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  • Writer's pictureDeanna Sansbury

Miami, FL

We finally made it to the Miami inlet a little past midnight Monday night, after what was a really nice night trip down the coast.  The moon wasn’t very bright and the city skyscrapers packing the coastline gave a soft orange glow to illuminate our path.  Other then an few unmarked mooring balls we had to dodge, we had a pretty uneventful night.

That is, until we turned into the Port of Miami shipping channel.  That’s when our night got really, really eventful.

As we approached the inlet, Matt tried to hail the Port of Miami several times to see if there were any outbound freighters that we would need to look for.  Nothing.  Total silence.  We were wondering if our VHF was working, and did a radio check to which someone responded that they heard us loud and clear.  He tried calling on several different channels, but again, no response.  We didn’t see any freighters lined up out in the ocean waiting to come in, so we took that as a sign that things had quieted down for the night and turned in to enter the channel, hugging the far right side to stay out of the way.  

Keep in mind, it’s the middle of the night and there were dozens of lights and markers around us that we were trying to pay attention to.  It was pretty nerve wracking.  

As we got far enough in to make out what was what, we saw some sort of tug & barge operation that was blocking the entire width of the channel.  Again, we tried to call them on the VHF to ask what they were doing and got nothing, only a loud honk and a spot light pointed on us from one of the barges coming in, which is the universal signal for get the hell out of the way. OK, so they saw us trying to enter, so they knew we were there, why couldn’t they answer the damn VHF to give us some instructions? Matt finally had to hail the Coast Guard and have them give us the phone numbers of the port/harbormaster because even they couldn’t get anyone on the radio.  None of the numbers worked.  By this time it was about 1:00am, and we were doing circles in the Port of Miami shipping channel waiting to hear back from someone as we watched this barge operation cut us off from the one thing we wanted – to drop anchor and crawl up in bed.

Finally, one of the barge operators (the one who gave us the flash and the honk) came on the radio and told us we could probably squeeze thru on the left side of the channel and that all barge operators monitor channel 8 or 13.  OK, this was good!  We snuck up the left side, as advised, and continued on. A little further in, we encountered another set of tugs moving barges across the channel and tried to hail them on the VHF. Again, no response.  Finally, about fifteen minutes of us hovering there waiting on them to cross the channel, one of them answered back and told us to go for it, which we did and were happy to finally put that mess behind us. What a cluster! In hindsight, we should have attempted to anchor somewhere else and attempt the Port in the morning, but there are hardly any Inlets to tuck into on the South Florida coast and we were so, so close.

Plus, Miami is absolutely beautiful at 1:00 AM. Matt & I cracked a beer and enjoyed the calm and the gorgeous view.

We passed under the bridge leading into Biscayne Bay and headed over to a spot we picked as our anchorage for the night – a small harbor area with decent depth in the otherwise super shallow bay.  This was the first time we were anchoring at night and I was a little nervous.  We dropped anchor and as Matt backed down on the engines, he was having problems getting us firmly hooked. After several attempts, he decided he didn’t like this spot and we should try someplace else.  So, we shoved off in search of another place to lay the hook.

By now it was 4:00am and we are frantically searching the charts for another place to anchor.  We stumble upon a spot in between two channels that was marked as a spot that had good holding, so we decide to give it a try.  At this point, I’m pleading with God/Allah/Buddha to just make this spot work so we could put an end to this horrible, horrible night.  My prayers were answered, and we finally get the anchor set, turned off the engines and collapsed into a deep sleep by 4:30.

The next morning we woke up and realized how exposed we were.  Like, literally anchored out in the middle of the Bay with small fishing boats zooming past us up the channels we anchored between.  It was a little too lively for us, so we decide to head across the bay to No Name Harbor, a small harbor in a national park that was told to us by another cruiser to be one of the best anchorage’s they’ve ever been to.

As we entered the harbor, we saw that the "harbor" was only about the size of a small lake, and it was crowded already.  Like, packed. There must have been a dozen other boats anchored already, pretty much on top of one another too.  We saw an empty spot along the concrete sea wall which didn’t require us to think about anchoring, given we’d only had about four hours sleep the night before. Seemed like a good spot, so we gathered our fenders and lines and made our way over to the wall to tie up.  This is when things went wrong.  

The wind was pushing us away from the wall and I couldn’t get our bow line around the cleat on the seawall from the boat.  So, I made the stupid call to jump off the boat (which was still 3-4 feet away) and onto the concrete wall (which was a 3-4 foot drop from the boat) without any shoes on.  I hit the ground hard, rolled forward a bit and ran to tie up the front of the boat which had already scraped the front right peak on the concrete wall, making a nice gash in the gelcoat. In the process of leaping off the boat, I sprained my foot, which is now wrapped up in a bandage, effectively putting me out of the game for a few days.  So stupid.  And you know what?  After all that, we read that we couldn’t stay on the seawall for overnight dockage, so we had to leave and go back to the spot that we had just left that morning!   Ha!

A few lessons learned from the past day:

1. Stop pushing ourselves so hard! This is supposed to be a relaxing vacation!  We have no time limits.  No place we have to be, so why are we constantly treating it like we do. SLOW DOWN, Sansbury’s!

2. Don’t always trust the opinions of other cruisers.  What may be paradise to one may be hell to another.  No Name Harbor was a great example of this.  We’d rather be all alone in the middle of the Bay, exposed to the elements, than to be packed in like sardines into a small anchorage with a dozen other boats.

3. Scout out good anchorage spots beforehand. That way we won’t be wandering around in the middle of the night searching for a spot.

Headed down to Key Largo today.  Hoping it’ll be a nice calm 2-3 days down the Keys to let me rest up my foot before we land in Key West.  The weather is warm, the water is turquoise, and we’re back to just livin’ the dream again.

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