Top East Coast Anchorage #2: Flagler Island, South Beach and the 25th Street Cleat

This was our first SQUEAK. After the first time, I vowed never to do it again.  Or, at least, never to look when we did.  Phillip asked me from the helm if we were going to make it and I had no answer for him.  No words.  Were we?  I had no clue.  It sure didn’t look like it.  Not from my angle.  *nnnggh* I closed my eyes.  And then it was over.  We had just motored our 62.5-foot mast under an (alleged) 65-foot bridge.  The water table said it was 67 feet.  I didn’t buy it for a minute as we passed under.  I will never look again.  But, I’m glad we did it, and we’ve done it comfortably several time since.  Because our first squeak took us to our second favorite anchorage during our cruise down the East Coast this past winter:

South Beach Miami, anchored near Flagler Island

A fun collage from our stay in South Beach!

We would have never even known this anchorage was possible for us without having fortuitously met and befriended some fellow cruisers in No Name Harbor who told us about it.  (Glen, Debbie, if you’re reading this – thank you again!) Even after you navigate the two semi-scary (but not so scary) 65-foot bridges to get there, on the chart it doesn’t look like there is enough depth to motor along the Venetian Islands to get into the anchorage.  But Glen and Debbie explored it via dinghy, checking the depths throughout the inlet, and they found it quite doable.  So they did it!  While I’m sure their first trek in with the “big boat” was a little hair-raising, by the time we met them, they had anchored there several times and were confident and comfortable with it as long as they made it from No Name over to the two 65-foot bridges that were required on the way in at low tide as the mast height on their Island Packet (with instruments) is approximately 64-feet.  Hence, the squeak.

This reminded me a lot of the “bear rule.”  You don’t have to be the fastest person running from the bear, just faster than the person behind you.  Terrible thought, but true.  One of our rules of cruising had always been: If you’re going to navigate into a shallow anchorage, always travel behind a boat deeper than you.  We were now learning the same rule applied to potentially short bridges and boats taller than us.  Phillip and I more than happily followed Glen and Debbie—and their 64-foot mast—into South Beach.

This anchorage is approximately a two-hour motor/sail from No Name, so it is fairly easy to plan and time it to accommodate the tide.  Sailing around in the Biscayne Bay is also very fun—nice depths and no crab pods—and the Rickenbacker bridge is  very tall, so no trouble there.  One issue is the crazy Miami boat traffic that can make the narrow channel just after the Rickenbacker Bridge feel a little tight and uncomfortable, so it would be ideal to make the move on a slower weekday, as opposed to a busy weekend day.  Phillip and I didn’t plan that incredibly well the first time and found ourselves making the trip over on Easter Sunday which proved to be quite chaotic on the water in Miami.  There were a lot of “Jersey Shore” type motor boats and yachts blazing through that were courteous enough but not fully aware of (or concerned about) our significant draft and clenched fists.

But, Phillip had a plan.  We deployed what he dubbed our “dragon wing” (the mainsail) while motoring the channel to remain highly visible and remind other boaters: yes, we are a sailboat, with a big tall mast and a deeper draft which means less maneuverability. I doubt that’s what the Miami dudes thought when they saw us, but at least—with the dragon wing up—they saw us.  Coming just after low tide, the two bridges were 67- and 68-feet respectively, so we felt confident enough.  Not comfortable, mind you, for our first time.  It still looks decidedly not doable every time I look up.  But we made our way under both bridges behind Glen and Debbie with the 62.5-foot mast on our Outbound, and we had no problem.  Here is what we saw coming in:

Low tide was at 14:28 that day. We came to the first bridge at 14:02 with the tide at -0.26 ft. The water table showed 67′ under the bridge.

We came to the second bridge at 14:08. The water table showed 68′ under the bridge. We dipped under both just fine.

We had decided to come right before low tide, as opposed to just after. Although in hindsight, we should have come just after to give us more depth after the two bridges coming in near the Venetian Islands. We have a 5.6’ draft on the Outbound, but we always like to consider ourselves 6’ for good measure and the chart showed several patches of only 6′ of depth.  But, with the zig zag pattern Glen and Debbie had advised us to use, we had no issues.  After navigating the bridges, the lowest depth we saw coming in near the Venetian Islands (at 14:17, seven minutes before low tide) was 6.7′. Whew!

We anchored here, just to the north of Flagler Island. 

With the ~ 3-foot tide, our depth ranged from 9 to 13 feet.  The holding was great.  We had 25+ knots of wind (with gusts of 30) blow through for days and we never budged.  The dinghy ride in was a little longer than our normal treks, but still an easy 5-7 minute ride in.  It also took us through “Shantyville,” a hodgepodge of boats that have been anchored (likely for years) with tons of barnacles and other strange growth on them.   Odd kayaks and makeshift floating rafts tied up to them.  That was one down-side of Florida.  Lots of ramshackle, unattended boats just anchored out making some anchorages look derelict and rendering them a bit dangerous as many boats were not anchored well and they were unattended.  But the temps and waters of Florida are beautiful so you have to take the good with the bad.  Thankfully, Shantyville was across the channel on the other side and not a threat to us near Flagler Island.  We only saw 3-4 boats anchored near us at any time (often 1-2 of them being our cruising buddies).

When we dinghied in, we docked here.  It is a bit of a ramshackle floating dock, but the cruisers use it.  Ironically there is a sign there that says “No Docking” yet I saw many dinghy lines tied right to it.  Oh the irony!  We never had anyone give us trouble docking there, and it is just across the street from Publix (super convenient for provisioning) and just down the road from Fresh Market, Trader Joe’s, a hardware store, UPS, a laundromat, etc.  The wealth of cruiser amenities this South Beach anchorage offered was one of its biggest draws. 

Not to mention the plethora of restaurants at our fingertips.  I mean, it is South Beach and offers a particularly wide variety of ethnic food, which Phillip and I love.  We ate exceptional Peruvian at Ceviche 105,

Cuban at Bella Cuba,

Italian at Pane & Vino, and exquisite cocktails and bites (I had a fried anchovy I can still taste) at Tropezon.  

We drank on the rooftop bar and saw flaming fire dancers at Mila

We spent an afternoon biking through the Wynwood District, a reclaimed art ghetto where exceptional street artists showcase their talents on every building surface imaginable.  It’s like strolling through the most eclectic graffiti art gallery for free. 

We decided to check out Little Havana inadvertently when they were hosting a huge 40-block street festival on Calle Ocho with live music, sizzling meat grills, plenty of cigars, rum, meat, cigars, and more rum. 

We jogged on the beach and pretended to be like some of the beefed up P90X folks who work out at Muscle Beach

We were mesmerized and moved by the haunting Holocaust Memorial on Miami Beach.

We booked an Art Deco tour that fascinated me and has prevented me from forever not seeing buildings with curved corners, movie marquees, pastel colors and parsed into threes. 

We saw an incredible play, When Monica Met Hillary, for its world premiere at the Colony Theatre.  Highly recommend.  

Although every drink cost $20.00 and the meals were quite pricey, the price for lodging (on our hook) was right.  We spent many days perusing the streets and shops and eating an interesting lunch out during the day then cooking aboard at night.  The many party-goers and bachelorette parties that liked to blaze around Flagler Island provided more than enough free entertainment from our cockpit.  Thankfully, the marine police patrol frequently and stop anyone who tries to throw up a wake around Flagler Island.  This not only prevents us from suffering a rolly anchorage but also lets us watch the show every time a jet skier gets pulled over.  Sweet revenge!

In all, South Beach offered us protection, convenience, entertainment, a kaleidoscope of exceptional food, shopping, and theater options.  And, I haven’t even mentioned the best part.  For us, anyway.  Phillip had heard they regulate kitesurfing pretty heavily at Miami Beach, allowing it only at designated locations and sometimes for a fee.  Meaning, you cannot just pump up and kite anywhere.  For this reason, Phillip and I hadn’t planned on being able to kite in South Beach … until.  We were walking the beach one day and saw a few kites in the sky about a half mile north.  Phillip and I walked over to them and found about a 50-foot patch of beach that is reserved for kiters.  The fact that it was so confined actually made it quite pretty to see 10-15 colorful kites covering the sand on only one patch of beach.  Phillip and I were intrigued. 

We started scouting around to see if we could dinghy to that location (rather than schlep all our kite gear the half mile along the beach we had just walked—a lovely stretch, but it would be a haul with our boards and pumps and kites and harnesses).  And, what did we find?  The canal we had been taking into town this entire time snaked around and (in theory) could take us right to where we were standing by the kite beach, on 25th Street.  What’s more, there at the edge of the canal on 25th Street was a lovely, lonely cleat.  It felt like the Kite Gods had put it there just for us.  “The 25th Street Cleat!” we dubbed it.  The next windy day, Phillip and I decided to pile all our kite gear in the dinghy and see if the canal was deep enough to let us dinghy all the way to the 25th Street Cleat.  Turns out, we could.  Dinghying the canal even felt a bit like a nice, cruise down the river on a gondola in Venice.  Almost.  Once at the beach, we kited our brains out.  And, I got to see some of the highest jumps I’ve ever watched kiters perform.  They were even jumping to incredible heights.  On foil boards no less!  It was amazing to watch!  And, I got out in some pretty big surf that several other female kiters were a little hesitant to get into.  It felt nice to not be the most frightened one on the beach that day.  Another little fist bump from the Kite Gods.

While it was a little tough for Phillip and me to narrow down the East Coast anchorages to our top three, this anchorage made it pretty easy to say: “Oh yeah, South Beach, that’s definitely one.” 

We liked it so much we stayed about 10 days on our way down (a long time for us at any anchorage) and a whopping 16 days on the way back up the coast.  It was that good.  Next up, we’ll share our Favorite East Coast Anchorage #3.  Any guesses where it will be??

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