Taking a day at home was much needed after our LONG but gorgeous crossing. The adrenaline that surges through your veins to keep you alert and awake during the crossing quickly melts away upon arrival, leaving most of us with the “crossing hang-over.” I remember one boat arriving in Tarpon Springs and we caught lines for him as he came into his slip in Turtle Cove Marina. He staggered off the boat, hit the head and returned declaring, “I’m getting back on my boat and sleeping for the next 24 hours. Please advise everybody I am armed and that if they knock on my boat, I WILL shoot them!”
We don’t feel quite that bad but the rest is much appreciated. We get to see my mom and some of our friends and Jerry spends the one day here fixing some of the little odds and ends around the boat that don’t work or that are broken. We re-provision as we will try to keep costs down by anchoring out as much as possible. If the weather is fair, we should be able to do this most nights until we hit the Ft. Myers and the Okeechobee Waterway.
We had planned to leave in the afternoon of the 25th but were advised by a friend that the Pinellas County Commission was meeting this morning to pass a “Shelter in Place” edict and we want to get out of here before we can’t. Fuel prices are plummeting because of international nonsense and we take advantage of it by fueling up at our local place and pay $2.18/gallon which I have NEVER seen before. Unfortunately, our bow thrusters decided to die some time between leaving the marina and the fuel dock so that just adds a challenge to the maneuverability but Jerry will deal with it. Thanks for the help, BJ!!!
We travel down the ICW over familiar waters and under familiar bridges. We really like cruising this area because the waterway is so narrow you get to see all the homes and it is very interesting. It is also a great time of the year because all the Ospreys have amazing nests and the babies have hatched so it is easy to spot an adult along with between 1 and 3 chicks in all the nests that are on the day markers.
The water here is an amazing color and we are reminded of the colors of our beloved Keys, which are now closed to visitors due to the C-19 quarantine measures. We are joined on several occasions by dolphins but the last ones are the best. A pod of 4 or 5 of them comes racing to the boat and the ride the side wake. A couple are really big and there is one baby. The biggest one is literally spinning as he swims, turning 360 degrees as he moves along beside us. Unfortunately I didn’t get my video going in time to catch it. I have NEVER seen one do this before.
We finally tuck into our favorite anchorage right near the entrance to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. We are sheltered from all sides from the wind and are in deep water. We drop the anchor, set it and attach the Mantis bridle and then relax on the back deck for the first meal we have eaten today. It is nice to hole up in familiar territory. Jerry wants to get in the water with a dive mask to see if he can see what’s wrong with the thruster but I veto this because the current is running fast and I don’t think it is safe. We plan to anchor tomorrow around Casey Key and he can do it then. In the mean time we enjoy a lovely sunset and get some work attended to as the bridge lights illuminate and the stars begin to appear. After a rocky start with the thruster boycott, the day ends peacefully.
Daybreak finds us awake and ready to get under way. Crossing Tampa Bay can be bumpy under the best of conditions. Sunrise and sunset tend to kick up the first and last wind of the day and so we think that getting a jump on the sun may help us see less chop in the bay. Happily, we are right. We pull out west of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge just as the sun breaks the horizon and the bridge is a beautiful silhouette inked against the wash of rose and golden dawn. The crossing is windy but there are no freighters or cruise ships to deal with and we make it across the channel and to the other side of the Bay easily.
We come back into the ICW at Anna Maria Island which is probably one of the prettiest places in the world. Actually the entire trip today, excluding the man-made ditch between Sarasota and Venice is gorgeous. Once you get south of the Cortez Bridge, the water changes color, and could easily be mistaken for anywhere in the keys. It is breathtaking even if you have been through here a bunch of times, the colors just never get old!
The real estate along here is impressive also and the vast opulence causes me to reflect that I would much rather see stuff than have stuff, now if I could only find someone who wants the stuff I have! My kids don’t, that’s for sure! I have reached the age where divesting of things appeals to me more and more. Living on a boat for our Loop year reinforced the understanding of how little is needed to be truly happy; that value is to be had in the sights one sees and the people who move from the acquaintance column to the friend column.
Our day is long because most of the bridges need to open to accommodate Easy Wind’s air draft and a large majority of them are timed and so we have to hover and wait, sometimes 20-30 minutes for an opening, which can be tricky when the channel is narrow and the wind is whistling but we have no issues. It is sunny and cool and absolutely ideal traveling weather.
We tuck into a watery basin just off the ICW in Nokomis called Cape Haze and drop the anchor.
Tomorrow we will be in Ft. Myers and then will begin the cross-state trek to the east coast. The weather looks like it will be giving us a break, thankfully and so we are pushing ourselves a little bit and the boat not at all just so we have some fudge time if we get socked in somewhere by the weather. Easy Wind hums along happily at 17-18 rpm. It has been a really good trip so far and we feel that we have made excellent progress and are a little ahead of where we thought we would be, mostly because of the break we got for the crossing.
During the night the wind completely dies, leaving the boat and air super still. I have to get up to see what’s going on and am rewarded with lots of stars and the hooting back and forth across the basin of a pair of owls. The neighbors are all asleep and the peace is sublime. I go back to bed and the air has a hint of chill which makes it easy to get back to sleep.
We are pulling up the anchor around 6:45 and are underway with the chain, bridle and anchor rinsed off. The generator let us make some tea and coffee and we watch the world awaken as the sun makes its appearance. There is a hint of a breeze but it is much more calm than any other time we have navigated these waters. The Boca Grande pass is atypically calm and without its usual killer current and we pass Cayo Costa, glad that we hadn’t wanted to anchor there this time because there are more boats in the Pelican Bay anchorage than we have ever seen at one time.
We motor by Cabbage Key Inn, the home of Jimmy Buffet’s song, Cheeseburger in Paradise and continue into Gasparilla Bay. Again, the water is calmer than we have ever seen it. The last time we were through here, we were navigating north in a driving rain and cracking thunderstorm. We could barely see the bow of the boat and the storm tracker on our Iphone was completely red where we were. We were never hit by lightning but later realized that it must have come close enough to completely fry the motherboard in Jerry’s laptop. Thank goodness it isn’t like that today.
The sun is spilling gold all over the water when we become totally surrounded by a pod of dolphin. There must be 20 of them and they are everywhere. Some are riding the bow and others are riding the wakes on either side of the boat. There are 4 or 5 little guys with them and they leap and splash all around us. We are totally captivated and shoot lots of pictures in hopes that one or two will turn out. They stay with us for about 20 minutes and I can’t help but think that I would be hard pressed to think of a better way to start the day!
The cruise to Ft. Myers is very pretty and we travel a different way than we usually do. Typically we stay in a marina in Estero Beach because we love the restaurants and the feel to the area but the C-19 has all restaurants shut down now, so that they only offer carryout items. We are not traveling to the Keys on the west coast so there is no point in staying in Estero so we traverse a new waterway which brings us straight into the Caloosahatchee River, which will ultimately become the Okeechobee Canal. We’ve been to Ft. Myers by boat and the channel is amazingly skinny through here. I think because people are becoming stir crazy with the safe at home edicts, they all feel like it’s Saturday and there are flotillas of boats going both ways.
We pull into the Ft. Myers Municipal Yacht Basin and fuel up. We don’t need fuel but if things start to shut down further along, we want the farthest range we can get. So, we plan to fuel up wherever it is easily available and the lower prices make it much more palatable also. We get our first pump out as well and tie up for the night, taking a much needed walk to stretch our legs and to grab a couple of tomatoes and some milk at the nearby Publix.
We are walking through another ghost town. I think the sign companies are the only ones doing lots of business because every restaurant and bar seems to be sporting a new carry-out-available sign. We opt to limit the amount of time we spend in public and choose to eat aboard, enjoying the late afternoon sunshine and giving thanks for being warm again finally! The sun sets behind one of the bridges and lights wink on across it. Another day is in the books.
The day dawns chilly and clear though the weather report warns of possible patchy fog and later a scorcher of a temperature at 93 degrees.
As the sun rises, the wind picks up and though we do see some fog under one of the bridges, it is lying at surface level and looks like the fog that fog machines used to spill across concert stages in the old days.
We are joined by a couple of boats and the other power boat and Easy Wind gently but firmly out-distance the sail boat to make it to the first opening of the Franklin Lock.
Even if you miss an opening and have to wait, this isn’t a big deal here as the raise is only about a foot. Thinking back to some of the ones in Canada that raised us 65 feet and more made it a bit more imperative to make any available opening. Otherwise you would have to wait hours for the lock to fill and then drain again or vice versa. In comparison, this is a piece of cake!
The canal is prettier than I remember and we pass houses that represent old and new Florida along the banks. These alternate with acres of scrub and wide-open cattle pasture land that brings to mind the Florida rendered so perfectly by Christopher Still.
The sun is fierce and it is windy but it is also finally warm enough to drive from our upper helm. We like the perspective from the top and we are even able to catch sight of manatees in time to avoid them. The reports say that the C-19 virus hates sunshine and well-ventilated spaces, so again we feel blessed to be sheltering safely where we are!
The second lock raises us 8 feet and the third, at Moore Haven, just a foot and now this ditch is more like I remember it. Miles and miles of nothing followed by field of sugar cane as far as the eye can see. We have been traveling with a 65’ Canadian boat, since this morning, called Lady Caradot.
They out-distance us as we travel at a more sedate pace but each lock has them waiting for us and while they could have ditched us on the third lock because we were pretty far back, they were kind and advised the lock master that we were back here and they all waited for us patiently.
There is a fire in the distance. The acrid smoke assaults our noses and when the wind shifts, it is snowing ash all around us. Yuck! The wind is a constant 17 mph, gusting 26 and that will compromise Plan A for today. We had planned on tying off on the Clewiston dolphins for the night before crossing Lake Okeechobee but we cannot take the chance of the wind catching our stern and putting us on the rocks (which are very close to the dolphins).
So, we will tuck into Roland Martin’s marina in Clewiston. We got fuel here on our last trip across so we are pretty familiar with the waters.
Sam, the grizzled old dock-,master who has been here for at least the last 10 years, greets us and quickly sandwiches us in between Lady Caradot and a 58 footer on the dock so if we want to try to leave early, it will be tricky!
We scrub Easy Wind rather than just rinsing her down, which is our custom when we reach a marina. There is ash everywhere on the deck but we are able to get her shiny and clean and pretty soon the AC is running and all is right with the world.
This is a fun marina under normal circumstances, with a grill and a tiki bar but all of that is shut down tight. Given the fact that we are docked right below the tiki bar, we are kind of glad it is shuttered and quiet. With what is going on in the world right now, we are happy that we provisioned the boat well and choose to eat on board where we know who has prepared our food! The crew on the yacht behind us is grilling burgers and swilling beer and a Limpkin stands on the canal bank hollering for his mate.
We learn that Lady Caradot will be cruising to the same spot we have pegged as a maybe stopping spot for tomorrow night, so we’ll see when they depart. They were out early today so maybe they will be out early tomorrow too. The trick is that you have to back out of here, along the line of boats on the T-head in a very narrow and shallow canal and then do a 180 in a little basin before exiting out through a lock that is pretty much always open and then tip toe out into the Lake. Should be interesting.
Well, we wait and wait but don’t see life aboard either of the boats that has us sandwiched in. We formulate our plan to swing the stern out, pivoting on a ball fender and get under way. Not having working bow thrusters on a single screw boat is a bit of a challenge, especially in a narrow, shallow and rock-lined canal, but Jerry is a very good captain. My job is to deal with the fenders and lines and stay quiet while he concentrates on extracting us. The departure is a success and Jerry makes it look easy, although I know it isn’t. Even though the boat was clean last night, I guess ash continued to fall and the decks are now dotted with more of it. I rinse her down again with river water and she looks better.
Sam reinforced our impressions from the last time we came through here, which means staying in the middle of channel until you are almost all the way across the rim route at the bottom of the lake at marker 7. There is no water if you stray even a little bit from the channel.
We scare a gator or two on the way out into the lake and it really looks as if you should be aground in the marsh grass that borders the narrow channel. Along the edges of the Lake, great columns of smoke are billowing skyward and the charry scent reaches us even way out n the water. We come up with the idea that they may be burning the fallow cane fields in order to prepare to plant the next crop. Otherwise, we have no idea why there would be 3 fires big enough to be detected from this far away.
After a while, we make it past marker 7 and turn north in deep enough water to relax a bit and sure enough we can now see the other two big boats finally underway behind us! We are almost across the lake when Lady Caradot laps us, burning lots of dinosaurs in the process.
The Myakka Lock is open and the lockmaster gives both of us permission to pass through the chamber. YAY!!! We pass through the lock and the old railroad bridge, which is also open (I think it always is) and enter another man-made ditch. There is an almost fluorescent green covering the water on the shores of the canals. What the heck!?!?! Fertilizer run-off? Frightening!
There are gators on the banks (one of the reasons Jerry hasn’t gone under the boat to look at the thrusters!).
Lady Caradot turns into River Forest but it is too early for us to stop. So we decide to continue to the Stuart area. It is an uneventful trip and we make it to the St Lucie Lock, which will thankfully be our last lock until we get to Virginia.
Finally, Observer has caught up with us and we both enter the lock and wait to be dropped 12 feet. I love the sign on the wall!
I guess it’s there in case you weren’t sure of which way you were supposed to go? We exit the lock and the wind, which has been building since we crossed the lake is now strong and gusting to 24 mph.
Entering Stuart is like coming into another world. There are the obligatory huge south Florida mansions with mega-yachts docked out front but the sheer number of boats on the water is staggering. There are mooring fields that must have hundreds of boats on mooring balls and hundreds more at the docks along the shore.
We have to navigate 3 bridges, all of which are very close to one another, very narrow and we need to open one of them. Boats are racing from all around us to get in line to go through once Roosevelt Bridge opens and then it’s a free-for-all! The water is choppy, the wind is literally whistling and things get VERY interesting for a couple of minutes as we rock and roll our way through, following Observer and holding a dozen smaller boats off that want to come the opposite direction.
The St. Lucie River is busy and rough and we are getting tired. Experience says that when the captains get tired, it is better to find a spot for the night than to get into trouble. We have 4 or 5 anchorages pegged as possibilities, some that are great shelter from the wind and others, described as great holding. The problem with anchorages on Aqua Maps is that you never know how many boats may be sharing the space and whether there will even be room for you once you get there. We opt for Hoggs Cove anchorage because it is large and there are a few VERY big boats in the anchorage. It isn’t crowded, there is plenty of swing room and while it will be exposed to the wind, the forecast calls for the winds to diminish as evening falls.
We set the hook, attach the bridle and stop and restart the IPad. We have learned that leaving the IPad on for a while is the best way to ensure that the boat is not moving. We sit and watch, bobbing up and down and listening to the wind whistle by us. We are firmly in and after a bit the wind thankfully does start to die down a bit and we shut off the IPad.
We have some nice neighbors anchored nearby. When we anchor out, we prefer to come in and stake our space early rather than picking our way through a minefield of anchored boats later in the day. This strategy works well and we watch as boats come in, nose around and drop their hooks only to pull them up, re-situate and try again. Finally, everyone seems settled in and we enjoy the sunset.
A walk-about near midnight assures me that we are still holding well and the stars are pinprick bright. We finally have about a quarter moon and Venus joins it in throwing sparkling reflections upon the water. Beautiful.
The morning dawns clear and doesn’t hold the chill that it has for the last 2 weeks. Everything is damp, which is not unusual but it will all dry out once the sun shows its face. There are no signs of life from any of our neighbors as we slip anchor, rinse off copious amounts of mud from it (no wonder it was such a strong hold) and get under way.
The water is calm for a minute but then a thousand fishermen have the bright idea that the best way to socially distance is to get their boats up and out the pass as early as possible and we are blinded by the rising sun and rocked and rolled by buzzing boats all around us until we get to the inlet and turn north while they all continue east. The sun is out of our eyes, thankfully and we are now in the ICW and headed north.
After a while the water turns from tea-stained brown to azure against white sandy bottoms and pods of dolphin bring their babies to play with us.
Again we have some of the big ones riding the bow wave (this one blows a rainbow for us!) and some of the smaller adults and babies ride the mid-ship wakes on each side of the boat. They are learning to roll sideways to make eye contact and some of them even spin completely around like little torpedoes. We take turns driving and talking to the dolphins because…who can resist them?!?!
Later, we see a huge ray leap free of the water, shiver a little and dive back in and a good-sized sea turtle comes up for air and then darts away as it catches sight of us.
We tuck into the Melbourne North anchorage which is just behind the bridge and causeway. This should shelter us from the SE wind a little bit anyway. The forecast looks ugly for the next couple of days with a cold front marching down on us, pushing high winds ahead of it. We love the Windy app, which allows us to see what’s going on in any area that might affect us and its projections are correct.
The night is rough, the shelter from the causeway illusive and my captain spends the night on the couch keeping watch until a few hours before dawn when it calms down a little bit and I make him go to bed and sleep for a few hours.
The forecast hasn’t changed since last night. We confirmed with the owners that we would keep going as long as it was physically safe to do so and they were good with this plan, deferring their previous intention to join us in Charleston, SC since traveling with the C-19 stuff going on has become a bit problematic.
We advised them that the winds were forecast to be constant 20 mph+ with gusts to 45 by nightfall and that we felt the safest course of action would be to marina the boat for the night. They were in agreement. So, we take advantage of the relative morning calm (10-15 mph) to bring Easy Wind into the Telemar Bay Marina in Melbourne.
We came in here for fuel when we were on our Loop and were surrounded by kayakers, water bikers and lots of other weekend sporting fans. This time we see only one water-biker. The safer-at-home edict is definitely affecting how people live their lives.
We fuel up and spend the next couple of hours scouring the boat. Anchoring out is less expensive but the mud that sometimes comes up on the anchor and chain makes it impossible to keep the decks clean, even when you do your best to rinse the rode as it comes in, which we always do. If carpets or entry mats haven’t been cleaned in a while, it makes it to where we track dirty footprints onto spotless, dewy decks too which is frustrating.
I bought a squeegee and have been able to keep the front windows clean but all the side windows were crusted with salt and who-knows-what-else and it felt good to get them cleaner. I still want to take some CLR to all the windows to remove the scale build up but the wind is kicking up and that will wait till next time. At least we can now see through them.
We spend the rest of the day listening to the wind start to whistle and snap the flags around us. We make sure our water tanks are full, catch up on work, accounting, bill paying and all the other essentials of life that get down graded in importance when we are continuously under way. An Osprey clings to his nest, feathers blowing and seems perturbed by the mounting winds, as he cries to his mate. The Osprey hatching on the east coast looks to be a week or so behind the west coast as most birds are actively sitting on eggs rather than feeding hatchlings here.
We make an obligatory run to Publix to provision for our run to the boarder since we plan on not stopping at marinas again until somewhere in Georgia, if the weather cooperates. We run into Captain Crusty and his “Admiral” Dorothy who are aboard Magic and are staying here. We came down the river system with them when we were Looping and we all had Thanksgiving dinner together at Turner’s in Mobile. We tried to rendez-vous with Moondance’s Bob and Nancy but we ended up anchoring out and so missed seeing them. We must adhere to commandment #1 when on a boat: “Thou shalt have no schedule” even if it means missing catching up with friends.
Easy Wind is clean and happy and so Week 2 is in the books or should I say, Captain’s Log?!!