Winter Sunshine: Fairhope, AL to Miami, FL / November 13, 2002-February 23, 2003
November 13, 2002 / Eastern Shore Marine, Fairhope, AL to Bear Point Marina, Orange Beach, AL
Impatient to be on our way again, we were ready to go at 0645. The Bay was choppy, but not as choppy-looking as it had been for the previous three days. We headed south toward the Intracoastal Waterway, rolling as the waves hit us from the side. Once past Point Clear, however, the height of the waves lessened, and our change of course to the southeast made the going much easier. We were in Bon Secour Bay by 0900 and into the ICW by 0937. Several other boats left Eastern Shore soon after we did, and we communicated with one another on the VHF radio, passing on news about the channel depths and oncoming tows.
Our destination, Bear Point Marina (telephone (251) 981-2327), is just off the ICW at Orange Beach, Alabama. It was a 41.5 mile cruise from Fairhope, and we pulled in around noon. To our pleasant surprise, our pier-side neighbors were some nice folks we had met up at Kentucky Dam Marina, Jerry and Don Lang. This is a small and very friendly marina, with an outstanding and popular restaurant, the Back Porch. Our weekly dockage rate (for a 40-foot boat) was $100 for slip, electricity, and cable, so we decided to stay here until it's time to move on to Pensacola. The Bear Point neighborhood is residential, with a mix of housing from fancy beach houses to concrete-block bungalows to modest mobile homes--a safe, comfortable place for walking a dog. Maggie rates Bear Point with two squirrels--the tidal range makes it hard to get off the boat at times and there are few squirrels around, probably because there are so many cats. Still, she enjoyed looking for cats instead.
We rented a car from Enterprise and have been enjoying ourselves at local restaurants (e.g., the breakfast buffet at Hazel's Nook in Gulf Shores--don't miss the biscuits), the outlet mall in Foley, checking out the other marinas in the area, looking at boats, and talking to boaters. One of those boaters is Captain Jim Freeman, on Odyssey, who spent several years in Little Rock, some at Canal Pointe, and who now lives here. He occasionally performs weddings on his Hatteras, taking the wedding party to quiet and beautiful anchorages for the ceremony. Us he took to Pirate's Cove, a marina whose restaurant features a locally famous hamburger, rumored by some to be the inspiration for Jimmy Buffett's Cheeseburger in Paradise.
Point of detail for those intending to cruise "L.A." (Lower Alabama). Some of the cruise guides and many advertisements still give the old area code for phone numbers--334. You won't get through. Use 251 instead.
November 25, 2002 / Bear Point Marina, Orange Beach, AL to Palafox Pier Yacht Harbor, Pensacola, FL
Feeling almost like we were leaving home, we finally pulled out of Bear Point after almost two weeks of "residence." Skies were blue, the water smooth, and no tows in sight as we threaded through the narrow channel north of Ono Island (we did meet two westbound tows later on in Big Lagoon, but there was plenty of room for us all). The run to Pensacola was short, only 19.5 statute miles, so we took it slow, arriving at Palafox Pier Yacht Harbor at 1300.
Dockmaster Glenn directed us to tie up along the inside of the sea wall, a very protected spot whose additional advantage was a great view of the sunsets. Palafox (telephone (850) 432-9620) is a fairly new facility, with state-of-the-art floating concrete docks, cable TV, showers, laundry, and each weekday morning, a newspaper delivered to your boat. The weekly rate worked out to be a little less than a dollar a foot. There are some nice parks with huge old liveoak trees and prodigious colonies of squirrels, so Maggie gives Palafox a wagging four-squirrel rating. In addition to being right downtown in Pensacola, near many good restaurants and Trader Jon's bar (famous for being the hangout of the Blue Angels and other military pilot types), Palafox is within walking distance of a must-visit landmark, Joe Patti's Seafood. The shrimpers and fishing boats tie up at the docks behind the building. Fresh seafood is unloaded, cleaned, shelled, de-headed, dissected, whatever, and then this freshest of the fresh stuff is moved a few more feet to the customer counters. Take a number, and when it's called, tell 'em what you want and how much. We bought lump crabmeat for crab cakes and Royal Red shrimp for steaming--pretty good eating!
At Palafox we met up again with George and Stacey Sass, on Sawdust, whom we last saw at Pickwick Landing, with Frank and Barb Wiegand on Sea Venture, fellow Loopers we met in Fairhope, and finally got to meet Ray and Camille Lesoine, on We 3, with whom we've traded e-mail correspondence. We have great admiration for the Sass and Lesoine families, whose young school-age sons are spending a most educational year cruising the Loop.
We particularly enjoyed our time in Pensacola because Jon and Katarzyna flew down from Chicago to spend Thanksgiving weekend with us. They made out like bandits--the airline gave them three different sets of vouchers for agreeing to be bumped from overbooked flights, for a total of $1900. Maybe they will use some of that to fly to see us again!
December 2, 2002 / Pensacola, FL to Baytowne Marina, Sandestin, FL
The weather was beautiful for today's run to Sandestin. After taking Jon and Kat to the airport and returning our rental car, we pulled out of Palafox at 0917. The water was a little choppy in Pensacola Bay and Santa Rosa Sound, but it was marvelously smooth by the time we left Ft. Walton Beach and started into Choctawhatchee Bay. Here on the far east edge of the Central Time Zone it gets dark early, so we were glad to arrive at Baytowne Marina by 1615. Baytowne is part of the huge Sandestin resort complex, and marina guests are entitled to the same privileges as all other guests. The marina is a short boardwalk away from Sandestin's Disneyesque re-creation of a fishing village, "The Village of Baytowne Wharf." The quaint alleys, the old-fashioned streetlights, the Christmas decorations on the stylized boutiques, bars, and cafes reminded Coleen of Vail, Colorado--minus the snow, although the temperatures seemed similar (what the heck are these 35-44 degree lows doing in Florida??). Instead of snow huts, they had a bamboo tree house. The dockage price was reminiscent of Vail, too--$70+/night for our forty feet. But we had a nice slip, cable TV, easy access to a laundromat, a safe place to walk Maggie, and had we the time and inclination, we could have enjoyed the Health Club, the tennis courts, the golf courses, and fine shopping. If you're looking for an all-in-one vacation spot, it would be hard to beat (for marina reservations, call direct to the dockmaster, Captain Ron--(850) 428-1016). Mags gives it two squirrels.
December 3, 2002 / Sandestin, FL to Panama City, FL
A pretty day for cruising--cold, but sunny and calm. Much of the ICW between Sandestin and Panama City is ditch, but fortunately, we met no westbound tows. The highlight of the day came as we exited the ditch and entered West Bay. A dozen dolphins were playing in the shallow waters. They have apparently discovered it is great fun to buzz the powerboats and then bodysurf in their wakes. We'd see three or four dolphins break the surface and then head for our bow. Just as they reached the bow, they'd pull off to the right or the left, and then turn and jump, maneuvering into our wake, their dorsal fins riding the crest of the waves. Coleen tried to take pictures, but they were too fast for her. We did get one shot of a dolphin on the wake--check out the Leg 7 photos.
We pulled into Panama City Marina ((850) 872-7272) at 1500, where we re-fueled (nice to get gas for $1.649/gallon) and tied up next to Sea Venture and across from We 3 and Aisling. The pier is fixed and the pilings at this marina are concrete rectangles, and by the time we put fenders to protect us from all the potential scrapers, we were so far out from the pier that it was quite difficult to get on and off the boat, even at high tide. We must also mention that when the wind is blowing from the east, as it was on our visit, the paper mill fumes are quite noxious. On the plus side, you're close to downtown and within walking distance of a number of restaurants. Lots of "no dogs on grass" signs and the access problems induce Maggie to allocate only one squirrel to Panama City Marina.
Barb and Frank introduced us to Jim Walen and Lee McEniry, who were piloting an automobile instead of their cruiser Mary Mac, and we all had a good time at the Hawk's Nest, a short walk from the marina. Jim and Lee are "retarded lawyers" (a condition to which Coleen one day aspires) who enjoy the cruising life and don't much miss their former law practices. They gave us a lot of good advice for cruising both the west and east coasts of Florida, encouraging us to break up our crossing into smaller segments.
The debate on crossing the Gulf hinges on several factors--mostly the weather, but also on the speed and range of the vessel, its draft, and the desire of its owners to see or skip the small shallow-water harbors that rim the Big Bend Route. With a good weather window, a go-fast boat may opt to cross directly from Apalachicola or Carrabelle to Clearwater, a run of 170-180 miles. Those who wish to (or must) travel slower may prefer the Big Bend, but there the hazard is shallow water and narrow channels, which mean you risk running aground. The news passed back from other Loopers ahead of us has been mixed--some hit rough seas going straight across, but made it okay; others had no problems with the Big Bend route; still others did indeed run aground. We change our minds daily about what we're going to do. We dread making the wrong decision.
December 4, 2002 / Panama City, FL to Deep Water Marina, Apalachicola, FL
More ditch driving in store for us today. We had another good day for cruising, if you don't mind noise. Air Force jets and other aircraft criss-crossed the skies over St. Andrew Bay. Even Maggie flattened her ears to keep out some of the roar. Today we did meet some tows in the ditch, but the captains were courteous and there was plenty of room to pass. Less courteous was a big sportfisherman who retorted to another boater's complaint that claims he waked others "was a damn lie." Yeah, he rocked us too as he passed, but we decided to stay out of the argument.
The ditch empties into Lake Wimmico, where the channel markers also have signs cautioning boats to watch for manatees. We watched, but don't know how you'd see one--the waters aren't clear and manatees don't jump. We took it slow and were relieved to see no carcasses in our wake. The lake drains into the Jackson River, which flows into the Apalachicola River, which empties into the Gulf. We headed for Deep Water Marina, a small but very pleasant operation run by Dick and Nancy Clifton (telephone (850) 653-8801). Maggie liked the marina, the marina dogs, and the town, as you will read more about below. She gives three squirrels to Deep Water Marina.
Apalachicola is a true fishing village, with some signs of encroaching touristdom. Shrimpboats and seafood distribution companies line the waterfront, while kitchen accessory stores and art galleries populate the restored brick and wood warehouses. Although it's just a short walk from Deep Water Marina to the heart of town (a flashing red light, the only thing that'll slow you down if you pass through by car), we got the bicycles down to facilitate our explorations. Good thing we did, as Maggie took advantage of being off leash with the marina dogs to take her own personal three-hour tour of Apalachicola. We pedaled up one block and down the next, splitting up to better cover the territory and checking with one another using our little personal radios (hey, these things are also great to use when you split up in a SuperWal-Mart). Gary finally spotted her, but being the hard-headed bitch that she is, Maggie ran the other way every time he got close. He radioed her position to Coleen, who closed in from a different direction and found her in a bank parking lot. She called; Maggie came.
We were relieved to find her unhurt, though dirty; she must have found something rotten to eat, as she exhibited every form of gastrointestinal distress for the next two days. A cold front passing through means we will stay in Apalachicola for a couple of days before we head east across the Gulf, and this will also give Maggie some time to recover.
We met up with Butch and Lynne on Aisling, who were staying at the municipal docks, as were Chuck and Jayne Miller, on Cea Jay. The trawler owners were considering a run to Dog Island, outside Carrabelle, where they'd anchor before attempting an overnight run to Steinhatchee or Crystal River. Like us, they were closely watching the weather.
December 7, 2002 / Apalachicola, FL to Steinhatchee, FL
Alternating between The Weather Channel and NOAA weather broadcasts, we also consulted with Dick Clifton, the marina owner, and all agreed that our best shot at crossing was to leave today and head for Steinhatchee, a run of 89 nautical miles. To get there in daylight, we'd have to put the boat up on plane. We figured we would have plenty of gas to go fast for a few hours and then drop the rpms back down once we got closer to our destination. Light fog blanketed the river as we made our way out the channel into St. George Sound. Even with the fog, we could see bright blue skies above and the sun bravely trying to burn it all off. The Sound was a little choppy, but we made it to the East Pass in a couple of hours, and then, we headed for open water.
NOAA forecast seas of two to three feet offshore. Everyone tells us that NOAA lies, but we were optimistic that NOAA was more accurate today. Everyone was right. By 1000, we were battering some five and six foot waves, or should we say, they were battering us. Spray came completely over the top of the boat, finding every little crevice in the canvas and vinyl enclosures to shoot salt water through. Maggie did her best to crawl completely under Coleen, who gladly surrendered all driving duties to Gary, as he was much more successful at staving off seasickness if he stayed at the wheel. NOAA had also forecast improving conditions for later in the day, and in this instance, NOAA told the truth. About 1300 the wave heights went down a little, and as we got closer to the west coast of Florida, they improved even more. We could tell that Maggie was relaxing, not holding her tail so close to her backside; she started farting.
We cruised into Steinhatchee, aromatic dog and all, at 1520, arriving during high tide at the Gulfstream Motel and Marina, a new operation recommended to us by the owners of Deep Water. In the late afternoon sun, the Poet glittered with her thick crust of salt. We filled her with gas, washed her down, walked the pooch, and took some painkillers. We watched Georgia pummel the Razorbacks for the SEC championship; we figure those boys will be needing some painkillers, too. Whoo pig, sooie; we'll get 'em next year. Maggie found no squirrels here, but otherwise liked the area--two squirrels awarded .
To those wondering what they'll do when it comes time to cross the Gulf, we can't say that it's necessarily any better to go at one shot than to break it up. Watch the weather, including the winds, very closely and be sure you have a forecast of at least two days of good weather and calm (or close to calm) seas. Have two or three different plans for altering your route should conditions or your comfort levels change. If you elect to go to any of the Big Bend ports, check your tide tables closely and try to come up the rivers when the tide is rising well. One of the boats who left Apalachicola when we did, Y Knott, bent a prop coming out of Horseshoe Bayou. The so-called Big Bend markers that the guidebooks talk about are largely fantasy. Still use the latitudes and longitudes the guidebooks describe to set your waypoints. As you get into shallower, and therefore calmer, waters, you'll have another hazard to watch out for--lines of crab pots, some bright-colored, many drab, some just as white as the crests of waves. Keep a sharp, sharp lookout, and don't cruise the shallower waters in the dark.
December 8, 2002 / Steinhatchee, FL to The Landing at Tarpon Springs, FL
We left Steinhatchee at 0725. Yeah, that sounds late, but we've been in the Eastern Time Zone since Apalachicola, and it pretty much coincides with sunrise. We and the fishing boats worked our way out the river channel, and we followed our charted Big Bend course to the south. Full fuel tanks meant we could throttle up again, and as Tarpon Springs lay 108 nautical miles to our south, we needed the speed to get there before dark.
The seas were calmer than the day before, but running between 15 and 17 knots, we still pounded on the occasional tall wave. A little before noon, while we were well offshore, our starboard engine started acting up, losing speed as the tachometer went down and back up. Gary diagnosed the problem as a fouled fuel filter. We killed the engine and he crawled into the engine compartment to replace the filter. Remember that Gary likes to stay at the wheel when we're bouncing on the waves. He was rather green when he came back up on the bridge, but he recovered after a little while and kept us on a steady course, swerving around the crab pots, but going in the right general direction.
We arrived at The Landing at Tarpon Springs at 1605, tying up in front of Moon God, the big Cheoy Lee trawler owned by our friends Merle and Sue Ellen Seamon, who used to live in Little Rock and now live here. In fact, they own the marina. They have done a wonderful job with this place. It has very nice docks, a fun restaurant with outdoor patio and live music, lots of bright colors, a wonderful laundry/lounge for boaters' use. They've dredged out two-thirds of the harbor and set two very conspicuous red pipes into the river as channel markers. They're presently selling gasoline and will soon be able to sell diesel as well, which will be welcome news to boaters in Tarpon Springs, as fuel options are presently quite limited. We don't know what the marina was like before they bought it, but it sure is a nice place now, and it will be a great place to wait out the next few days of rain and otherwise foul weather that is forecast. Maggie was glad to meet her old friend Max and new friend Ruby. Good smells in the parking field across from the marina; she has a little trouble getting off the boat, unless the tide is high (and then she sneaks off), but she figures this marina is worth a very nice three squirrels. Call Mike at (727) 937-1100 to reserve a slip.
On our way, we passed our fellow Loopers Harry and Karen on Chinook, who are also headed to Tarpon. Other than catching a couple of crab pots (no damage done), they are doing fine. We're going to try to rendezvous for some good Greek cuisine once we all get settled, and we hope to hear good news from our other friends who are headed to the west coast of Florida, hoping that all arrive safely. We have a good phone signal here, and there's a phone line for e-mail and Internet in the lounge, so we'll be contented and easy to reach.
December 11, 2002 / Tarpon Springs, FL to Madeira Beach, FL
The weather has improved, but not for long, so we decided to head a bit further south. We left Tarpon at 0820, choosing to run outside the barrier islands instead of negotiating the very narrow channel that constitutes the Intracoastal Waterway north of St. Petersburg. The skies were mostly blue, the water a little choppy, but nothing too uncomfortable, apart from dodging scores of crab traps. It's enough to make a person prefer to eat shrimp . . .
We re-entered the ICW at John's Pass and headed north to the Madeira Beach Municipal Marina. The city has only recently gone back to managing the marina, and the dockmaster was rather apologetic about the condition of the facilities. Unlike some of the marinas in the area, this marina enjoys the advantage of being just off the ICW, yet in a small and mostly protected bay. Considering that they charged $1.25/foot for dockage, we'd like more than just a narrow slip beside the gas dock and electricity for the night. There was a lot of traffic on the street outside the marina, and we kept Maggie on a short leash as we looked for patches of grass along the sidewalk. Maggie grudgingly allocates one squirrel to Madeira Beach Marina in the dog-worthiness category.
December 12, 2002 / Madeira Beach, FL to Twin Dolphin Marina, Bradenton, FL
Clouds are increasing and a front's approaching--all the more reason to get up early and get out of Madeira Beach while we can. We left at 0732, electing to run the ICW down to the mouth of the Manatee River. As we motored past the west side of St. Petersburg, we marveled at all the canals, large homes, and condominiums. In this part of the world, boaters contend with bridges instead of locks. The cruise guides (we're using both the Southern Waterway Guide (2002 ed.) and the Maptech Embassy Guide, Florida's West Coast (1998)) provide information about bridge heights and opening schedules, advising boaters to call the tenders on Channel 9 or 13. We called the Treasure Island Causeway Bridge (whose vertical clearance is only 8 feet), advising the tender we wanted to pass at the next scheduled opening. Fortunately, this bridge opens every 15 minutes during the daylight hours; we didn't have much of a wait. Our next two bridges, Corey Causeway and Pinellas Bayway, were high enough we could pass under them without waiting for them to open.
We took the Sunshine Skyway Channel through Boca Ciega Bay, paralleling the causeway and the dramatic Sunshine Skyway Bridge--no problem for any boat to clear its 175 foot height! Rather than pass under the bridge, however, which would have taken us into Tampa Bay, we headed south toward the Manatee River and Bradenton, our home away from home for the next few weeks. Not far inside the mouth of the Manatee is De Soto Point, the legendary 1539 landing spot of Spanish adventurer Hernando De Soto, who eventually made his exploring way up the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers, passing by the site where one day our home town of Maumelle would be built.
We reserved a slip at Twin Dolphin Marina (telephone (941) 747-8300) for a month, and it promises to be a good choice. The marina sits at the foot of downtown Bradenton (across from the police station, in fact), which is festooned with bright holiday lights and displays. Not only do we have the expected amenities of a laundry (three washers and four dryers), cable TV, and floating concrete docks, we can also enjoy a heated swimming pool, hot tub, dock-side pumpout, and access to a high-speed wireless Internet connection (using a LAN card on the computer and subscribing to the service). We rented a car, but city bus service is available for those without wheels.
Maggie has enjoyed meeting all the other liveaboard dogs on our dock (there are at least four), walking around the quaint neighborhood that abuts the downtown area, and looking for prey to hunt. She hasn't found much in the way of furry creatures, but she has discovered that lizards, pelicans, and green herons are fun to watch. One evening as we were walking past the Christmas light displays, she abruptly stopped, looked up, and pointed. No, it wasn't a partridge in a pear tree--it was a pigeon in a palm tree. That's okay--we're in Florida! Four squirrels--or should that be pigeons?--for Twin Dolphin Marina.
We'll go home for a few days the first week in January, then resume our voyage south and east.
We wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and we'll see you in 2003.
January 8, 2003 / Bradenton, FL to Sarasota, FL
This morning the Weather Channel reported that the current temperatures in Tallahassee, Florida, and International Falls, Minnesota, were the same--27 degrees! Gotta head farther south! And we are heading south, after almost a month at dock in Bradenton, including a pleasant week's trip to Little Rock and back (inducing a significant degree of homesickness).
We were eager to be off, so we were dismayed to have to wait two and a half hours for the seawall construction barge and crew to get to a stopping point so they could move the barge and let us leave the Twin Dolphin harbor entrance. Getting out was tricky, what with the narrow opening the construction barge granted us, compounded by a tidal current running out to sea and brisk winds cutting the other direction. We managed not to hit anything and headed down the Manatee River toward Anna Maria Sound.
We saw no manatees in the Manatee River, though we did see a couple at the Parker Aquarium in Bradenton, including Snooty, a manatee born in captivity some 54 years ago--older than either of us--though we admit, not by much. Manatees (sometimes called "sea cows") are at the center of a huge controversy between boating interests and conservation/environmental interests in Florida. The local newspaper reports that of the 305 manatees who died in Florida waters in 2002, 95 were killed by watercraft, the highest number since the state started keeping records in 1974. We learned a lot about manatees at the aquarium--for instance, it's not that they are too stupid to get out of the way of boats, but rather, they are not able to hear the frequency of boat motors, and they move so slowly they cannot get to safety in time. They are strictly vegetarian mammals, grazing such succulent delicacies as seagrasses and water hyacinths, surfacing about every three minutes to breathe. Scientists think that female manatees bear calves every three years, so one fear is that their reproduction rate cannot match the death rate due to collisions with boat propellers.
We passed through several "manatee zones," which are slow-speed, sometimes even no-wake speed, areas in the shallower waters where the creatures are likely to be found. They cannot survive in water colder than the 70-degree range, though sometimes they stray into dangerously cold waters. In the winter, however, they are more likely to be found congregating near warm water springs and power company water discharge outlets. As fascinating as manatees are, we hope that our travels through their habitat will bring no sightings, as we aren't sure how easy they are to spot from a cruising motoryacht.
Other than being on manatee lookout, we had no other distractions or diversions on the relatively short cruise to Sarasota, a run of 25.1 nautical miles. We docked overnight at Marina Jack (telephone (941) 955-9488), a large marina in downtown Sarasota, adjacent to a large waterside park. For $1.75/foot, transient boaters get power, water, a morning newspaper, and easy access to laundry, showers, and restaurant. A city trolley system takes visitors around most of Sarasota, should you stay here long enough for sightseeing. The only negatives we observed were (1) that the marina uses fixed concrete docks, with wooden pilings on the outer edge of the slip, but concrete pilings supporting the finger pier--the same construction we encountered at Panama City Marina. By the time you've fendered off the concrete, you're two to three feet off the dock; and (2) we were instructed to dock in a very narrow slip, and we just managed to squeeze in between those pilings. Not easy for anyone to get on or off his boat unless he's got one of those ramp-type stairways. Maggie dislikes being hoisted on and off the boat when we stay at this kind of dock, but she otherwise seemed to like Marina Jack well enough, and she'll give it two squirrels.
January 9, 2002 / Sarasota, FL to Gasparilla Marina, Placida, Florida
We left Sarasota at 0823, not sure whether we'd try to run outside the barrier islands or whether to stay in the narrow ICW channel through Lemon Bay (where vessels often go aground). A local guy advised going outside, but we decided not to take his advice after looking at Big Sarasota Pass but not seeing helpful markers, and after reading about the pass in the Embassy Guide ("The buoys are moved periodically . . . . [L]ocal knowledge is a must. While the controlling depth is only 3 feet, it gets slightly deeper in spots.") As Calypso Poet draws 3 1/2 feet, we weren't sure how successful we'd be at finding those spots, and we opted to take our chances in Lemon Bay.
We are glad we did. It was a beautiful, sunny day, with light breezes and not a lot of traffic. While there are several bridges to pass under (a total of ten on today's 42-mile route), they were either high enough that we could go under easily (we need about 18' of clearance), or they opened right up on request. We only had to wait for one, which had scheduled opening times, and even then, had only a five-minute wait (lucky timing on our part).
A note about bridges: We have found that bridge tenders prefer for boaters to call bridges by their preferred names. Trouble is, what is that name? Coastal charts don't give bridge names, and different cruising guides sometimes give conflicting names. Between Sarasota and Placida, we corrected the following bridge names given in our Embassy Guide:
At ICW statute mile 59.2, the 14' bascule bridge is not "Casey Thoroughfare Bridge"; call it the "Nokomis/Casey Bridge" or the "Albee Bridge."
At ICW statute mile 43.5, the guides refer to "Manasota Key," "Lemon Bay," and the "Tom Adams" Bridge--which one is right? Whichever it is, this bridge has a 26' clearance, so we didn't have to call it. Maybe you can get under it, too.
At ICW statute mile 34.3, the 9' swing bridge is not "Gasparilla Island Causeway Bridge"; call it the "Boca Grande Bridge."
Finally, you may be pleased, as we were, to learn that the 16' Hatchett Creek Bridge at mile 56.9 has now been replaced by a new bridge with 30' clearance.
We spent the night docked at well-protected Gasparilla Marina (telephone (941) 697-2280), in a roomy slip, priced at $1.50/foot, with an additional $6.00 charge for electricity. The showers are being renovated, but the dockmaster says they've been "torn up" for four months now, and no finish date in sight. Fortunately, we prefer showering onboard our own boat. We saw no restaurants on site or close by, but we had plenty of territory for walking Maggie, and it wasn't too difficult getting her on and off the boat from the fixed wooden piers. Put down two squirrels for Gasparilla, says Mags.
January 10, 2003 / Placida, FL to Centennial Harbor Marina, Ft. Myers, FL
Well, we shouldn't have written anything about the light boat traffic yesterday, because the Boating Gods apparently read this web site and decided to show us a thing or two, sending us their own nasty version of a South Florida Welcoming Committee. From the ICW at Captiva Island all the way into the Caloosahatchee River at Ft. Myers, the boat traffic was very heavy and at times, harrowing. In narrow channels, it was not uncommon for us to face three northbound boats racing for position, while we were trying to figure out which way the sailboat in front of us was going to tack, and while another couple of southbound sportfishing boats were trying to pass both us and the sailboat, one on the port side, one on the starboard side. We felt like a little Toyota Corolla dropped into the middle of the race at the Indianapolis Speedway, except that the race was going both directions around the track. Please! Just let us get to Ft. Myers in one piece, more or less.
We arrived at Centennial Harbor Marina (telephone (941)-461-0775) at 1445, in one salt-encrusted piece, over 42.2 bouncing nautical miles. This marina is fairly new, with nice concrete floating docks, attractive facilities, and an expensive Chart House restaurant on site. Between this marina and the municipal marina, Ft. Myers Yacht Basin, there's a large park, with lots of trees, and even better, lots of squirrels. Maggie was a happy pup -- for all these good reasons, she gives Centennial three nut-burying squirrels.
Late in the afternoon, Coleen watched as another craft tied up behind us--an aircraft, a little Cessna seaplane. Check out the picture on the Leg 7 Photos page.
January 11, 2003 / Ft. Myers, FL to Moore Haven, FL
We kept our mouths shut and didn't post a web site update on January 10, so the Boating Gods didn't know how worried Coleen was about successfully handling a windy morning departure around (as opposed to "into") the Cessna. Thus we woke up to clear, calm skies, and Gary rigged a bow spring line that let us swing the stern out from the dock and back well clear of the airplane. Whew.
Our cruise into the Okeechobee Waterway took us past a power plant, and we think we may have seen a few manatees briefly bobbing up to the surface to breathe, but we're not sure. We took it very slow. Whatever we spotted was well off to one side of the channel, and thankfully, we saw no carcasses behind us in our wake.
Heading upriver, we negotiated two locks today, which are a little different from what we've encountered on the inland rivers. The lockmaster tells you which side of the lock to use, and then either tosses down lines or lets you grab some of the lines hanging down into the lock. One of us held a line at the bow; the other held a stern line; we both took up the slack in our lines as the boat rose in the lock. Another difference: The water level rises as the lockmaster cracks open the upper gates, letting water fill the lock. Our first lock of the day raised us a mere two feet, but the second lock was more dramatic, lifting us some 8 or 9 feet.
Today's run was sunny, calm, and quiet, taking us 47.8 nautical miles up the Caloosahatchee River and Canal, which together form the west branch of the Okeechobee Waterway. We reached Moore Haven late in the afternoon, at 1730, tying up to the Thomas Docks immediately west of the city docks. We called the Thomas phone number in the cruise guide, but the answering machine identified the number as "Thomas Grinding," and none of the extensions listed on the message directed us to docking information. As it turns out, someone from Thomas leaves a pay-on-the-honor-system envelope at your boat's electric hookup, and you calculate your rate based on $.75/foot. There's a similar setup at the city docks. Not much of a town, but it was a secure place to tie up and plug in for the night.
January 12, 2003 / Moore Haven, FL to Indiantown, FL
Boaters traversing the Okeechobee Waterway have two routes to choose from--one directly crossing the lake between Clewiston and Port Mayaca, the other following the lake's south shore (the "Rim Route"). Although we had a brisk northeastern wind, the day was sunny and clear, so we opted for the open crossing, which is also ten miles shorter than the alternative. We caught the waves on the port bow quarter, and while we were bounced around a lot more than Maggie liked, we had only two "humdingers." What's a humdinger? Our ship's bell is mounted on the flying bridge. When we bounce hard enough to make the clapper swing on its own and hit the bell--and it takes a big hard bounce to do that--that's a humdinger. Ouch.
Although we encountered minimal traffic crossing the lake, there was quite a crowd on both sides of Port Mayaca Lock at the lake's eastern shore when we got there. The lockmaster displayed his fatigue and irritation when an eastbound boat coming up on our stern called to lock through, asking how long he'd have to wait, but failing to tell the lockmaster where he was or which way he was headed: "I've got four boats on one side and four boats on the other and I don't know who you are or where you are. Tell me, do you see a red light or a green light?" Fortunately, it was time for a change of shift, and the replacement lockmaster let the guy lock through with the rest of our group.
After traveling 41.5 nautical miles, we arrived at Indiantown Marina (telephone (772) 597-2455--note new area code) at 1450. Although gas was selling for $1.95/gallon, the dockmaster gave us a 5-cent/gallon discount because we bought more than 100 gallons. The dockage rate was reasonable--$34.00 for our 40 feet, plus a $6.00 electricity charge. We washed some laundry and walked around the big boatyard, where dozens of sailboats sit high and dry. Looking at the hailing ports painted on the boats' transoms, we were surprised to see a very large number of boats from the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Walking past one boat, we overheard a French-Canadian couple talking to their dog. Gary marveled that the dog could understand French; Maggie sure doesn't, but she does rate Indiantown Marina with trois beaux écureuils.
January 13, 2003 / Indiantown, FL to Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina, Stuart, FL
This short cruising day took us just a few hours, and one malfunctioning lock, to reach a significant waypoint on our journeys--we arrived at the Atlantic Ocean. We left Indiantown at 0848, motoring quietly on the calm waters of the St. Lucie River and Canal. We called the St. Lucie Lock and learned that the starboard-side gate was stuck, but as our boat's beam is only 14 feet, we could squeeze in through the port-side opening. The winds were very light, and we had no trouble entering the lock. Bigger boats might not have been able to make the passage, however, and it wouldn't be fun for anyone on a windy day.
We arrived at Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina (formerly known as the Indian River Plantation Resort, telephone (772) 225-6989--new area code) about 1300, tied up in our slip, and promptly took Maggie walking to the Atlantic-side beach. She romped on the sand, got all four paws and her belly wet, and took a quick sip of the cold salt water--gack! The resort is very dog-friendly, but they do want you to clean up after your pet--doggie doo-doo bags are stationed everywhere. We were glad that part of our $2.50/foot charge pays for those bags. This is a beautiful place, but as we don't play golf or tennis, we'll be moving on tomorrow. Three squirrels for the resort and marina.
Walking the docks at the marina, we spotted a beautiful yacht, Sundancer, whose home port was Little Rock. The owners were away, but yes, we know them--Henry and Carolyn Nichols, friends of ours from the Little Rock Power Squadron. We left a card with the maintenance people working on the boat, but wish we had been able to visit with fellow Arkansans.
January 14, 2003 / Stuart, FL to Frenchman's Marina, Palm Beach Gardens, FL
We had a short cruising day, heading south a mere 25.6 statute miles, so we didn't try to get away early. We were glad to see that two of the low-clearance bridges listed on the chart--Indiantown Road, at ICW mile 1006.2, and Donald Ross Road, at ICW mile 1009.3--have been replaced by new 35-foot clearance bridges.
We encountered an unexpected hazard on this day's cruise. We were startled to see a small red plane cut low across our bow, at the same level as our flying bridge, less than fifty feet in front of us. Hope it gave the pilot a thrill, because it made us pretty angry. Next time, should such a thing ever happen again, we'll get the registration number and report the idiot.
We'll stay at Frenchman's Marina (telephone (561) 627-6358) for the next three days. This pleasant and modern marina is in a well-sheltered harbor just past the Donald Ross bridge, on the west side of the ICW. Dockage is $1.50/foot, plus electricity. We're glad we filled our gas tanks at Indiantown, as gas is selling here for $2.37/gallon. And this is before the next war in the Middle East gets going. Couldn't afford to boat down in this part of the country on a long-term basis. Maggie likes walking the docks, but is unhappy about getting sharp burrs in her paws when she gets in the grassy lot behind the docks--thus she'll award just two squirrels to Frenchman's Marina.
Another very short cruising day, just 7.89 statute miles. We left at 0816, enjoying the scenery on both sides of the ICW. We always keep our VHF radio tuned to Channel 16, where we heard an interesting exchange between the Coast Guard and a vessel who had issued a distress call: "This is the U.S. Coast Guard, Miami Group. What is the size of your vessel, at this time?" We couldn't help but wonder, does it change? Then we found out the nature of the distress was a fire on board. Guess the size of the vessel could change under those circumstances: "We used to be sixty feet in length, but ten feet of the stern burned off!" Fortunately, the vessel soon reported that the fire was out and it was able to proceed to port.
We continued our manatee watch, and Gary spotted a couple as we came through the channel into Lake Worth. We arrived at our destination quite early, at 0945, but with the wind steadily picking up, we were glad to get docked, as it just got worse as the day went on. The Poet, Gary, and Maggie will stay here for a few days, while Coleen makes a quick business trip to West Group in Minnesota, as she serves on its Legal Research and Writing Advisory Board. Temperatures here are in the sixties; temperatures up north in the single digits.
New Port Cove Marina (telephone (561) 844-2504) is one of the few BoatU.S. cooperating marinas in this part of Florida (i.e., offers a discount on dockage), but it is not much more than a boatyard, and the neighborhood quickly deteriorates as you walk more than a couple of blocks away from the marina. No laundry, no showers, no grocery stores in walking distance, although there's a well-stocked marine supply store, Boat Owners' Warehouse, quite close. Maggie rates this stop with a single squirrel.
January 22, 2003 / Riviera Beach, FL to Delray Harbor Club Marina, Delray Beach, FL
Coleen returned unfrostbitten, and we were glad to be on our way again. The Intracoastal Waterway is criss-crossed by bridges, and their number only increases the further south you go. Today we passed under nine bridges in our cruise of 24.1 statutes miles. Six of them were low enough (ranging from 9' to 14') that we had to wait for their scheduled openings. One, however, the George Bush Boulevard bridge, opened for us ahead of schedule, which allowed us to make the scheduled opening of the next bridge, just nine-tenths of a mile away. We gave this generous bridge tender our profuse thanks.
While waiting for bridges, we saw two AGLCA boats, one new to us--Second Abode--and one familiar, Kibon, whose owner we met back in Tennessee. Hearty greetings were exchanged. And as we passed through the town of Delray Beach, we saw How 'Bout Us, as well as its owners, Bob and Cheryl Gural, at the municipal marina. Our marina--the Delray Harbor Club Marina (telephone (561) 276-0376)--is also a BoatU.S. cooperating marina, but unlike our last stop, is very conveniently located to nice shopping and restaurant areas, and just a short walk from the beach. We enjoyed a nice dinner with Bob and Cheryl, exchanging stories of our travels since the last time we saw one another, in Pensacola. Maggie enjoyed her walkies, although the only squirrel she saw was in a no-dogs-allowed city park (we stayed on the sidewalk outside). We were very disappointed to encounter such unfriendly attitudes toward pups. One squirrel for Delray.
January 23, 2003 / Delray Beach, FL to Hall of Fame Marina, Fort Lauderdale, FL
More bridges--eleven in today's 14.9-mile cruise, four of which were low enough we had to wait for openings. We again appreciated the courteous and punctual bridge tenders. Our only complaints are against the big boats who cruise too fast for the narrow and mostly seawalled ICW--not only do you have to contend with their wakes as they pass, but the wakes then rebound off the seawalls, so you get hit by them again--and again--and again.
Many fabulous and beautiful mansions line the ICW, as do many architectural monstrosities and smaller homes that are simply tacky, some in their choice of color, others in their outdoor artwork. Like the house with the huge sculpture of a hand, with its prominent middle digit pointed straight up. We were later told the home belongs to the owner of Screw magazine. Wonder how popular he's been with the neighbors, particularly if any of them have tried to sell their homes?
The International Swimming Hall of Fame, with its Olympic Pools and impressive training facilities for young swimmers, is located on a small peninsula of land abutting Highway A1A on the east, and the ICW on the west. On its north and south sides are the docks of the Hall of Fame Marina (telephone (954) 764-3975). The northside docks are intended to harbor the megayachts, yet the Calypso Poet was directed to a slip between two 100-plus-foot behemoths, as the smaller southside docks were temporarily full. Last time we felt this dwarfed, we were cruising past oil tankers on the lower Mississippi River.
January 24-late February, 2003 / Fort Lauderdale, FL
We had a great weekend with our son Jon, future daughter-in-law Katarzyna Krol and her mother, Krystyna Fitros, and Jon and Kat's pup, Stella, a nine-month-old Labrador Retriever. It was hectic and crowded, but lots of fun, as we celebrated Jon and Kat's engagement and discussed wedding plans. Another highlight was taking the dogs to the beach--you have to buy a permit, and they're only allowed on a small area of beach north of Sunrise Boulevard on weekends after 3 p.m., but even with those limitations, you and the dogs can have a blast. Stella constantly plunged into the waves, fetching tennis balls from the cold seawater. Maggie could not be tempted to join her, but they both enjoyed the sand and sunshine. Kat and Krystyna flew home on Sunday night, but Jon and Stella stayed a few more days with us, so "Aunt" Maggie got to teach her canine niece a few pointers about living aboard a boat ("This is Maggie's bed--Stella sleep somewhere else. Maggie eats first. Don't bark so much. Go nudge 'em on the knees when you want to go for a walk."). Stella and Maggie jointly award three squirrels to Hall of Fame Marina and Fort Lauderdale.
Fort Lauderdale calls itself the "Yachting Capital of the World." With some 42,000 boats registered in this city, it's a claim that few would dispute, particularly on a warm weekend afternoon when most of those boats seem to be out on the water. If you're too intimidated to face all that traffic in your own boat, you have a terrific alternative, the Water Bus, which will take you all over the area for just $5 a day (or if you plan to stay a while, as we do, just $20 for seven days, or $35 for a full month). We can take the Water Bus to restaurants, shopping (all kinds), movies, and tourist attractions.
We will stay in Fort Lauderdale through the end of February, as we decide how much farther south to venture. We plan to attend the Miami Boat Show (but via rental car), and we'll continue calling marinas to see whether any of them have reasonable rates and available dockage. We still plan to visit the Keys, but we may not go all the way to Key West. When we decide where and when to move on, we'll post our plans here.
We have greatly enjoyed our stay in Fort Lauderdale, even though the Poet looks like a peanut next to all the megayachts. We've decided to venture to Dinner Key (near Coconut Grove & Miami) and probably to Key Largo, if weather is favorable, but it's just about time to turn this boat around and head north. It's roughly a thousand miles for our next leg, which will take us to Norfolk, Virginia. Get out your maps and check our planned itinerary. We'll post the rest of our Leg 7 voyages soon.
February 22, 2003 / Fort Lauderdale, FL to Miami/Coconut Grove, FL
After spending a month in Fort Lauderdale, we were ready to take our last jaunt south. We left the Hall of Fame Marina at 0920, passing the big yachts, the cruise ships, and the water buses, and being passed by a dozen different kinds of go-fast boats. We went under twelve bridges on our way to Miami, but only two were low enough that we needed them opened. In both instances we got through the bridge with no undue delay. This stretch of the ICW is lined with high-rise hotels and condominiums; the wildlife around this part of the state hangs out on Miami Beach, not in the mangroves.
The cruise was warm and windy--southerly winds in the 20-25 mph range, with rain in the forecast. We arrived at Dinner Key Channel by 1400. We weren't able to get a slip at the reasonably-priced Dinner Key Marina ($1.25/foot, but possibly going up soon, as posters on the property advised slip renters of an upcoming meeting to discuss new rates). We did manage a reservation at Monty' Trainer's Bayshore Marina (telephone (305) 854-7997), which is next door, but were disappointed to pay $2.25/foot for a slip with erratic 30-amp service and not much else. Unlike what we've been delivered by other pricey marinas--friendly service, clean and private restrooms and showers, cable TV, phone line, morning newspaper, guest swimming pool, etc.--at Monty's they don't give you any of that, not even a finger pier for getting off the boat. If you don't have a swim platform, you'll just have to jump off the stern and hope you land on the concrete dock without breaking or bruising anything. For these reasons, compounded by the absence of interesting varmints to hunt, Maggie gives one toothless squirrel to Monty's Marina.
Our destination was Coconut Grove in order that we could see Coleen's friend and former teaching colleague Andrew McClurg, who now lives in Miami and teaches law at Florida International University. Andrew's hospitality more than made up for Monty's deficiencies. In addition to showing us around his new stomping grounds and treating us to a nice lunch, he drove us out to Key Biscayne, where Coleen's family spent several winter vacations in the 1950s. Key Biscayne has changed a bit. The hotel where the Millers stayed isn't there anymore, but Cape Florida lighthouse still is, and it was built in 1825. Next time we're down this way, we may try to get into Crandon Park Marina on Key Biscayne (another municipal marina, with a 3-day limit for transients).
Our original plans were to spend some time in the Keys. We altered those plans for a number of reasons: We've already visited Key West a couple of times; we needed to stay in one place due to the high cost of marina-hopping in South Florida; we were very satisfied with our accommodations in Fort Lauderdale; and we want to get to the southern end of Chesapeake Bay by the middle of April. And this way, we'll have a new destination to look forward to in the future, when we will surely cruise this way again. Leg 8, it's time to get started!