Moving on up the ICW

After a quiet night at anchor in Fort Pierce Saturday night we got up early and the water was like a sheet of glass, no wind, so we headed up the Intracoastal Waterway towards Melbourne. We had been motor sailing since we left Key Largo using the little wind we had and the effect of the Gulf Stream but no wind meant motoring. This was going to be a special stop for Rob completing the circle from Melbourne Australia to Melbourne Florida. We had heard how beautiful the Intracoastal Waterway is, and we enjoyed it thoroughly. We had to motor due to skinny water on both sides, but we loved looking at all the small beachy islands on either side of us. Later in the morning, we started seeing hundreds of Sunday afternoon boaters all around us and in the waterway, and that really kept us on our toes!

As we got closer to Melbourne, we decided to pull into a marina there, to give the cats and us a land-break after 5 days non-stop on the boat. We found a reasonably priced one that was close to the historic district of Melbourne, called in and made it there by 4 pm. Since we had to diesel up, we were assigned a slip right next to the fuel dock, a one-stop-shop! The Melbourne Harbour Marina is a bit run-down, but everybody is very nice there, and we enjoyed our showers without caring how old they were ;-).

After doing laundry, we set out to explore Melbourne. One of the strongest selling points for this marina was a brewery within walking distance, so of course we headed there first. The Hell ‘n Bells Brewery has great beers, and we got some food there as well. Afterwards we walked through the historic district, which is very pretty. A very quiet town with many restaurants closed Sunday and Monday.

“Captain Melbourne” closes the circle

We had decided to spend another night in this marina, after all there was another brewery within walking distance, and a Publix 2 miles away (also walking distance for us). This was also a much needed break for the cats, and Wilson was on the dock immediately. She is smart and always finds her way back, so we just let her roam. Sushi likes to stay on the boat, but she will go for a walk with Anya if she carries her off the boat!

We spent all day Monday walking around all over Melbourne, and had a blast. Happy hour at Quarters

Brewing was great, and some locals recommended a seafood eatery in an old gas station for dinner. It turned out to be the highest end fast food we had ever eaten – Rock Shrimp, Scallops, corn, broccoli, garlic bread, red potatoes and a spicy garlic sauce to die for. The food had to be ordered at a counter inside, and then you had to sit outside at a picnic table to eat it. There were flies everywhere, but we did like the locals and covered up our food with a paper towel in between bites, and that worked really well!

Bellies full, we headed back to the marina and stopped for a cocktail at their own restaurant. There we met some nice people from Big Pine Key (go figure).

A really early start Tuesday took us back into the ICW for a long leg to get us to New Smyrna Beach. Since the only anchorage on the way is in Mosquito Lagoon (and they warn you that the name is true), we did not want to stop there. Our first leg would have given us the opportunity to sail a ways, but the wind was literally 0.5 knots. So motoring again :-(. After about 5 hours we were heading for Haulover Canal. This is a nature reserve with tons of wildlife, but the waters are much too shallow for us outside the skinny channel. Of course the wind picked up to 15 knots, and there was no way to sail!

There were dolphins and manatees all around us all the way to New Smyrna Beach. Right before we got there, we found a nice anchorage right before the bridge, and settled in after 11 hours of motoring up the ICW. All cats on deck!

The boat is not moving forward, so Sushi is.

Headed North, steadily

After the extra unwanted day in Key Biscayne due to the weather, we set out Friday morning August 16 early in the morning. We decided not to be so over-cautious, and instead listen to the weather report after we left (knowing we could always go back). It sounded ok, so we headed back out into the Gulf Stream to see if we could make it to Lake Worth Inlet / Palm Beach. Including the trips in and out of the inlets that would be about 70 nautical miles, but we were hoping to make it in about 10-12 hours with the help of the Gulf Stream pushing us. And we made it by 7 pm Friday night!

We barely escaped a thunderstorm right at the inlet which made us scramble to reef the mainsail (frantic moments included when the sail would not furl again and the winds were getting over 20 knots – operator error of course).

When we came into the inlet and went to the place the 2019 Waterways Guide told us there would be an anchorage, we found a mooring field. That was awesome until we realized all the mooring balls were private! We ended up at the end of the mooring field anchoring, right before the next storm came through, which made for a very interesting sunset scenario:

We set off early again this morning (Saturday August 17) to make it to Fort Pierce Inlet. The weather was stellar, just not for sailing (4 knot winds). We motorsailed (more for stability than speed) on the last edge of the Gulf Stream, got our 45 miles in, and furled with no problemd at the entance to the inlet. We had read that this was one of the easiest inlets due to its wideness, so we decided to go in against the tide coming out, but OMG – what a ride! We did make it in safely and headed for the anchorage. The water in the anchorage was quite skinny, and yes – we ran aground. Luckily we were on mud, the wind blew us off in 25 minutes although the tide was still going out, and we ended up anchoring safely. Bad thunderstorms all around us as soon as we anchored, but all we got was wind and a few raindrops (and cooler air).

Every time we end our day there is a new adrenaline-infused challenge and learning curve, but we are loving it!

There is still no really bad weather (“hu…e”) forecasted to build in the Atlantic for the next 5 days (and having gone through Irma we are watching VERY closely), and we are now in the territory of semi-affordable haul-outs, so we feel reasonable safe, comfortabe, and not rushed. Tomorrow we will be going up the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway) for about 4 days until we get to St.Augustine, where we will stop, finally get off the boat (boat fever is slowly kicking in) and explore!

Key Biscayne

Last night Wilson was watching closely through the galley porthole to see what Anya was making for dinner:

Not wanting to generate any more heat in the cabin (it was already 92 F), we decided to make dinner on our new Magma grill, a wonderful gift from our friends Amanda and Lee. So Anya put together the sourdough bread pizza baguettes in the galley and then Rob grilled them on the BBQ. Accompanied by a nice salad, this was a perfect relaxed dinner:

Unfortunately the bottom of the bread ended up very “blackened” as we do not have full control over the grill yet, so the black needed to be scraped off by Anya, which made Rob believe that this was a special European recipe :-).

With a cold beer in hand, we stared at the Miami skyline for quite awhile.

When we went to bed we found out that the mosquitos and no-see-ums had found us again, and lots of them! It was a very uncomfortable night, and early in the morning we were both happy to get up and go!

We turned on the weather forecast, and were told that there would be frequent thunderstorms today with winds gusting up to 50 knots, so we didn’t feel safe going out into the Gulf Stream , and decided to go tomorrow with a better forecast. And since we couldn’t find a good anchorage oceanside between where we were and 40 miles north (to flee into if we got hit by a storm), we grudgingly decided to wait it out – not what we were planning on, but better safe than sorry… If we keep up this pace, we might make it to Charleston by the end of next month 😉

We did some good projects on the boat like setting up our sunsail bungees, servicing the winches, and inspecting and tightening some hoses. A big thunderstorm rolled through, but only had 27 knots of wind. At the end, we could have gone, but we are travelling with our home that has everything we own on it, so we are extra careful…

We really left!

We are finally on our way.

On our way back to Key Largo from Boca Grande we had found our motor dripless dripping (that obviously is a bad thing ;-)), so we hurried back home. We were hoping for a quick repair without having to haul out, and our friends Ray and Genna came to the rescue. Ray assessed the problem and ordered the parts, but it would take at least a week for the parts to get to Key Largo. So we settled in for a stay in Port Largo for close to 2 weeks – not what we had hoped for but necessary.

Since we had slept so well without air conditioning and just a fan, we settled on a middle way – we set the A/C to 83 degrees and slept with a fan, and enjoyed our air conditioned home during the day, which made for much more fun repairs down below.

Almost 2 weeks later we were ready to leave again, thanks to our “motor whisperer” Ray and his wonderful Genna. Ray found a few more problems in the process, so more motor and helm parts were fixed, and we planned to leave a day later. Realizing we still had lots to take care of we delayed another day, and Monday the 12th of August we gave up both of our cars and got ready to leave. Rob was not feeling well with an infection, and so we ended up at Urgent Care instead of leaving the dock. He would be ok, and armed with antibiotics we finally set out on Tuesday.

We waved goodbye to all our friends on the dock, and about 6 minutes later (we were still in Port Largo canal), the engine overheated again. What a deja-vu nightmare!!! We limped out of the jetty and achored to see if we could find the problem. We were both VERY intent on not going back into Port Largo! With the help of our friend Kim to the recue again on the phone, we tested every raw water system we all could think of, but found nothing wrong. Next on to the freshwater system, and finally found the coolant leak that was causing the overheat. Fixed the leak, refilled the coolant, everythig worked again, and we were off again, not having to return to the “harbor of shame”.

By then it was almost 4 pm, so we headed north to moor up at Elbow Reef, that was as far as we were going to get considering there was no wind. We spent the night rocking and rolling (with pretty unhappy cats) and started heading into the Gulf Stream the next morning.

Carysfort Reef Lighthouse
Carysfort Reef Lighthouse

Early this morning we passed Carysfort Reef Lighthouse which has an interesting story. Begun in 1848 and finished in 1852 it was the first Screwpile Lighthouse built . By screwing the legs deeply into the coral and having a circular profile the intention was to lessen the wind impact . It was manned until the 1950’s and is still running today . Can’t imagine sitting through a hurricane out here !

We made good progress going north in the Gulf Stream, after having realized that sailing was out of the picture as the wind was blowing between 1 and 3 knots. We rode the Gulf Stream up to Key Biscayne, and followed the breadcrumbs from our delivery trip to a nice anchorage Mark had shown us. Very nice and calm anchorage with a nice view of Miami:

Miami from our anchorage

The cats were really happy that the boat was not moving fromside to side, and finally came out of their cubby holes :-). Tomorrow is an early start to ride the Gulf Stream again and get as far north as possible…

Adventures on the Water and at the Beach

The next morning (July 20) we headed out early again towards Key West. We had a pod of dolphins accompanying us part of the way, swimming directly alongside and looking at us from right beneath the surface, as we were hanging over the safety lines staring right back at them :-).

Dolphin following us

We made good headway, doing 6 to 7 knots in about a 12 knot wind, and passed some sights that we had only seen from land before, never from the ocean, for example Bahia Honda:

Bahia Honda from the Oceanside

Having done some research and spoken with Chris from SeaTow Key West, it was apparent that our plan of re-provisioning fresh fruit and vegetables (and of course beer) was not going to happen in Key West – Key West was completely full due to Hemingway Weekend.

We opted to anchor in Ramrod Key, where there is great protected anchorage in Newfound Harbor. Captain Bob from SeaTow Ramrod Key / Big Pine came out to greet us, and offered the dock at his house (right behind Newfound Harbor) to leave our dinghy while we re-provision in Big Pine. So we got to shakedown the dinghy too!

Looking back at Ronya from the dinghy

A 30 minute dinghy ride (we are still using the 5 HP dinghy motor, which is sloooooow) took us to Captain Bob’s dock, and we opted to walk the 5 miles to Winn Dixie in Big Pine. It was strange to be back on terra firma after 5 days on the boat, and we were really looking forward to some exercise…

1 ½ hot walking hours later we arrived at Winn Dixie, got what we wanted, and took an Uber ride back to our dinghy.

We were so happy to get such great support from our SeaTow family, thank you so much Cheryl, Bob and Chris!

As we were coming into Newfound Harbor, we had seen a big houseboat moored up with lots of boats around it, so we asked Captain Bob about it and found out it belonged to Captain Jack, a really nice salty dog that lets people raft up and party around his “house” and invites them on for a chat. It was Saturday, so we were in! Another dinghy ride took us over there, and how cool is this! We were welcomed on the houseboat, had a great chat with Captain Jack and some of the other boaters, and had a cold beer we had brought (knowing that Captain Jack doesn’t sell anything, just invites people and gives them food).

Captain Jack’s

Sunday we left early again to get past Key West towards the Marquesas Islands. Good wind in the morning again, died down again in the afternoon, as usual. We passed Key West with it’s busy harbor and big cruise ship, and headed towards Boca Grande Key, which we had picked for our anchorage. A quick look at Google Earth (last remnants of cell phone coverage) revealed that Boca Grande has a nice beach, what a treat!

Key West

On the way to Boca Grande we went through a huge Sargassum carpet, and found these 3 “birds on a wire” sitting on a piece of wood in the middle of it:

Birds on a Wire

Once we had tacked into the channel at Boca Grande, we realized we were having trouble furling in the mainsail again, so there were some frantic moments of “can we ever get this sail in” before we figured out what was wrong. We made it to our chosen anchorage at the last of daylight, anchored and then snorkeled the anchor, and being satisfied that we were safe we finally settled down for a nice leftover dinner and some much needed rest after being underway for 12 hours. We decided to stay another day here at this beautiful beach at Boca Grande (we’re the only boat here :-)), break out the paddleboards and explore!

Tonight we had the stars out in force. Without ambient light from nearby cities or towns the Milky Way was clearly visible and the view spectacular. To easy to forget all that surrounds planet earth.

A leisurely next morning on Monday with a nice view of the beach, getting the paddleboards into the water, and off we were to explore! We first went over to the beach, and it is beautiful:

Beach at Boca Grande

Then we set off to circumnavigate the island by paddleboard (Rob: “Eat your heart out Magellan”). Boca Grande is a bird sanctuary, and you are not allowed to walk on the island, but the Mangroves are beautiful. There are some nice Mangrove tunnels as well:

Mangrove Tunnel on Boca Grande

We saw numerous turtles, stingrays and baby sharks in the shallows, mostly Nurse Sharks but also a Blacktip Reef Shark. Then as we rounded a corner, a sailors’s worst nightmare, a beautiful sailboat beached in the mangroves, far into the shallows and likely a leftover of Hurricane Irma:

Beached Sailboat

It took us over an hour to get around the entire island, and when we got back to Ronya it was time for a light lunch of tomato salad and home-made pizza baguette. The afternoon was then spent reading, swimming and relaxing, and Anya went over to the beach on her paddleboard for a while. Then some maintenance on the generator and some mainsail furling “drills” :-).

Rob all but inside the Generator

Dinner consisted of a nice leisurely “Brotzeit”: bread, various cheeses, olives, beets and a fresh side salad. And after dinner we got to watch another beautiful sunset:

Sunset at Boca Chica 7/22/19

Rob slept in the cockpit to find a little breeze to cool off and awoke at sunrise to find a small bird sitting on his chest staring at him. Very different to any alarm he had ever set!

Tuesday July 23 still found us at our anchorage by the beach. We had found our resting place and decided we were going to stay as long as we wanted. Anya went for a morning paddle to the beach and the adjoining inlet, but the tide was too low to get very far. It was obvious that there was a Blacktip Reef Shark nursery in the inlet, with many babies swimming around the entrance to the inlet. We both went back ay high tide and were able to paddle far into the inlet, baby sharks swimming all around us and eyeing us curiously.

Blacktip Reef Shark baby in the inlet at Boca Grande
Inlet with hunting bird

After having spent a long time in the inlet, we paddled back along the lengthy beach, went for a walk on the beach, and then back to Ronya. A dinner of Caprese Salad, Crab Cakes and freshly baked Ciabatta rounded up our day, and we toasted to the beautiful sunset with a glass of red wine.

The next day we slept in and then went about setting up the Rainman watermaker. The water in the channel is not blue enough, but we wanted to set it up for working so we could “shake it down” on our way back up the Keys when we would be in blue water. Having accomplished that, we did a few more small projects on the boat and then settled down for more relaxation before high tide. When the current stopped because the tide was high, we snorkeled over to a shallow sandbar on the west side of the island. We saw lots of seagrass and a few fish, and found some lobsters (which we didn’t take although it was the first day of lobster mini-season), then snorkeled back to the other side to “our” beach for some snorkeling and walking along the beach.

The day was getting late, and back on the boat we started thinking about the way back to Key Largo. There had been no wnd for days, and the forecast was for not much more, so it would take us quite a long time to go home. We decided to stay here one more day and then set out early Friday morning to make our way back.

A meal cooked on our BBQ grill (to keep the heat out from down below) consisted of chicken sausage, grilled onions and a toasted bagel, with a salad of garbanzo beans with fresh basil and mozzarella cheese. And then another spectacular sunset with a following great view of many bright stars in a black sky.

Sunset Boca Grande 7/24/19

Thursday morning had us rolling around in our bunk from 3 foot seas because of unforecasted 16 knot winds. We contemplated leaving right away to take advantage of the wind, but we could already watch the wind dying down, so we stuck to our original plan of leaving Friday morning.

We spent another leisurely day reading, swimming and paddleboarding and the cats spent another day sleeping (what else).

Wilson relaxing

It was fun to watch the daytrippers from Key West on the beach, one boat brought a blow-up Flamingo that was even bigger than their boat:

After a nice dinner of broccoli stir-fry and cucumber salad, we settled down for the night, to get up early on Friday and start our trip back to Key Largo. Since there was no wind at all that night, the no-see-ums finally found us, and we were eaten alive, so we didn’t get much sleep…

Friday morning July 26 found us leaving our anchorage about 6:30 am and heading east. By 9:30 we had motorsailed at 6.5 knots to Key West. Back to civilization: cellphone service and thus internet and thus a long blog post!

Cruise Ships Key West

We’re shakin’ her down baby…

Anya:

After a relaxed day at anchor behind Tavernier Key, we got up at 6:30 to get an early start and hopefully make it further south past Marathon. Setting both sails and with 12 knots of wind, we got a steady 6 to 7 knots heading towards Marathon. We got there 2 hours earlier than we had anticipated, and then the wind died down.

Rob:

There was fresh water at the base of our mast inside the boat . We stripped off the bed and mattress to check the fresh water tank and found that was the source. The very slow leak the has sinced disappeared after we reduced the water level in the tank. We’ll have to empty the tank and located our leak .

Anya:

We decided to reef the genoa to give it some more wind, but – next shakedown challenge – the furler was stuck! We had sloppily let it out without any tension on it, and it had made a rat’s nest inside the furler. It was not budging!

Rob:

Anya to the rescue of the fouled furler ! She sat on the bow and began the process of freeing the line and rewrapping the furler , without any audible cursing I may add . Forty five minutes later she had sucessfully fixed it .

Anya:

When we got to 7-Mile-Bridge, we were very careful and slow – the chart says the bridge has a 65 foot clearance, but who are we to trust a chart with our 57 foot mast? 😉

We made it through the bridge of course, and started to find a good anchorage, but the current was so strong we had to head back north and anchor behind Marathon. The trip there under motor gave me the time to prep a nice dinner, and after we had anchored, we enjoyed Chicken Masala with Basmati Rice and Cucumber Salad:

Rob:

So far I have been truly spoiled by Anya’s cooking and look forward to more of the same !

The cats came out of their holes to join us for a sundowner, but the sun was behind the clouds:

Finally underway on our shakedown cruise

At anchor with full moon

We had a rocky start leaving Key Largo – as soon as we got out of the harbor our engine overheated. We dropped anchor right at the jetty and called our good friends from SeaTow. They arrived almost immediately, and towed us back to our slip, and we were able to maneuver ourselves back in without overheating again.

A day of trying to find the problem with much testing followed. Take out the thermostat and test it (boil it in water on the stove to see if it opens) – it worked. Replace the impeller, but oh my, where is it? Kim, our whisperer in all things sailing came over and helped (again), and the impeller was replaced, however the old one was fine, so that wasn’t the problem either. And then – we found the leak in the saltwater cooling system!

The engine having been fixed, we decided to leave the next morning after a new provisioning run, as we had used up most of the fresh produce provisions by then.

Tuesday at noon we finally headed out again, and started sailing southwest along the Keys with a perfect 12 knot southeast wind, giving us 6 knots of speed with both mainsail and genoa up.

Needless to say, there were more challenges. We had a bad vibration on the starboard stern, and nothing was running, so that needed to be taken care of. And a water leak at the water pump, so we could not use the sinks without our freshwater leaking into the bilge. A decision as made to pull in behind Tavernier Key and anchor there – after all this is a shakedown cruise and we are in no hurry to to anything except fix up Ronya and make her perfect!

After a nice evening with some cold frosty beverages (the fridge works) and a really good night’s sleep in 90 degrees with the fan on, Rob the Plumber fixed the water leak while Chef Anya made a huge breakfast. With our bellies full and in a very relaxed mood, we decided to spend another day at this perfect anchorage and work on some more projects (as well as relax and snorkel). Tomorrow we will get up early and head to Boot Key south of Marathon, which should be a trip of about 8 hours.

We are extremely happy with our solar system, and have been able to test it a bit now. With our Engel freezer, the fridge, the fans, the pumps and even a running inverter, the power in our house batteries remains consistently high, even climbing.

Things are coming together very nicely! 🙂

Living on Ronya

We have been living on our beautiful boat full time for over 4 months now, and we are really enjoying it. It gives us the opportunity to sail more, anchor out more, and most importantly fix more :-).

The cats have adapted incredibly well to living on the boat, and they each have their own little cranny on the boat where they like to “hide”. They do quite well sailing, only Wilson is still unhappy when we are motoring (but that is getting better every time).

Of course we have wished a few times that we hadn’t donated or given away some items because we could have used them on the boat, but none of those items were very expensive, so the loss is bearable ;-).

Dad gave us companionway doors for Christmas, they should be arriving soon, and that will make life on board even more comfortable. One door will actually have a cat entrance built in, how cool is that!

Working every day on getting Ronya ready…

Every day after work we spend a few hours on Ronya. Sometimes we sail, but 90% of the time we work to get her ready for the big cruise. It is not really “work” since we are enjoying every minute of it. She has never been a cruising boat (the former owners really only daysailed her), so there is a lot to be done, but we are slowly making her our home. Baby steps (pictures, galley stuff, and lots of cleaning, the hardest piece is getting the cats used to wearing life jackets!)  and big steps (solar panels, bilge pumps, through hull fittings, sails, major maintenance). Lots of paperwork too!