|Wednesday, February 23, 2000
KEY LARGO, FLORIDA
It has been a long time since you have heard of our travels so let me try to get everyone caught up. When I last wrote we had just arrived in Ruskin Florida to put the boat up for a while so we could go home for the holidays. The trip home seemed to be far too short and far too long in ways as well. Our first stop home was the Macy's Parade in NYC on Thanksgiving and then off to Rhode Island to see family and friends, Christmas with the children and the telling of our story many times. I fear that we must have bored all our friends with tall tales, photos and video. We escaped on January third and flew back to Ruskin and to Vera Segunda who had waited patiently for us.
Day 233, January 16, 2000 - We left Ruskin today after a stay of over two months. Well, the boat was there for two months and we did go home for several weeks to be with family for the holidays and that is a whole other story. So today we set off on our adventure once again after a bad start this past Wednesday. On Wednesday morning at 0745 with an absolutely perfect weather forecast we threw off the lines and headed out the tricky channel leading from Shell Point Marina. I say it was tricky only because I promptly ran us aground no further than a half-mile from the marina and there we stuck until four in the afternoon. But that is only the half of it. While maneuvering about trying to get unstuck I snapped the bracket that held the quadrant onto the rudder shaft. We had just lost the ability to steer. It was then that I realized why we had run aground in the first place... I was on the wrong side of the marks. I will take all of the blame, (stupidity sometimes comes easily to me) but to offer up an excuse; some of the day marks were missing their boards so they were just posts, and all of them are missing their color, but in any event I was at fault by being in the wrong place. You just can't drive a boat with a four-foot draft in three feet of water, what with the tide falling and everything. So we were towed back to Shell Point Marina and right back into the same slip where we had started so many hours before. I was furious at myself which can be expected with some one of my temperament. I cursed and sputtered but finally settled down to the task at hand of getting it repaired. I unbolted the damaged piece, or I should say pieces, to assess the damage. The outer bracket was broken through and it appeared to be an old break, and the I two bolts which held it to the rudder post were bent beyond repair. However I knew that I could replace the bolts with threaded rod. All through the day had called Grand Banks dealers looking for a replacement with no luck. The best result I had was from Grand Banks in CT which said they would be getting one at the end of February, but I would have to buy the entire quadrant for almost $700. I was disheartened. I did work out well in the end. My brother David, who had been a wonderful host during our time in Ruskin, took the piece to work and had it welded by a company that is just across the street from where he works. The man who welded it would not take any payment for the fix and the threaded rod cost $2.25. So by the end of the day on Friday I had Vera II back in fine shape, but the wind had begun to pick up and it blew out of the north east long and hard enough to blow all the water out of Tampa Bay. By now the narrow shallow channel was impassable so we waited.
Today the water came back and we were able to make out passage out of the channel and down Tampa Bay and are now riding at anchor at DeSoto Point on the Manatee River in Bradenton, Florida. We arrived just three hours after we left Ruskin, dropped the anchor and went ashore to visit the DeSoto National Memorial Park. What a beautiful spot we have found, and quite by accident. A couple of cruisers were walking the dock yesterday and told us about this place, serendipity again.
When we first arrived we took the dinghy ashore and walked a wonderful nature trail through the mangrove. The trail here is just about a half-mile long and winds through he mangrove and has markers in front of trees and plants of different varieties telling just what the are and how it might have looked when DeSoto was here. We walked down to where a great Christian cross stands and as we were looking at it an elderly couple came along and I inquired where the museum might be. As it turns out we walked with them back the way we came and made a turn toward the museum. They were George and Ada from Groton, Connecticut, moved down here over twenty years ago and will never go back. They love it here. George is 80 years old and I suppose Ada is too, or close to it, and they were just delightful people. They walked us right up to the door of the museum and said their good-byes. We went in and began a chat with the rangers. We all chatted for quite a while and then viewed a video about Hernando DeSoto's exploration of North America. He really wasn't all that successful here. We then went off to their living exhibit and had a Ranger named Cindy (from Rhode Island) give a talk on the weapons of the time when DeSoto was here. What a great afternoon it turned out to be. Back at the museum Carol bought post cards and things and we then walked back to the beach where we had left the dinghy and motored back to Vera Segunda. Pearl greeted us and seems to have taken well to being back at sea. She has gotten much bigger since I last wrote and had begun to explore the entire boat, going from whatever hidden corner she can find to the very top of the fly bridge. We are just waiting for the day when she goes into the water, but that day was not today. She seems to be quite happy just playing at the very edge all the time.
The following morning we took the dinghy ashore and walked the path around DeSoto National Memorial Park one more time. I took my sketchbook ashore with me and stamped it at the National Park Headquarters. This is the fifth National Park stamp I have in the book. I have been carrying this sketchbook around since 1994 and sketching our travels. The idea struck me today that beside stamping it at National Parks I could also have Post Offices stamp it. I will try to remember to do this. Our walk took us out of the park and we walked through the adjoining neighborhood. The houses were upscale and neatly painted and the lawns neatly trimmed. It was a completely different experience than that of Ruskin, which seemed a bit more down to earth. We made it back to the boat by 11:30 and began to make preparations for getting underway, our destination is Longboat Key just 13 miles from our anchorage. With the engine running and Carol making lunch I began to pull up the anchor and at 12:30 we were underway once again and heading out the channel between DeSoto Point and Snead Island. Carol and I ate lunch on the fly bridge and listened to Ella Fitzgerald and Louie Armstrong as we left our anchorage behind. I am amazed just how shallow the water is here in the Tampa Bay area. The channel, which is very narrow, averages only about 9-10 feet deep and shoals are visible on either side of the channel. We entered the ICW West just a mile south of the entrance buoy from the Manatee River and began to move south sown between the barrier islands and the mainland of Florida. The first island is Anna Marie Island, it's shore is lined with grand houses and shoal water. We passed under two bridges both with enough clearance so we didn't have to call them to open. We motored to green buoy 39 and made a turn to port and tucked in behind Jewfish Island; between it and Longboat Key and dropped the anchor in 7 feet of beautiful green water. Carol and I did some chores around the boat, some cleaning and a bit of varnishing and then set off in the dinghy to explore. We took the dinghy quite a ways up into a canal and saw many more wonderful homes. We also saw the entire spectrum of water birds. I don't know all the varieties but there were many different herons and egrets and an island full of nesting pelicans. We had passed a couple rowing while we were in the canal and later met the m again and were invited aboard the Gemini Catamaran. They were also from New England, Milford Connecticut. Clayton and Carol were their names and they are spending some time cruising south in their new boat. After we left their boat we headed for shore and a walk into "town", which we were told consisted of a T-shirt shop and a Post Office. We walked about a half-mile or so and found it. It turned out to be a small shopping plaza and we found post cards 5 for a dollar and another magnet for the fridge
The following morning we were ready to set off to the village and get some stamps at the Post Office and I planned to get my sketchbook stamped (Canceled?). It is about a half-mile walk from the beach to the Post Office and imagine our surprise when we get there that it was closed once again today. This office is only open three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Foiled once again. So we cursed the day and turned back toward the boat. It is funny how sometimes things go right. As we walked back toward the boat we saw a sign for the Arts Center and decided to hike the few blocks down to see just what was there. We enjoyed the walk through this neighborhood. Again it was quite different from what we had seen before. Longboat Key seems to be middle to upper middle class but the architecture is simple wonderful, not extravagant but with a bit of whimsy and a down home feel and well, it seems just comfortable. One house we like was on a corner lot with a very tall roof that was sloping upward on all four sides with a chimney like affair going even taller but topped off with a skylight. It had a matching garage and yard full of plants that we are not bright enough to identify. One house appeared to be uprooted from Bermuda and planted here in Longboat Key. It was bright pink stucco with the concrete roofs we have seen in Bermuda...an exact copy also with a wonderful yard. Then we came to the Arts Center. There were several shows going on and the center seemed to be a major part of the community. There were classes going on everywhere and the events calendar was full of art shows, musical events and plays through the spring. Some of the artwork was very exciting and as you may know we love art so were very happy to have discovered this gallery. Carol and I spent about an hour at the Longboat Key Arts Center and feel that we are better for it. It is heartwarming to see a community so involved in the arts. We found our dinghy back at the beach where we had left it and chatted with an old gent who commented that he 'thought the Irish Navy had invaded'. That was all we needed to talk for a while and of course there was another New England connection, a relative was married on Narragansett Bay. It's always something.
We hauled the anchor and motored down the ICWW toward Sarasota our next destination. The wind was slight and the water flat as we headed south. We also took this opportunity to make use of the hot water and both took showers while crossing Sarasota Bay. We pulled into the anchorage and dropped the anchor in 11 feet of water just off the Sarasota waterfront
The big news today is, of course, that we made it to the Post Office, twice. On our first trip we got stamps so we can write more post cards and I did get my sketchbook 'canceled'. Peter Dunn, a friend we had met in Providence, but who lives in the Sarasota area, called and asked if he could take us sight seeing. Peter was prompt, and we all dinghied out to Vera Segunda and got things settled there. Peter was a very gracious tour guide host, our first stop being the Post Office again, we then visited Armand Circle, Siesta Key, (where we walked the beach on the most beautiful white powdery sand) and the whole coast south of Sarasota. We found the town dock in Venice where we hope to spend some time and even found a Wal-Mart (Carol got a new hat and I got film). We then went off to Peter's house in North Port. Peter is proud of his house, which he completed just a few years ago and he should be it is a splendid home. He has a great space to live in, a huge bath-room, which will always make cruisers jealous, a pool and just about everything you could ask for . . . it was a very nice place. We then went out to supper and had steaks at a local restaurant. By the time we got back to the boat it was ten at night, the water was glassy and the kitty really had missed us. We had left her litter outside and her inside!
We ended up staying for several days in Sarasota, enjoying the convenience and a the wonderful art community. Sarasota has many galleries and a visit to the Ringling Museum is a must for anyone who likes the art. On Saturday morning we went to the farmers market before going off to the museum. I have to tell you about the cat. Every morning, early, Pearl goes into her "cat from Hell' mode. Pearl can go from one end of the boat to the other in a single bound and will attack anything that moves, which includes my breathing as I am generally still asleep at 4 A.M. You better not twitch your toes or move your position while sleeping or you WILL be attacked. Pearl gets all wide-eyed and just thinks that everyone should be up and want to play 'attack cat'. This morning she even climbed in under the covers to chomp me on the arm.
We decided to move on that Sunday morning, so at we pulled the hook and began our trip by first visiting Marina Jack's fuel dock. We took on 60 gallons of fuel, got rid of some trash and filled the water tank. We then headed out of the Sarasota harbor and south down the ICW. There were some clouds in the sky but the day was a good one for cruising, except for the fact that it was Sunday. We have always said that we would stay put on the weekends and invariably we seem to break this rule. All of the weekend captains are out and seems as though the craziness get worse every time we go out on a weekend. Few of these weekend captains know the least bit of courtesy when it comes to passing or the rules of the road. But apart from the Sunday drivers we had a lovely time motoring to Venice, and we found the free town dock we had scouted a few days before with Peter. Pearl liked to explore the dock and surrounding area but we were afraid to let her just go off so we kept a close eye on her. Peter showed up and we all went off to visit and have dinner at Peter's home in North Port. We got to do some grocery shopping and I bought a couple of new life jackets for the dinghy. We also took showers and did the laundry at Peters. We didn't make it back to Vera Segunda until almost eleven, just in time for the late news. The Tampa Buccaneers lost their game and a storm is heading our way... I'm going to bed.
On Monday we moved our location to a paid space at the Fisherman's Wharf Marina. The weather has taken a turn for the worse. We had torrential rains and wind to forty knots. Of course this happened just as we were taking on fuel and trying to move the boat into a slip. I got completely soaked through and got a good dose of being cold. The fuel here was somewhat cheaper than what we paid in Sarasota but still expensive compared to other places. The dock however was quite expensive, and with no facilities, no shower or head. Carol and I walked into town, which is just over the bridge, and made another trip to the Post Office. We found an art supply store and we got some photos developed. After walking back from town we had supper at the "Marker #4" restaurant which is here at the marina. It was happy hour and the had a chicken wing special.
For the next couple of days following Venice the weather turned very cold so we headed straight for the Okeechobee Waterway. We anchored once off Cayo Costa Island but the weather kept us from exploring. The following morning it was off to Fort Myers and into the Caloosahatchee River, the beginning of the Okeechobee Waterway. We found our anchorage in a slough close to the power plant north of Fort Myers. There was another sailboat in the oxbow with us, and this seemed to be a good spot. We were somewhat out of the wind for the first time and it felt pretty good. Carol read a while as I sketched and wrote in my journals. As the sun went down so did the temperature so I lit the furnace once again. We had a toasty evening and a great supper but I won the first game of Cribbage we have played in quite a while. It was a close game with the lead changing several times. I beat Carol by only three pegs.
Once we got underway the next morning we felt that we really were in the beginning of the Okeechobee Waterway. We kept a close watch for alligators but didn't find any. Pearl seems content to sleep while we travel. It was another cool day so we drove from inside which is kind of nice as we have everything at our fingertips, but we are looking forward to warm days so we can go back outside. We had out first lock in quite a while. The Franklin lock only lifted us about a foot and in a unique way. To fill the chamber the just crack open the upstream doors a bit and let the water stream in. We arrived in LaBelle about two in the afternoon and tied to the town dock We did a 'Med. Moor', which requires you to bring your bow (or stern) into the dock and tie it off while having a stern anchor out and stretching the boat between the two. We left the boat via the bow pulpit, which require a different set of skills. We found LaBelle to be a great little town with everything a cruiser could want.
The following morning we moved slowly out into the channel and under the bridge and eastward again. This is the eastern most reach of the Caloosahatchee River and the beginning of the Caloosahatchee Canal. This is a man made canal and is wide and deep, just the way we like it. We had a couple of locks today and at the first lock, the Ortona Lock, we see our first alligator. He was just lying there on the edge of the water sunning him self along with three turtles. Carol spotted the alligator and gets the spotter prize of the day. The scenery along the Okeechobee waterway is different from what we expected. It seems much more barren, and more man made. We saw a lot of Brahma bulls, orange groves and sugar cane, but no more alligators. Once we passed through the lock at Moore Haven we entered the rim of Lake Okeechobee. On the port side, the side the lake is on was lined with dead trees, while the starboard bank was lined with lush green trees. It was strange. We saw all sorts of wild life, mostly birds, and a wide variety of them. There were lots of Osprey, fishing and feeding their young in their nests as well as egrets, herons, pelicans and the 'ever present' turkey buzzards. We also saw kingfishers, grackles and black birds. We arrived in Clewiston just before 1600 and turned out of the main ICW channel, through the town lock (which was just left open) and tied at Roland Martin's Fishing Camp and Marina. Apparently Roland Martin is a fishing hero. There are all sorts of photos of Roland Martin fishing with celebrities, and politicians and unknowns. The store here sells everything needed for fishing and to look like you fish. The big excitement for the day happened as I was chatting. Pearl got off the boat and was exploring the dock. We are tied to a floating dock, one side on the open water of the canal and the other side is about twelve to fifteen feet of water and weed, and we suspect alligators, and all sorts of denizens. Pearl was eyeing the weeds, thinking it was solid ground. I tried talking her out of jumping but she just didn't listen and leapt into the middle of the weeds and immediately disappeared before coming back to the surface swimming hard for the dock. I grabbed the emergency cat net and scooped her from the weeds, laughing so hard that it hurt. She was not a happy kitty.
We awoke to heavy fog. The alarm was set for an early rise so we could get all the way to Stuart, some 60 miles away. To motor that distance we would need an early start, but the fog changed our mind. Once we got out onto the lake the surface was a mirror and the cruising was good. Navigating the lake was a simple feat, the channel is well marked and the weather was perfect. As we approached the lock at Port Mayaca we also caught up with 'Passages', a sailboat we had been following on the 3-hour crossing. We had been gaining on her ever so slowly and when she hailed the lock she told the lockmaster that we were out there and to wait for us. Nice gestures like this are common among cruisers. We had met these people before in the first lock, the Franklin lock, as entered the waterway. Peter and Babs left St. Louis to begin their loop back on the first of October. We all arrived in Indiantown at three and tied to the face dock. We made plans to go to the local sports bar to watch Super Bowl later in the day. Around five we walked the mile and a half to the "Winners Circle" sports bar, which was almost empty. Having the company of other cruisers is always a treat. We had a very good evening and stayed through the second quarter of the game before walking back to the boat. Peter and Babs stayed to watch the rest of the game and Carol and I went back to fix our diet supper. We finished the game onboard and it was a good game as far as football goes.
After washing some soot from burning sugarcane fields off the boat and tending to other chores and after a nice long walk we started the engine and got underway. It was ten thirty and the day was bright and warm. We packed all our stuff and headed for the fly bridge. Carol spotted more alligators as we motored along and we got a couple of them on videotape. As the day wore on clouds moved in and the temperature began to drop, and we moved back inside. At the St. Lucie Canal Lock we chatted with the lock master and he gave us a brochure about the lake. He was just the nicest guy - all lock masters should be as nice. We arrived in Stuart around 1400 and tied to the free town dock. Pearl explored the dock and we did some chores. At three, "Passages" tied right behind us. They had a good trip but did run aground and had to be pulled off. We are back in salt water again and just a few miles from our 'home ocean', the Atlantic. Tides are back and the wind is blowing like stink out of the Northeast. We had read about a fine shopping area just a few blocks away and put on long pants and sneakers to hike into town. We hiked and shopped for three hours and came home with our arms full of groceries. We had found a music store and are debating about getting instruments and learning how to make music... this should be interesting. Back on the boat Pearl was anxious to go explore and we let her out to play on the dock some more. She really likes to check everything out and look into every corner
Tuesday morning we walked back into Stuart. I looked for engine things and Carol found some cards to send out. We did a bit more shopping at the Publix and carried heavy things back to the boat once again. We got underway and made it through the first bridge within a very few minutes after arriving back at the dock. We made good time heading toward the ICW until we approached the Stuart bridge, which closed for construction. I hailed the bridge tender on the VHF and was told that it would be a three-hour wait, at least. We circled for a few minutes and made the decision to try to squeak under the side of the bridge way outside of the channel. We slowly approached the bridge with Carol on deck watching the mast as I steered through he narrow passage, but we made it OK and were on our way without any delay. We had hoped to meet our friends Judy and Brian in Jupiter, which is three hours away, and now it looks as though we will make it on time. The day was a fine day for traveling the ICW and after we entered the channel things began to look familiar once again. We had traveled this way a couple of years ago delivering a yacht from Rhode Island to Ft. Lauderdale. Near the Jupiter Lighthouse we stopped for fuel and purchased a couple of charts. A few minutes later we dropped the anchor in an oxbow just off the main channel. We dinghied in to scout the area, and then went back to the boat to get dressed for supper with our friends. We had a good reunion with Brian and Judy at a nearby restaurant. We had not seen them in several years and catching up on all that has passed filled the evening.
We motored Wednesday, February 2nd through weather that wasn't as pleasant as the days before. Although we never really had bad weather, it was just dismal through he day. The ICW is an easy channel to follow and the scenery along the side varies from industrial to palatial mansions. We stayed inside most of the day as we traveled which is a comfortable place to be. We anchored in Lake Boca Raton in seven feet of water and took the dinghy to the town dock and walked into the business district. Boca Raton is really a 'fancy' neighborhood and we just had to chuckle at the pretentiousness of it all. We didn't find a thing to spend a penny on. Back at the boat we watched the lights of the town come on. The lake was surrounded by high rise apartments and gated communities. We retired early and looked forward to moving on. We got up early the next morning and sat on the back deck chatting and watching the dawn break.
Today was one of the longest days on the ICW to date. Even though we only went about fifty miles, it was a long day because of the slow speeds we encountered and the many bridges. Quite a bit of the waterway if restricted this time of the yeas as manatees come into the area so we have to travel without making a wake. (We did glimpse one, we think) For us, not making a wake means that we must travel at about two knots which doesn't get us toward our destination very fast. But it was scenic and the variety of things along the banks always surprises us. We saw the giant 'finger' on the lawn of the publisher of Screw magazine, a life size model of a helicopter on the roof of a house and super yachts everywhere. We must have seen two dozen yachts with helicopters onboard. Vera Segunda must have looked like someone's dinghy passing by. Miami was interesting to pass through. It really is all that they say and the glitz shows, even from the water. We are now about ten miles south of Miami in a harbor on Key Biscayne named 'no name harbor' and riding easily at anchor in eleven feet of water.
We spent the following day on the anchor, we didn't even start the engine to make electricity. We started off by having breakfast early and walking to town. We found the Post Office right off and made our way to the Winn-Dixie and got more stuff... we always need more stuff. The walk back was brisk and of course we had our hands full. After stowing the groceries we dinghied back to shore and hiked to the Cape Florida Lighthouse. It is a spectacular place but it was closed so we couldn't climb to the top. We walked the beach, which was a beautiful white sand beach, and found our way to the concession stand. We each got a frozen fruit bar from the ice cream freezer and boy were they good. I had pineapple and Carol had lime, and they have earned our highest recommendation. The wind is supposed to pick up all night long and go to twenty out of the north. We will see what morning brings.
By three a.m. this morning we knew that we would have a decision to make about leaving. The wind began to howl and we could feel Vera Segunda skating about on her anchor. By the time the alarm went off at six-twenty we were thinking heavily about staying. I listened to the radio again and the weather report had only worsened. Seas to seven feet beyond the reef (where ever that is) and ten to twelve in the Gulf Stream. Biscayne Bay was rated moderate chop to rough. I could only see a bit of the bay with binoculars and it didn't really look too bad. I got out a chart which shows the big picture, and we made the decision to go. The wind should be at our backs and once we go out into the Atlantic we should be in the lee of the keys.
We had a good day of motoring to Key Largo as it turned out. I am writing
this from dockside, we have been here just a week and have been enjoying our stay. It has been a joy to visit with our friends Tom and Debbie aboard "A Time For Us". We have also made several new friends, and seen old friends, but to top it all off our friend Karen, from Rhode Island, flew down to stay with us for a few days.
Pearl got spayed, by Dr. Peacock! She is doing well and hardly has a
scar so she will still look good in a bikini. It really has been a great
visit. We have swam, worked on the boat, gone for dinghy rides, eaten at
several fine restaurants, gone for a ride through the mangrove in a ski boat
and on and on. We are making plans to continue cruising on Monday but
haven' t decided on a destination as of yet. We will let you know.
On Monday we did set out to go snorkeling but got set back by the weather so we hung out at anchor near Rodreguis Key where we did swim and check out the bottom of the boat and scrubber Vera Segunda a bit. Tuesday morning we motored out to Pennikamp underwater park and dove (snorkeled) on the Christ statue which is on the reef there. That evening we anchored just off Key Largo once again and had dinner with our friends Debbie and Tom at a place called Mandalay... mmmmmm.
The next morning it was off to Marathon to anchor in Boot Key harbor and explore a bit then on to Key West Thursday. What a great time we had in Key West. We spent three days at anchor there and explored all that we could. I think that we must have worn off aninch of rubber from our sneakers. We ate well, watched the sunset from Mallory Square, did museums and ofcourse did a lot of tourist type shopping. We bought local music, tee shirts and things for Pearl... Carol even got an early 30th wedding anniversary present at the emerald store. We met some folks from Prudence Island (back home in Rhode Island) who spent part of an evening aboard haveing drinks and telling stories. All in all it was a great time with perfect weather. We headed back the way we came as the weather began to change. We are now back in Key Largo visiting again with Tome and Debbie awaiting good weather. The wind is up to over 20 knots and the seas are 4 - 5 so we will wait a day or so.
Bridges Passed Under/Through 586
Miles Traveled 4713
Average speed 7 mph
"If a man could be crossed with a cat it would improve man, but it would
deteriorate the cat."
Mark Twain, notebook 1894