Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Escape from Marathon!

[Hilde’s log]

Our second week in Marathon, we made the acquaintance of some of the locals. They stink, literally, but are really cute:

 When not hobnobbing with our scaly buds, we did a bit more touristy stuff, such as going to the local aquarium  

to see baby alligators

several African tortoises (this one weighs 60 lbs)


Marathon City Marina office, Boot Key Harbor
As nice as Marathon can be, it isn’t where we want to be. Trapped by weather for two weeks instead of the one planned, we were chomping at the bit to say goodbye. As we rounded the corner of Boot Key and turned North up Hawk Channel, it felt as though we had escaped the West Coast of Florida, with all its month-long delays, and were on our trip at last.

Hawk Channel is a shallow body of water running north-south along the Florida Keys, somewhat paralleling the nearby Gulf Stream. There is really no eastward “edge” to the channel, other than a reef and deep water. If the wind is strong and from the east the “fetch” (area across which wind blows and strengthens) is Africa. Strong east winds are a no-go, as are strong north winds. We waited for light winds with a southerly component to push us along and low seas, and got both last Saturday.

The trip north was a wonderland of striped blue water, dark blue where there is vegetation on the bottom, and neon turquoise where the bottom is white sand. In the morning, the light was at an angle that turned the sea opaque, and Raven slid along through blue and turquoise milk. By mid-afternoon, the light had shifted and to our amazement we could clearly see the bottom of the channel some 20 feet below us. David said the bottom looked like Neptune’s hairy chest. I thought it looked like flying over a desert landscape striated with forested hills. Either way, it was like gliding through liquid, bottle-green crystal and I thought of the hymns that sing about a “crystal sea” around the throne of God. Now I can imagine what that looks like!

Rodriguez Key  (no bugs!!)

The trip to Rodriguez Key took about 10 hours, and we were very, very ready to anchor when we got there. We dropped the hook among about 13 boats and I wandered dazedly off to bed about 9. The next morning when we got up at 6:30, all but four boats had left. As we enjoyed our morning tea, the last few pulled out. I must admit, herd instinct takes over when I am in a group of boats. I was panicked that we’d been “left” even though I had no idea where those other boats were going. We did not plan to leave until about 9 a.m., because we were making an overnight passage to Lake Worth and didn’t want to arrive in the early hours of the morning. But it was really hard to just sit there when all the other boats disappeared.

FYI, if this is an anchorage you are considering, the bottom is quite hard. The anchor never did bite – the weight of the chain held us. Fine for low or no wind (which is what we had), but I wouldn’t like to be there in any sort of blow.

All day long we were passed by a stream of boats – fishing boats of all shapes and sizes roaring off to do battle with rod and reel, and, spread over the day, five very large (100 ft) power vessels, each towing a “dinghy” almost the size of Raven. All brand new, and the last one, blue hull and white tower, had its tender painted to match. Maybe they were all bought at the Miami boat show a month ago?? Ridiculously huge and all on a march south. Conspicuous consumption is everywhere in Florida, and I begin to believe Miami is the epicenter of staggering amounts of disposable income.

We originally planned to come in just south of Miami in Biscayne Bay, but the weather stayed good, so we opted for an overnight to Lake Worth. I’m not a fan of overnights, but going along the ICW in Florida is slow going, due to the congestion and all the bridges. By skipping forward to Lake Worth, we avoided 26 bridges! From here, there are only six more to negotiate, and then we’ll be mostly clear all the way to Georgia.

In the early morning we motored through translucent turquoise water that looked just like turquoise frosted glass. The wind and seas were a bit higher all day Monday, building until we bounced past Miami in 18 knots and occasional 4 and 5 foot troughs. By the time we reached Miami, the water was steel-gray to match the rain clouds. We were blessed in our arrival though, as Miami is home of gargantuan cruise ships and other freighter-types. We saw three cruise ships go out, two cargo vessels come in, and a smattering of smaller craft, but we arrived exactly right and chugged across the suddenly empty channel with absolutely no traffic. We caught a few rainshowers and the humidity went through the roof, but the temperatures were pleasant, and the rough ride past Miami calmed down north of Ft. Lauderdale, with light winds and smoother water. 

Miami rain showers and late afternoon sun

Sunset at Miami (note the chop)

The Gulf Stream roars right past Miami, about a mile or two off shore, so we went from a depth of 20 feet to over 200 feet to “---” (what do you mean, you don’t know?!) on the depth meter really quickly. The Stream carried us North at 3 knots, plus our boat speed, which promised to get us to Lake Worth about 2 a.m. We slowed down the motor and pretty much let the Stream take us forward, resetting arrival at the entrance to the Lake Worth inlet at about 6 (daylight at 7).

Even though the wind was southerly, we thunked along all night, with lots of pitch and roll, generally as I was trying to pour tea. The temperature was gorgeous and the Miami skyline lit up the coast for 50 miles, so we had lots of light even with only a crescent moon that set early. We each caught naps of about 2 hours, which is enough to maintain sanity, but not much more. After cutting a few doughnuts outside the channel entrance to Lake Worth and avoiding an incoming freighter in the early pre-dawn, the sun finally lit up the eastern sky and Raven came inside to the ICW about 7 a.m.

We’re anchored now at Lake Worth, the wind is honking at 20 in advance of a big cold front due to arrive tonight, and we’re glad to stop. Baths, long naps, snacks, and no ambition are the order of the day. 

Looking across the Lake Worth anchorage at the zillion dollar boats - after all, we are in West Palm Beach!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Short Trip; Back on the Ball at Boot Key Harbor

[Hilde’s log]

Those of you who follow our progress on the In Reach breadcrumb trail probably noticed our abortive attempt to go north on Saturday. We slid off the ball at 6:45 a.m. and motored out of Boot Key Harbor under clear skies and chilly winds. Dodging the inevitable crab pots, we motored out into the bay and turned east on our way to Hawk Channel. To our dismay, the wind did not cooperate in direction as had been forecast.

What it was supposed to look like when we went out...

Raven is a great boat, and she handles all seas well. The same cannot be said for the crew. We bumped and jounced along at an uncomfortable angle of heel and took turns manhandling the boat to maintain our course. Our speed was laughable. Our night’s anchorage was 50 miles north, and with the engine running and all sails out, we were making about 4.5 knots. The thought of the physical exertion needed to handle these condition applied over 10 or more hours convinced us to give up and try again another day when conditions were more conducive. About two hours out we turned around, and about 30 minutes later we were back to Boot Key Harbor. That’s the difference having the waves and wind go with you makes!

It was a good decision. Both of us were exhausted and sore as we slunk back to our mooring ball. Our neighbors dropped by to see what was going on, and agreed to go with us to the Overseas Pub across from the marina to help us drown our sorrows later in the evening. We fell into bed about 10 p.m. and conked out for 10 hours of sleep.

Today has been much better. We sat around in our pjs all morning, listening to the cruisers’ net (very entertaining) and catching up on the news (bad idea) on our phones. After lunch, we dinghied in to go to the annual Seafood Festival taking place in the nearby city park. Vendors of all kinds set up their tents and we wandered around for about an hour, buying only three items (and one was a gift, so it doesn’t count).

Our favorite tent was set up by the local aquarium. They had several kiddie pools with various samples of marine life that we were allowed to pet. I touched a small manta ray (soft, like wet silk) and took a good look at horseshoe crabs, sea urchins, sea stars, and water turtles. My favorite was the big land tortoise, a big cream-colored beauty with that ancient stare that turtles all seem to share. For a minute I was 10 years old, plotting to kidnap her and take her on board. I love tortoises.
This evening as we sat relaxing in the cockpit and enjoying a cool breeze, we were entertained by two boats engaged in hauling a sunken wreck from the mooring field. We saw the “empty” mooring ball when we came in and heard later that the space was occupied by a wreck. Two large boats, one on either side, winched the wreck to the surface (it appeared to be a large power boat). A diver went in the water to unfasten the boat from the mooring ball.

The biggest excitement was when they discovered lobsters in the boat. "This thing is full of lobsters!" came the shout over the water. They threw several presumably small specimens over the side but I suspect the others are going to be dinner tonight. The two boats finally hauled off the wreck, still more than half sunk, motors straining. We sat on deck, David taking photos, and we criticized the operation with the certainty that comes when you know nothing about the subject. That was good for an hour’s viewing – who needs TV?

Weirdly, we never saw any kind of flotation bladder.

Poor mucky boat!

Tonight, for the first time in several days, we are both feeling relaxed and calm. The mooring field is serene, the sun is sinking, the air is fresh and warm. We’ll stay here in hopes that the weather will shift for us at the end of this week. 

My idea of cruising - calm water, beautiful sunset, no bugs.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Perfect Sailing and Bug Hell

[Hilde’s log]

In order to leave Factory Bay Tuesday, we spent Monday at the dock, having the radar scanner re-installed and getting a spa treatment (bottom job) for Raven. In warm waters especially, sea growth and critters will foul the bottom of a boat, eating away at the bottom paint if allowed to remain, and slowing her top speed. It takes quite a scrubbing to wash away the barnacles, sea growth, and sometimes even oysters that attach themselves. While all that was going on, I took the trash ashore and did a farewell load of laundry and dreaded our return to the pumpout station.

Before Hurricane Irma, they tell me, the pumpout was located on an actual dock. Irma ripped that dock away, so now you approach a row of tall pilings, none of which sports a cleat. If the dock attendant is there, you toss him a line and he pulls you toward the pilings, where you tie off by wrapping lines around the posts. Last time we did it, the attendant was not there, and we had more cowboy mooring, with David leaping off the side of the boat with a line in his hand. Not fun for me! This time, it was relatively easy, probably because I had worried the whole thing to a frazzle in my mind for the preceding seven hours (ha).

Rigger with his tool bag.

Installing the radar dome.

As we settled back to anchor in the late afternoon, we agreed that we had been blessed with this anchorage. The anchorage itself has plenty of water (about 10 feet overall), good holding, and easy access to the Island. The folks at Rose Marina were, to a person, friendly and helpful, and had local knowledge of good riggers and a good diver to help us fix the radar and get ready for the next leg of the voyage. For a $5 day use fee, we could tie up the dinghy at the marina, and use their showers and laundry. We found groceries, eateries, shopping, and church all within walking distance of the marina. Occasionally, we could afford a car, although I warn you, high season prices for a car on Marco Island can cause seizures in the unprepared.

The weather has been ridiculous – day after day of perfection. Blue skies, cool breezes, warm (and sometimes hot) sun, and sweet-smelling air (other than the days we caught the smoke from the Naples landfill…). We lapped it all up, from our “back porch” on the boat.

Nevertheless, we were anxious to be on our way.

Tuesday we took a leisurely departure from the anchorage, not getting underway until 9 a.m. Up at 7, I cooked a last-minute batch of vegetables that I blended together for a cold salad underway, did some last minute cleanup, and stowed things that had somehow crept out of their storage spaces while we were at anchor. David spent the morning laying in our route and doing last-minute chores on the deck.

Oh, the bliss of our morning sail! Although the wind was light, we scooted along at 4.5 knots, thanks, no doubt, to the bottom job, on a flat turquoise sea. The balmy air washed over us, the sun shone benignly, and we just rocked along like a big cradle with wings.

I especially enjoyed brief glimpses of wildlife, notably a 50 yard swath of leaping fish of all shapes, sizes, and species, leaping this way and that, up and down, left and right, as fast as they could. I assume Something Below was having lunch, and lunch was doing its best to escape.

About the time we approached the end of the Island, the wind gave up the ghost and we motored for a little over an hour. Then it picked up again and we sailed all the way to the mouth of Indian Key Pass, where we doused the sails and motored up the river in the company of a number of fishing boats all headed for Everglades City. Indian Key is located in the area known as Ten Thousand Islands. No one knows exactly how many mangrove islands are in this part of Florida (part of the Everglades), but ten thousand may be accurate. Some are quite large, some tiny, and all of them are covered in mangroves and (I believe) uninhabited, except by bugs. 

Sure enough, a batch of tiny, tiny, biting bugs walked right through our screens (they were about ½ the size of the holes in the mesh) and munched on us as we killed them. They just committed bug suicide, as they are slow and announce themselves with a sharp, if tiny, sting. Mush. End of feast. Mercifully, the wind came up and scattered the little devils. They were midges, known locally as no see ‘ems, but we could definitely see ‘em. Imagine fine grind pepper – that’s about what they look like.

The anchorage at Russell Pass was simply gorgeous, if buggy. (see video) It rained some and the wind blew steadily for awhile, and the bugs left us alone. We thought about staying a day there to enjoy the quiet, but the bugs made the idea a lot less appealing. I laugh as I think of us shooing away a few dozen midges. Little did we know.

The next day’s sail was a copy of the first: four hours of perfect wind and water, followed by four hours of motoring when the wind collapsed after noon. For that night’s anchorage, we came into Little Shark River at about 3 p.m., motoring up the river a ways to leave room for a trawler that had already arrived and dropped the hook. David and I sat up on deck, marveling at the breeze and the birds and rhapsodizing about the cruising life. That jinxed it.

About sunset, out came the midges, in swarms. We hightailed it below, and sure enough we were soon joined by hundreds of midges that squeezed (or just strolled) through the screens. We closed all the portholes and the hatches and resigned ourselves to a warm night. We slept all right, but in the morning we were appalled to find thousands of midges glued to the walls and lights in the head, which made morning business a bit tricky. I murdered them by the hundreds, both in the head and in the cabin where they had parked, waiting for breakfast (us). We discovered they were coming in from outside through the dorade vent, which no longer has a mesh screen, so we stopped up that hole with rags. It helped the inside, but when David went out to check the anchor, he bolted back below as quickly as he could, cursing and sweeping hundreds of midges off his legs and arms. It was horrible.

We also found ourselves at the very bottom of the tide cycle and knew we couldn’t leave because we had no depth. The river bank showed mud a good three feet below the mangrove roots. So we just sat around mushing midges and waiting for the water to come up.

At 10 o’clock, dressed in long socks, long pants, and my hooded windbreaker, I went out to help David. Thankfully, the anchor came right up and we wheeled the boat out of that swamp like the hounds of hell were after us.

The water was a bit rougher with the wind at about 15, so we donned life jackets and raced away. We got in a couple more hours of sailing perfection, were visited by a number of flying fish and a couple of dolphins, and generally blissed ourselves out. There was no way we were going to make Marathon after that late start, so we tacked back and forth over the rhumb line most of the day, having decided to drop the hook in the shallows near Moser Channel around sunset, about 25 miles from Marathon and a good five miles from shore to eliminate the bug issue. Ha.

We have never anchored out like that. The water in Florida Bay, where we dropped the hook, is quite shallow, and there was no wind at all, and none forecast. We motored along for quite awhile, hoping to escape the crab pots, but in the end we gave up and dropped the hook in the middle of two long lines of pots.

(Crab pots are large cages connected with cable along the shallow areas where fishermen hope to catch crabs. Each cage is marked by a floating ball, which is rather large, but doesn't look very big out in the ocean. If we are motoring, we try hard to avoid them, because you can foul your prop on the lines that tie the float to the cage.)

Even though our evening anchorage was a good five miles from shore, guess who greeted us as we slowed to drop the hook among trailing lines of crab pots. You got it. Clouds of biting midges. Once the anchor set (probably an interesting sight, had anyone been around to see it – wildly waving arms, slapping hands, and wild whimpering), we dropped below into the hot cabin (we’d been motoring for the last couple of hours) making rude remarks about Florida and its tiny, toothy fauna. Both of us are covered in bites, from head to toe. We comforted ourselves with a sorry-for-ourselves dinner of goat cheese and jam, crackers, and alcohol, and made plans to leave this godforsaken state behind us with all due speed. There are no photos of this anchorage. It’s in the middle of nowhere, between two long lines of crab pots, and smothered with bugs. You’ll have to use your imagination.

We dropped off to sleep about 8 p.m. I was jerked awake by a floodlight coming in the starboard portholes. What in heaven? My sleep-fuddled brain thought, “crab fishermen?” but it turned out to be U.S. Border Patrol and Customs boat with three men aboard. They were very nice, very polite, probably stopping because who drops anchor five miles from shore? After seeing our registration and IDs, they left. I spent the remainder of the night on the settee, where it was less hot, waking off and on all night.

When the morning did come, we suited up like we were going on a spacewalk to foil our enemies – foulies top and bottom, long socks, etc. Bursting out into the cockpit we encountered – nada. Maybe ten lonesome midges. Figures.

A relatively short day of motoring and dodging crab pots brought us under Seven Mile Bridge and into Marathon today in the early afternoon. Marathon is very, very popular with the cruising community, and getting a ball here in the winter is iffy. We got one! No doubt a number of boats have left for the Bahamas for spring cruising, leaving us a spot. It looks pretty much as it did ten years ago, although Hurricane Irma did leave her mark. Many of the boats are under repair, and some are tethered to other boats until they are seaworthy enough to float on their own. But if you want to head this way, it’s definitely open for business.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

On the Hook at Marco Island

[Hilde's log]

I mentioned in my last post that the radar had turned up its toes twice when we really needed it. After checking all there is to check on the boat, our last option was to send it off to the manufacturer, a job that required a rigger to get the dome off the mast and a car to take it to UPS to be mailed. After that...5-10 days before we can find out what’s wrong, then mailing time to get it back. As David said, we don’t desperately need it, but drat it, it’s only 10 months old and wasn’t cheap. It needs to get fixed and be worth the effort and the price.

So here we are, in limbo, also known as Old Factory anchorage off Marco Island. It’s a nice, protected anchorage and Rose Marina, where we come ashore, is staffed with really nice folks. For a $5 day use fee, we can tie up at the dinghy dock and avail ourselves of hot showers or a walk on the island. Because we are saving buckets of money by anchoring out (marina slips here are $100/night), we’ve decided that next week we’ll get a car for a couple of days and do some exploring. I’d still like to have lunch at the Rod and Gun Club in Everglades City.

All sorts of interesting historical and fictional tales around this place!

Meanwhile...we float. Fisherfolk are always out zooming around, and their wake lops the boat but also provides some entertainment. There are a number of other boats at anchor here, all on their way somewhere else. We met one nice couple who are sailing with two small children and a dog. They are young and beautiful and full of energy and it’s delightful to hear children’s voices across the water.

There’s not much to see on shore except lots of people and traffic and big suburban houses and beige colored storefronts. We rented a car for one day to provision and do laundry, and running those errands here was like running them in 1,000 other cities – if you got dropped on a street here, you’d have no clue you weren’t in Columbus or Dallas except perhaps for the plants.

David beside the biggest mimosa tree I have ever seen in my life.

Me beside a gumbo-limbo tree. They are everywhere down here and get mentioned a lot in the Doc Ford books.

I have no idea what this is, but it's gorgeous!

This area got hit hard by Irma and there are lots of roof and screened porch repairs in progress. I wouldn't like to have this job: 

We did find one maybe old neighborhood that hints at what may have been like here before the place was developed (photos below) and that one place is quite charming. We had lunch at Petit Soleil and the food was superb – worth the mile walk! 

"Old town" Marco.

The attraction at Marco seems to be the fishing and the beach. The marina stores lots of fishing-type boats and there are also flat bottomed boats for rent from the marina that look perfect for an afternoon on the water with a cooler and a couple of fishing rods. We’ve seen a couple of people venture out on small catamarans as well. There are big cruise-type vessels at the dock, at least one of which makes the trek from here to Key West (see video clip). There’s also a fake pirate ship that goes out a couple of times a day for a tour of the water.

So what do you do while you wait? David fixes whatever has recently broken (a constant on a boat) and I feed us and do dishes and make half-hearted gestures toward keeping the boat clean. We read a lot – this time out we have access to electronic library loans so we have our pick of books. That’s another reason to choose this anchorage – we have phone access! We watch TV at night, being able to stream via the phones. Every day or two we dinghy in to take the trash, walk the island, and take showers.

One day we passed an entertaining hour watching a fisherman clean his catch and throw the leftovers to a gaggle of pelicans that almost launched themselves off their perches each time he moved his hands (video below). The egrets showed up to help, squawking and pecking each other. Some of the guys feed the egrets from their hands at the bait shop early in the morning. The egrets show up and stand on the bait trough and the guys toss them the odd minnow. There’s a big flap whenever a fishing boat comes in, because the fishermen toss the unused bait fish and scraps from the cleaning to the birds.

Fingers crossed, we will be able to leave in two weeks or less, maybe. I am hoping the weather will stay warm and the sun will come out. So far, we have done a lot more sitting than we have done cruising. Crossed fingers for spring, which I hope shows up here in February, dire groundhog predictions or not.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Silver Sky, Silver Sea

[Hilde's log]

Silver sky and sea - hard to tell them apart. Unfortunately, we couldn't catch the light that shines on the surface of the sea and the sky alike.
We have finally popped the electrical umbilical cord and left Burnt Store. It was the usual circus leaving the dock – by the time we’d stowed, unplugged, untied, retied, pumped out, and shoved off it was almost 11 a.m., despite having been at it since 6. I’m pretty sure that just sitting at the dock kills brain cells that we need to get organized. At this age, we don’t have a huge surplus! 

Our first stop was only about 22 miles from the marina and we therefore had enough daylight to get there despite our late start. Raven enjoyed her first perfect day of sailing since we left Kemah, spreading her sails in light winds and blue skies all the length of Charlotte Harbor. A fleet of marina racing sailboats kept us company (they were racing and we were pretending we were, too) and livened up the scenery all the way to the ICW. Sitting in the fresh air and watching the world go by refreshed our spirits as we lumbered along the Ditch, across wide Pine Island Sound, past Captiva Island. Our only tense moment was the passage under some scary high voltage towers that march across the water from the mainland to Sanibel. The height is easily 65 feet, but it's still scary...what if they measured badly...what if it's an unusually high tide...what if our mast sprouted overnight... Amazing the idiotic thoughts you can conjure to terrify yourself. We passed safely.

Because the wind changed direction from the weather predictions, as usual, we ended up in a somewhat open anchorage across from the Darling Nature Reserve off Sanibel Island about two miles from our planned anchorage. The night was flat calm and we slept the sleep of the fresh air drunkard.

Dawn saw us up and at ‘em and on the waterway by 7:30 a.m. We had a long day’s travel planned and texted back and forth with friends to find a good anchorage. One choice was up Gordon Pass in the canals that line the shore there, but we weren’t happy about anchoring among the condos. The weather forecast let us know we were in for maybe as much as a week of wind, and Florida condos have little tolerance for anchored boats that stay more than a day or two (long, ranting blog post possible, but avoided). Acquaintances had anchored at Old Factory at Marco Island, so that’s where we headed.

The soft, gray day spit light rain on Raven as she made her way up the Miserable Mile, so-called because it’s a very narrow, mile-long path, sliding along in a two and three knot current down the passage through scattered mangrove islands. I actually enjoy gray, wet days as long as the temperature is moderate. The moisture brings all sorts of “green” scents to my nose and rests my eyes. On land, I enjoy the gentler sounds that float toward me on the damp air, but when we’re motoring my ears are filled with the chug of the engine. Gray weather also puts a damper on boat traffic, which is a relief and feeds my boating fantasy of being all alone in a watery wilderness.

Hot lunch!!

Once out in San Carlos Bay and then in the Gulf, Raven crawled along the coast, passing the blanket of high-rises that line the shoreline of Florida as we passed Ft. Myers, Cape Coral, Naples, etc. The air was still and the sea flat, so we motored the entire way to Marco Island, enjoying the fact that it was so calm I could make us a hot lunch. Out on the water, a gray day turns silver in the sunlight and it’s hard to distinguish the sea from the horizon. Whenever there’s a break in the clouds the sun sparkles on the water, making a circle of gold glitter on the gray sea. But just when you think you’ve got it made….

Can't see anything? Me, either!

Fog. It closed in on Raven when I was at the wheel and David was trying to nap below. Visibility was cut to about three boat lengths (90 feet), the shoreline disappeared and, bad luck, the radar was down. We were socked in, although above us the sky was a clear, clean blue. I hated to wake David up, but I needed more eyes and quick! Boats can come out of nowhere in fog, and lots of boats are doing 15 knots and assuming other boats can see them on radar. David got our automatic fog alert to work and so every two minutes we let out a croaking blast. It gave us little comfort - could anyone actually hear us??. Being blind in fog is terrifying. Fervent prayers kept me calm and finally lifted the clouds after about 45 minutes. We are about ready to take the radar out and choke it to death. This is the second time it’s let us down. Not happy about that.

The AIS worked like a champ, for the boats that used it. We passed a barge at the entrance to Marco Island that did not have it – another stressful moment as we passed in front of the barge, down the channel to Old Factory anchorage, unable to call the vessel by name, guessing its speed and direction, etc. As a commercial vessel, the barge is supposed to have AIS. Oh, well.

View from the helm...peering for AIS signatures.

I think I might change the name of Old Factory Anchorage to Nightmare Anchorage for our bad choices and sleepless night. We were really tired by the time we came in, about an hour before dark, after a long 10 hour day of travel, and dropped the hook near some other boats. Our chart showed very shallow depth in the anchorage, even though I kept seeing 9-10 feet beneath us. We should have explored before dropping the hook, but made the bad decision to stop at the first likely place. Turned out we played dos-y-dos with another, unoccupied, sailboat when the wind shifted later that night, and had to leap out of the cabin in pajamas to reset the anchor. Then we were afraid we’d drag into the other boat, so ended up on anchor watch all night, me from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., and David from 2 a.m. onward.

Two crabby sailors greeted this morning with grunts and glowering looks at our dancing partner, and we were so tired that it took most of the day to figure out that we should call Tow Boat US for some local knowledge. Turns out our chart was completely off and there is plenty of depth here. So we pulled up the anchor and came much farther down the anchorage and now have plenty of room to swing. Hopefully, we will both get a good night’s rest tonight.

I hope we like it here, because it’s supposed to blow here the next two days (and maybe more) and blow like stink at Marathon for the next two weeks. Neither of us wants to leave or show up in stiff winds, especially since we don’t know if they will have a mooring ball for us. I guess the Lord is trying to teach us patience…? Or maybe just having mercy on our bank account. Free is a whole lot better than $800/month at a marina. Here's our spot, where we have reset the anchor. Now we can relax.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Five weeks at Burnt Store

Go to Florida, they said.

It’ll be warm, they said.


Okay, it is warmer than anywhere else! I admit that. But, wow, the northers just keep coming. We had a lovely burst of 70+ and blue skies just last week. Our month was up! So we were all ready to shove off, but a look at the weather app showed another series of cold fronts this week. With no on-board heater if we unplug from the dock, we just sighed and pulled out the coats again. Cruising is supposed to be fun, and huddling in a cold cabin doesn’t make my list. The good news is, we are ready to leave, so the next break we get (hopefully next Monday), we will unplug and boot-scoot down the west coast toward Marathon and the Keys. 

The trip has another variable besides temperature, which is the short days of winter. Hops you can make in daylight shrink radically at this time of year. I would much prefer not to do any more overnights, both from a comfort and a safety standpoint. We know that Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc here a few months ago, and there is no telling what is floating around off the coast. I’d rather have a shot at seeings detrius before I run into it. David has laid a course into the GPS for 10 to 40 mile hops which can hopefully be done in the daylight hours, so all we need is a little cooperation from the weather. Fingers crossed.

Meantime, here are some photos from our stay in this area. Enjoy!

Peace River Wildlife Center

The first place we visited, courtesy of Joe and Ruth, HAMS David met on the net here, was the Peace River Wildlife Center. The Center takes in wounded birds and rehabs them to return to the wild. If they are too injured to be released, they have a lifetime home here.

A barred owl, I think.

The most famous of the Center's lifers, this is Lola the white (not albino) screech owl. Because she is white, she'd make a great snack for any number of predators, so she lives at the Center and has her picture taken by everyone.

Feeding time! Not only the residents, but also entrepreneurial interlopers, show up at dinner time.

Everglades City

A long car trip down the West Coast of Florida, past Naples, took us to Everglades City. It's worth the trip, just to see what "old Florida" looked like. "New" Florida is a pile of retail and suburbed planned developments which gives me a rash. Everglades City is art deco and old Florida homes. All of Florida is wall to wall visitors this time of year. The city has a fascinating history, which you can read if you click on the link above, which takes you to Wikipedia. The City was devastated by Hurricane Irma (8 feet of water), but has dug itself out and is open for business.

House on the water.

Art deco bank, which is now a B&B.

Everything is blooming!
Bradenton Beach

We met my cousin, Jan, for a delightful lunch in Sarasota. Afterwards, we drove around trying to find beach access among the zillion dollar condos. Finally, at Bradenton Beach, we found a lovely public park with beach access.

Sugar sand dunes.

The park, where we were surrounded by squirrels who zipped up to us for handouts. Utterly fearless and a bit scary!

The Gulf with the shimmering Florida light on the water.

LaBelle, Florida

Long time cruising buddies, Dick and Libby, honored us by driving all the way down from their home to scoop us up and show us around. We drove to LaBelle, Florida, so see the sights and to satisfy Dick's craving for good BBQ. LaBelle is away from the coast, on the Peace River, and so is a bit insulated from the planned community frenzy. It's a lovely town, with old homes and native Floridian residents. One of its attractions is its honey shop (from orange blossoms, of course). There is also a nice park and public docks for those who arrive by boat.

They have all sorts of honey, from orange blossom to mangrove, and they'll let you taste each kind. I'm embarrassed to say I couldn't tell any difference.

We enjoyed wandering through this park, looking at all the wonderful Floridian flora. There's a bench by the Peace River where you can just sit and veg.

Docks on the Peace River at LaBelle.

Mr. Darling was an early government conservationist, who is the original architect behind the National Nature Preserves in this country. Also the author of some pointed environmentally oriented cartoons. A new hero of mine.

Mangrove roots. A mangrove island is covered in these roots. You don't walk, you climb!

Mangrove islands.

Ibis, looking for lunch.

White pelicans in their winter stomping grounds. I have seen them on Lake Dallas and in Wyoming, but not on the Texas Gulf Coast. I guess they go straight from Florida to Wyoming, with a stop off in the Metroplex.

The trouble with renting a car is that you feel compelled to use it! So one day, we drove clear across Florida to see Lake Okeechobee. It's not as easy as it sounds. The lake is surrounded by berms that make it impossible to see from the road, so you have to find an access point. Once you do - wow! Big lake. Check out the wikipedia link above to see the lake from space.

From the visitor outlook. It's amazingly shallow and wide.

Along the shore.

Along the edge of the lake.

 And finally, our home for the last five weeks, Burnt Store Marina. 

Not a lot to do here but walk around. Punta Gorda is 8 miles away, so unless you have a car, you do a lot of walking. Fortunately, my dear friend Martha rescued me a number of times and took me to her marina where I learned to play mahjong (the real deal), did water aerobics, and toured the area. We also sampled a number of the local restaurants and just generally enjoyed catching up. We met Martha and Terry in 2006 in Maine and they are wonderful folks. Thank you, Martha and Terry!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here are some of our everyday sights, for the car-less days.

We call this the alligator tree, because that's what its root looks like! It's a banyon tree. There are so many here. Just like Hawaii, Jennifer!

Banyon tree, with its weird and wonderful trunk(s).

The burbs, Burnt Store style.

Condos surround our marina.

One of the ponds on our walk. The cormorant (by the tree) is usually there.

Lots of golf carts. Some amazing decorations and styles.

One of the many ospreys who live here.

The heron who lives at the end of our dock.

A beautiful little pond we pass every day.
And that's all, folks!