After several months of cruising, we had begun to feel that we are ready to handle a winter in the Bahamas.
We had sailed the Intracoastal Waterway from Georgia down the Atlantic coast to the Keys and up the Gulf Coast to Naples, then back to Georgia. No major problems. No accidents. No one overboard unintentionally. We had not destroyed, or even (significantly) damaged, our boat or any other boats or docks. We have become reasonably proficient at anchoring, piloting, maintenance and repair.
The one thing we had not accomplished, until a couple of weeks ago, was an overnight sail.
While we were anchored at Lake Worth, we met a couple, Dick and Jan, anchored nearby on a large catamaran named Cambia. These new friends, both retired music teachers, had been sailing for nearly ten years. As we visited, they mentioned that they were going to make the 12-hour trip "outside" from Lake Worth (Palm Beach) to Miami on Thursday, leaving about 5:00 p.m.
Traveling on the ocean instead of the Intracoastal would eliminate having to negotiate 20 draw bridges between Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale. The trip from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami would have to be outside anyway, since there is a fixed bridge north of Miami that our 57' mast is too tall to pass under.
Dick and Jan had made this trip before. The weather forecast was for calm seas and light winds. We took a deep breath and asked if we could go with them.
Just before 5:00 p.m., we fired up the engines and headed out to sea, following Cambia at a safe distance. About two miles out, we headed south. It didn't take long for the sun to set. Slowly, the light faded until we had to strain to see the water in front of us. I worried for a while about what we might run into, but finally decided it was useless to be concerned about something I couldn't control.
The ocean swells raised and lowered the boat, but there were no breaking waves, only a gentle swaying up and down. There weren't many fellow boaters, but the ones we encountered had the proper lights for the most part.
We lit up Sunshine like a Christmas tree by turning on every light available, even more than required. We wanted to make sure that other boats could see us. Phil drove and we scanned the horizon every minute or two and watched the radar for other boats.
The hours passed. We ate cheese and crackers for dinner, donned our "fowlies" as the weather began to chill, and played Nora Jones and James Taylor on the stereo.
About 1:00 a.m., we passed the Port Everglades inlet at Ft. Lauderdale and had to dodge freighters, cruise ships and barges that were entering and exiting the port. I was surprised at the amount of traffic in the middle of the night. Radar helped us estimate the distance between us and other boats, but I still worried about being on a collision course with an ocean liner. We made it past Port Everglades without incident.
We arrived in sight of Miami about 4:30 a.m., but it seemed to take forever to actually get to the inlet, called Government Cut. I was driving at this point and there were several cruise ships in the area. Some were anchored outside the entrance to the channel. Some were moving.
As we entered the channel, our path was marked by flashing lights. Red on the right. Green on the left. All I had to do was stay between them as we approached Government Cut. Luck was with us and no ships were following us into the channel or leaving as we approached.
Dick and Jan had arrived before us and talked us into the anchorage, which was not far from the inlet and on the southwest side of Fisher Island. We anchored near them at 5:30 a.m. As I looked to the west, the Miami skyline was almost on top of us. It was a gorgeous picture post-card view.
We fell into bed and slept soundly until late in the morning.
First overnight passage. Mission accomplished!