RIDING THE BEAST, US CUSTOMS AND PERKY GETS A TREAT
POSITION 26:50.26N 80:03.20W LAKE WORTH, WEST PALM BEACH FL.
MAINLAND FLORIDA, AND THE MIGHTY GULF STREAM
The route to the Land of Freedom was a diagonal NW from N Bimini to West Palm Beach – or it would be if PW were a bird. Between the two landmasses runs the warm Gulf Stream on its way north to warm the west coast of Scotland at speeds of at least 2 knots, and often a lot more. That might not sound much but it’s a huge force which on meeting a north wind coming the other way, builds up rapidly into a nasty sea. So, you don’t cross it if there’s any north in the wind. That’s one thing. The other is, if you just aim at your destination you’ll be swept miles north of it, so the advice is to cross at 90 degrees to minimise the time you are in the stream, and accept that you’ll be taken to the north.
Well I didn’t want to do that for good reason; the forecast was for a brief window of light southerly winds – good - veering round to Northwest about 0300 – not good. To make this work, I would set off heading due west in the southerlies making as much westing as poss until in the Gulf Stream, which would then sweep us north up to West Palm Beach. Heading north it should still be sailable even in a NW’ly.
It worked, at least for most of it. The winds turned out to be a fair bit stronger than forecast, as they usually are, and by midnight we were definitely in the stream heading north doing 8 knots speed over the ground, which meant a current of 2.5 knots. Great! Free mileage, riding the beast, just like the turtles in ‘Nimo’. You could actually see where the Gulf Stream was, as it carries its own weather overhead, a line of dark squally rainclouds in an otherwise clear sky. But the wind steadily increased to Force 5-6 NW so that by 0230 it seemed a jolly good idea to chicken out and motor sail due west out of the stream to close the coast of Florida, where the swell would be less. The sea had by then taken on the appearance of a mogul field with cross swells making it really lumpy. Sailing this close to the wind, the top trailing edge of the well reefed genoa was vibrating itself to death, and nothing I did stopped it. I think actually its just a sail that’s past its prime, and perhaps a bit baggy now, not unlike its owner. So dropped it, and raised the brand new heavy weather jib on the moveable forestay – specially commissioned before leaving – and it was so much better, the perfect size for this wind. I was really pleased…
By 0500 we were heading up the coast, me in two T shirts, jacket and for the first time for ages, my lovely leather seaboots. It gets chilly in that wind!
How good it was to greet the sun.
For some reason I sailed past the Lake Worth Inlet that was going to take me off the ocean and onto the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) that runs over a 1000nm from Miami all the way up to Chesapeake Bay. But turning back the few miles was now against the Stream, and tedious. Entering the wide deep inlet and rounding popular Peanut Island, overlooked by the huge US Customs building, I motored north up the ICW, finally anchoring in a quiet residential area at the north end of Lake Worth. I was here!
The waterway is all pretty shallow, with a dredged channel marked by red and green posts along the route, but I still ran aground a couple of times in soft mud, the second time in a alarming manner as we were doing a good 5 knots and were launched upwards a good foot with the bow in the air. I was to become almost accustomed to groundings.
Saturday, 25 May 2013 LAKE WORTH, WEST PALM BEACH FL.
Beaut day, solid sun real Florida stuff and Lake Worth is a millpond with just half a dozen boats at anchor – mostly long term.
US Customs procedures are very different from anyone else’s, and prone to change, but for peace of mind I had long ago emailed them asking for their requirements, and knew to ring Customs as soon as I arrived. I did, on the satphone at £1 a minute, but after £15 worth of answering questions I was instructed to go to the Customs place I had sailed past by Peanut Island to obtain a Cruising Permit. It was 5 miles away and I had 24 hours to do it. Oh well, tomorrow’s problem.
I slept well. But what to do? Drive the boat all the way back down to Peanut Island, anchor and dinghy to Customs? Same, only go to a marina? Or dinghy up to the creek nearby and get a bus or taxi leaving PW where it was. I chose the dinghy, but was now running late – it was midday already the following day. Well, I needed that sleep, didn’t get any coming across.
The bridge under which you could leave your dinghy wasn’t great, and I nearly changed my mind and turned back after seeing the rocks where you tied up, what with the tide going out. But heh, did it anyway, doing my best to ensure the dinghy didn’t settle on the rocks, then chained it to an iron grating. Would it still be there when I came back?
Asked a couple of locals about buses, and got on a 21 down Federal Highway 1. A kindly lady at the next bus stop showed me when to get off again to catch a No1 bus the rest of the way. No one had heard of Riviera, which was the address, but cannily I had brought along my old pocket GPS thing and had programmed in where Customs were. It was very useful but still managed to get off one stop too late and had to walk back, then straight to the smart looking 2 storey Customs building. I have to say it was the most pleasant Customs venue I had been to, no problem at all , friendly and helpful, and given what I wanted - boat can stay for a year, me for six months renewable. And all for $19 too. Neither had my boat been ‘inspected’ as all foreign boats were supposed to be, nor had I had all my veg, canned meat or anything else confiscated as Jimmy Cornell’s Cruiser Guide warned. No doubt I will be boarded at some stage by the Coastguard and Border Protection Boys but heh.. I like America.
Then, in the heat of the day, I start walking back up Broadway looking for a chandlers. Found and purchased a good if expensive set of charts from BOW a very well stocked chandlers, plus a plug that fits US points, and some needles. Then went on what turned out to be a wild goose chase looking for a sim card for my phone, eventually finding one in a shop run by Bulgarians by the sound of their thick accents, but it didn’t work. A new phone was the next option but was too expensive. So gave up on that one for now, and got back on a No1 bus out of town using the all day ticket I had been advised to get by the kind Afro lady. We got 20 yards before the busdriver hauled the bus up onto the pavement. Uh? We were all looking at eachother, waiting for someone else to get up and ask. Eventually the guy opposite did; the female driver had been pulled over by police, who now showed up in the bus briefly then off we went. I guess she got a ticket. Coppers !
Jumping off again at the half way mark to change buses, I happened to notice one of those great American bars with bar food that was clearly humming right by an inlet. Well, in truth I’d been looking for a loo ALL DAY so couldn’t turn this one up could I? Might have wifi too. It did. Of course, as soon as I arrived (greeted as is the American way by a dazzling smile and hello from the bargirl – UK bar managers learn!) the bus arrived at the stop. I am so used to being completely invisible to all bar staff back in UK that this kind of welcome is hugely impressive even if it is written in their contract, I don’t care. It is so nice to be welcomed or at least noticed. And so pleasant was it there that I just had to have a chicken and fries sandwich too, so busy was I wifi’ing and skype’ing. Trouble was, as I found out a bit later, the last bus goes at 1830 so standing at the stop at 1900 wasn’t going to get me home I decided after doing it for a while, prior to looking at the timetable. The exercise probably did me good, and arriving back in the dark found Percy still there, the padlock and chain now under two feet of water. Oh the things you have to do, cruising. But I was now legal in the US of A, and a good day was had.
Until, that is, I got my new expensive Chartbook out to do some planning, and found it was the wrong one.
HOW COULD THIS BE?!!! I had spent ages carefully checking it was really what I needed, then having decided to buy, put it back for now and carried on looking at other things. Somehow I’d got the Chesapeake one out instead when it came to buying. WHAT A PRIZE PILLOCK. So all that effort carting it around in a huge carrier bag – they are not small - and walking miles home with it was wasted. I’d have to go back.
This time I took the bike, with the wrong chartbook carefully wedged in the pannier bag, cycled the 5 miles back in and then out again. People look at my bike. I don’t think they have them here. So it gets locked up every time.
A WEEK AWAY
I wanted to go see an old friend up near Daytona. I figured I could leave PW where it was as it was a ‘nice’ area, but what to do with the dinghy? No, not under the bridge! It defo would not be there long. Espying a dinghy in a very posh looking marina opposite called Old Port Cove Marina, I dinghy’d over there to have a look. The office and restaurant were very plush as I strolled through in faded ripped shorts – boy, I know how to impress! The place was a superyacht haven for sure. Two battleaxes manned the marina office, staring at their computers. I put on my charming English Eccentric voice and explained the need for a couple of weeks stowage for the dinghy. She gazed at me over her battleaxe glasses for a while, then making her mind up, said ‘How big is it?’
‘Well, its not a superyacht haha’. No reaction. Umm..so whats 2.65m in feet I was thinking.‘About 7.5 feet I would think’.
‘OK, $75 for two weeks, plus tax’.
Next day dinghy’d in with bike and bag, left the dinghy tied up in the most exclusive slip Perky will ever be treated to, cycled past the gatekeeper to Enterprise Rentals, got in a car and set off for Daytona up Highway 95. PW looked a little hurt..
NEXT: SHALLOW WATERS AND DEEP KEELS - INSHORE PASSAGE TO INDIANTOWN