Thursday, November 19, 2015

Florida 2015 - Big Duck Gets Salty

Our Fall ‘15 trip to /Florida was a total success…well, except for the weather. It was in the 90’s for most days and we ran the air conditioning in the boat for much of the time underway.

We pulled Big Duck out of the back yard on 10/29/15 in spite of the recent rains that made the yard soggy. 
Puddles in the back yard making my dog Merlin wonder if Big Duck would be able to hit the road.

My wife's brother Doug and his wife Elaine towed their Parker 2120 down from Chicago to share the intended adventure. We headed the 700 miles to the St Lucie South Campground in Florida towing Big Duck in the company of "MokeeDugway". We’ve never been challenged staying in a Walmart parking lot overnight and one of them south of Savannah off I95 was no exception. The 350 miles or so to the Florida campground would be a nice easy run the next day.

There was a little confusion about how things would go when we inquired at the St Lucie South Campground guard station. The resolution was that we could use the ramp for $3 and leave our rig parked in the secure campground for up to a week. This was how we had things planned so we were delighted that it worked out this way.
Big Duck waiting her turn to splash at the St Lucie Campground Ramp
The ramp is on the freshwater side of the St Lucie Lock and quite friendly. We splashed with no problem and with the help of some of the campers who came to inquire about what we had just put in the water, Big Duck was manhandled around to the face dock with ease so we could get things aboard - including the wife in her wheelchair and the dog! We spent the night, rafted at anchor just above the lock - MokeeDugway and Big Duck raft every night and for every meal. We locked down 16’ after a peaceful night. Big Duck would now get her first taste of salt water.

MokeeDugway locking up in front of us.
 It’s about 15 miles from the lock to the AICW, but our late start didn’t give us much daylight for too more many miles. We hooked out on the south end of Peck’s Lake before sundown, watching folks jumping off the “DANGER - Keep Off” platform near a beach. 

I guess the locals need some reading lessons - the sign says "Danger - Keep Off"
 Later, a catamaran anchored nearby and dinghyed their dog ashore to the little beach there – probably hiking the ¼ mile to the ocean on the other side of the spit. Our stay was very peaceful. We could hear the comforting sounds of the ocean surf climbing the beach across the spit during the night.

We did 6 mph for most of the next day, passing Jupiter Inlet, 
Jupiter Inlet from the AICW
then finding a nice anchorage in the upper end of Lake Worth. I’m always amazed at the convergence of all that magnificent floating real estate in the area,

Mega Yachts line up like cattle heading to the slaughter on Lake Worth
but quite frankly have no envy. I can’t imagine any other boat giving me more pleasure at this stage of life.

The boat yards on Lake Worth were packed with all kinds of boats – 
Merlin looking at the floating real estate at the yards on on Lake Worth
from huge yachts to rag tag sailboats. We’d been one of those sailboats on earlier adventures years ago when we first took to living aboard…always looking for a quiet anchorage, do it yourself yard and a meal from below the surface. Those were the days when adventure ruled and our 27’ sailboat was the ticket to absolute freedom for the 3 years we lived aboard, providing bliss 24/7 from RI to the Caribbean.

Things are different now over 45 years later. We still crave the adventure but only if we don’t have to sacrifice comforts. The sailboat had no refrigeration or even running water and the only power source was a small battery for starting the 10HP diesel – but more often than not we hand cranked the motor because the battery was dead. Today, Big Duck not only has a generator, air conditioning, full galley with double sink, 4 burner stove, oven and fridge, but also stand up hot water shower and even a freezer on her aft deck – not bad for a trailerable houseboat that we also use for a camper on the road.

So after a leisurely run from the top of Lake Worth we rafted with MokeeDugway for the night on Lake Boca. We’d spent 3+ months on Lake Boca on our first trip to the Keys with the sailboat. My Mom and her boyfriend lived a little farther down the ICW and we visited regularly while we were anchored there. We’d occasionally run the Boca Inlet and swim on the ocean side. Suzy even got a job at a local deli during our stay back then. Things there have changed soooo much since our first visit. There’s a new higher-level bridge, a park with boat ramp and the vacant lot where we used to get ashore is now a marina.

We headed south the next morning, hesitating for less than a minute for the traffic to clear during a bridge opening at the south end of the lake. The run, to Lauderdale, brought back so many exciting memories…of our first adventure across the stream to Bimini. We’d leave after dusk for the 50 some miles, intending to see the light at Gun Cay in the dark, and then making landfall after sunrise. 
Suzy on Thora II @ Honeymoon Harbor on our first trip across the stream.
It was all DR - there was no GPS then. On later crossings we were blessed with a Radio Direction Finder to home in on the Bimini “ZBB” radio beacon. I built the RDF from a Heathkit and personally knew every resistor and capacitor.
Heathkit RDF I built from a kit.
 We thought this radio direction finder was the cat’s pajamas until we used it on the Chesapeake where there are about a zillion transmitters and it was saner to just use DR.

After a casual run down the AICW from Boca we started to get tangled up in boat traffic near the Las Olas Bridge. There were no less than 6 police boats directing marine traffic with channel VHF 16 advising of traffic patterns in the area. One of the police traffic boats directed us away from the bridge opening toward the Las Olas mooring field. I was surprised that there were zero boats floating on the moorings there. About the time I navigated to a place away from the draw to get under the span, the mega yachts were doing a 90° after they cleared the bridge, gliding into the mooring field. It didn’t dawn on me that these huge yachts were backing into slips at Bahia Mar for the Lauderdale International Boat show until I had cleared the area and was able to look back on the mêlée.

We still had some daylight but I thought it best to drop the hook at one of my favorite spots on the AICW for the night. It’s a shoal patch just off the ICW at the entrance to the New River. Here I get to spend the night on my 40-year-old houseboat in the presence of multi million-dollar estates and yachts…in the safety of 2’ of water. 

We could have made our planned destination of Hurricane Harbor or No Name Harbor, both @ Key Biscayne but it would have meant a more hurried return. This way we could enjoy the ride back up instead of feeling rushed.

The night was uneventful. After breakfast the next morning we all headed back north. All of our previous adventures on the AICW were either in a sailboat, which required a bridge opening, or with the cuddy so low to the water we could clear them all. We hadn’t experienced the bridge clearance issue on the way down with Big Duck – any bridge with questionable clearance seemed to see us coming and opened for our passage. We did note that the clearance that the fender boards showed was minimum and at least one bridge explained that clearance in the center of the bridge was up to 4 feet more. It was these factors that led us to ‘test’ our ability to get under the closed bridges with our 10’ air draft on the way north.

I’m not a fan of communicating on the water. I enjoy the solace of me just being responsible for my fate. I’ll take what comes or goes and just hang around a bridge or lock until it opens. I don’t want to talk to you about where I’m going or about you slowing for a pass – I don’t care. Our old boat doesn’t get jostled by wakes – she just does a gentle up and down, and I’m hardly going to bother you when I pass with my wake at 6 mph.

On the flip side, I do have a couple VHF radios. A permanent mount below at the main nav station as well as a ‘plugged in’ handheld nearby. Even though the permanent mount is a modern scanning rig, it is just set on channel 16 or 13 or whatever we find more interesting... The hand held is set to communicate with anyone we boat with – usually on 69 – and talk there is held to a minimum. If I’m piloting from the flybridge I take the up hand held on 69 and can maybe hear 16 from the one below. There’s a lot of talk about blaming someone else for our fate on the water – running aground because of a missing marker, an inaccurate chart, some ahole running us out of the channel, too much wake for our liking, the weather, the current, the commercial traffic, new shoals in the channel, too many ignorant locals, uncooperative bridge tenders, the list goes on and on for the whiners. When I’m out on the water it’s my fate and I get to be totally responsible – it’s the only place I really have this joy in the silence.

We snaked under all the bridges on the way up until we got back to Lake Boca. I’d get on the flybridge and slowly approach the closed span. Some closed bridges required that I duck below the venturi windscreen or I’d bump my head with only inches to spare. The bridge at the south end of Lake Boca was the exception – I just couldn’t risk it but it’s so low that there’s always someone else waiting to get through. It opened in a matter of minutes.
This pic was from a previous adventure but the clearance on the ICW was similar on several closed bridges.

We decided that Mokee should drop an anchor relatively early at Lake Boca where we would stay for the night – there was no rush. But it seems as always that someone else always comes along and spoils the view.
Disgusting how 20 scantily clad girls can come along and spoil the view.
We enjoyed the sights, smells and sounds of the waterway the next day to Manatee Pocket where we rafted for our last night at anchor. I’d used the ramp there at the Sand Sprit Park on many previous occasions and knew the area was anchor friendly. We spent a very pleasant night there after being advised by a coastie that we needed an anchor light while were spending the night in 2.5’ of water 5 feet off the beach?
Make sure you turn on your anchor light here while spending the night!
 Bittersweet day… we ran the 18 or so miles to the St Lucie Lock. Took a ride of about 16’ up, then tied up at the campground in preparation for putting the boat on the trailer. Locking is always kind of a traumatic time for me – needing to do everything myself, but the lock tender there is a great fellow. We came in port to, as did our friend in front of us, and when he saw my stern closer to the lock wall than the bow, hustled back and threw me a stern line. After I got the stern tied off and ran forward, he accurately heaved the bow line to me…made me wonder why I was so anxious about locking?

Getting the boats on the trailers required about the normal effort, but I was jealous of the Elaine’s enthusiasm in making things easy for her skipper.
Elaine jockeying the boat to the center of the trailer while Doug hollers out the window. Merlin never misses a chance to get his paws wet.
 We parted ways with Doug and Elaine at the park. They had about 1,400 miles to get home while we decided to head west across Florida to do a surprise visit to Merlin’s twin brother Niko, in Cape Coral. We didn’t know if anyone would be home there, but decided to take the chance.

We texted Niko’s mom, Cyndi, when we were about a half hour away…she was home but in disbelief that we were in the area. By the time we arrived it was dark and coincidentally Cyndi’s husband Gary drove up from work as we approached the house. We had a very nice visit with the humans while the puppies enjoyed each other’s company. We were invited to spend the night after enjoying a home cooked meal and a ‘sundowner’ (or three).
Twin brothers - Merlin and Niko.
 The trip north the next morning was routine. We Wallydocked just off I10 for an easy 350 miles the next day. We had to leave Big Duck in front of the house when we got home because rain had left the lawn soft and slippery. It was three days later when we finally got Big Duck home in the boat port behind the house.

A fantastic trip with the only failure a winch strap that popped the threads on the hook while I was snugging her up at a gas station on the way home. And my failure to check the circuit that charges the trailer battery from the tow vehicle after rewiring the trailer. I had inadvertently blown the fuse during the rewire and the battery died en-route and refused to power the electric trailer winch on retrieval.

Big Duck went almost 200 miles at 6 -7 mph and averaged a little over 2 mpg. The van towed the boat for about 1,400 miles total - the van gets about 8mpg towing. I replaced the fuse and sewed up the strap - now we're ready to go again -- as soon as the yard isn't mud.

1 comment:

  1. Great narrative Jeff. Loved reading every word. I'm super glad you had such a great trip! What's next?


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