Tuesday afternoon we told the Harbor Master at Harbortown Marina that we will be leaving in the morning, very early in the morning because we planned on sailing outside in the open ocean instead of motoring down the ICW yet again. We wanted to leave early enough so if the weather was right we could sail all the way down to Ft. Lauderdale. He let us leave our slip while it was still light out and tie up at the fuel dock to fill up and be in an easy position to leave at our planned schedule of 5:30 A.M.
We are going to miss all our new friends we met at the marina the past month. They have been so generous to us lending us their car to provision for our trip and giving tons of advice. Our neighbors, Paul and Karen invited us to dinner last weekend to meet some of their cruising friends. These people have been everywhere all the way down the island chain, to Venezuela and Panama and many places in between. They were rattling of names of exotic place that sound familiar but we spent the next morning looking at the map to see where they were. They inspired us to expand our horizons a bit.
At 5:30 A.M. we left Harbortown Marina to exit the Ft. Pierce inlet and sail south. As we pulled out we said whoa!! even though we were familiar with the inlet, it was all together different in the pitch black. The new spot light was put to good use finding the markers and we made it out into the open ocean safely. I will admit it was stressful though. The winds and waves were perfect and we headed south as the sun rose.
It was a beautiful day to sail and it was especially sweet to not be motoring down the ICW dealing with all the draw bridges. Unfortunately the winds subsided in the afternoon and we were only able to make it to Lake Worth, but the best part was that we did two days of ICW motoring in one day of sailing with just the wind moving us south. We found a really nice anchorage in South Lake Worth to rest for the night.
The next day the conditions were too rough to sail outside so we left in the early hours to brave the MANY bridges in the ICW down to Ft Lauderdale. These bridges are on a schedule so that the car traffic over them can plan to not get stuck. Some open every half hour, some open at the quarter and three quarter hour and some open on demand. If the current isn't in your favor or you get stuck behind some slow boat traffic you may just miss the next bridge opening. This happens once or twice a day. You get to the bridge 3 minutes late and have to idle there for the next 30 minutes waiting for the next opening. We weren't the only ones at this bridge.
There is always something to see wherever we travel. This boat evidently had a bad day on the ICW.
We made it to Ft Lauderdale in mid afternoon on Friday and proceeded to look for a place to anchor. This is the time of year that many cruisers are trying to cross to the Bahamas and Ft Lauderdale is one places where they stage. There hasn't been a weather window to cross the Gulf Stream in some time so our worst concern was realized. Our three favorite anchorages were more than FULL with no room for us. Fortunately, as we were entering Ft Lauderdale there was an anchorage we never tried next to a place we sat waiting for a bridge to open. We took a run in and talked to a guy on the only boat anchored in it. He loved the anchorage and it was the right depth for us all around. Although it would give us one more bridge to go through when we decide to leave, we headed there to anchor.
After a good night's rest we woke up and spent the day getting Pearl ready for the potential Bahamas crossing window coming up the next day. Gayleen has turned into quite the sailor and is now ready for everything. Here she is testing out the safety harness that we clip on the boat if we have to leave the cockpit in rough weather to fix something on the deck fore or aft. I think she gets many style points for this move with the yellow tether going from the harness to the lifeline.
Pearl was ready to go mid afternoon and we noticed that several boats were anchoring near us. We came to find out that we scored a front row seat to the Ft Lauderdale Holiday Boat Parade that would go right by our anchorage that evening. It was sponsored by the Hard Rock Cafe and had many fully decorated sailboats and mega yachts passing by us with live entertainment for a couple of hours. What a treat!
So...after the evening fun we got to bed knowing that we were going to get up at 3:30 A.M. and get through three bridges to exit the Ft Lauderdale inlet and head to the Bahamas. The weather window to cross the Gulf Stream was short and had lots of uncertainty. We figured we would go out and see what it was like. If it was too uncomfortable to cross we would either head south to Miami for a better crossing angle or come back into FT. Lauderdale and wait for the next crossing window in 4 days to a week or maybe more.
3:30 A.M. came quickly and we raised anchor and made our way through the 3 draw bridges to get to the inlet. Of course, due to a strong current we missed the last bridge by a couple of minutes and had to kill a half hour waiting for the next opening. The 17th Street bridge opened, Pearl went through and we were on our way to the open ocean. We just needed to round one bend, go through the cruise ship turning basin and head to the open ocean. Just as we were about to reach the bend a small tug appeared right next to us and told us to keep to the left. Not knowing what he meant we rounded the bend and HOLY CRAP! there was a cruise ship in our face!! We could have spit and hit this thing!
Who brings a cruise ship into port at 5:15 A.M.??? Well after some more stress we passed it and thought we were in the clear only to see yet another cruise ship ahead of us entering the inlet!!!! I raidioed it but I guess they didn't care to respond to the flea sized sail boat that was heading towards it. Fortunately, we made it to deep water and turned south out of the channel before the next encounter with another beast.
It was a little rough heading out into the Gulf Stream but we were still in our comfort level and decided to go for it. Our previous crossings were so calm we were spoiled. Although this one was on the edge of uncomfortable it was uneventful and except for several face slapping wave baths and a few waves that tossed everything off the shelves down below we made it across to Bimini in 8 hours.
After a couple more curve balls like yet another cruise ship sitting exactly across the Bimini channel entrance that we had to pass super close to AND a freighter coming out that we had to share the narrow Bimini channel entrance with. It seems that we were being tested with all these challenges today.
Here we are in the clear blue waters of the Bahamas again waiting for our next weather window to make our way west to Nassau to meet up with Evan and Ashley. It's so nice to finally be out of Florida. It's also fun to see our friends at Brown's Marina that we spent time with last spring.
Time for bed...we are exhausted.