Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Sands Key, Biscayne Bay

Intermezzo is anchored off Sands Key in Biscayne Bay National Park in an expanse of shallow water, the skyline of Miami off in the distance to the north. It's very peaceful, a great place to relax after working on the boat for a month straight.

We arrived here yesterday after an overnight sail from Lake Worth. It was an interesting passage, the wind blowing at 10-15 knots from the northeast most of the night, a nice beam reach for sailing. What made the trip interesting was the Gulf Stream.

Information provided in the NOAA text weather forecast reported the west wall of the Gulf Stream about 10 miles offshore. Not accurate. I had plotted a route one mile offshore, the closest I like to get to an unfamiliar coast at night. Shortly after turning southward a mile offshore, we encountered a patch of confused seas and then started bashing into head seas. The boat was also going really slowly, only 3.5 knots on a beam reach with 10 knots true wind speed.

The waves weren't supposed to be coming from that direction and we should have been going faster. I was as confused as the water surface for a little while. Then it occurred to me that I'd only ever experienced head seas while sailing downwind when there as an opposing current. The light bulb turned on and I figured out that the head seas were from the Gulf Stream flowing north was getting stacked up by the wind blowing from that direction and our slow speed was because we were fighting a two knot current.

The urban Florida coastline is well lit and easy to navigate, so I decided it was safe to sail closer to shore. I plotted a new route only a half mile off the coast and turned the boat towards land. As we drew close to our new rhumbline, the seas calmed and started coming from where they should, off our port stern quarter, and boat speed increased to what it should be, almost six knots.

Even though we were only a half mile off shore, we occasionally encountered patches of foul current that caused confused seas and the boat to slow down. I understand that if I had sailed even closer to shore I would eventually encounter a southerly counter current that would boost our speed, but I was not comfortable sailing any closer to the shoreline at night. Once we got to Fort Lauderdale, the Gulf Stream effects disappeared completely and it was smooth sailing the rest of the way. The wind dropped just before sunrise, so we ended up motor sailing the last few hours before Biscayne Bay channel entrance, about seven miles south of Miami ship channel.

Intermezzo had passed through the Biscayne Bay inlet on our passage from Key West to Miami in June 2019. As we passed through this time, I remembered "Stiltsville" a small group of houses built on stilts along the inlet channel. This time, instead of turning north towards Miami, we turned south to follow a route on the inside of the Florida Keys.

We motored a couple hours south until we reached what is considered the first island of the Florida Keys, Boca Chita. We continue along a bit further, threading the boat between shoals to drop anchor off of Sands Key, about a quarter mile south of Boca Chita.

Yesterday we mostly rested from our overnight passage, enjoying a swim in the cool shallow water, reading, cocktails and a nice dinner of blackened mahi-mahi and sauteed vegetables.

This morning we set about doing some easy boat chores, Robin cleaning the stainless steel, me troubleshooting the charging system and tweaking the solar charge controllers. After lunch, we took the dinghy to take a look at Boca Chita. It is a pretty little island, originally owned by Mark Honeywell (founder of the heating control company) in the 1930's, now part of the national park. The island has a small stone wall-lined boat basin, a few elegant stone buildings and lighthouse,  a short nature trail through the mangroves and a small beach. A nice place to spend a couple of hours.

We returned to the boat for cold beers, swimming, more reading and another nice dinner. Nice.

Sands Key


Shallows off Sands Key with Miami skyline in distance


Boca Chita



Sands Key from Boca Chita, Intermezzo anchored just right of center of photo

Boca Chita lighthouse