Arriving in Florida

1 April 2019   Highbourne Cay to West Palm Beach, Florida (Day 2)
At sunrise, we had fluffy white clouds with blue skies.  After 24 hours of solid motoring, we were pleased that the wind picked up to 15 knots from the south allowing us to finally turn the engine off and sail on a beam reach.  Later in the morning, we hooked a nice Dorado, which I gaffed and landed ok.  It bled profusely, so by the time that I’d subdued it, the aft deck was covered in blood – took me nearly an hour to fillet the fish and clean up the mess.  Glenys served Fish Tortillas for lunch, which was lovely. 

The Gulf Stream is very strong where it runs up the coast of Florida – we estimated that we’d have an average of 2 knots of current pushing us north.  It’s inefficient to steer into a strong current, so I used a bit of old fashioned vector navigation.  I worked out that our destination was 60 miles on a course of 305°. At an average boat speed of 6 knots, it would take us 10 hours. The 2 knot current would push us 20 miles north in 10 hours, so we set a course of 285°, aiming for a waypoint that was 20 miles south of West Palm Beach. 

Condos and Power Boats

Unfortunately, after only five hours of sailing, at midday, the wind dropped below 10 knots.  By this time, we were still 50 miles from West Palm Beach and had only seven hours of daylight left.  If we kept our average speed over 7 knots, then we’d have a chance of making landfall before dark, so instead of plodding along at 4 knots, we turned on the engine and went for it.

We maintained our heading of 285°, which worked out well, giving us a curved track over the ground and brought us out close to the inlet at West Palm Beach.  As we approached the inlet, there were some nasty looking thunder clouds building to the north of us, but thankfully, they kept their distance.

By 19:00, we were motoring into the West Palm Beach inlet and anchored at 26°46.02N 080°02.61W in 7 metres depth.  There are a few boats around us and scores of boats at anchor further south.  We’re glad to be here before dark.

2 April 2019   West Palm Beach, Florida
It was a lovely calm night and we woke to a gentle breeze from the west.  West Palm Beach is a busy commercial port and there are half a dozen big freighters and one huge cruise liner moored across the harbour from us.  The water-front next to our anchorage is lined with expensive looking houses, most of whom have small power boats moored or lifted out of the water.

We dropped the dinghy into the water and zipped across to the Riviera Beach Marina, where we found a dinghy dock.  I was expecting to be charged $10US to leave our dinghy there, but no-one seemed to be bothered.  The Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) is in an impressive, six story building right next to the marina.

The CBP officer told me that before he could process my clearance, I had to either use their “CBP ROAM” mobile app or ring a telephone number to obtain a clearance number.  I tried to explain that it was a Catch 22 situation - I didn’t have a SIM card in my phone, so I couldn’t access the internet or ring anyone, but he wouldn’t listen and told me that it was my responsibility to follow the correct procedure – very helpful.  I asked him where I could use a phone and he said that I “might” be able to use one in the office on the floor above.

Typical Waterfront Property

Despondent, we took the elevator up to the third floor, where a very helpful man showed us to a room with a telephone with a sign stating that the phone was for the use of clearing into the country.  I rang the relevant telephone number and was put through to a CBP officer, who told me that the other CBP officer should be able to do everything for me and point-blank refused to register our entry over the telephone.  I took Officer Caseries’ name and went back down to do battle.

The officer downstairs listened to my plaintive plea and said that he’d be talking to Officer Caseries.  I thought I was going to get caught up in office politics, but after a minute he came back and tersely took our passports and cruising permit.  He then grumpily started to type our details in to a computer.  I sat down and tried to look innocuous.  He stretched the process out to 30 minutes, but it didn’t cost us a penny to get six month visas.  We thanked Officer Grumpy and beat a hasty retreat.

Our next mission was to get a SIM card for our phone – we’re social outcasts without a phone and internet access.  We wandered back to the marina and asked in the office about somewhere to buy a prepaid SIM card.  The lady thought that we might get one in Walgreens, which is a drug store.  She kindly rang Walgreens, but they didn’t seem to know whether they sold SIM cards.  We decided to walk the 10 blocks to have a look.

The wide main road was lined with single-story, flat roofed buildings selling a diverse range of items. We saw couple of seedy looking bars with flashing Budweiser neon signs;  a T-shirt shop; a couple of “grill” restaurants advertising “subs” & “50 types of chicken wings”; and a Pawn shop.   We even saw a State Trooper driving past on his big Harley Davison - we’re definitely in America.  

Walgreen’s had a good range of prepaid SIM cards, so we bought one for AT&T.  I installed the SIM card and read the instructions.  I then bought a $65 card to top up the phone and buy an unlimited internet package.  All seemed to go well until I tried to register the phone and the top up.  Nothing seemed to work – the instructions told me to type in an activation code, which didn’t work.  The alternatives were:  ring 611, which didn’t work; ring an 800 number, which didn’t work; go online to the website, which the phone wouldn’t let me do – Catch 22 again. 

Anchorage at West Palm Beach

I needed an internet connection or a land-line to sort it out.  The staff at Walgreen didn’t have a clue, so we wandered off to see if we could find a Wi-Fi signal.  We ended up in a Publix supermarket, standing in their entrance foyer connected to their Wi-Fi, using Skype to ring the 800 number.  After waiting in a call centre queue for 5 minutes, a very patient lady helped me to set up an account and registered the phone on their network.  It was a stressful 20 minutes while Skype faded in & out and the supermarket’s background music made it hard to talk.

In retrospect, it was a good thing that I couldn’t do the registration myself because the expensive $65US/month, unlimited package wouldn’t have allowed us to use the phone as a “hot spot”.  This would have been a disaster because we wouldn’t have been able to connect to the internet using my laptop and Glenys’ tablet.  The lady told me that the best option was a $50US/mth package that allowed a hotspot – it only gives us 8GB at high speed, but that’s okay.

After becoming part of civilisation again, we wandered around the supermarket, bought a few things and retired back to the boat.  I had a quick nap and was still reading in the back cabin, when the boat suddenly & violently heeled over 30 degrees as a huge squall hit us.  Glenys had been watching the thunderstorm approach and had just attached the side panels and closed the hatches, when it hit.  We had winds of 40-50 knots and horizontal rain for 10 minutes – quite horrific.  Visibility went down to 10 metres and all the boats in the anchorage were heeling over at 30 degrees in the gusts.  Thankfully, the holding is excellent and no one dragged.

Within 15 minutes, the skies cleared and we were left with lovely blue skies and a 5 knot wind.  We invited Elvira and Alfons from “Murada” over for a few beers. 

3 April 2019   West Palm Beach, Florida
After breakfast, we had another long debate about the weather and how we’re going to get to Annapolis, which is still 900 miles away.  Today’s forecast is for north winds, while tomorrow and Friday will be west to south-west winds.  At first glance, it looks to be good to sail overnight (160 miles) up to New Smyrna.  However, there’s a huge area of thundery weather building up to the west of Florida tomorrow, which is forecast to hit New Smyrna on Friday afternoon.  

Up the mast to remove the VHF Antenna

After experiencing the gale force winds in the squall yesterday, we’ve decided to avoid all thundery weather so tomorrow, instead of sailing overnight, we’re going to have a long day sail to Vero Beach which is 62 miles away.  The forecast for the next week is for continuing unsettled, thundery weather, so we’re going to take it easy and slowly motor up the Inter-Costal Waterway (ICW), taking 10 days to get to Fernandina (about 265 miles away).

From Fernandina, we’ll sail outside along the coast to Beaufort, North Carolina, which is 360 miles.  If we get a good push from the Gulf Stream, that passage will take us 2½ days.  We’ll then have 5 days of motoring up to Norfolk and then there’s only 120 miles to Annapolis.  The Annapolis Boat Show starts on the 26th April and it would be good to get there to promote the sale of Alba, but unless we have perfect weather, I think that we’ll miss it. 

After our planning session, we moved our anchor because we were swinging within 2 metres of an unoccupied mooring.  I then went up the mast and checked that I could easily remove the VHF antenna.  The ICW has many bridges along its length.  Some are lifting Bascule bridges that open at certain times, but there are also fixed bridges, which should have a minimum clearance of 65 feet.  Our mast is 62.5 feet high including the tricolour light, but our VHF antenna sticks up 4 foot higher, so I’ll have to remove it when we start going up the ICW. 

In the afternoon, we walked to the Publix supermarket and bought lots of goodies that we’ve been missing out on.  We were very hi-tech and called an Uber to take us back to the marina – it’s nice to be back in civilisation.  In anticipation of the release of Season 8 of “Game of Thrones” later this month, we started watching season 1 with the intention of bingeing all seven seasons before we get back to the UK.  

4 April 2019   West Palm Beach to Vero Beach, Florida
The alarm went off at 06:30 and we upped anchor just as the sun rose over the horizon.  We motored out of the anchorage to find a huge cruise ship approaching the entrance, so we thought it prudent to get out of the narrow shipping channel and circle around for a few minutes.

Waiting to go out to sea

The tidal current was coming in at 2 knots and, despite there being no wind against tide effect, the sea was very lumpy as we motored away from the land.  We continued motoring at 45° to the shore to get out of a ½ knot counter current that was running along the coast.  

We made the mistake of listening to the local coast guard weather forecast, which errs on the side of mega-safety – “Small craft advisory … 6-8 foot seas … high chance of thunderstorms coming from the Atlantic … possibility of waterspout formation in local waters … Yikes!  We spent the whole trip warily watching every cloud approaching from the east.

In fact, it turned out to be a lovely day-sail with a 15 knot east wind putting us on a beam reach.  We passed underneath a ½ mile wide cloud lane, which gave us 20 knots of wind, but despite slowly following us north, it didn’t develop into thunderstorms.

We arrived at the Fort Pierce Inlet at the wrong state of tide and had to endure a 3 knot tidal current against us.  The 15 knot east wind and 4-6 foot swell were directly against the current, so the entrance was a boiling cauldron with 6 foot, very steep, breaking waves.  Our speed over the ground was reduced to 3 knots and the waves veered us around, heeling us over 40 degrees at times.   It was an unpleasant 10 minutes, but very entertaining for the tourists watching from the breakwater.

After we’d clawed our way to the ICW, we anchored in a very tight anchorage and I scooted up the mast, removed the VHF antenna and we were back underway within ten minutes.  We had two remorseless hours of motoring along the narrow ICW channel, following the marker posts.  After passing under two 65 metre high bridges (thankfully without hitting them), we arrived at Vero Beach Marina .

Also known as “Velcro” Beach, this is a popular cruiser destination where it’s easy to stay for a few weeks.  The municipal marina is in a channel just off the ICW and they’ve installed lots of very strong moorings.  The place is so popular that it’s normal for boats to raft with two or even three boats to a mooring.

Double Moored at Vero Beach

We were assigned to moor with a classic-looking, 50 year old, 36 foot yacht called “White Seal”.  There was nobody on-board, but we managed to dock without causing any damage.  Charlie & his daughter, Mary appeared 30 minutes later, so we invited them over for a beer.

5 April 2019   Vero Beach, Florida
Vero Beach is very cruiser friendly and even lays on a free bus to take cruisers into town.  We caught the 0945 bus, which took us along the beach front road and then across the ICW into town, dropping us off at the Publix supermarket mall.  We didn’t need anything in particular, so we just wandered around for an hour, bought a baguette and caught the bus back to the boat.

After lunch, Glenys took a big bag of laundry ashore to use the marina’s washing machines.  At the same time, she had her hair cut by a fellow cruiser, who is a retired hairdresser.  It’s the first haircut that she has had since we left the UK in October and it was a good one.

A huge thunderstorm came over the area and stayed until well after dark, so we abandoned our plan of going out for a meal and lurked down below, watching Game of Thrones. 

6 April 2019   Vero Beach to Cocoa, Florida
We dropped the mooring at 07:00 and motored out into the ICW.  It was beautiful and calm for the first hour and very pleasant motoring along especially because the first part was fairly narrow with the shore close to us.  There are lots of Ospreys nesting on the marker posts, so I entertained myself taking photographs.  

Later on, the waterway gradually became wider and more boring with nothing to see apart from a line of marker posts and lots of water.  We soon started a one-hour watch system with one of us on duty for an hour while the person could relax.  As the day wore on the ICW became busy with loads of small power boats buzzing around enjoying the sunny weekend.

Heart Attack on a Plate

There were no lifting bridges on the 45 mile route, so we made good time arriving in the anchorage at Cocoa at 14:30.  We dropped the anchor at 28°21.11N 080°43.12W in 3 metres depth.  The anchorage is about ¼ mile from one shore and ¾ mile from the other shore, so there’s not much protection, but the weather forecast is for fairly light winds. 

At 17:00, we braved the 2 foot wind waves and went ashore for dinner.  The only place to leave the dinghy is by a boat ramp, tying alongside a concrete wall, which was taking the full brunt of the wind waves, so we were a bit reluctant to leave the dinghy there and sure enough when we arrived back, the abrasive wall had worn through two thickness of our dinghy cover.

We went for a stroll around the cute “old” town of Cocoa, which has lots of bars and restaurants.   After a beer in an “American” bar, we walked to a Mexican Restaurant.  I’ve been looking forward to having an “American” Mexican meal, so I ordered a deluxe combo plate – Taco, Chilli Rellano, Tamale, Enchilada, Refried Beans and Mexican rice all smothered with melted cheese.  It was a huge meal, but I managed to stuff it down – Glenys had a Taco Salad that was equally huge.

We waddled back to the boat and watched a couple of episodes of Game of Thrones.

7 April 2019   Cocoa to Titusville, Florida
After a leisurely breakfast, we decided that there was no point in staying at Cocoa, so we upped anchor and motored 15 miles past the Cape Canaveral Space Centre to Titusville .  We anchored to the north of the mooring field at 28°37.77N 080°48.38W in 2.8 metres depth – we’re getting very blasé about shallow water.

Cape Canaveral

We spent most of the day doing research about the ICW north of here.  We still plan to continue up the waterway to Fernandino Beach, but there are some sections that are shoaling due to sand and mud movements near some of the inlets and we’re going to have to be careful.   The weather is so unsettled at the moment that there are only very small weather windows, so we’re thinking that we might also need to use the ICW between Fernandino Beach and Beaufort in North Carolina.  

Unfortunately the section from Fernandino Beach to Cape Fear has some very shallow sections with depths less than 4 feet in places.  This will make it a challenge for our 6’8” draft.  Even if we use the tides, we’ll probably be restricted to about 4 hours travel each day.  That’s only 20-25 miles per day and with 500 miles to go to Beaufort, it would take 20 days – if we can sail outside then it would only take 4 days.

After much research, it appears that we might be able to make it through the section from Cape Fear to Beaufort, which is about 100 miles, but that looks very fraught in many places, so we’re hoping that we’ll have the weather to sail that section outside as well.

In the evening, I was getting annoyed by a kind of high frequency rattling.  I checked all the halyards and the bimini side panels, but couldn’t pin down where the noise was coming from.  Glenys noticed that the noise seemed to be coming from below rather on deck, so I opened one of the bilge hatches to have a listen.  Sure enough the noise was very loud beneath the floorboards and we eventually decided that it was Barnacles or Shrimp on the hull making the noise – thankfully they went quiet after dark.