One of the terms which a cruiser might note on Florida nautical charts is the term “Spoil Area”. After the episode which I will describe below, this term became a puzzle to me (Carleen). Logically it would seem to mean that it was a place to dump spoils – the ground dug up from somewhere and dumped there… say, from a dredging job. Dirt, or maybe sand I thought….not necessarily!
On Valentines Day, 2020, Jim and I had sailed from Manatee Pocket in Stuart originally intending to try for the Bahamas. But the forecast wasn’t ideal so we sailed south along the Florida coast under heavy gray skies in drizzling rain to Lake Worth Inlet. Our plan was to anchor off of the eastern side of the Blue Heron Bridge in Riviera Beach…next to Phil Foster Park…a place I had come to know well in my few weeks stay on Florida’s Atlantic coast in spring 2017. It was a great place to snorkel and I’d even brought my Mom there to try snorkeling. I loved that lively and vibrant park where kids ran around on the beach at low tide, all kinds of folks fished off of the piers , groups of newbie scuba divers schooled in the shallows and older folks sat in chairs and soaked up the sun.
I had seen boats at anchor off of the park in 2017 and reckoned that it would be a good place to stay the night in order to avoid the predicted northerly that was to blow in. Singer Island would give us some protection I figured. (I’ll put the chart below.). I read through some of the reviews of the anchorage which weren’t great but as we were only to stay the one night, it would be fine right?
Darkness was fast approaching as we made our way under the long span of the Blue Heron bridge and swung to starboard into the anchorage. The place looked the same but it seemed as though the number of near-derelict boats had increased. Sadly, the scourge of derelict boats at anchor is a pretty common problem in Florida. It infuriates me and saddens me at the same time. It infuriates me when folks just leave junk boats barely afloat or even half sunk when they’re not even using them – at all! It’s one thing if a rough-looking boat is maybe your only home, you go to work everyday and are trying to make ends meet, but I am referring to utterly abandoned boats that could become a danger to others. Shameful.
We made our way slowly through the anchored boats and found a spot with room for Thunderstruck to dance around on her 33lb Rocna Anchor. The anchorage is pretty shallow (0-1.8 metres or up to 6′ deep) and the water was murky and gray…no way to see the bottom (we don’t have a depth sounder) so we pulled the daggerboard up a little thus reducing our draft while still keeping it deep enough to protect the motor and the rudder. Jim dropped the Rocna and I backed down on it. We toasted a long day and watched a young couple on a heavy old monohull trying to anchor behind us. They were having some trouble finding a good hold but after several attempts, their anchor finally seemed to hold. The lights of Riviera Beach sparkled as the skies cleared and we prepared for a good night’s sleep.
At 2:00 am the anchor alarm went off!!! We scrambled out to the cockpit as we zoomed backward between two boats toward the concrete seawall of the park!! I noticed in a distant part of my brain that one of the boats we flew past was the young couple we’d watch try to anchor earlier! Jim got the motor started and I went forward to let out more anchor rode in case it could catch again. The north wind had come in with a vengeance and with the changing tide, the boats had all swung wildly.
We got the anchor to grab not far from shore but neither of us were comfortable there with that hard wall three hundred feet behind us. So Jim hauled the anchor up again and we headed north through the swinging boats to the other side of the anchorage and dropped anchor again. This time we were closer to the more protected windward shore with few other boats around us. Jim and I agreed that we both felt the anchor was in hard and that we were secure. We set the anchor alarms again and hit the sack aiming for an early start in a few hours.
The alarm to wake up went off in what seemed like seconds later. Darn. The sun was barely glowing in the eastern sky when Jim went forward to haul anchor. But it wouldn’t budge. We were in very hard or hooked on something. Here is where the “spoils” come into play. Jim had me motor forward as he tried to pull up the anchor again. When he finally got it to the surface after some very hard pulling and probably some swearing, he saw that we were hooked onto a piece of old rusty wire cable! This definitely wasn’t on the chart! He dropped the anchor very quickly and it freed itself from the cable. Thank goodness. With the dawn lighting the sky, we swung into Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, in anticipation of a long day of motoring under many bridges as we made our way south sheltered from the howling north wind.
So what were the lessons learned from this episode?
- “Spoil Area” on a chart might mean just that….a place full of whatever junk was dumped there!
- Had we actually anchored on junky spoils the first time when we had arrived? It’s hard to say as normally if the anchor doesn’t hold, you can feel it jumping or skipping. Maybe we had caught on an old concrete block? Who knows…
- Anchor alarms work but it’s good to set a small drag perimeter as we were just damn lucky to not have hit those two boats we flew past while dragging!
By the way, we love and normally trust our primary anchor, the Rocna as well as our secondary, the 22lb Bruce style anchor. We just need to learn not to anchor in dodgy places as well as to be extra vigilant about changing winds and tides.
Finally, maybe an additional anchor watch or two at night might help? Will we learn THAT particular lesson? You’ll just have to stay tuned….
Fair winds Friends!
PS. If you’re interested in a views of this area but from the south side of the Blue Heron Bridge and the Peanut Island/Lake Worth Inlet view, Click Here to watch a local webcam that pans along the ICW. You’ll see boats anchored to the left of Peanut Island in the shallows by the bridge and to the right in the big mooring field.
Note: in the chart below, you’ll see two little House symbols…these are the two spots we anchored after we dragged the first time. There is also a shot of a mostly sunk sailboat as well as a storm-damaged boat in the anchorage.