What’s upcoming

Finishing up our last week in Marathon, and then on to Key West for a few weeks (Boca Chica Marina, at Naval Air Station – Key West)

Then northward, to position for a jump over to the Bahamas.

SEALs and a turtle

February 9, 2020 – We had the opportunity in early February to observe the release of a rehabilitated green sea turtle at Sombrero Beach in the Keys, along with the crews of Valentine and Shoreline Traveler (and a few hundred other onlookers!)

According to the press release by the Turtle Hospital –

Picture from Turtle Hospital website

Terri, a juvenile green sea turtle is returning to her ocean home!  Join Turtle Hospital staff, Force Blue, scientists from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, InWater Research Group and a very special guest, Terri (the turtle’s namesake and the donor that made the in water scientific study that rescued “Terri” happen) for a Public Sea Turtle Release this Sunday, February 9th on Sombrero Beach in Marathon.  Terri was rescued last June during the in water Florida Keys Sea Turtle Health Study off the lower Keys.  Terri was treated at the Turtle Hospital for fibropapillomatosis and anemia.  Treatment at the Turtle Hospital included a blood transfusion, tumor removal surgeries, broad spectrum antibiotics, fluids, vitamins and a healthy diet of greens and seafood.  Terri is back in good health and looking fabulous! 

After arriving in the Turtle Ambulance, and being staged under a sunshade where children were invited to get a closer look, Terri is carried down to the water’s edge.
Being lifted out of the pan
Turtle paparazzi all wanting a good shot
Making sure that she doesn’t turn sideways into the crowd
In the water and about to swim out of view

Assisting the Turtle Hospital staff (Marathon, FL – https://www.turtlehospital.org/) was a very unique veterans organization, Force Blue ( https://forceblueteam.org/ ); this non-profit retrains and redeploys former Special Operations veterans and military-trained combat divers to assist in marine conservation efforts.

A documentary (here- https://vimeo.com/357079869 ) describes how the collaboration works, and actually features Terri, the same turtle that we saw released.

At Ease in the Keys

January 2020 –

As we settle in to our slip at Sombrero Marina, we discovered that life in the Keys is not like anywhere else. Certainly not like the west coast of Florida, with its glitzy cities like Tampa, Sarasota, Fort Myers, and not like the polished upscale resort towns of Sanibel, Naples, or Marco Island. It’s much more casual, unpretentious, come-as-you-are. The nearby Dockside bar has an interesting array of …characters… who hang out long before the nightly entertainment starts (and in fact, some ARE the entertainment!)

Sign hanging behind the bar at Dockside

Most of the larger boats have cruised here from somewhere colder, to hang out for the winter, and some older boats seem to have gotten stuck here for many winters, and perhaps never left. We meet quite a few Loopers that we have cruised with before, and some new ones we hadn’t met. Warm days, comfortably cool nights, wind (and more wind), sunsets (and more sunsets), pelicans and manatees, exploring the local happy hour landscape. Riding bikes to the beach (and the store, or to restaurants), using the dinghy to go exploring, putting our bar stocks to good use, it’s like every day is Saturday.

Oh, sure, there are the boat projects, and the general life things that get in the way, too. ‘So, I’ll get to updating my blog later/tomorrow/next week…’

Until then, it’s just sunrise, projects, relax, play, sunset. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat…

In slip B-13, backing to the golf course
Boot Key Harbor, with nearly 300 city-administered mooring balls
The view from the front deck, to the east at sunset…the golden hour
Dinghies ply the water around the harbor at all hours of the day and night
In formation with friends headed to dinner
This manatee was hanging out near the restaurant, right under the A/C condensate drain for some fresh water
Pelican at sunset
Dockside at sunrise – no breakfast here!
Sunset view on a calm day

The final push south to the Keys

December 26-31, 2019 – (OK, so I have recently been shamed for having my most recent post with a Christmas tree… We took our Christmas lights down, but sorry that the post makes us look like ‘that guy’ on your block who leaves his up until Easter. It’s just that after arriving in the Keys, the ‘laid back vibe’ caught us in its clutches…..herewith my catch-up begins)

We had stayed in Cape Coral for a spell, tied up at a dock right behind our TxAu friends’ house. The best conditions for wind and tide happened to coincide on Christmas Day, so we pulled out of the canal in late afternoon, and went a short distance back to an anchorage we had been to before.

Let’s get this party started…

We then went over to Pink Shell Resort Marina, on Fort Myers Beach; originally, we had planned to spend four days there, leading up to and including Christmas, but the weather conditions were just too unsuitable. We enjoyed the pools, which were just a short walk from the beach, and gave the boat a good washing. There was quite a lot of traffic, on the day after Christmas, and we were surprised to see the Key West Express ferry pass right by our slip. This high-speed catamaran ferry runs a couple times a day between Ft Myers Beach and Key West, and sports inside and outside areas, on-board bar, and a much quicker transit (3.5 hours) than by car (5.5 hrs).

Passing Naples, on our way to Marco Island. Nice day to be on the Gulf of Mexico.

When we left Ft Myers Beach, we went out Matanzas Pass into the Gulf of Mexico. Travel from here to the Keys would be ‘on the outside’, not in the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. That means no navigation markers and much greater exposure to wind and swells. The first day was terrific, with sunny skies and nice seas. We headed back in toward Marco Island, at xx Pass, where the holiday weekend boating frenzy was in full force. We had planned to work our way up a couple interior canals to an interior anchorage, but found a giant work barge moored against a bulkhead there, leaving just a tiny open channel to pass. Ummm, nope. Time for Plan B.

Plan B…Factory Bay

We had noted another anchorage up around the corner, named Factory Bay, so on we went. It turned out to be quite a nice anchorage, looking at some pricey waterfront homes, and a convenient spot to dinghy to a restaurant, the beach, and the grocery store (that had a dinghy dock, to tie up at while shopping)

The next day, we took the dinghy around to the beach, going up the cut between Coconut Island and the beach on the main part of the island. There were some areas closed off as bird nesting areas, but Chantale found a good place to lay out, while Ben walked the beach to see what shells could be found.

We saw some cigarette boats come roaring by, complete with helicopter flying low and sideways filming the action. They all turned into the pass, and as it turns out, all to a marina/restaurant near the grocery store that we went to later. As we finished up, and were making our way back out (from Point A, on the satellite shot above) they were all leaving the marina, and were were in the middle of a literal boat parade. As it was a no-wake zone, we were all going slow, but here’s a shot of a couple that were nearest us – that’s 1200 hp on our left (4×400 outboards) and who knows how many HP in the red boat on our right. And us with 15 hp on the dinghy, feeling just a bit out of place…

I think she was taking pictures of another boat behind us…

We enjoyed another fabulous sunset, showing a sailboat anchored near us, and some of the waterfront buildings.

The next day we headed onward, for the long 101 miles to Marathon, in the lower keys. As that would have made a long day, and put us entering a strange harbor in fading light, we decided instead to use a common anchorage about 60 miles on, in the Little Shark River. The whole of the trip past the Florida mainland after Marco Island is the Everglades, with little to no civilization evident along the shoreline. Our cellular coverage faded to nil, and we were really out in the boonies as we pulled up the river to find a spot to safely anchor. There were actually a few other boats there, and as we circled the sailboat in the drizzly afternoon, the people were waving their arms and yelling. (What the…???)

It turns out it was Polaris, a sailboat doing the Loop that we had first met in Grand Haven, MI, and then crossed paths with again in Saugatuck, Chicago, the Florida Panhandle, during the Gulf Cossing, and in Pelican Bay at Coya Costa.

We headed out at first light the next day, to make the last 45 miles to the Keys. We had a nice escort a few times, as we weaved our way through thousands of crab-trap floats on the way to the 7-Mile Bridge.

All the way from Little Shark River, we never saw depths of more than 15 feet, and much of it was single digit. We had to be attentive as we made our way down the Moser Channel to cross under the 7-mile bridge, and saw some of our shallowest water of the trip as we followed the markers.

At the bridge, we exit the Gulf and enter the Atlantic Ocean

The color, and complexion, of the water changed as soon as we cross under the bridge. A bit more rolly, and lots of fisherman transiting the entrance to Boot Key Harbor. It was quite a scene to pull in and see the number of boats moored here (almost 300 city-administered moorings, plus people anchored around the fringes. Not to mention the marinas…)

Coming into Boot Key Harbor…boats as far as the eye can see

We got situated in our slip at Sombrero Marina; from our front deck, facing a mangrove island and looking out into Boot Key Harbor, and off the sundeck, palm trees and a golf course. This will be home for the next two months, and we look forward to settling in to some relaxation at the start of the new year.

New Years Eve sunset from Slip B-13

Merry Christmas from Florida

It sure doesn’t feel like Christmas amidst the palm trees, but can’t say we miss the single digit temps back in the Northcountry.

Here are a couple attempts to be in the spirit of the holidays.

With reindeer antlers and Rudolph nose
Our tiny boat tree

Accept our best wishes for your holiday season, wherever you may be.

Random Florida Scenes – Gulfport to Ft Myers

November 27 – December 10, 2019

Sunset at Gulfport anchorage
Relaxing in Gulfport anchorage – lots of boats
Twilight at Tampa Convention Center docks
Moon over Tampa General, with lighted windsocks at heliport
Thanksgiving dinner on the boat
With our friends Ruth and Lewis joining us in their hometown
Lighted bridges along Tampa Riverwalk
Tis the season…
Friends Ruth and Lewis join Ben at the helm
Going under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, Tampa Bay
Sarasota bridge supports lit with color-changing lights, adds touch to pink sunrise sky
Everybody on the bandwagon
BIG art, and lots of it, at the Ringling Museum
Beautiful statue garden at the Ringling Museum
Lots of pretty waterfront places on the way south from Sarasota
Not a curtain in the whole place
A touch of color
Anchored with a few other boats (a sailboat, out of view) in this small bay, surrounded by $1M+ homes. Not sure they appreciated ‘their’ view being spoiled by us boats, but it’s our water too
Dollars at the bar on Cabbage Key – supposedly the inspiration for Jimmy Buffet’s ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise’. We dinghied over for lunch; the cheeseburger was only so-so.
We added our bill to the wall
Osprey nest atop the still functional water tower at Cabbage Key
A remote, but popular anchorage with a few dozen boats anchored with us behind Cayo Costa State Park, including some other Loopers we knew
The eastern sky, lit by the sunset in the west, reflected in glassy water at Pelican Bay
The sunset just kept getting better and better…(unretouched photo)
Toasting the end of a fine day
Beach of shells
Shells, shell fragments, shell grit, shell powder
Tiny crab on the beach at Cayo Costa
Haven’t been to Sanibel yet, but found a few decent shells at other beaches so far
Docked at Ft Myers City Yacht Basin – feels like Florida, all right

The real Pelican Bay?

December 4-5, 2019 – As we were making our way south from Sarasota, looking for a nice place to anchor, we spied a trio of spots that were indicated on the crowd-sourced ActiveCaptain community as being good places to drop the hook. The one at the south-east looked nicely protected, a tiny little bay.

The green Anchorage icons are places where other boaters have contributed reviews on good places to anchor

Well, when we got there, it wasn’t quite what we expected; a man-made cove, surrounded by $1M+ homes. According to Google Maps, this was Pelican Bay.

Oh well, in we went, and had a nice base from which to take our dinghy over to the southern tip of Little Gasparilla Island, for a walk on the beach. We came back just before sunset to find that two other boats had joined us there for the night.

The next day we were going to head down to Cayo Costa State Park. Cayo Costa Island is one of a chain of barrier islands that shelter Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island Sound. The park contains nine miles (14 km) of soft white sandy beaches and 2,506 acres (10 km2) of pine forests, oak-palm hammocks, and mangrove swamps. (wikipedia)

It turns out that where we are headed is also called Pelican Bay, but it’s as different as night and day.

In this clip from Google Earth, Pelican Bay can be seen to the north, with many anchored boats, and Cabbage Key to the southwest. No insight to offer on Whoopee Island…

Since our trip down took less than two hours, we had plenty of time to explore, and so took the dinghy down to Cabbage Key to get our very own ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise’. (The inn there is purported to be the inspiration for the Jimmy Buffett song by that title)

The ambiance was pretty funky, but the burger only so-so.

We met up with some other Loopers on three different boats, that were each exploring various parts of the area. A couple of us went over into a little ‘manatee hole’, a small inlet and pond off Pelican Bay, and rowed our dinghy around and saw a few manatees surface, with just their snouts above water. Very hard to get a picture, though.

I swear, there was a manatee there just a second ago. Wily mammals, those manatees, despite appearances to the contrary

Enjoyed a spectacular sunset that night, and the next day made a couple trips over to the beaches, where we continued to add to our shell collection. Ben had to promise that we’d still make a stop at Sanibel, supposedly the mecca for sea shell picking.

Here’s a short drone clip showing At Ease, and other boats, anchored at the real Pelican Bay.

Random Florida Scenes – Tarpon Springs / Clearwater Beach

November 18-24, 2019 –

A working yard across from our marina in Tarpon Springs
An old fishing boat in an uncertain state of repair
Perched on the piling next to our boat one morning
Strolling the sponge docks at Tarpon Springs, where a lively Greek community is still engaged in sponge-diving and other water-related activities
Walking across the street from our marina in Clearwater Beach
Sunset at the beach
Chantale enjoys a day at the beach – powdery white sand
Pretty nice beach buggy
Beachfront hotels at sunset over deserted beach
At the water’s edge, the waves pile up tiny shells
Walking Clearwater Beach at sunset
The mermaid show at Weeki Wachi Springs
Another sunset down the road in Madeira Beach
Something romantic about a sunset – celebrating 37th anniversary

6 month re-cap

November 19, 2019 – It’s been six months since we cast off lines for good from Herrington Harbour North, and started off in earnest on our ‘forward progress’ Loop. (See 3-month recap blog post)

Over the last three months (months four through six), we have traveled another 2436 miles, and:

  • Completed Lake Michigan, exiting through the Chicago Harbor Lock into downtown Chicago
  • Took our boat down the inland waterways
    • Illinois River
    • Mississippi River
    • Ohio River
    • Cumberland River
    • Tennessee River
    • Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway
    • Black Warrior-Tombigbee River
    • Mobile River
  • Cruised the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway
  • Crossed the Gulf of Mexico
  • Added seven more states to the list we’ve gone through:
    • Indiana
    • Illinois
    • Kentucky
    • Tennessee
    • Mississippi
    • Alabama
    • Florida
  • Transited 29 locks on the inland rivers
    • 4 locks we actually went through twice – once going up and once going back down, on our 500 mile (roundtrip) side-trip to Chattanooga
  • Traveled for the first time with guests aboard (Ben’s cousin Alec and fiancee Lena accompanied us for three days on the cruise to Chattanooga)

We moved the boat on 46 days, and remained in place 46 days; on the days we moved, we averaged 53 miles, although the shortest was 11 miles, and the longest was 113 miles.

We spent 67 nights in Marinas (74%), and 18 nights (20%) at anchor; as well as one tied to a non-lock wall, three nights on mooring balls, one at a free town dock, and one at a lock. (And one underway, during our 19-hour crossing of the Gulf.)

We have gained a tremendous amount of experience, but each time we think ‘we’ve got this,’ something new comes up.

Great Lakes boating – got it.

Narrow industrial river – got it.

Anchor in strong current – got it.

Communicate with huge tows to arrange passing – got it.

Navigate through dense fog – got it.

Get on a river that’s in flood stage 30 feet above normal – got it.

Tidal salt water again – working on it….

Getting used to ‘6 feet is plenty of depth’ for hours at a time – uhhhh, not quite there yet!

We pinch ourselves that we have come so far (‘Really? Over 4500 miles traveled since May 1st!?!’) Much of it was enjoyable in its own right, but some of it has seemed as only ‘paying dues’ to get to the nice, warm, Florida part of the trip. We plan to take our time enjoying the 300+ miles down the west coast of Florida for the next month, arriving at year’s end to our two-month layover in Marathon, in the Florida Keys. Then on to the Bahamas….

Sunset from third floor of Crabby’s, in Clearwater Beach, Florida

A fabulous crossing

November 17/18 2019 – The boat was ready. We were ready. We were in the right place, at the right time, to make the right decision about our 170 mile crossing of the Gulf of Mexico.

Go!

Gee, that mud-flat wasn’t there when we docked at high tide yesterday

Our friend Greg on TxAu pulled past at 1500, and we pulled out of our (very tight) slip at C-Quarters Marina, and followed him down the river toward Saint George Sound, around Dog Island and out the inlet to the Gulf.

The intrepid Gulf-crosser sporting a nifty nautical ensemble
All business – adjusting our supplemental navigation display as we head out the inlet

Paddy Wagon and Sea-C-Rider followed At Ease, with quite a few other boats leaving ahead of us, or behind us, on their own schedules during the afternoon.

We four settled in on the designated cruising speed, and gained a comfortable separation of about 1/4 to 1/2 mile between boats so we’d be able to see each other in the darkness and have assured radio communications on the 2-hourly checks we’d agreed upon.

The waves were between 1 and 2 feet, and the boat rode comfortably as we headed initially east for the first hour and a half, toward a marker at which we turned south, and started the long leg to Anclote Key outside Tarpon Springs. The slight swell was behind us at that point, with negligible wind, and everything was going smoothly as we enjoyed a beautiful sunset.

Nice sky to the west
Tiny boats on big water
Paddy Wagon and Sea-C-Rider following us

After sunset, when it was nearly dark, we had a pod of dolphins come play in our bow-wave for a few minutes, but soon, dusk gave way to a very black night, and we could see nothing other than the lights of the other boats, and the instruments.

OK, it was dark. You get the idea.

Although there were scattered clouds, we were able to see some stars for a while, but as the moon rose, the clouds brightened and we were actually able to discern the surface of the water for most of the rest of the trip.

There was no haze or fog at all, and we had crystal clear view of the lights of boats ahead of us, behind us, and later on, boats that were converging with us from the sides. We could pick up lights 4-5 miles away, and easily keep track of all the boats in the vicinity, aided by radar and AIS.

We took rotating shifts, each taking the helm while the other tried to doze, and that did give us each a little relief rather than trying to stay awake all night.

Chantale was driving when around 5 AM, she encountered the first crab-pots (actually crab-trap floats). These small floats are connected to crab traps on the bottom with rope or cables, which are laid out in lines that are hundreds of feet long; when you see one, there are probably more nearby. You definitely don’t want to get one of these wound around your propeller, so vigilance is key!

We knew that we’d come across these as we got in closer to shore, in depths of ~30 feet, but these were in 52 feet of water (!), so a bit unexpected. She roused Ben, who was asleep on the bench seat in front of the helm, and a ‘fire drill’ quickly ensued. We slowed to a crawl, communicating a warning to the boats behind us, and after bundling up, Chantale went forward with the spotlight to scan the water on our path, to point out the hazards so Ben could alter the course enough to miss them, while staying on the correct general heading.

We were soon back underway at cruising speed, with Chantale at the bow with the light for over an hour, before it was light enough to discern the floats with natural light.

Chantale at the bow on spotlight duty
A waterman out early tending his crab traps – see the float?
No longer need the spotlight – how many crab pot floats do you see in this photo?

We wound up being on high alert for more than thirty miles, but with very smooth water, and the sun slightly off to one side rather than directly in front of us, the crab-pots were easy to see, and were more an annoyance to avoid, rather than a true risk.

The sun is up, and our buddy boats are still right there behind us

The sunrise was pretty, and we were fortunate that a low layer of clouds shaded us until it was a bit higher in the sky.

Glad we aren’t headed directly into the sun…

As we pulled around Anclote Key, we phoned the marina to find out that we would need to wait an hour or two until several boats had cleared out of the marina in order for us to go to our slip, so we motored up and dropped the hook just across from the channel that leads to Tarpon Springs.

Ahhh! We made it across, and could now relax, get a hot shower, and prepare to enjoy the warmer Florida part of our adventure.

Let the ‘pleasure-boating’ begin!