We are docked at a marina in Ft. Lauderdale underneath highway 95. After the peace and quiet of the Bahamas and the Caribbean in general, it is surreal. I spend my days in a rent-a-car, driving freeways to pick up groceries and boat supplies. I would take our rodeo docking incidents any day over trying to keep up with the crazy traffic on six-level twisting overpasses. Being back in the land of extreme consumerism makes me regret my complaints about the indifferent and almost hostile Trinidadian cashiers and sales clerks who could care less if we existed let alone bought anything. Everywhere we go here we are accosted to buy more, bigger, and often. After sailing 12 countries through 2 continents, I was particularly disturbed by a girl's birthday party at one of the mansions we motored by last weekend along the canal to get to this marina. We could hear the DJ music a mile away and saw several pre-teen girls dressed in sparkles and tiaras, dancing on a platformed dance floor, while several others played on an authentic volkswagon car that rocked and flashed lights. There were heaping banquet tables of food and a scary clown entertaining another small group of girls under elaborate decorations fit for a royal wedding. I could not be too smug in my disgust as I motored by on my fancy sailing yacht. I am implicated too. Travelling in countries where the average yearly wage is equivalent to my weekly salary and where simplicity comes out of necessity is humbling. I am liking simple but it is still a choice.
Today Colleen and I were in the new West Marine mega-store and one of the sales clerks asked about our boat. I described Alberta Crewed and where we picked her up. "Got any big trips planned?" he asked. I rather thought we were doing fine in that department with Buenos Aires to Miami and over 6500 nautical miles under our belt, however, it seems we need to think about where we want to go next. To this point we've had destinations and deadlines. After the boat show, our time and routes will be ours as the winds and our whims take us. In the store, I was thinking it was a big enough trip just to find my way back through the traffic jam to our marina.
It will be a relief to get out of this canal and back to the ocean without a major incident. We arrived from Bimini, Bahamas last Saturday. Bimini is one of the western Bahamian jump off places across the wild and wonderful Gulf Stream to Florida. The crossing is only 50 nautical miles, a reasonable day trip, but the 4 knot current from the south sits under squally and unpredictable weather. Timing with weather (east wind is preferred) is everything and we had been thinking about and planning this passage for weeks. It is a sailor's milestone.
As soon as we pulled out of Bimini, the water temperature went up 4 degrees with the warm Caribbean water pushing north and we knew we were in the current. With 2-3 metre following seas and east winds up to 30 knots, we flew across with the genoa in under 6 hours. David, Lee, and Colleen were by this point seasoned sailors and appreciated the power of the foamy waves that crested as high as our davit behind us. Lee calmly noted how she could look across the outside salon and see only water behind the helmsman.
I was so focused on ensuring a safe Gulf Stream crossing that by the time we entered the busy canal entrance at Port Everglades, Florida I had relaxed and was silently congratulating everyone on what I thought was the end of a great trip. I should know by now that the Stephen-King side of Alberta Crewed can sense my cockiness and she decided a bit of humble pie was in order. We had detailed charts marking the route, bridges (three that we had to radio to open to let us through), and marina. We did not, however, take into account busy weekend boat traffic and the strength of the current. I thought Saturday was a good idea because the bridges won't open during 2 hours of morning and evening rush hour traffic on weekdays. Mistake Number 1. It was a circus of water taxis, mega yachts, tourist mock steam boaters, and dozens of small power boats buzzing up and down the waterway. The current pushed us along as we rapidly radioed to get the bridges opened to avoid testing our mast height and we ended up bumped up against another catamaran, perpendicular to its bow and trapped by the current. Luckily the owner was on board and with every fender we had handled by our highly competent crew, we managed to push our way off. I assumed the marina was prepared for our arrival. Mistake Number 2. After making it through what we thought was the last bridge, we couldn't find a slip and no one answered my desperate calls to the office. We bothered the bridge operator again, went back under the bridge to the widest part of the canal and stopped at the curve to scramble for a plan B. Manoeuvring a sailboat under power in a narrow channel is a challenge because of the boat's slow response and vulnerability to the current directions. Craig was as cool as a cucumber at the helm and made miracle moves between boats and docks. I remembered a boating family we had met in the Exumas who were in a marina further up the canal and thanks to David's cell phone (ours was still on a Bahamian sim card, Mistake Number Three) we made our third trip under the bridge, waved sheepishly to the bridge operator, and continued on to a quiet marina where Alberta Crewed pulled in and tied up like a charm as if nothing had happened. We collapsed on the deck, cracked open the rum, and tried to breathe again.
I think David, Lee, and Colleen were rather surprised at how fast things can escalate. We had just had three weeks of dream sailing and I was grateful this was at the end of their trip. They might have jumped off for good if this was their first experience. Instead they responded quickly, intelligently, and creatively. Although frantic, a difference for me this time from others was that I knew we would find a solution. We could go back out and anchor or tie up at one of the deserted docks until someone kicked us off. I've learned that a good response in a crisis is to try not to make hurried decisions even though circumstances are pressing one to do so. Stopping enabled us to create plan C and here we are safely and gratefully tied up under highway 95.