Saturday, March 16, 2013

Friday, March 15, 2013

There is an alligator underwater sneaking up on this egret.  Will the egret see it in time?

Usually, locks have underwater valves that are used to fill and empty the locks.  The Okeechobee Waterway locks don’t have valves.  The gates are cracked open, and the water gushes in.

With an opened vertical clearance of 49’ this Florida East coast railway bridge sets the height limit for the Okeechobee Waterway.  The tip of our masthead antenna is 45’-9” above the water.

This is Thomas Edison’s banyan tree.  It is taking over his yard.  I don’t know how you would prune it.

Sunset on Ft Myers Beach with a sailing ship offshore.  The spring breakers have left for the bars.

These are pictures of Ft Jefferson inside and out.  You have never seen so many bricks.  The fort covers almost all of Garden Key.  They could not have made it bigger.  Dr Mudd was imprisoned here.

Poor Bill.  He came all this way and the island was closed.  Actually, it was a nesting site, and we were not allowed to disturb the birds.

The end of the road in Key West, Florida.. You can’t go any farther.

Hello from Key West, Florida.  It is sunny and fairly warm, but boy has it been windy here.

I last wrote from Vero Beach. We spent our last full day in Vero Beach taking showers, doing laundry, having lunch with a friend from Kingsport, buying groceries, and finally ending the day at a cruiser’s potluck party at the marina.  It was a busy but fun day.

We left Vero Beach on Friday, February 22 headed for Stuart.  The weather forecast was for sunny skies and wind of 5-10 knots, so we decided to tow the dinghy.  We had the sunny skies, but the wind was more like 15-20 knots with gusts up to 24 knots.  Not good for towing the dinghy.  The little boat enjoyed (?) a wild ride.  The waterway to Stuart was narrow, shallow in spots, and had lots of Friday boat traffic.  Irish Eyes’ keel touched the bottom three times.  The sun was setting when we dropped our anchor across the St. Lucie River from the mooring field in Stuart.

Bill got me out of bed before sunrise.  We put the dinghy on deck since towing it through the locks of the Okeechobee Waterway would not be a particularly bright idea.  The second bridge on the waterway was a new 64 foot high-rise that was still under construction.  The bridge was closed to boat traffic from 10am to 4pm.  Since we were up well before 10am, this did not cause us any problems.  The first set of locks raised us 15 feet.  The locks on the Okeechobee Waterway were filled by cracking the upper gates and letting the water pour in.  Seeing a 15 foot high torrent of water cascading towards us through the partially open gates was quite impressive.  Irish Eyes and her crew did just fine as the water crashed and bubbled ahead of us.  The river after the locks was a canal with little to see except fields, cows, birds, and trees.  Our anchorage for the night was a little drainage ditch which branched off the side of the canal.  We reached it by 2pm.  It was a very nice spot, and it was refreshing to have a short day.

Sunday, February 24 dawned very foggy; pea soup foggy.  I managed to convince Bill to stay anchored till the fog lifted at least a little.  He got antsy; we pulled up the anchor and started down the canal.  Bill was washing off the anchor, and I was steering.  I could not see either bank of the canal from the middle, so I whined enough for Bill to agree to return to our drainage ditch and anchor for a while.  By 10 o’clock, the fog lifted, and we were off again.

The locks at Port Mayaca let us down a few inches, and we ventured out onto Lake Okeechobee.  It ended up being a warm clear day, and the trip across the lake was uneventful.  The lake was wide, and we felt like we were out at sea.  The shoreline was not visible until we entered the channel leading to the canal on the other side.  The canal was bordered on one side by a park built on the top of a high levee and bordered on the other by undeveloped land.  It was all much different from the east coast of Florida.  We anchored for the night just out of the main channel near an abandoned fish camp.  I watched an alligator try to catch a great egret, but the bird saw the stalking ‘gator and flew away squawking.  Whew, was I worried.

Passing through the third set of locks at Moore Haven and the fourth at Ortona took us from the level of Lake Okeechobee to the level of the upper Caloosahatchee River.  It was a non-event.

Along the banks of the Caloosahatchee River were herds of cows.  The vegetation was green but not exactly lush.  The cows looked healthy enough, but I wondered what they really ate.  The town of LaBelle had a free city dock, and we decided to stop there for the night.  We needed a few groceries, and Bill wanted to check out the hardware store.  To tie to the dock, we had to “med moor”.  On a sailing trip in Greece twenty years ago, we had “med moored”, but we had never done it in Irish Eyes.  One hundred and fifty feet from the dock, Bill was to drop the anchor off the stern and motor bow first toward the dock feeding out anchor line as we went.  I was to grab the dock off the bow at exactly the instant Bill stopped the boat with the anchor.  Sounds easy, but I was nervous especially because we were trying to slip Irish Eyes in between two already moored boats.  Thankfully another boater on the dock took my line, and I did not have to hop off and tie our bow to the dock.  We walked into LaBelle to do our shopping.  The local honey merchant claims to have over 900 varieties of honey.  I am not sure about that, but I bought some wildflower flavor.  We spent a pleasant evening tied to the dock.

A cold front was to pass over western Florida the next day, so we decided to stay.  That was okay because the city allows docking for up to 72 hours.  Bill walked to the hardware store to look around while I lazed about on the boat.  The front came over us as the sun was going down.  It rained and the wind blew.

Wednesday, February 27 was beautifully clear, but it was a little cooler than the previous few days.  A manatee was swimming in the river behind Irish Eyes as we were getting ready to leave LaBelle.  The huge beast very slowly moved away, and we set off down the river.  We went through the fifth and last lock and through several draw bridges ending the day anchored in the Power Plant Sluice near Ft. Myers.  In spite of the name it was a nice place to anchor.  Surrounded by mangrove covered banks, we could neither see nor hear the nearby power plant.

It took us only a few hours to go the great distance of 15 miles to the Ft. Myers’ City Marina mooring field.  We tied to a ball and took our dinghy to the marina before noon.  We had a nice lunch at an outdoor café in the River District.  It was almost 80 degrees at long last.

Ft. Myers was the winter home of both Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.  Harvey Firestone was one of Edison’s friends and a frequent visitor to Ft. Myers.  We walked out to the Edison/Ford estate after lunch.  The houses were not mansions, but very nice Florida cottages.  The grounds were full of tropical plants.  Edison was interested in making synthetic rubber from plants, so he grew all sorts of things.  His wife was a keen gardener, and I think she kept things under control.  If you are ever in Ft. Myers, the estate is well worth a visit.

Once again a cold front was to pass over western Florida.  The captain made the decision to stay in Ft. Myers through the weekend.  That was fine with me.  The downwind dinghy ride to town was not bad, but the upwind (and up wave) return trip was wet and cold.  We did go back into town twice, but on Sunday it was very windy, and we just stayed on Irish Eyes.  I spent the day watching my DVD of Downton Abbey’s third season.  Bill read.

Monday morning March 4 was clear and cold.  We suited up in several layers of clothing, untied from the mooring ball, and headed downriver to Ft. Myers Beach.  The trip took us out into the Gulf of Mexico for a bit and then back into the river behind Estero Island.  When we got to the Ft. Myers Beach mooring field, we found it very confusing.  Captain Bill said “Go below and call the phone number on the bottom of the page in the open guidebook on the nav desk and find out what we need to do.”  (Now, you noticed that he did not say left page or right page?)  I went below and called the number on the bottom of the left page. It was highlighted, bold, and really stuck out.  I spoke with a very nice person in the Florida State Parks Office who did not have a clue what I was talking about.  After some consultation with the captain and an increasing amount of ‘marital bliss’, I found the correct number which was buried in a paragraph near the bottom of the right page.  While this slight misunderstanding was going on, we ran aground in a part of the mooring field that was too shallow for our 5 foot draft, backed off, and played dodgem in the current with a red daymark.  We finally picked up a mooring and each had a beer (or so) to ease the stress.

The winter weather in Florida changed as cold fronts blew down from the plain states.  It was warm for a couple of days, then cool for a couple of days.  Tuesday was warm and sunny.  We walked over to the beach to find lots and lots of people basking in the sun.  It was Spring Break somewhere (or more likely lots of places).  Wednesday was just as sunny, but it was windy with temperatures in the 60’s.  We rode the local bus first to the mainland and then from one end of the island to the other and back again jumping off twice to check things out.  It might have been windy and cool, but the girls on Spring Break were not admitting it.  They wore bikinis while we wore long pants and sweatshirts.  Late in the afternoon a friend from Tennessee, Clarke Lucas, arrived.  He was visiting his friend Bruce Bartlett on Bruce’s boat, Roamer.  We all spent the afternoon in the cockpit of Irish Eyes chatting.  Clarke also brought us our accumulated mail that Richard Barr had retrieved from the post office in Kingsport for us.

Back in December, we had bought three updated chart cartridges for our chartplotter giving us charts from Norfolk to Lake Pontchartrain including the Bahamas and Bermuda.  Just out of New Bern, we found the first card to be bad.  It was replaced by a set of new cards sent to us in Vero Beach.  Crossing the Okeechobee we switched to the second new card and found it also to be bad.  C-Map agreed the software was again not correct and sent another set of replacement cards to Ft Myers Beach.  We had to wait on them to arrive Thursday morning before we could leave, but finally we were underway by 1pm.

Our destination was Ft. Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas which would be a 26 hour trip.  The wind was forecast to be from the northeast which would make the southwest trip easy.  NOAA got it wrong.  The wind was from west making the trip to the Dry Tortugas a beat.  We briefly considered skipping the Dry Tortugas and going instead to Key West, but we did not.  We hoisted a reefed main and the genoa, buried the port rail in the water, and sailed for the Dry Tortugas… spray flying and sailing on our ear; not what I like.  As the afternoon wore on and continuing through the night, the wind slowly shifted around to the northeast.  Sailing downwind would have been great, but the waves kept coming from the west or northwest and rolled us from side to side and back again.  It was really hard to sleep.   I would just drop off to sleep and the boat would roll and startle me awake.  It was cold.  On watch I had to wear long underwear, socks, and my winter coat.  The waves were forecast to be 2 feet high, but they ended up being more like 4 feet.  It was rolly, rolly, rolly.  There were lots of stars to see, but I still am not a fan of sailing in the dark.

We arrived at Ft. Jefferson in the early afternoon and went straight to sleep.  Ft. Jefferson is a large pile of 16 million 19th century bricks in the middle of nowhere.  There are two major keys there, Garden Key on which Ft. Jefferson sits and Bush Key which is a bird sanctuary.  The two islands used to be separate, but sand has filled the gap, and they have become one.  A flock of sooty terns and the brown boobies nest on Bush Key this time of year.  Thousands of them along with dozens of frigate birds that eat the hatchlings kept up a constant din.  It sounded like the soundtrack from Hitchcock’s film, The Birds.  We spent three days walking around the fort and enjoying the scenery.  One night as the sun was setting a commercial fishing boat came along side and said they would trade fish for a six pack of beer.  I quickly put a plastic grocery bag filled with six of Bill's beers on the end of their boathook; they replaced it with another bag filled with 6 whole yellow tailed snappers.  So far, we have eaten just one which made two meals; baked fish with veggies one night then fish stew with veggies the next.

Our plan was to leave Ft. Jefferson for Key West.  We planned to stop at the Marquesas Keys to break the 70 mile trip into two near equal lazy days.  The Marquesas Keys are just some little mangrove covered islands in the middle of the ocean, and we could spend a few hours exploring them.  But, there was the weather.  It did not like our plan.  A cold front was coming.  High winds and high seas were predicated.  Our plans changed, and Tuesday morning at sunrise we were underway bound for Key West without a stop.  Key West came into view long before we arrived.  We first went generally south in the Northwest Channel, then north in the Ship Channel and through Man of War Harbor, the finally south again in the Garrison Bight Channel.  I think we spent three hours arriving.  It felt like driving into New York City and getting stuck in a traffic jam; so near yet so far. It was a long day, but at sunset we were tied to a mooring ball in Garrison Bight at Key West.

The wind blew for two days, but today it calmed down quite a bit.  It was cool but not cold.  The Key West natives act like 65 degrees is 32 degrees below zero.  The radio is full of whining about the weather.  Bill and I have made a couple of walking trips through town.  A Carnival Line cruise ship was here along with all the kids on Spring Break, so it was crowded.  The shops all had Spring Break 2013 tee-shirts for sale.  I was just happy to be warm and lucky enough to be sailing along with my sweet husband.

The plan is to head north through the Florida Keys to Miami and then head to the Bahamas.

Stay warm and think SPRING.

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