08/17/2012, Fort Myers, FL
Let's see, we all zoomed off to separate destinations on the 5th and 6th of August. Derek went to Hawaii to do Navy stuff at Pearl Harbor. Heather and Grant flew to Denver, then Heather drove Grant to summer camp in the Rockies. This was a promise to Grant from when we lived in Colorado: that he would get to return to his same summer camp every year (we'd save up for it if necessary). So he returned, for his sixth year in a row, if I am counting correctly!
Our beloved Parallax stayed here, behaving herself admirably, with doubled dock lines in case a storm should come knocking.
...A lot more text about house-hunting while living aboard and pictures of Colorado and stuff a little later this evening.
07/31/2012, Fort Myers, FL
Pulled out of Clewiston, heading for Moore Haven in a dredged canal that extends westbound from Clewiston to the Caloosahatchee River.
There was one narrow spot, probably about 19' wide -- the deal is, you stay as close as possible to the metal wall here, because the channel shallows up dramatically to the east of the red marker buoys:
It had a very "you're in the Glades now!" look to it whenever there were trees instead of grasses:
Transited the Moore Haven lock (a drop of only about 3')
Along with thick mats of floating weed:
Chugged west along the Caloosahatchee River past still more attractive houses:
And past several places that only store boats on the hard for hurricane season:
Pulled into Rialto Harbor Marina late afternoon. The proprietor, Bus Hamilton, helped us on the dock, signed us in, and gave us a tour of the place. It's lovely, with a pool and a guest cottage and each dock is separate and private, with rocking chairs and a grill.
One of the Rialto Harbor Marina's private docks with rocking chairs
It's very quiet water, on an oxbow of the Caloosahatchee river, so no current to speak of:
And your dock has its own little entrance to the grounds:
We could not do the place justice, as we were tired and just wanted to rest and move on the next morning; they brought us flowers for the table, even. The Hamiltons are competitive horse-and-carriage racers, with international standing as such.
In the morning, we moved along down the Caloosahatchee:
We passed through the Franklin lock (which only opens on the odd hour) after a short wait:
The Franklin lock-keeper was very friendly and nice and had a little golf-cart-like vehicle to help him get from one end to the other quickly:
Also, the Franklin lock has shaded viewing stands so that local families can watch boats locking through with their kids.
Both reviewing stands had families in them when we went through, and we told them where the boat had been recently and about the lock on the other side that went up 12 feet!
The next lock from there into Okeechobee was kept open, so that whole eastern end of the St Lucie canal is at lake level. Franklin lock at the moment only goes down one foot, and Moore Haven went down about three. This seems like it violates conservation of energy, but there is a longer distance of river on the western side, so the land can drop slowly, allowing the river to flow without locks or rapids and make up for the "missing" eight feet!
We passed through the bridges and passed downtown Fort Myers, and farther along we reached Gulf Harbour Marina, a bit west of downtown and in the midst of a gated community, but with very competitive monthly rates and good features.
And that's where we are now. Today, Derek picked up a rental car and took us around the campus of FGCU, where he will be working. We take the cat to the vet's to get her blood checked tomorrow morning and set up boarding, then we shop for Grant's summer camp necessaries, provisions, and do laundry. Derek has a project he needs to do aboard also.
07/29/2012, Clewiston, FL
Left the River Forest marina in the morning, chugging along westward, past our first gator (unfortunately a dead one by the side of the canal), and under the LOWEST bridge of the Okeechobee Waterway, a 49-foot clearance railway bridge that is normally left in the "up" position (unless a train is coming):
The lowest bridge
Our mast is 46' from the waterline, we didn't even scrape the VHF antenna.
We hailed the lock at the eastern end of Okeechobee (Port Mayaca lock, pronounced as though you were in Mexico, so my-AH-ca) on VHF 13, and it was in the always-open position (apparently at this time of year that's not unusual). So we chugged through:
Port Mayaca lock was open
And on out into a wide, flat, inland-sea-looking Lake Okeechobee, nowhere deeper than about 10 feet, and generally less:
As we were passing an isolated red marker pole sticking up out of the middle of a whole lot of featureless water, and the shoreline was starting to become a dotted line of trees far astern, I wondered about this vast body of shallow open water lying under a subtropical sun... hmmm... and another 45 minutes later, there was indeed a large, dark, threatening-looking cloud on the horizon, centered just slightly to the north of our course line and covering about 1/3 the W sky.
Thunderhead over west end of Lake Okeechobee
The wind was from the south, and had picked up a bit (maybe 10 kts). Then as we got closer and closer to the now-towering thunderhead with lightning flashing down from it and opaque rain obscuring the horizon beneath it, the "cloudburst" wind hit, about 25 kts of outflow from the raining base of the cloud, out of the WNW. Derek and Grant were so exhilarated by the sudden breeze and related cooling effects, that they horsed around on the foredeck, once we were on the SW leg of our crossing and no longer heading into the cloud!
The lake got choppy fast (no pics of that, too busy steering), but also the whole phenomenon faded within an hour, so aside from a bit of spray and windy excitement, it was a peaceful crossing. The breeze certainly made it cooler, which was nice. The shallowest reading we got going across Route 1 (crossing the center) was about 5.5 feet (2.5 under the keel, as our depth gauge is keel-mounted). In the very final part, we entered a dredged canal which is sheltered on both sides by grasses growing up on the dredge spoil areas on either side. We've truly returned from the sea to "the sea of grass":
Grant and Derek got ready to do line handling and admire the herons and anowy egrets and anhingas drying their wings in the grasses and bushes beside the channel:
Clewiston is on the western shore of Lake Okeechobee, mainly they produce sugar in this area. Heading for the Clewiston entrance through another open lock, we had first passed through about a mile or more of "sea of grass" with gators basking by the edges of the dredged canal, exactly what this part of Florida is always pictured as looking like. The marina here (Roland and Mary Ann Martin's Marina) is also a "fishing resort," so they have a marina store that opens at 6 a.m. every morning. They also have a tiki bar called The Tiki Bar, which serves giant drinks in souvenir glasses (only they are made of plastic, but nobody ever calls that a "souvenir plastic"). There was a band that came on as we were exploring the cold drinks - not always very clear as to their name, but it seemed to be The Shurkan Playboys. JJ McCoy plays lead guitar with a yellow guitar strap that says "Police Line Do Not Cross," (someone at the side bar said he's involved with the local sheriff's department) and his "rhythm" guitarist Rob does harmonies and a few of his own lead songs, and the bass player Lou is the hairless and most outgoing member of the group, he wanders the room with his cordless pickup in his bass. The drummer, Mark, has enough hair to make up for the rest :-) They were pretty good! The have a YouTube video if you want to check 'em out. The keyboardist was not present, and apparently they sometimes have a fiddler and sometimes a dobro player. This was just two guitars, bass, drums, and JJ was running the sound board with his foot.
Since the boat is only a few boat-lengths from the bar, we were also grateful that they stopped at midnight...
07/28/2012, River Forest Marina, St. Lucie Canal, FL
It gets hot here during the day. Duh aye, Captain Obvious... Just sayin'! This is Intracoastal Waterway travel, a long motor down almost-straight dredged channels through wide rivers that are anywhere from 6' to 1' deep if you are not in the channel.
Standing birds are a good indicator of shallow, or no, water
Sometimes the tide or river current is with you, or against you, or pushes you sideways. Generally, it's hot and not very breezy, no waves except those thoughtfully provided at intervals by certain power boats (we're lookin' at YOU, Lazy Daze! Coast Guard Auxiliary my tender butt!), or the occasional tide-against current rip.
Good dryer, bad dryer and other useful tips
Nonetheless, I do have a couple of useful things for the cruiser who might find him/herself at the Fort Pierce Municipal (or City) Marina. Cobbs' is the air-conditioned two-story restaurant at the corner of the marina property closest to the street. They have a "tiki bar" appendage, not air conditioned, facing the marina. But if you are going for open air, Cobbs' Landing, the tiki bar restaurant on the actual marina breakwater, is the way to go: breeze if there is any, and views of the water in both directions, east onto the Indian River and west into the marina (and palm trees and sunset, if you like). Good food, too, and by the standards of Bahamian restaurants it's very reasonable, which is to say the burgers are actually good quality and $8.50 rather than $15 :-) This is by hearsay, of course: I had a salad! Seriously, the seared tuna salad is excellent, and you get kind of starved for proper salads in the Bahamas (they also get expensive since everything is imported). You'd think tomatoes at least would grow there... but maybe it's not reliable enough for most restaurants to use the locally-grown produce.
So, in addition to good places to catch food (speaking of catching food, more fish shots of Derek and Grant will be on previous entries in the next day or so), there is LAUNDRY. That actually washes with hot and warm and all. That costs only $1.25/load and has a side-loader for the same price! Things to watch: the side-loader will start rocking violently if the load gets unbalanced. They have shimmed it, but for best results you may have to lean on it during the final extraction spin. The dryers are interesting: two newer ones and two older ones. From the door, currently, it's new-old-new-old. I put one load into the newer one nearest the door, and one into the older "Commercial" one, and the one by the door dried its full load in the time you get for the $1.50 startup fee. The second one in (older dryer) did not. Hope that saves somebody else $1.50 or more :-)
Water is free at the Fort Pierce City Marina. In the Bahamas it was anywhere from $0.15/gal to $0.40/gal and wasn't always tasty: Spanish Wells's Yacht Haven being an example of water with a funky taste.
Good buoy! Or at least, very serious buoy...
Now for the navigation issue: there is active dredging and spoils-piling going on just upstream (south) of the channel into the Fort Pierce City Marina. There is a small two-color buoy in the center of the entrance channel to the Fort Pierce City Marina. That channel is well-marked with red and green post markers, BUT WATCH for the small, green-over-red buoy in mid-channel, partway in (just inward of the second set of markers, when we came through yesterday). Looks a bit like a fish-pot float. Normally, with green-over-red, you treat it as "green preferred," but ostensibly you can take it on either side. NOT THIS ONE. We are a catamaran. The tidal range is not all that large in this location, and we hit the silt when I tried to just follow the posts and treat the buoy as "optional." It's not optional, unless you draw LESS than 2' 10" -- fair warning! Naturally, we were not going very fast, so reversing out of it was no problem, but how annoying after all these sea miles :-)
OK, after that little shock, we chugged placidly southward along the Indian River, with a local charter fishing boat (called Catch 22: gotta like that) playing hopscotch with us: we chug, he brings his pontoon boat up next to the next marker, they fish all around the piling, we chug past, they zoom up to the next marker after that, and so forth for miles. Sometimes there is a small breeze from the east. I set up a 12V clip-on-fan in the cockpit.
Keeping Flies off your food
Derek made pancakes: yum. Also very nice that there seem to be fewer flies here, they don't swarm your plate instantly the way they often did in the Bahamas. We bought a can of Sterno after seeing it used to chase away flies at a table in a very nice outdoor restaurant there. You'd think the last thing anyone would want would be extra heat, but the fly-chasing benefits of a can of Sterno burning like a mood candle - at noon - on your table vastly outweigh any tiny heat increase!
Followed the waterway, and when the markers are buoys (in the inlet at Port St. Lucie, because the shoaling changes position often), follow the buoys, not your GPS/chart. They aren't all that different, anyway. A couple of the bridges we went through on the way to the St. Lucie Canal had a different arch marked as the one to go through than the actual arch so designated (by wooden sidings -- and a light hanging down in the center of the arch so people won't smash up the expensive bridges at night). In one case, there was a fishing pier build right across the arch that our GPS plotter indicated as the pass-through. Those chart folk might want to look into that...
It was actually a relief entering the St. Lucie canal, which is not as subject to shoaling as the preceding parts of the St. Lucie and Indian rivers. We chugged now in a smaller setting, the canal many yards wide rather than a mile or more, past some very expensive-looking real estate (lasers, robotic guard dogs... OK, I'm kidding about the dogs. I think.). And finally we reached the St. Lucie lock. We love the lock-keeper, we were struggling to make it for the 3 pm opening and he and the cruising boat ahead of us (who were heading in to put their stepped-masted sailboat onto the hard for hurricane season) waited a few minutes as we chugged frantically toward them. OK, maybe they just took their time setting up the lines to the other boat: we love them anyway!!!
In the lock, you and your fenders (big pillowy plastic inflatable things - usually - that you hang out to keep docks from smashing your hull) are up against a concrete wall and looking waaay up to the lock-keeper, who throws down a bow line and a stern line. You need a line handler for each line, usually. You pass the line around one of your cleats, and keep tension on it manually, because it's about to get 12' too long.
It's a long way up
Grant was the bow line handler
The lock's downstream doors close
and the upstream doors are opened just a bit to let is a little waterfall, and swirly, currenty things happen as the water starts to rise,
Swirly, currenty things. Cleats, lad, use the cleats...
and you keep pulling that long line through the cleat in order to keep your boat near the wall, and eventually the process is complete and hey, you're looking out onto a nice green lawn over the now-low wall of the St. Lucie lock!
Am I rising? Or is the land... sinking???
The nice green lawn
Chugging on just a bit west of the lock, there are free docks, which are nice, but we wanted to be sure of getting power, since it was 97F in the boat. So we chugged a little farther, and into the River Forest Marina, which is really a holding facility for clever people's yachts during hurricane season. Mostly powerboats in the 50' and up category, they hail from places like Road Town, Tortola, BVI, or Aspen, CO (I know, but you can put anything you want as your hailing port in the USA). There was only one other sailboat, and it's in a slip, maybe awaiting work. The yard seems very professional, quiet and busy at the same time. most boats are up on the hard, and strapped down like aircraft to strong points in the concrete. Not a lot of other cruisers here now, we have seen no one from off another boat, although there are other boats along the wall.
This morning the water was like glass, and we are heading out to cross Lake Okeechobee. More later.
River Forest Marina just after sunrise
07/26/2012, Fort Pierce, FL
Catching you up: we left Green Turtle Cay on Tuesday the 24th in the morning, motorsailing in fairly light following wind to Great Sale Cay, where we anchored overnight. On the way to Great Sale, Derek caught a nearly-4' barracuda. Well, he got it all the way in to the boat, but he didn't want to get anywhere near those teeth (really substantial little knives at that size, not like the little needles you see on edible-sized barracudas). I wish my picture could show the scale correctly: remember, the fish is about 3' below the people-feet you see here. It's larger than any of the others he's brought aboard, and the first barracuda he caught we measured at 3'. This one he could not lift on the line from the water one-handed. Note, this isn't even really big for a barracuda, it still looks like a fish. Derek's been in the water with the ones that have gotten big enough that they look fat, they look like the rump, thigh and leg of an adult held out in the water horizontally (I know that because in the BVI once, I was getting into the water and thought there was a human near Derek, I looked above the water for the part of the human from the waist up, and there wasn't any. It was a big-butt-barracuda). Once they start to get thick-looking, they are really big. Anyway, we were not gonna eat that fish (ciguatera), and we didn't want him sampling Derek, either, so he cut the leader, and it threw the hook and the lure off almost immediately once the pressure from the line was gone. Here it is by the boat, after a very long struggle. Both of them were tired: Derek and the barracuda.
The cat came out after the large barracuda was gone and we were anchored off Great Sale...
During the night, the wind shifted from light southerly to 5-10 SW, very close to the direction we were heading next!
Wednesday morning we headed to Mangrove Cay across the banks, the whole way about 15' deep, but occasionally we would cross a patch that looked very scarily light blue, like a shoal just under the water, but there would be nothing on the chart and the depth was still 10' or more, plus you could not see into them, the water was milky. These are called "fish muds" and they happen when the fish stir up the white bottom sand and send clouds of it into the water, which turns a very light milky white turquoise (looking like a sandbar with only 2-3' of water over it!). July is the mating season for nurse sharks, who are apparently very vigorous and do things in large groups -- perhaps that is the answer to the "fish mud" mystery. The more usual but more boring explanation is that it's schools of bottom-feeding fish stirring things up. Whether it was naughty nurses or not, it was a disconcerting thing to pass over!
Crossing a "fish mud" -- the depth gauge reads 13' but the eyes are saying shallow :-)
Derek also caught more King Mackerel, tasty:
Derek and King Mackerel the Second
I made mackerel ceviche.
By the time we were passing Mangrove Cay, the forecast was in for the evening, updated, and the winds were supposed to go south at 8-13 kts overnight: pretty much excellent for the direction we wished to go! So we decided to just keep going and exit the banks just south of Memory Rock just before sunset.
There is a weird haze on the horizons, apparently a pink African sandstorm that sent dust over to us in the Bahamas... so the sun doesn't set, it just gets redder (pinker) then disappears above the horizon. More weirdness...
Sailing into the pinkish sunset
Also, the banks drop off rather abruptly. Here's the depth under keel just before sunset:
And 10 minutes later:
The moon was first quarter, so for the first part of the night we had a good moon illuminating the sea ahead. I was first evening watch, so after dinner I settled to that and Derek tried to sleep. He usually has trouble sleeping the first night of an offshore passage, so we were not expecting much. I handed over to him at midnight. Despite being prepared for the Gulf Stream to push us 20 degrees north of our intended course, we were taken by surprise: the stream was cranking at more than 4 kts for hours, and the wind strengthened but it stayed SSW and even SW, rather than S, so we could not hold our point far enough south to make Port St. Lucie. On the plus side, we were hitting up to 9.4 kts on Derek's midnight watch! Eventually it went too far west, after 3:30 I asked him to take the sail in so that I could make sure we actually made Fort Pierce, the next inlet north of the St. Lucie. For a while, the wind even went north of straight west, what was up with that?! But it also calmed significantly, so the passage was still quite speedy even without the sail. Boosted by the Gulf Stream a bit, heading for Fort Pierce at 1800 rpm, we were still going nearly 7 kts some of the time.
Eventually we made it into the Fort Pierce inlet; although it was supposed to be slack low water according to our GPS's tide function, the tide was still flowing fast outward, the marker buoys were leaving wakes as we crawled past them at 2100 rpm but only about 3 kts! We pulled into the Municipal Marina in the morning and Derek called the Customs office to check us in. Then we all went to the airport in person to check in, it's a security thing. If we had come in at Port St. Lucie, it would have been a much longer drive -- the airport is north of Fort Pierce.
Derek called his parents to tell them we had landed, and we all ate and napped (even the cat!).
Landfall! The yellow Q flag is flying.
07/22/2012, Green Turtle Cay, Abacos, Bahamas
Blustery, rainy day. Hoping it clears by morning so we can set out for Great Sale. My computer (still) won't see USB cable for my camera, so I can't upload pics using my own machine. Amazingly strong winds and rain this afternoon, all around the compass. For a while it was about 25 kts out of the north, with the rain so hard it sounded like popcorn!
It's getting better. This is updated hourly, so it may be nicely clear by the time you see it:
============== UPDATE Monday 23 July ============
Still waiting... as I mentioned in email to Flying Cloud, "We're still at Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos, waiting for this tropical wave to wave off. Marsh Harbour had a sufficiently vigorous storm this morning that they decided to cut off the power to the other islands until 2 pm, to avoid lightning blowing stuff up in their power system (according to the Green Turtle Club desk people). The power did go on again at 2 pm, then off, then on for longer, then off a little while, then on... it's on now :-) "
There will be suitable pictures of clouds and rain when I get a way to upload the silly things...
07/19/2012, Green Turtle Cay, Abacos, Bahamas
Yesterday left attractive, large, construction-just-finishing Hope Town Inn and Marina around 9 am,
Hope Town Inn and Marina. Still $1/ft/nt for a little while longer :-) [Not our picture...]
and fueled up at the fuel dock at Lighthouse Marina (they have only 6 slips and it's pretty exposed),
Lighthouse Marina. Mostly fuel, stores, and a boatyard [My USB ports will not read, so ALSO not our picture]
then motorsailed north to arrive at Green Turtle Cay around 2:40 pm. The Marina at the Green Turtle Club looks like this:
Not our picture: Green Turtle Club
The bar, walls covered with dollar bills, like so many other "fun bars:"
Bar at the Green Turtle Club -- not our picture
Derek caught two lovely (28" and 22") king mackerel on a small black and purple (and pink???!) squid lure as we were going along out the Loggerhead Channel and in the Whale Cay Channel, so we have lots of fish right now! Tonight is crispy fish fingers with a mango chutney and Bahamian bread, with two episodes of BBC's "The Final Cut" (a truly eerie fiction series starting with "House of Cards" about politics in the UK, from books written by a former Conservative Chief of Staff).
Pictures when I get the chance... my laptop is getting old and will not recognize the USB connection from my camera for 40 minutes at a time, so uploading pictures is more difficult for me lately. We're leaving
tomorrow Monday for Great Sale Cay (as in "saline"), the next day across the rest of the banks to the Gulf Stream and across to Florida. We were planning on leaving Friday for Great Sale, but there is a tail end of a tropical wave about to cause some fuss in the Gulf Stream, so we are waiting for it to pass before crossing.
We called the Port Lucie Lock, and the Okeechobee waterway is OPEN!!! Happy happy happy, we were worried that this weather delay was going o have us leaving the boat far from Ft. Myers, but having the Okeechobee open is both more weather-p[roof and faster for us. The only sad spot in that is it won't bring us past Chris and Marisa's new place on Biscayne Bay, where Chris is The Dockmaster at a wonderful-sounding marina. (He is the DockMASTER. He has mastered the dock!!! Bow later.) Anyway, with the Okeechobee open, we can head for Stuart. That'll be easier to sail, also.
07/15/2012, Hope Town, Abacos
[UPDATE Sun 15 July: added a whole lot of pictures and a bit of text to "Little Harbour after 17 years" entry.]
Last night the power went out a helf hour after midnight. The whole town went dark, except for two places that had generators, and the lighthouse, which is a wind-up mechanism (more on that later) with a kerosene light. The A/C went off. When you have to have the hatches closed and it's rainy and hot, it can get uncomfortable. We opened the hatches as soon as we could and just slept a bit, ready to spring into action and close them if the rain started again. Fortunately, about 4:40 am the power went back on.
Then it went off around 9:45. Then back on. Off. On.
It started pouring. We began to reconsider the advisability of going to Great Guana today (pouring rain, more forecast tonight and tomorrow), as our dive trip would be pretty dismal with such gray overcast lighting.
So I started updating the images on the blog (and grading). Responsive to your comments, people! :-)