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As I mentioned previously, because of some lucrative freelance opportunities, in addition to my need for warm(er) weather, we left Cocoa Village at the end of February in favor of sunny Fort Lauderdale.
Fort Lauderdale is a funny place, and I have a serious love/hate relationship with the city. We’ve come to Fort Lauderdale each winter since moving on the boat, and every year I can’t wait to get here, and every year after a few months, I can’t wait to leave.
In case you didn’t know, Fort Lauderdale is one of the top boating meccas in the world. Chances are, if you’re cruising on your sailboat for any length of time and you’re on the East Coast, whether you’re doing the ICW, sailing to the Bahamas or heading to the Keys, you’ll wind up in Fort Lauderdale at some point.
Because of this, I am going to tell you all about Fort Lauderdale – the good, the bad and the ugly. If I offend anyone, I apologize in advance. This is going to be on the longer side of a blog post, but spoiler alert – you don’t want to miss the end.
That said, here we go. Fort Lauderdale, for better or for worse.
Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative.
Unimaginative, perhaps, but Mr. Wilde obviously never visited Fort Lauderdale in January. The weather from October through April is the holy grail of winter weather. All you crazy people out there shoveling 7 feet of snow from your driveway should take heed and just sell your house, buy a boat, and just sail down here for a winter. You’ll thank me for it, I promise. 80 degrees, sunny and slightly breezy. That’s how most of the days are here in the winter, and let me tell you. It. Is. Glorious.
Port Everglades Inlet
Port Everglades is a great all-weather inlet – nice, wide, well-marked and deep. Oh and insanely busy. In fact, Port Everglades is the second busiest cruising port in the world, beat out only by Miami, and that’s just for cruise ships and other commercial passenger boats. I don’t know how many recreational boats come in and out of this port, but let me just tell you – it’s a LOT.
The inlet is nice and wide, but when you’re on a sailboat and putzing along at a whopping 4 knots while fishing boats are zipping around you, yachts are passing you at 10 knots without slowing down, leaving a hell of a wake which tosses everything unsecured down below onto the floor, it can be pretty anxiety-inducing.
I remember one time coming in on a Sunday – we were arriving just around 4pm and I wanted to drive us in because I’ve found that the best way to conquer my fears or anxiety about something is to just do it. So I’m at the helm, and the honey is busy flaking the main while our dog Jet, dressed in his finest dog life jacket, was on dolphin watch.
I’m making my way through the inlet and I see a cruise ship directly ahead, bow pointed straight at me. I know from past experience that there is a dock for cruise ships inside the inlet just on the other side of the turning basin so I figured this ship was just sitting on that dock because I didn’t see any bow wake and he was pretty far away. I asked my guy to see to see what he thought. We both look through the binoculars, and agree that the ship is not moving.
But wait… “Honey, it looks like it’s getting closer. Maybe it is moving?”, to which he replies, “No, you’re moving, so you’re getting closer.” Ok. (another check through the binoculars). Cool.
A minute or so later… “Hooooooooooooooooooooooonk!”
Oh shit – it is moving! I was already hanging to the right side of the inlet, but I turned the wheel furiously to get over further – as far as I dared because have you seen how big those cruise ships are? While all this is going on, a Coast Guard boat decides to pull up next to us, with their gunner on the bow (always a little intimidating) and they shout over to ask where we’re coming from. Ugh – can’t they see I’m busy trying not to get run over by a gargantuan ship?
I holler, “Lake Worth!”. They nodded, took a look at Jet and said, “Cool dog” and then sped away just as we come up alongside the mammoth boat full of
2500 people whose most interesting topic of conversation later will be how wonderful the buffet was happy, waving passengers as the theme from the Love Boat starts to play loudly.
We then realize that there is not one, but three cruise ships leaving out, one behind the other. Needless to say, coming into Port Everglades is an excellent drill in multi-tasking, navigation, and awareness. We make a point to never again enter at 4pm on a Sunday though, as we’ve since found out that this is the time when most of the cruise ships depart.
Good Place for Boat Stuff
Fort Lauderdale is a great place to get boat stuff. The West Marine flagship store is here, and it’s massive and fun to look around, although the service varies wildly from one end of the spectrum to the other. Some employees are fantastic, and others leave much to be desired. I went in there once for Butyl tape, and two different people had no idea what I was talking about, and the third man I spoke to had “heard of it” but didn’t think they made it anymore, so we went to the hardware store across the way and found plenty.
Or the other day we went in for something and a girl was tagging merchandise on a shelf while her phone sat on a tray loudly playing hip hop music, in complete contrast with the music over the speakers in the store, and never once moved so I could get the item on the shelf which she was blocking, and when I reached around her, never said, “Oh, excuse me” or “Can I help you?”. It was bad.
There are other great places to get boat stuff – the most famous being Sailorman, which is essentially a ship’s chandlery on steroids. You can get anything from bumpers to anchors to fishing stuff and everything in between. Need a bronze oval portlight that fits a 1964 Hatteras? You may want to check Sailorman. Sometimes they can be pricey, depending on the item, but we got over 200 feet of really good anchor rode there once for $175 and it was brand new.
There’s also no shortage of fabrication shops to make custom fit pieces (we had new chainplates constructed here) or contractors and skilled experts on all things boat to get the job done right, and surprisingly for a lot cheaper than we’ve found in places such as Annapolis. Once you learn the best places and people to hire for certain things, you can save a lot of money getting boat work done here.
Eating and Other Things To Do
Another great thing is the restaurants and things to do. Never a shortage here (although it’s bad for the budget). I’ve mentioned before that food eats up most of our budget, specifically dining out, which we only do on occasion – well, at least until our fridge crapped out on us (please let this part we ordered fix the problem… please don’t let it be the compressor), but we’ve found some really cool and affordable spots, like Sushi-One, a killer sushi joint. It’s pretty much a takeout-only place (they have 2 tiny tables inside), but the sushi is fresh and cheap. I can get a rainbow roll, a salmon roll, a tuna roll and a bowl of miso soup for just $14. Seriously.
I also can’t leave out two of our other favorites spots. The Downtowner Saloon, which sits right on the New River next to the Andrews Avenue bridge, a great place for boat watching, and The Field, an Irish pub/restaurant that is so so good. Comfort food and beer. Does it get any better?
We also have a secret Cuban bakery that we stumbled upon, and it is the real deal. Cuban run and I’d say at least 95% of their customers are Latino – we don’t know what half of the stuff in there is, but they are always willing to explain it to us. The best cafe con leche I’ve had anywhere, and guava-cheese pastalitas that are to-die-for. But… I share a lot on this blog, and while I may tell you how much money I make, I’m keeping this place a secret, but if you ever visit us, chances are we’ll be taking you here. It’s like a rite of passage.
There are also plenty of art galleries, movie theaters (our favorite is the historic Gateway Theater) and events in the park, as well as some great live music. There’s usually a free event going on somewhere, and if you’re anything like us, you could spend an entire day just dock-walking and have a blast.
The beaches in Fort Lauderdale are pretty spectacular. The water, always a stunning shade of blue, is almost always warm, the sand is nice and soft (but not too powdery), there are plenty of pretty people to look at, and there’s no shortage of thongs for you men out there. I mean thongs on ladies for you men to look at – not thongs for you men to wear.
My favorite spot is just north of Sunrise at a place I call Five Palms, where there are five palm trees that look as though they were just perfectly placed, and one of my favorite things to do is get up and watch the sun rise over the beach before walking the shore looking for cool shells or sea glass.
Well for starters, it’s expensive. I mean, there’s an obscene amount of money flowing through this place, with all of the yachties, tourists and spring breakers. Not to mention the people who live here. So for us sailors, who tend to be on the cheaper side of life… well, it ain’t cheap. At least not on the surface. But you can find really good deals on lots of things, so while you may pay more for dockage, for instance, you might save several hundred dollars on a boat repair, so you just hope it all evens out. In our case, since my honey had some well-paying work down here, it more than makes up for the extra expenses.
There are very few DIY boatyards in Fort Lauderdale, and the ones they do have are expensive. Word is, they price it high so that you don’t have people who take up their yard space for years “getting their boat ready” for cheap. I want to say the going rate for a boatyard here is around $50/day. There may be cheaper places, but even so, at that rate, you can bet I’d get my boat done as quickly as possible!
People just love their signs around here. Don’t do this! Don’t do that! Rules strictly enforced! I admit that I’m a rules girl, (although secretly I wanna be this guy), but some rules are there for a reason, and others are there because some people want something to be pissed off about.
For instance, I saw this sign while walking Jet yesterday morning, and I seriously laughed out loud. Not because it was so funny (although it is), but because the sign was stuck to a post in an empty lot. Don’t get me wrong. I pick up my dog’s poop, but the way the sign was written, you’d think some dog was shitting on this woman’s walkway or something. Nope! Just an empty lot off the alleyway.
Like I said before, the amount of money flowing through this town is obscene. I mean, there is a lot of materialism going on. Since we live on a sailboat and subscribe to the “less is more” theory, I just don’t understand it and it seems so wasteful. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all about some shoes and cute clothes, and there’s nothing wrong with having nice things, but when you drive down Las Olas and see the new $1.4 million dollar Ferrari alongside one of several Rolls Royce or Maserati, then it definitely puts things into perspective. I mean – can those cars take you to the Bahamas? Pfffft. I rest my case.
I gotta say, Fort Lauderdale has the worst drivers outside of Memphis. I think it’s because there are so many people from so many different places, so some drive slow while others drive fast, and the one thing they seem to have in common is that everybody drives pissed off. I mean come on, y’all! It’s 85 degrees – in the winter! What do you have to be pissed off about?
Well, actually I should say everybody is pissed off when driving except the French Canadians. They are just happy to take their sweet time and slow everyone down. Nothing against French Canadians, mind you – we have some Canuck friends, but if I get behind someone with a Quebec license plate, I know I’m going to be in for a long ride unless I can get around them.
There are a lot of interesting characters in Fort Lauderdale. This one takes the prize. Enjoy your day, folks.