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.