On Feb. 13, Jim and Lynda on Morning Star rafted to Lucky in the anchorage at South Bay, on the southern rim route of Lake Okeechobee.
While we reconnected over supper and drinks (the lads drank quite a bit of rum), we watched a fishing boat raft about twenty feet from where we were sitting in the cockpit. We had inadvertently anchored right in front of their fishing spot and they cheerfully chatted to each other and us as the three of them set out their eighteen (!) fishing rods in the holders on their boat. No limit, they told us, on the number of rods you can use in Florida. They were still happily pulling in fish when I woke up at midnight and saw their lights still blazing. The next day Jim and Richard, who really enjoyed reconnecting, were a little fragile and haven’t drunk that much rum since.
We stayed four days longer there. Lynda and I walked on the rim trail in the mornings. I did laundry in the nearby trailer park. Steve and Sarah, our new friends from the trailer park, picked me up, served me lunch, gave me laundry soap and dropped me off at the dinghy dock in the boat launch area. Sue and Mick on Jenny arrived on their way back to Indiantown and, with Cheryl and Matt from Curieuse, we all got together for Happy Hour on Jenny. Except for three noisy airboats that roared by, sometimes in the middle of the night, and the frequent drifting down of cane ash onto our boats, it was a very quiet anchorage, full of water birds and fish.
On Feb. 18, we motored west, then north, then west again to a small narrow anchorage called the Lollipop, next to a herd of grazing cattle. Very quiet. It was a long narrow channel with a big round deep bay at the end, hence the name.
We made good time along the waterway. Because excess water was being released from the Lake the current was very strong, giving us an extra three and a half knots of speed. When we got to the Gulf a few days later, we could see this brown water flowing out into it for miles from shore.
The next day we filled up with fuel and water at the little Port LaBelle Marina and then tied up at the free town dock in the town of LaBelle. Richard’s long-time sailing friends Dennis and Kika, no longer sailing and living in a house on the river, joined us at the block party on the dock that night. We even danced – three Canadian couples, doing the foxtrot and looking very weird to the many teenagers standing by, I imagine – to the wonderful music there. Dennis and Kika picked us up for a restocking trip to the Save-a-lot the next day and Kika picked us up at the dock for a bonfire and BBQ on their back lawn overlooking the river in the evening.
The next day, Sunday, we continued the trip west on the river. As we got closer to Fort Meyers, more large power boats flew by streaming large wakes. I never saw anyone on board looking back to see how badly they rocked us. Not my favourite part of the trip.
We had decided to take a channel a couple of miles north into Bimini Basin, in the city of Cape Coral. There were about twenty live-aboard boats there and almost no other boat traffic. The surrounding condos and vacation rentals provided shelter from the wind. A park at the north end had a dinghy dock where visitors could park and we could meet them.
Nancy Chase, a Scrabble player I had met ten years ago in the Bahamas, drove down from Sarasota and we had lunch and played two great games on the boat before the weather turned threatening and she had to go home. Jim and Lynda were visited by friends and relatives who staying nearby, both on the boat and ashore. Lynda did laundry. I walked to the Wynn Dixie and took a cab back to the dingy dock, where Richard, watching from the boat, came in and picked up me with my many bags of groceries.
One day the Honda generator wouldn’t start. Jim and Richard took it completely apart and put it back together, Lynda googling advice for them. The boat was chaos and they didn’t get it all together until the next day. All I could do was lay in the v-Berth and read. A good thing I had a wonderful book. We watched movies on board a couple of evenings. It was still in the forties F. at night, and much snuggling was necessary to keep warm.
Five days later, the visitors had gone, the wind had settled down and it was time to go to Fort Meyers Beach, a half-day journey out into the bay and back in behind Estero Island. There were two moorings left, and we took them. They were only $16 and gave us access to the laundry, fresh water on the dinghy dock and clean hot showers.
The next day, Saturday, Feb. 27, we motored out into the Gulf of Mexico and sailed downwind to Gordon Cut. Richard had the sails set wing on wing and the boat was going seven knots. Exhilarating! Our best sail so far. But I couldn’t steer because I can only steer downwind if I can see the little wind indicator arrow at the top of the mast; there is no window in the top of our bimini.
At Gordon Pass, we flew in between the rocky breakwaters as I struggled to get the main down. Then we found ourselves in the midst of small boats speeding back and forth between Naples and Marco Island and to the many little bays and fishing spots in between. They were all enjoying their speed much more than the scenery and had little regard for sailboats moving at five knots. We learned later that Jim and Lynda, who came in behind us, had their cockpit swamped with spray from a powerboat; they were both drenched and had to bail out the cockpit. It was a relief when we turned east, away from the channel and into the cut leading to Rookery Bay. Old friends Chris, Divya and Sue were anchored there on Maggie M, waiting for us. Lynda and Jim followed and we all gathered for tea with rum and Girl Scout cookies in our cockpit and later for spaghetti dinner on Maggie M. It was a joyful reunion.
The next day there were two good Scrabble games, more meals shared, a long walk on the nearby Gulf beach and a wonderful dinghy cruise through the mangroves, led by Chris, Divya and Sue. The morning after that, we woke up to the singing of the Maggie M crew as they slid by our boat and away to the north.
The day after, Lynda and I took another ocean walk and I painted two little pictures of the mangroves, trying to see into their depths.
This is our third trip making this loop west from Indiantown to Fort Meyers and south to the Florida Keys and back north through the Keys, travelling up the Intracoastal Waterway on the East Coast and turning west in the St. Lucie Canal back to Indiantown. We’ve been to all of these spots before. But now they are fresher in our memories. And busier, I regret to say.
On Tuesday, March first, we motored south in the west coast Intracoastal. We had to time our departure so we would pass under the bridge at Marco Island and into the shallow water just beyond at slack tide. Then it was a nail-biting trip to Goodlands, picking our way through many skinny spots. Morning Star bumped three times and we hit bottom once, but got off easily.
After an expensive Happy Hour at Marker 8 Bar and a quiet night in the anchorage we sailed on the next day to Little Shark River. We anchored up the river, rafted together among ancient trees hanging over the shores. An old turtle with a big gnarly shell at least three feet in diameter and a head the size of a new-born baby rose out of the water just behind us to breath. And a white dolphin fished along the shore. The night was silent except for the gnawing of barnacles on the hull at intervals and the odd whine of mosquitoes against the screens.
Then there was a long day of sailing and watching out for the crab-pots that would foul our prop, until we finally arrived at the moorings at Lignum Vitae in the Florida Keys. Now we are anchored just north of the Lorelei Restaurant on Isla Morada, where we enjoyed Happy Hour with our old friends Alan, Steve and Janet, waiting for the twenty-to-thirty knot wind to let up. Jim and Lynda are in Marathon, waiting for better weather too, and may join us then.
So far, it has been a chilly, wet and windy winter here.