We start up the east coast of Florida, beginning with crossing Biscayne Bay to get back onto the ICW. Making our way past ridiculously extravagant homes and boats, we stop in Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Stuart before arriving for a month long stay in Ft. Pierce. There we completely slow down, enjoying just living and visits from friends.
Click the Google Map button below to open the map in a separate window. There you can zoom in/out, and click on the icons to see pictures and more info on the various places along our route.
It seemed hard to believe six weeks ago, but during our extended time in The Keys we realized just how close we were to finishing The Loop. The extended down time freed us from the rigors of constant route planning, intense weather watching, and frequent itinerary changes. We’ve enjoyed just living the cruising life, and our time frame of reference has morphed from a day or two to weeks and months. With that mindset, it was time to start our final leg from The Keys up to St. Augustine, where we will cross our wake. From Key Largo we would round the final turn and head northward up the east coast in our Home Stretch. But it would not be a sprint to the finish, as we took our time this final few hundred miles.
No Name Harbor anchorage (Key Biscayne)
Feb 28, 2023
Departing Marina Del Mar in Key Largo via the narrow canal and Crash Corner was much easier early on a Tuesday morning than our arrival on a Sunday afternoon had been, since there were no other boats. It was a nice trip on a sunny day with gentle swells on the outside across Biscayne Bay, and by mid morning we could see the Miami skyline in the distance. We found a spot at the anchorage inside the basin at No Name Harbor, part of Bill Baggs Cape State Park. (Personally, I think it’s an oxymoron to name something No Name Harbor and have that appear officially on maps.) We were happy to be inside because winds were going to kick up for several hours in the afternoon. There was a very nice restaurant right there at the nearby dinghy dock that was dog friendly, the Boater’s Grill, that we enjoyed before walking over to the point to watch the sunset and watch all the boats outside bouncing in the wind. There was also a lively bar with personality right on the point as well. Would have liked to explore the park more, but it was too hot for Roxy – and us, for that matter.
We do our first Nightime Reanchoring Drill! Just after dark, the winds completely died to nothing. In a crowded anchorage you pick your spot to drop anchor with swing room in mind in the event of a change in winds or current, making sure you are far enough from other boats and shore that you won’t end up in a place you don’t want to be. Generally the boats all point in the same direction because they have the same forces acting on them. But this night, when the wind died there seemed to be some swirling kind of gentle currents and we looked around to see every one of a dozen or so boats pointed in a different direction. We had swung almost 360° and were nearly stern to stern with a sailcat, a bit too close for comfort.
So we fired up the engines, weighed anchor, and repositioned a little closer to the basin entrance where we thought there was more room. Of course, distances are much more deceptive in the dark, particularly when you’ve got only a slice of shoreline from the beam of a flashlight to use. I had a headlamp on so hands were free to manage the anchor and kept turning toward Dave as he was driving from the deck with the remote, thus blinding him. We probably sounded like a comedy skit if anyone could have heard our headset discussion, but we did finally get set in a spot that would allow us to not lose sleep with worry. In the morning, we discovered that all the boats were now facing in the same direction again, but completely opposite from where we had started that night. A good lesson in picking a spot to anchor.
Sunrise Harbor anchorage (Ft. Lauderdale)
We departed the anchorage just behind another Looper just after a dawn Roxy Dinghy Shore Run, following them through the two bridges of Miami and into the ICW. The amount of money visible was mindboggling as we passed mega-yachts with helicopter pads, beautiful huge homes, giant outdoor sculptures next to the pools with their many chairs all perfectly lines up, and high rise condos with large balconies overlooking the Bay. But what we noticed was a lack of people. All these fancy yachts and properties looked devoid of life and there was not a single balcony with a person sitting enjoying a cup of coffee and the million dollar view they had purchased. The first human being we saw was a pool boy, the second a groundskeeper adjusting sprinklers. The other thing we noticed was not a single home with kids play equipment. Even the couple of small parks we passed did not have a playground. It was all a little eerie and very sterile-looking. Fun to look, but no house envy here.
Marinas in the Ft. Lauderdale area proved to be either very expensive (no surprise) or had no transient availability (surprising), so we had found a nice anchorage right along the ICW with the help of a Looper that is what is called a Harbor Host. This is a volunteer who typically lives in an area or otherwise is very familiar with it, and you can contact for local knowledge on just about anything. Many are known to help out with all kinds of things in a pinch, from taking delivery of boat parts to helping find urgent medical care to transportation and more; it’s an incredible resource for the Looper community. Brian lived very near this anchorage and was a fellow power catamaran owner. He noticed that we had a Maine Cat and asked if he could dinghy over to see it, as he had been interested in them when he was boat shopping but none had been available. So as soon as we got settled he dinghied over from his home on one of the many residential canals that come of the ICW here and it was great to meet him and show him the boat.
The anchorage itself was quite lovely, a little man made cove surrounded by a half dozen expensive looking homes. There is a state park just a hundred yards across the ICW that was perfect for shore access – except that the whole dock was closed for repairs. So instead we took the dinghy around to English Park that in actuality was only a quarter mile from where we were anchored, but the only access by boat was about 2.5 mi back down the ICW and all the way around. We noticed a Macy’s across the street, which seemed a little incongruous with a dinghy. Returning to the boat, it was a quiet evening surrounding by the fancy properties.
West Palm Beach
The next morning, we did a pre-dawn stealth dinghy run across to the state park with the closed dock to get Roxy ashore. We tied up to the pilings that the water taxi uses, and I waited in the dinghy while Dave hoisted Roxy up onto the seawall. The water taxi didn’t start runs for several hours and no other boats were out, but we still felt like we needed to be looking over our shoulders for the Dinghy Docking Police. We then quickly weighed anchor and headed north towards West Palm Beach.
We were once again in the Land of Giant Homes With No Visible Humans, no surprise as we got closer and closer to uber-affluent West Palm Beach. We did notice an awful lot of floating coconuts, which look a lot like crabpots to our crabpot-trained brains and initially had us wondering who in the world was crab harvesting in the southeast Florida ICW.
Our destination for a couple days was Palm Harbor Marina in West Palm Beach. It was a splurge, but with some big winds coming in we wanted to be tied to something sturdy, and their heavy cement floating docks worked well. It’s a beautiful marina with nice facilities, and we were one of the smallest boats there at 50’ long. Located right in downtown West Palm, it made exploring easy. It’s a city that likes its art, and we appreciated it as well. There is also a ‘dancing fountain’ and we got lucky and happened upon its nightly musical water and light show.
It was here in West Palm that we reunited with Patty & Gary on Inconceivable, with whom we had traveled so much of The Loop. They had been over in the Bahamas for over a month, and upon arriving in West Palm after crossing from Grand Bahama they had officially completed their Loop; they are now Gold Loopers!
The winds kicked up as predicted that night and into the following day, so we explored West Palm on foot (too windy for the scooters), happening across the free West Pam Historical Society Museum in the original City Hall. It was there we learned that palm trees were not native to Florida. Rather, a ship full of coconuts had run aground off the coast and the person who purchased the salvaged load planted them here to make palm tree farms, hence the Palm Beach name was born. We also learned that indeed there had been an East, North, and South Palm Beach – but over time they had been renamed or else annexed into West Palm Beach.
Stuart was our next stop on our slow roll north. Located a few miles west of the ICW on the St. Lucie River, it’s the east terminus of the Okeechobee Waterway, which crosses the state between Ft. Myers and Stuart. We were welcomed to Safe Harbor Harborage by dolphins playing at the entrance — the first we had seen since leaving Biscayne Bay. We scootered across the bridge one day to explore the quaint downtown.
One of the main reasons we stopped here was because Patty and Gary had brought Inconceivable here to put her on the market and return to Oregon, so it would be the last chance to hang out with them. They were busy cleaning inconceivable up and out, but they still joined us at the Sunday Farmers Market near their marina, as well as pool time and dinner on the boat the following day. It was sinking in that we were going to be saying good-bye soon. Seemed a little weird to think we wouldn’t be planning stops and routes with them again, nor kibitzing over the radio and text as we made transits together.
Mar 7 - Apr 4
Our plan to fuel up and depart early so as to arrive in Ft. Pierce at slack current was foiled when a large trawler unknowingly scooped us to the fuel dock at the marina by about five minutes. They were taking on 800 gallons, which delayed us by over an hour. Note to self: don’t stray from our usual practice of fueling up on arrival at a marina rather than planning to do it on the way out.
Back to where it all started. It was a short and uneventful trip to Ft.Pierce, and soon we were tied up right behind Gypsies Palace, another power catamaran that we knew well because Steve was our buyer’s broker and helped us purchase See Level! In fact, long time followers of our adventure might recognize that Ft. Pierce was where we bought the boat almost exactly two years ago, so things had really come full circle when we tied up on A-Dock with them. We spent some time stowing everything for our planned month long pause on our Loop Home Stretch.
Our first week here was filled with socializing. A-Dock seemed to be party central that first weekend; a couple sailboats invited us to docktails one night and a birthday party another. There was also a surge of Loopers passing through, with docktails up in the marina lounge three consecutive evenings. Fortunately the pace of social activities slowed after that first few days because we couldn’t keep up much longer.
A big anchor for us each week was the Ft. Pierce Saturday Market. We discovered it when we were here two years ago, but after seeking out similar markets everywhere along the Loop we can say that the Ft. Pierce one is the best we’ve seen hands down. We quickly fell back to our previous routine from 2021 of breakfast from the omelet or breakfast taco booth, locally roasted coffee at another, followed by sharing fresh cider mini-donuts at a third. Then we’d grab Roxy and some chairs from the boat and listen to the free music for a bit. We were also frequent customers at Iberico’s Bakery, sampling their huge variety of breads and pastries over the month; their guava cheese pastry and chocolate crescent (not croissant, but that was pretty good too) were favorites. We patronized many of the couple dozen restaurants within walking distance.
One of the advantages of staying in a place along the Loop during this month is seeing friends as they pass through. After completing the rivers and FL Panhandle in the fall, everyone scatters among the many destinations in Florida and the Bahamas. But in March the northern migration begins for those still cruising, and all paths converge into a single route from Ft. Pierce. We reconnected with people we had met along the way from the Chesapeake all the way around to the Banana Bunch in Marathon. We met up with Gold Loopers Off Leash at the Palm Beach Boat Show. Baker Street Blue, who we met in Brunswick before we even started the Loop, did a road trip from their new home in Punta Gorda. And having recently discovered that Lori on Water Witch is the sister of another submarine officer who are close friends and neighbors from our Bremerton days, it was fun to finally meet in person. We reconnected with the crews of Sunset Dreams, Rose Cottage, Crew Lounge, Valkommen, Sisu and No Worries among many others. And a visit from old friends Erin and Mark from our college days, in the area escaping the Massachusetts winter, was an unexpected treat.
With Inconceivable turned over to the broker, Patty and Gary drove up from Stuart the eve before their flight back to Oregon. We went to dinner and then for ice cream, possibly more to put off the inevitable good-bye than that we wanted ice cream. While I know it was more of a See You Later than a Good-bye, as we have no doubt we will see them again, it was still one of the saddest parts of our Loop. It wasn’t our first farewell with them, as there had been several times in the last few months where our paths had diverged with the future unknown, but this one had a note of finality that made it one of the hardest parts of our Loop.
An absolute highlight of the month was a visit from good friends Mike and Leigh. Mike was Dave’s XO on the Minneapolis-St. Paul and went on to command his own submarines. Looking forward to their visit for months, it was six days of fun, great conversation, and showing them boat life. We had hoped to get out for an overnight trip, but the weather did not cooperate so we did a day trip that included anchoring nearby, dinghying over to the popular dive bar Little Jim’s, dolphin sightings, a ‘swim call,’ and Mike taking a turn at the helm. We biked, scootered, kayaked, and took them to a docktails so they could experience the Looper community. Judging by how Mike took to all things boat that Dave showed him and talked about, I’m hoping Leigh won’t ‘unfriend’ us because Mike starts spending hours watching YouTube channels on cruising and looking at boats on the internet. I have been in her shoes on this — and now I’m wearing boat shoes. We were sorry to see them leave.
Now it’s time to move on and finish our Loop. Attending the various docktails and meeting new Loopers, we recognize fewer and fewer of the boats as we increasingly meet those just starting and more and more of our cadre have completed their Loop. It’s been quite interesting to see the newbie enthusiasm and hear the same questions and concerns we had when we were starting. What’s surprising to us was the realization that we can actually answer their questions; we have become the newest village elders and it’s gratifying to share this knowledge. In self-reflection, we feel fortunate that we started the Loop where we did, (southern Florida) because it allowed us the extended stays toward the end to reset our thinking toward our own Life After the Loop.
But first, it’s a sprint to the finish line in St. Augustine.
Pops’ Stats Corner*
- No of Days: 36
- Travel Days: 5
- Miles Traveled: 208.5 (181.3 nm)
- Anchorages: 2
Cumulative Great Loop (Started March 17. 2022)
- Total days: 382
- Travel Days: 147
- Miles Traveled: 6007.5 (5223.6 nm)
- Anchorages: 26
*Pops is what the family affectionately called Dave’s dad. He had a mind for sports statistics, earning him the nickname Numbers from the coaches of several Stillwater teams with whom he worked. This regular section of the blog is in his honor, because it’s the kind of thing he would love.