Chartering Sweetness

In part one, Dave and I were on our way down the ICW from New Jersey to Florida when my mother took ill and I had to fly back to New Jersey from South Carolina. Dave had to take Sweetness II the rest of the way to Florida by himself. When Dave slipped the boat back in her berth in Melbourne, Florida, in October, he was relieved that the trip was over and he didn't have to worry about piloting her by himself anymore. But with Mom being sick, I was afraid of cruising too far away in case I was needed at home, so Sweetness was just sitting looking pretty sad and lonely in her slip.
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In part one, Dave and I were on our way down the ICW from New Jersey to Florida when my mother took ill and I had to fly back to New Jersey from South Carolina. Dave had to take Sweetness II the rest of the way to Florida by himself.

When Dave slipped the boat back in her berth in Melbourne, Florida, in October, he was relieved that the trip was over and he didn't have to worry about piloting her by himself anymore. But with Mom being sick, I was afraid of cruising too far away in case I was needed at home, so Sweetness was just sitting looking pretty sad and lonely in her slip.

Mom responded well to treatment, but unfortunately Dave had foot surgery, and then found out that darn pain in his hip was arthritis resulting in infusion treatments, and I had my tonsils out. Sometimes that's just the way it goes. Before we knew it, two of our daughters in the New Jersey area, Andrea and Danielle, were pregnant, but Andrea didn't check with our schedule first. If she had she would have planned on having the baby in July like Danielle, so we would be able to take the boat up to New Jersey in April and May, but as it turned out Andrea's baby was due March 16. We couldn't possibly take the boat up that early and I didn't want to fly up, see the baby, fly back, then take a month to take the boat up north. Besides, we figured we would have to leave New Jersey in July because Dave's other daughter, Nicole, and her family would be coming to our house in Rockledge, Florida, at the end of August, the only time they could get away with their hectic schedule. Now to avid boaters this may seem like an unfortunate change. But Dave and I really enjoy being with family so we just had to decide on a new plan.

Making The Decision

It took some thought but we decided that if we couldn't enjoy Sweetness II, why should that stop other people from enjoying her? So we researched chartering her out. With our retirement income falling with the stock market in this economy, a little help with boating expenses would come in handy, too. We started looking online for ideas and it didn't take us long to realize that not only did we have no idea how to start a web page to advertise, or know how much it would cost, but also, even if it did work, how would we coordinate with customers (checking references, familiarizing them with the boat, getting keys, checking everything out upon return, etc.), not to mention keeping up the maintenance on the boat while staying in New Jersey? So we went with Plan B. We discovered a company called Florida Yacht Charters. One of their locations is in Miami Beach Marina. That was just a four-day cruise from Anchorage Yacht Basin in Melbourne, where we were keeping Sweetness II. We asked lots of questions, sent many emails, pictures, survey copies, and made phone calls back and forth. Finally, we decided to give it a try.

We worked for what seemed like forever making plans and finally, by the end of February, we drove the cars down to Miami to leave one there for our return trip, secure a slip, and speak in person to Tracy at Florida Yacht Charters. We were getting close to our scheduled flight date of March 10 to go to New Jersey. Everything seemed in order, but wait, there was a regatta in the beginning of March so our slip wouldn't be available until Sunday, March 8. Most of the personnel at Florida Yacht Charters don't work on Sundays, so on March 9 they were going to do a walkthrough of our boat. If we drove home that night we would have the next morning to get our house closed up and get to the airport. Boaters don't like close schedules so we hoped for the best and didn't get much sleep anticipating how much had to be accomplished in a short span of time.

Getting Her Ready

We knew that Sweetness II had to be in tip-top shape if we were going to charter her out. We cleaned and waxed her, Caterpillar overhauled her engines, Anchorage Yacht Basin replaced her batteries, we bought a new dink, etc. Sadly, we were asked to take off my Lenox china and replace it with Corelle-yuck. We took her to nearby Telemar Marina to have her hauled out, bottom painted, hull waxed, new shaft seals installed, etc. We knew we had to get a move on as soon as Sweetness was put back in the water and get her to Miami so we would be ready to pull her into Miami Beach Marina on March 8. But as fate would have it the shaft seals we were having replaced were out of stock. Newer, more expensive ones were ordered and we were held up a day. We could just watch as Sweetness sat on the hard. Finally she was put in the water on the afternoon of March 4 so we could provision her and shove off early on March 5.

Just to add more pressure, Andrea called to say that after her last doctor visit she was now dilated 2cm and having slight contractions. I figured they were just Braxton Hicks (false labor) and told her not to worry, but then she called back a few hours later and told me her water broke. I knew I was going to miss the birth. Aurora Paige Branco was born March 4 at 2:32 a.m., two weeks early and a thousand miles away.

Making The Trip

Early March 5 Dave and I, aboard Sweetness II, headed off for Miami. I was pretty distracted as you can imagine, but the weather couldn't have been better as Dave tooted our horn goodbye to Telemar Marina. It didn't take long for the dolphins to start surfing in our wake. Before we knew it we were pulling into Fort Pierce Municipal Marina at the end of our first day of cruising. We had dinner aboard and worked on scrubbing the black dust off the boat that was left from having the bottom sanded and painted. The next morning we left early again with picture-perfect weather conditions and continued on to Palm Beach, Florida. We had a reservation for a marina that I will not name. They decided to put us at their sister marina so when we got to where we should have been, the gal on the radio gave us a phone number to call. Now I ask you, who uses a cell phone for docking instructions? The man on the phone gave us verbal directions to get to the new marina (the one with no sign on it). We followed his directions and ended up in a mooring field. After a bit of concern our phone rang and he redirected us to the slip. Dinner aboard calmed Dave down a bit and after some work on our generator we fell into bed exhausted. We were getting close to our destination but we were also getting close to our scheduled flight to New Jersey. We calculated 16 bridges had to open for us the next day between Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale if we stayed on the ICW, so Dave talked me into going to sea. He said it would just take three hours. I don't like rough rides but that stinking NOAA said it was a good day to go out. So we took the Palm Beach inlet to the ocean and Sweetness had her maiden sea voyage. She seemed to do alright. I, on the other hand, didn't fair very well. The wind caused us to do a bit of sideways rocking, which always scares me. I put on my life jacket and texted my friends and family with our location just in case. I asked Dave to go in at the next inlet and he said he would, but he knew Ft. Lauderdale had a well-marked inlet so he just zipped past all the other inlets. He enjoyed the ride. He kept saying things like, "Look at all the dolphins!" But I couldn't see them too well from my "safe" seat on the floor of the flybridge. Five hours and 45 minutes later we were pulling into our marina. I guess he miscalculated that three-hour plan. I was glad to be on land but also glad that at least I could say I went cruising in the ocean (although I also know now that going to the Bahamas is out of the question). The marina in Ft. Lauderdale was awesome, but no time to play, so Sunday morning we were off again. We only had 24 nautical miles left! It turned out to be another great day. My anxiety level was a lot lower knowing we were so close and Dave was just happy to be boating. We figured five bridges had to open for us but we cleared two of them and only had to wait a total of 15 minutes for another two. The last one opened on demand and we were on our way. Our only mishap was trying to go down Government Cut in the Port of Miami. We discovered that when cruise ships are docked, boats are not allowed down and our marina was right at the other end of the cut. A police boat zipped over and told us going down was a no-no. So we double checked the charts and tiptoed around the Venetian Islands. Turned out the water there is a lot deeper than what is on the charts. We pulled into our slip by 1:30 p.m. We spent the afternoon rinsing off salt and putting the finishing touches on cleaning Sweetness. The next day, March 9, we met with Florida Yacht Charters personnel and Tracy told us what to keep and what to take off the boat. By 7:30 p.m. we were ready to head back to our home in Rockledge. We were exhausted, but happy, and Sweetness II looked so happy and proud in her new home.

All Set

On March 10 we cleaned and closed our house for the summer and caught our flight from Orlando, Florida, with no trouble. Late that night we finally got to see baby Aurora for the first time. What a doll baby she was to our tired eyes, of course. We plan on enjoying our summer with our family. Between us, Dave and I have six children and in July we will have 11 grandchildren, so there is certainly always something for us to do. We don't know what other changes await us, but boating has given us the ability to adapt well to change. We know that when the opportunity to hit the water comes we will make the most of it, especially now that the boat is in South Beach, but for now we are content to be landlubbers for a while. Eventually we will have our own crew (of children and grandchildren) on board and boating will be a whole new adventure. We can't wait for the next chapter to begin.

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