Nigel North
Mon 27 Jan 2014 06:02

Monday 20 Jan 2014


The weather can get bad in Florida, no doubt about it, and it had been pretty cold recently, but it rarely lasts too long. Today proved it. 10C on waking, but sun was up and warming, wind light and westerly, and a perfect day to make southing down to VERO BEACH 33nm away.

My agreed ‘sensible practise’ (with myself) of not hoisting the mainsail on the ICW – vis having to turn into wind to raise and lower, fiddly, running aground problems etc – was abandoned today. The wind was light, on a good reach, there were no low bridges to hold us up, and without it we’d be a bit slow. Now I’m quite happy to do it slowly, and do so quite a lot, whatever, but we did need to make VERO BEACH MARINA before dark as PW would probably be rafting up with another boat, and night arrivals are not much appreciated. And its quite hard enough singlehanded anyway. So WHY NOT! Pinball sails very nicely on a light reach with all three sails up, and can make half the windspeed, ie 6kts in a 12kt wind.

For the first few hours the engine was also running at quarter power, giving an extra knot, but killed it late in the morning, and progress was a pleasure. The waters were flat – as they nearly always were – and life was good. The autopilot does the work, controlled through a remote control on a wire. and provided I haven’t lost the handset it all works very well. I can break away from the cockpit to do things, but have to be quick..its the 60 second rule: go below to, say, put the kettle on, and pop back up. No problem. Cooking lunch is a bit more exciting as it has to be done in 60 secs. Any longer, and Sod’s Law says PW will be heading straight at another boat, or a bridge, or into shallow water that literally wasn’t there just a minute before.

If I’m honest I’ll admit to several near misses; passing posts I hadn’t seen rather too close, quite a few departures from the dredged channel with the depth guage reading 1.5m or less and reducing, and a couple of ‘groundings’ for real. Luckily, its been in soft slimy stuff so no damage but the deceleration from 6kts to 0 plus ramping up a foot or more is always a good heart stimulus. So the 60 Second Rule rules. But nothing too bad today.

At 1130 the yacht NID EARTH finally passed me after slowly gaining for the last hour or more, under engine as all American yachts always are, with a genoa up front. They waved as they passed, as most vessels do, but this time I didn’t. I was a bit peeved: the overtaking had occurred just as I/we were going under a bridge for goodness sake, with very limited manoeuvering room. Yes there is enough room, but what if? What if, for example, someone’s autopilot went haywire? Mine had several times now, on this trip, dodgy contacts caused my corrosion mainly, but not nice and not funny! So I looked away and ignored them in punishment for their heinous crime, a stodgy Brit. Mind you, most think we’re Auzzies, or Kiwis, what with the Blue Ensign hanging over the stern.

By 1400 the wide open water had given way to a much narrower passage flanked by a series of ‘soil islands’ – dumped soil now completely covered in trees and vegetation – and the winds became gusty in these channels. This makes sailing more challenging as each time the wind picks up, Pinball starts getting a lick on but also heads up into wind 10 or 20 degrees with the shift in the centre of pressure in the sails. This required a correction on the autopilot to counter it, and then the wind would drop again and the reverse would be needed.

We passed GRANT ISLAND, the only inhabited soil island on the ICW, and it was there that I saw the house for sale. Set back into the trees, not big and ostentatious like so many waterside properties in Florida, but delightful and charming with a small boat dock and I wanted it. This was the only house I ever fancied since arrival.

‘MY PLEASURE HO HUM’, and watched as the three storey motor cruiser – a holiday flat with an engine and known as a ‘trawler’ here – rumbled past.

Later, I was thinking. Imagine, driving in your car, and every car that overtakes you calls you up on your radio to see if its ok, then gives you a wave as they go. No? Well that’s cruising..

I like to sail. I prefer to sail. It gives pleasure to know we’re not using any fuel, just the wind and sun, but its not just that. It’s the silence, the swish of the …..


Rang the marina again and asked for a mooring allocation – they have mooring buoys which are much cheaper than taking a slip in the marina. Last time I’d been rafted up to C Gull Seeker so was expecting this again, but was given No 37 all to myself.
‘Its by the No12 Marker’.
We were getting close so it was time to drop the mainsail and roll up the genoa. The main got caught in the Lazy Jacks as it usually did if not dead into wind, which I wasn’t, but with a couple of trips up forw’d it was down, and the genoa rolled away fine, in time to pull over a bit for the big flatbed tug/workboat behind me to overtake. Just as it was, we stopped dead, the depth going from 3.5m to 1m in seconds. And this time it didn’t feel like slimy mud either.. Bugger.

You have to turn off the ICW just before the Vero Beach Bridge to get to the marina, and nose slowly up a side channel – quite wide but congested with moored boats. Picking up a mooring is usually ok as long as there’s some rope on it to pick up and not much wind, but its finding it. The approach was nice and slow, the intention being to stop with the bow right next to the buoy, and the pick up was a first timer! But there was no wind which is everything.
I remember trying to pick up my mooring in Portland harbour a few years ago, first time singlehanded, in half a gale, and after 45 minutes being rescued by my windsurfing son Joe climbing on board to help. The problem in a blow is as soon as you stop, the bow ‘blows off’ 120 degrees, so by the time you’ve run up the front from the helm, its all over. This episode nicely counterbalanced the day I was under test for an ICC (International Certificate of Competence), having received no training and as a novice, being asked to demonstrate a mooring pick up without the engine. Gulp. No, I had not practised this.
Not really having a clue how to go about it, I just aimed at the buoy, gradually falling off the wind, and by the biggest fluke in maritime history the bow stopped slap bang next to the buoy, and was the quickest pick up I’d ever done. Mike the Examiner said ‘Hmm. Not bad’. I think that did it for me.

VERO BEACH MARINA is the best. They call it ‘Velcro Beach’, as cruisers come here and stick. Reading the local rag in the loo, there are people who’ve been here 25 years. Its got everything a cruiser wants pretty much - great dinghy dock, showers, loos, a good laundry room, and a cruiser’s lounge with plug points, tv’s and tables and chairs. And its CHEAP. $15 a day on a mooring. £10. That’s a reasonable price. But its more than that. Its got a nice friendly laid back feel to the place, and you just want to stay. I could easily spend 3 or 4 weeks here. But not now..
So I’m happy to be here, but sad too. Sad because I’m starting to go back now, nearing the end of this little journey, and I don’t want it to stop but it must.


Set off again three days later, slipping quietly away at midday – late but not wanting to leave yet and I wanted to finish and post the latest blog first, so as late as I could get away with. It was a bright but cool start – just 5C – with a light North wind to blow us south to Jensen Beach 27nm away.

For some reason after nosing out of the marina channel it seemed a good idea to start the log, only looking up in time to see the massive bridge support dead ahead at 20 yards. With autopilot engaged, the wheel is hydraulically locked so to turn in a hurry you have to do it on autopilot. We just made it. This was not a good start. This begat The BRIDGE RULE. Within throwing distance of a bridge, the Watchkeeper (me) is to be in position behind the wheel, autopilot on standby, hands on. NO EXCUSE!

The ICW is fantastic, and must be one of the finest inland waterway systems in the world. It runs from Miami 1090 miles north up to Norfolk Virginia, and was begun in 1885 with the digging of the narrow Haulover Canal linking Indian River with Mosquito Lagoon – that I had now twice used. Even in strong winds it is navigable with care, and the water even when rough is nothing compared to the Atlantic, which for the most part is just a mile or less away, at least in Florida.

A pod of 5 or 6 dolphinians came to say hello, waited for me to get the camera out then true to form disappeared just as I was ready to click. So I reproached them as I know they speak English, if badly, and got back down behind the sprayhood as it was cold in the wind and the genoa was blocking the sun nicely. That’s the trouble with sailing south; no sun, at least until later in the afternoon.

1500. Approaching FORT PIERCE. Ooh. Bridge to open here. We were making a reasonable 4kts with the genoa poled out to starb’d and the mizzen, dead downwind. I had been watching a catamaran DAWN PATROL slowly catch us with what looked like a spinnaker, but was in fact a gennaker I noticed later, as it overhauled us. They too called on #16 for a pass, a courtesy call really. It was good to see someone actually sailing for once.

Just as I’d rolled the genoa away to wait, the FORT PIERCE BRIDGE opened for me, thankyou, then closed again just as the catamaran got there, and made him wait. Ha!


I am using small throw away cans of gas that you can get anywhere here, about 1 litre sized, propane. It works, but although the flame is hotter than Butane (UK) the pressure is not great, and with two burners on it’s a bit low. And the grill is hopeless. A piece of toast takes about 8 minutes. So I fry everything.
Today it was going to be cheese on toast, fried. I’d tried it before, and although its not great, it’s a lot quicker than the grill. Fry one side of the toast in some butter. Remove when slightly brown and re-butter the pan. Slice cheese and stick it on the un-cooked side of the bread, preferably big slabs of cheese as you have to invert it and drop it in the pan holding the cheese in place with one hand. Its now sizzling away in front of you, but you can’t see how its going as its underneath! So you watch the edges. What you are looking for is that moment when the cheese has melted (obviously) and is starting to cook hard ie with a hard skin. This is trial and error time. If you lift it too soon it’ll all be runny and messy, if you leave it too late it will be hard as paint. So its all about timing, and its all in the experimental stage at the moment. You must butter the pan or it all sticks to it, and don’t butter the top of the bread, to help adhesion with the cheese. But it works, tastes good, and is pretty quick. It doesn’t look half as nice as a good grilled job, but heh. Close your eyes and eat.

Still wearing four layers, cold north wind but sunny.

So no delays at Fort Pierce, but boy did we pick up some current. 1.5kts as the tide was coming in the Inlet there, but going our way thankfully.

Wind from dead astern is not great as the genoa kicks around and can’t make its mind up which side to be on. So its best to stick a pole on it and hold it out and this I’d done for the whole day. Even better is to have another foresail on the inner forestay as well, and pole that one out the other side. This I now did, as it was 1700 and still with about 8 miles to go, and picked up a half knot for the trouble – which was considerable, the poles had to be swopped, bigger one for the bigger genoa, smaller for the staysail.

Sunset: anchor JENSEN BEACH.

Friday 24 January 2014


The wind was really strong, and still from the North. Up anchor at 1100, bringing with it a huge dollop of black sediment a foot thick, so left the anchor just below the waterline to clean off as we slowly motored out of the anchorage. Once back in the channel and deeper water we set off south towards the St LUCIE INLET and river, the wind driving us before it.
There was a knocking I didn’t recognise, and wandered around listening here and there, until realising it came from up forw’d. In horror it came to me – the anchor! Thanks to this wind we were doing a good 6kts with the 20kg Rocna anchor busy bashing holes in my hull. WHAT AN IDIOT.
This was the first time I had damaged PW, and was a severe black mark against me. I forgot, I was busy, is a rubbish excuse. I should have had a routine in place that prevented it happening, that didn’t rely on memory. Too late now, the damage is done..

1200: approaching ‘The Crossroads’, where the ICW crosses the St Lucie Inlet and river, and a place of continual shoaling. Few boats were out in this wind, which was driving us easily with just a patch of genoa out and the mizzen. I was nervous. Here I had grounded quite badly the first time I’d tried to get up the St Lucie river, and was on guard now, eyes glued to the depth guage. Sure enough, as I rounded the red marker buoy to enter the river we touched bottom, but not too badly and made it through. The river snakes back north so once round the corner it was dead into a wind of 30 plus knots with the mizzen shaking itself to death. But I couldn’t hand the sail in this wind, it would be even more damaging so just had to tighten the sheet as best I could.

The contrast between this, and entry to the much narrower and better protected St Lucie river further west, was considerable. Summer broke out, the sun shone, it was warm, the wind light and playful. The St Lucie Lock had to drain billions of gallons of water just for Pinball of course, but gave me the chance to wolf the sausage sandwich and tea I had recklessly produced at the precisely wrong moment – ten seconds before arriving at the lock.

And that was it. 12 miles later we arrived at the Indiantown Marina again, and I was to raft up with CROSS ROADS, I was told, as they were completely full. Debbie and Antoinette from the Office were there to take a bow line, a couple of guys from the boats too, and Steve on CROSS ROADS. The docking was perfect. I had got one thing right then.

Steve was one of those guys you like immediately. ‘I’m a handshaking kind of a guy’ he explained as he helped tie PW up.

PLAN: fly to UK 29 Jan 14. Return Florida 15 Oct 14.


7 week refit afloat in Lake Worth:
Suzuki outboard – carburetor cleaned, drive gear replaced, serviced, oil changes.
Ships Clock
Satellite phone
New fan port quarterberth
US VHF radio and splitter for weather info
AIS Transceiver and splitter
Not fixed:

12 days of inland waterway sailing, covering 403nm.
1 day at sea
Damage: Scratches to hull paint above the waterline, some chipping. Below the waterline yet to be inspected but some gouges visible.