There was a palpable air of excitement aboard today. We all were very aware that today would be the end of this journey and that by mid-afternoon, we would be docked in Serenity's winter home. Even the porpoises who accompanied us knew something was special about today. To cap off this feeling, a helicopter flew over us, taking pictures. We learned from Mike that this was the famous Boatpix.com photography service where an aerial photo is taken of one's boat. They send you the photos and if you like any or all, you can purchase them and return those unwanted. We were no sooner tied up than I was online ordering the photos!
We motored on, passing what by now was "typical ICW" scenery - beautiful homes, uninhabited islands and marshland...
Thanks to Mike's unending patience, I was able to log quite a bit of time in the helm seat. Believe me, it's not as easy as it appears. The ICW is very narrow in spots and quite unforgiving when it comes to water depth. The very center of the channel is fine, but wander too far right or left and one can easily run aground. This narrow margin for error requires the navigator to keep the boat dead center in between the red and green markers. Since the wind and current have their own agendas, they are literally a force to contend with. It took me at least the first 15-20 minutes of each stint at the helm to keep the boat on course instead of zigzagging wildly from side to side. I knew the captain had his eye on our wake, so my zigging would be readily apparent. He did try his best to be patient, especially since it was my birthday.
We passed the elegant Vero Beach where there is a jewelry store so exclusive that one must be invited in. Needless to say, we blew right past Vero Beach. I did get glimpses of palatial homes with lawns coming right down to the water and huge boats at their personal docks. The marina there is so small, that if you arrive once the slips and moorings are taken, you need to raft up to the later arriving boats. Hard to see between the bridge's pilings, but the boats are rafted towards the left of the bridge's mid-span. You have to trust me on this one.
Before long, the Fort Pierce inlet came into view. This is the inlet where Serenity entered the ocean on her way home in April, 2011. By using our binoculars, we were able to catch sight of the ocean.
We continued along the Indian River
....which I must admit looked pretty much like all the other water we were in. The Indian River carried us past Four Fish Marina in Jensen Beach where Serenity's initial commissioning was done. This is the marina where we first laid eyes on our girl when she was out of the water waiting for her bottom to be painted.
Pretty soon we passed the St. Lucie inlet (which looks like the Fort Pierce inlet if you ask me), but it was one inlet closer to Stuart - that's why it merits a mention here. LOL. Apparently, each inlet has its own unique characteristics. Though they may look similar at first blush, they are identified by their underwater topography. Many inlets are not very nice places to be and present unseen dangers to the novice and/or unwary boater.
By now it was early afternoon and Mike informed us that we were on our final approach to Stuart
and Sunset Bay Marina. We called the marina on the radio but no one answered. Not a very warm welcome I thought. I called on my cell phone and someone picked up immediately. Apparently 4 boats were getting ready to dock at the same time and things were a bit hectic. Before long, we passed under the final bridge announcing our arrival in Stuart!
No need to rush since the bridge tender of the Roosevelt Bridge had other plans for us. Though she cheerfully agreed to open the bridge, she decided to wait for another boat that was quite some distance behind us. To make matters worse, several boats were on the other side waiting to go through too. The tender was chatting with everyone about how cute the dolphins were and what a pretty day it was while we were drifting ever closer to the closed bridge. We were all very tense until the bridge began to (very slowly) rise. We radioed to one of the boats on the other side to ask if we could go through first due to our precarious position. Luckily for us, this boater had manners - we passed through without incident, not counting clenched teeth and tight neck muscles. We've arrived in Stuart!
...and Sunset Bay Marina was dead ahead. We were guided to slip B21
where we negotiated docking next to a mighty big boat. Many friendly and willing hands were waiting to greet us and help us with our lines, including familiar faces from the Krogen Rendezvous in October. Lucky for us, one of the couples I met is right across the dock from us, very convenient when cocktail time rolls around.
After navigating nearly 1,500 miles and 3 weeks, Serenity was safely resting in her winter home...
...and already the darling of B dock!
Once we were settled, we celebrated with a bottle of champagne - nothing less for Serenity. After showers and putting the boat back together, we headed to the marina's restaurant, one of our area favorites - Sailor's Return. What an apt name! There we celebrated my birthday with great food, a beautiful sunset and good company. Welcome scenery after so much water! There is something so special about having dinner outside in December!