December 1st to December 16th – Fort Lauderdale to Marathon Key

FtL Sandman

Our home during this one week stay in Fort Lauderdale is Las Olas Marina, a city-owned and operated facility located beneath the east side of the Las Olas Boulevard Bridge.  Like trolls, we explore the city by day and return to our home beneath the bridge at dusk.  From the marina, it is a five minute walk to the French patisserie for morning croissant and espresso.  Another block east of the patisserie is the A1A public promenade alongside the beach, which makes for an entertaining stroll at any time of the day.

Beach wedding

For those who seek a more extensive exercise alternative, it is a scenic, 40-minute walk west across the Las Olas Bridge to the Las Olas downtown retail and entertainment district.

Las Olas at night

The reward for a morning stroll in downtown Fort Lauderdale is the Gran Forno Italian bakery with its delicious coffee and impressive array of freshly baked breads, biscotti and pastries.  A few blocks further west is a meandering pedestrian walkway along the New River which leads to the performing arts center.  There is no shortage of interesting scenery and people watching opportunities along this route.

singer

It is easy to get around in Fort Lauderdale without a car.  From the Las Olas Boulevard intersection with A1A, public trolleys provide access to downtown, the 17th Street commercial corridor and the Sunrise Boulevard mall district.  The one-way fare is $1.  Big spenders can purchase an all-day trolley pass for $3.  Public transit in Fort Lauderdale makes shopping and provisioning a breeze.

Unfortunately, the weather is anything but cooperative during our visit to Fort Lauderdale.  A stationary weather front to the south produces dense cloud cover, high humidity, periodic heavy downpours and sporadic rain showers almost every day.  Our rain gear is always close at hand during excursions off the boat. After all, this is the tropics where precipitation can occur at any time.

Las Olas canal

Fort Lauderdale is a community of interconnected canals.  Even during dry weather, the City has been experiencing evidence of climate change.  At high tide, during a full moon when the lunar gravitational force is at its peak, some of the City’s canals overflow their banks, resulting in flooding of low-lying intersections and neighborhoods.

Lauderdale YC1

Our return to Fort Lauderdale evolves into a mini-reunion with Pat’s former Bishop Carroll classmates Joyce and Stephani.  Suddenly, the social calendar aboard Cutter Loose becomes filled with interesting activities including a delectable lunch at the Lauderdale Yacht Club, an abundance of mind-boggling choices at the Funky Buddha Brewery, shopping at Costco and Walmart, a Saturday holiday party at the home of Stephani and Robin, an outdoor jazz brunch on Sunday with Grenada friends Donna and Steve and Monday afternoon appetizers at Coconuts with Joyce and Brian.

Funky Buddha

Donn

During the days leading up to our arrival in Fort Lauderdale, the electronic chart plotters on Cutter Loose have been behaving erratically.  Since redundancy is an essential part of cruising, Cutter Loose is equipped with two electronic chart plotters…one below in the cabin and the other at the helm.  The local Raymarine technician diagnoses the problem as a faulty card reader which prevents the chart plotter in the cabin from reading and displaying navigational data stored on the Navionics chip.  The fix involves removing the faulty chart plotter and sending it to the Raymarine factory in New Hampshire to replace the card reader.  Since this part is currently out of stock at the factory, we will defer this repair until replacement parts become available.  In the meantime, we will get by adequately with the one functioning chart plotter at the helm.

heron

After a week’s stay at Las Olas Marina, Cutter Loose is underway on Tuesday afternoon for the short, one-mile run to Lake Sylvia where the hook is down for a one-night stay at this crowded anchorage.  In light of improving weather conditions, yachts are staging here for an early morning departure for the Bahamas.

On Wednesday, the anchor is up at 9 AM for the 33-mile, coastal run to Miami.  We arrive just in time for the 9:30 AM opening of the 17th Street Bridge.  From here, a left turn into the Class A inlet at Port Everglades provides rapid access to the Atlantic Ocean.  The weather has improved significantly since we departed Fort Lauderdale.  Under sunny skies, it is a pleasant sail south past the oceanfront condo towers of Hallandale and Miami Beach.

Pilot boat Miami

At 12:45 PM, Cutter Loose enters the wide and well-marked channel to Government Cut, the entrance to the Port of Miami.  Once inside, our course today takes us past the upscale condos at Fisher Island and alongside the docked freighters in Lummus Island Cut.

Port of Miami

Once under the Rickenhauser Causeway Bridge, Cutter Loose enters the protected waters of Biscayne Bay.  The anchor is down at 2 PM near Virginia Key…an excellent vantage point from which to relax and enjoy a spectacular nighttime view of the Miami skyline.

Miami skyline from stern

On Thursday at 10:30 AM, the anchor is up at Virginia Key for the short, three-mile run to the mooring field at Dinner Key Marina.  The marina and the mooring field are packed with boats at this time of year.  Not surprisingly, many snowbirds remain here in Coconut Grove for the entire winter.  Fortunately, there is one remaining ball on the outer periphery of the mooring field that can accommodate Cutter Loose.

CL mooring

Rather than compete for space at the marina’s undersized dinghy dock, we elect to utilize the launch service that is included in the cost of the mooring.  At the top of the hour, the launch circulates through the mooring field to pick up and discharge passengers.  A new, three-story marina office with laundry facilities, shower rooms and customer lounge has been constructed here at Dinner Key since our visit in 2011.  In our travels thus far, Dinner Key Marina serves as the model for well-maintained amenities, staff friendliness and operational efficiency.

Miami City Hall Dinner Key

Coconut Grove is a neighborhood within the City of Miami.  Within easy walking distance from Dinner Key Marina is a trendy shopping district with an abundance of eating and drinking establishments, a movie theater, Ferraris parked along the streets, multi-million dollar high-rise condos, highly manicured public parks, and, of course, Starbucks and a Fresh Market grocery store.  This setting makes for delightful strolls through city streets and Bayfront parks.

Twisty condos

After a visit to the farmer’s market on Saturday afternoon, easterly winds begin to increase as forecasted.  High pressure in Northern Florida is counterpoised against low pressure in the Keys, fueling an ample flow of easterly winds in the Miami area.

Farmers Market

The one downside to the Dinner Key mooring field is that it is exposed to north, east and south winds on Key Biscayne.  By the time we return to Cutter Loose in late afternoon, the wind has been building to 15 knots, producing 1 to 2 foot waves on the Bay.  Since the motion is not severe, we elect to ride out what is expected to be a windy night in the mooring field.  The wind generator will be working the night shift, insuring that the ship’s batteries remain fully charged.

Full Rainbow

For safety reasons, it is the marina’s practice to suspend its launch service whenever wind speed exceeds 15 knots. Such is the case on Sunday morning with periodic rain squalls and easterly winds in the 15 to 20 knot range.  By mid-afternoon, wind speeds have diminished to 13 knots which leads to the resumption of scheduled launch service.

Coco Walk

Since this is our final day in Coconut Grove, Monday morning is devoted to the mundane task of laundry.  Chores now completed, our afternoon date includes a pasta lunch at Strada followed by a 1 PM movie at the metroplex in Coco Walk.  Today’s feature is Trumbo starring Bryan Cranston.  The 4 PM Dinner Key launch service to our mooring brings to an end this four-day stay in Coconut Grove.  By 5:15 PM, Cutter Loose is anchored near Southwest Point on Key Biscayne, just a few miles from the Dinner Key mooring field.

sunset sail

At 7:30 AM on Tuesday, the anchor is up for a delightful sail through the Florida Keys.  This morning’s course takes us past Cape Florida Light with the towering structures of Key Biscayne in the background.

Biscayne Light

En route to the Atlantic Ocean, Biscayne Channel winds its way past a small community of abandoned structures.  Known locally as “Stiltsville”, these former fishing cabins were decimated by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and other more recent storms.  Local preservation groups have attempted to save Stiltsville, but nature is slowly reclaiming what remains of this unusual neighborhood.

Stiltsville

Ever so gradually, the Florida Keys arc towards the southwest and west. Each day, the temperature becomes warmer and the water becomes clearer.

CL under sail

A network of submerged coral reefs on the Atlantic Ocean side of the Keys extends roughly 150 miles from Miami to Key West. These invisible barriers prevent ocean swells from entering Hawk Channel, making for comfortable sailing towards Marathon Key.  Since the wind is around ten knots today, a little help from the diesel engine is needed to reach our destination before dark.

Channel 5 bridge

After a calm overnight anchorage at Rodriquez Key, Cutter Loose is underway at 7 AM on a sunny, clear Wednesday morning.  Since our destination today is located on the north side of Marathon Cay, we pass under Channel Five Bridge near Matecumbe Harbor and into the shallow, crab pot infested waters of Florida Bay.  Just before reaching the Seven Mile Bridge, Cutter Loose passes between the Fanny Keys and into her slip at the Harbour Cay Club where we will remain for a week or more before moving on to Florida’s west coast.

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