In 1493, Christopher Columbus, sailing near the Dominican Republic, saw three “mermaids”–in reality manatees–and described them as “not half as beautiful as they are painted.” I guess not! As we made our way north up the ICW from Stuart to Fort Pierce, I spotted my first manatee slowly bobbing along and coming up to breathe on the edge of the waterway. But when we got into Fort Pierce Town Marina, we got a real close up look at some. What odd creatures they are! I can’t imagine how anyone every mistook them for mermaids – other than their tails. Their other alias, sea cows, is more appropriate. They are large, idle, docile creatures. We watched them bobbing about in the marina. All they do is munch sea grass, burp, fart and breathe. They are endangered due to boat/prop injury and death and loss of habitat. In fact it is sad to see patterns of scars on their backs – this is how scientists recognize them individually, like fingerprints.
We left Stuart on Monday morning, March 11 (Matt’s birthday), waving a final goodbye to our friends Claude and Marie, and then making our way back down the St. Lucie River to the “Crossroads” where we rejoined the ICW heading North to Fort Pierce – 21 nm.
A note about the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). Most people who go to the Bahamas travel South on the ICW and cross from South Florida. Many cruisers travel to the Bahamas each winter and leave their boats in Florida when they fly home in the summer. We, on the other hand, had skipped the ICW completely by heading offshore from Hampton to Morehead City and then Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos. So this is our very first time on the ICW. And we are loving it.
From Boston to Brownsville, the ICW is a nearly 4000 mile route behind natural barrier islands, connected bays and coastal rivers along the US Atlantic and Gulf coasts – even greater than the Great Barrier Reef in Australia – the most extensive protected coastline in the world. It is an awe-inspiring engineering feat. Delayed and postponed for generations, a World War and an economic crash in the dirty thirty’s provided the impetus for its completion, when the US finally had the federal unity to complete the original dream of a nationally managed waterway for commerce and defense.
Although it is a bit like motoring along a highway as there is little, if any, opportunity to sail, it is interesting and scenic. I love looking at fancy homes along the shore in the built up portions, and watching water birds and osprey in their natural surroundings in marine preserve sections. In this part of Florida, the vegetation is green and lush – many kinds and sizes of palm tree, evergreens and large deciduous trees, dripping with Queen Anne’s Lace or Old Man’s Beard, their heavy branches a haven for epiphytic plants. On either side of the often narrow navigable channel are shallow waters and a series of spoil islands with trees and beaches, a haven for birds, and sometimes for campers and kayakers. The weather has turned chilly with a strong north wind, but days are sunny and the sky clear and blue.
When we left Bimini for the crossing we experienced, for the first time, a knocking in the prop shaft between 2400 and 2500 RPM. While this is disturbing, we seem to be OK if we travel either at our normal 2200 RPM cruising speed, or with our turbo engaged at 2600 RPM. However, after talking to several people about the possibility of having something stuck in the prop causing a wobble, or the need for replacing a cutlass bearing, we decided we should try to get hauled and get a number of other needed repairs done at the same time. We started calling marinas from Fort Pierce to St. Augustine for haul-out quotes. We reached a particularly helpful and knowledgeable gentleman named Jim at Whiticar in Fort Pierce. However, they worked out of Harbourtown Marina, who would not let us stay on our boat if we hauled. We did not fancy any nights in a seedy motel. After several discussions, however, Jim agreed to come over to see us at Fort Pierce City Marina, and take a look at the issue while we were still in the water. After several tests Jim advised that he did not think it was a serious issue with the transmission, but that it would be a good idea to haul the boat for prop shaft maintenance in the not-too-distant future. So we decided to push on to St. Augustine, a pretty place to see and where we have friends to visit, and haul there.
In the meantime we enjoyed Fort Pierce. The only trick is getting into the Municipal Marina. We hit very strong current (4 knots) when we turned into their channel and it almost pushed us into the channel markers. They are currently dredging and redesigning the marina to fix this issue, so we then needed to maneuver around the dredging equipment. The wind was blowing, current ripping as we approached the fuel dock to find raw wooden posts along the fixed dock. Steve’s heart sunk at the thought of scratches on his precious refinished brightwork – the results of hours of hard work sanding and varnishing in George Town. Anyway, we made it , fueled up and pumped out, and also managed to tie up on the face dock afterwards without too much gunwall “evidence”. We liked Fort Pierce. The marina facilities are great and the staff friendly and helpful.
There is a great Tiki Bar/restaurant on site which we tried and enjoyed at supper time. We walked the few downtown blocks to Ace Hardware, and a quaint general store. And we were right next to the Manatee Center, and spent a few hours there learning more about these lovable, strange and threatened creatures.
Best of all, we got a second night free at the marina, due to some outdated special promotion ‘Monday Madness” text which we found on Active Captian’s Interactive Cruising Guide. Apologies to anyone reading this who wants to capitalize on a great deal – this has now been deleted!
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