On April 7 we boarded a plane for Ft. Lauderdale and got upgraded at the very last minute to First Class! (Score!) We were headed back to Gratitude to begin this year’s journey out of the Hurricane Belt.
For weeks there had been much discussion of where we wanted to take Gratitude for hurricane season (July 1 – October 31, per our insurance coverage). Our first choice was to leave her at a very secure marina in Fajardo, Puerto Rico called Puerto del Rey. It has a HUGE sea wall to offer protection against the strongest storms. Alas, they were completely booked up for 2021. Next we considered Simpson Bay in Sint Maarten. We really like the island, and the lagoon is a relatively protected hurricane hole, especially if you can find a marina with floating docks.
But every time we got ready to make a reservation, Andy would lose a night’s sleep. We finally realized that it was not just the hurricane risk that was a negative for this plan; it was also the difficulty of getting in and out of St. Maarten during the waning days of the pandemic. If we left Gratitude in Simpson Bay, and then if a hurricane did look likely, we couldn’t get back to her quickly enough to get her secure and out of harm’s way. Not only would we need to book a flight, we’d also have to go through the Covid-testing-and-visa protocol that the island currently requires. So we finally abandoned the idea of finding a secure place in the Caribbean and started discussing options in the U.S.
It didn’t take us long to agree that Charleston was pretty ideal. We spent several weeks there in 2020, and even rode out Hurricane Isaias at the Charleston City Marina. We love the town… and it’s only a 6 hour drive from Atlanta. With no Covid testing needed before or after arrival. (We’ve both been vaccinated, but so far the vaccinations have not eliminated the need for Covid tests before entering other countries.)
So our thoughts turned to how we wanted to get Gratitude up to Charleston City Marina from her current berth at Pier 66 in Ft. Lauderdale. A window opened up after Andy’s dad had a positive report from his latest CT scan, so we booked last-minute airfare and started making preparations. These included setting up outdoor drinks and dinner with some awesome cruisers we met in Grenada, Shane and MV. These intrepid Aussies have been sailing for over a decade, and they have some great stories to tell.
It was just wonderful to hang out with these friends. We hadn’t seen each other since our boats were in St. Maarten in December of 2019. After some time catching up, MV paid us the ultimate compliment, that we had really grown as sailors. It’s nice to hear that from someone who has so much experience. I don’t know when our paths will cross again, but I am hoping to go diving with these two before we’re done with this sailing adventure.
The next day was a long one, as we had a few hours of car rental left and many errands to run. Costco, Whole Foods, and West Marine were on my list, and I knocked them out with time to spare. We were preparing not only for departure the next day, but also special boat guests: my sister-in-law Katy and niece Story Jane! Because of Covid we had seen them only once in more than a year, and I was very eager to see how they experienced boat life. Story would be the first-ever child allowed aboard as crew on Gratitude. I was confident she would prove worthy of the honor.
Our guests arrived on Friday night and we gave them the boat tour and the “toilet talk.” (Marine toilets require different care than the land variety! The main message is, “NEVER flush anything other than tp or what your body produces.”) Then on Saturday we all rose early. Our goal was to make the 8:00 a.m. 17th Street Bridge opening, then head for the open seas and West Palm Beach.
Of course, it’s not an adventure without some adversity. We had brisk winds and a little chop, which made for a bouncy ride. Not the worst we’ve ever seen – but not ideal for first-timers. We knew it was coming, but we wanted to get to West Palm before some big storms were due to roll in on Saturday night. In spite of scopolamine patches, both Katy and Story suffered seasickness after a couple of hours. They were troopers, though. I’d even say Katy was a bad-ass, as her ultimate response was to write a poem about it. Yeah, that’s how she rolls. 😝 Fortunately everyone eventually found their sea legs, so the day wasn’t total misery.
We anchored in Lake Worth, at West Palm Beach, by mid-afternoon on Saturday. The big excitement upon our arrival was a capsized pleasure boat right in the channel! We heard a conversation between the Coast Guard and another captain on our radio about this boat, and about 60 seconds later we looked up and saw a crowd of boats ahead of us. A pontoon boat held the rescued passengers, and several other boats were offering assistance. We had to dodge a lot of these, and the confusion was chaotic. Finally we spotted the stricken vessel, its underside barely visibly above the waterline. A TowBoat US captain was motoring next to us, and Andy had to point out the capsized boat to him. We finally made it past the mayhem and got out of everyone’s way. Also, I don’t have photos, because I’m not one of those vultures who wants pictures of someone else’s bad day. (Yes, I feel a little righteous about that.)
I do have photos of some of our West Palm outings, though:
Our biggest outing was a trip to the Palm Beach Zoo. We saw a lot of animals I had only ever seen on TV or in books, including a jaguar, an anteater, and a sloth (my favorite since I read about them in Ranger Rick at the age of seven). I have to say that the jaguar, though, was the highlight. When we first arrived at his habitat, he was pacing back and forth along the fence and paying no attention to the humans on the other side. That was about to change, however, with the arrival of another zoo patron:
The family that brought this little poodle into the zoo wandered around the habitat with no apparent awareness of the effect their arrival had on the Jaguar. We watched in fascination (and a little horror) as the cat stalked the poodle’s every move, eventually climbing a tree to get a better vantage point for potential attack. Only as these guests were leaving the area did the poodle finally see the jaguar and hide in fear from the cat’s sight line.
This visit was good for my soul in multiple ways. First, of course, was getting relaxed and extended time with family. Second was seeing more of West Palm Beach than we did on previous visits. Third was seeing my niece’s delight in boat life. She really seemed to love all of it, from searching for dolphins to riding in the dinghy to feeding her breakfast leftovers to the fish in the lake. Did you know that fish love Fruit Loops? I didn’t either!
I also must mention that Katy paid close attention to the toilet talk. One night in West Palm she pulled on the window shade in the head, only to see a clip break off and fall in the toilet! Aware of the danger to our macerator and plumbing system, Katy valiantly overcame her natural reticence and did what needed to be done to remove the clip from the toilet. Not every guest would have done so, which would surely have set us up for a yucky, unpleasant repair. Three cheers for Katy!
Katy and Story had to leave us on Tuesday morning for a long day of travel back home. I think we would all say that the visit was worth the trouble, though.
Our next days are devoted to sailing north along the Florida coast, retracing last year’s path to Charleston.