It all started as we motored down the ICW towards Ft Lauderdale. Even though we had Pearl fully provisioned to cross over to the Bahamas we knew the weather wouldn't allow for a safe crossing for many days. Several years ago we visited some friends that had their catamaran tied up on the side docks at the Riverwalk in downtown Ft Lauderdale and we thought it would be fun to stay there in an urban setting. We called the marina there and they said they had room in Cooley's Marina and to come on in. During the next hour as we motored south we researched our cruising crowd sourcing tool, Active Captain, to get the details on where we were going only to find out that Cooley's isnt the bulkhead side tie that makes for easy docking in a river current, it has slips that are perpendicular to the current and can only safely be entered at slack tide. Realizing we would arrive at full current and slack tide wasn't until after dark we cancelled our reservation and anchored in Lake Sylvia.
The next morning we were drinking our coffee in the cockpit and decided that since slack tide up river was in about 2 hours we would call Cooley's Landing Marina and see if they still has a slip for us. They did!! So we prepared to raise anchor and make our way up the New River. What we learned through our crowd sourcing tool was that there are a number of challenges we might encounter on the way up the river such as:
- The New River is very narrow at places and it also has some very sharp and windy turns.
- Three draw bridges and one railroad bridge in a 3/4 mile stretch.
- A humungous tour boat called the Jungle Queen goes through and takes almost the whole width of the river in places.
- There is one of the world's premier megayacht service marina upriver and mega yachts are constantly being towed up there with a tug boat on each end because they are too big to navigate the turns, bridges and currents on their own.
- Just before one of the draw bridges is some kind of pumping station that shoot a strong jet of water sideways into the river and can turn your boat if you are next to it waiting for the bridge to open.
- It can get very busy on weekends with hundreds of smaller boats cruising the downtown
waterfront enjoying the sights.
So, we were prepared with all the potential challenges and ready to go. Even with all the preparation, in the back of my mind I knew that sailboats are very difficult to maneuver when motoring in small confined areas. Additionally, it was a Sunday so we were expecting a lot of random small boat traffic. I told Gayleen that I had a funny feeling about this short trip but lets raise anchor and go for it because it will be over in about 20 minutes and we will be enjoying a nice Sunday afternoon at the Riverwalk.
We started up the New River and the first thing we noticed was that it was hard to understand anything on the radio. Boats communicate with every draw bridge on channel 9 and in Ft Lauderdale there are transmissions for about 10 bridges going on simultaneously. On a busy Sunday it was a jumble of noise and people talking all over each other. How was I going to talk to the bridges I needed to go through? The other hailing channel 16 wasn't any better. Next came the constant swarm of small powerboats all around us going in every direction like a bunch of annoying gnats. I could feel this wasn't going to be your normal kind of trip. But maybe that would be the worst and we would get through the bridges easily and relax. That wasn't meant to be!
The first bridge is in a narrow part of the river just past a very sharp bend. I was told to radio the bridge as I approached the bend and before I could even see the bridge. I radioed the bridge " 3rd Avenue bridge..3rd Avenue bridge..this is inbound sailing vessel Pearl". In between all the other conversations going on and all the static I hear "Go ahead Pearl, this is 3rd Avenue" then the conversation went like this "we are inbound just on the other side of the bend and would like to request an opening"...."OK Pearl, hold there because the railroad bridge upriver is just opening and I will open as soon as the boat traffic gets here"
Holding a sailboat in one place is hard enough but to do it in a narrow river with all kinds of boat traffic..oh my! I idled Pearl and we slowly drifted towards the side of the river. Realizing that I would drift into the seawall I decided there was enough room to do a U turn. We turned Pearl the other way and killed a minute slowly going the other way until we had to turn back upriver. Next on the radio in between all the other bridge squawks and static we hear "Inbound sailboat this is 3rd Avenue bridge. We are about to open but wait there and let a motor yacht pass you before coming through"..great! another hold!
We were doing good and the motor yacht appeared as it rounded the bend and I realized we would be fine and it had enough room to pass us. That would be easy and then we could finally get through the bridge. But that was not to be! There is a call on the radio known as a "Securite'" call. This is when there is a potential hazard to navigation in the area. As the large motor yacht is passing us I hear on the radio " Securite', Securite'..this is the Jungle Queen outbound through the 3rd Avenue bridge..all concerned vessels be aware and we will be standing by on channel 16". OHHH Crap! That's the humungous tour boat and its coming through the opened bridge heading our way. Now we have to hold here again near the seawall for it to hopefully pass us? Will we both fit? Before I could radio them back, the Captain of the Jungle Queen could evidently see our mast over the trees from the other side of the bend and radioed us " inbound sailboat, this is the Jungle Queen..please pull to the side and hold your position until we pass". A few seconds later we see this HUGE ship come round the bend heading right for us. I was certain we both wouldn't fit side by side in this river. Somehow in a blink of an eye the Jungle Queen turns slightly and does a spin type move pivoting right around Pearl like it has done this a million times. PHEW!!!!...visions of an up close encounter with a couple hundred tourists quickly faded and I cranked Pearl up to full speed and made it through the first bridge.
Isn't the Jungle Queen pretty...when you are sitting in your slip!!
At this point I was overwhelmed with sensory input so I'm not sure what Gayleen was thinking. All I could see was a narrow river with lots of small traffic and turns heading to the next bridge. The small boats didnt worry me too much. If they hit Pearl, they would probably just bounce off and Pearl wouldn't even notice, but they were a constant annoyance.
Fortunately there were no big yachts presenting a challenge for the next bridge. The bridge operator said " bring it on Captain and I will open as soon as I clear car and pedestrian traffic". We got near enough to the unopened bridge that we had to hold up and wait. As we were starting to enjoy the scenery I hear this water rushing sound and just to our right a huge blast of water comes shooting out from under a small building straight at our side. Pearl begins to spin from the sideways push. You have to be kidding me!!! This too??? Fortunately the bridge was opening at the same time and I was able to get Pearl out of the spin and safely through the bridge.
Once this flow gets going it becomes a small sideways river..
I was thinking to myself that this was like being in a video game where random things jump out and try to kill you as you work your way through a maze! Fortunately the railroad bridge ahead was in the open position and the passage through the last draw bridge was quick and easy. We pulled into our slip at Cooley's Landing and safely tied Pearl up. I gave Gayleen a high five saying "we made it!". She said her hands were still shaking. Being macho I said "that wasn't too bad" and she laughed pointing out that I couldn't even pronounce the name of the last bridge on the radio because my voice was trembling. It was over, we were safe and survived what has been our biggest challenge to date. We constantly remind ourselves of a conversation we had with some long time cruisers when we first started. They said "Don't worry so much. Something wrong is always going to happen. If it didn't, then you would have nothing to talk about". Note to self....sailboats are meant to sail in open ocean, not navigate narrow rivers!
Pearl settled in at Cooley's Marina with Gayleen's signature pose
Being in downtown Ft Lauderdale is a fun experience. The Riverwalk is a beautiful urban setting with many restaurants, shops, theaters and outdoor entertainment all around us.
There is a constant flow of mega yachts passing by our stern as we sit in the cockpit. This is a relatively small one. In the second photo you can just see the small tug that is tied to the stern to help it navigate the river.
And there are interesting local inhabitants.
Although we were provisioned to go to the Bahamas we have learned over time that cruising is the journey and not the destination. During our first year we were always rushing to get somewhere and we found we missed a lot of interesting things and places. We were enjoying ourselves in Ft Lauderdale and a unique opportunity presented itself to us so we decided to pass on the first weather window to the Bahamas and stay a while. The Bahamas will still be there and we have plenty of time to cross over but the opportunity to meet up with some special friends we haven't seen in years was something we couldn't pass up.
Many years ago Gayleen and I met at a ski house I was a member of called the Snowball Inn at Killington ski area in Vermont. We not only met each other, we met a group of amazing and adventurous friends that continue to stay in touch through each other or at annual get to-gethers. It has been several years since we had the opportunity to meet some of them in person and it turned out that several of them were going to be on a boat coming through Ft Lauderdale a week after we arrived. We couldn't pass up this opportunity to see them.
Two of the owners of the Snowball Inn, Captain Jim and his first officer Paul are on a power catamaran named Joint Adventure doing what is known as The Great Loop
The Great Loop is a trip where they left Boston, went up the Hudson River, through Lake Champlain, through many rivers and canals in Canada, through the Great Lakes, down the center of the U.S., around the Florida Keys and are heading back up to Boston after a visit to the Bahamas. The trip is done by many "Loopers" and takes a year to complete as you time it to be south in the winter and north in the summer. Here is a link to their blog if you have an interest in learning more.
I had been exchanging emails with them as they have been doing their travels and we always said how fun it would be if we ended up meeting each other along the way. Most of the time it looked as though our plans would have us miss each other, even to the point of perhaps Pearl traveling out in the ocean to Miami as they traveled inside up the ICW on the same day. There is a bridge in the ICW that is too low for Pearl's mast between Ft Lauderdale and Miami so we have to sail outside in the ocean, which is fine for us, but for them the scenic and easy route in the power cat is on the inside. With a small adjustment in our schedule and theirs they arrived last Saturday and Joint Adventure tied up to the docks just on the other side of the bridge from us. The reunion was actually happening!!!
We toured each others boats and picked up our friendships where right we left off several years ago catching up on what each of our families were up to.
After some shopping and touring and scoping out a restaurant for dinner we decided to have dinner at the Pirate Republic where Gayleen and I had our Anniversary dinner earlier that week because it was stellar. Even the menue is cool.
Of course Captain Jim and Carly had to pose with the Pirate's parrot.
The owner of the restaurant wasn't too keen on providing a table for a group of 11 on a busy Saturday night but Captain Jim worked his wonders. Jim is the master of coordinating group activities and every one of them turns into some type of adventure. It wasn't long before the owner of Pirate Republic was telling us how he sailed around the world twice, bringing us into the kitchen to give Jim a large bag of ice and showing us pictures of the ship he built on his office wall. Maybe its was because the owner, Jonathan, and Jim looked like brothers.....or it was because they both looked like Pirates!
When we arrived that evening for dinner, the owner welcomed us and set us up with a prime table and made sure our dinner experience was amazing.
The whole experience was magical and we were sad to have to say goodbye the next morning as both boats continued their adventure.
Just when we thought it was time to make a move I get a message from my niece in New Hampshire saying that they are flying into Ft Lauderdale in a few days to go on a cruise out of Miami. Maybe we could meet up? Until we moved onto Pearl we used to see them every Thanksgiving and Christmas and we have missed that tradition. How could we not stay to see them? The day before I warned them to bring warm clothes because it was going to be 40 degrees here the night they came in. Chrissie replied .... thats 45 degrees warmer than it is here in New Hampshire!! Good point. They arrived late in the evening, came to visit Pearl and we had a chance to go out to dinner with them.
We were trying out some potential new crew members. My niece's two daughters Sadie and Sophie did a great job of making Pearl's deck attractive as well as going forward to read the water even in the dark! However, they mutinied and left because they had a better offer on the Disney Cruise Ship the next day.
Right now we are relaxing and looking at the weather and a couple other things to decide what the next move for Pearl will be.
** special thank you to Audrey and Chrissie for providing many of the pictures for this post.