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.
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.
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.