West Coast Cruising – Discovery Islands to Broughton Archipelago

In 2015, after shipment of His Idea to British Columbia from Florida, we made a few short trips to the Gulf and San Juan Islands to reintroduce ourselves to cruising on the west coast. The rocky coastline, large tides and swift currents, and relative frequency of fog create different cruising conditions from the waters of eastern North America and the Caribbean. Following further short excursions earlier this year we felt ready to tackle an extended cruise up the coast, beyond where we had been before, to the Discovery Islands, Blackfish Sound, and the Broughton Archipelago.

Essentially this area covers the islands and channels between Vancouver Island and the mainland from Campbell River to Port McNeill/Port Hardy.  It has a history of long First Nations habitation, early twentieth century settlement to take advantage of its forestry and fishing resources (although often on a small and/or remote scale), and abundant fish and wildlife. The latter resource now fosters the sport-fishing and eco-tourism industries, which in turn are helping to sustain the remaining small communities and outposts that are spread around the region. With a labyrinth of calm channels, numerous protected anchorages, both rustic and high-end marinas and resorts, great opportunities for viewing wildlife, and spectacular scenery, this region is an outstanding cruiser’s destination.

To get there from Georgia Strait, potential challenges for the mariner include the swiftest currents and most dangerous tidal rapids anywhere, fog any time of year, and the chance for rough seas, particularly when transiting 65 mile long Johnstone Strait. Although we encountered some fog in Johnstone Strait, both northbound and southbound we were blessed with very little wind and calm seas throughout this area, and generally excellent cruising conditions.

Ironically it was in Georgia Strait that we encountered our roughest weather, as well as our first serious mechanical breakdown with His Idea. While heading south for Point Roberts from our overnight stop at Jedediah Island (located west of the south end of Texada Island), we were being bounced around in 3-4’ moderate seas. To shorten the duration of the rough passage we decided to head towards Nanaimo to duck in at Gabriola Passage and continue south in the protected waters behind the northern Gulf Islands. This turned out to be a fortuitous decision, because about 5 miles off Nanaimo we lost power to the port engine. Upon shut down and inspection it became apparent that a high-pressure fuel line had ruptured and was spewing diesel fuel around the engine compartment – not a good thing. Except at very slow speeds His Idea handles well with only one engine and we were able to plow through the swells and limp into Nanaimo harbour. To make a long story short, after waiting for repairs and the now gale force winds to abate, we returned to Point Roberts in good form, albeit four days late.

Despite our challenges near the end of the journey, this trip lived up to all our cruising expectations, and we will definitely return to the area again. This was also an excellent learning experience for us, as we will be retracing much of this route during the excursion to Southwest Alaska (Glacier Bay) we are planning for 2017.

We hope you enjoy the following pictures and commentary…..

About 50 miles up Georgia Strait from our home port in Point Roberts is Merry Island Lighthouse, here about to be visited by Coast Guard hovercraft.

A Coast Guard hovercraft visits Merry Island Lighthouse, about 50 miles up Georgia Strait from our home port in Point Roberts.

Our first stop, cozy Smuggler Cove ....

Our first stop, cozy Smuggler Cove …..

.....where Ria enjoyed her first explorations by paddle board.

…..where Ria enjoyed her exploration by paddle board.                                            

While at Smuggler Cove we made a dinghy trip to nearby Thormanby Island, to enjoy the great beach there; the view is across Georgia Strait towards the Ballenas Islands and Parksville.

While at Smuggler Cove we made a dinghy trip to nearby Thormanby Island, to enjoy the great beach there; the view is across Georgia Strait towards the Ballenas Islands and Parksville.

Among the typical evergreen forests of B.C., the distinctive Arbutus tree can be spotted Georgia Strait's rocky shores as far north as Desolation Sound; this was a beautiful specimen.

Amidst the dominant evergreen forests of B.C., as far north as Desolation Sound, distinctive rusty-coloured Arbutus trees can be seen along Georgia Strait’s rocky shores.

The impressive remains of a large wreck are fully exposed during low tide at Squirrel Cove, Cortez Island.

At Squirrel Cove, Cortez Island, the impressive remains of a large wreck are fully exposed at low tide.

Our chartplotter showing His idea entering the Yuculta Rapids, the first of three we would transit through the narrow passes north of Desolation Sound.

Our chartplotter shows His Idea entering the Yuculta Rapids, the first of five (including Gilliard, Dent, Greene Point and Whirlpool) that we would transit on our way through the narrow passes north of Desolation Sound.

This area is renowned for its salmon sportfishing, which attracts visitors to impressive resorts.

The area around  Big Bay is renowned for salmon sport fishing, which attracts visitors to impressive resorts; we were working against a 4 knot current as we approached Gilliard Passage, however the boils and whirlpools were manageable.

This view is typical of the winding passages through the mountain-bound channels of the Discovery Islands,which anchor the north end of Georgia Strait.

This view is typical of the winding passages through the mountain-bound channels of the Discovery Islands, which define the area north of Georgia Strait.

Our anchorage at Forward Harbour was well protected from the westerlies of Johnstone Strait, with great views of the coast mountains to the east.

Our anchorage at Forward Harbour, east of Hardwicke Island, was well protected from the westerlies of Johnstone Strait, with great views of the coast mountains to the east.

Heading down Sunderland Channel towards notorious Johnstone Strait, the busy marine channel between Northen Vancouver Island and the mainland; it can often become very rough, but fortunately not today!

Heading west down Sunderland Channel towards Johnstone Strait, which often can be very rough; fortunately for us, not today!

A carved native canoe in front of Alert Bay, a large First Nations community on Cormorant Island near port McNeill.

A carved native canoe in front of Alert Bay, a large First Nations community on Cormorant Island near Port McNeill.

A misty and moody morning after a rainy night, Waddington Bay, Bonwick Island, Broughton Archipelago.

After a rainy night, a misty and moody morning at Waddington Bay, Bonwick Island, Broughton Archipelago.

A fellow boater's misadventure in Hopetown passage, Watson Island; we picked up their call to the Coast Guard on our VHF radio and went to take a look in the dinghy from our nearby anchorage in Turnbull Cove; with assistance from their companion cruising boat they were able to get off the rocks at high tide and eventually make it to Port McNeill for (expensive ) repairs.

Oops! A fellow boater’s misadventure in Hopetown Passage, Watson Island; we picked up their call to the Coast Guard on our VHF radio and took the dinghy from our nearby anchorage to take a look; with assistance from their companion cruising boat they were able to get off the rocks at high tide and eventually make it to Port McNeill for shaft, prop and rudder repairs (expensive, no doubt).

Abandoned logging equipment near our anchorage at Turnbull Cove; although there is evidence of logging on the mountainsides throughout this area, for the most part reforestation efforts cover most of the unsightly scars that remain, and we did not find it was particularly obtrusive to the beauty of the area.

Abandoned logging equipment near our anchorage at Turnbull Cove; although there is evidence of widespread logging throughout this area, reforestation efforts mostly cover the unsightly scars that remain, and we did not find them particularly intrusive to the beauty of the area.

This is the 'main street' of Sullivan Bay, a delightful marina on the north side of Broughton Island; up until the mid-fifties Sullivan Bay was the busiest floatplane base on the coast.

This is the ‘main street’ of Sullivan Bay, a delightful marina and floating community on the north side of Broughton Island; up until the mid-fifties Sullivan Bay was the busiest floatplane base serving the coast…..

It now sports beautiful 'suburban' floathomes, with sophisticated transportation methods to get there.

…..while now it sports beautiful ‘suburban’ floathomes, with sophisticated personal transportation methods to get there…..

.....and its own one hole golf course; this is the Captain practicing for the evening competition, where 'closest to the pin' wins a freshly baked turnover for the next day's breakfast (showing great determination, the Captain was finally rewarded on the third and last day of competition!).

…..and its own one hole golf course; this is the Captain practicing for the evening competition, where ‘closest to the pin’ wins a freshly baked turnover for next day’s breakfast (showing great determination, the Captain was finally rewarded on his third and last day of competition!).

Wildlife viewing on this cruise was excellent - we spotted grey whales, orcas, otters, etc. etc., and our favourites, Pacific White-sided Dolphins; they are increadibly fast swimmers, love to jump high in the air, and enjoy playing in the bow waves of slow-moving boats.....

Wildlife viewing was excellent – we saw grey whales, orcas, otters, etc., plus our favourite, Pacific white sided dolphins; they are incredibly fast swimmers, love to jump high in the air, and enjoy playing in the bow waves of slow-moving boats…..

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Looking for bear up the Ahta River at the head of Bond Sound (His Idea is a speck in the distance); we were unsuccessful.....

Exploring for bears up the Ahta River, at the head of Bond Sound, off Tribune Channel (His Idea is a speck in the distance); we were unsuccessful…..

.....but it didn't matter, as this fellow (and his cousin) showed up to entertain us when we anchored in nearby Wahkana Bay, Gilford Island; at low tide the bears use their powerful forearms to to move large and small rocks to get at the goodies exposed beneath.

…..but no matter, as this fellow and his cousin showed up to entertain us when we anchored in nearby Wahkana Bay, Gilford Island; at low tide the bears use their powerful forearms to move large and small rocks to get the goodies exposed beneath.

Mamalilaculla, once a thriving but now abandoned Kwakiutl village on Village Island, Knight Inlet, is slowly being reclaimed by the surrounding forest; native gatherings or 'potlatches' having been banned by the Canadian government in 1884, Mamalilaculla means 'village of the last potlatch', after a large gathering in 1921 led to mass arrests and confiscation of native regalia.

Mamalilaculla, once a thriving but now abandoned Kwakiutl village on Village Island, Knight Inlet, is slowly being reclaimed by the surrounding forest; native gatherings or ‘potlatches’ were banned by the Canadian government in 1884, and Mamalilaculla means ‘village of the last potlatch’ after a large gathering in 1921 led to mass arrests and confiscation of native regalia.

Approaching calm but foggy Johnstone Strait, from Havannah Channel east of West Cracroft Island; visibility was down to less than a mile for a good portion of this passage, so a sharp lookout and and close watch of chartplotter, radar and AIS was required for much of the southbound passage.

Here we are approaching calm but foggy Johnstone Strait via Havannah Channel, east of West Cracroft Island, on our return home; visibility in the Strait was sometimes less than a mile, so a sharp lookout and close watch of the chartplotter, radar and AIS was required for much of the southbound passage; despite the restricted visibility, the extreme calm and misty vistas lent an eerie beauty to the scene.

In addition to this lone Orca we spotted near KelseyBay, we also caught saw the disappearing tail flukes of a close aboard grey whale - better a quick glimpse than bumping into one!

In addition to this lone Orca that frolicked near us for awhile near Kelsey Bay, we also caught sight through the mist of the nearby tail flukes of a grey whale – better a quick glimpse than bumping into one!   

After an overnight stop at Small Inlet on Quadra Island, we tackled infamous Seymour Narrows, just north of Campbell River; maximum currents for the morning were 13 knots, howver by the time of our noon passage the ebb was reduced to 'only' 6 knots, and the seas were calm; lots of large boils and whirlpools though, and at the worst reduced to just 7 knots of headway.

After an overnight stop at Small Inlet on Quadra Island, we tackled infamous Seymour Narrows, just north of Campbell River; by the time of our noon passage the ebb was reduced to ‘only’ 6 knots (maximum 15 for the day) and the seas were calm; still, there were lots of large boils and whirlpools and at the worst we were reduced to just 7 knots of headway.

Our final stop in the Discovery Islands was Rebecca Spit, on the east side of Quadra Island; it's a wonderful location for beachcombing and swimming during the summertime.

Our final stop in the Discovery Islands was Rebecca Spit, on the east side of Quadra Island; great views, and it’s a wonderful location for beach combing and swimming during the summertime.

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End of this Journey

All good things must come to an end…..

After waiting over three weeks at North Palm Beach Marina, the ship designated by our shipping company to carry His Idea from Florida to British Columbia finally arrived. This was a longer wait than we anticipated, however the Captain used this time to work on boat projects, and the Admiral visited Vancouver for a couple of weeks to start catching up on things at home.

Planning for the shipping of our vessel began last year. We chose Sevenstar Yacht Transport, a subsidiary of a large Dutch marine transportation business, after investigating and getting quotes from three companies.  Arranging transportation by ship is a fairly detailed process that involves considerable expense, significant documentation, special insurance, customs brokerage, and proper vessel preparation. That said, it was an excellent choice for us to get His Idea home.

Loading day was June 7th.  After a short trip down Lake Worth we were alongside the ‘Thorco Isadora’, a modestly sized general cargo freighter of the Maersk Line. Loading moved quickly once the crew was ready for us, so we were on the tender and out of sight before His Idea was hoisted aboard and secured on deck.  It would be a number of weeks before we would see her again, and we hoped for good care of our prized possession!

Fast forward one month to July 10th.  After approximately 6000 miles of ocean travel, including transit through the Panama Canal, Thorco Isadora was berthed at the Chemainus, B.C. lumber terminal, and ready to unload His Idea into Pacific waters. We were very happy when we heard from our customs broker that His Idea had been cleared for discharge by Canada Customs. Our vessel was one of seven boats to be offloaded at Chemainus – the largest was 72 feet – and we took possession by mid-afternoon. The boat’s engines started up fine and we made it to our berth at nearby Chemainus Marina under our own power. Other vessels were not so fortunate, as some had to be towed to the marina by the tender.

While in Palm Beach we had arranged for shrink wrapping of the deck house and installed polyetheylene covering on the decks to protect His Idea from the elements during the trip. This was a good thing, as she arrived covered in bird droppings, large grease spots (we assume from the deck cranes), and what looked like hardened cement dust. Even with this protection it took us quite a few hours of scrubbing to get her ‘ship shape’.

Excited to get His Idea to her new home, we departed the next day. Although the weather was much cooler than we were used to in the Caribbean – jeans and jackets, my word! – we had a lovely cruise via the Gulf Islands, Active Pass and across Georgia Strait to Point Roberts Marina.

Final Words About this Journey

What a marvelous adventure we have had: four seasons of cruising; 18 months of live-aboard lifestyle; three diverse countries; almost 10,000 miles of ocean, lake and river exploration over an area too big to calculate; remote anchorages, small town docks & big city marinas; so many interesting people to meet and befriend along the way.

Our decision to end our travels in the east and return to cruising in the west was made with a mixture of regret and anticipation. We’ll lament the places we didn’t get to – and no doubt, some days, the warmer weather – however our dreamy memories will be a good tonic for that.  And we have the west coast of North America to get excited about – the Gulf and San Juan Islands, Desolation Sound, the Broughton Archipelago, and (hopefully) the Inside Passage, Haida Gwai and Alaska too.

If you’ve followed our travels, we thank you for that, and hope you enjoyed reading the blog as much as we enjoyed writing it.

For those of you who may be dreaming of a similar adventure, don’t wait too long. It’s never too early to start planning, and when your day comes, go do it!

Happy cruising…..

John & Ria

The crew shrink wrapping His Idea's deck house in North Palm Beach

The crew shrink wrapping His Idea’s deck house in North Palm Beach.

All ready to go.

All ready to go.

Preparing to load His Idea on the forward deck of Thorco Isadora.

Preparing to load His Idea on the forward deck of Thorco Isadora.

One of the fun aspects of transporting by sea was following the progress of the ship from Florida to B.C.; this is a screen shot of Thorco Isadora approaching Victoria to pick up the pilot for the last portion of the trip to Chemainus.

One of the fun aspects of transporting by sea was following the progress of the ship from Florida to B.C.; this is a screen shot of Thorco Isadora approaching Victoria to pick up the pilot for the last portion of the trip to Chemainus.

Watching Thorco Isadora off Victoria as she heads for Haro Strait; this knoll was a short walk from our friends place in Victoria; thanks for hosting Bill & Liz!

Watching Thorco Isadora off Victoria as she heads for Haro Strait; this knoll was a short walk from our friends’ place in Victoria; thanks for hosting Bill, Liz, Dex and Gus!

Thorrco Isadora can just be seen in the hazy distance.

Thorco Isadora can just be seen in the hazy distance.

Waiting patiently for Customs Clearance in Chemainus Harbour.

Waiting patiently for Customs Clearance in Chemainus Harbour.

The view from the marina.

The view from the marina.

Our turn to offload.

Our turn to offload.

After more than four weeks, touchdown into Pacific waters.

After more than four weeks, touchdown into Pacific waters.

View towards Thetis and Kuiper Islands from the marina - familiar cruising grounds for the Captain and Admiral.

View towards Thetis and Kuiper Islands from the marina – familiar cruising grounds for the Captain and Admiral.

Sharing Active Pass with a B.C. ferry.

Sharing Active Pass with a B.C. ferry.

Picturesque Geogina Point Lighthouse, Mayne Island.

Picturesque Georgina Point Lighthouse, Mayne Island.

Approaching Point Roberts; the marina is dead ahead.

Approaching Point Roberts; the marina is dead ahead.

His Idea comfortably berthed in her new home!

His Idea comfortably berthed in her new home!

Postscript – the Final Stats (2012 – 2015)

  • Statute miles traveled – 9429
  • Hours of motoring – 936
  • Diesel fuel used (including generator) – 11829 litres (2602 imperial gallons)
  • Average MPG  – 3.8 (not including generator; 3.6 MPG including generator)
  • Average fuel cost – $1.19/litre
  • Average fuel cost per mile – $1.39 (not including generator)
  • Average daily moorage cost – approximately $35/day
  • Extremes of latitude and longitude
  1. E : 69.33 degrees West (Grande Bergeronnes, Quebec, on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, east of Quebec City)
  2. N: 48.26 degrees North (Chicoutimi, Quebec, at the western end of the Saguenay fiord),
  3. W: 90.38 degrees West (Valley City, Illinois, on the Illinois River, north of St Louis)
  4.  S: 23.33 degrees North (Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas).
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Florida’s Everglades and West Coast

How time flies – it’s hard to believe it’s been more than a month since our last post.

During April we visited the Everglades, the west coast towns of Naples, Ft. Myers Beach, Venice and Sarasota, and returned to the east coast via the Okeechobee Waterway. Interspersed with our ‘urban’ stops were anchorages along the intra-coastal waterway, at Captiva and Cayo Costa Islands.

The weather and sea conditions were excellent for our offshore passage from Marathon to Ft. Myers Beach, a distance of about 130 miles. We made three diverse stops along this section, at Little Shark River (very remote), Everglades City (very ‘old Florida’) and Naples (very upscale).

A highlight was our stop at Little Shark River, in the heart of the Everglades, which Wikipedia describes as follows: The system begins near Orlando with the Kissimmee River, which discharges into the vast but shallow Lake Okeechobee. Water leaving the lake in the wet season forms a slow-moving river 60 miles (97 km) wide and over 100 miles (160 km) long, flowing southward across a limestone shelf to Florida Bay at the southern end of the state. The Everglades experience a wide range of weather patterns, from frequent flooding in the wet season to drought in the dry season. The popular term “River of Grass” is used to describe the sawgrass marshes, part of a complex system of interdependent ecosystems that include cypress swamps, the estuarine mangrove forests of the Ten Thousand Islands, tropical hardwood hammocks, pine rockland, and the marine environment of Florida Bay.

The other communities we visited were varied as well.  For example, Fort Myers Beach has a busy harbour with a large fishing fleet, many inexpensive vacation rentals along its beach strip, and a very active outdoor party scene. In contrast, Sarasota has a much more refined atmosphere centred on the arts, including an Opera House and many art galleries. It’s also known as the winter location for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. We spent an enjoyable day touring the excellent circus museum there, as well as the grand mansion and extensive estate bequeathed to Florida by John and Mable Ringling.

Upon our arrival in Stuart we enjoyed a visit from our son and daughter-in-law.  Although brief, there was enough time to make a trip up to Vero Beach for a few days, where we enjoyed the Atlantic shore and learned how to paddle board among the protected waters near the marina. Because Vero Beach had been the very first stop on our four-year cruising adventure, this return also represented a fitting place to end our travels.

We are currently awaiting word on our specific shipping date from Sevenstar Yacht Transport, the company we have engaged to transport His Idea home to B.C. This should occur within the next four weeks, and now that we have reached this stage of our journey we hope it will be sooner rather than later. If soon enough we hope to travel with His Idea aboard the freighter through the Panama Canal as far as Costa Rica, and then fly home. We think this will be a fun cruising adventure of another sort, as we have never visited Central America or the Panama Canal.  It would also mean experiencing life aboard a large cargo freighter.

A final word about the weather – indeed, we had unseasonably warm temperatures during the month of April, with temperatures in the upper 80’s and 90’s, often combined with high humidity.  We’re not complaining, but for us northerners Vancouver’s temperate summer climate will be a welcome change!

Here are the latest pictures and commentary. We will also have one more post, likely sometime in June, when His Idea has arrived at her new home at Point Roberts Marina.

Florida's southwest coast - we traveled s far north as Sarasota.

Florida’s southwest coast – we traveled as far north as Sarasota.

.....which was just a short dinghy ride away from our mooring in the harbour.

While in Marathon we spent a perfect day at Sombrero Beach, which was just a short dinghy ride away from our mooring in the harbour.

With Seven Mile Bridge receding behind us, it was now  about 50 miles of open water to reach the Everglades' Little Shark River.

With the Seven Mile Bridge receding behind us, we now had about 50 miles of open water to reach the Everglades’ Little Shark River.

The Everglades coastline is relatively remote, flat and nondescript; the entrance to the Little Shark River is in the distance.....

The Everglades coastline is relatively remote, flat and nondescript; the entrance to the Little Shark River is in the distance…..

.....where we tucked ourselves into the small bay just behind the green marker; although it doesn't look like it, this was a fairly well protected anchorage with exposure only to south winds.

…..where we tucked ourselves into the small bay just behind the green marker; although it doesn’t look like it, this was a fairly well protected anchorage with exposure only to south winds; we were joined by a couple of other boats later in the day.

As expected, the fish, birds and other wildlife was abundant (saw no sharks though).

As expected, the fish, birds and other wildlife were abundant (despite the name, we saw no sharks).

Exploring the channels and tributaries of the river.....

By dinghy we explored the channels and tributaries of the river, of which there are many; we took our handheld GPS with us so we wouldn’t get lost.

.....and tributaries of the river by dinghy.

The mangrove swamps are very dense and home to turtles, alligators and many other creatures.

Much to our surprise, while travelling about three miles offshore, we came across this entangled pair of very large turtles; we they were mating.

Much to our surprise, while travelling about three miles offshore, we came across this entangled pair of very large turtles; we believe they were mating.

We traveled quite a few miles up the Barron River to reach Everglades City, a slice of 'old Florida'....

We traveled quite a few miles up the Barron River to reach Everglades City, a slice of ‘old Florida’….

.....famous for its Rod & Gun Club, where we stayed for the night.

…..that is famous for its Rod & Gun Club, where we tied up for the night.

The Club is huge, with a large salon decorated with stuffed fish.....

The Club is huge, with a large salon decorated with stuffed fish…..

,,,,.and other native wildlife.....

,,,,.and other native wildlife.

.....plus rooms for other relaxing pursuits.

Atmosphere and history was very evident here, especially in the bar.

While in Naples we visited the public pier; both the surrounding beach and the pier was packed with swimmers and people fishing or just there to catch the sunset.

While in Naples we visited the public pier that is the centre of the old town; both the surrounding beach and the pier were packed with swimmers and people fishing, or just there to catch the sunset.

In Ft. Myers Beach we shared the harbour with the shrimp fleet.

In Ft. Myers Beach we shared the harbour with the shrimp fleet.

Near our Captiva Island anchorage we tied up our dinghy for the day at Jensens , an old time fishing resort that has seen may of the rich and famous.

Near our Captiva Island anchorage we tied up our dinghy for the day at Jensen’s, an old time fishing resort that has seen many of the rich and famous.

Sunset at Cayo Costa Cay, which is a nature preserve and  state park.

Sunset at Cayo Costa Cay, which is a nature preserve and state park.

This is one of the intricate hand built displays from the huge (3800 sq. ft.) circus model at the Circus Museum in Sarasota.

This is one of the intricate hand built displays from the huge (3800 sq. ft.) circus model at the Circus Museum in Sarasota.

Another of the displays, which were numerous and interesting.

Another of the displays, which were numerous and interesting; we spent all morning here with fellow boaters Bill and Carole Lowther.

The grounds of the John and Mabel Ringling estate, constructed during the 1920's , are large, lush and beautiful; lovers of both Italy and art, their former home is filled with Italian statues and paintings.

The grounds of the John and Mable Ringling estate, constructed during the 1920’s, are large, lush and beautiful; lovers of both Italy and art, their former home is filled with Italian statues and paintings.

The ornate ceiling of the mansion's dining room, allegedly Mabel's favourite....

The ornate ceiling of the mansion’s dining room, allegedly Mable’s favourite.

.....and the tiled veranda leading to the dock, in keeping with the style of John's many opulent yachts.

The tiled veranda leading to the dock, in keeping with the style of John’s many opulent yachts.

A fun day playing in the surf at Vero Beach....

A fun day playing in the surf at Vero Beach….

.....and a work out on the paddle boards the following day; The Captain and the Admiral tried it too, and liked it, so we may buy one to keep on His idea.

…..and a work out on the paddle boards the following day; the Captain and the Admiral tried it too, and liked it, so we may buy one to keep on His idea.

Despite the very hot weather, this sign - plus some brushes with unknown underwater creatures - caused us to rethink our swimming plans in Stuart.

Despite the very hot weather, this sign – plus some brushes with unknown underwater creatures – caused us to rethink our swimming plans in Stuart.

The bridge over the St. Lucie River in Stuart, where His Idea was purchased and our adventure began.

The bridge over the St. Lucie River in Stuart, where His Idea was purchased and our adventure began.

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Cruising South Florida – Destination Key West

This post covers three somewhat distinct areas of east coast Florida: the heavily populated stretch from Palm Beach to Miami; broad Biscayne Bay plus the chain of islands that are the Florida Keys; our final destination, the town of Key West.

Although we briefly passed through to Miami last year on our way to the Bahamas, this was our opportunity to experience the area at a slower pace. Our lasting memories will be of canals and bridges, big palatial homes, even bigger boats, and vibrant city life in tune with the sun and the sea. A particular highlight was a protected and relatively peaceful anchorage near Miami’s South Beach that provided easy dinghy access to the action of this colourful area.

The narrow canals and highrises of the urban area begin to recede as one enters Biscayne Bay, however transition to the more relaxed atmosphere of the Keys is just beginning. At Key Biscayne, with the Miami skyline in sight, we anchored in No Name Harbour. Well protected and located in a state park, it is a very popular destination for Miami boaters. On the weekend it is a party destination, and for a day we enjoyed the circus of boats and people coming and going. Fortunately by Sunday night the anchorage was relatively uncrowded and quiet, enough for us to remain and enjoy the park and beaches for a few more days.

The Keys feel more easy-going as one heads south and then west along this island chain. Calm and sunny weather enticed us to travel the Hawk Channel route, on the Atlantic side, rather than the winding and intricate intra-coastal route, on the west/north side. We had a pleasant week-long stay at John Pennekamp State Park, which includes a large land and underwater reserve around Key Largo. John took advantage of the calm weather to snorkel the offshore reefs, which are impressive for their variety and abundance of fish and coral. We also stopped at Marathon on Vaca Key, a winter destination for hundreds of boaters. This small town has anchored 226 mooring balls in Boot Key Harbour, and likely boasts the most organized mooring field in the world. To generalize, whereas Georgetown in the Exumas is a winter mecca for water-borne wanderers, Marathon is a saltwater-based suburbia for northern boaters who are looking to escape the cold (and both have their own cast of interesting people).

Our final destination was Key West, Florida’s leader of the pack for being ‘laid-back’.  It’s the terminus of the Overseas Highway, the ‘end of the road’ for the Keys. Perhaps this feature has led the community to attract and accept a wide diversity of characters – some permanent, some just there for vacation – and develop broad minded attitudes to all manner of people enjoying themselves.  Key West is definitely touristy – even garish in places – however we found much to enjoy in its fun-loving and historical charms.

First a map, then to the pictures….

00_01_Southern_Florida

One of our neighbours who welcomed us when we arrived at the dock in Lake Worth.

One of our neighbors who welcomed us when we arrived at the marina in Lake Worth.

Leaving Lake Worth - this park is on man-made Peanut Island, created when the ICW was constructed; we saw many such examples of 'urban' parks along this highly populated portion of the ICW.

This park is on man-made Peanut Island, created when the Port of Palm Beach was constructed; we saw many such examples of ‘urban’ parks along this highly populated portion of the ICW.

A typical busy section of the ICW, waiting for the bridge opening (usually 30 minutes apart; others open on request).

A typical busy section of the ICW, waiting for the bridge opening (usually they are 30 minutes apart; others open on request).

Moored at Larry Geller's dock in Lighthouse Point - thanks for the hospitality Larry!

Moored next to ‘Plush Toy’ at Larry Geller’s dock in Lighthouse Point – thanks for the hospitality Larry!

Th beach at Lighthouse Point, about midway to Miami.

The beach at Lighthouse Point, about midway to Miami.

In Ft. Lauderdale we had a brief reunion with Dick & Carol Tuschick of Rhumbline Yachts, who happened to be cruising the ICW with friends; to the right are Lion & Kaarina Benjamins, who had just purchased.....

In Ft. Lauderdale we had a brief reunion with Dick & Carol Tuschick, our hosts for last year’s PDQ flotilla to the Bahamas, who happened to be cruising the ICW with friends; to the far right are Kaarina & Lion Benjamins, who were on their maiden voyage…..

.....a Havana 40 powercat, which is made in South Africa;  we cruised together for the next 10 days.

…..in a Havana 40 powercat, which is made in South Africa; we had fun cruising together for the next 10 days.

This was our lovely anchorage located just west of the heart of Miami Beach, which provided access to...

This was our lovely little anchorage located just west of the heart of Miami Beach, which provided access to…..

.....the sights and sounds of South Beach....

…..the sights and sounds of South Beach….

.....including numerous and unique art deco buildings from the first half of the 20th century.....

…..with its numerous and unique art deco buildings from the first half of the 20th century…..

.....in a variety of shapes, sizes.....

…..in a variety of shapes, sizes…..

.....and colours; many also have intricate friezes and other interesting architectural details.

…..and colours; many also have intricate friezes and other interesting architectural details.

Another South Beach street scene.

Another South Beach street scene.

Even the lifeguard stations have pizazz in South Beach.

Even the lifeguard stations have pizazz here!

Government Cut, Miami harbour & skyline, and a resident pelican; this was taken from the South Point Park pier.

Government Cut, Miami harbour/skyline, and a resident pelican; this picture was taken from the South Point Park pier.

Sunset across Biscayne Bay from our anchorage at No Name Harbour.

Sunset across Biscayne Bay from our anchorage at No Name Harbour.

Up close and too personal with an Azimut 53 in No Name; unfortunately some slight damage was done to His Idea because of this guy's poor anchoring skills; to his credit, cash compensation to cover the cost of repair was successfully negotiated.

Up close and too personal with an Azimut 53 in No Name Harbour; unfortunately some slight damage was done to His Idea because of this guy’s poor anchoring skills; to his credit, cash compensation to cover the cost of repair was successfully negotiated.

The entrance to Largo Basin (John Pennekamp State park) was long winding and busy, with lots of tour boats coming and going to the offshore reefs.....

The entrance to Largo Basin (John Pennekamp State Park) was long, winding and busy, with lots of tour boats coming and going to the offshore reefs…..

.....but well worth the effort for the protected anchorage and available services it provided; generally the weather has been sunny and very warm, but on this day we received a welcome shower of rain to wash the salt away.

…..but well worth the effort for the protected anchorage and services it provided; generally the weather has been sunny and very warm, but on this day we received a welcome rain to wash the salt away.

A school of parrotfish feeding around the Pennecamp dock; wildlife was plentiful here, including manatees.

A school of parrotfish feeding around the Pennecamp dock; wildlife was plentiful here, including manatees…..

.....and dolphins.

…..and dolphins.

Upon arrival in Marathon we were greeted by 'King', reportedly the oldest (12 years) and biggest iguana in the Keys.

Upon arrival in Marathon we were greeted by ‘King’, reportedly the oldest (12 years) and biggest iguana in the Keys.

The Keys were linked  to the rest of Florida by the Overseas Railroad in 1912, a major engineering feat; much of it was destroyed by a major hurricane in 1935, to be replaced by the highway system in 1938; much of the old 'Seven Mile Bridge' is available for walking and cycling.

The Keys were linked to the rest of Florida by the Overseas Railroad in 1912, a major engineering feat; it was severely damaged by a hurricane in 1935, to be replaced by the highway system in 1938; much of the old ‘Seven Mile Bridge’ is available for walking and cycling.

In Key West we were fortunate to get a slip in the heart of the downtown harbour area; it was a lively place, right in the centre of the action.

In Key West we were fortunate to get a slip in the heart of the old downtown harbour area; it was a lively place, right in the centre of the action.

while other places we've visited have been known for the abundance of cats that rival the human population, in Key West it's roosters and chickens - they're everywhere!

While other places we’ve visited have been known for the abundance of cats that rival the human population, in Key West it’s free ranging  roosters and chickens – they’re everywhere!

The tourist factor - here is the line up for pictures in front of the 'Southernmost  Point in the Continental U.S.' monument.

The tourist factor – here is the line up for pictures in front of the ‘Southernmost Point in the Continental U.S.’ monument.

Given it's strategic position at the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico, Key West has an interesting history as a naval and transportation hub, including as the initial base for the the States' first international airline.

Given it’s strategic position at the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico, Key West has an interesting history as a naval and transportation hub, including as the initial base for the the United States’ first international airline.

Fishing for the Captain's hat which blew into the harbour....

Fishing for the Captain’s hat which blew into the harbour….

.....thanks to Harumi and Ray, for the catch of the day!

…..thanks to the help of  Harumi and Ray, we got the catch of the day!

We visited the museum for the Atocha, a Spanish galleon wrecked about 50 miles west of Key West in 1622; Mel Fisher hunted this treasure for 16 years, finally achieving success by discovering the 'mother load' in 1985; estimated value of the wreck at that time - $450 million

We visited the museum for the Atocha, a Spanish galleon wrecked about 50 miles west of Key West in 1622; Mel Fisher hunted this treasure for 16 years, finally achieving success by discovering the ‘mother load’ in 1985; estimated value of the wreck at that time – $450 million

Captured by the good times vibe of this town, each night we walked to Mallory Square for the  music and antics provided by  live bands, jugglers and other street performers, and to enjoy the sunset with the other revelers there.

Captured by the good times vibe of this town, each night we walked to Mallory Square for the music and antics provided by live bands, jugglers and other street performers, and to enjoy the sunset with the other revelers there.

Having now returned to Marathon,we next head north for the Everglades and other spots along the west coast of Florida. Hopefully we’ll have another post in three weeks or so…..

 

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Quaint Harbours , Windswept Beaches and a Shallow Sea

The Sea of Abaco is defined by a series of cays that create a protected waterway roughly 5 miles wide and about 100 miles long. The outer cays shelter the inner waters from the winds and often rough seas of the Atlantic. The Sea is mostly shallow (5-15’ deep), with warm, clear water and a sandy bottom. Spread around this area is a series of well protected harbours.  Those we visited include White Sound (Green Turtle Cay), Marsh Harbour (Great Abaco Island), Settlement Harbour (Great Guana Cay), Little Harbour (Great Abaco Island) and Hope Town (Elbow Cay). Each place has its own character, from the bustle of Marsh Harbour to the upscale vibe of Hope Town and the ‘back in time’ feel of Little Harbour.

Most of our visit has been spent in these harbours on mooring balls or at very nice marinas. Usually they have resort amenities and an active social scene among the cruisers there. Often we joined the crowd for ‘sundowners’ on the dock, to swap stories, share a barbeque dinner, and watch the beautiful sunsets.  Many of the locations also have a well-known local watering hole where we spent some time (notice a theme here?), such as Nippers (Great Guana) and Pete’s Pub (Little Harbour).

After the relatively cool temperatures we experienced in early February the weather became more seasonal, with highs reaching the mid to upper 20’s and with gentler trade winds from the east. We enjoyed walking Great Guana’s 5 mile long beach, one of the most impressive we have visited in the Caribbean. It was even calm enough to snorkel the barrier reef there. Another highlight was our visit to the peppermint-striped Hope Town lighthouse. Built in 1838, the 120 foot tall structure is the world’s last operating kerosene-fueled beacon. When it was built, then residents feared it would end their profitable wrecking practice.

After 5 very enjoyable weeks in the Bahamas it was time to return to Florida to continue our explorations there.The Captain had been monitoring the weather forecasts closely, watching for the right opportunity to make the Gulf Stream crossing from Grand Bahama’s West End to Lake Worth (Palm Beach). Calmer days are infrequent at this time of year, so when March 6th looked promising we made a long day’s run (118 miles) across Little Bahama Bank from Green Turtle Cay to the West End. Although it was quite choppy on the Bank, we were able to achieve a 14 knot cruising speed for most of the way, and made the trip in 8 hours. Fortunately the next day’s weather forecast held, and the Gulf Stream crossing was relatively smooth.

The following pictures cover the remainder of our time in the Abacos up to our arrival at Lake Worth.

Our Marsh Harbour marina - office, captain's lounge and pool on the left, with Snappa's bar & grill on the right.

Our Marsh Harbour marina – office, captain’s lounge and pool on the left,  Snappa’s bar & grill on the right.

Competing for dinner - these small herons like to come by in the evening to bob for the small fish; the large one in the background .....

Competing for dinner – these small herons like to come by in the evening to bob for the small fish; the large one in the background …..

.....is a 20+ pound Tarpon,  also attracted by the feeding opportunities; the underwater lighting was provided by the large sportfisher moored next door to us.

…..is a 20+ pound Tarpon, also attracted by the feeding opportunities; the underwater lighting was provided by the large sportfisher moored next door to us.

On the way to Great Guana Cay, which is only  about 10 miles from Marsh Harbour; rough seas are evident outside the little cut here.

On the way to Great Guana Cay, which is only about 10 miles from Marsh Harbour; rough seas are evident outside the little cut here.

The broad expanse of beach at Great Guana Cay, which goes on for miles, with only a few seaside houses along the way

The broad expanse of beach at Great Guana Cay, which goes on for miles, with only a few seaside houses along the way.

Pastel colours are common in the Bahamas; at Nippers, which overlooks the Atlantic beach, they went a little wild (in keeping with its reputation).

Pastel colours are common in the Bahamas; at Nippers, which overlooks the Atlantic beach, they went a little wild (in keeping with its reputation).

In contrast, the more sophisticated ambiance of Orchid Bay Marina; they host $10 ribs night on Wednesdays, and the restaurant was hopping.

In contrast, the ambiance of Orchid Bay Marina is more sophisticated; they host $10 ribs night on Wednesdays, and the restaurant was hopping.

Another view of Great Guana's Atlantic shore.

Another view of Great Guana’s Atlantic shore.

While exploring Great Guana on our bicycles we discovered the 'Dream Tree'....

While exploring Great Guana on our bicycles we discovered the ‘Dream Tree’….

....to which we added our own contribution; we luckily happened to find the old float on one of our beach explorations.

….to which we added our own contribution; we were lucky to find this robust old float on one of our beach explorations.

Our next stop was Little Harbour.....

Our next stop was Little Harbour…..

Where we were proptly invited to a beachside cocktail hour by the local rsidents.

…..where we were promptly invited to a beachside cocktail hour by the local residents.

The famous Pete's Pub; it is owned by the son of a Canadian-born artist who is well known for his bronze sculptures produced in the foundry he established here in the 1950's.

The famous Pete’s Pub; it is owned by the son of a Canadian-born artist who settled here in the early 1950’s; his bronze sculptures, still produced in the foundry he created from scratch when this was a very remote place, can be found throughout the Bahamas and in many private collections around the world.

While in Little Harbour we explored the blue holes which dot the mangroves of nearby Old Robinson's Bight; blue holes, famous with cave divers, are underwater cave systems that are connected with the open ocean; this one was 6 miles 'inland' from the Atlantic.

While in Little Harbour we explored the blue holes which dot the mangroves of nearby Old Robinson’s Bight; blue holes, famous with cave divers, are underwater cave systems that are connected with the open ocean; this one was over 6 miles ‘inland’ from the Atlantic.

 

Hope Town lighthouse overlooks the picturesque harbour and village that is its namesake.

Hope Town lighthouse overlooks the picturesque harbour and village that is its namesake.

These are the pressurized kerosene tanks that provide fuel....

These are the kerosene tanks…..

.....which provide pressurized fuel to this amazingly small wick; thanks to the power of the fresnel lenses, the light can be seen from as far away as 20 miles.

…..that provide pressurized fuel to this amazingly small wick; thanks to the power of the fresnel lenses, the light can be seen from as far away as 23 miles.

There were many great views from the top; behind us is Hope Town harbour, and in the right foreground is the very nice resort where we stayed.

There were many great views from the top; behind us is Hope Town harbour, and in the right foreground is the very nice resort where we stayed.

....which has a large pool, nice open-air restaurant....

Hope Town Inn & Marina has a large pool, nice open-air restaurant….

.....and beautiful grounds.

…..and beautiful grounds.

Enjoying good times with fellow cruisers at 'On Da Beach' - Sue, Carey, Phil and Joe.

Enjoying good times with fellow cruisers at ‘On Da Beach’ – Sue, Carey, Phil and Joe.

Scooting by the more sedate yachts making the early morning crossing from the West End of Grand Bahama across the Gulf Stream to Florida.

Scooting by the more sedate yachts that were making the early morning crossing from the West End of Grand Bahama across the Gulf Stream to Florida.

Our next post will include the Florida ICW all the way to Key West, and hopefully the Dry Tortugas.

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