Between debating for a week as to whether we should leave the Bahamas, and spending 60 hours on our passage, we had plenty of time to discuss where we should go. Restrictions being implemented in each state varied, and it was too cold for our taste to head north of Florida.
Vero Beach quickly rose towards the top of the list. At $435 the monthly price for a ball was very reasonable, it was well protected from weather, and there was a grocery store within easy walking distance. Although we would prefer not to be in Florida for hurricane season, protection-wise it wasn’t a bad spot to be if we found ourselves in that position. And if things were so bad that everywhere was locked down for months, it would be sufficiently warm in the winter. Now we just had to get there while we still could.
We knew that marinas in Florida were starting to shut down and the Keys had closed completely to non-residents. We didn’t want to take any chances that we would get shut out of the Vero Beach City Marina, so there was going to be no rest for the weary. We slept like the dead after anchoring in Lake Worth and we were up before the sun to move to Fort Pierce. From Fort Pierce it would only be around 12 nm to Vero.
The weather forecast was good for a run outside, calling for very light wind in the morning and steadily building in the afternoon to the upper teens from the southeast. Going outside instead of on the ICW meant we could skip seven bridges and potentially sail once the wind kicked in, so it was a no-brainer.
We had plenty of company for our day trip up the coast and we had fun listening to the VHF chatter. At one point we heard one of the boats a few miles ahead of us tell another boat a few miles behind us that the County Sheriff had approached them asking where they had checked in to the U.S., what the last four digits of their check-in confirmation number was, and a few other questions. So we weren’t surprised when we saw a power boat heading towards us a few minutes later.
The Sheriff boat came up to us, asked us if we had been to the Bahamas, when did we get back, where did we check in, and did we have passports. They were really nice and after waving goodbye we looked back and watched them head to the next boat. It’s pretty easy to pick out a cruising boat!
True to the forecast, the wind started to pick up after noon. Not true to the forecast, instead of the high teens we were getting steady low-to-mid 20’s from well behind the beam with regular five foot waves pushing us along. By now we just wanted to get there and we had plenty of fuel, so we motor sailed along. Of course this meant that we were going to get to Fort Pierce well ahead of schedule.
Being ahead of schedule normally would not have been a big deal, but we had read that the Fort Pierce inlet was very boisterous in strong southeast winds from the inlet at max ebb. What did we have? Several hours of steady 20+ knots from the southeast. When were we going to arrive at the inlet? Why max ebb of course. Great.
We were a few miles away when we heard the same boat that had called about the Sheriff contact the other boat again, who had passed us earlier (at 30 feet, our motto on Pegu Club is “First one out, last one in.”). The first boat had just gone through the inlet and was warning the second boat in a shaky voice that it had been “rough.” Crap.
After debating whether to circle around for a few hours to let the current slow down a bit, we decided to line up with the inlet and see how it looked. If it was that bad we could bail out before the point of no-return. The second boat was only about 1/4 mile ahead of us so we were able to keep an eye on him for a preview of what we were facing.
Strong wind against a strong current is always tough because the waves stack up higher. Lining up to go straight into the inlet, it quickly became clear that a southeast wind meant those stacked up waves were going to hit us basically on the beam. We had already dropped the main but kept the jib up for a bit more stability, took a deep breath, and went for it.
My dad absolutely would have considered it an E ticket ride at Disneyland, but with everything stored for the passage we were able to roll back and forth with a minimum of fuss down below. My fingers left dents in the steering wheel but my greatest fear of Big Red (the engine) dying didn’t happen. Once we were between the breakwaters we took a deep breath, verbally praised Pegu Club and Big Red (“Way to go Pegu! Way to go Red!”), and found a spot to anchor just past the inlet.
We were hoping to sleep in a bit the next morning since it was a short trip to Vero, but just earlier in the day a cruising friend texted us to let us know that the Vero Beach marina had decided – that day – that there would be no more rafting to occupied boats. Damn it! Questions filled our heads. Were we going to be a day too late? Could we still stay for a month? I called the marina and was told there was usually a ball or two available each day, it was still first come first serve, and the length of stay would need to be played by ear. Ack! So close, but still so far! Well, we figured we could always anchor out until a spot opened up.
We knew that at least one of the boats we had arrived with in Ft Pierce was heading to Vero the next day. With moorings first come first serve, once again there would be no sleeping in for us. We had one bridge opening within 1/2 mile of our anchorage that opened on the hour and half hour, so we set the alarm for o’dark thirty and raised the anchor in the dark to catch the 7:00 a.m. bridge, right behind one of the boats also heading to Vero. Ten feet longer than us, we knew we’d never beat him in a race so we settled in and hoped there would be two balls available.
And that’s just what happened. There were exactly two free balls, we were able to pay for a month, and by 10:00 a.m. we had topped off the diesel and water (including the jerry jugs) and were back on mooring ball #1, the ball we were assigned the first time we came here in January, 2019. It felt a tiny bit like being “home.”
We took a deep breath, a long nap, and relaxed for the first time in what felt like several weeks. The scurry back to the states was over.