We spent 3 weeks in Fort Lauderdale in the end and spent is the word in more ways than one. Dollars disappeared into the big black hole of boat maintenance and also bike maintenance this time. Our trusty Brompton folding bikes had been attacked by the strong salt winds in Cuba and we didn’t notice when we put them away. Our fault really and the result was a ridiculously expensive overhaul needed to make them roadworthy again. We needed them in Fort Lauderdale, where, like in most American cities, everything is very spread out and supermarkets miles away. We were lucky to learn of a cheap option for berthing whilst there at least, on a private dock called “Bruno’s Zoo” belonging to a long term waterside resident, but it was some distance from “downtown” or any useful shops. The major compensation was a bar/restaurant we were told about in town where happy hour meant all drinks and a good many of the food options were half price. The food turned out to be some of the best we have had in the US too, so we spent many an early evening there and told ourselves the 2 mile walk there and back made up for the indulgence. We did go as far as the much vaunted beachfront (miles and miles long), but beat a rapid retreat from the crowded, baking, shadeless sands with a backdrop of endless bars, hotels and apartment blocks.
We had one lovely day during our stay in FL when we met up with our German friends Hans & Andrea whom we first encountered back in the Bahamas and then again up in Maine. Renewing boating acquaintances is always a bonus.
Our prolonged stay means we now have a fully functioning AIS transmitter (which helps other boats avoid hitting you), a serviced liferaft (at twice the UK cost), replacement vinyl windows in our sprayhood (ours had gone hazy and difficult to see through) and a new mini “tent” to zip on in the cockpit to keep us a bit warmer and dryer when wind and rain are coming from behind us. We visited the chandlery and bought sundry spares and items to add to the “grab bag” which goes into the liferaft if you have to abandon ship. We then spent our last night back on a mooring buoy so we could use the wonderful laundry in the marina before setting off. Our engine had also been serviced and we were advised to burn off the carbon glazing on the cylinders by motoring at high revs for a day, so we decided to cover the 95 miles north to Fort Pierce in one fast run.
We motored out of FL on April 14th past the incredibly opulent waterfront homes and more enormous “gin palaces” than you could possibly imagine in one place. With some misgivings, we did motor to Fort Pierce at very high revs and then anchored with the intention of moving on the next morning on an overnight passage to St Augustine. We set off at 9am and had to motor again in very light winds. Skipper then discovered an oil/water leak in the engine which he wasn’t able to fix after some time bobbing around at sea, so we turned around and headed back to Fort Pierce. Luckily enough wind had come up to make for a gentle sail this time. After waiting at anchor for a high enough tide to creep into one of the marinas, we tied up in the Harbortown Marina with our keel digging a hole in the mud. The next day a local engineer diagnosed a broken water pump (possibly stressed by the fast motor or ready to break anyway and better now than on the ocean – who knows). The result was an enforced stay in a very expensive spot for 6 nights with very little to do and lots of baking, airless heat. Fort Pierce has very warm waters (even more so in the marina from all the boat air-con units running continuously) and mangroves. It is a favourite place for Florida’s manatee population and we hoped to see some whilst there. Frustratingly, we didn’t see any despite being told that they swim around in the marina at times.
We explored the downtown area, once on a dusty walk beside the main US 1 highway and once on our bikes. There was some life to the place on our second visit as there was a Saturday craft and food market by the waterside, but otherwise the centre of town seemed very dead and dreary. The one big compensation at this marina was that it was only 10 mins on foot from a good supermarket, so we were able to do some stocking up whilst there. We also cycled to the beach on Sunday and had an enjoyable dip in the gulf stream warmed Atlantic waves which had brought out lots of surfers. The beach here was much more appealing than in Fort Lauderdale as it was backed by vegetation rather than huge developments.
The new water pump duly arrived on Monday and was fitted on Tuesday morning in time for us to leave the marina at high tide. We motored over to an anchorage and prepared for an early start north the next morning. The 170 mile passage to St Augustine was uneventful, if a bit frustrating with more motoring than we would have liked. When the winds were kind we had some lovely sailing and when we motored we were relieved that all seemed well with the new pump. We had some great views of the Cape Canaveral rocket launcher structures as we passed and the cruise ship “Queen Victoria” overtook us on her way to Charleston.
We arrived in St Augustine on Thursday morning and picked up a buoy in the large mooring field there run by the municipal marina. They were extremely helpful with information for us before we came in, especially as the entrance is quite challenging for deep draft boats (a sand bar that keeps shifting). There are 2 other British boats close to us who are also intending to leave from here for the crossing, so we will confer with them some time soon. We had a preliminary explore of the town in the afternoon, taking our dinghy on the longish trip ashore. Luckily the marina offers a scheduled launch service 5 times a day which is a godsend when the water is choppy and you don’t fancy getting wet!
St Augustine is mainland America’s oldest continuous settlement and still retains some of its Spanish colonial character. It is celebrating the 450th anniversary of its foundation this year. Despite being very touristy and a bit twee in places, it is still very much more interesting and walker friendly than most towns, apart from the usual big distances involved in finding any sort of food shop. The narrow old streets do have some of the character of a Mediterranean town and there is a magnificent 17th century fort guarding it. Francis Drake burned the place to the ground back in 1586 and there were other major battles with the British later on too – the signs seem to us to show some pleasure in pointing out the legacy of British destruction. When the Spanish established themselves here they saw off the rival French settlers nearby with a slaughter commemorated in the name of the river we are in – Matanzas.
We will be here for at least a week whilst waiting for a new SIM for our sat phone for use at sea, completing the rest of our preparations and trying to spot a weather pattern for a good time to depart. The next 8 days seem full of the dreaded strong “Northers” which prevent this. We decided not to go via Bermuda which now seems an unnecessary detour, so we are now “looking forward” to a 2,700nm voyage to Flores in the Azores. With luck, and no big weather induced detours, we should be able to do this in about 20 days or so.
Spanish fort guarding the approach:
Old city gates:
USA’s oldest wooden school building:
European style architecture: