15 June 2015

Heading Off To The Bahamas, Annoying Questions & The Importance Of Biceps

A little more than three weeks after we bought our new boat, the big day came and we left Indiantown Marina and headed off to the Bahamas for our shakedown cruise. There were lots of bridges, a lock, some drama, changes to plans and a way too much motoring. Probably a typical day making your way down inland waterways.

Our starting point, Indiantown Marina, is located along the St Lucie Canal on the Okeechobee Waterway in southern Florida. If you turn right when you go out of the marina, you can carry on through Lake Okeechobee and all the way to the Gulf Coast. If you turn left, you head out towards the South Fork of the St Lucie River and up towards Stuart. From there you can turn onto the ICW and make your way to the Atlantic Coast. We turned left. Or port, if you want to get all technical about it.

Source: NOAA
Just after we got out of the marina, we encountered our first set of bridges. Compared to our old boat, our new boat seems so tall. As we just bought her, the last thing I want to do is decapitate our boat by knocking off her mast as we pass under a bridge. I guess I'm just not good with spatial perception, because I was 100% certain we were going to hit the Indiantown Bridge as we went under it. 

Scott just looked at me like I was nuts and tried to patiently explain math to me, "If the height from the top of our waterline to the top of our mast is 48' and the height of the bridge is 55', which one do you think is shorter?" Doing math problems is too stressful when you think you're going to hit a bridge, so I just closed my eyes until we passed under it. We still have our mast by the way.

Right before the Indiantown Bridge, there was also railway bridge. Luckily, it was open so we could motor on through. No need to worry about trying to hail them on the VHF to ask them to open it. Another bullet dodged. 

After the first two bridges, we had a very peaceful trip down the St. Lucie Canal. I like the canal. It's like a wide road with plenty of room for two lanes of traffic. Even I can drive our boat down the canal and not hit anything. Or, worse yet, ground the boat. We passed the time looking at the houses along the way and wondering what the giant stone heads were all about.

And then we hit the St Lucie Lock. The thing I had been dreading most about the trip. I've never been through a lock. Yet another piece of engineering ingenuity designed to damage your boat. We hung outside the lock for a while with some other boats while waiting for it to be opened up to eastwards traffic. When we got there, the lockmaster had said that he would let us know when we were to proceed into the lock. The lock opened, the other boats behind us started inching forward, one of them told us we were supposed to enter, but we still hadn't heard anything on the VHF. A bit of drama as we eventually made our way into the lock. 

Once we got in the lock, they threw down two lines - one to me on the bow of the boat (the pointy front end) and one to Scott at the stern (the back of the boat). You have to hold on tightly to your lines and slowly let them out as the water level lowers in the lock. If you mess this up, your boat can go drifting out in the lock or scrape up against the side of the lock. I breathed a sigh of relief as the lock gates opened and we made it through unscathed. Everything was tickety boo. Or so we thought.

Before we left Indiantown Marina, we pestered Matt and Jessica from MJ Sailing with lots of annoying questions. Questions like, "Do you know a good place to anchor for free in Stuart?", "Where can we get diesel that won't cost us an arm and a leg?" and "Where can we get cheap beer?" They're a sweet couple and clearly someone raised them right, because they always smile, offer help and advice cheerfully even when they're probably wishing inside that we would stop asking them questions.

They're also smart little cookies because they know the answer to pretty much any question. If you want a free place to anchor near Stuart, head to Pendarvis Cove right across from Sunset Bay Marina. Get diesel at the North Palm Beach Marina right before you hit Lake Worth. And if you want cheap beer, pick up a some Imperial at the IGA in Indiantown. Only $3 for a six-pack, which works out to 50 cents a can. Yes, you read that right 50 cents for a refreshing 16 oz can of Costa Rican beer. 

When we got to Stuart, we checked out Pendarvis Cove, but the wind was coming from the wrong direction and we had never anchored our boat before, so we took the easy way out and picked up a mooring ball at Sunset Bay Marina for the night and chilled out with some beer and junk food. Not only did we get free WiFi, but we also got showers the next morning. Turns out it was our last proper shower for the next four weeks. My mother gets horrified when I tell her things like this. 

The next morning, we discovered our windlass didn't work. We were so excited that our boat came with a windlass. It's a nifty little device that does all the hard work of anchoring for you. It drops your anchor and chain and it picks it back up. You can just stand back and watch without straining your back or biceps. Kind of like watching the Olympics from your armchair. You cheer the athletes on, but don't have to break into a sweat yourself while you sit back and sip on an Imperial beer.

We had had a few problems with our windlass before we left Indiantown, but just when we were going to need it most, it up and died. It's a good thing Scott has strong biceps, because that meant he was going to have to suck it up and do all the anchoring himself. The anchor and chain weighs a lot, so better him than me is what I was thinking. 

Source: NOAA
After cursing the windlass, we set off (smelling fresh as a daisy from our showers, I might add) under some more bridges, up the St Lucie River and onto the ICW. This is when my role as Communications Officer really kicked in. Not only do I manage our blog, but I also get to talk to bridge operators on the VHF radio. It's a bit off-putting knowing that you're basically talking on a party line when you call to ask them to open the bridge for you. Especially when you end up saying, "This is the sailing yacht Tickety Boo requesting your next bridge opening." What's wrong with this sentence? I'll give you a clue, I forgot I was in the States and I called our sailboat a "yacht". 

In New Zealand sailboats are routinely called yachts, no matter what their size. If we had documented our boat in New Zealand, it would have been called S/Y Tickety Boo (short for sailing yacht). But our boat is US documented and we're using it in the States, so when a 34' sailboat gets on the VHF and proclaims itself as a yacht, everyone turns around to look for the mega-yacht making its way down the ICW. What do they see instead? A teeny-tiny sailboat with a crew of two and no movie stars on board. I sounded like an idiot. Eventually, I got the hang of things and started referring to our boat as sailing vessel Tickety Boo.

Despite all of the VHF drama, I have to say, I loved it when they would respond with, "No problem, Captain, I'll open the bridge for you now. Have a great day." There's nothing like getting a promotion from Communications Officer to Captain from a bridge operator. I still can't tie a bowline to save my life, but now I'm a Captain!

The trip down the ICW was pretty quiet and uneventful. As we headed out into Lake Worth, we stopped to get diesel and gas at North Palm Beach Marina. And then Scott spent an hour or so trying to get the windlass to work. No luck. So, we untied the docklines and went to find a place to anchor for the night in Lake Worth. We spent a good chunk of time checking the area out before we settled on a spot near a mooring field on the southern side of the lake. After trying the windlass one last time, Scott dropped the anchor by hand and we settled in for the night.

Source: NOAA
LOGBOOK NOTES | Sunday 10 May - Monday 11 May 2015

Total Nautical Miles - 51
Total Hours - 4 hours 45 mins  on 10 May and 14 hours 15 mins on 11 May
Anchor Up - Indiantown Marina, Florida
Anchor Down - Lake Worth, Florida
Stuff that Broke - The all important windlass!
Number of Locks & Bridges -1 lock and 12 bridges
Number of Groundings - Nil 

Next time on the blog...we head on off to the Bahamas and cross the Gulf Stream! 

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  1. Congrats on getting out. Reading your description of the locks, they suddenly don't seem as cool as I always thought they were. Can you use fenders?

    1. We did have fenders on the boat and I had a boat hook handy to push off the wall if we drifted towards it. It was weird to see all the water gushing in and out and how much force from the water there was inside the lock.

  2. I love that you took a mooring because you've never anchored before. We always anchor because we don't know how to pick up a mooring!

    Maybe that's going to change this afternoon though...I think we're going to try out the Boot Key Harbor mooring field in Marathon...wish us luck!

    1. Isn't that funny - it seemed so much easier to pick up a mooring ball than try out our new ground tackle for the first time on this boat. I managed to pick it up okay at Sunset Bay. We ended up picking up another mooring ball while we were in the Bahamas and Scott didn't realize he had left the boat going astern so it was a real struggle for me to try to haul it up while the boat was going backwards. You can be sure I'll remind him of this often :-)

      Good luck with picking one up in Boot Harbor. The nice thing about mooring balls is if you miss it the first time, you can always go around and try again (and again).

  3. Florida, Bahamas? you're in the land of shallow anchorages.
    And if even that is too much for you, then use your secondary anchor that's probably (.... I'm guessing here) 30 ft at most of chain with nylon after that.

    Who can't lift up an anchor from 12 feet of water?

    1. Oh, it's certainly doable. It just isn't a lot of fun to pull up a 44lb anchor that's well set and 40-50' of chain, especially when you're going against wind and sometimes current. We were looking forward to having our new-to-us windlass and testing it out on our shakedown cruise, so it was a disappointment when it broke straight off.

  4. That's really random that they have copies of moais from Easter Island, funny!

    1. I had to do a double take when I saw them. Quite unexpected on the St Lucie Canal!

    2. It was probably the Rapa Nui Reef Project.


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