Archive by Author | Phil Decker

Moving Catmandu South for Vacation

Kay and I had planned to spend our one week vacation on Catamandu sailing the Keys for some time. We wanted to time our vacation with the Fantasy Fest celebration in Key West around Halloween. Since there are a lot of miles between Fort Lauderdale and Key West, we decided to move the boat weekend by weekend farther down the Keys and start our vacation in Marathon, which is more than half way down to Key West.

chart

Our course from Gilbert’s on Key Largo to Boot Key Harbor

This post is about our first leg from Fort Lauderdale to Key Largo. On Thursday October 6, Hurricane Matthew blew by Fort Lauderdale. We were bracing for a direct hit. So, we removed ALL of the canvas from Catmandu, doubled all the lines, and set an anchor. Fortunately, the eye of Hurricane Matthew veered slightly to the east the day before it got here, so the eye was about 100 miles away from Fort Lauderdale at its closest. We only saw thirty knot winds at our marina.14563300_10155398465179199_4453886585925378428_n-1

We needed to leave Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, October 8, in order to move the boat down in time for our vacation plans. The winds from Matthew subsided enough by Saturday morning that we could put the sails and dodger back on, and that took several hours. We managed to leave the dock at 9:00 AM bound for Miami Marine Stadium.

Again, we sailed offshore, exiting the ICW at Port Everglades. The hurricane had left clear skies and a nice northwesterly breeze at 10 – 15 knots. We sailed more than half way to Government Cut on a reefed main and full jib, hitting a speed of six knots or better several times. Along the way, we saw a turtle in the ocean with shell that was three feet across and many more dolphins. Kay and I anchored Catmandu at Marine Stadium, went swimming, had a barbecue dinner, and saw a beautiful sunset.

After a calm, warm, and restful night, we motored out of Marine Stadium into Biscayne Bay, back into the Intra-Coastal Waterway. The wind finally picked up, so we motor-sailed on a full jib all the way to Jewfish Creek. The ICW route is well-marked but there were several places that were only six feet deep or less. Having a working chart plotter, which shows you exactly where you are on the chart, is very important.

gilberts

Panorama of Gilbert’s Marina

After Jewfish Creek is Gilbert’s Resort and Marina on Key Largo. Gilbert’s is famous for its live music, tiki bar, and full service marina. We tied up Catmandu in a slip around the back and enjoyed dinner and rum drinks at the tiki bar before we drove back home to Fort Lauderdale.

Kay

Kay at Gilbert’s

 

This entry was posted on October 9, 2016. 1 Comment

Miami Marine Stadium for Labor Day Weekend

Catmandu

Catmandu at Marine Stadium

Kay and I were excited to join the Gulfstream Sailing Club on its yearly Labor Day trip to the Miami Marine Stadium. Last year when we tried to get there, Catmandu had two serious breakdowns in the first two miles. We had to be towed home by TowBoat US and we ended up driving down on Saturday to join the fleet.

Phil in a conniption fit

Why doesn’t the engine work?!?

This time was different. We left the marina at our apartment on Friday night after work and motored to Sunrise Lake where we anchored for the night. Kay brought Subway sandwiches for dinner, so we didn’t even have to cook.

On September 3, we got underway just after sunrise for the 35 mile trip to Marine Stadium. While motoring out to Port Everglades, we made coffee in our French press and enjoyed grilled bagels with cream cheese for breakfast. Since the wind was forecast to be on our nose all day, we motor-sailed with only the mainsail up.

The weather forecast called for a ten percent chance of precipitation. However, just as we rounded the red number 2 marker outside Port Everglades, it started raining hard. It rained so hard we could hardly see, and we had to rely on our auto-pilot Otto to keep us on a straight compass heading south. Kay and I crouched underneath our canvas dodger to protect us from the driving rain, and I popped my head up from time to time to check for traffic. They call that “prairie-dogging,” I think. We were towing our dinghy Catnip, which was filling with a significant amount of rain water, and that was slowing us down. However, we entered the Miami harbor at Government Cut and made good speed, even against the tide. Government cut is a wide and well-marked channel. However, markers 10 and 12 are in different locations than indicated on my one-year-old paper chart. The markers are in the right place according to my newer electronic chart on the chart plotter. I wonder if that might have been a factor in the recent boat crash involving Jose Fernandez, the Miami Marlins pitcher.

Catmandu was first boat to arrive. There were very few boats in this big anchorage on a holiday weekend. We drained Catnip and inflated our two-seater pool toy. Since our ice supply was low, I motored Catnip over to Rickenbacher Marina to resupply. I asked the clerk how much a bag of ice cost, and she said, “$5.34. Don’t stab me!” Funny. But, that’s a lot for a small bag of ice.

panorama

Catmandu panorama at Marine Stadium

Marine Stadium was built in 1963 as a venue to watch powerboat races held in the large, manufactured bay. The stadium was abandoned in 1992 due to hurricane damage, but the bay remains as a favorite anchorage.

Commodore Marvin and his friend Gary arrived on the second boat, Puff, an Island Packet 42. Kay and I went over and enjoyed food and adult beverages until late. We were waiting for Bleu Bayou to arrive, but gave up. They were towed in around 10:30 PM.img_3024

Miami

Miami in the evening from Puff

Puff

Puff being towed away

On Sunday, September 4, we spent the day swimming and enjoying a long lunch at Atlantica, at Marine Stadium Marina with our Gulfstream Sailing Club friends.

ladies

Ladies back up the musician at Atlantica

On Labor Day morning, we had to weigh anchor early and motor all the way home. The temperature was 85 degrees, seas were calm, and the south wind only blew about five knots. However, we were accompanied by dolphins for part of the trip! They played around our bow wave. They swim so fast that we could not get a good photo. But it was fun to see them.

A rain storm popped up as we approached Port Everglades. However, we were well inside the harbor before the heavy rains hit. We got home at the northern end of Fort Lauderdale around 3:30 PM after waiting for four bridges, very wet, and a little less sunburned than previous voyages.

 

 

 

Cruise to Stiltsville

Stiltsville

Romantic. Historic. Remote. There are many ways to describe the set of seven Stiltsville houses literally on stilts and literally on Biscayne Bay, more than a mile out to sea from Miami Beach or any other piece of dry land. Kay and I are members of the Gulfstream Sailing Club, which for the past few years has has overnight access to one of the seven remaining houses for one night per year. The Club’s commodore has a connection at the house belonging to the Miami Springs Powerboat Club, that built its house in the 1950s. Of the 27 Stiltsville houses that used to be in the bay, only seven remain, and they cannot be rebuilt if they are more than 50% damaged by, for example, a Florida hurricane. The next Florida hurricane could wipe out the house, as hurricanes have wiped out the other lost houses, so when one has the opportunity to sail there and stay overnight, one must take advantage.

house

The Miami Springs Powerboat Club (“MSPC”) house is about 38 nautical miles from our marina at Port Royale Apartments in Fort Lauderdale. Since the MSPC is the sponsor of a historic place, I tried to find more information about them. However, the MSPC has absolutely no internet presence, which I find very suspicious. But then again, south Florida is full of things that are very suspicious.

Because of the 11 bridges we had to negotiate between Port Royale Apartments and Stiltsville, we decided to make it a two-day motor sail down and two-day motor sail back. Our first leg was from noonish on Saturday, April 9 to noonish on Sunday, April 10. We had to leave on Friday morning and return on Monday evening, but Kay could not get out of work on Friday.

Stiltsville PanoI prepped the boat with water, four home-made ice blocks, full tank of gas and two red gas cans tied up on deck, and motored by myself halfway down on Friday, April 8. (Yes, Mom, I had my life jacket on.) The current was very strong against me, and it was tough getting through the Dania Beach Boulevard Bridge against the current. Currents are always stronger around the bridges on the ICW because the water gets channelled into a small area. In addition, the bridge was being renovated and had only one span open, so boats going north or south could only go through one at a time. At full power with a 30 horsepower engine, I could only make about 1.5 knots. Afterwards, I tried to get gas at the Hollywood Municipal Marina. However, a larger sailboat had gone hard aground and blocked the whole fuel dock. They had to wait for the next high tide, which was after midnight.

I tied up Catmandu at the home of our dear friends Jim and Rosemary Mahon, who live on the Intracoastal Waterway in Hollywood, Florida. Kay met me there in her new (to her) white Toyota Prius, and we enjoyed a comfortable, and free, night at a secure slip. Kay brought our groceries and ice. Jim and Rosemary were not there because they sailed their 34 foot sailboat Alberta Rose down to No Name Harbor earlier in the day.

alberta rose

Alberta Rose

Saturday morning, with 18 miles to go, was exciting since we have never been south of Hollywood, Florida, on Catmandu and were relying on our chart plotter and Mark & Diana Doyle’s “Managing the Waterway Guide,” the same guide that led us down from Annapolis to Fort Lauderdale. We were able to get gas at Hollywood Marina for the main tank and two jerry jugs tied to the bard board. The ICW takes us past the west end of Dodge Island in Miami where all the cruise ship terminals are. Kay and I have sailed from there a few times. After a few more miles, we entered the wide expanse of Biscayne Bay and hoisted sail. We were sailing in the Keys!

We had a little trouble getting to the Stiltsville house since no one thought to publish the latitude and longitude of where the house actually is. One must approach a Stiltsville house a particular way because the depth of the water is only about three feet at high tide, except for the unmarked channels you need to take. They said to turn to port at the green number one buoy. Unfortunately, there are many green #1 cans, and the one I thought they meant was near the club’s staging area at No Name Harbor on Key Biscayne, over a mile from the Miami Springs Powerboat Club house. We went back and forth north and south and discussing the situation on the VHF marine radio for over an hour until we finally figured it out and found our way in.

How you transfer beers on the high seas

How you transfer beers on the high seas

There were eight sailboats at the house overnight! It was probably a record, since a police helicopter buzzed us on Sunday morning. Where two or three are gathered in his name, there are probably shenanigans going on, somebody wise once said.

A "raft-up" as viewed from inside the raft-up

A “raft-up” as viewed from inside the raft-up

What is a Stiltsville house like? It is literally on stilts, and they are concrete reinforced and tied together by steel rods to better survive hurricanes. The lower level is a foot over the water and has the docks, picnic tables, storage rooms, a rope swing, a water slide, propane barbeque, port-a-potty, rain barrel (large), a very quiet diesel generator, and a short staircase down to the water for swimming and snorkeling. Upstairs is like a modest suburban-like house. There is a kitchen with refrigerator, gas stove, and microwave oven, pool table, a few bunk beds, and a large screen TV. Last year when we caught a ride to Stiltsville, people were watching the Stanley Cup playoffs on TV. We enjoyed a fine dinner and drinks, listened to music, and talked until late, marveling at the beauty of the Caribbean Sea on one side and the Miami skyline at night on the other. And then we had a restful night sleeping on Catmandu. About forty people slept there overnight, either on their boats or on the floor in the house. It was breezy and about 75 degrees during the day.

inside house pool table

In the morning, a crew made pancakes for everyone and set up a bloody mary bar. No useful work can happen on a day that starts with a bloody mary bar. Fortunately, all we had to do was sit and steer to get home. Since Catmandu was the outermost boat in a particular three-boat raft attached to the dock, we had to leave first. Our friends Sheryl and Joe on Island Gal left after us. Island Gal is a larger boat, and briefly went aground trying to get back into the channel. Catmandu motored against the wind and the current through Miami water traffic, which is almost as bad as I-95. However, the scene at Baker’s Haulover Inlet included some wonderful kites flying above us, including a giant squid with its tentacles waving back and forth. We tied up Catmandu again at Rosemary and Jim’s place on the ICW and had a relaxing evening.

Kay and a live bird

Kay and a live bird

Great Egret

Great Egret

On Monday, we motored back to Port Royale together. The wind had picked up and it was too windy, and especially too gusty, to sail. When we arrived at our little man-made harbor at Port Royale Apartments, it took us three tries to get into our slip. As we would back up toward the dock, the wind would blow us sideways, and we had to abort the landing twice and try it again. Our icebox still had some solid ice left after three days on the water. We hope to go back to Stiltsville again next year.

Lessons Learned by a New Florida Sailor

Since Kay and I moved to Port Royale Apartments last August, we have been enjoying living in our little apartment and finally having Catmandu docked at the marina where we live. We have been active in the Gulfstream Sailing Club, of Fort Lauderdale, and I am now the Membership Chairman, and Kay is the Editor of its newsletter Tiller Tales. I had the opportunity (and obligation) to write an article for the latest issue of Tiller Tales, and here it is:

After cruising northern New England for a long time, Kay Harrison and I sailed down the Intracoastal Waterway (“ICW”) to Fort Lauderdale on Catmandu, our Catalina 27. We have cruised here for two summers so far. I have found there are huge differences between cruising up north and cruising south Florida. Here are my top three lessons learned.

1. Lightning! Florida is the lightning capital of the US, which I knew before I arrived. More people are killed by lightning in Florida than any other state. Now consider that the sport of sailing involves traveling along a very flat part of the country under a very tall metal pole, and one could reasonably conclude that sailors are just asking to get hit by lightning.

Lightning capital of the world - South florida
We had bad thunderstorms back in New England as well, but there were reliable ways to determine if a thunderstorm is headed your way. Checking the weather radar on a smart phone is the best way, since everyone knows which direction the weather comes from and it is easy to see if you are in its path. Another way is that the National Weather Service would send an alert that causes an alarm on the boat’s VHF radio which would then tune the radio to its thunderstorm warning on the WX channel. Also, in the old days, one could also turn on an AM radio and listen for crackling sounds that indicate lightning. Things are different in Florida.

In Florida, thunderstorms don’t just travel down to you from upwind in a predictable way like they do in New England. There is so much heat and moisture and energy in the atmosphere that thunderstorms actually form and grow over your head while you are sailing. Several times I have waited in port for a storm to pass, only to have another one sprout and emerge fully grown right on top of me. I have experienced many close calls of lightning strikes very close to me, but luckily I have never been hit.

What should one do to avoid being hit by lightning, or to survive being hit? I do not have the definitive answer, but I have some common sense practices, and have done some research that I try to follow on my boat. My first strategy is the “buddy system.” If I cannot get into port right away, travel with or anchor near a boat with a taller mast. My other strategy that I learned from online research is to go below, unplug all the antennae and electronic devices you can, and avoid metal objects by staying in the middle of the cabin.

adapter2. Bring your own pump-out adapter. Most cruising sailboats have a holding tank that should be pumped out regularly. Pump-out facilities at most marinas on the East Coast provide a hose that has a cone fitting at the end of their hose that will fit almost any size of deck fitting on a boat. But not in Florida. We have been pumped out at many different marinas, and most of them in Florida have no adapter at all at the end of their hose, and they expect boaters to provide their own. Since I did not have one when I arrived, I would have to improvise by making a cone out of neoprene or whatever material I have on hand and will not want to use again. I mean, when you gotta go, you gotta go! I shopped around and could not find the 1.5 inch diameter adapter that fits my deck fitting at West Marine, Sailorman, Defender, or other retailers. I got mine at the Walmart RV Department, and I treat it like treasure.

3. You cannot get block ice in South Florida. People, if there is one thing South Florida marinas and grocery stores could learn from the rest of the country, it is that block ice lasts a lot longer than cubes. Like most boats the size of Catmandu, we have an ice box and do not have powered refrigeration. Up north, we would get a block of ice and a bag of cubes every two or three days, which would be entirely sufficient. One cannot get block ice in South Florida, and a bag of ice cubes lasts less than a day in the Florida summer heat. I have given up searching, and have resorted to making my own block ice. I bought plastic storage bins and make ice blocks with them in my freezer at home. I have to start freezing them about a week before a cruise.

This entry was posted on April 22, 2016. 1 Comment