Before we bought Granuaile (previously Tivoli), Neil researched training captains, and decided to hire Bernie Francis, a training captain in Florida with 30 years boating experience. It turned out that Bernie had worked with Clayton and Deanna, the owners of Tivoli, and had captained this boat before. We all agreed that three weeks on the water would be a good training session. We completed another online seamanship course before leaving Colorado, moved and completed the boat transaction, got settled on board and then down to Palm Beach Gardens to meet and pick up Bernie.
Once on board, we all went to work outfitting Granuaile. Three days and multiple trips to stores here in Vero, we were ready to begin.
On November 14th, we got up at 5:00 am, to get ready for an anticipated 7:00ish cast off. We began to learn about pre-departure check lists, turning things on in the correct order, securing the boat for our trip, and finally firing up the main engine. Using headsets for the first time (which, we’ve been told, save voices and marriages), proved not only calming, but fun. With Bernie at the helm, we slowly moved out of our slip, into the fairway of the marina, and out into the Intracoastal Waterway. As the weather was overcast with some wind, we all decided to navigate the ICW down to North Palm Beach (our next stop) instead of venturing out into open water.
The first things we noticed were not encouraging – our depth sounder and our anemometer were not working. As long as we stayed in the channel of the ICW, we’d be fine (later we learned how tricky that could be, but in this case, ignorance was bliss). We also were in the early stages of understanding the critical importance of wind – direction and speed. Luckily for us, it was not crazy on this day.
We had many “learning opportunities” on this first day. We learned about bridges – stationary ones that are tall enough to cruise under (we like these), and lower bridges, that must be opened for boat traffic. Most open on a set schedule, and boaters radio the bridge operator to request an opening. Learning to use the radio, with the correct hailing and radio jargon took some practice. Also, not planning arrival times correctly can leave you on one side of a bridge, with time to kill, with winds and currents pushing your boat around, with other boats doing the same thing. Fun times.
At the end, it was fun. We saw astoundingly beautiful homes, dolphins, pelicans and many, many kinds of boats. We cruised into Old Port Cove Marina in North Palm Beach in the late afternoon. We had the welcome sight of dockhands waiting to help us – which we needed, given the wind, our inexperience and our exhaustion.
The next five days were more days of outfitting the boat and minor repairs (never ending on a boat…). We worked with a designer to create and install the Granuaile and pirate swords design to change the name of the boat.
We did discover that the depth sounder was fine (who knew it REALLY matters what order you turn on the electronics and wait for them to come online before moving on??? Lesson learned). Gratefully, there are many apps and our chart plotter to figure out tide, current and wind. Not so gratefully, there is not one guaranteed predictor – we literally had times when three sites predicted wind and speed from different directions and different speeds – again, fun times.
We got to see Deanna and Clayton on this trip as they moved to Palm Beach Gardens. It is wonderful that we are becoming good friends – another blessing from starting this life.
The BEST was that Kathleen’s brother, Joe, was in Florida on business, not too far away, and drove up to spend an afternoon with us. It was originally planned as lunch, but given we hadn’t see Joe for a few years, and the Nageottes (Kathleen’s family) are rather well known for having quite the gift of the gab, we had lunch, visited, and before we knew it, the dinner crowd was coming in. It was a wet rainy day, and the perfect way to spend it.
While we were at Old Port Cove, Bernie had us practice docking maneuvers. We both drove and navigated (directing the pilot from the stern using the communication headsets), and felt slightly better about docking this boat which seems soooo much larger when trying to dock it.
From November 19th through November 30th, we moved – a lot. Leaving Old Port Cove, we had a very short cruise planned, just one hour of actual boating time. The main reason – we had contacted a fuel supplier to take on diesel. Filling cars for the last nearly-40 years has nothing on this boat. Complaints of five minutes waiting – HAH! This boat holds over 1300 gallons of diesel fuel. We took on about 535 on this particular fuel up. It took nearly an hour. And no small chunk of change. Apparently, this does not have to be done often …
After anchoring for the first time in Palm Beach Gardens for the night (something that seemed so simple on paper….), we got up early the next morning to cruise to Biscayne Bay, just outside of Miami. We were on the open ocean, and it was fun.
Dolphins love to surf our bow waves (and Kathleen likes to believe they are super friendly and want to come by to check us out, play and show off their babies…). Kathleen was at the helm navigating the channel through Miami – another “learning experience” for her, as well and something she has come to dub “unplanned aerobic exercise” because of the raised heart rate and prolific “glowing” that goes along with rapid, tense situations. There is an art to “staying on your side of the channel” without actually leaving the channel. The whole experienced brought back memories of kids learning to drive, and how we called their need to hug the right side white line “white line fever” – Kathleen has renewed sympathy for those teens…
The anchorage is MAGNIFICENT. Safe, calm, beautiful view of Miami, and, apparently, the glass house from Scarface.
We wanted to swim, but our wise captain let us know that the current was too strong that day. Watching the sun set, the moon, Venus and Jupiter all shining brightly – wonderful way to relax.
The next morning, November 21st, we were up early to start cruising with the sunrise. We had a long day of boating ahead. First, however, we cruised through the very unique area of Stiltsville. Literally, homes, in the water, built on pilings. It is part of Biscayne National Park boundaries now, and although no further structures can be built, the ones that currently exist are under the care of the National Park Service and “caretakers” (former owners of the homes). It’s a wonderful, quirky part of Florida’s history
Upon exiting the inlet, we were once again in open water, basking in an unusually long stretch of glorious weather.
We cruised down to the Channel Five inlet, a safe anchorage about 70 nm away. This is a picturesque spot. The winds and current were busy that night, making for an “active” sleep time – not so different from having a toddler climb into bed with you and needing to “make room” all night.
On the 22nd, we cruised 23 nm to Marathon, a pretty, funky marina and town. We had hoped to practice picking up a mooring ball for our stop that night, but “the Season” had already begun in Florida, and there were no balls for a boat our size. We anchored for a break, and launched the dinghy (first time for Neil and Kathleen!). The davit definitely makes moving the dinghy from “the second floor” to the water a simple task, and before very long, we were out exploring the marina anchorage, checking out other boats and our own. Dinghies are FUN. It was a bit surreal to be trying to remember to reapply sunscreen and enjoying being sun kissed while friends and family from Colorado to Ohio to DC were dealing with snow storms, cold, and seasonable weather. This is one time we were more than willing to learn to acclimate to a different situation! We re-loaded the dinghy, had lunch, and then cruised out to just outside the marina, on the south side of the bridge for a beautiful evening.
November 23rd we cruised for about 40 miles to Stock Island Marina in Key West. The marina is well-run, and pretty, with free shuttles into town and back, of which we took advantage! Bernie was a great tour guide for a few hours, introducing us to Pepe’s, the oldest continuously-open restaurant on Key West. Pepe’s has amazing oysters, at incredible prices, great drinks and food – very laid back and a true gem.
Bernie went back to the boat, and we explored. Duval street is crazy (kinda like Bourbon Street), with an abundance of establishments to quench your thirst, restaurants and shops – some much quirkier than others. We were in Key West for two days, and loved it. On the second day, we walked to the “southernmost point of land in the continental United States”.
We had ice cold beers at the beach bar, and then walked back into town, taking side streets. We went back to Pepe’s (because, why not?) and were pleasantly surprised that their happy hour included half priced oysters – we were in heaven. Bernie gave us a local tip – the best Key Lime Pie was at the Publix grocery store bakery – and it was only $8.00. He was right. We have wanted to visit Key West for a very long time, and it did not disappoint. We will be back.
November 25th signaled the beginning of our return to our home port. We cruised 60+ nm back to Channel Five, skipping Marathon. We stayed at the same anchorage, and besides dodging the ever-present and annoying crab pots, it was a beautiful cruise in beautiful weather. Underway, we created routes on our navigation software (which is just grins and giggles when the boat is rocking and you’re trying to drop waypoints accurately to have a clear path for the next day).
The sunset, again, was so perfect and almost unreal… calm seas, open space, peaceful night.
On the 26th, we cruised 70 nm back to Biscayne Bay. Neil piloted us through Stiltsville again. It was wonderful to see it from a different angle and at a different time of day. Marine traffic was picking up because of the upcoming holiday, so he had that to contend with too. As we approached our anchor spot in the bay, there were lots of young people enjoying life. Boats rafted together, music, and celebration. It looked like kids home from college, and on break from high school, just having so much fun. There is a sandbar in the bay that you can wade on and they were having a blast. Loved seeing it, and made us miss our own kiddos.
We did FINALLY get to go swimming! We jumped into our suits, grabbed fins, snorkels and masks, and enjoyed time in the beautiful water after a long day on it.
Another splendid day in paradise ending with amazing artistry.
November 27th was a play day. We deployed the dinghy and explored the “neighborhoods” around the anchorage. Lots of canals with gorgeous homes and boats. Saw manatee and lots of very large lizards. Neil got more used to the dinghy, and got it up “on plane” for some fun, exciting riding around the bay. Too soon, we were reloading the dinghy, had lunch, and raised anchor for a short cruise to get more experience navigating narrow, busy channels. We anchored on the other side of the Miami channel, by Star Island.
November 28th – THANKSGIVING DAY! We were up early for a long day of cruising – 75 nm to Palm Beach Gardens. Our plan had been to ride the Gulf Stream and take advantage of the current pushing us north. The winds were predicted to be from the north, so would be against us, but were not supposed to be very strong. After raising anchor, Kathleen piloted out of the anchorage, through the channel and into the inlet. The water was “a confused sea”, which is a gentle way of saying crazy-ass sea like a washing machine. Fun times. And lucky Kathleen got her aerobic exercise in early! Once out of the inlet and on the open water, it was a beautiful cruise with light winds. Unfortunately, as the day progressed, so did the winds, running over the current. Even though our wind speed gauge was still not working, it was not hard to determine the winds – constant white caps, 2-3 foot swells with very short periods (intervals between crests). This quickly developed into a rowdy ride, with bow splash becoming constant spray, and the boat riding like a bucking bronco.
We continued this way until one of the ceiling panels fell off – then we all determined that maybe slowing down and moving closer to shore was a better idea, even if we added time to our travels. (Also, Kathleen’s stomach was letting her know that continuing on the path they were on would have consequences…).
The morning started fine…
But as the flag ouside Mar Al Lago shows, the winds were against us and the seas were not being nice…
So we finally achored at Palm Beach Gardens, a little later than anticipated, but safely. Kathleen made a Thanksgiving dinner complete with turkey, gravy, sweet potato casserole, veggies, and of course, Key Lime pie!
Our first Thanksgiving in our new home – and the sunset behind us is real!
We had originally planned to make a long run from Palm Beach Gardens up to Cape Canaveral to get some experience boating at night. However, our long streak of favorable weather came to an end, with winds forecasted to increase in strength and velocity over the next day. So we made plans instead to have an easy day the next day and practice abbreviated night passage…
On the 29th, we had a leisurely morning, then weighed anchor and cruised up to the Old Port Cove harbor. We anchored, had lunch and relaxed, with the plan to begin cruising as the sun was setting, go out the inlet and come back after sunset to practice using lighted beacons – what could possibly go wrong?
We weighed anchor about an hour before sunset. Palm Beach is a busy port, with boats of all sizes from dinghies and skiff to cruise ships and freighters. As we were motoring out to the channel, we saw a cruise ship with the smoke stacks lit. We all idly wondered, “Huh, I wonder when it’s leaving?” As we were crossing in front of it, the horn let out one long sound – signaling that it was getting ready to leave. We accelerated just a tad to be sure we got out of its way… Neil steered us out of the very busy channel through a rough and busy inlet, and out into the open water, were we waited, and watched, well clear of the cruise ship as she made her way to her next port.
As the sun set, we made our way back towards the inlet, using the lit green and red beacons as our guide. As we got into the channel, both of us wondered why the lights in front of us seemed to go out. Bernie, who by this time was tired and surely wondering if we were ever going to understand these intricacies, pointed out, “that’s a freighter in front of you. It’s AIS (identification signal) has been on the chart plotter this whole time. I was wondering when you were going to notice it.” OK, all tempers were getting a little short.
Avoided the freighter, we turned onto our fairway, which did NOT have lit beacons, only day markers. At this point we were out of natural light. We turned on our spot light (which we had practiced with the previous night). Suddenly, it looked like the spot light had gone to strobe mode (something we did not know was a thing). The strobe affect was not helpful. Kathleen finally walked outside and looked up – and discovered that it was not a strobe affect, it was the open array radar that was intermittenly reflecting the spot light. Turned off the radar, problem solved. Another several tense minutes of dodging crab pots and anchor chains, and we finally dropped anchor, secured it and turned off the boat. All nerves were fried. Once we got everything secured, we all needed some space and a shower. And maybe a beverage.
The next day was our last day of our training voyage. Given the winds, we decided to take the ICW back to Grand Harbor. 60 nm later, we made it home. Neil piloted most of the trip home, and Kathleen discovered that she really has an affinity for VHF radios (big surprise there…). As we slowly cruised up our fairway to our slip, all of our neighbors were out to watch us – big sport in boating – watching people dock. Fortunately, we did a great job with no mishaps. We were home.
December 1st was a busy day for Neil and Bernie, doing more maintenance (a boating past time…) and Kathleen cleaned and re-stocked the larder. The next day we took Bernie home to West Palm Beach, thanking him profusely for all he had done for us. We got to visit with Clayton and Deanna, then home for a needed quiet evening.
Bernie sent our training certification letter to the insurance company, something we needed to be able to take the boat out on our own. It was quite a feeling of accomplishment when we received notification from the insurance company that the rider stating we had to have a captain with us was lifted. Granuaile was, fully and finally, ours. All we needed now was time and practice, and some of Grace O’Malley’s grit and courage to venture.
The next several days was basic clerical and clean up. We did order our boat cards, which look amazing. And we decided where to go next….
Christmas decorations on the palm trees in the background looked cool – the beer was good too.