Monday, June 30, 2014

Time flies in Miami South Beach

Well I am writing this having already spent 4 weeks anchored in Miami South Beach.  We are back in the same spot we spent 3 weeks in during December, funny that originally when transiting Florida we had no plans of visiting Miami but we really like it here.

So why do we like it so much? It is great that we do not have to pay to anchor, we do not have to pay to dock our dingy to get ashore, we can get free water from the Police dock but mostly because SOBE is a really cool place.  There is a colourful community here ranging from some of the mega rich people living in plush houses around Venetian causeway, millionaire row and other private islands, mixed with a vibrant gay community along with a large central/south American + Cuban population, and not forgetting the tourists who pile in from all over the world including lots of Americans.

What are we been doing in SOBE?  We have been taking in the local art, we visited the Wynwood Wall which is an area of Midtown where there is some great street art, we cycled there on a Saturday morning after reading that some of surrounding areas are a little dodgy.  It wasn’t the best time to take in the overall ambience as bars, clubs, etc were closed but we still enjoyed.  

We also visited the Wolfsonian Museum which has various collections of both international and local designers and artists, we spent an interesting couple of hours here and made sure we visited on a Friday evening when it is free.  We also popped into the Freedom Tower/Miami Art school which has a really nice gallery a few international pieces but mainly lots of Americans or Cubans who now live in America.  This again was free and was a great place to visit to get out of the baking heat.  To round off our art tour we spent an afternoon at the Perez Art Museum, it was a little busy on a free Saturday afternoon but a great place with lot of interesting Modern Art.

Sorry can't remember artist but this was part of a much larger design and very sparkly

I think we have walked every street in SOBE we often just wandering the streets to spend some time off the boat but it is a pleasant place to explore, there is the beautiful often busy beach, the canal with a selection of wild life, the art deco houses and the sites of Ocean Drive.  It is surprising how much wildlife you see in such a large urban area, huge iguanas sunbath near the canal, dolphins fish in the anchorage, a whole array of sea birds including pelicans, storks, ibis, we even saw a manatee in the busy harbour in downtown and was also a little odd seeing an spotted eagle ray gliding up the canal, we have only ever see one of these whilst snorkelling and diving so was odd to see it in this setting.

Ibis by the side of the road

Iguna sunbathing just off road on Venetian Causeway - Magnum at anchor in the distance

Huge Heron posing for a photo at the marina - in the background is the main road bridge over to South Beach
On our previous visit to Miami we never visited downtown but we have cycled across on several occasions, initially we had to head that was to check in with customs but we have also visited the galleries and just soaked up the atmosphere at the sea front.  Bayside offers waterfront shopping/entertainment bit like Port Solent at home but larger and with bigger brands including Hard Rock CafĂ©, it is also the marina to catch one of the many tourists boats that visit Venetian Causeway whether this is a pirate boat, a super speedboat or huge powerboat.

Waterfront in downtown

Mark relaxing in waterfront park in downtown
The weather has been surprising to us, we never realised that it would rain sooooo much, we are now experiencing thunderstorms almost every afternoon which is sometimes a relief as it manages to cool it down a little but often it just means we have to shut all the hatches and it is just too hot.  The temperature is almost always 35+ with humidity over 75% and it does not cool very much at night so one of us often has to sleep in the main cabin.

We often walk to the beach or harbour entrance although have only been actually sat on the beach and been in the sea once!  We were at the lower class end of the beach without all the pirate beach paraphernalia that is by all the fancy hotels and with all the private brollies, beach chairs and cool boxes – the American love their cool boxes.

Beautiful but busy Miami beach 
The channel is always being dredged at Miami due to the vast number of cruise liners arriving and departing on almost a daily basis, on a Friday/Saturday evening you often see 4 ships heading out.  A more exciting site was the US Coastguard ship leaving the harbour, great to see a working sailboat on such a large scale.

Our entertainment budget is very limited so Amanda enjoys a walk along Ocean drive on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, The Palace Bar has live entertainment with the best Drag Queens in town.  These amazing women perform out in the street and literally stop traffic with their show, the have such presence and provide an amazingly energetic performance in the unbearable heat, it is great entertainment and the bar is always packed with people.

Also much to Marks frustration we did have a trip to Saw Grass Mills which they promote as the biggest discount mall in the US and yes it is huge, we spent way to long there but did pick up a few bargains and Mark was pleased with the upgrade we received on the hire car.

What a colour!
Overall we have been trying to keep ourselves entertained, make the most of this cool location whilst trying to prepare ourselves for the transition back to landlife in the UK.  It may all seem idyllic but unfortunately we still have hanging over us the stress that the shipping date has slipped, the 20th June has come and gone, we currently have no alternative.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Speedy departure to the States

Our provisional date for shipping was 20th June and although a month away we felt under some pressure to have good communication links so that the shipping company could contact us, we knew that the Exumas would not give this to us so if we had reasonable weather we would just sail to Miami and prepare ourselves and Magnum for the trip.

We left Black Point with about 20 knots of wind and bashed up wind, with not much chop on the bank we made good progress and even enjoyed tacking in as close as we could to the anchorage at Bell Island. This must be one of the ugliest anchorages in the Exumas as there is a huge industrial building on this side of the island but it provided great protection and it was only for 1 night.

Huge Ugly building on Bell Island
Next day with 15 knots of wind we had a glorious sail, the seas were flat the sun was shinning and we remembered how much we loved sailing in the Bahamas.  We had a bit of an issue with some tangled reefing line and Mark demonstrated what a monkey he is by climbing onto the boom.

Monkey Mark
We whizzed along hard on the wind, it was nice after so many weeks of sitting in Georgetown, enjoyed a wonderful 20 miles sail on one of our last days in the Bahamas with our adventure now rapidly coming to an end. 

Amanda enjoying being at the helm

As we approached the anchorage at Shroud Cay we saw Oystermist anchored in prime location, it was weeks since we had said goodbye to Wendy and Graham in Gerogetown.  It was nice to catch up that evening and were really grateful for the distraction, we had both been feeling pretty stressed.

Next day we were up with the sun and motoring out of Shroud Cay.

Sunrise over Shroud - Silhouette of Oystermist 
The sail/motor to West Bay on Nassau was a frustrating one, we had 60 miles to travel and very little wind, we spent the day trying to get any speed we could from the sails but having to motor.  It was baking hot and we were both a bit sad to say goodbye to the beautiful Exumas.  We spent most the day in 3-4 metres of water and it was really good when we had to skirt around the end of the Tongue of the Ocean and were suddenly off soundings.  The anchorage at the western point of New Providence Island has good shelter although was little tricky for us to navigate into as it shallow.  It also has some amazing buildings at one end, it looks like a Disney style Polynesia village, we assume it is a resort, we never saw any people although could here peacocks crying for most of the night!

What is this place at West Bay, New Providence
We had a peaceful night at anchor but were again at first light to start our passage to Miami.  We hoisted the mainsail and pulled out the foresail to make the most of any wind but it was very light and we were motoring.  One other boat followed us out of the anchorage and there were 2 catamarans off to port and we were all on a converging course at the North West Passage.  We were quickly off soundings but the see what flat and glassy with no wind, we had around 50 miles to get to the Grand Bahamas bank and unfortunately the conditions did not really change so we were unable to sail but we still made progress.  This part of the journey was brighten by the sight of one or more whale on the horizon, in the flat sea they were easy to spot, it must have been 3 metres long with a short fin sitting quite far back, we had the book out to try to identify and we think it was a Beaked whale of some description, quite exciting.

As we reached the Bank the water came up quick to around 4 metres, this felt like the second leg of our journey.  By this time there were a few more sports fishing boats around and some sailing boats heading in the opposite direction but winds were still light and we were still motoring.  The highlight of this part of the journey was the sight of a very large loggerhead turtle which surfaced to say hello and then was off out of sight.

As the night approached we sat down to a delightful meal prepared by Mark, Courgette Omelette (aka egg mess in a bowl), baby carrots and roasted sweet potato, delicious and the seas were that flat we even had the table up, this never happens at sea!

mmmm yummy dinner
As night fell it was sad to think this was our last night in the Bahamas probably ever, not sure we would have the chance to return here when there are still so many other places in the World we have yet to visit.

Beautiful sunset
Amanda went to bed with Mark on watch as we crept across the shallows in never more that 4 metres of water until we reached Riding Rock where we left the bank we soon off soundings and into the Florida Straits.  Mark headed off to bed and Amanda was on watch as we headed towards the Gulf Stream and on the last leg of our journey to the States, still motoring!

Overnight there were a few tankers and cargo ships, ever glad of our AIS to tell us how far away there would be, always difficult to judge speed and distance, some passed under half a mile away which always seems relatively close.

As the sun came up the number of fishing boats buzzing around started to increase, we had not picked up as much Gulf Stream as we had expected so we had to start to alter course to head directly to Miami.  With such a prominent skyline we could see Miami for hours before we actually arrived into the harbour, it is so disheartening when you are moving  at 5 knots towards your destination!

Miami on the horizon
Downtown Miami getting closer
As we entered Miami harbour it was bumpy with the tide and the wash from the hordes of passing powerboat, you feel pretty close to the towering hotels and condos.

Entering Miami harbour
There were powerboats everywhere plus small ferries and various working boats, it was a challenge for us to drop out sail when we still in the channel.  We knew it would be busy at the weekend but we did not realise it was Memorial Day weekend, it was manic! It took a good hour to manoeuvre through the harbour through 2 bridges and various very very shallow patches to reach our anchorage at South Beach or SOBE as the locals call it, we were glad to be here but in for a bumpy few hours with the holiday traffic.

Anchorage overlooked by downtown Miami

Monday, June 16, 2014

Big Decisions

The days that followed were full of big decisions for us, we started to research the options for shipping Magnum home, as the weather in the North Atlantic generally looked like it was going to make for a difficult trip even if we made the first step to Bermuda.  This was not the option we really wanted to take, one because we had wanted to sail back and secondly as we had not budgeted for this expense.

It was good to be in Blackpoint as we were able to use the free wiifi at the laundrette, we soon had a number of quotes and Mark looked to negotiate the best rate.  We choose to go for a charter option out of Fort Lauderdale, our decision was taken mainly on price, wow it is expensive!  We were very grateful to the Government office in Blackpoint, who printed scanned and faxed our contract, again demonstrating how nice the people are in this small settlement.

The weather during our stay here was wet and windy for days on end and only made what was a difficult decision easier to come to terms with.

The wonderful laundry on a wet and windy day at Blackpoint