The Great Bahama Banks

Friday, October 30th

We are crossing the Great Bahama Bank, on our way to the Berry Islands. The Great Bahama Bank is made up of limestone deposits that scientists believe was exposed to  air during the last ice age (meaning it was dry land), when the sea level was substantially lower. Today, it’s total thickness is almost three miles. The shallow waters of the bank extend southeast from Miami, in a broad curve about 330 miles long between Cuba and Andros Island in the Bahamas. The waters of the Bahama Bank are very shallow, no more than 80 feet; we traveled in 10-20 feet of water most of yesterday. However, it’s edge drops off very quickly into deep, deep water. Basically, it’s a huge sandbar in the ocean.

Our ride was very comfortable. We saw one little boat on the horizon, but other than that, the banks were ours. With no boat traffic and calm waters, there was little to no navigation to do. Scott took a hour or so nap (not in the cock pit), and we puttered around doing random things.

The Berry Islands anchorage that we’re heading for is a 14 hour run, which we cannot make with  daylight hours getting shorter. So after traveling for six hours,  we anchored in 10 feet of water in the middle of the banks…in the middle of nowhere. I mean nowhere. Nothing in sight all around us, and nothing on the radar for 36 miles….no land, no boats, no markers…nothing. Here we are on the chart (yes, Kirk, this is your chart!).

And here are our surroundings at anchor.

By the way, we are officially in the Bermuda Triangle…

Once anchored, we discovered some stowaways on our rigging. Two small birds had hitched a ride with us! By the time we saw the birds, I’d already let Howard out and he was up on the flybridge. Sure enough, when I went up to check on him he was in full stalking mode. I was terrified that he’d go over board, leaping to get to one (when we were at our slip in Baltimore, Howard jumped off of our bow and onto a duck..that was in the water!). Thankfully, they eluded him, and we eventually lost sight of them. However, they may still be holed up somewhere, as it’s a long, long flight to land for them.

The water was glassy calm, and we could see clearly to the bottom. Scott finally got in the water for a bit, and also dove down to check the anchor.

We spent most of the late afternoon sitting on the swim platform, dangling our legs in the cool water, Scott enjoying his Bahamian mango rum. Being in the middle of nowhere provided great star gazing later in the evening, and we got a great view of the milky way.

Scott took a flashlight, and shined it down toward the water, off of our swim platform. It attracted lots of little crabs and some sizable fish.

In the middle of the night, big rolling swells woke us up. Scott’s theory was that we were feeling wakes from ships traveling overnight to get to their destination in the morning. He checked the radar, but nothing showed up around us for 36 miles. The rocking lasted for a few hours before settling down. It didn’t knock me out of bed, but I stayed clear of the edge!

Tomorrow, we’ll anchor off of Great Harbour Key, in the Berry Islands. Photos from today.

Catch of the day: Seaweed

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Hel-LO Bahamas!!

After two frustrating, patient-testing weeks, we are in the Bahamas! We left our anchorage in Key Biscayne at 4:30 am yesterday. Waiting and delaying paid off. The winds and waters for our trip over were good, and we were lucky to dodge the many squalls that were in sight all around us as we crossed. A pretty sunrise greeted us in the gulf stream.

The day was mostly cloudy, but as we approached Bimini, the sun came out to welcome us!

We traveled through waters that were 2,600 feet deep! That’s approximately half a mile, and some of the deepest water we’ll travel in over the next few years.  And, I watched NBC tv , clear as a bell,all the way to the channel!

It wasn’t dead calm, and with the possibility of having to pass through a squall line, we put the paravanes out as a proactive measure. Here’s what I’ve learned about the paravanes: they are great at keeping our roll down when we’re in bigger seas that I’m not comfortable with. However, to put them out or bring them in, you have to bring the boat to idle speed. So now your “in neutral” in the same waters that made you want to use the paravanes! It’s a race for Scott to get them in as fast as he can, while we roll and flop.

We always try to put them out before conditions get too bad, and ideally we pull them in when we’re already in a harbor, or when the waters have already calmed. That’s not always possible though. We need a certain amount of water depth to put them in or out, and sometimes there is too much boat traffic in a harbor or an entrance channel is too narrow. Overall though, the positives far outweigh the negatives. I’m so glad that we have them!

So back to yesterday. We put the paravanes out ahead of wind and squalls. The squalls missed us, but because they were in the area the winds and water picked up (winds also tend to pick up in the afternoon). We were rolling pretty good, and glad that we had the paravanes out, but the options for pulling them in were low. The harbor in Bimini had the room, but not the depth. So I had to do my best to keep the boat into the waves (to avoid flop and roll) while Scott brought the birds in. As the wind and waves pushed us sideways, I had to put the boat in gear and “goose” the gas.

Once that was done, we entered the channel while the current came out and the winds blew in. When the two oppose each other, it creates a washing machine effect. So we had to work a bit to get to the finish line, but it was worth it!

Scott put a line in the water as we traveled, hoping to catch us some dinner. He had me on watch, so he could keep an eye on the line, and be able to hear it if something caught. I went to see how things were going, and here’s what I found…

Seriously?!? This is fishing? Now I realize that Howard is an avid fisherman..

No luck yesterday, which is good for me, since I’m the one who has to clean and fillet it (still have to learn that)!

After tying up in our slip at Brown’s Marina, we unloaded our bikes and peddled to immigration, followed by customs. They both went off without a hitch, and we now have a 60 day permit for the Bahamas. After that, we headed to Batelco (Bahamas Telephone Company) to get a sim card for my phone, so we could use it for internet data. Turns out, can’t use my phone, so we  bought a cheap one and put data on it. We can use this one now, as we travel to other countries.

Lastly, we went to the liquor store. There is a brand of rum here that you cannot get in the states, and Scott loves it. He bought two cases. Leaving only one bottle in stock between two stores; it took two trips on the bike. He purchased containers to bring with us, to act as rum tanks. They hold eleven bottles worth, needing far less storage! Now he’s set for his stay here. After that, back to mango rum withdrawal.

At our second stop for rum, I noticed a bottle opener tied to the checkout counter. The man in front of us bought two single bottles of beer, paid for them, opened them at the counter and headed out the door. As Scott was checking out, I decided that I too would like to take a single beer with me. I walked toward the refrigerated cases, but the woman behind the counter called out to me to get one out of the freezer. Freezer?! It was the size of a mini van, and full of beer. God bless her! My teeth hurt it was so cold! I was so happy, that I went back this morning, to get another before we left…and to get some pictures!

We gave Howard a chance to stretch his legs. He was anxious to get off the boat, once he realized that there was a pier next to us. I think he was eyeballing the boat next to us, and planning a boarding. He is now restricted to supervised outings with a leash, after his escape onto the 3 million dollar boat

By this time, we were starved. Big John’s was right next to our marina, so we walked over. Our dinner was terrific! Scott had grilled lobster sandwich, and I had fried snapper. Delicious!

We woke up to a beautiful Bimini sunrise.Today we’ll continue east, toward the Berry Islands.

Internet is great here, as we’re right ear a Batelco tower. I’ll post as I can, when I can get a good signal. A few photos

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Our Wait Is Over..Bahamas Here We Come!

As you may have guessed, we did not leave for the Bahamas this morning as planned. The winds in the ocean have finally changed direction, but haven’t died down to a comfortable or tolerable level (for me and Howard, that is).

Yesterday, we went to shore for a final (yes, final!) provisioning run. The shoreline on Key Biscayne is made up of private homes, condominium properties, and the local yacht club, so getting to shore with a dingy is limited. For 8.00, you can tie up to the wall at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park (a mouthful) and enter into Key Biscayne from there.

So, we loaded up the Aluminum Princess with ourselves, our two bikes, two bike baskets, three huge bags of trash, two backpacks and a soft sided cooler for cold items (also a partridge in a pear tree and the kitchen sink), I am soo upset with myself, for not taking a picture of this spectacle. Seriously, we looked like a band of gypsies coming ashore. I’m sure that the patrons of the waterfront restaurant were concerned when we tied up and started off-loading all off of that stuff. And, I’m sure that eyebrows were raised when they saw us go from trash can to trash can along the wall, stuffing our bags in and jamming the lid closed (they were smaller cans, our bags filled them right up…oops).

Once aboard our bikes, baskets in place and backpacks at the ready, we pedaled our way through the park and into Key Biscayne. HA! It was quickly clear that we were definitely not locals! I didn’t see another fold-up bike all day, and there seemed to be one Chevrolet for every 10 Lexus or Mercedes. The medians are immaculately manicured, and lined with palm trees that are lit from below in the evenings. We shared the sidewalks with runners and nannys with strollers.

Our first stop was Ace Hardware. Scott came out wondering how the little bag in his hand had come up to 50.00. On our way to Island Sporting Goods (turns out that duct tape and zip ties can’t fix everything..the flippers are toast), we past 7-11. There must have been at least 20 people inside in line for food; cheap eats, I guess. Scott got himself a new pair of flippers, and a big straw hat. I had to beg him to cut the tag off of it. It was bad enough that we were the island gypsies without him looking like Minnie Pearl. He finally humored me and cut the stupid thing off.

We then went to Winn Dixie with our “Oops, I forgot….” grocery list. It’s always hard to gauge how much is gonna fit in our backpacks and baskets, and how much cold space you have. I always expect that we’ll have to leave some of our food behind on the sidewalk, but it hasn’t happened yet. I was getting pretty hungry, but the line for prepared food was insanely long. Obviously, the local workers know where to save a buck. My idea of having lunch in town quickly abated. My stomach would have to growl it’s way back to the boat, and a lunch meat sandwich!

When we came out to the bikes, I ditched as much of the packaging as I could, lightening the load a bit. As usual, we made it all fit and left with both baskets full, as well as the milk crate strapped to the back of Scott’s bike. Each of us was wearing a backpack full of food and Scott had an umbrella that he’d bought sticking up off the back of his bike. Our gypsy look was complete.

We’ll finally make our crossing to Bimini tomorrow, leaving at 4am! Scott spent the day looking at weather and pacing in and around the boat. He’s so excited to finally go, after two weeks of waiting, I don’t know how he’ll get any sleep tonight.

The trip should take 7-10 hours, landing us there mid-day. This is our target time, so that the coral in the shallow waters is most visible for navigation. We plan to clear customs, load up on Scott’s favorite rum and purchase a sim card for internet data usage while we’re here, when we can find a good signal. After a night at the pier we’ll continue on, visiting the Berry Islands and Eleuthera over the next few weeks.

I plan to upload posts whenever we have good internet, so stay tuned for updates. As of our next post, Sea Life will be international (and so will Howard)!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Stiltsville, A Quirky Part of Florida’s History

Stiltsville is a group of wood stilt houses located on the edge of Biscayne Bay. They sit on wood or reinforced concrete pilings, generally ten feet above the shallow water which varies from one to three feet deep at low tide.

Crawfish” Eddie Walker built a shack on stilts above the water in 1933, toward the end of prohibition, allegedly for gambling, which was legal at one mile offshore. He sold bait and beer from his shack and was known for his crawfish chowder (made from crawfish that he caught under the shack). Shipwrecking and channel dredging brought many people to the area and more shacks were constructed, some by boating and fishing clubs.

Social clubs were built at Stiltsville in the 1930’s and 1940’s. When The Quarterdeck Club opened, membership cost $150.00, and was by invitation only. The club became one of the most popular spots in Miami, and it’s popularity grew after an article appeared in Life magazine, describing it as: “An extraordinary American community dedicated solely to sunlight, salt water and the well-being of the human spirit”. The club was described as “a $100,000 play-palace equipped with bar, lounge, bridge deck, dining room and dock slips for yachts.”

In the 1940s and 1950s, it was the place where lawyers, bankers, politicians, and Miami’s wealthy came to drink, relax and kick back. At its peak in 1960, there were 27 buildings. A local magazine wrote: “Off Key Biscayne is a renegade village on stilts where weekend residents live by their own laws.” In September of 1965, Hurricane Betsy destroyed most of Stiltsville.

In 1985, the bottom land on which the stilt structures sit was deeded by the State of Florida to the Federal Government as part of Biscayne National Park. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew left only seven buildings standing, none of which existed during the area’s heyday.

A non-profit organization called the Stiltsville Trust was established in 2003 and included the seven remaining leaseholders, called caretakers, and eight members of the community. In addition to raising funds, their goal was to preserve and rehabilitate the structures. Possible proposed uses included community meeting space, a visitor center and research facilities.

The park service has added hurricane strapping to protect the structures from wind damage in major storms. Caretakers still perform basic maintenance on their former weekend retreats, but the Stiltsville buildings are owned by the National Park Service and have been secured and posted with no trespassing signs. You can only access the buildings with the permission of the park’s superintendent.

Our anchorage is right near Stiltsville. We passed by it on our way south in 2008, and I thought the buildings and the whole story were really interesting. Since it was so close now, we thought it would fun to take the Aluminum Princess over for another look-see.

Even thought they’ve seen better days, the houses are still really cool

And they are just a stone’s throw from the Miami skyline

Most of the houses are now surrounded by coral and waters too shallow for even the Aluminum Princess. It was neat to get as close as we did. After doing a several loops around the more accessible houses, we motored back to Sea Life in time for Scott to get some great sunset photos!

Check out more pictures of the cool Stiltsville houses, and of the beautiful sunset that evening.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Yacht Invasion!

Little did we know that the area where we are anchored is a popular spot for yachts on the weekend. A very popular spot…for lots of yachts..

Including some very big yachts…

They came loaded with people and toys: jet skis, big inflatable slides and in-water trampolines. It was quite a sight to see them stream in and anchor, and then launch their passengers into the water for various activities.

Scott is finally getting some in-water time, despite his new nemesis, the moon jellyfish. They are the size of dinner plates! (I grabbed a photo off of the internet)

We’ve read that they give a “mild” sting, but he’s not planning on finding out for sure, scanning the waters around us thoroughly before jumping in.

Scott’s scuba fins have seen better days, but there’s nothing that can’t be fixed with duct tape and zip ties! At least until we get to Key West and purchase new ones.

Howard is enjoying naps in his latest favorite box, after thoroughly scratching up the back wall.

He’s also investigating the water more, spending time on the swim platform where the view is better.

We are enjoying our views of Miami’s skyline, both day and night.

The weather is good, and winds are finally, finally changing direction. Our current plan is to travel to the Bahamas on Wednesday.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Traveling To Key Biscayne

On Tuesday, our friend Mike Efford taxied us around for some final provisioning. Everything in the Bahamas is very expensive (except for Spam and mac-n-cheese, they are subsidized by the government), so we’re trying to take as much as possible with us. Last year, we purchased a sleeper sofa, and Scott took the bed out of it. The space left allows for tons of storage. We can even stuff things up into the back of the couch. Worth the extraction!

The boat is now packed and ready for the Bahamas!

Mike then drove us to dinner. His cousins joined us, and we had a great Italian meal while listening to some karaoke. Mike is a regular with the mic. He has developed quite a repertoire, and is really good! We closed both the karaoke and the restaurant, and were dropped off at the boat to rest up for our morning departure.

Yesterday morning, we untied the lines from our slip at Las Olas, and continued south, along the last stretch of the Intracoastal that we will see for the next few years. Our twelve days in Fort Lauderdale were so busy, we only had our feet in the sand for all of twelve minutes! More time for that later I guess.

Traveling this route on a Wednesday was very enjoyable. Much better than the last time we were along this stretch. It was a Saturday, and the boat traffic made it miserable. We went under eighteen bridges, but thankfully only had to have six of them opened for us.

Coming through Miami, we found that the last bridge that we needed to have opened for us is being torn down. A new, higher bridge has been built, and the old one is permanently open while they dismantle it. What a treat for our last bridge opening…no timing or calling the bridge tender! From now on, we won’t have to deal with bridges for quite a long time…yahoo! After an easy, stress free trip, we made it to our anchorage in five hours…a blink of an eye for us!

We are now anchored in Biscane Bay. Key Biscayne is off of our starboard (right) side

The Miami skyline is off of our port (left) side

We have mangroves off of the bow

And Biscayne Bay opens up behind our stern

We’ll be here until mid week next week, while we wait for winds in the ocean and gulf stream to subside a bit. Being at anchor is a nice change from 12 days at the marina. We’ll use the time to do some various painting and varnishing jobs. The internet is really good here, so we’ll do as much as we can while we have access to it.

The weather is warm, with sun and clouds. It is currently 87 degrees, and we are enjoying a “Florida” fall! A few photos during our trip south yesterday.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

The Aluminum Princess

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Aluminum Princess, here is her story:

In 2003, the surge from Tropical Storm Isabel damaged the boat we had at the time. While it was off being repaired, Scott was without a boat, and terribly upset about it. Our neighbor across the street sold him an open john boat for 100.00. Of course, Scott had to “upgrade” it, and after several phases, the Aluminum Princess was born:

A dashboard was installed, with steering wheel, radio with Ipod plug-in and of course…cup holders! There are also two comfy seats inside for us. Scott uses the handle of  the outboard to dock the boat, but all other steering is done from inside the pilot house. The speed is controlled with a cable that he installed, which runs from inside the pilot house back to the motor.

Scott has used this boat extensively. It took regular trips from our cove to Annapolis and Baltimore, and has spent many, many many hours on the bay in general. The Aluminum Princess has been to St. Michaels, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and back and has also made several trips out through the inlet at Ocean City, Md. and up into Delaware waters in the ocean.

For the last ten years, the Aluminum Princess has been used in all seasons. In the winter months, she is equipped with a portable propane heater and a sheet of vinyl that folds down in the back to seal the pilot house in, keeping it toasty warm inside. Scott regularly took her through the ice in our cove (she can break through ice up to four inches thick!) and out into the bay, where he shared the waters with only barges, Coast Guard boats, and an occasional sailboat. She was handy to have in early spring, when our big boat was still winterized. We would often take her into Baltimore for lunch on nice days. Even in months when our bigger boat was ready for travel, it was nice for Scott to be able to just jump in the Aluminum Princess and spend time exploring the waters near our cove.

Since our cruise budget did not allow for us to purchase something that Scott could use in the same way, he went about figuring out how to make the Aluminum Princess more cruiser friendly. Her sharp edges were not conducive to tying up next to rubber dingys, or the fiberglass sides of a boat that we may be visiting. After much thinking and research, Scott purchased closed cell polyethylene foam to construct a collar around the sides and roof of the princess. He installed a solar panel on her roof to power the boat, a depth finder and some navigation lights for night travel.

She hasn’t had any final water testing, as the last of the collar installation was done as we traveled south. But finally, here in Biscayne Bay, she got a maiden voyage with her new look!

All went well, and the collar has even improved her ride.

We will still keep our rubber dingy, which is now my ride! It’ll be good for just going to shore for quick trips and such. The Aluminum Princess will be invaluable to Scott for diving, fishing and long range exploring. She and Scott have covered many miles and hours on the water, and we can’t imagine this adventure without her!

Check out a video of her in action!

Here are more photos of the Aluminum Princess, and her transformation!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

In Sight Of The Bahamas, But Waiting On The Wind

Our hope was to leave Fort Lauderdale on Friday or Saturday, and make our way to Bimimi, in the Bahamas. Unfortunately, Mother Nature has a different plan. Here is the forecast:

Now the boat could more than handle this…me, not so much. Northeast puts us right into the waves, which means UP……and DOWN, and repeat, repeat, repeat for seven or so hours. ICK!
This isn’t anything tropical, but the result of a high pressure system being wedged in close proximity to a low pressure system. The winds squeezed in between become pretty fierce. On shore, we’re having 25 mph winds, with much bigger gusts, and in the Gulf Stream, it’s much worse.
The winds have blown the sand onto and across the street.
In some areas it’s worse that this, covering the entire street. There are still people on the beach. It has to be painful. The breaking waves go out as far as you can see.
It really picked up last evening, with winds howling all around us and constant noises from one thing or another being shuffled around by the big gusts. Currently here in our slip, things are pretty bumpy. It’s also affecting our large neighbors. When the big boats are moving around, you know it’s windy!

It appears that our next chance of getting out of Florida is the middle of next week…sigh. To keep from busting our budget here at Las Olas Marina, much as we’ve enjoyed our stay, we’re going to leave here in a day or so and head further south along the Intracoastal (yay, more narrow channels and bridge openings!!). The plan is to anchor in the Key Biscane area. We can anchor there for the next week, and head out to the ocean from there once things settle down.

On a Howard note: he went walkabout yesterday, jumping off of the boat and exploring other peoples’ (this was his “M-O” at our marina in Baltimore). I had to get him off our “neighbor” across the way, who is listed for sale at 3.3 million dollars! Scott was having a heart attack as I climbed on board to get him. Howard is now on lock-down!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Fort Lauderdale Tidbits

We have heard that Fort Lauderdale is referred to as the “Venice of America,” so we decided to spend a day on the local water taxi, taking it in. The water taxi service here is extensive, with several routes and transfers. We paid one price and rode all day, from 11am – 10pm.

We boarded the first taxi right near our marina and headed south, passing the mammoth preparations for the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. There are three miles of temporary piers being put in place at our marina, extending south through three more marinas. truckloads of pier sections are coming in several times a day, to be put in place by crane. The marina piers are extended north and south, and also west, into the Intracoastal, cutting the size in half! I cannot imagine the malay of boats trying to get through that shrunken path!

All of the boats currently in these marinas have to vacate, so that show boats can be brought in. It takes over a month to prepare and set up, and they tell us that it comes down in three days! The show brings in 300 billion dollars in boats, and half a billion dollars in revenue for the city. Scott and I would love to be in a hotel room in the area with a balcony, so we could watch the comings and goings. It’s got to be a zoo.

Farther south, we passed the largest boat currently in Fort Lauderdale.

Infinity is 287 feet long, and is rumored to have been purchased by the owner of a “Marine” hardware store. We were told that it won’t be near the largest when the show starts.

Just before the inlet we changed taxis, to catch one going south to Hollywood. We stayed at the marina there on our way north in 2008, and had planned to stay there again this time, but they were full. The taxi allowed us to spend some time on their “broadwalk,” made of concrete pavers.

The ride south was about 45 minutes, and took us past the Port Everglades and several parks. There were four cruise ships in port when we went past. We were told that in peak cruise season, there are more like ten docked here. Royal Caribbean owns the two largest cruise ships, that both dock here. They are currently building one even larger, and will keep that one here as well, bumping Port Everglades up to the largest cruise ship port in the world (edging out Miami).

In Hollywood, we checked out the new Margaritaville Beach Resort.It was really nice, complete with a margarita glass chandelier and a “blown out” flip flop.

There are several bars and restaurants, named after Jimmy Buffett songs, two pools; a “Flow Rider,” for waverunners and boogie boards; a spa; day care and of course a gift shop! Jimmy Buffett has one great marketing team! Check out the website.

After wandering through his resort, we were good and hungry. We wandered down the broadwalk until we spied the Taco Spot….sold! The food, and sangria, were terrific. With full bellies, we wandered around a bit, and then back to our taxi stop to head north.

We transferred taxis back near the inlet, and got on one that took us north, toward the New River. Along that route, we passed the current home of Wayne Huizenga.

Wayne has started three Fortune 500 companies: Waste Management (yes, all of those dump trucks you see across the US are his); they say that the WM stands for “Wayne’s Money;”  Blockbuster Video, with his nephew and AutoNation owned. He was the initial owner of  the Florida Marlins baseball team, the Florida Panthers hockey team. At one time, he also owned 50% of the Miami Dolphins.

He has purchased several homes along the Intracoastal here, and given them to family members. His current house, above, has a movie theater, bowling alley, and guest house. The pagoda has stairs that go up to a hot tub on the second level. Bells in the top play over 100 tunes.

We transferred taxis again, to a smaller one that took us a bit farther up the New River. The river is narrow and winding, with all sizes of boats using the channel, and again…more bridges. I guess this is the status quo around here. We got off at a few stops and walked around, and then made our way back to transfer to our final taxi of the day, which would take us back to our original stop.

It was now getting dark, and we were enjoying the evening scenery. The weather was comfortable and our taxi had an upper deck, giving us great views of the area. We decided to stay on and ride to the end of the route. getting get off at our stop on the taxi’s final trip south.

The taxi was a great way for us to see the area, not having a car. On the road, we’d have missed all of the huge houses and boats on the water. It was also fun to learn some local knowledge about Fort Lauderdale.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Keeping Busy In Fort Lauderdale

Forgive the delay in posting. It has been a busy week, and I am just catching up. We have spent the week here as usual, visiting friends, running errands and provisioning and doing boat projects (yuck). We rented a car, to do our usual Home Depot, West Marine, grocery store, etc. stops, in addition to some pre Bahamas appointments.

First up…an International Health Certificate for Howard. We went to a local vet, who listened to his heart, and deemed him healthy. Either that, or Howard’s hissing and open-mouthed panting deterred him from further examination. Either way, we have certificate in hand, and are good to go!

Next, we went to our “appointment” with Customs and Homeland Security here. There is a “Local Boater Option” that you can apply for, allowing you to call into customs when arriving back into the country, versus physically going to an office. This would give us more options of where to come back into Florida. We could enter the keys without stopping to find a customs office, or having to come into Miami or Fort Lauderdale first.

Finding the building was the first challenge. They do a terrific job of hiding it, no number or sign on the building, and no signage leading up to it, along the road. We did pretty well, only having to do one u-turn. Once inside, we were told that each of us had to have an online application, something that I did NOT find on the site, and I searched and searched. Applications can only be done online, of course, so I got out my phone, and started searching for the form.

The agent was nice enough to wait for me to complete the form and get a confirmation number, so that we could still both be approved. We were expecting our “appointment,” with some kind of interview. Instead, once the agent saw my online confirmation, he handed us each a card with our name and a number. Done. Now when we’re back in U.S. waters, we just have to call a number on the card and give them our name and the number that was assigned to us. We expected it to be a bit more thorough, but are glad that it went so quickly, and that we are now “cleared.”

Now it was onto the usual stops….Our West Marine visit was like a sightseeing tour! Scott had been to the Fort Lauderdale location when he was here buying Sea Life, and was anxious for me to see it. It is HUGE…like a Sam’s Club!

The departments here are so large, and the amount of in-store stock amazes Scott. Very little is actually kept on the shelves at locations in the Baltimore area. More often than not, Scott has to have whatever part or supply we need brought into the store for pick up. I couldn’t believe the things that were here, that are not offered in any of our stores at home. Not even the “larger”ones. I am now even more sad for our Canton location in Baltimore.

We also hit Sailorman, another marine consignment store (or as the sign says, a “new and used marine emporium”). Scott plundered around inside, again lamenting that he didn’t have access to a place like this while doing our refit.

I was again amazed at all of the stuff..

While I did a run of Walmart, Target, Petsmart, etc., Scott surprised me by painting the decks himself. A small area against the pier still needs to be painted, but we can do that at anchor, when we don’t need to get on and off on that side. The paint needs several days to cure, so we need to keep foot traffic to a minimum. What is done looks sooo clean and nice!

We met Mark at Outdoor world, where he helped Scott choose some fishing rods. (we hope to catch a lot of free dinner over the next few years!). Afterward, we went to his house, where Shannon grilled us up some great food while Mark and Scott put new line on the reels.

Mark also passed along some of his older fishing equipment to Scott, and purchased some lures for him. We now have a good start toward catching our dinner. I’m sure that Mark, the fishing guru, will be on speed dial for emergency help and questions. Thanks SOO much to him, for all of his time and help!!

We also caught up with our friend, Mike Efford. When we traveled south in 2008, Mike was living on a really cool tugboat named Mi-T-Mo. He traveled back and forth between Baltimore and Hollywood Florida, spending winters down here and summers in up north. He was a great host to us when we were last here, and we have kept in touch since. Mike is a retired Maryland pilot (Marine, not airline. They come aboard large ships, and navigate them into the harbor) and a wealth of knowledge. We have enjoyed spending time with him over the years.

Mike picked us up and drove us to a great Irish bar for dinner. After a meal and extensive boat chat, we went with him to meet one of his boating groups. They were having a meeting at a nearby restaurant, and we got there just as it was ending…perfect timing! We had a few drinks and met some of the group, and then Mike chauffeured us back to our boat.

Here are some photos from the past week, including more of both West Marine and Sailorman!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”