August 14 to 20th

August 14, 2011 Vero Beach Marina to Stuart (Sunset Bay Marina)

Alarm goes off at 6:00. We’re up, getting things ready to go. Leave the dock at 7:00. Today started off cooler than yesterday around 74 degrees. There was a nice breeze and it was sunny. The storms from yesterday moved on and it would be a nice day. They put on quite a lightning show last night. The ride of 44.5 miles today was pretty uneventful. The boat traffic increased as the morning wore on, so we were anxious to get off the water and get tied up. We topped off the tanks at the gas dock and took a slip in the Sunset Bay Marina in Stuart at 12:30.

We hung out and cooled off before going to register at the office.

Sunset Bay used to be the marina run by the city. The city still owns it, but it is run by a private company. They have a very nice facility with a restaurant on site, but they were short on help for a marina this size.

There were many boats here from all over the Eastern US and Canada.

We made some phone calls home to family and friends. Bob did a Skype call with the president from the Co-op to discuss some Co-op business. I gave the boat a good wash probably for the last time until we get home next week. It wasn’t too hot because the sun was hid by the clouds that had started to move in. Some storm clouds moved in from the ocean just as I was finishing up. I almost thought we were going to get some rain, but it never happened. The dark clouds continued to fill the sky, so the threat of rain was still there. Later in the afternoon around 4:00, dark tubular clouds came in from the ocean.

We prepared for the rain and went down below. About 10 minutes went by when we heard the halliards clanking wildly on the sailboat across the way. Bob and I went out to look. The wind had really picked up and there were waves coming into the marina. We saw white caps on the river. All of a sudden, a strong sustained wind of about 30-35 mph blew in. Our back canvas started flapping and it looked like it was going to rip right out of its zipper. We struggled to get it down in the wind and finally did. Once it was secure, we waited for the rain to come, but all we got were sprinkles. The rain went to the north. We had dinner, walked Auggie, and relaxed with some TV. We will do a short run tomorrow down the St. Lucie River to Indiantown. We have to do only one lock tomorrow, the St. Lucie lock at 9 AM (timed opening). We will be crossing Lake O on Tuesday. Lake O is 34 nautical miles (39 statute miles) across. We go first into the St. Lucie River to the St. Lucie Canal to Lake O. to the Caloosahatchee Canal to the river (Caloosahatchee) on the other side at Ft. Myers. The total trip from one side to the other side of the state is 134 nautical (154 statute miles) across the state.

NOTE: We spent some time reflecting on our trip–now almost over, and made some observations. Most marinas were not full compared to years past. The economy must have taken it’s toll on boaters too. In talking with the marina managers, they all seemed to agree. When we left in April, we were ahead of the mass migration of cruisers going north after spending the winter in the Bahamas, Florida Keys, or Florida in general. We saw some cruisers in our travels this summer, but not many. We had no trouble finding space in any of the marinas along the way. The anchorages were empty too. While we were in Chesapeake Bay from May-July, we had pretty much every place to ourselves. Sure, the biggest cities like Washington, DC, Baltimore, and Annapolis were busy with tourists, but that was to be expected and even those places weren’t that crowded. Still, we never had to worry about finding a space at a marina. Leaving Chesapeake Bay in mid-July, at the peak of summer vacation and traveling south, produced the same results….there was no one around. Any cruisers that we did see traveling north, seem to be going to the New England area or Canada. No one was moving south with us. Some marinas that we had been to before on our way north were ghost towns on our way south. All in all, the timing was good for us–we never had to fight for a spot or worry about getting a place to stay. We enjoyed the serenity of being in an anchorage by ourselves and didn’t have to fight the masses of people to do any touring or visiting places we wanted to see. We had great traveling weather at this time of the year as far as winds and storms go, and except for the UNUSUALLY excessive heat this last month, we would probably time it again the same way. It will be good to get home before the busy hurricane months of Sept. and October begin, as well. We did well in our planning.

August 15, 2011 Stuart, Sunset Bay Marina to Indiantown

We got up before the alarm at 7:00 and were gone by 8:00. The timed opening for the St. Lucie Lock was at 9:00. We had to make that opening. The next one was at 4:00. We traveled down the south arm of the St. Lucie River about 7 miles to the lock. We arrived there at 8:45 with 15 minutes to spare.

It was a sunny, warm morning of 81 degrees. The humidity was high and they were predicting a 50% chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. We wanted to be tied to the dock by noon. We entered the lock at 9:00 and the lockmaster closed the doors. He opened the other doors and the water came pouring in.

After a few minutes the lockmaster came by and asked if we’d mind if he stopped the fill and reopened the lock for a sailboat who just came around the corner. He said he doesn’t normally do that, but it’s a long wait until the next opening at 4:00. We agreed, so he started the whole process over again. We were in no hurry and we hoped some lockmaster would do the same for us sometime. We left the lock about 9:35 after having been raised 10 feet. We had 13 miles via the St. Lucie Canal to get to Indiantown, our destination for tonight. As we were motoring slowly down the St. Lucie Canal, a big black cow came down to the bank and sat down in the water. I think he was trying to cool off.

We arrived at 11:15 and got all tied up after 21.6 miles today.

I walked Auggie and gave him a chance to stretch his legs. After lunch, Bob and I took the dinghy up the canal to the Port Mayaka Lock.

We took the portable depth finder with us, so we could check out the depth at the entrance to the lock. It took us about 20 minutes to get there.

Along the way we noticed the clouds were building, so we wanted to keep an eye to the sky for storms. We spent a few minutes at the lock checking the depth and Bob spoke to the lockmaster about the depth on the other side of the lock. He was content to know that the lockmaster felt that we wouldn’t have a problem if we stayed close to the green markers. That’s exactly what we’ll do. On the ride back, we noticed some smoke in the sky. It looked like they might be burning off some of the nearby sugar cane fields.

We took the hot ride back and cooled off in the boat. Auggie and I took a walk after Bob trimmed Auggie’s nails. We heard thunder and there were some clouds building in the distance. Will we get rain tonight? We cooked dinner and relaxed. Tomorrow we would do two locks and cross Lake O.

August 16, 2011 Indiantown to Moore Haven, Aug. 2011

We set the alarm for 6:00 and woke slightly before it went off. It was still dark when we got up and got ourselves ready to go. We were on our way at 7:00. The moon was still out and it was cooler this morning. We took a slow ride down the canal headed for the Port Mayaka lock. We carefully passed 3 deadheads floating in the water that we didn’t see yesterday on our dinghy ride. Up ahead, we could see a cloud of smoke or fog. Fog would not help our crossing of the lake today. As we got closer we could smell that it was smoke–maybe smouldering from the fire we saw yesterday.

We passed through and it was clear on the other side. As we approached the lock, we were given the go-ahead to pass right through. The gates were open because the rise had only been 2 1/2 inches yesterday, but after the rain over Lake O. last night, things must have equalized.

That made our lives a little easier, but the shallow, rocky area was right on the other side of the lock. We took it VERY slowly and Bob watched the depth sounder very diligently.

We made it past that tricky area and out into the main body of the lake at 8:30. We had 6.7 feet of water under the boat for most of the way (that means the lake was carrying 8.7 feet). We passed our new buddy in his Flicka sailboat, Wren, shortly after we entered the lake.

We had passed him on the water north of Beaufort, SC for the first time. We saw him again at Port Royal, SC and then when we spent 2 days at Thunderbolt and 2 days at Isle of Hope he got ahead of us. We met up again with him in the St. Lucie Lock and he ended up staying with us in Indiantown last night. Bob gave him lots of info about where to stay and how to cross the Gulf of Mexico. He’s taking that little boat to Texas all by himself. He bought the boat in MD and now he’s going home. We began crossing the lake slowly in an as little as 6 ft. of water. In the middle of the lake, we moved faster when we found some 10 feet depths. As we neared Clewiston on the western edge of the lake, it got shallower, so we slowed down again. The lake was fairly calm like we anticipated, so that was good. If it had been rough, it would have been un-doable. Up ahead, we could see a sailboat that had run aground. That was not a good sign.

We saw quite a few alligators along the way, but most of them were very shy and disappeared before we could get close. This one hung around to see us. I was a little worried about the bird that got so close to him.

We transited the last narrow, shallow section before Clewiston and the end of Lake O.

We had only 0.8 of a mile to go. I could see the flood gates of Clewiston up ahead.

Once past Clewiston, we motored slowly in the canal along the southern rim of the lake for 11 miles to the Moore Haven lock. It was very warm and there was no breeze in the trench. We both sat, dripping sweat for an hour. It was grueling, but we didn’t want to hit any deadheads. Two other times in this section of the waterway, we had bumped something on the bottom and we didn’t want to do it again. Bob had the depth sounder set to go off if the water dropped below a certain level. It went off quite a few times and every time it did, our hearts skipped a beat. It was nerve-wracking, especially in such a narrow channel with nowhere to go. It started to cloud up like they said and storms were expected again this afternoon. We passed 3 groups of huge black vultures feasting on dead alligators. It is eerie to see those birds just hanging around waiting for something to die.

It started to sprinkle a little as we neared the lock. Not a lot, but enough that we had to close the windows which let in the only occasional breeze there was. Thank goodness it didn’t rain long. (This might have been the first time we got rained on while we were in transit somewhere.) We arrived at the Moore Haven lock at 12:45 and were able to again pass right through. It seemed much narrower than the last lock.

The Moore Haven city dock was just on the other side. We tied up there, registered in the City Hall just across the street, and just chilled out.

Auggie got a bath after getting into something that was very sticky and got caught in his fur. He enjoyed the bath and the nap afterwards. We hung out in the AC most of the afternoon. Wren (the sailboat) arrived about 4:30 at the dock behind us. We never got any rain in Moore Haven, although it rained in places around us. We took it easy and had dinner. Auggie got a nice walk once the sun started going down. Tomorrow we would do one lock and anchor near the last lock (Franklin lock) to pass through on Thursday morning. The last lock has limited openings at 9 AM and 4 PM. We want to be ready to do the 9 AM opening and move into Ft. Myers from there. Won’t be long before we get home. Hopefully, it will be late on Saturday afternoon with a higher tide at home.

August 17, 2011 Moore Haven to Ft. Myers Yacht Basin

We had rain overnight and everything was drenched this morning. We left around 7:45 with calm winds and tons of humidity. Our friend, Wren, in the sailboat, was still at the dock when we left. I guess he was sleeping-in this morning. The Caloosahatchee Canal was glass calm, but there were thunderstorms on the west coast of FL moving north according to the weather report. Those wouldn’t bother us at least. Bob had been dealing with an eye infection for the past 4 days. His eye doctor friend from back home had given him some medication for it last year and luckily, he had brought it with him. (Interestingly enough, he got the same infection on our trip to Alaska last year at about the same time. Hmmmmmmm.) We’ve been treating it 4 times a day, but it hasn’t seemed to be getting any better. It’s all red on the eye and lid, and burns. (Good thing we’re almost home.) I wanted him to rest his eye today, so I did most of the driving.

He played “mate” today taking it easy and made us lunch as we motored slowly along. We locked through our first lock, Ortona Lock, at 9:30 and dropped 8 feet in the lock.

The Caloosahatchee Canal was much more scenic than the St. Lucie Canal–lined with palm trees and green fields. It was wider and deeper too.

We arrived at our second lock, Franklin Lock, at 12:45 and called the lockmaster just to see the status of the lock. By chance, he would lock us through right away. What luck! They were scheduled to open the lock again at 4:00, but since they were letting water through the spillway, he said he would let us go through too.

We had not planned on going through the lock today because we didn’t want to get into Ft. Myers late in the day after the 4:00 opening and get caught in an afternoon thunderstorm. We had made arrangements to stay at the State Park docks right before the lock and then go through the lock the next morning at the scheduled opening time of 9:00. Being able to lock through the Franklin lock early, put us a day ahead of schedule. After leaving the lock, we ran fast to Ft. Myers so we could still be tied up early in the day. We did get lightly rained on while we were in the lock, but not for long. The clouds got darker as we neared Ft. Myers, so we were hoping that we wouldn’t catch any more rain before we got there. It got very windy and wavy as we neared the marina, probably from the storm we could see off to to the west of us. We arrived at the Ft. Myers Yacht Basin at 2:15 after 54.9 miles.

We got all settled in, straightened up the boat a little, showered, and waited for our friends, Bernie and Barb, to arrive at 4:00 from Cape Coral.

We had cocktails and appetizers on the boat before going to dinner in town. We had to wait until the rain stopped because a big thunderstorm blew through with lightning and thunder very close by. It really poured!! It was good to visit with them and catch up on everything. We had a nice meal and lots of “talk time”. Back at the boat, we walked Auggie before the next wave of storms blew in and then relaxed. We don’t have to get up real early because we don’t have far to go tomorrow.

August 18, 2011 Ft. Myers to Cape Haze, FL (Palm Island Marina)

We got up before the alarm went off at 6:45 and dried off the boat from the rain last night. Auggie got his morning walk and we were tied up at the fuel dock by the time they opened at 8 AM. We topped off the tanks for the last time on this trip (YAHOO) and got the head pumped out. We pulled away from the gas dock by 8:30 and cruised up the Okeechobee Waterway past Cape Coral and places beyond. There was a light wind and the tide was in our favor. The skies were mostly clear with a patch of clouds billowing up on the horizon. Storms were again predicted for the afternoon. We cruised at 16 mph across San Carlos Bay and through Pine Island Sound. We did have to go at idle speed through the “Miserable Mile”, when we passed a Coast Guard boat and a police boat both sporting 900 hp on the back of each. There isn’t too much that can outrun that!

At San Carlos Bay the Okeechobee Waterway ends and the ICW begins again. Boat traffic was light even in this populated area. The Sound was pretty calm as we passed some of our favorite boating spots–Captiva Island, Cabbage Key, and Cayo Costa. As we passed Cabbage Key, a helicopter flew over us equipped to spray, probably for mosquitoes.

We passed the ferry, Lady Chadwick, which was taking people to lunch at the Cabbage Key restaurant on the island.

A mom and baby dolphin came alongside the boat and swam with us. They jumped out of the water so we could see their pink bellies. We had a total of 8 dolphins swim with us throughout the morning. It was definitely a “dolphin day”.

Crossing into Charlotte Harbor, it was just as calm. Passing one of our favorite anchorages at Cayo Costa, we noticed there was only one boat anchored there. It’s just too hot at this time of the year. Clouds were building to the east over the Gulf as the land heated up with the day. We passed Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island and crossed Gasparilla Sound to wait for the bridge opening at 12:00. We were traveling with the wind, which was behind us (what little wind there was) and we were just dripping in sweat. We arrived in Palm Harbor Marina at 12:30 and got the AC on as fast as we could.

We went up to register, check out the grounds, and give Auggie a chance to stretch his legs. They were fixing their pool, so we got a reduced rate for dockage. That was an added bonus! We had been to this marina for a poker run a couple of years ago and remembered it as being a nice place with a Leverock’s Restaurant on site.

We were glad we had decided to stop again. We hung out in the AC, hearing claps of thunder outside every now and then. It never did rain, but remained hot and steamy all day. Bob grilled pork chops for our last dinner on the boat. They were delicious! Auggie napped this afternoon and dreamed of running in his own yard. His little legs stuck straight out as he dreamed of home.

One more day……it won’t be long now!

August 19, 2011 Cape Haze (Palm Harbor Marina) to Palmetto, FL

Well, here we are…..the last day of our trip. I feel a little melancholy about it coming to an end and excited to be going home. We set the alarm so we could get an early start to beat the heat and afternoon thunderstorms. We also wanted to time our arrival at home with the tide. We woke at 6:00, prepped the boat in the dark, and pulled away from the dock at first light around 7:00. The sun popped over the horizon at 7:20 and we seemed to be the only ones on the water this early. It wasn’t as humid this morning as it had been and it was cooler to start the day. We were traveling at the speed the dolphins like because 2 joined us alongside the boat right away. They swam on their sides, with their eyes looking right at us as if to say “good morning”. It was fun to have them with us for awhile. We could probably drive this stretch of ICW blindfolded, we know it so well. I put the charts away for good, as we didn’t need them any more. We started to see more fishing boats on the water as the morning wore on. I was asking myself yesterday whether or not I’d have “writer’s withdrawal” from doing my blog. I think not. It’s fun to document our trips to share with family and friends, but I’m also glad when it comes to an end. That makes it fun and exciting to do again when we go on the next trip after a rest in-between. It has gotten easier and less time comsuming over the years, so I do enjoy doing it. We enjoyed our ride today.

There’s always a lot to look at and plenty of beautiful houses to see along the ICW. We saw this group of wood storks perched on this small mangrove island. It was the largest collection of wood storks we’ve seen in one place.

The water was like glass in Sarasota Bay. I love the look of that city from the water.

We had the perfect day for the last day of our trip….calm seas, light winds, sunny skies, and comfortable temps. You couldn’t ask for better. Today must have been “ladies day”. Of the boats we saw, most of them were driven by women with their “significant other” aboard and other women took the boats out themselves for a day on the water with friends or their kids. We noticed the storm clouds building offshore and over Tampa Bay, but nothing looked too ominous…..yet.

When we saw the tall golden spires of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in the distance, we knew we were close to home. We motored into the channel that took us to our canal, pulling up to our dock at 12:00. We traveled 64.1 miles today.

We were welcomed by our neighbors and got everything tied up and secure.

We also found out that we had a new “neighbor” living in our staghorn fern for quite awhile. She built a nest and laid two eggs that she has been sitting on while we were gone.

Next, would come the task of unloading and cleaning the boat for the next few days. There will be one more blog entry tomorrow with our final thoughts and data from our trip. Thanks for “riding along” with us. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. Home Sweet Home!!

We traveled 3471.7 miles over 4 1/2 months using 3604 gallons of gas. It was a trip full of great memories that will last a lifetime.

P.S. The mourning doves’ eggs hatched yesterday and they have 2 fledglings. They should be ready to leave the nest in 12-14 days.

Note: A week after we returned home, Hurricane Irene took aim on the East Coast of the US, finally making landfall in Cape Lookout, NC on August 27. If we had stayed as long as we had originally planned, we would still be there having to deal with this huge, slow moving storm. Thank goodness for small miracles!

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