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Location: Florida!

From beautiful Cumberland Island, Georgia, we could see Florida just across the river. Where this part of Georgia was gorgeous, wild, and unspoiled, just across the border Florida belched smoke and stinky fumes from the many factories. Yuck! We stopped in the first town, Fernandina Beach, for groceries, and were under whelmed. However, we were thrilled about the weather. It seemed as though when we crossed the Florida border, we entered summer. Suddenly it was 80 degrees and sunny. Woo-hoo!!!!!!!

We traveled down to St. Augustine, where we planned to meet up with Taku for Thanksgiving. St. Augustine was a pretty town, with lots of Colonial and Spanish architecture. You had to pay to use the dinghy dock at the marina, but  the fee included showers, so that was okay after all! The waterfront of the town, and the ornate bridge we anchored next to, were all decorated in white lights for the holidays.

But the anchorage was tight, and there was that darn wind/current issue here as well. Several nights were sleepless as we worried about boats that had anchored close by. Thanksgiving was- well- memorable! First thing, while I was in the middle of prepping the turkey (you know, poultry grease all over my hands, couldn't touch anything!) we ran out of water. We had a dilemma. If we pulled up the anchor to motor over to the marina to fill the tanks, we were sure to lose our spot in the crowded anchorage. We had not bought any jerry jugs yet. We had no water. Neil finally managed to borrow some collapsible camping jugs from Taku, and spent an hour plowing into the wind and current, ferrying water from the marina docks to Zora's tank. The kids (Liv and Martha from Taku) were getting quite antsy by then, so everybody but me went in town to explore the Spanish fort. I was doing the cooking, on both Taku and Zora since my oven wasn't big enough for everything! I'd dinghy back and forth to baste the turkey, check the pies, etc. Of course, I had trouble with both ovens going out in the midst of baking (it was VERY windy).... But finally, whew! everything was finished. Thanksgiving dinner was a bit late, but lots of fun. Liv and Martha made a printed menu, and served as hostesses. They even serenaded us with songs! We had a lot to be thankful for.

Next stop was Daytona Beach, where we spent the morning of my birthday visiting the farmer's market. We got a late start, and had a very strong wind on the nose, as we crept along in the narrow dredged channel at the edge of wide open Mosquito Lagoon. It was getting very rough, windy (and the wind was right on our nose!), and rainy, with no available anchorages until Titusville. It began to get dark, and finally the long straight channel turned enough to allow us to roll out a bit of sail and pick up a little speed. It was challenging, sailing along in choppy seas and gusty winds in the very narrow bouyed channel in the middle of a wide, shallow bay. I had to keep looking back over my shoulder at the bouy behind us to use as a range, since the wind and current were relentlessly pushing us out of the invisible dredged channel and onto the shoals. But we needed to arrive before dark, as the bouys were, mostly, unlit. We made it to the anchorage just as darkness fell.... a hectic day to say the least! Despite all this, Neil managed to cook up a great birthday dinner complete with brownies for dessert!

We'd planned to leave to boat in Titusville for our visit inland to my grandparents' house, but when we got there we didn't feel comfortable with it. So after a couple of days we continued south to Cocoa Beach. As luck would have it, anchored there was another Mariner 39, Columbine, who we'd had email contact with before. Tony and Sandy were planning to stay there for a long time, and generously agreed to keep and eye on Zora while we were gone. That made us feel ever so much more comfortable about leaving her! So we set out two anchors, made sure that the newly installed solar panels were working, and headed inland in a rental car.

We picked up my Mom at the Orlando airport, and all drove west to Homosassa to visit Nana and Bob. We had a lovely, relaxing visit with them, and on the way back my mom took us to Disneyworld for our Christmas present. Liv was in heaven! (and we had fun on the rides, too!) Neil and Olivia even braved Splash Mountain:

Liv stood on her tip-toes to meet the height requirement for the race cars, and got to drive her own car! You can read her account here.

When we left Cocoa, we got caught in a squall and ducked into Dragon Point at the bottom of Merritt Island. Boaters, beware! There's something in the water just off the point, in the middle of the "channel"... on the way out the next morning, about 30' off the day marker, we crunched pretty hard. We think it must have been a sunken boat, since it was right where there was supposed to be deep water. We'd seen tons of sunken boats: masts sticking up right in the middle of anchorages and boats washed ashore. A very sad sight.

The rest of Florida has been something of a blur. It seems all the same, with countless bridges, motorboats throwing big wakes, and condos ashore. We kept wanting to go "outside" but the weather didn't cooperate. Next time, though, I think we'll go outside if at all possible....

Lake Worth was a fun stop in many ways though. We got to visit with Neil's cousin Michael and his family, who were extremely helpful in collecting packages mailed for Christmas from distant relatives, and loading us up with fishing gear for the Bahamas! We also re-connected with Taku and Alohomora, as well as met some new friends with kids. Liv was quite happy! We were able to borrow cars from  friends and get many pre-Bahamas errands done, and Daisy went to the vet to be spayed. At one point we went all the way down to Fort Lauderdale to have our cockpit measured for the new bimini (shade awning). We anchored in something called "Lettuce Lake", nothing more than a hundred-yard wide notch cut out of the side of the straight, manmade ditch that the ICW is here. It was weird to be anchored in everyone's backyard (see picture) but we were able to dinghy ashore to a park and cross the street to the endless oceanside beach for a lovely swim.

We had decided to go back up to Lake Worth for the week, and did not relish another day of endless ICW bridges, so we went "outside" to head north. It was a little rough leaving the Hillsboro Inlet (poor Liv got sick) but we had a terrific race up the coast in the deep blue gulfstream waters. We hooked a VERY large fish (Wahoo? Marlin?) who broke the line and danced on his tail for a minute or two, angrily trying to dislodge the lure. After that we managed to catch a small mackerel, which we had for dinner that night back in Lake Worth. Unfortunately, when it was time to head south to Fort Lauderdale again, the wind was blowing from the south, so we slogged down the ICW "inside" once again. In that one day I steered us though 20 drawbridges and many more fixed bridges. Ugh!

Fort Lauderdale has a big sign on the ICW proclaiming it the "Yachting Capitol of the World" but they don't mean yachts like us. It is chock-full of gigantic luxury motor yachts, and we little guys are obviously not wanted at all. There is a 24-hour-per YEAR limit to anchoring within the city limits. We anchored the first night in Lake Sylvia, feeling our way in and following the directions in our cruising guide until, "CRUNCH". We hit hard. But we finally got in and anchored in plenty of water. The next day, we'd generously been offered the use of a dock that was supposed to have 6' of water alongside. Unfortunately, as we learned just after the canvas maker had finished installing our new bimini, there was more like 3 1/2 feet at low tide!!!! We were stuck until the next daytime high tide, the following noon. It was rather creepy to see so much bottom paint showing. Suffice it to say, we did not enjoy our visit to Fort Lauderdale much at all, and were glad to leave the next day!

That day was another of endless hurrying to make the scheduled bridge openings, or waiting for the next one if we arrived too late.... we finally arrived at the very top of Biscayne Bay, and the water suddenly turned a milky turquoise blue: an extraordinary color! We picked our way off the channel and into the anchorage at Oleta River State Park, a truly lovely anchorage. It's scenic and extremely well-protected (happily, since it blew hard for several days) but unfortunately the grocery stores are quite a hike. Liv and I found some strange pine-like branches and fashioned a Christmas wreath for the bow pulpit with a red bow of spinnaker cloth:

After several days relative isolation at Oleta, we made the short 10-mile jump down to Miami Beach. Wow! City life, what a big change! Although I must admit we're getting a little sick of it now, we found we enjoyed Miami Beach a lot. It has a very interesting mix of people: old Jewish ladies and hip young fashionistas and Cubans and other South Americans, and of course, gays. The anchorage is right at the end of a long walking/shopping street called Lincoln Road, where the people-watching is out of this world. We arrived a few days before Christmas, and although the street was crowded with shoppers and there were token Christmas Tree decorations around, instead of Christmas music there was Cuban music blaring from the stores! There's a 25-cent shuttle bus that takes you almost everywhere you need to go ( to the Post Office, thankfully, since we've already been there probably 15 times attempting to collect packages!) The ocean beach is close by, and most blocks have an Argentine or Cuban grocery store with homemade empanadas for $1.50, and thick Cuban coffee. The architecture is also quite wonderful: a lot of the extreme art deco remains, much has been restored, and new buildings are built in styles that complement the old. The architecture, like the clothing and shoes worn by the locals, is very "over the top". Not the trickled-down stuff that we see in most of America, where a radical idea is toned down and tamed; here people seem to do just as they like. Fashion-wise, Miami Beach is the first place I have been where people actually walk down the street (in broad daylight) wearing the super-crazy runway haute couture clothing you see in Vogue magazine.

Long before South Beach was developed, there was an avocado plantation here. The owners dredged a long canal almost all the way through the island to get their crop to market. This is Collins Canal, and to this day it bisects Miami Beach, right in the middle of the city. This is where the cruisers bring their dinghies ( but make sure you lock up everything very well!!). You can tie up off Alton Street for the hardware store, or right across the street from the Publix grocery store! Talk about convenient! We love this Publix. All the other Publix we've been to have been big strip-mall modern stores. This one is in an art deco building; they even changed the font on their name to match the architecture. Cool, huh? Inside, we found great goodies for provisioning for the Bahamas: canned Danish hams and Spanish chorizo sausages requiring no refrigeration, wonderful fruit juices imported from South America, Mexican Nestle Crema... here is a picture:

The anchorage here is O.K. We're tucked up next to a man-made island full of high-rise buildings. Sometimes it offers great protection, but sometimes when the wind blows hard (and it blew hard for an entire week!!) they create williwaws, or strong downward gusts at opposing directions to the rest of the wind. Powerboats also roar past creating huge wakes, but then again we get to witness gorgeous sunsets over the skyline of Miami, off the west. We can't really complain! We do make sure to raise the dinghy a foot or so off the water with a halyard every night, though. We heard from another cruiser that last month, 30 dinghies were stolen. The group of thieves had a guy in the water  to cut the painters of dinghies trailed off the stern. He also had bolt-cutters, so even if the dinghy was locked to the boat, he cut it. The dinghies then drifted back from the boats, and were collected by the other guys in a motorboat. Apparently one sailor tried to retrieve a dinghy and was threatened with a gun! Also apparently, the police were called, and we have seen no similar trouble since we arrived almost 2 weeks ago.

When we arrived here, we remembered that Richard and Billy, the previous owners of our boat, had a winter place here. We called information and found a number and left a message. An hour later they called back: they were in Miami! We invited them over to see Zora, and we had a lovely visit. The next night they took us out for a fantastic Italian dinner on Lincoln Road, as a "bon voyage." It was great to see them and we're happy they got to see the boat all fixed up and off on her next adventure. Thanks, Richard and Billy!

As Christmas eve grew nearer, Liv started fretting about our Christmas tree. My mom had cut a little tree from the woods near her house in Maine, and sent it down. But the Post Office could not find it. On Christmas Eve we tried one last time, and when the ladies at the counter shook their heads, Liv burst into tears. I had brought along a small tinsel tree as a back-up, but Liv was dead-set against it. It had to be a REAL tree. As we walked back to the dinghy, we passed a florist shop with some pine branches in a bucket by the door, and hatched a plan. Liv picked out the 2 tallest branches, and back on the boat Neil made a stand by screwing a juice bottle to an extra locker lid. We wired the branches together and braced them in the bottle, and weighted the plywood lid with dive weights. When we were done, it looked just like a little tree! Liv was thrilled: whew!!

Liv made a gorgeous "Indian" star for the top of the tree, with holes punched in it. We put several of the tree lights inside the star and it glowed beautifully. She also made paper snowflakes to decorate the cabin, and she made seashell ornaments with a little bit of drill help from her dad. The tree was gorgeous! We made paella for dinner and read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" before bed. It was a warm and sunny Christmas, with a happy kid.

Here are some pictures of Daisy, Neil and Liv enjoying some of their gifts....

We had all the fixings for a traditional Christmas dinner with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding..... but it was just too darn hot for that kind of food!!!! It appealed to none of us, so Christmas dinner was a low-key affair of grilled chicken on salad (which did satisfy us!) and key lime pie for dessert. The next day, though, the hot calm weather disappeared, and it blew hard and (relatively) chilly. A perfect day for roast beef!

Now that Christmas was over, we wanted to gather up a few last supplies and get to the Bahamas. But the weather did not cooperate. Every day the weather report called for "East/Northeast winds 20-25 knots" for several days into the future. Since the Gulf Stream (which you need to cross to get to the islands) runs SW-NE at a fast clip, when the wind direction opposes it creates very large choppy waves. At the least, it is incredibly uncomfortable, at the worst (such as in 25 kt winds) it can be very dangerous. We needed to wait until the wind was between SE-W.

At first we were not worried. All December, the "northers" had been blowing through every 4 or 5 days, and the winds would cycle around predictably. During that time you only had to wait a few days at most for a "weather window" to cross to the Bahamas. But not now. The high affecting our weather was stalled in the Atlantic to the NE of us, not moving. And so neither did our weather change. Liv was not too concerned, since she had the girls from Oreneta (a 27-foot Albin Vega from Toronto with 4 people aboard!) to play with. But we were getting really antsy to go! 

We've been filling our time with small projects, though. I've been provisioning. I'm filling every spare inch of space with food and paper goods. Apparently such items are either impossible to find or incredibly costly where we're going. I'm hoping that, aside from some fresh produce we'll hopefully be able to buy, and fresh seafood we will hopefully catch, we'll be able to live off our stored food for quite some time. I certainly hope so, or else this trip is going to be a lot shorter than we'd hoped. We'd hoped to be able to live on $750/mo. So far, in the USA, we've been closer to $1000/mo, and that doesn't even include the $700 or so of provisions we have aboard. Granted, we've been on the ICW, so our fuel costs are not representative of normal cruising, but still!!!! It worries me. I don't want to go back home early!! Anyway..... some pix of our provisioning!

New Years Eve we were too tired to stay awake, but were awoken anyway by the nearby revelers and the fireworks over Miami, so that was just fine. On Sunday we had a fantastic visit with our friends Fran and Tony (of Seamuffin) who were down from Maine visiting relatives. They took us to a sumptuous Mexican lunch and stayed aboard that night. It was SUCH a great visit. We hope to see them out here cruising very soon....

It now looks like we have a "window" to cross on Thursday. Hooray!!!! So today we'll do laundry and try one last time at the Post office for the mail package mailed long before Christmas (!). Tomorrow morning we'll visit Publix for last-minute fresh produce, stop by a marina for fuel and water, then find a spot to anchor as near the inlet as possible. We'll spend the evening stowing everything aboard for sea, and go to bed early with our alarms set for 5 AM!!!! How exciting, we're finally leaving America!

Some last pictures from Miami: