April 1996 - Florida

1 April 1996   Key West, Florida
I woke up at seven o’clock and heard the chain rumbling.  I glanced out of the window and saw that we were facing south, so I assumed the rumbling was because we were swinging.  The rumbling continued, so I went up to check and “Oh My God”, we were DRAGGING!  We went and re-anchored on some nice, thick mud in 3.5 metres depth.  

We then went into town and, after a bit of aimless wandering, eventually found Customs and Immigration in the Federal Building.  We were directed to Customs. A female Customs Officer demanded to know if we had rung the 0800 number.  When we replied “no”, she demanded to know if we were aliens!  I bit back my reply of “well, we’re not from Mars” and timidly said “yes”.  She then ordered us to go to Immigration.  

The Immigration guy was really nice and cleared us with no problems.  We talked to an Agriculture Department officer on the phone, who was also nice.  When I admitted that we had some Mexican potatoes on board (it’s illegal to import any vegetables), he said “You will be boiling those and eating them for lunch, won’t you, sir!”  Of course!  The surly Customs lady had gone and we were cleared in by a really nice guy.  We had a quick chat about Cuba.  It seems that the US Customs would turn away any foreign flag vessel that has been to Cuba in violation of US Laws – thank goodness we didn’t go!  

We went for a walk around town.  We had to go to Burger King for brunch, of course!  The town is very touristy with hundreds of T-shirt and souvenir shops.  They have a couple of good chandlers near the town dinghy dock, but I couldn’t find the correct size of toggle for the baby stay.  By the time we’d finished in the chandlers, it had started to rain and the wind picked up as a front approached.  We went into a supermarket and waited a while but there was no sign of it stopping.  It was approaching five o’clock and we decided to start back before night started to fall.  

It was hell! 4-6ft breaking waves with 25-30 knot winds coming straight at us.  We put our life jackets on which kept us warm and gave us some security (thank God for the “stupid” U.S. Coastguard rules!)  A coastguard inflatable went past us and then came back to ask if we were OK.  We were wet through and getting cold, but I said we were OK.  It got a bit nasty when we were going through the gap between the two islands.  We had breaking waves and, at one point, we actually took off.  It took us about 30 minutes to get back to Glencora.  I must admit that I was scared.  

When we arrived back we found that an American boat “Eagle’s Quest” had dragged and were now level with us.  They were motoring into the wind.  After an hour, the wind began to drop but “Eagle’s Quest” showed no sign of moving.  I called them on the radio and eventually found out that they have only had the boat for 3 months and he “wasn’t sure if his wife could handle the boat in this wind ...”   I ended up going across and helping him to re-anchor.  They are a 50+ year old couple with a 40ft boat and don’t have much clue, but I was unusually sympathetic.  

When I got back to Glencora, I put out another anchor and we had a rough evening – we went to bed early!

2 April 1996   Key West, Florida
The wind dropped to N15-20 overnight and the morning brought blue skies.  Two small yachts were up on the beach of the island, but didn’t look too damaged.  We went into town.  I spent the morning in the chandlers looking at a portable GPS, an EPIRB, charts and other goodies.  Glenys took the boys to Ripley’s Odditorium and we met for lunch in Burger King.  

We went back to Glencora - after buying some food in case we leave tomorrow.  When we arrived back, I set to work “borrowing” a toggle from the mizzen lower shrouds and putting it on the main mast baby stay.  We will sail up to Melbourne without using the mizzen.

3 April 1996   Key West, Florida 
The wind is still N15-20, so we did school work and had a quiet day.  The weather looks good for tomorrow – a high pressure ridge is forming along 28°N stopping the next cold front at 30°N.  This should give us SE10-15 knots tomorrow!

4 April 1996   Key West to Dragon Point, Banana River, Florida (Day 1) 
Slow start - we got up at eight o’clock and got the boat ready to go.  We filled up with diesel and water. There were really vicious waves on the way out.  We were motoring into it and taking loads of water over the bow.  I guess it was the tide going out and the wind coming in.  

We slowly sailed until five pm, when the wind died completely.  I reckon we have a 3 knot east going current, so I ran the engine at 1100 rpm.  At nine o’clock, the wind was SE10-15, so I was able to turn the engine off and sail.  It was a wonderful moonlit sail all night, but we only averaged about 5 knots over the ground because of a counter current.

5 April 1996   Key West to Dragon Point, Banana River, Florida (Day 2) 
We finally hit the 3-4 knot Gulf Stream at about six o’clock this morning.  It runs in water deeper than 200 metres by the look of things.  The water was very turbulent for an hour, because the east wind was against the north-east flowing current, but it soon settled down as the current headed more northerly.  

We had a very peaceful day drifting along with just the genoa and the awning up.  We were doing 2-3 knots through the water, but 5-7 knots over the ground.  Glenys looked at the pilot for the  Intra Coastal Waterway and discovered that there aren’t many places to go.   I had a look and to my horror decided that she was right – I’ve become very slack about my navigation!  I had a half hour’s panic while I decided whether we should go further up to Cape Canaveral or continue slowly to Fort Pierce.  

With the engine running at 1400 rpm we were making 10 knots over the ground, so we would easily make the 158 miles in 16 hours.  But, what if we lose the Gulf Stream and hit a counter current again and what if the next front doesn’t stall at 30°N tomorrow as forecast and comes down to Cape Canaveral at 28°N 22’N.  Decisions, decisions!  

We decided to stick to the plan and go to Fort Pierce.  Surely we can find some place to stop on the Intra Coastal Waterway - as my Dad says, “Keep your bowels open and trust in the Lord”.

6 April 1996   Key West to Dragon Point, Banana River, Florida (Day 3) 
We had another pleasant night sail.  The wind picked up enough to sail at about nine pm and we drifted along pushed by the Gulf Stream.  We arrived at the Fort Pierce entrance to the Intra Coastal Waterway at half past seven in the morning, just as all the power boats were coming out for their day’s fishing.  It’s Easter Saturday today, so I expect that there will be lots of people about.  We took a right turn and then motored 40 miles up the waterway.  Very, very boring.  

The main problem was that we were travelling along a dredged channel, only about 100ft wide, with less than 5ft depth either side.  There were loads of power boats zooming about, so I had to spend 8 hours sitting by the autopilot to keep us on the right course.  I couldn’t do anything else.  

We saw dolphins in many places and at one point we circled some manatees frolicking in the middle of the channel.  Someone told me that they were probably breeding – it’s that time of year.  I took one photograph of a muddy brown body in muddy brown water and then gave up.  Some parts of the ICW were pretty, other parts very wide and boring.  I’m glad we didn’t go up to New York and then back down the ICW – it would have driven me crazy to do 1000 miles of this!  

We arrived at Dragon Point which is about ½ mile to the east of the main channel.  The depth of water was about 3 metres and the chart showed a shoal area to the south of the point.  I decided to cut fairly close to a marker pylon just off the point.  THUMP, BUMP, THUMP – we were aground!  We were about 20ft from the marker and stuck on a mud bank.  I tried to motor back, but we wouldn’t move.  I tried forwards – no chance.  I reckoned that our keel was about 1.5 metres but our depth sounder was showing 2.0 metres!  

A big Gin Palace was cruising by, so I asked them if they could help.  They tried to pull us off towards the south.  We pivoted a bit, but couldn’t get off.  I then tied the tow rope onto our Spinnaker Halyard and lo and behold, with much crashing below as we heeled over, we popped off.  After thanking the Gin Palace profusely, we motored through the anchorage trying to be unobtrusive and anchored off the Yacht Club. I put the dinghy up, had a shower and a beer to calm my nerves!  

We went out to the anchorage marina and asked about prices.  They charge $5.95/ft/month plus an outrageous $150/month as a live-aboard fee – that works out to $405/month or $13/day.  The transient daily rate is about $1/ft/day which is $30/day!  Anyway, we couldn’t stay there because the controlling depth is less than 6ft.  Our draft of 6ft 6ins is a bit of a problem,  The same company has a marina at Titusville which would work out to $345/month or $11/day and we can get in there.  We’ll probably go up there for a look.  

We asked if we could leave our dinghy there and got charged $2 for the privilege, apparently you get charged $2/day even if you go to the marina to buy fuel!  Live-aboards are treated as undesirables, one marina close by charges $10/day to leave your dinghy!  We walked down the road and went to Wendy’s for dinner – no beer and crap fast food.  We retired to the boat and collapsed.

7 April 1996   Dragon Point, Florida
Easter Sunday today, but don’t tell the children!  We’ve not had time to buy any Easter eggs – what horrible parents!  We had a nice quiet day.  I spent the morning deciding what we have to do over the next month.  I made a big ‘to do’ list which, as usual, made me feel happier.  I don’t intend to do everything on the list, but at least I know that I haven’t missed anything important.  It looks like we are going to have to go into a marina for a whole month – sod the expense!  

In the afternoon we went out in the dinghy.  We were told off by the sheriff for not having life jackets in the dinghy!  We went to the marina and made some phone calls to other marinas.  I only managed to find out prices of two which were both about $435/month.  We retired back to Glencora and decided to go further north to Cocoa and maybe Titusville tomorrow.  

I spent some time working on my latest business idea. I bought a computer magazine in Key West and it talks about this thing called the “Internet”. It seems that it’s the latest way of sharing information - people are setting up “web sites” that have all sorts of information on them and some people are selling things on their web sites. I’ve got this idea about setting up a web site for yachting and selling advertising.  We’ll also act as an “online” yacht broker and just charge the seller a fixed fee per month.  I’m quite excited about it so I’m going to buy some books and as many magazines as I can about setting up a web site.

8 April 1996   Dragon Point to Titusville Marina, Florida
We got up early and motored up to Cocoa.  A truly boring trip – the only break in the monotony was watching the clam fishermen scraping the bottom with wire baskets on the end of 20ft poles – the baskets looked like supermarket baskets but shallower.  We anchored off Cocoa and went to look at the marinas.  We were quoted $250 at one which seemed a good deal.  We went for a walk around the town which was lovely, but a bit twee.  We went and looked at the dock and saw the 5 mile fetch of water stretching to the north.  We went back to the office and yes, it’s hell in a norther!  

We motored on to Titusville and found that it was only $200/month and it’s a fabulous new municipal marina.  We had a quick stroll around and decided to stay.  Glenys put some washing in the launderette as soon as we had arrived – we were desperate!  We strolled around the small town, had a shower back at the marina and went out for a Mexican meal.  We pigged out and it was great.  We then went to a bowling alley – funny to watch Craig struggling with a 6 lb ball!

9 April 1996   Titusville Marina, Florida 
I got up early and went walk-about.  I walked down to a big mall about 3 miles away, back to the old town and then out to a music shop about 2 miles in another direction.  That’s 10 miles – we need a car!  Unfortunately, cars are about $50/day – it’s about $35 for the car and $15 for insurance and tax.  

I bought two books on the Internet and about six magazines – cost nearly $100!  I had to buy a 20lb propane container because I can’t get our camping gas containers filled.  We’ve managed for 4 years in some way-out places, but no chance in the good old USA – too many regulations!  I booked a clarinet lesson in a week’s time to get a check out – a bargain at $12 for 30 minutes.  

That’s more than you can say about dentists.  We think Craig needs a filling - only $80 for a check up and $60 to $150 for a filling!  The check up includes obligatory cleaning and X-rays – I’m afraid I got a bit stroppy about it all.  We had a pizza takeaway because Glenys had been hard at work scraping hatches and doing laundry all day.

10 April 1996   Titusville Marina, Florida
Glenys went shopping with Marion (and Dan) from “Dreamer”.  I spent the morning installing the new propane gas tank.  I’ve just put the tank on the side deck with a flexible hose.  I hope that we have enough gas in the camping gas tanks to get us to Bermuda, where I think I’ll be able to get them filled.  Glenys took the dinghy down and cleaned it.  We removed the main sail and No. 1 Genoa to get them repaired.  

I rang “Florida Online”, a local Internet ServiceProvider, told them that I was a British businessman and asked if I could go in for a chat. They seemed quite happy to talk to me, so I’ve arranged to go tomorrow.

There were manatees in the marina today.  When the wind is from the east, it blows grass into the marina and the manatees come in to eat it from the surface.  They lurk around under the pontoons and are very unconcerned about us humans - we were able to stroke their backs.  One had very deep scars, obviously from a propeller.