Happy New Year, my friends! When we last wrote, it was the end of 2020 and the end of our summer/fall along the East Coast of the U.S. Soon Andy and I will celebrate our second anniversary of living like pirates on Gratitude. Here’s a quick update to catch you up on our most recent adventures.
Our delivery captain, Richard Widman, picked up his crew and our boat in Norfolk, VA at the end of October and sailed Gratitude for about nine days down to Just Catamarans in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Andy and I considered making this trip ourselves… but we both felt we’d had enough of long passages for one year. And we trust Richard; he’s the captain who spent over a week with us when we first purchased this boat, helping us cross the Gulf Stream and get acquainted with every system and component of our new home.
Richard left Gratitude with Laurent, at Just Cats, and a list of repairs and upgrades needed. We’ve said it before, and it’s still true: Life on a boat is 20% fun in the sun and 80% fixing things. We needed new bottom paint to combat the marine growth on the hull, a new hatch cover in the port forward cabin, parts for the water maker, and a few other odds and ends.
We flew home for the month of November, and I stayed there, but Andy made the drive from Atlanta to Ft. Lauderdale so that he could keep an eye on the boat and all the work being done. It was a little strange being apart for almost two weeks, after a year and half of 24-hour togetherness. But we survived, and when Andy came home for Thanksgiving I had made a lot of progress on some projects at home. I did a BUNCH of cleaning, reorganized our pantry, ordered new carpet for our bedroom, and figured out how to host a scaled-down Thanksgiving in a COVID-safe way. (Outdoors, with fewer people, mandatory masks, and no buffet line, if you’re curious.) No one got sick afterwards, which we considered a big win.
In December we returned to Gratitude for two weeks. The first was spent WORKING! We needed to get our boat clean and reprovisioned, inside and out. Plus we still had a few outstanding repairs that were not complete. Then the second week, we hoped to head north to West Palm Beach. Alas, when the day of departure came, the winds and waves were completely opposed to our plan… but we weren’t stymied! We’ve learned how to pivot in the past two years, so we headed south, to Biscayne Bay.
Coconut Grove, FL
Andy and I have anchored in Biscayne Bay several times over the last two years. It’s pretty ideal – a little more than a half-day’s sail from Ft. Lauderdale, and there’s always plenty of room. But we’d never explored the western edge of the bay, which is closer to metro Miami. On this trip, after a couple of nights near No Name Harbor, we crossed the bay and picked up a mooring ball at Dinner Key Marina. The mooring balls are about $30 a night (rate depends on the size of your vessel), which gives you access not only to a secure mooring but also the dinghy dock, laundry, and parking.
Being closer to town made it possible for us to grocery shop, find some new restaurants, and host an impromptu visit with friends Dan and Tracy, who were passing through on their way to Islamorada. We ate seafood at Monty’s outdoor raw bar, brunch at Stiltsville Fish Bar the next day, and then walked around South Beach, people-watching. I’d never been, and while I’m sure it’s different now than it normally is (pandemic means not really crowded), which was perfect.
It was the perfect end to our December trip – warm weather, good food, and great friends. A couple days later we sailed back to Ft. Lauderdale and docked smoothly at Pier 66 Marina so we could fly home for Christmas.
We came back to Ft. Lauderdale right after Christmas, hoping to take Gratitude down to Islamorada for New Year’s Eve. Dan and Tracy own a home there and we wanted to celebrate with them. Alas, the weather had its own ideas. Eight foot waves and 20+ knot winds killed those plans. However, all was not lost. We found a last-minute car rental and drove to the Keys late on the 31st, arriving just in time to meet for dinner at Chef Michael’s.
Did we stay up late to ring in the New Year? Heck no! The next morning we knew we’d be getting up early for the annual Islamorada Blessing of the Fleet. This is a really special event. Every local boat captain, whether commercial or private, is welcome to come up to the Whale Harbor Bridge and request a blessing for their vessel. The boats line up around 8 a.m. and form a queue. As each captain reaches the front of the line at the Whale Harbor bridge, they identify themselves and their boat on the VHF radio. Local pastors and chaplains take turns offering a prayer for that vessel. It is very moving to hear the prayers and reflect on the lives that depend on God’s faithfulness and blessings for the coming year. Prayers for “tight lines and endless chum” are not uncommon for the many fishing boats that participate.
We returned to Gratitude and FINALLY set sail for the Keys on January 3rd, when conditions were not so adverse. It only took us two days, anchoring overnight in Biscayne Bay. The first day-and-a-half were a little bumpy, but NOTHING like it would have been if we’d dared the trip at the end of December. Dan and Tracy were still in Islamorada, so when we got close they brought their boat, Bumpse, out to meet us and usher us through the Snake Creek Drawbridge.
We had been ambivalent about attempting that bridge crossing. Doing so would put us on the Bay side of the Keys, where anchorages are plentiful and the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) leads you down to Key West. It’s a drawbridge that opens once every hour (if requested), so we can get through it without endangering our mast. But when we checked our charts, clearance of an overhead cable was reported at 76 feet, and Gratitude’s mast juts 75 feet into the air. Would 1 foot be enough for us to make it? See for yourself below.
It was plenty tense, believe you me.
After a few blissful days, Dan and Tracy and their daughter Lila had to return to live back back home, so Andy and I are now exploring Islamorada on our own. We’ll post more about our time in the Keys soon!