challenging inlet if the wind is out of the East and there is an outflowing current. Fortunately, with the winds out of the North it was a nonevent, but it was pitch dark. There were unlit marks there pointed to the deep water. Fortunately, I brought along a bright flashlight. Sue and Glenn were able to find and highlight the marks. Soon we were into the familiar channel. Less than an hour later I called the Roosevelt bridge. They opened on demand we felt our way up the River up to Bessy Creek and tied to the dock at our new townhome.
All in all, it was a fun and exciting if not tiring trip.