After completing the replacement of the starter on the port engine, we departed from Palm Cay Marina, New Providence, on our way back to Bimini. The trip included an overnight anchoring at Chubb Cay, about the half way mark. Pete was up before sunrise and after the anchor was up we proceeded on the long trip to Bimini. As has happened so many times we had barely any wind, so we motor-sailed our way to Bimini. We arrived in late afternoon and ready for our last cold ones in the Bahamas. Coincidently, we met a couple who were on a catarmaran that is the same make and model as Delphinus. We spent the evening with them and a few of their friends comparing boats and talking about great Bahamas cruising locations.
Leaving Bimini at first light (one of the handful of sunrises I’ve actually seen) ended our five month tour of the Bahamas. We’re leaving behind the crystal clear blue waters, beautiful scenery and welcoming people of the Bahamas and returning to the US with very mixed emotions.
About five miles from the Florida shoreline this little bird hitched a ride on Delphinus. He seemed in need of a rest. After perching on a lifeline for a while he snuggled between pillows in the cockpit and took a nap. Once rested he proceeded to explore the interior of Delphinus, finally popping out of one of the hatches to finish the rest of the trip on a lifeline. As we entered the channel to Fort Lauderdale, he realized he was home and took flight again. It was a very nice escort home!
We arrived the afternoon of April 2 in Fort Lauderdale, FL, docking at Pier 66 Marina just inside the 16th Street Bridge. We docked among the mega-yachts, including Steven Spielberg’s 7 Seas. After cleaning up ourselves and the boat we decided to walk to a restaurant for an anniversary dinner (our 32nd). We quickly realized that we were there at the height of spring break. The beaches and restaurants were packed with tourists. We both felt a kind of sensory overload with the sights and sounds around us. The road traffic was fast and noisy. People were everywhere. There were so many buildings, signs and businesses. It made me want to retreat back to the relative peace and tranquility of the Bahamas.
We rented a car for a few days to run errands. Sensory overload changed over to giddiness as we walked through a Publix grocery store and had so many selections to choose from. We stocked up on fresh meats and produce, as well as our favorite non-perishables. Over the next several days we had some much needed work done on the boat and continued to explore all that Fort Lauderdale has to offer. We enjoyed having steady cell phone coverage and WiFi access and caught up with family and friends stateside. We even were able to spend an evening with a good friend, Alex and his girlfriend Dani, who we’ve known since Alex was a Cub Scout with our son Brendan. My how quickly they grow up.
The next part of our journey is to explore the Florida Keys. First stop is the southern end of Key Biscayne, anchoring at No Name Harbor. The Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is a gem of natural beauty just south of all the development of Key Biscayne. We walked throughout the park and had lunch at a café in the park overlooking the ocean. The park was bustling with people enjoying a day on the beach, riding bikes and hiking the trails. A very nice day indeed.
Off the coast of Cape Florida is an area of houses on stilts, like a neighborhood on the water, referred to as Stiltsville. It is now part of the National Park Service, but dates back to the 1930s.
Over the next couple of days we continued to move south through the keys, anchoring off Pumpkin Key (a very small uninhabited island) and then Tavernia Key, which is much more developed. Along the way we caught a snapper which provided a delicious dinner and saw many dolphins and sea turtles. We even had several dolphins swimming along with us for a while!
We spent a few days at the White Marlin Marina in Marathon Key. If you are ever passing through there by boat, I highly recommend it. Annabella, the dockmaster, is always ready with a smile and lots of local knowledge, plus the facilities are great. While there we restocked Delphinus through the local Publix and West Marine. We are really enjoying the ready availability of American retail! The morning we left White Marlin Marina we got to enjoy watching dolphins in the harbor. They even swam alongside as we left the dock.
Our next stop is Key West, where we immersed ourselves in the local tourist attractions. We stayed in the mooring field run by the City Marina. The marina even has a section for houseboats, each of which shows its owners eclectric personalities. We have to come into the City Marina by dinghy, where we have access to showers and trash disposal.
We did find one out of the way place, Kim’s Kuban, where we had the best Cuban sandwich so far.
One of the things Key West is known for is its free roaming chicken population. They wander in and out of bars looking for crumbs. You can hear roosters crowing throughout the city.
While we roamed Key West we stopped for drinks or meals at Sloppy Joe’s, Hog’s Breath Saloon, Fogarty’s, Camille’s, Louie’s Backyard (spectacular view), Pepe’s and Schooner Wharf. Most of the bars feature live music throughout the day and evening. For the most part, the food was okay but the mojitos were very good!
We toured Truman’s Little White House and Hemmingway’s house. Both offered insights into the people and lifestyles of the not too distant past.
We visited Fort Taylor, which is now part of the National Park system, but was once a strategic defense outpost from the mid-1800s through 1947. Interesting to learn that it remained under Federal control throughout the Civil War, and was headquarters for the blockade of southern ports.
Each evening on Mallory Square, about an hour before sunset, street performers set up shop along the waterfront. They range from musicians, acrobats, and jugglers. Each ropes off an area and invites the crowd to step closer and watch his act. They work for the tips they receive from the crowd, so there is typically a plea for donations before the end of each act. Other vendors set up stalls selling crafts, food and drinks. Overall, it has the feeling of a fair or carnival and ends each evening with the crowd watching the sunset from the seawall.
Of course we had to go to the marker for the southernmost point in the US. It is surrounded by the Southernmost Hotel, Southernmost Beach Café, Southernmost Waterfront Hotel, etc. While waiting in line to take pictures with the marker, we overheard one of the trolley drivers refer to us as the “Southernmost Tourists” in the US.
Time to leave Key West for quieter locations.
We spent a night anchored off the Marquesas Keys. They are a group of small islands surrounding an inner harbor. The entire group of islands is a nature preserve so we couldn’t go ashore. Along the southern edge of the Keys we saw several small boats wrecked in the water and on the beach. We suspected they may have been used by Cuban refugees, which we were later able to confirm.
Near Marquesas is the US Navy’s bombing and strafing range. We found it quite ironic to be this far from Virginia Beach and still hearing the roar of fighter jets.
Our next stop is the Dry Tortugas, named because there is no source of fresh water on the islands. Here we found the water to be almost as clear as it was in the Bahamas. The main island houses Fort Jefferson, now a National Park. We anchored just offshore of the Fort and were pleasantly surprised at the number of tourists who visit the Fort through a daily tour boat and a couple of sea planes from Key West. Fort Jefferson was built along the same lines as Fort Taylor in Key West; although Fort Jefferson appears to be better preserved. National Park Service personnel and their families live in quarters within the Fort. There are a couple of nice beaches for swimming and lots of good spots for snorkeling. The Fort is still surrounded by a sea water moat, complete with a resident crocodile.
Of the many displays within the park depicting life in the Fort, there is one that reflects the modern history of the Fort. Fort Jefferson has been the US arrival spot for many Cuban refugees. The display includes actual boats used, photos and stories. The Park personnel provide food, water and shelter to the arriving refugees and coordinate with other government agencies as to their integration into America. A conversation with a Park Ranger confirmed that the boats we saw on Marquesas were likely used by Cuban refugees.
Our visit to Dry Tortugas ends the forward part of our journey. Now we will begin to retrace our steps to leave Delphinus in Fort Lauderdale while we fly back home to attend Brendan’s graduation from UMass in early May. After that, we’ll begin working our way back up the East Coast to the Chesapeake Bay.
Stay tuned and stay in touch!