There are many reasons to pause in Vero Beach. It is an attractive and welcoming community that offers outstanding amenities for the cruising sailor. In fact, there is such a powerful attraction to this place that many boaters drop the hook permanently in Vero when their cruising days come to an end.
Such is the case with our friend Carey who we met on a cruise from Florida to the Bahamas during the 2011/2012 sailing season. Now residents of Vero Beach, Carey and Julie go above and beyond the call of duty in making our stay comfortable and entertaining.
While Cutter Loose remains on a mooring at Vero Beach City Marina, we pass the time enjoying their hospitality. Access to their vehicles during our 7-day stay makes light work of grocery shopping and visits to the outboard motor repair shop. While the women visit galleries, Carey and I tee it up at a challenging course comprised of equal parts sand, water, grass and palmetto rough.
Friends Sharon and Greg aboard s/v Dream Catcher are also here at Vero Beach City Marina. We have been denied the pleasure of their company since Charleston. Leisurely morning walks to the beach and meals together contribute to our delightful stay in Vero. While our outboard motor spends a few days in sick bay, Hayden and Radeen and Greg and Sharon generously provide dinghy transportation from the mooring ball to the dock.
Yet another reason to visit Vero Beach at this time of year is the Thanksgiving cruiser’s buffet, an annual ritual in Vero Beach. Turkey and ham entrees are prepared and served by former cruisers turned volunteers that now make Vero Beach their home.
The City donates the use of the fully equipped community center. Visiting cruisers sign up at the marina to bring side dishes. This year, over 200 visiting cruisers participate in this event.
A high-pressure dome over southern Georgia has been fueling gusty gale-force, northeast winds along Florida’s east coast. The winds are so brisk during our stay that the lifeguards have declared the beach off limits to swimmers and walkers.
This weather pattern is expected to persist for another week, eliminating the option of a coastal sail to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. In this circumstance, we are fortunate to have the Intracoastal Waterway as an alternative route south.
After a final energetic walk to the beach on Friday morning, Cutter Loose is underway from Vero for the short 14-mile run to Fort Pierce. Upon clearing the 1:30 PM opening of the Fort Pierce North Bridge, a U.S. Coast Guard vessel illuminates its blue flashing light and maneuvers deftly alongside Cutter Loose for an impromptu safety inspection. Within seconds, two uniformed Coasties board Cutter Loose armed with their inspection checklist.
We are familiar with the drill, having been boarded by the Coast Guard in 2011. They ask for our USCG registration papers and driver’s licenses. One officer remains in the cockpit to complete the paperwork while his partner descends the companionway stairs to inspect for emergency flares, fire extinguishers, sanitation system and flotation devices. Both officers are very young, polite and complimentary. Thirty minutes later, the inspection is completed. Cutter Loose has passed the exam with flying colors. With this, the Coasties have packed up and are on their way. By 2:15 PM, the anchor is down in blustery conditions south of Causeway Island.
On Saturday evening, we rendezvous with Caribbean cruising friends, Jan and Richard aboard IP 370 Morpheus of London, who have recently arrived in the U.S. from their home in the UK.
We first met these intrepid English sailors in Virgin Gorda in January, 2012. Thereafter, our paths would cross by chance on several occasions during 2013 and 2014 as we plied the waters between Antigua and Grenada. In February of 2015, Cutter Loose and Morpheus shared an anchorage at Boqueron, Puerto Rico for more than a week waiting for a weather window to cross the Mona Passage to the Dominican Republic. During our brief visit to Fort Pierce, we spent an entertaining evening with Richard and Jan comparing notes on our similar paths through the Turks and Caicos and the out islands of the Bahamas.
On Saturday, the anchor is up in Fort Pierce at 8:15 AM. Since wind and sea conditions in the Atlantic Ocean are untenable today, we elect to follow the Intracoastal Waterway along the Indian River past St. Lucie Inlet and Hobe Sound to Lake Worth. As we continue our journey south along the ICW, the landscape becomes more urban and the size of waterfront homes is increasing in proportion to the density, size and speed of pleasure boats.
Over the course of today’s 47-mile journey, there are a total of seven bascule bridges to be transited. Each bridge poses its own unique requirements in terms of arriving on time but not too early for the scheduled opening. There is considerable jockeying for position as boats are admonished by the bridge operator to form an orderly queue. The current, wind and wakes from passing go-fast boats makes for challenging piloting conditions during the final minutes before the bridge is opened. Ever so slowly, the bridge spans rise and the parade of boats proceed through the narrow opening.
On this, the Saturday following Thanksgiving, the Waterway is crowded with recreational boaters. Floridians want to be outdoors on their boats, enjoying a warm, sunny afternoon. In Jupiter Sound, boating activity reaches a fever pitch. The waterway becomes a proverbial obstacle course of slower sailboats and trawlers, personal watercraft, paddlers and impatient go-fast power vessels. Some of the more powerful motor vessels are traveling at incredibly high speed, kicking up a four-foot wake and churning the ICW into a frenzy of white water. On a holiday weekend, Jupiter Sound is truly a bizarre spectacle of sight and sound. It is a stressful place to be.
Finally, at 4 PM, the anchor is down in the quiet but crowded anchorage at North Lake Worth. Dozens of cruising boats are staged here for a Gulf Stream crossing to the northern Bahamas once the wind and waves subside. The peacefulness of this setting is particularly soothing after today’s experience on the Waterway.
On Sunday, the anchor is up at 8 AM in North Lake Worth for the 31-mile run to Boca Raton. Today’s journey takes us through the upscale urban enclaves of Palm Beach and Delray Beach where the homes and boats are even larger than those which we encountered yesterday. Thankfully, the traffic on the Waterway is lighter today with fewer go-fast boats. A total of 12 bascule bridges must be transited on this segment of the ICW, adding significant time to today’s trip. Rather than pressing on to Fort Lauderdale, we opt instead for a short day, dropping the hook in Lake Boca at 1:30 PM.
Upon our arrival, the anchorage is filled with pleasure boats enjoying all manner of Sunday afternoon partying. By 4 PM, most of the local boats have departed, leaving this pleasant anchorage to just a handful of transient cruisers.
On Monday, the anchor is up at 8:30 AM for the short, 16-mile run from Boca Raton to Fort Lauderdale. Another 8 bascule bridges must be transited today. This brings the total to 28 bridge openings since departing Vero Beach on Friday. Today, Cutter Loose is frequently the only vessel in the bridge queue. What a difference a day makes.
By noon, Cutter Loose is lying on a City mooring near the Las Olas Boulevard Bridge. Tomorrow we will take a slip at Las Olas Marina to enjoy a week’s stay in Fort Lauderdale, the self-proclaimed “Yachting Capital of the World”.