Lake Sylvia, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Date: Friday 12th December 2014
Position: 26:06.325N 80:06.673W
Our dock at Bruno’s Zoo was really rather convenient. Although it was a little run down, and in the middle of a residencial area with no amenities such as cafes, bars, or shops within walking distance, it was sheltered, comfortable and not expensive. We ended up staying for a couple of weeks whilst we explored the area around the city and tried to remember what it was that we ought to purchase before we left the USA and returned to the less well stocked territories of The Bahamas and Caribbean. A large green iguana lived in a tree overlooking the water in Bruno’s garden and would often bask in the sunshine alongside the dock area. It seemed completely unfazed by people and even dogs that passed close to it. We were a little concerned that it might climb onboard our boat whilst we were away; getting rid of a large lizard that had taken a fancy to our cockpit was not something that we wanted to have to contend with. Fortunately there were no such confrontations.
However by the end of the month we could find no more excuses to stay and so slipped away to anchor in an area of the ICW less than a mile away. We were very comfortable there, making several trips ashore each day to purchase yet another item we remembered that we really ought to have before we left. Comfortable that is, until our idyl was interrupted by a brush with the law.
We were returning to the boat in the dinghy when we passed a police launch travelling in a reciprocal direction to us. The policeman gave us a good ‘eyeing’ as he passed us then turned sharply, lit up his blue flashing light and sped over to us. After verifying to himself that the pile of merchandise in our dinghy was probably not stolen he then told us that in Florida all boats, including small tenders, must have their own, separate, registration. Unless our dinghy had its own registration then it could not be used here. If we were to be caught using an unregistered boat then we could expect large fines, or maybe something worse!!! Guantanamo Bay???. This is, of course, rather strange as in most of the rest of the world a dinghy is considered to be part of a boat’s equipment and definitely does not require a separate registration. Needless to say, being a British boat, we did not have a registration for our dinghy.
This presented us with somewhat of a dilemma. Staying at anchor without the use of the dinghy to get ashore would be a little tiresome to say the least. The local marinas tend to be on the exorbitant side of expensive, and there wasn't a weather window to escape to The Bahamas for at least a week ahead.
The alternative would have been to obtain a registration for the dinghy. One option was the Small Ships Register in the UK, in which case the dinghy would become a separate boat and like our main boat, a foreign flagged vessel that would require us to obtain a US Cruising Licence for it. However we could not apply for this Cruising Licence until we could present UK registration papers. It was likely it would take several weeks to complete this process with the papers delivered to us in Florida.
Or we could have tried to register the dinghy in Florida, even though this would take longer than the time we planned to stay there. I am not entirely sure what this process would have entailed, although I would not have been at all surprised to learn that somewhere along the line we would have been asked to pay taxes on what a local bureaucrat decided is the value of the dinghy and its engine. Other US based boaters told us that registration in Florida is a nightmare as in order to register you have to produce papers proving ownership that requires more information than is included in a normal invoice when buying a dinghy.
The background to all of this would appear to be related to recent legislative battles in Florida. There are many very large and expensive private homes along the banks of the ICW and the owners of these houses object to cruising boats anchoring at the bottom of their gardens. As a result Florida has tried to ban anchoring in its waterways. However this ban has been fought by waterway users and after passing through escalating levels of courts the final decision was that Florida does not have the jurisdiction to enforce such a ban. So rather than imposing an outright ban the local authorities have tried to achieve a similar result by just making life difficult for boats that choose to anchor.
Rather than incur the wrath of the local plod we decided to move and eventually managed to get onto a mooring buoy in the local Municipal Marina. It was only $45 per day for no services that we actually needed! There was no water taxi so we still had to use the dinghy to get ashore, but it was less than 100 metres and we would can carefully scan the ICW in both directions to check there were no cops in sight before we would scoot across the waterway to shore.
A welcome surprise was to find that a full scale replica Spanish Galleon was moored alongside the municipal marina. We had seen the same ship in La Corunna, NW Spain when we had called in on our way south in 2011. It had been launched that same year and was now in Fort Lauderdale preparing to sail up to St Augustine to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the founding of the city.
After a few days the memory of being pulled over had faded sufficiently for us to feel confident to move on to another anchorage and so we made our way to Lake Sylvia, a very sheltered cul de sac in the waterway system. There were maybe a dozen other boats anchored there so we felt a little more confident that harassment by the police would be less likely.