Monthly Archives: April 2016

In the Home Stretch

From New Smyrna Beach, we were looking at three days to get home to St. Marys. The first day would cover 49 miles from NSB to the Marineland marina, where we were fortunate to get reservations for the last two available slips for Dubhe and Madge. The second day would cover 58 miles from Marineland to Jacksonville’s free public dock at Sisters Creek, where we would have to take our chances on getting a spot. The third day would cover the final 33 miles for us to get to our mooring in the St. Marys River, and mark the end of our travels with Dubhe, which would continue north toward Beaufort, SC.

Our biggest concern was the weather. It was turning nasty, with winds predicted at 15-20 kts, gusts to just under 30, and elevated chances for rain. Under these conditions, cruisers up and down the ICW would be heading for safe anchorages or filling up all available spots in marinas and mooring fields. We felt confident we could handle the predicted winds, but worried about the gusts and the possibility that they might be stronger than forecast. We also worried about the free dock at Sisters Creek. We would be arriving at the very end of the day, and our chances of finding two spaces would be seriously reduced if everybody else was looking for a hidey-hole to wait out the bad weather. Not only that, but the winds had shifted around to the north-northeast, and the tides were against us, which meant we’d be pushing against the current practically all the time. We would be lucky to average a speed between 4.5 and 5.0 kts, or between 5.0 and 5.5 miles per hour, making for some very long days.

We left the NSB City Marina at about 7:30 on Wednesday morning, A few minutes later, we reached the draw bridge just north of the marina planning to go through at the 7:40 opening, but the bridge tender told us we hadn’t called in time, and we’d have to wait for the 8:00 opening. We lost 20 minutes — not much, but sometimes even little delays can make a big difference. The current was with us for the short ride to the Ponce Inlet, but as soon as we got north of it we hit the strong tidal current head on, and our speed dropped. The next obstacle was the notorious curve at the Matanzas inlet, which we’d be hitting about an hour before low tide. Since this is where we grounded Madge on our trip south, Dubhe took the lead and gave us depth soundings as we slowly crept through the tricky stretch. The shoals in the area are constantly changing, but the Coast Guard keeps up with the buoys, moving them to indicate the shifting channel. We mostly had good depth, but I saw six feet at one point, which got my heart rate up a bit. Once we cleared Matanzas, we had a fairly straight shot to Marineland through protected waterways, which helped block the wind, but we were still straight into the current. The Marineland marina honored our reservations, and we pulled into the last two spots in the late afternoon. The wind was still blowing close to 20 kts, but the expectation was that it would die down a bit during the night.

The respite from the wind that we hoped for never materialized. Thursday morning was just as blustery as Wednesday had been. In addition, the clouds were lower and more threatening, almost guaranteeing that we’d see rain. The wind was still expected to be in the neighborhood of 20 kts, which we had managed to push through the day before, so we decided to continue north. We couldn’t stay in Marineland. There was no room. As we headed out at first light, I started to look for alternatives that would allow us to sit out the bad weather. There was no urgent need for us to get home by Friday. The Dubhes had a need to push ahead, but we didn’t — plus, their trip home was about three days longer than ours. We were about three hours south of St. Augustine when I called the municipal marina to see if we could get a mooring ball there. We’d ridden out some bad weather there in January on our way south, and knew that it was secure. Unfortunately, the mooring field south of the Bridge of Lions was full, and I didn’t want to be in the north mooring field with the strong winds coming out of the north. We continued on behind Dubhe past St. Augustine, still looking for protected anchorages along the way. A bit farther north, we checked out Pine Island, which is about halfway between Vilano Beach and Ponte Vedra Beach. There were already boats there, and not enough room left for us. As we continued along the ICW behind Palm Valley and Ponte Vedra, the narrow canal — with the Cabbage Swamp on the west side and large houses to the east — gave us some protection from the wind, but as we broke into the open marshes around Jacksonville Beach we were feeling the full affects of the wind again. We would have to get at least as far as Sisters Creek, north of the St. Johns River, to find a protected anchorage. We had a brief delay while waiting out a large container ship before crossing the St. Johns River, arriving at the Sisters Creek free dock around four o’clock. The dock was full, and the anchorage in the creek was too exposed. We continued on. About an hour later, we passed the Fort George Island anchorage. It was deserted — for good reason, it seemed, since it offered little protection from the wind. Finally, a little after six o’clock and with the rain starting to blow in, we pulled into the Sawpit Creek cut-off to Nassau Sound. I was determined to stop there, come Hell or high water. (Actually, Hell and high water had already arrived.) Two boats were already in the anchorage, but they were spaced far apart. There was open water between them. The shallowest water we could find was about 15 ft (it was just past high tide), which was too deep for Dubhe. They headed out to find a spot along the northern edge of Nassau Sound. There was no protection from the wind in the creek, which was howling at 20-25 kts, and there were frequent gusts around 30 kts. But the creek was narrow and perpendicular to the wind, so the chop was manageable — at least, it was not as bad as Dinner Key had been. With strong north winds and a strong east-west tidal current, there would not be much swinging on the anchor. Even with the depth, we were able to let out enough chain to give us some assurance of good holding, and the anchor bit hard into the muddy bottom. We buttoned up for the night, contacted Dubhe to let them know we were safely on the hook, and to make sure they had found a safe anchorage. It was about seven o’clock. We had covered 67 miles in about 12 hours, at an average of just under 5 kts. I didn’t get much sleep. The tide turned at about 10:30 that night, and I wanted to make sure the anchor held when the current shifted. It did. I didn’t sleep well, waking to check our holding at midnight and 1:00 am. I set my alarm for 4 am so I could check the next tide change, and drifted into a few hours of fitful sleep — which ended up being all that I would get that night. After the alarm went off, I couldn’t get back to sleep. Though Madge was rock solid on the anchor, every sound or shift was magnified in my mind, and I’d have to get up and check it out. By seven thirty Friday morning, there was enough light for us to leave, so we weighed anchor and set off.

The wind was blowing steady around 25 kts, but the chop wasn’t too bad. Fortunately, the direction of the ICW didn’t allow enough fetch to produce stronger waves. We crossed Nassau Sound and headed up behind Amelia Island. We were only 24 miles from home. Dubhe was still at anchor as we passed them. They looked like they were out in the middle of the sound (which they weren’t, really), but they said the night had gone well. I know Perry got a lot more sleep than I did. We waved at them as we passed. We won’t see their faces again before we get to Beaufort later this summer, unless it’s in a picture online. Over the previous five weeks, we had traveled almost 500 miles with the little trawler and her crew, and had shared our best times of this cruise. We wished them a safe voyage, and trudged on into the wind, rain and current. Conditions were not too bad as we went up the Amelia River, but my anxiety started to rise as we got back into familiar water around Fernandina.

Cruise shipAlready that morning, we had been passed by three separate northbound Navy patrol boats. As we traversed the Amelia River, I began hearing radio messages hinting that a submarine might be coming in soon at Cumberland Sound. I also heard conversations between the Navy and a cruise ship that was heading for Fernandina Harbor Marina. That meant that between Madge and home we were likely to encounter: an outgoing tide in Cumberland Sound; sustained 25 kt northeast winds; 2-3 ft seas in Cumberland Sound; a cruise ship heading in our direction; and possibly a submarine that might cause us to stop and hold station in all that mess while it passed on its way to the submarine base at Kings Bay. When we turned north into the wide-open Fernandina Beach harbor area behind Amelia Island, we lost our protection from the wind. Even without the sails, Madge was heeled over about 10 degrees to port. Our tired old Perkins engine kept hammering away as we crept north. The tide was supposed to be going out, but the wind in our face seemed to be counteracting any benefit we might have gotten from it. As we entered the south end of Quarantine Reach, I caught sight of a triple-decker cruise ship heading east in Cumberland Sound. It would have to make a right turn to enter the Amelia River. Madge would have to make a left turn toward St. Marys. I didn’t want to have to cross the bow of the cruise ship, so I contacted it by radio, we exchanged our relative intentions, and I hugged the west side of the river hoping I could make my turn west before the bigger ship could turn towards me. Fortunately, Madge was able to cut some corners near the St. Marys Entrance and we were able to avoid getting anywhere near the ship.

Sub croppedAs we turned toward home in Cumberland Sound, I kept Madge as far out of the shipping channel as I could and still have enough depth for our draft, while trying to get as far west as possible as quickly as possible in order to get behind Cumberland Island enough to block some wind and reduce the height of the waves. Then, looking back over my shoulder, I saw the submarine coming in the Entrance. Our previous experience with subs was that the Navy would shut down all boat movements in the vicinity of the warship. The legal safety zone around the ship is 500 yards (0.25 nautical miles). Madge could not get that far away from the shipping channel without running aground. But the sub was behind us and we were pointing away from it. I could not outrun it. It would overtake us before we could duck into the St. Marys River, and we’d be too close to it. We kept waiting for the patrol boats to warn us off, but they never came. I don’t know what I would’ve done if they’d wanted me to stop the boat under those conditions, but they left us alone and we ducked into our river. As we did, we were finally able to feel that the current was now with us, and with the current and wind going basically in the same direction, the chop settled down. As we spotted the rooftops of St. Marys, we even got a break from the rain and a little patch of blue sky and sunshine. I thought it might be an omen. It was not.

As we neared the town of St. Marys, we were almost swamped by the Cumberland Island ferry, which passed too close to us despite our obvious and futile attempts to stay as far away from it as possible. It was like it was aiming for us. Later, we discovered the pennant on our mooring ball was fouled by one of the many crab trap floats that seemed to proliferate in the anchorage. Unable to free the pennant, despite the help of one of our yacht club friends who was out in his dinghy checking his boat, we decided to tie up at the nearby dock. In the high winds, we had difficulty tying up, and without the help of our friend we could not have done so. We finally got Madge settled in and doubled our dock lines, but by this time the storm clouds had opened up and we were all completely soaked to the skin. Our friend gave us a ride home, where we retrieved our truck and headed back to the boat to unload what we could. As soon as it was safe to do so, we dinghied out to our mooring ball to free the pennant. In the process, I lost my new glasses overboard, but we got Madge away from the dock and out in the river where she belonged.

We were finally back home. We had been out for 98 days and covered over 1,100 miles on the water. We had left in a dense fog, and returned in a storm. In spite of that, we had experienced a wonderful adventure. We had learned much, and knew we’d be much better suited for the next portion of our cruise this summer, during which we’ll head north to the Chesapeake Bay.

Finding Old Friends

After Suzy posted on Facebook that we were anchored in Cocoa, she soon heard from some friends from our old home town who happened to be right next to us in Cape Canaveral. Susan and Lee wanted to come by to visit, but we told them we were leaving early the next morning for New Smyrna Beach (NSB); however, we had planned a layover day in NSB, which is about an hour’s drive by car from Cape Canaveral. For us, on Madge, it would be another long day’s trip of over 50 miles on the water. It’s funny how your perspective changes when you can only travel at about seven miles per hour. Anyway, Susan and Lee decided to come visit us at the NSB City Marina on our layover day.

The trip from Cocoa to NSB was uneventful, for the most part. We had three bridges to negotiate early in the day around Titusville. The wind was out of the northeast to east. Because of the bridges and our direction of travel, we just motored in the morning. As we finally turned north in Mosquito Lagoon, though, the conditions were right for some sailing. We pulled the genoa all the way out and picked up some much appreciated speed. We kept the motor going, however, because we had a lot of distance to cover, but I was able to back off on the throttle a bit to give our old diesel an easier time of it. We pulled into the NSB City Marina not too late in the afternoon. As we tied up in our slip, I noticed that the boat right next to us was the same Caliber 47 LRC (47-ft Long Range Cruiser) sailboat (named Surreal)  that had passed us on our trip from Vero Beach to Cocoa, and which I had drooled over as it did. I may have mentioned to the captain on the radio as he passed us, how much I lusted after his boat. Now I had the opportunity to introduce myself to the Canadian crew, and to see the boat up close. I resisted the urge to ask for a tour of the boat, since I had seen one at boat shows, but learned from the always-nice Canadians that the boat was on its way to Brunswick, GA, where it would be put up for the summer. Dubhe, which pulled in just after we did, was in the slip just on the other side of Surreal. The NSB City Marina is fairly small, and we were lucky to get in, but it was full of some very nice boats. Very good for drooling and dreaming.

The city marina is in the old part of New Smyrna Beach, and the Dubhes were craving pizza, so we walked down Canal Street to a highly-regarded New York style pizza restaurant recommended by the dockmaster. Unfortunately, it was closed on Mondays. We fell back to our Plan B, and had a pleasant dinner. We turned in fairly early, since it had been a long day, and Suzy and I needed to spruce up Madge the next day to get ready for our guests.

Old Friends

Much to our surprise, on the morning of the visit, Susan and Lee informed us that another couple of friends from our old home town, Ingrid and Joel, were vacationing that week in NSB. Joel had just retired, and I guess he was taking some time to decompress after a long career, including 31 years at his last post. We had wanted to attend his retirement party, but were crossing the Okeechobee Waterway at the time. Well, Susan had called Joel to inform him that we were in NSB, so Joel called me to ask if he and Ingrid could also stop by. Of course! We had an awesome visit. Our friends arrived just after lunch, so we hit the local tiki bar and monopolized a table by the water for the entire afternoon, catching up on all the tales from home. What are the chances that we’d find ourselves hundreds of miles from home on our tiny little boat, in some random small town in Florida, and run into not one, but two couples from our old home town? How wild is that? Before our cruise, I’d never even heard of New Smyrna Beach.

Since our pizza dinner had been pushed back to that evening, we asked the Dubhes if we could invite our hometown friends to join us. We knew they would approve (which they did), so all eight of us descended on the previously-recommended restaurant called Panheads. The place was small — we took up about half of the indoor dining area — but it was comfortable. I’m not sure if the circumstances affected my taste buds or not, but that place had some of the best pizza I’d ever eaten. As the conversation continued around the table, we uncovered a number of unrealized connections between our old friends and our new ones, including previous home towns and several mutual friends. It was a jolly evening.

After the dinner was over, and the group had disbanded, Suzy and I walked back to the marina with the Dubhes. The only description I can think of for the day is “wonderfully bizarre.”

I wonder who we know that knows Kevin Bacon.

 

Making Good Time

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We are at anchor in Cocoa at the moment. We had a long day, but a good one. The Dubhes are early risers — I am not, but since we had a lot of miles to cover, we figured we needed an early start, just in case. We dropped off the mooring ball and said goodbye to Vero Beach just as the sun was coming up at seven o’clock. The current was against us, slightly, but we were still able to make 5.7-5.8 kts. Madge was able to match Dubhe’s speed without too much trouble. Being Sunday, traffic on the waterway picked up as the day wore on, and we had to be careful when bigger, faster boats overtook us from behind. In a passing situation, if both boats do not do their part, the smaller boat usually gets tossed about badly by the larger boat’s wake. In a proper “slow pass,” the slower boat being overtaken slows to idle speed as the faster boat gets even with the stern. This allows the faster boat to drop to just over idle speed, which means it produces almost no wake, while still allowing it to pass the slower boat in a fairly short amount of time. Once the faster boat is past the bow of the slower boat, the slower boat turns into the wash just behind the faster boat. When the slower boat is directly behind the faster boat, the faster boat can resume full speed, because the slower boat is inside the faster boat’s wake, and the slower boat can also speed up again. Unfortunately, some boaters think passing on the water is like passing in a car, with no consequences to the boat being passed. They blow by you with no concern for the impact of their wake. If they would take the time to look behind them, they would see the havoc they wreak on the slower boat. Dubhe got waked badly at least twice, once just as they started passing under a bridge, which almost threw them into the bridge supports. They also suffered some breakage of interior items that got dislodged and tossed about the boat. Such behavior is not only rude, it is illegal. Captains are responsible for damage caused by their boat’s wake. Charges are rarely filed, but nerves are frayed and tempers flare.

About noon, as we passed Melbourne, the wind shifted more to the east, bringing it on Madge’s beam, so we pulled out the jib to motor sail. We only pulled the sail out halfway, due to the strong winds, but still got a powerful boost in speed. We jumped to about 6.5 kts. In order to stay in step with Dubhe, we backed off on the engine and let the sail do most of the work. The current (what little there was of it) also shifted in our direction, and Madge and Dubhe both maintained over 6 kts the rest of the way into Cocoa. We dropped the hook at about three thirty, and started thinking about what we would do for happy hour. It had been a long but productive day. We needed to unwind. In the end, we decided to dinghy across the river to Cocoa village. The Dubhes had a pub they liked there, and we were willing to give it a shot. We had Irish nachos (like the Mexican kind, but with waffle fries instead of chips) and watched the end of The Masters golf tournament.

Tomorrow will be another long day. We’re heading to New Smyrna Beach, and will have to get up early again. I would rather sleep late, except that these long days will get us home sooner. I’m looking forward to a bed that doesn’t move, flush toilets, and unlimited hot water. At least for a while. The southern loop of Cruising Year No. 1 is wrapping up. It’s time to start planning the northern loop.

Scoobie Dubhe Doo!

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MV Dubhe arrived from Stuart on Thursday, after a mad three-day dash from Ft. Myers Beach to Stuart via the Okeechobee Waterway. A similar (but slightly shorter) trip took us four days. In any event, the weary travelers rafted up with us — as is the practice at Vero — and took a couple of days to catch their breath. It had only been three weeks since  we’d last seen them, but since it’s so easy to lose track of time on the water, it seemed like much longer. Anyway, it was a happy reunion, and we resumed our practice of alternating sundowners, which was much easier since we only had to step across the side rails, instead of hopping into the dinghy.

As we are, the Dubhes are anxious to get back home, so we put together a travel plan with long days and only one rest day. We should be home by the middle of the month. Each travel day, except the last one for us, will cover more than 50 nautical miles. There are five travel legs for us to get back to St. Marys, eight for Dubhe to get home to Beaufort, SC. Intermediate stops en route to St. Marys will be: Cocoa (overnight, anchor); New Smyrna Beach, with rest day (two nights, marina); Marineland (overnight, marina); and, Jacksonville/Sisters Creek (overnight, free public dock). Dubhe will have two more stops between St. Marys and Beaufort, at Doboy Sound and Savannah. We hoped to leave Vero Beach for Cocoa on Saturday, arriving at New Smyrna Beach on Sunday, but the marina was booked up for Sunday night, so we slipped a day to stay at the New Smyrna Beach City Marina on Monday and Tuesday nights. We’ll leave Vero Beach on Sunday instead of Saturday. The Velcro strikes again.

We got a message from Kindred Spirit that they would be leaving the motor trawler rendezvous in Ft. Pierce on Saturday and heading to Vero. We hoped we’d get to see them before we left, but their plans must’ve taken them to another stop, because they didn’t come into the City marina. But we did learn that they will be leaving Kindred Spirit in St. Marys for awhile, so we are sure to meet up with them soon.

Back in the Land of Velcro

imageWe turned north from Stuart Friday morning, taking the ICW toward home. We had traveled these waters two months ago, but they looked slightly different this time because we were going in the opposite direction. The destination was Vero Beach, where we’d spent 16 days in late January and February. We were determined not to stay that long this time — our horse knows we’re heading for the barn, and is anxious to get there quickly. It was a good day on the water, sunny but not too hot, with a little wind but not enough nor from the right direction for sailing, and Madge was continuing to prove to us that she can consistently run at 6 kts. By around three o’clock, we arrived at Vero Beach. All the mooring balls were occupied, but as is the practice here, we rafted up with a nice Catalina 34 Mark II named Plumpuppet. We didn’t really get much of a chance to meet the crew, because early the next morning they dropped off the ball and took a slip in the marina. We later learned that the boat is being put up for sale. I’ve always liked the 34 Mk II. It is a perfect size for a cruising couple, and quite popular. Though two feet shorter than Madge, it has a bit more room below (being wider) and a roomier cockpit. The boat looks to be in good shape. I hope it finds a new home soon. Somebody’s gonna get a good boat. But I digress…

We had a few items on our checklist for this visit, and only wanted to stay long enough to get them done. We needed to provision and do laundry; wanted to go to the beach; refuel; pump out; and hit the Monday night burger special at Mr. Manatee’s. We checked in for five nights, thinking to leave on Wednesday. Ha!

On Saturday, we went to the grocery and marine stores in the morning, and did laundry in the afternoon. We walked to the beach on Sunday, even though it was a bit cool and very windy, and went to an ice cream social on some friends’ boat in the afternoon. Besides us and the hosts, there were two other couples there. We had a great time and stayed several hours, talking about places we’d been or want to go, and all the funny stories that naturally go with having spent any amount of time on the water. On Monday evening, the ice cream group gathered again, and we all dinghied across the Indian River to Mr. Manatee’s Bar and Grill for the burger special.

In the meantime, on Sunday night, we learned that the Dubhes were heading our way, and planned to reach Vero Beach by Thursday. Since they are great traveling companions, and our boats run at about the same speed, we decided to wait for them to catch up, so we could head north together. We don’t know how long they’ll want to stay in Vero Beach to catch their breath, but we’ll hang out here until they’re ready to go.

Nothing holds on like Velcro… Beach.

A Small Community

The Moore Haven city dock lies almost in the shadow of the US Hwy 27 bridge over the Okeechobee Waterway. As we walked under the bridge and turned toward the local dollar store, a car came to a stop next to us and asked if we were cruisers tied up at the city dock. The driver was a former cruiser who had passed through the area so often he eventually moved there. I guess we had that “cruiser” look about us. As we chatted, the driver highly recommended the nearby Mexican restaurant, which was about the only eatery in town that we could walk to, other than a Burger King. We thanked the man, and he went on his way. The dollar store was a couple blocks past the Mexican restaurant, and as we walked by we noted that it did not look like any sort of place that we would ever choose to eat in. But it had been highly recommended. We decided to give it a shot.

After our shopping, as we were heading for the restaurant, we saw another couple about our age, and similarly attired, coming toward us on the sidewalk. When we reached a proper greeting distance, we asked, “Are you the Kindred Spirits?” using the name of the other boat at the city dock. They were, and we invited them to join us for dinner at the Mexican restaurant. They agreed, since they were planning to eat there anyway. The food was very good – so much for judging the book by its cover – and inexpensive, and we stayed and talked for several hours.

Bill and Laura had lived and cruised on their motor trawler, Kindred Spirit III, for six years. Though they call Greenville, SC, home, they keep their boat in Brunswick, GA – about 45 minutes from St. Marys – when not cruising. Since they were also heading back north, and our routes coincided for the next couple of days, we decided to travel together. (Well, “together” is a relative term when you’re talking about a sailboat that motors at under 6 kts and a trawler that motors closer to 8 kts.) Better for us was the fact that Kindred Spirit had crossed the waterway many times, the most recent being only a few months before, and knew the route. Bill suggested an anchorage on the other side of the lake as the next stop, and we agreed.

There are two routes for getting by Lake Okeechobee. Route 1 follows a canal around the southwest quadrant of the lake from Moore Haven to Clewiston, then cuts across the open water for about 25 miles from Clewiston to Port Mayaca, where you once again pick up the waterway canal. Route 2 is called the Rim Route, because it follows the edge of the lake on past Clewiston all the way around to Port Mayaca. The Rim Route is about ten miles longer than Route 1, but is more protected in the event of bad weather. Since the weather forecast only predicted a slight chance of afternoon showers, and those occurring after the time we expected to have completed our crossing, we chose Route 1 because of the shorter distance. Madge left Moore Haven first on Tuesday morning, but by the time we got to Clewiston, Kindred Spirit had caught up, so we let her turn into the lake just ahead of us. Winds were about 10 kts and there was only a light chop on the lake, and Madge was able to maintain a speed of just over 6 kts; however, within about 10 miles we had lost sight of Kindred Spirit. About halfway across the lake, we heard a rumble behind us and turned around to see dark clouds over Clewiston. I checked the weather radar and saw that there was a thunderstorm chasing us. The middle of Lake Okeechobee is not a friendly place to be in a storm. When we were about an hour out from the lock at Port Mayaca, I radioed the locktender and asked what the lock does in the event of a storm. He informed me that as soon as he sees lightning, the lock is closed, and it does not reopen until 30 minutes after the last flash of lightning is observed. We told him we were coming as fast as we could, and he promised he would hold the lock open as long as safely possible. The first sprinkles of rain caught up with us, but the radar showed that the worst of the storm cell was lingering over Clewiston. Madge was racing along at 6.2 kts, and it was still barely sprinkling as I turned into the channel approaching the lock. If we entered the lock before the storm hit, we could shelter inside the lock until it passed. It was all I could do to pull back on the throttle so we could enter the lock at idle speed, but we slid in safely and the locktender immediately closed the gate behind us and let us out again into the canal. We had beat the storm across the lake, but we had two miles to go to meet up with Kindred Spirit at the anchorage. The storm was still behind us as we reached the anchorage – which was the mouth of a narrow canal about as wide as the lengths of Madge and Kindred Spirit combined. We decided to raft up (tie the boats together) but pointed in opposite directions, so when we had our anchors out in front of each boat, we would both be anchored bow and stern, which would keep us from swinging into the bank as the wind shifted overnight. It took some doing to get Madge’s anchor down, since she was the second boat, but we managed – after a fashion – so we were set for the evening. Suzy prepared some hors d’oeuvres and I grabbed a bottle of wine to take for sundowners on Kindred Spirit. The instant we set foot on their boat, the bottom fell out and a huge frog-choker ensued. The wind blew, lightning flashed, thunder boomed and rain pelted down, but we all stayed snug and dry, and the anchors held. In less than an hour the storm had passed.

We talked again for another couple of hours. In the course if the conversation, we learned that Bill and Laura had met up with the Dubhes in St. Petersburg, at the Dali museum. As Bill stated, “The cruising community is as narrow as the waterway.” The people you meet once, you meet again. The friends you make stay friends. And the people you know, also know other people you know. We are blessed to have met some wonderful people in our short time of cruising.

The next morning, Madge again left first. We were heading for the mooring field at Sunset Bay Marina in Stuart, where we’d take a ball for a couple of days. A little while later, Kindred Spirit passed us (again), and we promised to meet again somewhere along “the waterway.” We made our way past the bridges and through the last lock of the canal, and pulled into Sunset Bay by mid afternoon. We were finally back on the Atlantic side of Florida, and turned our sites on St. Marys.

The next morning (Thursday) we were hailed by Kindred Spirit as they passed by us. They had anchored just shy of Stuart, and were leap-frogging us as we rested for the day on our mooring ball. On Friday, we would hear them on the radio as we leaped over them in Ft. Pierce, where they were stopping for a rendezvous of trawler owners, while we were en route to Vero Beach. I’m sure we will see them again, if not on the water, then by car. We plan to visit other new friends in Brunswick once we get back to St. Marys.

 

Turning Towards Home

While in Ft. Myers, we worked out our plan for getting back to the relative familiarity of the Atlantic coast. This would involve cutting across Central Florida on the Okeechobee Waterway from Ft. Myers to Stuart. The route is about 150 miles of canals, five locks, a few bridges and about 25 miles of open but shallow water crossing Lake Okeechobee. While the bridges are manned and operate around the clock, the locks only operate from 7 am to 5 pm, so the trip across had to take into account the timing of the locks. Not only that, but we needed to make sure that we had good weather for crossing the lake. It would not be good to get caught in a thunderstorm on the open lake, which can get rough due to its size and shallow depth. Given the conditions, we planned to cross in four days, starting on Easter Sunday.

We departed the Ft. Myers Yacht Basin under calm conditions Sunday morning, but with the expectation that winds would increase to 10-15 kts during the day. Our destination that day was LaBelle, a quaint little town that offers a free city dock where you can stay up to three nights, water and power hookups provided (also free). About 15 miles out of Ft. Myers we encountered our first lock, the Franklin lock. We had studied YouTube videos of other boats “locking through,” but were still a bit nervous about it. When we hailed the Franklin locktender to request passage, we told him we were greenhorns and would appreciate any guidance he could offer. He was great. As we pulled into the lock, he came out to the rail and tossed us our lines for tying up in the lock. He instructed us on how to control our boat during the lift and how best to exit the lock afterwards. We talked for about five minutes and he patiently answered all my questions. It helped that we were only lifting two feet at Franklin, but the locktender advised us that the next lock would lift us eight feet, and the last lock would drop us 14 feet, and he offered tips on those locks, too. There was one other boat in the lock with us, but the crew was patient while we talked with the locktender, and even gave us some further pointers while we were riding the water up. We pulled out of the Franklin lock much relieved to have gotten through relatively easily. We didn’t have any delays from the bridges that had to open for us, and pulled into LaBelle in the middle of the afternoon. There were six slips at the dock, but only three were occupied. A couple guys from the other boats helped with our dock lines, and we were safely secured for the night. One reason we made such good time is that Suzy had spotted a diver on the dock in Ft. Myers who was cleaning the bottom of a boat near us. I buttonholed the guy to see if he could do Madge before we left, and he worked us in. He did a great job and the price was a bargain. Afterward, he told us that the bottom wasn’t too bad, but there had been some fair sized barnacles on our prop. With a clean prop and bottom, Madge was flying again. We averaged just under six knots for the trip from Ft. Myers to LaBelle.

Alone and peaceful on the waterway.

Alone and peaceful on the waterway.

Our second day was a little more challenging. Adjacent to the LaBelle dock was the LaBelle bridge, and we would have to pass under it first thing – only the bridge stays closed to boat traffic from 7 am to 9 am to accommodate automobile traffic. Also, there was supposed to be construction underway at the Ortona lock about 12 miles upstream, and the only scheduled openings were at 7 am, 11:30 am and 4:30 pm. Our plan was to sleep late, leave LaBelle at about 9:30 am, arrive at the Ortona lock a little after 11:00 am, then finish the day at the city dock in Moore Haven at the western edge of Lake Okeechobee. The total distance covered would only be about 25 miles, but it would set us up well for crossing the lake on Tuesday. There were two motor trawlers with us at LaBelle who had the same departure time as us, and were heading in the same direction, but with different destinations. We pulled out together with Madge in the rear as the slower boat, and passed under the LaBelle bridge on schedule and in order; however, as Madge was going under the bridge a third motor trawler came around the bend and joined our line, then passed Madge after we all cleared the bridge. I expected that we would soon be left behind, but Madge was able to stay pretty close to the rest of the line, as we were able to maintain over 6 kts. A couple of larger (and faster) power cruisers passed our group between LaBelle and the lock, and I was getting concerned that we might be at the end of the line and miss our slot for locking through. The Ortona lock is fairly small, and the two big power cruisers would probably have to go through alone, and there were three other trawlers ahead of me. However, as we got within radio range of the lock, I heard what appeared to be normal operational chatter. This would only be possible if there was no active construction at the time. Madge neared the lock around 10:30, and I could see the three trawlers from our little group were just starting to enter the lock. There was still enough room for Madge, and we slipped in with perfect timing, not having to wait at all. We exited the lock in order, but within a few miles the trawlers had pulled off, and Madge was left alone on the waterway. We were so far ahead of schedule due to Madge’s clean bottom and because there was no construction at the lock, that we pulled into Moore Haven in the early afternoon. The city dock there looked like it could hold about five boats the size of Madge, and there was a motor trawler already tied up at the far east end. We tied up at the far west end, leaving as much room as possible between us for other boats that might come along. Needing a couple of items we missed in Ft. Myers, we buttoned up the boat, expecting some afternoon showers, and headed into town.

 

The Industrial Age

We decided to get a slip at the Ft. Myers City Yacht Basin so we could fuel up, pump out, do laundry, provision, and generally take it easy in a slip for a couple of days before heading across the Okeechobee Waterway to the Atlantic side of Florida. What we found in Ft. Myers made us decide to be tourists for awhile, and we ended up staying a week. The downtown area in Ft. Myers is great. It’s been revitalized with shops and restaurants and parks, which are all easily accessible by foot if you happen to be on a boat in the marina. Not only that, but Ft. Myers has a history that I’m sure few people are aware of.

We pulled in on Sunday afternoon after leaving Captiva. We tied up in our slip and got settled in. Then, as I later walked down our dock, I discovered not four boats from us a Watkins 36CC named Hawk’s Nest. Madge is a Watkins 36AC, meaning “aft cockpit,” which means the pilot station is at the back of the boat. The CC designation stands for “center cockpit,” which means the pilot station in near the middle (lengthwise) of the boat. Watkins boats are rare. I had only seen one other, and it was just a 27-footer. I had a long conversation with Bruce, Hawk’s Nest’s owner, and it was amazing how similar our experiences with our boats were, in spite of the different deck configuration. We toured the boat, and shared lots of information about upgrades we had done, or plan to do. There is a cluster of Watkins owners around the Chesapeake, so I hope to possibly connect with some of them this summer. In addition to the boat info, Bruce shared that there are a lot of musicians among the boaters in the yacht basin, and they usually take over the “open mike” night at a local club each Monday evening. Of course, that meant we had to go, and we met a bunch of talented, and very nice folks, from our marina.

The Edison estate in Ft. Myers.

The Edison estate in Ft. Myers.

Now, here’s the thing I didn’t know about Ft. Myers: it was the winter home of both Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Edison got there first in the late 1800s and built a large home with associated labs, workshops and botanical gardens. Before 1900, Henry Ford worked for Edison before finally striking out on his own to try his hand at automobiles; however, Edison remained a mentor for Ford, and was a frequent visitor to the Edison home in Ft. Myers. When the owner of the land next door to the Edison estate decided to sell his property, he offered it to Ford first, knowing of the connection, and Ford built a home there. Suzy and I spent the better part of a day touring the estates, and were amazed to learn, or recall, the tremendous impacts both men had on the way that we live our lives today. The estates are immaculately restored and maintained, and a must see for any visit to Ft. Myers.

Edison's state of the art lab for trying to extract latex from a wide variety of natural plants.

Edison’s state of the art rubber research lab.

Around the beginning of the Twentieth Century, rubber had become a major and necessary component of many industrial items. Think insulation for electrical wires (Edison) and tires for automobiles (Ford). Edison realized that latex, the raw material for rubber, was only available from foreign monopolies, and US industries were vulnerable to embargoes and highly volatile price swings. So, along with Harvey Firestone, Edison and Ford established a private research lab in Ft. Myers looking for native plants yielding high amounts of quality latex. After testing thousands of plants, which were cultivated in Edison’s gardens, they eventually discovered that common ragweed fit the bill as a substitute for the rubber plant. They then proceeded to breed new varieties of ragweed for maximum latex yield. They eventually turned the lab and its discoveries over to the US Agriculture Department for final development, thereby insuring that in the two World Wars the US would have a steady supply of rubber.

Statue of Edison, Ford and Firestone

Statue of Edison, Ford and Firestone

Both Edison and Ford were heroes to my grandfather. Grandad was a railroad mechanic, tinkerer and would-be inventor. I know he held at least one patent. He was what we would call today an “early adopter” of technical innovations. He had a recording phonograph in the 1930s with which he recorded the sounds of events when my mother was a teenager. He always had the latest in home radio and film technology. He would have loved to see what we saw at the Edison and Ford estates, and I couldn’t help but think of him often during the day. Suzy and I examined every exhibit in the estate museum, until the staff had to run us out at closing time. We were tired, but had a wonderful time.

While in Ft. Myers we met up with some old friends from SV Island Moon, whom we had met years ago in Georgetown, SC. They had since moved to the Ft. Myers area, so we got together for a long lunch and longer conversations. In the course of the conversation, we mentioned that we had spent time with the Dubhes. They recognized Dubhe’s name from a painting in the home of one of their Georgetown neighbors. Seems the neighbor had owned Dubhe in the 1990s, but the wife sold the boat after her husband died. That next owner later sold the boat to our friends Nancy and Perry. Island Moon contacted the former neighbor (still living), and after a few multi-stage emails, we helped get the old and current boat owners connected. They plan to meet in person soon.

What an amazing, and apparently very small and interconnected community we have fallen into on the water.