Second Leg: Miami – Whale sightings, and other tails/tales

The next day, after our arrival to St. Augustine, I took Karen ashore and got her a taxi to the Jacksonville airport so she could get home for the family emergency. Meanwhile, we needed to continue to get Tahina down to Miami by Tuesday. Karen was going to need to be home for at least three days. So, I started recruiting for someone to help me sail Tahina to Miami.

John Taylor at the helmAfter 24 hours of phone calls, the best candidate for crew turned out to be my brother John. As mentioned before, he lives in St. Marys, so he was already close. It would also be cheaper to fly him home from Miami than a lot of my other friends/family. Ironically, the last time I sailed to Miami was on PatiCat from Jacksonville (I just realized I never wrote that tale on the old PatiCat site). Almost the same situation occurred where it turned out I needed someone to help crew, and my brother came to the rescue to sail to Miami. Funny how things work out.

Map of Passage - St. Augustine to MiamiAnyway, on Saturday morning, John drove his car to Jacksonville airport, and took a taxi the rest of the way down to St. Augustine. I picked him up with the dinghy. We already had the provisions on board – thanks to Karen’s preparations back in St. Marys. So, we were soon raising anchor. But, before we departed, we stopped at the Conch House Marina to get some fuel. The weather was forecasted to be a bit mixed along the way. Fortunately, it was also a bit warmer (in the lower 60s F). The fuel stop was smoothly done and we were soon back on our way out the inlet.

We were following two other sailboats – mono-hulls – on the way out the inlet. All three vessels slowed down, turned our bows into the light breeze, and raised our sails. The winds were too light for just sailing, so we were soon motor-sailing along. The sails helped add a knot or so to our speed, so we were able to run one engine at a slower RPM and still make good speed.

With the light breeze, the seas were basically calm. It was a pleasant afternoon sail under clear sunny skies, with the enticing salty air and a long slow swell. We heard some reports of right whale sightings on the VHF. We kept a close watch as we continued along.

Fuel filter problem fixedAround mid-afternoon, the port-side engine started revving down. This was a problem Tahina has been having off and on since we bought her. It seemed fuel related, and only on the port side, but we couldn’t determine the cause for sure. But, this time she developed a symptom that narrowed down the problem. When we checked the primary Racor pre-filter, it was only half full. So, the engine was starved for fuel. All the previous times we checked this, the Racor would have fuel by the time we checked it. Clearly, something was fully blocking fuel between the tanks and the Racor.

The good news is that we fixed the problem! The bad news is that we started at the wrong end – the tank side – and ended up taking about 1.5 hours dis-assembling the lines and testing before determining where the blockage occurred. The blockage was at the last connection point – an elbow joint – at the Racor filter. It was about a marble-sized piece of vegetable or insect substance (possibly both). Diesel fuel can accumulate growth if not treated properly. Since we had the intermittent problem when we first picked up the boat, I naturally began fuel treatment right away. After purging the line, we had no further problems with fuel on the port side.

Northern right whale we spottedThe other interesting development is that while we were out front (near the trampolines), where the fuel tanks are located, we spotted right whales! This was about 4:30 PM. Three different pods of them were seen in the matter of an hour. The closest were over 1/2 km away and so I grabbed the telephoto lens (300mm) and began snapping pictures. John got an even closer view with the 15X binoculars. We were both thrilled by the experience, and called in the location by VHF to the US Coast Guard. We heard the other boats (which were now miles behind us) call in the whale sightings on the VHF as well. John was amazed to notice several dolphin apparently “playing” with one pod of the whales.

A little while later, we had a visit from some dolphins who love to play off the bows of our catamaran. Watch this video clip:

The first night we spent passing Cape Canaveral. We could see the launch towers lit up at night as we passed, as well as the Vehicle Assembly Building. A shuttle launch was supposed to happen in a week or so. The rest of the night was mostly uneventful except for one interesting twist. Apparently when I measured the distance from St. Augustine to Miami, I fell victim to the Google Earth ruler which defaults to “Miles”. I intended to be measuring nautical miles. So, it turns out the distance was less than I expected! As a result, we actually needed to slow down or we would get to Miami in the middle of the night. Oops.

We ran the water filter for a bit, but this close to the shore the filters clogged up too quickly. We only managed to make 60 or so gallons of fresh water. This ended up using our last batch of clean filters in the process. We plan to get more at the boat show.

We alternated between sailing and motor-sailing during the night. We got some wind at about sunrise and started just sailing again. A little later we spotted a halibut! These are really weird fish that are like a giant 1-sided flounder. They sometimes float upside down to the surface exposing their white meaty side. When we first noticed it we thought we were seeing a jellyfish. We hoped he’d get caught in our fishing lines, but no luck. The rest of the day was mostly uneventful until around 3 PM when we had some dolphin visitors. They came and danced off our bows for a few minutes as we clapped and cheered them on.

Mid-afternoon, we decided we could stop at Fort Worth Inlet (near West Palm Beach) at about sunset and go ashore for some dinner while we stalled a bit for time (so we wouldn’t arrive too early in Miami). We arrived right at sunset in the anchorage and spent a few minutes looking for a good spot in the large anchorage. A few minutes later we dropped the dinghy and went looking for food. We tried going to a mega-yacht marina, but believe it or not, we couldn’t find anyone to ask where we might find food. Finally, I pulled out the iPhone and did a Google Maps search and we were soon racing to the downtown area about 2 miles south. We walked around the delightful restaurant area for a few minutes and finally ended up at a pizza joint. But, the food was good, and we ate at a nice street-side patio table.

We ended up parking the dinghy at a brand new dinghy dock. So new, in fact, that when we walked down the dock to the street it was fenced off. But, we had no problem walking around the end of the fence to get ashore. We reversed the process on the way back and rode back to Tahina. We rested, took showers, and chatted for a while before pulling anchor and heading back out for the overnight ride to Miami.

We were motor-sailing for a good portion of the night, but a couple of hours before sunrise we had enough winds to shut off the engines and just sail again. We also had to get increasingly close to shore in order to avoid the counter-current from the Gulf Stream. There was a mono-hull headed the same direction, but it was no contest. We ended up passing the mono-hull within an hour or so. Soon we could see cruiseships on the approach to Miami and some ships at anchor.

As we made our approach to the Miami inlet, the sun rose (we timed it perfectly), and a Carnival cruiseship raced in ahead of us. We gladly let her go by, and then made our passage inwards as well.

We planned to go to the Miami Marine Arena – a large area created for motorboat races which includes a now-defunct arena stadium. The area is often used as an anchorage now. It looked perfect for Tahina since it was opposite the bay from the downtown area where the Miami Boat Show was held, and didn’t require Tahina to go under any bridges. After a short ride across the bay, we arrived and quickly found a good spot to drop anchor. Total distance was just over 280 nm. We immediately took a nap for a couple of hours.

About 10 AM, we got up and took the dinghy to the nearby marina to ask about getting fuel and water. Fuel was not available, but they had water. So, we brought Tahina over and filled the port side tank. We then went back to the anchorage and began washing off the layers of salt covering Tahina. Before we could finish, it was time to get John to a taxi so he could catch his flight home. I was thrilled to have his help on the trip down, and it was great he still had the energy left to help with the cleaning. After taking him to his taxi, I finished washing the boat about 1.5 hours later. Tahina was sparkling clean again.

Miami view from our anchorageThe view from this anchorage of the downtown area is stupendous. Unobstructed view of the colorful skyscrapers and surrounded by turquoise waters with a small tree-covered island in the foreground. The sunset was pretty, and the night-time view of the city was even more amazing!

Before the sun set, I scouted about and found a dinghy dock near the Miami Arena Marina. Although it isn’t open to boats at anchor, they didn’t mind if I dropped off and picked up people there. This would prove useful in the coming days. I finished off the night by sipping a soda on Tahina and reading while staring at the beautiful Miami skyline to the west, and with a warm breeze blowing and a nearly full moon rising in the east. Fortunately, my wife would be returning the next day – as would some guests who were planning to stay on Tahina during the next few days. But, that’s the tale of the next segment of this saga.

Here is a slideshow with more photos from this passage and the anchorage in Miami:

View passage map and photos in Google Earth (Other details included in the map such as the dinghy ride to dinner in Palm Beach and the new dinghy dock location).

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One Response to Second Leg: Miami – Whale sightings, and other tails/tales

  1. Parry Ketchmark says:

    I’m a friend of Andy’s and just wanted to say thanks. Although some of us have to work, it’s nice to log on and have an update.
    Simply AWESOME! I’m going to want to go buy a sailboat! The Miami skyline had to be amazing, and imagining the relaxation of sitting there, reading a book, taking in the enormoity of it all….PRICELESS!
    Wishing you the best on your journey!

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