Virtual Cruise of the East Coast: Miami Beach, Florida

This über-chic spot is the South’s version of the city that never sleeps.

| |City lights dance on the water off downtown Miami’s Bayside Marketplace, a hot spot for shopping with a wide variety of dining options. Photo by Roberto A. Sanchez.|

Cruising is all about contrasts. One night you’re anchored in a secluded cove with nothing to disturb you but the sounds of an osprey returning to his nest. The next day you’re tied up at a resortlike marina complete with cable TV, Wi-Fi and concierge service. Or one day you’re making an offshore run at full speed on a mirrorlike, flat sea, and the very next day you’re hanging onto an overhead grab rail while punching through 6-foot head seas. It’s never boring.

_Mouse over the chart to see Miami Beach attractions. Chart courtesy of NOAA.
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We are 11 months into our yearlong East Coast Virtual Cruise and are enjoying our two days in Florida’s Everglades City. This tiny, anachronistic town of 500 souls lies at one end of the Wilderness Waterway, a 99-mile backcountry route leading to Flamingo in the Florida Everglades. With its one grocery and hardware store, a post office, a tiny museum, three churches and a couple of motels and bed-and-­breakfasts, it is the gateway to the Ten Thousand Islands of the Everglades.

Docked along the pier of the famous Rod and Gun Club, we feel we have traveled back in time, expecting to see President Dwight Eisenhower on the nearby putting green or Ernest Hemingway holding court under one of his wall-mounted trophies. After a gator nuggets appetizer, we enjoy our blackened grouper dinner and then retire to the billiard room with our brandy. For the moment, we are living in the 19th century in what is now referred to as the “other” or “forgotten” Florida.

After a couple of days we feel a need for contrast, so we head 70 miles southeast to Marathon in the Keys and then 80 miles northeast up Florida Bay to Miami Beach. There is no higher contrast than Everglades City and South Beach. As we approach the northern edge of Biscayne Bay and the Port of Miami, we can see and feel the energy of this busy place. Passing under the bridge just beyond Bayside Marketplace, we suddenly realize we can’t reach our destination, the Miami Beach Marina, by turning to starboard and entering the main channel where the cruise ships are docked. This is a security zone tightly patrolled by the U.S. Coast Guard, so we make a U-turn and head back to Dodge Island Cut and Fisherman’s Channel. The marina is just ahead of us across Government Cut.

Water temperature in Miami ranges from 75 to 85 degrees and attracts millions of tourists. Photo by George Sass, Sr.

We’ve chosen the Miami Beach Marina for its proximity to South Beach and the Miami Convention Center, which is the hub of the Miami International Boat Show. It’s early February, and we’re looking forward to attending this exciting, ever-expanding show. With 400 slips and space for yachts up to 250 feet in length, Miami Beach Marina is a busy, full-service place with prices to match. But we love the location, being able to walk to South Pointe Park and the art deco district of South Beach. An afternoon walk along the seawall ­immediately sets the South Beach scene, as we witness a swimsuit photo shoot complete with models and, of course, the photographer dressed entirely in black. South Pointe Park welcomes our four-legged friends with its popular dog park, and the wide, white, sandy beach stretches north for miles and miles, its towering condos and hotels signs of today’s Florida.

Later that evening we join the thousands who stroll up and down Ocean Drive, alternating between the street’s sidewalk lined with outdoor restaurants and bars, and the boardwalk that winds its way from South Pointe to 14th Place.

After enjoying the eccentrics in Key West last month, we now get to see South Beach’s own cast of characters. Young hipsters showing off their hard bodies cruise up and down the strip. Every other car seems to be exotic. Lamborghinis are as common here as Hondas are back home. Sexy Latin music blasts from every restaurant and hotel, making it difficult to hold a conversation, but no one seems to care.

Colorful neon lighting illuminates the art deco buildings while spotlights shine on palm trees. Following the main flow of people through rows of outdoor dining tables, we are tempted by the sight of towering dishes of fresh seafood: lobsters, stone crabs, mussels and shrimp. The enticing smells of grilled steaks and blackened fish make our stomachs growl. We can stop and eat anywhere along this strip and have a great meal, which we do.

| |The Delano Hotel on Collins Avenue is a favorite among architecture fans. Photo courtesy of the Morgans Hotel Group.|

After dinner, we walk up to the ultrachic Delano South Beach hotel on Collins Avenue for a nightcap. This is one of those “see and be seen” destinations, and the price of one drink is worth the experience. We don’t see anyone famous, but at our age we’re not sure we would recognize today’s hot celebs anyway. Returning to our boat for the evening, we sense the night is just beginning for nearly everyone else. Having grown up close to New York City, I feel the same kind of vibes coming from this highly energetic city. Here, however, people are tan and healthier looking. Best of all, it’s a wonderful 78 degrees in February.

The next morning I return to one of my favorite breakfast hangouts, the News Cafe at the corner of Eighth Street and Ocean Drive. Opened in 1988 as a simple news kiosk with some books and a couple of tables, it has grown to be one of South Beach’s hot spots for breakfast, lunch and casual dinner. I enjoy a perfectly cooked omelet with fresh fruit and several cups of bold coffee while sitting in the warm sun, listening to Miles Davis and Charlie Parker.

Of course our main reason for being in South Beach in February is to attend the boat show, so it’s off to the ­Convention Center, where I spend an entire day looking at the boats and all kinds of fun accessories. There are actually two different boat shows underway at four locations. The Miami International Boat Show operates the exhibits at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Its ­in-water exhibits and sea trials of new yachts are located at Sea Isle Marina (formerly known as the Marriott Marina), and its Strictly Sail displays are at Miamarina at Bayside Marketplace. Separately, the in-water Miami Yacht & Brokerage Show along a one-mile strip of Collins Avenue features 500 new and used yachts as well as TrawlerPort, which focuses on the trawler market. In total, we’ll spend three days here and still not see everything.

Back on board we start planning the next leg of our cruise. We have a choice of either running up to Stuart, Florida, and then across the Okeechobee Waterway to explore Florida's West Coast, or of looking for a good weather window to cross the Gulf Stream and cruise the Bahamas. Where will we go?

Beyond Miami
After attending the Miami Boat Show in mid February we decide to cross the Gulf Stream and visit the Abacos in the Bahamas. We first head up the ICW to Palm Beach where we wait for a clear weather window, making sure we'll have moderate winds out of the southeast. During winter months it can sometimes take a week or two before conditions are ideal. It's only 56-miles from Lake Worth Inlet to West End on Grand Bahama Island, so our crossing takes about three hours at our normal cruising speed.

**West End 26° 42' N 78° 59' W **
We arrive at Old Bahama Bay Resort and Yacht Harbour where we clear Bahamian Customs and Immigration. Entering this well marked harbor is easy as there are red and green nav aids located at the end of the jetty, and a red and white water tower is clearly visible from the ocean. Old Bahama's marina provides fuel, water, pump out, laundry and showers. Its resort facility features its Dockside Bar & Grille as well as Teaser's Tiki Bar located near the pool and beach. This is a great place to unwind and begin to get into the island mode.

Green Turtle Cay 26° 46' N 77° 20' W
From West End we'll run 45-miles and anchor overnight at Great Sale Cay. We could have made it all the way to Green Turtle Cay, but we're still trying to decompress and get used to "island time." There's nothing to do at Great Sale Cay other than to tuck into the anchorage to the south of the island and enjoy the sunset. The next day we head to Green Turtle Cay, which recently had its channel dredged into White Sound for a controlling depth of 7-feet. We get a slip at the Green Turtle Club, which recently had improvements made to its finger piers. We take full advantage of using our dockage fees, which are already quite reasonable, towards our food and beverage bill at the Club. We enjoy dinner on the enclosed patio overlooking the water and then retire to the Yacht Club Pub for a glass of fine port.

Hopetown, Elbow Cay 26° 32.70' N 77° 57.80' W
Elbow Cay has been one of our all time favorite cruising destinations, as it seems to have just the right mixture of laid back, island ambience along with a few convenient amenities including good restaurants and inns, a couple of small grocery stores, liquor stores and a few boutique shops. Its iconic candy-striped lighthouse is probably one of the most photographed objects in the Bahamas, and Hopetown Harbor provides superb protection as well as spectacular sunsets.

We rent a mooring from Lucky Strike (call VHF 16) and after a delightful walk through Hopetown, we enjoy dinner on the outside patio of Harbour’s Edge. A couple of days later we run along the west coast of Elbow Cay and anchor off Tahiti Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We land our dinghy on the pristine, sandy beach and spend the afternoon reading and watching the tide go out. It just doesn’t get any better than this.

Marsh Habour 26° 33.40' N 77° 04.50' W
With a population of over 5,000, Marsh Harbour is the hub of activity in the Abacos. It is also the jumping off point for those flying in from the States who are chartering from the well-known charter companies headquartered here. We like the location of the Conch Inn Resort & Marina because it's close to "downtown" where we can easily resupply our provisions. It's also near Snappas, one of our favorite bars and grilles. But since it's Wednesday night, we take our dinghy across to the Jib Room at the Marsh Harbour Marina, where we've made reservations for the weekly BBQ dinner, live music and dancing. As always, it's a fun night especially since we run into several fellow cruising couples that we haven't seen in years. The next day we walk over to the popular Abacos Beach Resort and Boat Harbor Marina, where we meet up with other friends who are spending their winter on their trawler. While others may consider Marsh Harbour only as a point of entering or leaving the Abacos by air, we have come to enjoy spending time here and getting to know some of the locals.

**Little Harbour 26° 19.30' N 76° 58.80' W **
No trip to the Abacos is complete without a cruise down the Sea of Abaco to Little Harbour for a visit to Pete's Pub. From Marsh Harbour it's less than 20-miles to the entrance to the protected anchorage where we drop the hook in 5-feet of water. As always we start off with a delicious fish sandwich and a cold Kalik at the pub and then walk over to the beachfront gallery that sculptor Peter Johnston built in the early 90s. On view is artwork created by his father, Randolph Johnston, his children Greg and Tyler, as well as other local artists. A fascinating tour of their bronze sculpture foundry can be arranged. After spending the night we begin our cruise back up the Abacos, stopping overnight at Man-O-War Cay and Great Guana Cay. We never miss a chance to have a cold one at Nipper's on Great Guana, and we later get a slip at the new Baker's Bay Marina. From here we head out to sea through Loggerhead Channel and then work our way back to West End where we wait for a southerly wind before crossing the Gulf Stream.