49. On to Miami and Over the Holidays

Friday, 12/20/19
I was unable to extend my slip for more nights at the marina in Ft Lauderdale but did find availability for 2 nights at Bill Bird Marina, part of the Miami-Dade park system, 14 nm south. Am guessing I’ll be able to extend beyond the two nights due to the holidays and weather. The weather continues to be poor with the forecast showing the next weather window on Christmas Day and the day after. So lines were untied and Last Resort headed out into the heavy winds. Only 5 bridges and 3 openings encountered.

Bill Bird Marina At Haulover Park is located immediately north of the Haulover Inlet to the Atlantic

A decent marina built by politicians with public funds. Unfortunately it’s also managed by bureaucrats as well. On approach, about a mile+ out, I hailed the marina probably a dozen or more times over a half hour on both the hailing channel 16 and their published working channel 68 seeking entry instructions, slip assignment and to request dock hand help with lines in the extreme winds. No response. Made several calls on my cell and the calls went to voice mail. Left messages for my requests and asked for a return phone call. No return phone call.

Finally entered the marina basin and circled, while calling and hailing, the dockmaster office. Still nothing. Saw no one on the docks. After 20 minutes circling and trying to get their attention, I did a temporary tie on the face dock . Did the long walk to the Dockmaster office. There was a receptionist at the phone desk and a uniformed lady (Dockmaster) leaning on the desk counter, both deep in personal conversation. Remembering that I still hadn’t checked in and that I’d most likely be asking to extend, I put on my most cordial voice. I did explain that there had been ‘issues’ whereupon she explained they were short handed by 6 people and THEY HAD BOTH BEEN TO LUNCH! I did pleasantly remind her that they had voice mail messages from me from over an hour before and here they were chatting when I walked in and showing my phone while maintaining my most cordial voice, noted my phone was not yet ringing with a call back..

They told me what slip I was to go to but they have no marina map for me to look at. I said I’d be doing a stern in and asked which side of the boat I should pre set lines and fenders. Extremely windy, good current and I wanted to be prepared ahead of time. With the high winds, I wanted to have the finger pier to leeward so the wind would blow me into the pier rather than into the boat next to me. They absolutely had no clue whether I needed to set up for a starboard or port tie and no clue which side of the slip would have the finger pier. So much for being a dockMASTER. So I did the extra 1/2 mile walk to see where the slip was etc and then went to the boat to set up.

Bringing the boat to the slip, I discover that it’s too narrow (about 6” on either side) plus on the outside piling there was a nest (like 3) of lines hanging well down in the water. The wind was bringing their bitter ends near the surface and my approach, in reverse, roiled the water more actually floating the lines midway into the well. No dockmaster, no dock hands! It’s not only a bad thing to foul a line in your prop costing you a diver’s time, it’s a very dangerous one. A heavy line in a prop will stall an engine which you don’t want to have happen in close quarters and heavy wind. Your neighbor doesn’t want your heavy boat hitting his.

I made about 10 tries, with one taking out a small corner of my swim platform on the piling, and gave up. In dead calm, I could have threaded that needle. Rarely do I need even a second pass and this was the first time to concede defeat. Not helpful not having someone on the dock to catch and quickly tie off a line or two. So I headed back to the prior spot on the face dock, tied up again and called the dockmaster and told her where I was tied. Turned out the big boat that is in this face dock slip is actually in a yard somewhere for some repairs and I’m welcome to stay in this very easy slip Friday and Saturday night. Running a marina full of expensive boats with staff that doesn’t care to learn the basics of the Marina property they supervise and with a lack of manpower to operate safely, is inexcusable. But it’s government🤬

The short trip on a grey day was not without interest though. More lavish mansions after lavish mansions, more obscene yachts after obscene yachts. And through Port of the Everglades, dozens of cruise ships being loaded and unloaded.

Caribbean Princess, Princess Cruise Line
And the Zuiderdam, Holland American Line, based out of Rotterdam. As a Dutchman, I liked this one.
Yesterday at Mar a Lago and ended today a mile or so south of Trump International Beach Resort – the white high rise in the background to the right of and behind the bldg with the slanted roof line. Then the day ended with the Trumps arriving for a two week holiday. That will certainly have some influence on ICW boating near Mar a Lago.

Sunday was still a crummy day with very heavy winds straight out of the East. Made for a rolly time in the slip. I found out that the occupant of this slip is not coming back till Monday morning so I can stay another night. The dockmaster says there are no more slips. I think there are and it’s just poor management. There are numerous gaps between boats on the face dock – gaps paced out at 200-250’. Based on power pedestal placement the gaps are meant to be occupied by multiple vessels and the smaller 3/4” size of the dock lines indicate occupancy by 50-70’ vessel which would mean even if the boat returned, there would still be something like 150’ Of available space with power. I just don’t think government mgt has the experience or incentive to run a tight ship and maximize the utility of the marina. But it’s their enterprise, not mine. Hoping that Monday morning finds some relief in wind strength and direction and that I can find some space elsewhere. At least if I have to anchor out, it won’t be a weekend in a busy metropolitan boating city.

Sunday night brought a tornado watch for the entire night. My phone screeched me awake at 3 am broadcasting a flood alert. 4” of rain reported and 45 mph winds. But I’m already in my ark and tied and blown/pinned securely to the faced dock so it was back to sleep. Weather had marginally improved in the morning so I called the dockmaster office (it’s nearly a half mile walk) to see if there was a possibility of extending another night. Surprise! No one answered the phone and as of this writing, 4 hours later, my voice mail has not been returned. Winds were down to 11 mph and sun alternated with fog.

Found another Miami-Dade Park system marina 4-5 miles further south. Called and they had slippage for tonight (Mon) and Tues and indicated I could extend over Christmas if desired. So after the fog finally lifted for good, I started south down Biscayne Bay to Pelican Island Marina. It is built on a spoil island. Negatives are that there are no ATONs (Aids To Navigation) like signs and bouys to use to navigate from the main channel to the marina and the Bay is shallow – out of the main Bay channel there’s only a foot beneath my keel. Official navigation help was

“between the bridge and the first channel marker, you will see a house on the mainland West Bank. The house has a green awning. Looking the other way you should be able to make out a beige/cream colored building on the east bank. When between the two, turn left/towards the mid point of a police boat dock in front of the beige building and follow in a line from the awning to that mid point. When you get to the dock, take a hard turn to port and aim for and alongside the marina bulkhead in front of you.” (Note – the awning was not a bright Caribbean green but undistinguishable Forest Green)

Five-ten grand less spent on their beautiful two story dockmaster quarters complete with large 50 person capacity conference room and spent instead on 4 private channel markers might have been a better decision but I guess it’s close enough for government work. I arrived, pumped out, fueled up, got my slip assignment and after plowing mud with my props, found my slip and got settled for at least two nights. It’s actually very nice here, very “Florida-ish” complete with a big sandy beach and picnic tables and the marina has a very helpful staff and very wind protected slips so this should be a relaxing stay.

Telephoto of the green awning one is supposed to find and use as a landmark
This display in front of the dock master’s office could have paid for one private navigational buoy or marker into the marina
Nice dockmaster digs. No entry markers for target market users – boaters
Another buck spent on something other than navigational markers. Very nice but…
Despite my griping about lack of basic navigation aids from the main channel through 5’ water, this is a really nice place to stay. And did I say, very sheltered from all but a direct East wind?
Right off my stern at the Marina is the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station. It operates as a non profit rehab facility primarily focused on pelicans but also accepting annually thousands of other wildlife from finches to flamingos, sea turtles to tortoises. They dish out about 40,000 pounds of smelt and herring each year. And it is an exceptionally quiet neighbor.

Christmas Eve day. Slept in and that was wonderful. A beautiful blue sky, mid 70’s day! Put in a order via Instacart to Publix for normal provisioning as well as for preparing nice Christmas and New Years Day dinners, carted it a hundred or so feet to the boat and stowed it. Enough work for the day! Wishing a Blessed Christmas to everyone.

Christmas Day was another clear blue sky day and I extended my stay here for another night. The Bay seemed as quiet as a mouse. Took a nice little walk along their beach. Got the grill out in anticipation of grilled steaks. Gotta be flexible when boating. Not enough propane left to even heat the grill. So into the freezer go the steaks and out of the freezer and into the Instant Pot goes the New Years Day roast. EZ PEAZY. New to-do list item – propane fill.

Thursday 12/26. Alarm set. Up for an early start. Oops. Yesterday was a holiday and I didn’t check the weather forecast. Though protected in this slip, it seems weather around me has deteriorated. Small craft warnings both off shore and in shore. Waves to be 7-9’ off shore (there goes taking the shorter quicker ocean route) and 4-6’ inshore route through big Biscayne Bay. And it looks similar now for a couple of days. No rush, still have a week to run the 100 or so miles to Marathon.

In case you’re interested, for weather, I use the weather forecasts as shown on TV for a macro view but very inadequate for marine forecasts. VHF Channels 1,2, and 3 are NOAA weather channels on my marine radios and they provide more marine specific info, but again a ‘big’ picture. I also have a half dozen weather apps and the one I use most is “WINDY”. Since I’m not going to travel today, I’ll use a bit of time to show what I see this morning on Windy.

I have Windy toggled for wind conditions here. Near the bottom is a time and date slider which predicts conditions over time. I have it set here for Thurs, 12/26/19 at 8 am. Below the slider is a mph color scale from dark blue to green to yellow, red and purple. Blue = calm to 10 mph depending on shading, yellowish = 10-20mph etc.

Towards the top I’ve placed a white dot representing my approximate location. The flag associated with the dot shows conditions at my location at 8 am, Thurs, 12/26 (winds NE at 16mph). The map is also populated with wind direction arrows. As you slide the time indicator, you are able to see color changes as they occur, directional changes via the arrows and specific prediction for the white dot location. As I slide the white dot around the map, the flag data also changes.
So now I’ve moved the slider to 11am and the white dot to the upper part of Biscayne Bay and approx where I’d be if I had left at 8 am. The green color has intensified with some yellow creeping in from the East indicating stronger winds. Wind direction appears the same. Wind speed at the white dot is 21 mph. A safe but uncomfortable ride with winds and waves off the stern port quarter. Particularly uncomfortable at that location with the 10 or so mile, unprotected by land, opening to the Atlantic.
Now moving the slider to 4 pm and the white dot to my proposed destination for the day, Key Largo, I can see no real change in wind speed and just a slightly more easterly component. Not a great scenario for anchoring (winds will continue thru the night) and based on the google aerial for the marina, not good conditions to arrive in a slip.
So this would be a better travel scenario. Monday the 30th at 3pm Far lighter winds and what waves there may be, will be on the bow. —-Assuming the weather holds to the forecast.
Changing the Windy app from ‘wind’ to ‘waves’ shows that a prediction that at 11 am today, again in mid Bay, the waves will be about 4’ out of the NE with a period of 6 seconds meaning 6 seconds between waves. The longer the period, say 10 seconds, the more the waves will be more like swells rather than breaking. These will be whitecaps.
Zoomed out a bit shows that even heavier weather is less than 100 miles north and loops over and around the Bahamas
I can also look at the character of the wave forecast. Here I’ve changed the wave feature on the app and moved the white dot into the Gulf Stream as it results in a better illustration. Here it shows the wind coming at a boat out of the ENE at 21 mph. In this location the yellowish indicator shows swells coming out of the north at 3pm with 9 seconds between swells. This is the main swell and pushed by far away winds. The green indicator is a secondary swell, also pushed by winds. In this case it is less than 1 foot every 6 seconds and is coming directly out of the WSW. If this secondary swell was larger and with the varying directions and periods, it would be an uncomfortable journey and a tiring day at the helm. Waves and swells, with short periods, bouncing in different directions off channel break walls create dangerous confused seas at inlets which are then compounded by heavier currents (underwater waves not pushed by wind). .

There are a number of other settings (rain, water temp, radar etc) besides wind and waves available as well.

So that’s why, even though there’s no rocking and rolling in the slip, today is an in-port day. And it’s looking like it may stay that way for another few days. And the fact that the current municipal Marina is only $1.50 per foot per night vs $3.50 in Key Largo has nothing at all to do with waiting out the weather here vs there😎. Ended up staying through the weekend hoping for a Monday departure. Well, a Monday departure has morphed into Tuesday, Happy New Years Eve.

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