Florida.  December 2014

2014 was our first year since 2007 to spend the spring and winter months on Pilgrim and put the boat on the hard for the summer and fall months (hurricane season in these latitudes).   The summer and fall of 2014 we were in Toronto and Charlevoix, Michigan.  We bought a Nordic Tug 26 for cruising in the Great Lakes while Pilgrim rests on land during hurricane season. 

TUGLET our new summer home on water … first sighting and after a few modifications

Green Cove Springs, near Jacksonville.  November 18 – December 12.

We drove from Toronto to Green Cove Springs in November, leaving Canada a day earlier than planned to beat the first snow storm.  We had hauled Pilgrim out of the water last May and un-stepped the masts to repair several mechanical failures.  Green Cove Springs Marina was highly recommended as an inexpensive yard that let owners work on their own boats.  They do an adequate job of hauling boats out of the water, storing them, and then launching them as long as the masts stay in the boat.  The marina has to bring in a crane for masts over 45 feet high, and that is when “economic” changes to “expensive”.  The yard does not have mast storage racks.  Ours were left close to the ground and were green after a summer of heat and rain.  It took a week for the marina to move the masts to an area where we could work on them, and then another week to schedule the crane to step the masts.  The charges to keep a boat in the work yard are relatively high, so if you need to take your masts down or have several weeks of yard work to do, Green Cove Springs Marina is not a good deal.  We found the yard to be dirty and poorly managed.  We will not return and cannot recommend them.


Our masts were retrieved from storage and were put next to a laundry room and partially under a live oak tree. 


The first attempt to lift the main mast failed.  From Brian’s perspective the sling was over the steaming / deck light which was in danger of being damaged.  From Jane’s perspective, the mast was close to banging into the laundry room roof and the oak tree.  The second attempt at lifting the mast was successful.  While the entire yard crew watched, the one of the crew and Brian directed the crane operator to lower the mast into position.  However, the mid stay on the starboard side had somehow become detached from the mast and was on the ground.  The yard staff had to be hoisted on a boson’s chair to reinstall it in the mast!  The mizzen was slightly more successful.  The only problem was the sling was around one of the stays and the sling could not be lower until the stay was released… a dicey affair with a deck-stepped mizzen.  We were launched just after lunch.  We motored to the more civilized marina a mile down-river from Green Cove Springs Marina, with the main mast wobbling (since we had not tightened the stays) and docked.  Once secured, we finished attaching and tightening the rigging.


Over the summer Pilgrim was parked under a live oak tree (our masts were out) and she became a wildlife refuge for two dozen little lizards and two tree frogs.  We kept re-patriating the lizards as far south as Lake Worth. 

Stowaway from Green Cove Springs

St. Johns River to Lake Worth.  December 13 - 16

It took us two days to get from Green Cove Springs to the mouth of the St. Johns River.  At Jacksonville there are two bridges that must open for us.  One is a railroad bridge that is usually open unless a train is passing.  The other is a roadway lift bridge that was not opening the day we arrived.  We anchored overnight upstream of the bridge.  The next day the road bridge was prepared to open for us, but when we arrived there was a train stopped on the railroad bridge.  After a 30 minute delay, we made it through both bridges. 


We anchored about 6 miles upstream of the mouth of the St. Johns River so we could depart on an ebb tidal current at dawn.  We were hitting speeds of 9 knots as we rode the current at dawn on December 15.   The water temperature was about 57° F in the river.  120 miles later, at Cape Canaveral, it was 69° F.  As we moved south from the cape the water temperature rose to 72 and the water became a lovely tropical turquoise. 


We stopped just 45 miles short of Lake Worth at Fort Pierce. We could have continued on to Lake Worth, arriving after midnight and before moonrise at 2:30 AM.  We took the prudent decision to duck into Fort Pierce and anchor just before sunset.  We travelled 205 miles from the St. Johns River and had a nice day trip hop to Lake Worth.  During the passage there was very little wind; the motor was on all the way, and the staysail gave us a bit of a speed boost when the wind was strong enough and from an appropriate direction.  Tuesday morning the wind picked up to 12 knots from the west and we had "interesting" motion from the sea swells from the east and the wind waves from the west ... the washing machine effect. 


We spent two nights at anchor at Fort Pierce in order to fix a couple of mechanical problems.  The furlers for both the Genoa and Staysail needed lubricating and our propane system needed a major overhaul.  The trip out the Fort Pierce Inlet to the Lake Worth Inlet was an easy motor trip with little wind.    


Lake Worth, December 17 – 26

There are three anchorages in Lake Worth that we use.  The first is just south of the inlet.  It is easy to enter or leave Lake Worth from this anchorage, even at night.  There is no place to land the dinghy, no shopping nearby, and no open (free) Internet access points, but it is safe and easy, even in high winds and thunderstorms.  The second is about a mile south of the inlet anchorage through a bascule bridge that opens once every hour except during rush hours.  This anchorage is adjacent three large floating dinghy docks in West Palm Beach, has Internet access, a grocery store, restaurants, a Saturday farmers’ market and is an easy walk to one of the most exclusive fashion shopping streets, Worth Avenue in Palm Beach.  The third anchorage is north of the inlet and very crowded with boats using the Intra Costal Water (ICW) as the main north-south thoroughfare instead of the outside ocean passage we like to take.  We spent 3 nights at the West Palm Beach anchorage and thoroughly enjoyed their style of Christmas hype.  There was a 35 foot high Christmas tree made of pure white sand, and included lights and a star on top.  The palm tree trunks were festooned with lights, and every night there was a light show that was almost better than fireworks, since there is no boom boom bang accompanying the lights.  Some women wear unbelievable fancy cloths and high high high heels while others wear shabby jean shorts and torn t-shirts.  But the thing that really gets us is the women who push their cute little dogs around in doggie strollers and the young man who took his pouch for a ride on a paddle board.  Incredible. 


Boats were decorated with lights … The nightly light show at West Palm Beach … The 35-foot sand Christmas tree in West Palm Beach


Two dogs on a walk, one walking, the other being carried … joggers, walkers, funny wheeled things … Dog on a paddle board


Brian and the Nutcracker … Jane and the doggie drinking well … The Christmas tree on Worth Ave, the elite shopping district

We spent two nights at the Riviera Beach Municipal Marina.  We had ordered some parts to be delivered to a chandlery near the marina, needed to do some laundry, wash down the decks and fill the water tanks.  On Christmas Eve we rushed to get diesel fuel before the marinas closed for Christmas, then went back to the inlet anchorage to wait for a weather window to travel down to the Florida Keys. 

Christmas Eve it was warm with a strong south wind.  We anchored close to the channel which we learned was not a good idea.  The current in the channel is stronger than in the shallow places, which meant that we had quite a ride when the current and wind were opposing each other.  At 2:30 AM on Christmas Day the cold front hit with a brilliant lightning show, thunder, strong north winds, and a current that measured 2 knots on our speed log.  What a way to wish each other Merry Christmas.


At daylight on Christmas morning we moved to a shallower location with more swing room.  The wind and current were still strong.  Our entertainment was watching a 45-foot power cruiser raft off a 60-foot mega-yacht that was already anchored.  The wind was blowing north to south and the current was running south the north.  It took 8 attempts for the two boats to get close enough to pass a line between them, and another 30 minutes of heavy work to pull the two boats together. 


Anchoring buddies


A 50-foot ketch tried to anchor in the same situation.  We were securely anchored with 100 feet of chain between our anchor and our boat, but with the wind and current fighting for the upper hand, we were sitting right on top of our anchor with the chain sprawled out tracing our path of the opposing forces of nature. The ketch worked for an hour trying to set their anchor, and finally succeeded when the wind dropped and the current won the battle. For non-nautical types setting an anchor with strong wind and opposing current is like trying to herd Siamese cats or intelligent 5 year olds.


We put up the wooden Christmas tree we bought in Stockholm with its 5 candles and listened to Christmas music, from Bach to the Cowboy Junkies.  We listened to the weather forecast and were happy to hear that the wind would diminish and back to the East on Boxing Day.   


Our Christmas tree and Christmas dinner, served on Gavin's plates


Lake Worth to the Keys, December 27 – January 4, 2015

We decided to leave the Lake Worth anchorage at sundown (5:30) and work our way 55 miles down the coast, past Miami, and then anchor in the Keys.  The wind was perfect.  We left on schedule and motor-sailed for an hour, then realized there was good wind for sailing.  We "wandered" off our route to be a bit further off-shore and suddenly realized the waves had become turbulent and we were being tossed like a match stick.  We checked the depth, and we were in 400 feet of water and the water temperature was 77 degrees F.  We had wandered onto the fringes of the Gulf Stream, a very dangerous situation with a North-East wind and changed course to be closer to land.  It reminded us of the Cape Hatteras rounding last year which was never to be repeated.


By 5 AM we were approaching Miami, which is a nail-biting waterway, much like the English Channel or the North Sea along the German coast or Toronto’s Highway 401 at rush hour.  The cruise ships were lined up to enter the Government Cut Channel, much like airplanes landing at major airports.  We had to break through the line (or go miles out of our way east and into the Gulf Stream again) to get south of Miami.  This channel is several miles long and always full of big ships.  As we approached we decided on our strategy.  We made two circles, then made our move boosting the engine to maximum throttle and aiming for the stern of the boat that we were passing in the channel.  When we hit the northern edge of the channel, we squared our course to cross it perpendicularly and just cleared the southern edge as the next cruise ship passed the fairway buoy into the channel. 


As we cleared the channel, the eastern sky lightened with the sunrise, and we turned off the motor, unfurled the head sails and had our first sail on Pilgrim since the previous April.  It was glorious. 



We made two overnight anchorage stops in the Keys before arriving at Marathon in Boot Key Harbour.  The harbour was very crowded; all 225 moorings were in use, there was a waiting list and the anchorage area was congested.  However, the anchorage was safe and secure and provided us the opportunity to get more boating and grocery supplies, do some laundry and maintenance on the boat.  The weather was almost too warm which fuelled the no-see-ems in the mangroves to torment us with hundreds of bites.