“The Ditch”

In the end the weather never cooperated for a sail down the Atlantic coast, so we motored down the ICW instead. We arrived in Fort Lauderdale yesterday, the whole trip taking 12 days.

At first the shore looked like African savannah: wide stretches of grassy marshlands, tall trees in the distance, roseate spoonbills and bright white herons gliding around us. We saw dozens of porpoises, especially in the early morning, lazily snorting when they surfaced.

We dropped anchor in little inlets off the main waterway, then swam from the stern of the boat before dinner. The water temperature was close to 80 degrees and felt divine. It was unseasonably hot and muggy and buzzing with insects — mosquitos of course, but even worse were the midges that crawled through our boat screens with impunity and nibbled on us day and night. We were all covered with bites, even on necks and throats and behind ears. But I think we may have reached peak itch last week (knock wood) — it’s been windier and cooler and the bugs seem to be scarcer.

The further south we went the more developed it became. Lots of biggish houses on the water, many peach-colored with colonnades or porticoes, and something I’d never seen before: screened-in yards. Not porches, mind you, but whole yards. Like having a driving range attached to your house. Practical, but weird.

Periodically we saw boats anchored off to the side of the channel — by the side of the road, as it were — and many seemed to be derelict, covered in mildew, like old appliances left on a lawn. We also saw at least twenty wrecks, their hulls canted sideways by the shore or masts poking out of the water at an odd angle. Why are there so many abandoned boats in Florida? Anyone?

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On New Year’s Eve we made it to New Smyrna, a relaxed beach town that turned out to be the perfect spot for the holiday. We found a terrific restaurant for dinner, then headed back to the boat to light sparklers and watch fireworks overhead.

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On January 5th we pulled into Stuart, where our sister-in-law Lindy’s brother Eric lives with his family. Eric is a sport fishing boat captain, and he happened to be working on a boat docked just 50 yards from where we anchored. He, Jessica and the girls were able to join us for dinner that night, which was a blast. Elsa was thrilled to have girls her age to play with, and Soren was thrilled to drive Eric’s skiff to and from dinner. (He’s now spoiled by 4-stroke outboards.)

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The next morning Drew and the kids met Eric for a last-minute fishing gear shopping trip. This was clutch since we know next to nothing about fishing and our only poles are three-foot toy ones we bought for the kids about four years ago. Eric, on the other hand, is a professional. So now we’re set up with two poles, one for trawling as we cross the Gulf Stream and one for bottom fishing, plus a bunch of lures and stuff. Soren tried bottom fishing that very night at our next anchorage. Nothing bit, but he had great fun.

Our last last two days we motored through Palm Beach, Boca Raton and finally Fort Lauderdale. There were almost no mangrove swamps any more, just big homes right up on the water’s edge with powerboats or jet skis docked out front. There were Georgian mansions, modernist white boxes (what Tom Wolfe once described as looking “like an insecticide refinery”), and massive, Italianate fantasies. The yards were perfectly landscaped with carefully placed palm trees, closely cropped lawns, and statuary.

Developers have dredged much of the land down here into inlets to create even more waterfront property. Elizabeth Kolbert’s article about Miami in the Dec 21 New Yorker mentions this practice and how it’s made flooding problems from sea level rise even worse. It sure is popular though:

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Probably the biggest change being further south was the number of bridges we had to traverse. Yesterday we travelled under 18 bridges in 40 miles! They’re all bascule bridges and either open on demand (you radio the bridge tender when in eyeshot and request an opening) or on a particular schedule — say, every half hour. Many were spaced such that if we motored as fast as possible, and/or put up a sail for extra speed, we could just reach the next bridge at its scheduled opening. The day before yesterday we kept missing them, though, or their opening schedules were modified due to construction, so we had to toodle around in the channel for upwards of 45 minutes to await the next opening.

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Anyway, we made it! We’re in Fort Lauderdale at last, having travelled 1,300 miles down the Eastern seaboard. Now we’re finishing up some boat repairs and doing some last-minute provisioning (including shopping for a kayak on Craigslist). When a good weather window appears we plan to head across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. Can’t wait.

7 Comments

  1. Quite a journey down the ICW and under the bridges!! Just another heads up and query: are you/were you able to pick up my Xmas package sent to the N. Fort Lauderdale address you gave me, Linda. There’s a check inside so please let me know if it’s not to be found. Martin is adding a comment about derelict vessels. He thinks the most he’s ever seen (and he lived in FL for awhile) were in the boat harbor in Oahu underneath the flight path. Lots and lots of derelict boats. Happy New Year! Love, Aunt Mindy & Opa Martin

  2. Nicely done! We wish you fair (and bug-free) winds to the Bahamas!…and happy kayak hunting!

  3. Eugene Carlson

    January 9, 2016 at 08:25

    “The Sunshine State is a paradise of scandals teeming with drifters, deadbeats, and misfits drawn here by some dark primordial calling like demented trout. And you’d be surprised how many of them decide to run for public office.” :Carl Hiaasen

    There’s a connection of some sort between this and the many derelict boats.

    Too bad there’s no longer a slip F-18 where EXIT could tie up at Bahia Mar. Blog followers will still be looking for a picture of the Travis McGee memorial plaque.

    Wishing you a good crossing to The Bahamas. A good time to remember Hiaasen’s definition of stupidity: “He was the only marine biologist who didn’t know which direction the Gulf Stream flowed.”

  4. What an adventure! 🙂 have a blessed new year and smooth sailing!

  5. Linda.. this is such a wonderful example of your talent as a writer! I loved reading it, punctuated with great photos too. We don’t envy your “attack of the midges” and any of us from outside FL seeing screened yards are stunned at the necessity of such a bug barrier. Hopefully your future anchorages will be calm, restorative, insect free and reveal another landscape to experience, especially for the kids. Sunriver hugs where we just came in from a snowy walk… just gorgeous and quiet! Janie/Mom/Nana

  6. Enjoy the Bahamas! We spent a week on Grand Bahama and had a lovely time. It’s relatively quiet and very mellow and tranquil. Beautiful beaches to lounge on for days on end….If you want a hotel for a night or two, the Grand Lucian is right by the Marina and was delightful….

  7. Actually only some the yards were fully screened in.

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