Monday, December 26, 2011


Coconut Grove, Miami, FL 25º43.533N | 80º84.321W

Merry Christmas from Miami!

When you're far from home, you make merry how you can. We gathered free boughs ...

for the dinghy bow's Charlie Brownish tree ...

and gathered our friends from Jessie Marie and Anastasia ...

for a most non-traditional Christmas Eve progressive appetizer/caroling extravaganza.

Between stops for apps at each other's boats, we lashed the three dinghies together and toured the sprawling Dinner Key mooring field in our makeshift, unwieldy trimaran, caroling and tossing candy canes to puzzled boaters. Not sure what our victims thought, but we had a merry, hilarious outing.

We ended the evening with proof there's a kid in all of us: POPCORN BALLS ...
I never saw people so excited over popcorn balls!
... and flying tissue wishes, where you write your wish on a piece of tissue paper, roll it in a cylinder, light it and watch it fly away. (If you've never heard of this magical silliness, there's a video on YouTube.)

Christmas Day is in our grasp
so long as we have hands to clasp

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Coconut Grove, Miami, FL 25º43.533N | 80º84.321W

One morning this week, Chip put on some Christmas music. I was sitting there one moment enjoying coffee and the season, the next I was weeping. Without notice, all the sorrow of last Christmas overtook me anew.

And today, I learned we have lost my sister-in-law, Fannie, at only 51 years old, diagnosed in October with brain cancer, and now taken so quickly. She leaves behind a beautiful legacy: four adult children, my nieces and nephews, a stepdaughter and 13 grandchildren. I grieve especially for them, to lose their mom and grandma so, so young.

I'm thankful to have seen her in September.

Fannie is second from the left.
We have so much to be thankful for in this life. Sometimes we forget that life is one of them. 

Though I treasure every moment of our cruising life, the cost is paid in being far away from those I love. Sometimes that is harder than others.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Coconut Grove, Miami, FL 25º43.533N | 80º84.321W

Several times in the last year, we've wondered aloud whether Coconut Grove is all that fabulous or if we just had a fleeting and magical time here last Christmas.

We've come back to find out.

Even though they're heading to Cuba soon, Karen and Dale on Jessie Marie waited for us so we can reprise last year's Christmas celebrations. As a lead in, we've been doing what we do: going to the wine tastings at Fresh Market, hanging out in the bookstore, biking the neighborhoods, haunting our favorite Cuban coffee/laundromat joint.

When you move about by boat, doing laundry can be a major undertaking -- and is always a half-a-day chore. Here in Coconut Grove, it's joyous. We ride our bikes 1.5 miles to Mary's, a 24-hour laundromat with the best Cuban coffee we've ever tasted -- for 90 cents.

So we sit out front talking amongst ourselves -- and sometimes others -- soaking in the delicious Florida sunshine, and sometimes do a load of laundry.

This week we tested out Jessie Marie's new spinnaker.

Chip's sister, Bonnie, invited us all for dinner in Miami Beach.

Karen, me and Bonnie.
Oops. Camera alignment problem.
Silly boys.
Bonnie's Zuppa de Clams. Yum.

We're still gathering data, but it's looking like Coconut Grove really is fabulous.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Miami Beach, FL 25º47.239N | 80º08.847W -- ish

Christmas is coming!
We have maintained a love/hate relationship with Miami Beach and this anchorage. It is prime territory. We are anchored -- for free -- a few hundred yards from people who pay millions of dollars for the same view and amenities. However, we have re-anchored almost every day we've been in South Beach -- all for different reasons. The wee-hour move put us in a whirlpool that made me nervous, constantly spinning us at odd angles to the other boats.

Then we moved too far out. Then we moved closer. Then Chip got sick.

Rallying to meet Jessie Marie.
A bit of a storm blew through, so we spent several days without leaving the boat to let Chip recuperate from a flu bug that has really knocked him out.

The lovely little canal that runs by town is convenient, although their idea of a "dinghy dock" is a chain strung in mud that you can tie onto. We've gotten quite creative in tying and locking the dinghy to palm trees, usually with an iguana watching.

Lincoln Road is where the glitz and glam of Miami come to sparkle and where the merchants attempt to strip you of valuables as you pass. It's hard to eat or drink or be merry without feeling fleeced. Case in point: A $17 Mojito at an otherwise ordinary street cafe. Gasp.

As a final volley from this mixed-bag of an anchorage, a huge power boat passed us at high speed sending a huge wake right at our beam. Cara Mia rolled a good 30 degrees each way, maybe more. A full bottle of wine jumped off the kitchen counter and shattered on the galley floor. Red wine and glass shards sprayed everywhere, and wine seeped all down into the hatches under the kitchen floor. Grrrr.

Despite all this, we have enjoyed our time here. I guess you'd call it a cove half full.

Tomorrow, we're off to the peaceful moorings of Coconut Grove where we can once again

  • loiter at our favorite Cuban coffee spot with Jessie Marie, who hasn't left for Cuba yet,
  • have a warm and cozy Coconut Grove Christmas,
  • ring in the New Year and my birthday at our dear little French restaurant Le Bouchon.
Christmas Countdown: 10 days!

Friday, December 9, 2011


Miami Beach, FL 25º47.239N | 80º08.847W -- ish

A storm front moving into Miami.

Ugh. Nothing like pulling up the anchor at 1:30 a.m. and moving. Yeah, it's inevitable, I guess. You drag anchor. Your neighbor drags. It had never happened to us before.

We anchored in the midst of other boats but with plenty of room. However, the small sailboat in front of us had me a little worried. All of us were facing southeast, with the wind, when we went to bed knowing there was a northern blow coming in the night.

It's called Anchor Insomnia, listening, jumping at unexpected sounds. I had it.

We had each checked several times, but when I heard a big gust just after 1 a.m., I went up to the cockpit to have a look.

"Chip! You better get up!"

That little sailboat, which should have now been behind us was right beside us. Apparently he only had put out only half the chain that we did, putting us alongside once we both spun around. We're not sure, but perhaps we dragged a little bit too when we swung around.

Chip started the engine and pulled out bumpers while I got the anchor ready to pull in.

It was nice of South Beach to light up the night sky for us. It was hardly like anchoring at night. I put on my head lamp but didn't even need it!

We moved nearer to shore in the wee hours and have now moved again farther away from everyone, looking forward to a good night's sleep.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Miami Beach, FL 25º47.239N | 80º08.847W

So, after two eventful days, we set the alarm for 2:30 a.m. in Lake Worth to check the conditions for a 12-hour sail to Miami, hoping for favorable winds and calm seas.

All was peaceful under a half moon, so we lifted a very short anchor chain (7 feet of water), raised the mainsail and ghosted out of a blissful inlet at 3:20, strangely enough, behind two other sailboats. They must have been headed for the Bahamas, because we didn't see them again.

An 11-knot southeast wind pushed us along the coast but, after dawn, started dropping off. The north-flowing Gulf Stream is uncomfortably close to shore along this stretch right now, some places less than three miles, so there's not a lot of sea room when you're headed south. If you stay really close to shore, there's a countercurrent. I experimented on my watch, and it would kick in just under a mile offshore.

I know to land people that seems comforting, but to a sailor it's unnerving. Most of the dangers are associated with being near shore, you know, rocks, land, reefs, all bad. With eastern swell and east/southeast wind, it was one reason we opted to anchor for the night rather than wading up the shore in the dark.

By the time we had Miami in sight, the countercurrent had us flying at a whopping 8 knots (motorsailing). Yahoo!!!! There was a huge squall off in the distance, but sunny and near-perfect where we were. This was the day I'd wanted yesterday.

We traversed a strangely empty Government Cut at 2:15, only about 6 hours after we would have come in had we sailed through the night. All told, while the overnight wind would have been nice to have, I was glad instead to roll in on 7 hours of peaceful sleep. We were in the dinghy on our way to South Beach in less than an hour.

It's beginning to feel like a Miami Christmas!!!


Lake Worth, FL 26º46.055N | 80º02.693W

Rainbow just after sunrise, between Vero Beach and the Fort Pierce inlet.
"Now that's how you want to start your day. A rainbow has to be a good omen, right?" I said.

Chip said, "There's something in my weather book about a rainbow in the morning ....."

Neither of us bothered to look.

I was way too focused on a beautiful day offshore, 5-10 knot east wind, 3-6 foot swell, no ICW, no bridge tenders.

A line of six sailboats ahead of us had to be another good omen. The chatter on the VHF said Chris Parker declared today a good weather window to cross to the Bahamas. Yahoo!!

Our first sign of clouds on the horizon was when all but one of those sailboats passed the inlet and headed on south on the ICW. Strange, I thought as I turned east down the inlet channel.

I knew we would be headed out the inlet on a falling tide, with the water going out, and with wind coming toward us. However, with such low wind predicted, I thought it might be a little rough but fine. And so far, as predicted, the winds were zero when we left Vero and had picked up to 7 or 8 before the inlet.

We followed the other sailboat down the channel into more and more swell as we approached the ocean. The other boat, Imagine, was about 200 yards ahead, and we could see him getting tossed around at the end of the channel. Then really, really getting tossed. At one point we could see the entire length of his boat -- from the top, as if we were flying over it.

It was the first moment I thought of turning back. I was at the helm. I should have. I did not.

As we neared the end of the channel the swell turned into huge, unorganized chop. I mean, really, can't someone get this shit organized? Who's in charge here? I tried by my very will to get it organized, you over there, hold back, you ahead, calm down and proceed forward. You, way up there .... Yikes.

It was hopeless. Each pounder would send the bow straight down into the water, then rock us, sometimes side to side, sometimes hobby horsing, ending with the bow pointing straight up.

Chip took this photo of one uphill run. We both tried to take photos.
It was not possible to both hold on and take pictures.
We think they were only 8 to 10-foot waves, but they weren't swells. They were steep, smashed up together and unpredictable.

Then it got really crazy.

Chip asked if I wanted him to take the wheel, and I said YES. He's much better at reading waves than I am -- a misspent youth body surfing really pays off.

He manhandled us through while I sat on the floor of the cockpit trying to tie down the cockpit table that had come loose was pounding against the helm.

I kept thinking, please engine, please don't shut down now -- LIKE YOU DID YESTERDAY.

We cleared the inlet and turned into large, choppy swell with 20+knots of wind, and not perfectly east for our southeast trek. It was clocking south, just hovering enough east that we could get some traction.

"Hello all stations. This is United States Coast Guard Miami Station, United States Coast Guard Miami Station, United States Coast Guard Miami Station, please tune in to Channel 22 Alpha for information regarding a small craft advisory."

Great. From the time we left Vero, we had gone from a predicted 5-10 knots and nearly calm seas to a small craft advisory. The swell and wind were, as we already knew, much higher than predicted, and on top of that, there was a nasty chop on top of the swell. Not dangerous, just bumpy -- not the glorious ride I was hoping for.

Our plan was to make the 50-mile hop to Lake Worth (Palm Beach), anchor until 3 a.m., and then set off again for another 50-mile hop to Miami, but the swell had us slowed down to a pace that would put us at Lake Worth well past dark -- and, even if we went in, it would be with wind, against current, a lesson very fresh on our minds. The only other option would be to keep going all night, slowing down to make Miami just after dawn.

We got on our line, adjusted as much sail as we could manage (reefed main, jib and staysail) to give us the easiest ride possible for the conditions (full sails give you traction in the water, making the pass through waves much smoother, less rocking).

We motorsailed to get our speed up, and, most amazing of news, according to our GPS, we would be in range of Lake Worth between 5 and 5:30, just before sunset, WITH a rising tide peaking at 5:12 (wind with current going in).

I had been fighting seasickness all morning, but my usual shot of Pepto before going offshore was keeping it in check. The worst place to be for getting seasick is below in the cabin, so to get what we needed I would dash below and run back up, dodging the array of stuff strewn about the cabin floor. We had "stowed" before going offshore, but a few months of soft inshore travel had made us lazy -- plus, we did not expect the thorough tossing we got from the inlet.

By about 1 o'clock the seas started backing down and the wind moderated to an easy 13-15 knots. Aside from a rolly swell, we were travelling in relative comfort and were able to regain order below. No major spills, no breakage, just a few things tossed about.

At 3:20, we were only 11.4 miles from Lake Worth, the wind was down to 13, and the sea was growing very kind.

Palm Beach. A happy sight.
At exactly the dot of high tide, we traversed a calm inlet and turned to drop the anchor in seven feet of water. I looked down as the anchor sank and -- for the first time since June in the Bahamas -- I could see it go all the way to the bottom!

I watched as the anchor spun into position and nestled itself cozily in the sand. I could almost swear it was smiling.

So was I.

Monday, December 5, 2011


Vero Beach, FL 27º39.643N | 80º22.325W

We started today, before sunrise, decidedly in the NO, uh uh category.

You remember that anchor that wouldn't grab no matter what yesterday? All NINE times? Well, I went to raise that same anchor in the dark, just before the sun came up, and guess what?

First of all, this whole place seems to be made of mud. Not the brown, slather-on-your-skin-at-the-spa mud. This was black treacle, sludge, Texas tea, coating the anchor chain like it had been dipped in gross, smelly chocolate. (Could this be why they call it 'Cocoa'?)

So, I was up there with a vacuum pump sprayer, spraying every link of all 100 feet. Then, crunch. It stopped. The damnable anchor was now suck hard in the mud. The windlass just spun, no chain coming in, no anchor coming up.

I let out a little chain, and signaled Chip to power us forward to pull up the anchor shaft, standing it up, so it would release from the mud. One more try and a ridiculous Cocoa-covered anchor came up from the depths.

With the anchor onboard, we got underway, but there was a river of black mud, all over the forward deck and along the side rails. It took at least an hour to get it cleaned up.

Just as I was finishing, the engine dropped RPMs. Uh oh. Fuel problem?

We discussed how best to change the fuel filter, either anchoring or putting up sails, killing the engine and doing it underway. The engine decided for us. It stopped before we had sails up.

At least we were in an open spot along the ICW that was perfect for anchoring, better actually, than Cocoa. And as a bonus, I could give that anchor chain -- and the anchor locker a good cleaning.

So, while I was getting rid of black sludge, Chip was de-sludging the Raycor filter. Also in the bonus round, he discovered that the external fuel pump is working (we thought it wasn't).

He had us back in operation in 20 minutes. I, on the other hand, took another 20 to slowly raise that chain, washing it as I went.

Just as I had the anchor above water, the windlass started slipping. It's been so long since that happened, it took me a few minutes to realize it wasn't the windlass failing; it was the clutch slipping (remember the spinning this morning? Clutch loosening.). I dashed below to get the clutch handle, tightened the clutch and, voila. On the road again in under an hour. All systems working perfectly.

We had planned to go from Cocoa, land of the muddy bottom, to Fort Pierce inlet where we intended to head offshore predawn tomorrow.

The pit stop set us back just enough that we couldn't make it that far, so Vero Beach it was. To top off a no, well, maybe no-ish day, we had trouble pulling up to the fuel dock and I scraped my arm on one of shrouds (vertical cables) as I was going forward. Ouch.

Ah well, we got to raft up with Anastasia.

Tomorrow is another day, hopefully a YES day, since we're headed offshore to Palm Beach. Finally, after weeks of bad weather offshore, we have a chance to leave the ICW behind and sail, SAIL, heading southeast with east winds.


Cocoa, FL 28º21.285N | 80º43.235W

I had heard of Cocoa Beach, but never Cocoa. Turned loose on the world on our own (all our cruising friends were either ahead or behind us), we decided to have a look. It was a long day, leaving predawn from Daytona and arriving in Cocoa just before sunset.

It's a rare day that we have trouble anchoring. Our awesome anchor sets the first time, almost without fail. Today was a rare day.

Anchoring is part science, part art. When you drive into a crowded anchorage, you have to find a spot with:
a) enough space to be comfortable
b) enough swinging room, especially if the wind or current will be shifting
c) similar boats around with similar keels and amounts of chain
d) an acceptable depth (you have to put out 7-10 times the depth in chain -- 10 feet = 70-100 ft.)
e) the right vibe.

And so we found one after some tooling around. Chip was taking a turn at anchoring, so he went forward and dropped the anchor. We let it settle, he snubbed it, I backed down. We drug.

We did it all again, and again in another spot.

Finally, we went to hunt around in the other anchorage, where there were no boats. After three tries, the anchor held. Whew.

The next morning, someone came over to politely tell us we couldn't anchor there, so back to the drop and drag, until finally, after three more tries, we were anchored.

Cocoa, a cute little place, was having an arts and crafts fair that leaned heavily toward crafts -- and a Toys for Tots parade of Harleys. Local color.

Our evening was brightened by Max and Jen on Anastasia, who popped in and anchored on the first try. Brilliant!!

Friday, December 2, 2011


Daytona, FL 29º11.486N | 81º00.063W

Well, it's time to get this show back on the water. After two weeks in St. Augustine, we untied at first light and turned south toward Daytona. It felt so good to be moving again. I was standing watch at the helm ... thinking  so feel free to stop reading here.

we should not complain about impermanence,
because without impermanence, nothing is possible.  -- thich nhat hanh

Sometimes at the helm I think about how water gets sucked up into the clouds and comes falling down again as rain. Sometimes I think about candy canes or squirrels, but today I was thinking about the march of life and the certain irony of the tug-of-war between physical decline and internal growth. You know, how as time passes, our bodies slowly deteriorate while at the same time our brains and souls are on an opposite trajectory toward enlightenment -- at least that's the idea.

And if the one constant in our lives is time passing, why, as if there's an alternative, do we lament that very passing and even the growth that comes along with it? We protest the sweet baby growing into a toddler into a pre-schooler, sigh at last year's picture of a puppy now full grown. We rankle at the emotional growth that would give us the happiness we think we want.

Somewhere down there, our reptilian brain must be saying, "we are safe, fed and free of pain. We're surviving, don't change a thing!"

It must be our other more progressive brain that, if indulged, seeks and is gratified by change. It's not the ordinary moments that stick with us, it is the times when we've stepped out of the stasis of our lives and experienced something new, the birth of a child, a farflung vacation, an epiphany that sends us down a whole new path.

But what happens if your daily life is ever new, if you have so embraced change that it becomes your only constant? My "normal" is movement, new scenes, new places. I now live at the whim of currents, tides, wind, storm systems, seasons, all moveable targets, and though some have patterns, many are just plain unpredictable.

All the external markings of stability have been removed and even the floor beneath my feet moves. In this ever-changing environment, just as my surroundings do not remain stationary, neither does my self.

What I realize is that this fluid environment reveals the things in me that are static -- some good and some bad.

Busy life used to mask my foibles, but here with only sky and water and a changing landscape, those flaws rise up and demand attention, changes of their own, because, well, everything must change -- get with the program!

And those are the things I think of while standing at the helm watching water and Florida pass me by. I think of all the other things that are slipping past in my wake, youth and years, tears and triumphs.

But why am I out here? To seek the water ahead and learn its lessons, to nourish and feed that little sprout of understanding growing somewhere deep within and pluck the weeds that hold it back.

And press on toward the light ... at 5 miles per hour.