Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Harbor With No Name


As far as cruising plans go… today did not follow ours.  We decided at about o’sunrise thirty that we would leave our anchorage off of Elliott Key, foregoing unfinished pleasures there to move on to Crandon Park Mooring Field.  Key Biscayne looked interesting to us and it would be nice to be able to fill our water tanks and maybe take a bus ride into Miami to see the sights.  It’s Friday and the weather looked like Monday could be our day to head offshore for Ft. Lauderdale.  That left us the weekend.  

Wing on wing without a pole
We pulled anchor and shut off the engine to sail wing on wing immediately after the anchor was stowed.  It was fun to try to keep the jib full without going to the trouble of rigging the whisker pole.  Yes, I know we went to great trouble and expense so that we would HAVE one… but our distance was short to the magenta line which would have us turn up and sail on a broad reach to our next destination… hopefully.

How many cormorants DOES it take?...

Bruce trimmed and tweaked sails as we made that turn and, yes!… we could sail this.  The ride was so smooth that even Jezabelle came out to sit in the cool cockpit with us.  We weren’t going fast, but we had all day to get there.  And then I made that phone call to Crandon Park Marina.  The one that left us without a destination and scrambling to choose another one.  No Room!!!

Thanks to the miracles of the internet and our close proximity to the big city and it’s lovely 3G connection, I quickly found several spots to choose from, and based upon its position within the Bill Baggs State Park (with the allure of another lighthouse to visit), and the free pump out offered, we chose No Name Harbor.  I wasn’t totally happy with it, but hey, some friends had spent two weeks there waiting for a weather window for the Bahamas… so it couldn’t be bad.

We made a minor adjustment to our course after doing a drive by of Stiltsville.  These are seven structures rising out of the shallow banks of the Coral Shoal, where back in 1933, it is said that the first shack was built to facilitate gambling, which could be conducted if at least a mile offshore.  Later the others were built probably as fishing shacks and they remain today in limbo while the government decides what to do with them.  We got close enough to see them and they reminded us very much of the fishing shacks along the ICW south of our home. 
Another pic of Miami... Because I can!

Just a little further on, we turned into the Cape Florida channel which lead us to the entrance to No Name Harbor.  We went right to the pump out station to “relieve ourselves” as things had been getting a little bit tense…  They have a self serve pump there that is simple to use.  The approach was easy with good depth and, if the bulkhead was a little rough, they can be forgiven for the fact that the machine is in good working order and free.

We secured the boat at anchor in a spot far back near the entrance in hopes of picking up a breeze.  It was HOT here surrounded closely by mangroves.  I had not expected this anchorage to be as tight as it is and was thankful that there weren’t too many boats at anchor upon our arrival, especially being that it was a Friday.  We had heard that this is a popular weekend spot for locals and can become quite packed.  

Once we had things settled, we went ashore to pay our park fee, which is on the honor system.  I was a little bit miffed that we would be expected to PAY at an anchorage, but hey, if we can go ashore into the park to get a look at the lighthouse and maybe top off a water tank while we’re here, I can roll with that.

We found the bike/walking trails to be a cool respite from the steamy post-rainshower air.  We walked along beneath a canopy of overhanging trees.  The park is very well kept and very clean.  

We came upon a fluffy raccoon who was foraging for food and seemed completely unaffected by our presence.  He went along with his business of digging in the leaves with barely a glance in our direction. 

We followed the path around the perimeter of lower Key Biscayne to the where the Cape Florida channel joins the Atlantic.  

The current was RIPPING through the channel!
We were beginning to despair of ever finding the lighthouse when suddenly it appeared over the treetops.  

We headed hastily in that direction, and entered the Lighthouse Compound and made our way along the neat pathway past the Keeper’s Cottage. 

I was impressed with the condition of the buildings and the beauty of the place.  This would have been a GREAT job to have!

We approached the tower and were disappointed to find the door securely shut and locked.  

There were only two tours per day, Friday through Sunday… and we had missed them.  I cheered myself with having missed the climb to the top in what can only be likened to a chimney in this sultry afternoon heat.  Our bodies were already feeling the unaccustomed strain from our walk here and would perhaps have revolted had we asked our legs to take us to the top of that tall, tall tower.

No you can NOT have too many pictures of a lighthouse...

So we made the circuit around the base and followed a treelined walk past the remaining portion of the exhibit.  We paused and viewed the old pieces of lighthouse equipment and turned our hot and tired feet towards where we hoped we would find a beach!

Various lighthouse parts...Maybe a lighthouse kit?

Yes, we found the beach access!  It was as one would expect of Florida by now… very nice.  We found another striking view of the Lighthouse as we emerged onto the beach.  Nice touch Florida!  

We were both drawn to the refreshing water and glad that we had worn our swimsuits as we peeled off our outerwear and soothed our tired dogs in the cool Atlantic.  

We never tire of discovering the differences in the many beaches we’ve visited.  Not all beaches are created equal and I would say that this is one of the better ones so far.  The threatening clouds convinced us to get a move on so we left the waters and made the trek back to the harbor.  

Boater's Grill 
We stopped at the Boater’s Grill to see if we could score some ice.  YES!  We took our ice and turned our sights towards finding water.  We made a quick pass at the pavilion where we hoped to find a water faucet.  We were disappointed to find none and believe me… I LOOKED!  Suddenly our day acquired a slightly sour twinge.  
More Lizards
I’m trying not to hold it against the place.  I’m sure that there was someone who abused the offering of water that prompted the Park to shut it down… but for $20 you would think they could find a way to work that out…  We really did enjoy our brief time here.  I don’t think I would want to spend two weeks here as our friends did… but it’s surely worth a stopover, but had we not already put our money in the box, we probably would have moved on to a free anchorage with a little more breeze after visiting the park.  

We spent a somewhat warm night in this well protected anchorage and were chased out in the morning by voracious hordes of no-see-ems.  We turned our bow towards Miami where we would take the Government Cut to the Atlantic and beyond.  Ft. Lauderdale… Here We Come!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Elliott Key

N25°28.713’, W080°11.708’

It was time to go.  The excitement and pleasure of discovering a new place, in all it’s beauty and uniqueness, can quickly mellow leaving me wanting to move on.  The contentment we have found in the solitude of our Barnes Sound Hideaway has left us sated… but with hearts stirring and eyes looking towards more exciting times.  

We had not intended to leave this morning.  We sipped coffee on the foredeck and contemplated life.  We caught up on our reading… we piddled…. Then we decided.  Let’s go to Elliott Key!

I made ready down below while Bruce prepared the boat above decks.  Jezabelle was in denial.  She likes “staying”.  I’m surprised at how quickly we can go from zero to “ready” nowadays.  It doesn’t take much when you aren’t going offshore.  A quick hop from one anchorage to the next doesn’t require much…  Jezabelle held on to the very end.  Bruce raised the anchor and we began motoring out of our lazy cove before she finally gave up her napping spot and retired below for the duration of our trip.  

Bruce held off raising sails until we made our way beneath the bridge, then he was “all hands on deck” as he got both main and jib up and proceeded to trim for speed…  

Well, we didn’t have much speed with light winds, but we were confidently sailing along.  All of the “iffy” stuff was behind us.  Nothing but smooth seas ahead today.  

No engine was needed as we sailed across the two Card Sounds, and through a narrow pass across a shallow bank.  It’s funny how these passes don’t look like I would expect from seeing them on the chart…  You wouldn’t know there was an obstacle here if it weren’t for the chart!

With all the heavy work now done, we spilled out into the stunning waters of lower Biscayne Bay.  You can bet that it if enjoys "National Park” status… it’s going to be lovely.  

I felt a little flurry of excitement as I spotted the Miami Skyline in the distance for the first time.  That is THE Miami.  You know… the one that I could never see myself sailing up to and saying hello!  Yet, here we are on our own boat… just Bruce and li’l ole me….  It’s one of those “small-town-girl-from-Texas” thangs…

All too soon, our sail was at an end as we spotted our anchorage.  Elliott Key is a long barrier island between lower Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.  Just over the tops of those trees is the way to the Bahamas.  Our decision not to go there this season was wavering as we imagined ourselves just chucking it and GOING!  But we reined in the impulse and settled back onto our current choice, more immediately, to enjoy Elliot Key.  

We approached the Key as depths declined.  We dropped the anchor in about 7 ft. in a sandy patch just outside of the “slow speed” buoys.  Further in would take us to a thin layer of sand over rock, which is not conducive to a peaceful night’s sleep at anchor.  We found a perfect sandy spot to hold us securely on the first try.  Our early arrival left us plenty of time to explore the small sandy beach nearby. 

Clear clean water and tiny critters 
More critters exposed by low tide
We motored into the shallows and left the dinghy to explore our own little paradise.  These moments are the reason we came out here.  These are the special treasures that will rise to the top of my life’s memories when I’m old and grey.  I will remember the school of tiny fish that surrounded me, darting to and fro.  I will remember my deep belly-laughs that rang across the flat waters as my silly husband stripped and bathed in the clear water, almost losing his shampoo as it tried to float away.  I will remember the feeling of swishing my hair back and forth to free it of the bubbles that didn’t seem to bother the little fishes at ALL!

Our whole world

The tiny shells and baby coral made tinkling sounds when you walk

A desserted paradise

Toes in the water... Ass in the sand

A tiny coral branch

No need to waste precious fresh water when we can wash our hair here

The little fishes surrounded us, darting beneath my legs

Gotta keep a good hold on your shampoo or it will escape

This is it folks!  This is why you should go cruising!

The remainder of our time here at Elliott Key is a blur.  We had some weather come over and our entire second day was spent lazing around on the boat, reading and napping.  Bruce worked on cleaning the bottom once again, in the clear waters surrounding our boat.  He could see that we had about two feet beneath our keel and that there was some kind of big fish lurking there in the shadow….

Showers in the distance

A new dawn

Next thing we knew, there was yet another day dawning here in Paradise.  We hadn’t made it over to the shore to explore that other little sandy beach.  We hadn’t made the dinghy ride to the pass between Elliott Key and Sand Key…  But there will be a “Next Time”.  We will return to this place when we come back South in the Fall.