Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Marathon!

1411 nm   N24 42.406  W081 05.739

Back into the "traveling" routine.  Up before dawn, coffee, breakfast, and on the move.

Once we left the Little Shark River, we stayed inside the "1 mile limit" around the Everglades as long as we could.  The reason for this is that watermen are prohibited from placing crab pots within the 1 mile limit!

So we hugged the shore until we got to Cape Sable, and then struck out across the Florida Bay.  Once outside the protection of the Everglades Park, the crab pot floats were so thick you could almost walk across the bay on them!  It required constant vigilance.  If you let your attention wander for even a moment, the next thing you know you're bearing down on a float and have to make a sharp maneuver around it.  Especially the black ones, which are already practically invisible.

We have a prop on a strut, instead of snugly protected in a cutout on the keel. As a result, if we run over a float we WILL snag it, and I will have to go over the side to untangle it, something I NEVER want to have to do again!

So on we went, in our zig zaggy course, dodging pot after pot.  The water got calmer and calmer.  Finally, 7 mile bridge came into view on the horizon.

7 Mile Bridge in the Distance
A little word about 7 mile bridge.  Its part of the long chain of bridges that connect the Florida Keys from the mainland all the way down to Key West.  Originally built on the railroad trestle bridges (built in the early 1900s by Henry Flagler),  the 7-Mile span has been replaced by a modern highway bridge that has a 65 ft high clearance in the center to allow sailboats to get under it.  The old original railway trestles are still there, but two spans have been removed to allow access.  It's one of the few places in the Florida keys where a sailboat can get from the Gulf side to the Atlantic side without sailing all the way around Key West.

Our passage through it was pretty uneventful.  Looking down the space between the old and new spans reminded me of sailing under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, as we have done many times at home.
The Old Trestle
Reminds Me of Back Home
Once under the bridge, we turned East and headed into Marathon.

Marathon Ho!
After following the entrance channel, and passing through the "Bridge to Nowhere" (a partially disassembled drawbridge), we entered Boot Key Harbor and called in to the City Marina to request a mooring ball.  Boot Key Harbor has been almost entirely packed with moorings,  leaving little space to anchor.  We were informed that we would be #24 on the waiting list!!

We located Pearl, and Joanie "jumped ship" onto their dinghy to go in and register us (you have to do it in person!) while I idled around the harbor looking for anchorages.  Once she came back, we anchored just outside the mooring field, close to Pearl.

Later that evening, we had Bruce & Gayleen over for sundowners and threw some steaks on the grill for dinner for us all.
Our First Sunset in Marathon
We plan to stay here in Marathon for a couple of weeks, while things warm up a bit.

Life is good.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Little Shark River

1366 nm   N25 19.781  W081 08.180

After 9 days of sleeping late and staying up late, we were out of practice at this "up before dawn" stuff!  But we managed, and quietly pulled away from the dock shortly after dawn.  Several of our friends turned out to help us with dock lines and see us off.

The tide was about midway on our way out, so we had no problems with depth, although there were a couple of spots that were shallow enough that we would have run aground at low tide!

Once back out on the Gulf, we turned south and set the jib for a motor sail.
Easy Motorsail
 We were close enough in to the coast that the waves were pretty mild, but we could see several miles out on the Gulf where there were big hills of water marching southward. Our easy ride and shortage of sleep had its inevitable effect.
Easy Seas and Short on Sleep
 Our goal today was the Little Shark River.  We had originally planned to rendezvous with S/V Pearl there, but they were still holding in Marathon due to the north winds, which would have had them pounding into chop all the way.  In two days, it would be glassy calm, but that would have them leaving Marathon on the morning after we got there!  Oh well, thats the cruising life.  Plans always change.

As we turned into the entrance of the Little Shark River, and dropped the jib, we saw that there were already a few boats snchored in the first big meander in the river and beyond.  We motored in past them and went in a good ways before dropping the hook.
Other Boats Already at Anchor
Drop the Hook here...
...with Red Mangrove Swamps All Around.
The anchor bit in right away, and set with no problem.  This is a really remote spot, right in the middle of the Everglades.  No Verizon service here!  It would have been nice to get in the dinghy and explore some of the mangrove creeks, but it was still just too d@%n cold!  Gotta keep moving south! Its bound to get warmer sooner or later!

 After end-of-voyage drinks, we grilled burgers for dinner and turned in early.

Tomorrow, we head for Marathon.  Hopefully, we'll be able to get together with Bruce & Gayleen on S/V Pearl before they leave.

Life is good.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Everglades City 4: Surprise!

1324 nm   N25 52.090  W081 23.096

Well, after three more days of taking it easy, it looked like we would finally be able to get underway again tomorrow.  The forcast was good for several days out, and we would be able to make it down to Little Shark River, and then on to Marathon Key the next day.

Although we had originally planned to sail around the Gulf side to Key West, after hearing about the conditions in the mooring field there (rough, and a long dinghy ride in), and the lack of good anchorages, we decided to head directly to Marathon instead, and take a bus ride to Key West as a day trip.

Joan told me that several of our new friends were ordering pizza in the clubhouse tonight, as it was our last night together.

As we all gathered around, Jerry stood by the pizzas and said he'd like to offer a blessing before we ate.  But what he said was... HAPPY BIRTHDAY ED!!

Joan had managed to organize a surprise birthday party for me and I didn't have a clue!  I haven't been surprised like that for years!  They had even brought chocolates and Key Lime Pie.
Pizzas
Desserts
And a large Crew of Co-Conspiritors
The drinks flowed, we played billards, and the bartender stayed late so we didn't have to shut down at 9.

Life is good.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Everglades City 3: Cookout by the Pool

1324 nm   N25 52.090  W081 23.096

The planned cookout by the pool was a great success.  Joan soaked in the Jacuzzi beforehand, and then we grilled burgers.  The poolside tiki hut has a bar sink and grills for the use of everybody staying here.
Working Hard in the Jacuzzi
Good Turnout
It's 5 o'clock... here!
In a recurring theme, although we were planning to leave the day after tomorrow, the weather once again wouldn't cooperate, with another front due through.  In addition, we were trying to rendezvous with Bruce & Gayleen on S/V Pearl as they came North, and they were pinned down in Marathon by the same weather.

So we extended our stay for another 3 days!  Third time will be a charm for sure!  Meanwhile, there's lots of good folks here, and always something fun to do.

Life is good!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Everglades City 2: Eclipse and Airboat!

1324 nm   N25 52.090  W081 23.096

Sunday 1/20/19

Today was overcast and rainy, as predicted.  We mostly stayed aboard.

But this evening, Carol, one of the RV'ers, had organized an informal "Eclipse Party" to watch the total Lunar Eclipse.  As the day wore on, the coluds got a bit thinner, but still didn't clear.

By the 10 pm , a bunch of cruisers and RV'ers showed up, but  the clouds had scattered clearings, and we could only see the moon in between.  The eclipse started, and we got scattered glimpses.  My iPhone wasn't up to the task of taking any good pictures under these conditions, but I tried.
Partial Eclipse
Then, in the final minutes before totality, the sky went crystal clear, and we had a great view, watching totality while listening to Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon"!

Monday 1/21/19

Today was our Airboat ride through the Everglades!  After the front blew through, it was clear, cold, and windy.  We bundled up good in preparation.

There were many choices, but we chose Everglades City Airboat tours, as they were the only ones who had two-way headsets for all the passengers, allowing commentary by the airboat captain and questions from the passengers while the boat was running.
Everglades City Airboat Tours
We learned that on the Gulf side, the Everglades were primarily Mangrove swamps, while on the Atlantic side, it tended to grasslands.  We zoomed through Mangrove "tunnels" at high speeds, and came to a pause in a secluded lagoon, where raccoons and catfish abounded.  Unfortunately, no alligators, as the water here is too salty for them at this time of year.
Mangrove Tunnels
Fearless Raccoons
Hungry Catfish
The Raccoons were totally fearless, coming right up to the airboat, and even placing their paws on the edge of the boat and peering inside at us!

We continued through the twisty, winding streams, and saw lots of waterfowl.
A Maze of Twisty Little Passages, All Alike
Adult Ibis
Heron
Juvenile Ibis

Pelican, perched in the Mangroves
It seemed like all too soon, the 1 hr ride was over, and we were back at the dock. :(
Back at the Dock

We had originally planned to leave tomorrow, (Tuesday), but the weather forcast showed only a one-day "window" until more bad weather was due, so we elected to extend our stay here by another three days.

Anyway, the people and facilities here are great, and we heard about a cookout that was being organized under the Tiki Hut by the pool the next day!

Life is good.


Saturday, January 19, 2019

Everglades City

1324 nm   N25 52.090  W081 23.096

Once again, it was up early and get underway right after dawn.  The anchor came up easily and we were on our way.

Today's goal was Everglades City.  Its a bit out of the way for us because its about 5 miles back in the everglades from the coast, but it's where we wanted to go to get an airboat ride through the mangrove swamps.

We had planned to take a slip at the historic Rod & Gun Club, which features a hunting-lodge motief out of the last century, but we were unable to raise them on the phone, and their website domain was defunct and "parked". While the autopilot steered, I Googled another place called Everglades Isle.  It is primarily an RV Park for large, top-of-the-line class-A motorcoaches, but they also have docks.

A quick call had me talking to Judy, who assured me that they had lots of space, but some of the depths might a problem at low tide.  Lacking any other option, we reserved 3 nights there.

After another easy motorsail on the Gulf, we turned inland and entered the Everglades.



Into the Everglades
The Mangrove swamps were large and everywhere.  We're told this is typical of the Gulf coast Everglades, whereas the Atlantic side tends towards more grassy swamps.

Large Mangrove Swamps
As we proceeded up the long and sometimes narrow and winding channel, I kept a sharp eye on the depths, but we were at high tide, and everything was good.

On the way in, we passed the Rod & Gun club.  They appeared to be up and running, but their long facedock was rundown and deserted.

Finally, at about our navigable limit on the river, we came to Everglades Isle.  A very nice facility with all floating docks in good condition. Several boaters were on hand on the docks to offer us advice and assistance.

They recommended we use the face dock, as the depths were better there.  So we turned 180 into the strong current and sort "hovered" into place.  There was 7 1/2 feet of depth, but we were at +3 ft of tide, so we would be almost aground at low!



On the Face Dock.  Watch that Wind Generator!

Once secure, we went ashore to find the office and register.  This place is amazing!  Everything is clean, landscaped, well kept, and over the top.  Like a 5 star resort! The "clubhouse" and pool is like something you'd find at a country club.

The Clubhouse

Pool
Veranda
Bar

Entertainment
Movie Theater!
And they only charge $2.50 / Ft!  $2.00 / ft if you're a "looper" (someone doing the great loop).

At the desk, there was a sign up greeting all the new guests for today, by name. Nice touch.


Personalized Greeting

We met some of the other boaters and motorcoach owners, and one of them mentioned that there was a "Low Country Boil" going on in the town park tonight, and that we should come.  The next thing you know, we're on the back of an electric golf cart on our way there!  For $12 per person, you got crab, shrimp, vegetables, corn-on-the-cob, dessert, and live music!

Low Country Boil with New Friends!
Tomorrow, the front is supposed to come through with wind, rain, and thunderstorms, but Monday should be clear for our airboat ride.

Life is good.


Friday, January 18, 2019

Marco Island

1282 nm   N25 57.865  W081 43.408

Compared to pulling up the anchor, dropping off of a mooring ball is a breeze.  Drop one line, coil it up, drop the other, and motor away.  No chain, no mud, no effort!

We got our usual early start, and retraced our path behind Estero Island, through the narrow pass, and out onto the Gulf, setting our course for Marco Island, about 35 NM away.

The Gulf was calm, and we had a light west wind, so we were able to motorsail with both sails most of the way.  I think its the first time we've had the mainsail up since the Pamlico Sound!

The trip was pretty uneventful.  Because of the curve of the coastline, we ended up going outside of the three-mile boundary for the middle part of the trip.  Just needed to keep an eye out for crabpots. (its only 25 ft deep)

The entrance channel was busy and a bit confusing.  The shoal off of Coconut Island was quite pronounced.
Coconut Island
We anchored up in Factory Bay, although any trace of factories is long gone, replaced by wall-to-wall condos.  We were told of another anchorage at Smokehouse Bay, but its further inside.  It was our fallback if Factory Bay didn't work out.

But we had no problems.  There were several sailboats (both "locals" and cruisers), as well as a 4-boat powerboat raft.  We had seen these 4 powerboats come down the coast in a line and overtake us, and I had assumed they were traveling together.  There was some wakes from the traffic outside of the bay, but it calmed down at night. All in all, a recommended anchorage.
Sunset on Factory Bay

Around sunset, I tried phoning S/V Our Log.  They had left Marathon the day before, and it was possible that they were close.  To my great surprise, when I reached them, I found that they were in Marco Island too!  But more than that, they were in Factory Bay, tied up at Rose Marina, less than a thousand yards from where we were anchored!  They were just going out for dinner, and we were panning on leaving early in the morning, so once again, we crossed paths but failed to connect by the smallest of margins!  Its really odd how our paths keep crossing this way (Titusville, Ft Pierce, Marco Island), especially when you consider that we went 'round southern Florida in opposite directions!

Tomorrow, we will head for Everglades City.  It's a little out of the way, but an airboat ride through the Everglades is on Joanie's "bucket list", and we're told that Everglade City is the place to get one. The weather is also closing in, with a front passing through the day after tomorrow, so we will probably stay there 3 days (Sat, Sun, Mon), wait out the storm securely tied up, and do the airboat ride on Monday.

Life is good.