Our Florida home away from home – Vero Beach

We’ve only skipped Vero once – on our first trip north when we went from the Abacos straight to Jacksonville. I was adding it up and realized that we have spent more days in Vero than any other single location (except for Groton) since we started cruising. So it definitely feels like our home away from home, and even more so when we were able to get “our” ball in the mooring field – #1.

An early start on a Sunday morning resulted in our disturbing these thousands of birds on the water. We weren’t sure what they were as we approached, and then they all took off. It was pretty cool!

This time we stayed in Vero for around five weeks. We spent a week loafing around, then drove to Rochester, NY for Christmas – JUST missing the major snow storm that impacted a great portion of the East Coast. Fortunately Rochester didn’t even get a fraction of the snow that Buffalo did (which is only 70 miles to the east.). Same wind and cold temperatures, but no snow.

I told Jeff that my plan was to go from the car to the house when we arrived, and I wasn’t going outside again until it was time to get back in the car to drive back. And with the exception of going to Jeff’s sister’s house for Christmas breakfast, that’s exactly what happened. LOL!

Once we arrived back in Vero, more loafing occurred because Jeff had caught a cold (not Covid), but after he recovered we went back to doing our Vero things with a few twists – the Farmer’s Market, going to the beach, Publix runs, provisioning for the Bahamas, visiting cruising friends, a few boat projects, and even a few more rocket launches!

Pegu Club on “our” ball number one on the far left. We were rafted up to SV Sails Call, a super-nice couple from Georgia that we’re hoping to see again somewhere on the water.
Jeff doing a bit of boat yoga while he installed our single side band radio.

Vero has a morning Cruiser’s Net on the VHF radio, so I volunteered to take a segment. Eventually I found myself anchoring the Net every day until we left, which was great fun. I met a few people through it, and really liked picking out a morning song to open the Net – just a 30 second snippet of course (the Net runs around 15 minutes max). Song choices included everything from “Monday, Monday” by the Mamas & the Papas, and “Good Morning, Good Morning” by the Beatles, to “Wake Up Stop Dreaming” by Wang Chung. I’ll definitely volunteer again when we’re return in November.

Our view from our mooring ball.

One morning we had a surprise phone call from a fellow Shenny member who spends the winter at his home about 20 minutes away. He invited us and two other cruisers he knows to a dinner at the Vero Beach Yacht Club, which is right next to the City Marina. It was delicious and the company was wonderful – thanks, Bill!

We had planned to stay in Vero until late January or early February before crossing to the Bahamas, but we were getting tired of the noseeums (Vero Beach’s only negative for us) so we decided it was time to get a move on. We figured if the weather was lousy in the Bahamas, we’d get a ball in Green Turtle or Hope Town and hang out there.

Lucky for us, a few days after we made the decision a weather window opened up. It was time to return to the beautiful blue water of the Bahamas!

Double the launches, double the fun!

When we were in St. Marys we discovered that there was a SpaceX launch scheduled for Tuesday. While we’ve seen parts of a launch from St. Augustine, New Smyrna, and Vero Beach, it has been a bucket list item of mine to watch the whole thing while anchored in Titusville.

A quick check of the calendar showed us we could make it if we skipped stopping in St. Augustine. The decision caused a bit of hesitation since we had several people we wanted to see while we were there, but this looked like the perfect opportunity between the weather forecast and the launch schedule, so we decided to do it.

We’ve read that Fernandina Beach has a cute downtown despite the proximity of the paper mill. Maybe we’ll check it out sometime.

After being set free from St. Marys, we stopped at the Sister’s Creek free docks near Jacksonville for the night. The current between Jacksonville and St. Augustine is strong, and it was going to be firmly against us on the ICW. But a check of the tables showed we could ride the current out the St. Johns inlet, then ride it back in at the St. Augustine inlet. We’ve heard horror stories about St. Augustine’s inlet and had always shied away from it, but the forecast was going to result in perfect conditions. It was time to rip off the bandaid and see how it really was.

We should have left the free dock a bit sooner, because by the time we untied the dock lines the current was ripping which resulted in a bit of a clusterfuck getting away from the dock. But with the help of two fellow cruisers, we were soon off with no damage to anything but our pride, and we shot out the St. John’s inlet at over 8 knots.

It was a beautiful day to briefly hop outside.

Unfortunately there wasn’t enough wind to sail, but we were traveling at over 5 knots while using our AIS to keep track of the boats going down the ICW. There was a similar-sized sailboat that was slogging away at between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 knots for over 10 miles, and we were SO glad we had decided to go outside. Speeds like that are incredibly frustrating.

Our timing to enter the St. Augustine inlet was perfect, and like most things, it proved not to be nearly as intimidating as the stories we had heard. Sure, you absolutely wouldn’t want to do it in a wind against current situation, but if the conditions are right we won’t hesitate to use it again. As it was, we arrived five minutes before the Bridge of Lions opening and continued to ride the current all of the way to our anchorage at Fort Matanzas. It couldn’t have been a more perfectly-timed day.

Pay no attention to the breaking surf and the sunken sailboat near the St. Augustine inlet!

The next day we were heading to our regular anchorage in New Smyrna (riding the current again), when we saw the launch had been cancelled. Damn! We skipped St. Augustine for nothing! But the following day it was on again with a one-day delay. Okay. We’ll hang around in the Titusville anchorage for an extra day.

When we anchored in Titusville we saw that it had been delayed another day. Doh! Now we were going to be boat-bound for two days. This was starting to test Jeff’s patience, so we came to an agreement. Any more delays, and we were going to move along and try again another time.

A beautiful full moon with the launch pad lit up in the background.

Keep in mind, the weather we were experiencing is nearly unheard of for December. Typically, cold fronts drop down every few days bringing higher winds, and while our anchorage was great for watching a launch, it wasn’t great for hanging out unless the conditions were calm. We were in the middle of a huge lagoon without any wind protection, but clearly the stars were aligning because we were looking at several days of 5 knots of wind in the forecast, so it was completely fine.

The lagoon is WIDE open.

It was finally launch day, and even if I had been able to convince Jeff to wait another day in the event of a further delay, the weather wasn’t going to let us. The winds were going to pick up to 15 knots the next day, so it was tonight or nothing. And it ended up being well worth the wait. We watched the rocket launch, watched the booster return to the launch pad, and had a double sonic boom which startled literally hundreds of birds that had been hanging out on the lagoon. It was SO MUCH FUN!

A friend said we were like two kids on Christmas morning!

We were up early the next day to head to yet another new destination for us – Cocoa Village. I have no idea why it took us so long to stop here to begin with, but we will definitely be returning.

Cocoa has an amazing hardware store called S.F. Travis. It was established in 1885, and I’d say it’s the size of a city block with aisles filled from top to bottom. If they don’t have it, you don’t need it.

Jeff could have spent hours poking around in here.

Cocoa Village has countless independent shops, restaurants, and breweries, and we had a great time walking around and checking it out:

The Village Idiot Pub.
We saw this in the Bugnutty Brewery and thought it was hilarious!
During our stops in Florida, we don’t often run across architecture like this community theater building.

There was an an abundance of VERY cool classic cars:


While we were there, the Christmas boat parade and land parade were on the events calendar, and those were both fun to see. The boat parade had over 40 entries (it went right by Pegu Club), and while the land parade was smaller, it had a classic small-town charm.

Town officials rode on a classic fire truck.
It’s always fun to see the Shriners.

Of course being on the Space Coast, there were several space-themed floats:

And every Christmas parade ends with Santa, this time on a bulldozer:

To top it all off, there was another launch while we were there. I set my alarm for the middle of the night and watched it light up the sky (getting up at 3:00 a.m. wasn’t Jeff’s idea of a good time, so he kept sleeping).

It was interesting to compare the difference between the two locations. We weren’t that much farther away, but the noise was much quieter. Perhaps it also had to do with the wind direction.

There was no mistaking it when ignition occurred.

All in all, we had experienced several days of fun and adventure. But now it was time to point Pegu Club towards Vero Beach, our Florida home away from home.

The logistics of getting to the Bahamas during a pandemic.

The Bahamas are in the unenviable position of trying to support an economy that is heavily reliant on tourism while protecting its citizens and residents from Covid.  Many of their tourists come from the United States which is one giant Covid hotspot at the moment.  We wouldn’t have been surprised if the government had simply told people with U.S. passports that they weren’t welcome (as so many other countries have).  Instead, they came up with a plan to balance the risks.  So far, it seems to be working well – knock on wood.

Currently (and I do mean currently – there was a period where the rules were changing every 7-10 days), in order to bring your boat over to cruise in the Bahamas you need to have a negative RT-PCR Covid test and an approved health visa.  The catch is that you can’t apply for the health visa until you get your negative Covid test, and with a few exceptions you must arrive in the Bahamas no more than five days after you take the test (test day is day zero).  Winter weather windows for crossing the Gulf Stream can be tight, so the key is to find a laboratory with a quick turnaround time, along with a certain amount of luck.

When we arrived in West Palm we were actually in the middle of a three day weather window for crossing, but we had decided to pass it up.  Our heads weren’t ready for it yet and we wanted to spend a few days checking out West Palm.  We are super-careful with Covid so we weren’t able to see much, but we saw enough to know that we’d like to spend a week hanging out there post-Covid.  There are tons of different restaurants and independent shops, the beach, museums, outdoor concerts, etc.  Hopefully next year.

No matter how big your boat is, someone else always has a bigger one:

Fortunately we didn’t have to wait too long for the next window.  We were looking for a solid two days that would get us to Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos, with a backup plan to check in at West End (only 50 nautical miles away from the Lake Worth inlet) if the window shrank.

What’s the big deal with taking the test and having the window disappear?  Well, at $180/person for the tests (there are free tests available, but it’s a roll of the dice as to how quickly the results come back), $60/person for the health visa, plus a rental car, we were looking at a sizeable chunk of money if the window didn’t pan out.  That being said, we would never cross the Gulf Stream without a good window so if we lost $500+, so be it.

When we woke up on Monday we saw that Friday was a possibility for crossing.  By Tuesday morning it looked less likely.  But on Wednesday morning not only did Friday look much better, but now Saturday and Sunday were also looking good.  We reserved a rental car for the next day, just in case.

Thursday morning we woke up to listen to Chris Parker’s 6:30 a.m. forecast for the Bahamas and Florida.  The window was still looking good.  Gut check time: were we ready to roll the dice and spend the money?  Telling ourselves it’s only money (yeah, right), we decided to go for it. Continue reading “The logistics of getting to the Bahamas during a pandemic.”

A completely unexpected turn of events – we’re going to the Bahamas!

Up until we arrived in Florida we weren’t entirely sure what our plans were for this winter.  Of course the Bahamas were our first choice, but there were a few issues: (1) if we ended up with the ‘vid there, the medical facilities were few and far between (and arguably not as good as in the States); and (2) the Bahamian government was requiring Covid tests within a tight timeframe and was only permitting entry by vessel in a few areas that we could easily get to within the time limit.  None of those areas appealed to us – or had decent anchorages – which meant staying at expensive marinas.  So we had resigned ourselves to not going there this winter, and tried to get psyched about spending the winter in Florida.  And then…. Continue reading “A completely unexpected turn of events – we’re going to the Bahamas!”

It’s time to start moving again!

We went back and forth until nearly the day of departure.  We had been in Vero for two months – our longest stay in one place since we began cruising – and inertia had most definitely set in.  Vero was easy.  Getting groceries was easy, laundry, showers, and trash was easy.  We had some nice walking routes. A little voice inside my head said we hadn’t caught Covid-19 while we were there, so why press our luck?  Maybe we should just stay..  But that pesky hurricane season was coming and there wasn’t anywhere to sail.  So we ultimately decided to toss off the mooring line and head north towards the Chesapeake.

Although we had hoped to hop outside from Ft. Pierce, we quickly realized that the weather wasn’t going to cooperate so the inside it would be.  Really looking at the calendar for the first time in weeks, we saw that that Memorial Day weekend would kick off at the end of the week.  Uh-oh.  The Florida ICW is chaotic on a normal weekend, let alone a 3 day weekend shortly after Florida lifted its Covid restrictions,  We had less than zero interest in traveling on the water for any part of that.  Looks like we were going to be putting the hammer down.

Continue reading “It’s time to start moving again!”

Well hello, Vero Beach! Didn’t we just see you three months ago?

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.

Continue reading “Well hello, Vero Beach! Didn’t we just see you three months ago?”

Miami and the Gulf Stream.

After spending several lovely days in Oleta River State Park, it was time to move down to Miami to wait for a weather window to cross the Gulf Stream.  We had passed up an earlier window because it was a bit short for our taste and we just didn’t feel mentally ready for it.  That turned out to be a good call.  We later learned that a cruiser who had done the crossing over a dozen times considered it his worst ever, and we also heard of a few other boats that turned back.  That was NOT something we cared to experience.

We dropped the anchor at Marine Stadium on New Year’s Eve and ended up having a great stay in Miami.

Motoring past the city on the way to the anchorage.

Some people complain on Active Captain about Marine Stadium on the weekends.  It gets pretty busy with power boats coming over from the city and anchoring out, partying with Latin music pumping, but we loved it.  People were courteous about not anchoring too closely and everyone was obviously having a great time.  It was impossible not to enjoy it.  And boy those boats can party!  We went to bed after the fireworks at midnight (we had a great view of them from the anchorage) and when I woke up at 7:00 a.m the next day I could hear the bass thumping.  I looked at Jeff and asked, “They’ve been partying literally all night?”  It was pretty funny.  Oh to be that young again.

Continue reading “Miami and the Gulf Stream.”

I’ve found my maximum latitude.

As Jeff and I were walking to an auto parts store in North Miami to find carburetor cleaner for the dinghy outboard (the subject of another post), I took note of the fact that it was December 29th and I was warm.  It was cloudy but there was a warm breeze, and I was perfectly content.  I turned to Jeff and said, “I’ve found my maximum latitude.”

I’ve written before that we are chasing the warm weather.  We aren’t going to live on our boat forever, and something we frequently ask ourselves is where we might want to live when we’re finished.  Annapolis is great, but it’s too cold in the winter.  We love Beaufort, SC but again, it can get pretty chilly.  St. Augustine?  Getting better, but it still occasionally has lows in the 30’s.  Vero Beach?  Better still, but the average low in January is 51 degrees.  But now we’re in the Miami area and I can feel it in the air.  If we’re living on the east coast, this is the furthest north I want to be.

Last year we only went as far south as West Palm Beach, FL before crossing over to the Bahamas.  This year the weather systems have been much stronger and more frequent, with crossing opportunities proving to be few and far between.  Rather than hang out in Vero Beach or the Palm Beach area while we wait, we decided to head farther south.  We’ve never been to Miami and we wanted to check it out, and given that we plan to focus on the Exumas this time it made sense to make some more southerly progress while we wait.

Continue reading “I’ve found my maximum latitude.”

Putting the hammer down.

We were poking along the ICW as we did last fall, content in knowing that we were three weeks ahead of schedule compared to last year and hoping that would be enough to keep the cold weather at bay.  We had enjoyed a beautiful, leisurely trip down the Dismal Swamp, spent a few nights in our favorite small town of Belhaven, and stopped in Beaufort, NC for the first time where we waited several days for a strong weather system to pass.

Blazing a trail through thick duckweed on the Dismal Swamp.


Continue reading “Putting the hammer down.”

Velcro – I mean Vero – Beach.

Vero Beach has a reputation for being extraordinarily convenient for cruisers.  It’s the kind of place where cruisers come to stay for a day or two and end up spending the rest of the season.  A not-insubstantial number of cruisers end up swallowing the anchor here and moving to Vero permanently, with the CLOD’s – Cruisers Living on Dirt – organizing a Cruisers Potluck Thanksgiving every year.  You can see why it gets the nickname “Velcro Beach.”  With this kind of build up, we were excited to finally pull in and see for ourselves what it was all about.  

Continue reading “Velcro – I mean Vero – Beach.”