The sight of abundant hotels and a developed coast line greeted us at the Fort Pierce inlet into FL. It was hauntingly familiar yet staggering to see so many tall buildings after… not for so long.
After our overnight motor/sail of 120 nm we continued further up to Vero Beach. Situated behind a fun bar & restaurant and close enough to dinghy to the other bank and walk to a nearby Publix Supermarket. For everyone not from the South, Publix is a phenomenal grocery store; affordable, fresh, and a ridiculous volume of variety. Really liked our welcome back to the US so far.
We timed our trip with an upcoming Atlas V rocket launch from Cape Canaveral. We did our research on different places to anchor and chose to stay on the “outside” in the Indian River, just north of the NASA Causeway. We could have taken the canal to a closer anchorage but decided it wasn’t worth the trip for us and our draft.
Like all great sailors do, we made a plan and it was flawless. We were going to dinghy up to land, lock the dinghy, then walk or hitchhike to the Kennedy Space Center to watch the rocket launch. Fast forward 30 minutes after we left the boat…. So, we were in the back of cop car when we learned our plan was flawed….
The causeway is a high speed 4 lane road with a grassy median and sides. We dinghy-ed slowly up to the causeway looking for a place to keep the dinghy for the day. Eventually there was a tree close enough to the water to lock the dinghy. And there we were, on the grassy side of the causeway. We were on the causeway for about 30 seconds when a cop car stopped right in front of us. He strolled out of the car and questioned what we were doing and nodded his head knowingly. He had been watching us for a while. He then patiently explained we were trespassing onto Federal property and couldn’t land our tender here. As we continued to explain we were going to be on our way and walk or hitchhike to see the rocket launch, he stopped us and said it’s also illegal to walk along the causeway (for safety reasons). Great, we’ve been in the US for 24 hours and we’ve already broken 2 laws. The launch was in 45 minutes and our hopes of getting to the Kennedy Space Center was looking further and further away from fruition. We must have looked innocent and desperate enough in our neediness he turned a blind eye and showed us some downright good Southern compassion. He radio-ed his ranking officer and informed him of our dinghy and location, once he received acknowledgment and approval of our unlawful arrival, he nodded. He let us know what we were doing was not okay and then gave us a ride to the Kennedy Space Center. Yeah, this is where we all say ‘aww, what a sweetheart/nice guy’. I was never a rebel in my high school days and not rowdy enough in my college years to earn a space in the back of a cop car. As we sat in the hard plastic seats with cramped leg room and no door handle to let ourselves out of this mini prison, Mike and I both smiled….. this was both of our first time in the back of a cop car…. AND we were en route to see a ROCKET LAUNCH!!! – how sweet.
The Space Center greeted us with the feel of a nerdy adult version of Disney Land that also happened to be kid friendly… We had time to spare and walked along the ‘rocket garden’… as you might imagine it’s a bunch of rockets with all sorts of great information. There’s even a F-1 liquid fuel engine on display, which I found to appreciate far more than I expected. After reading about diesel engines and looking over Mike’s shoulder on our own Beta, I have a decent understanding of how these beasts operate. I thought it was pretty cool how similar it was to a rocket engine…. a super powerful rocket engine at that.
As the countdown crept closer, we made our way to a comfortable grassy patch. We had an idea of where the rocket would blast up into the sky and in our moments of waiting…. Mike decided to watch the countdown on TV from his iphone. I looked over his shoulder as the video announced the preparation to the ‘official’ countdown. I looked up just as everyone around us gasped. The rocket launched! There was a rocket hurdling through the air. The video had a 30 second delay. Mike looked up as I ‘awww-ed’ along with the crowd. ‘Damn video delays’ he muttered. I would have laughed more at the irony of Mike’s almost-missed launch but the sound of the blast captured my senses and my eyes were glued to this massive aeronautical feat of human ingenuity. I think my heart may have skipped a beat as my senses dulled and a complete sense of aww struck a cord that left a dumb-founded smile on my face. I felt an overwhelming sense of pride mixed with inspired curiosity as we all watched the rocket arch into the heavens, disappearing into a mere dot within seconds. I’ll admit it, I got a bit teary-eyed, I was moved. I looked around at all the parents with kids now skipping at their heels announcing to anyone & everyone that they had just seen a rocket launch. I looked at Mike and could tell we both felt the same as all the kids -invincible.
So we had our space-dog, our space ice-cream and had our fill of inspired and overly energetic background music, we were ready to head home… We ended up asking strangers for rides and it worked out really well. A couple gave us a ride to our dinghy and it turns out they’re both sailors. We jumped out quickly and launched the dinghy as soon as humanly possible and before you knew it we were kicking back on the boat again.