31 May 2012

Where did 6 months go?

If I had to pick one word to define the last six months it would be Mangrove. We spent the Winter docked in SouthWest Florida - exploring the 10,000 islands and cohabiting with mangroves. There are three types of mangroves in SW Florida, the red mangrove, which lives at the waters edge, has prop roots and propagules (long bean like seed pods) and made up the majority of our mangrove interactions. There are also black and white mangroves which live on higher ground and have differently shaped seed pods. To see the mangrove in it's native habitat we visited state parks, natural parks, national wildlife refuges and nature preserves.

Panther Key is located at the beginning of the channel leading to the Faka Union Canal and the Port of the Islands Collier County boat ramp. We often anchored on the West and North sides of Panther then accessed the beach via a Lund WC14 we purchased in SW Florida to better explore the shallow bays. 

The 10,000 Island National Wildlife Refuge maintains a series of canoe trails accessible from the Tamiami Trail (Route 41) which meander through ponds, bays and mangrove tunnels before reaching the Gulf of Mexico. Along the trails red mangroves, spiders, snails and crabs are in abundance. 

The Marsh Trail provides a 2 mile (round trip) walk along a canal stretching South from Rte 41 into the West Florida wilderness. Along the path alligator tracks are seen as footprints on either side of a line made by the dragging tail. Crushed brush and grass on either side of the trail hint at the alligator's preferred crossing points. The trail has a viewing tower from which we saw roseate spoonbills and wood storks.

Shark Valley, part of Everglades National Park maintains a 15 mile paved loop road for biking through the heart of the Shark Slough a true section of the "sea of grass" a 100 mile wide river down which rain water from Okeechobee historically spread across the SE corner of Florida and finally to the ocean in Florida bay. At the half way point of the bike trail there is an observation tower with an expansive view allowing one to imagine what Southern Florida was like before Europeans arrived. 

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary an Audubon society property is located due North of the 10,000 Islands (our Winter home).  The 13,000 acres making up the sanctuary were preserved in part began it contains the last expanse of virgin bald cypress left in the world, it also is home to a wood stork rookery. The park has a 2.25 mile boardwalk built with all the twists and turns needed to meander between the trees. 

No overview of a Winter spent in SW Florida would be complete without a token alligator shot. Every one of the previously mentioned parks is home to the American alligator. While driving along the Tamiami trail from Miami to Naples at 60 mph the alligators at the side of the road are too numerous to count. They swam by the boat, walked across trails, and lounged in the sun. However the above photo not only shows an alligator but also captures the essence of the Fakahatchee Strand state park, and "Jane's Scenic drive" which allows access to not only a cypress forest but a view of the back country way of life in SW Florida with hunting camps and 4 wheelers in abundance. 

Completing our short tour of a Winter spent exploring the natural world of SW Florida we return to the mangrove and barrier beach as experienced on Cape Sable deep in Everglades National Park. 

View Winter in SW Florida in a larger map

21 November 2011

Exploring our new home

Where did I leave off... ah yes... we arrived on the West coast of Florida.

The Okeechobee waterway ends in Ft. Myers. Since the cross state transit was not part of the original itinerary we arrived without cruising guides or plans. We anchored off of  Ft. Myers municipal marina, which provides dinghy dock, laundry and showers for $5 a day, with a friendly smile. Their store didn't have the cruising guides we were looking for so we placed an order with Armchair Sailor  for the West coast version of the two cruising guide/ chartbooks which were most helpful on the ICW: Skipper Bob's Cruising the Gulf coast, and Intracoastal waterway: Miami to Mobile. After some reading we decided to head up Pine Island Sound and spend a couple of days at Cayo Costa State Park.

View Ft. Myers to Port of the Islands in a larger map

After Cayo Costa we headed South and spent two nights on a Ft. Myers beach mooring. Ft. Myers beach is a great kitchy throwback beach - a little bit rough and dirty but accessible, not yet gentrified by the surrounding area. Best of all a large portion of the beach allows dogs on leash and provides trash cans and bags at regular intervals. The Ft. Myers beach mooring field is between the barrier island of Estero, which the beach is on, and San Carlos island, where the fishing boats tie up. We had a great cocktail hour at Bonita Bill's, where dogs are welcome, the beer comes in a pitcher with a bag of ice to keep it cold and the shrimp are right off the boat.

Thus ended our "vacation". We left Ft. Myers beach and had the best sail of the trip 15 knots of wind on the beam with all sails raised.  But the sail ended too soon. We headed back inshore At Gordon Pass and followed the old ICW behind Keewaydin Island and Marco Island exiting at Coon Key pass. On the way we spent a wonderful night behind Keewaydin in Rookery Bay. In the morning we took the dinghy to Keewaydin and followed a path across the island, and enjoyed our coffee alone on the barrier beach.

Finally after exiting Coon Key pass we motored across the shallows to Panther Key and the beginning of the Faka Union Canal, which would take us to our new Winter home at Port of the Islands Marina.

28 October 2011


Day 1: Stuart to St mile 63.5 via route 2, the rim route (2 locks, 1 bridge opening)

    I-95 bridge, headed West! 

St. Lucie lock - going up - Okeechobee is above sea level. 

The bridge at Torry island was opening by a gentleman who disembarged from his golf cart, manually lowered the gates then used a long bar to manually swing the bridge into it's open position.
We anchored in a lovely deep bight North of the canal surrounded by mangroves and were serenaded by the love songs of alligators throughout the night.

Man pushing pole to open bridge.

Day 2: mile 63.5 to mile 103 (2 locks, 1 bridge opening)

We anchored on both sides of the La Belle bridge, first to the East because it won't open from 4-6pm, and 7-9 am and then in the West at 1815, so we could get an early start.

Standing on the dike looking North over the canal to the lake
Day 3: Mile 103 to 134.8 (Ft. Myers municipal marina) (1 lock, 3 bridge openings)

The Okeechobee waterway was billed in the guidebooks as a nature lovers paradise, and it was. We saw alligators, turtles, herons, buzzards, and many birds missing from our bird book. We caught the largest mosquito we have ever seen. It is also proof of the survival of the army Corp of Engineers who maintain and run 5 locks so that pleasure boaters can transit the waterway. The power of the sugar industry was also in evidence in the massive rebuilding of the Southern dike at the cost of $10 million per mile. A highly recommended side trip just expect to get a stiff neck as you look North into the wilderness and away from the scarred landscape of the South coast.

27 October 2011

Eating and drinking on the hook - Ft. Myers style

We arrived at the end of the Okeechobee waterway in Ft. Myers and realized that although we had charts we didn't have a clear idea of which bits of shoreline were private, which were mangrove and which might provide a small patch of beach. Traveling with a small furry animal changes your way of thinking so that shore access and length of transit gain priority. The local marina didn't have a single
Gulf coast guidebook in stock, and a quick Google search showed an unsettling lack of bookstores in the area. So we dropped the hook and placed an overnight order with Armchair Sailor in Seattle for two Gulf coast guidebooks. This left time to spend a relaxing day in downtown Ft. Myers. We spent a leisurely morning sipping our coffee, then washed a load of laundry and walked to Publix for a few essentials stopping at a farmers market on the way. The books arrived but we decided to enjoy the slow pace a little longer with a Dark-n-stormy and sushi in the cockpit. Tomorrow - day 2 of vacation.

24 October 2011


The decision has been made, we are now the Westbound sailing vessel Kairos. When calling a bridge or lock we had been identifying ourselves as the Southbound vessel but yesterday we passed through the Roosevelt bridge in Stuart and officially started our Westbound trip through the Okeechobee waterway.
A certain crew member was celebrating a birthday and so we picked up a mooring at the Sunset marina and anchorage and followed the boardwalk along the St Lucie river into the town of Stuart. Live music and waterfront restaurants abounded and we added Stuart to our list of places to return to when time is free.
We started this Westward voyage because Winter is still Winter even if most people are wearing shorts. An extended period of Northerly wind blowing from 10-15 knits has resulted in large seas offshore as it fought the northbound gulf stream. Without time to wait for a weather window and with a deep dread of the patience required to make it through the multitude of Southeast Florida bridges with openings timed for a vessel making more than 5 knots we turned West.
The Okeechobee waterway is made up of the St Lucie river, Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee river and canals connecting them all. Our plan is to take the rim route, following the channel along the Southern coast of the lake. We will spend one night anchored in the lake and then one night East of Ft. Myers in the Caloosahatchee river. The forecast for the Gulf of Mexico calls for calmer waters and if the Winter gods are willing we will have a week to explore the waters and state parks North of Ft Myers before heading South to our Winter berth.
Stay tuned for alligator, manatee and bird sightings as we transit what is advertised as a nature lovers paradise.

21 October 2011

I am the windlass

We have mud in Maine. I am familiar with it as a preferable anchoring medium. Unlike sand, coral or grass your anchor catches quickly, digs in and stays put in mud. I didn't expect or remember the ICW mud, and it didn't make an impression on me at first, back in VA and NC. But for the last week in Florida we have experienced some of the finest and most tenacious
mud I have even encountered. This mud embeds itself in your fingerprints and all the swirls on your hand. Despite vicious scrubbing it takes the whole day and the loss of quite a bit of skin before the semblance of cleanliness is restored. I began to dread hauling the anchor in the morning. I would gaze lovingly at my clean palms and fingernails knowing that it was all over. I didn't keep this dread to myself and started daydreaming aloud. I suspect that you think I want a windlass, a winch to pull the anchor aboard the boat. But I enjoy my early morning workout, stretching and pulling an assortment of muscles even before I've had my coffee. No I was daydreaming about a pair of gloves. You know the kind, plastic grip applied over a knit base, cheaply and easily purchased at a store selling commercial fishing gear. Finally yesterday we anchored early off of the Titusville municipal marina and rowed in to take the dog for a walk. Low and behold they had a store, open until 9PM and selling, tah-dah, the gloves of my dreams. Hauling the anchor was a joy this morning, and I can't wait until tomorrow. Bring on the mud!

20 October 2011

49* F

Still too far North. Early departure from just North of Daytona the morning after a front moved through. Yesterday 80s. Today 60s. Brrr.