Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida

Two years plus have passed since we were last in Boot Key Harbor and there have been many changes. We will leave it up to you as to whether or not those changes are positive. Upon entering the harbor from the west channel very little looks different until we reached the docks at Faro Blanco Oceanside. The marina has been closed for quite some time and the docks are all empty, the floating house boats that were hotel rooms are all gone as well as most of the buildings except the old dock office. It is sad to see our old home left in such a sad condition. As you pass under the Boot Key Bridge, just past Faro Blanco, the bridge tender will instruct you to check in with the harbor master at the City Marina, whether you plan to anchor or pick up a mooring. As we entered the inner harbor it became apparent we would not find a place to anchor. The city has installed over 220 moorings that pretty much cover the entire harbor. The rather large permanent live aboard fleet that covered much of the harbor in the past have taken almost all of the left over available anchoring space. These boats are tied together, with 2 to 3 anchors out in all directions with unknown lengths of rode. Anchoring in between them could be tricky and you might come up with one of their anchors upon leaving. Under those conditions, we decided to pick up a mooring since the field was pretty empty this time of year other than, again, the full time folks.
The Marina staff was courteous and professional in assigning us a mooring based on our size and draft. There are some shallow spots in the harbor to be avoided. We felt the moorings were a bit pricy at $21.50 per day for the off season with the mooring field being pretty empty. During the high season, from about November on, we are told the moorings are hard to come by since they are on a first come first served basis. There are only 2 places to land a dinghy in Marathon and the City Marina is one of them. They have a very large floating dinghy dock divided up between rigid and inflatable dinghies and if you do anchor out the charge is $12.50 per day or $40.50 per week. If you choose to pick up a mooring, with little choice now, the dinghy dockage is included, as is the use of the heads, showers and marina facilities, which is a large space inside a warehouse type building with tables, chairs and a couple of TV sets. The heads and showers are not air-conditioned and are a bit shabby. For some reason unknown to us you must have a plastic token to get water to the showers. I suppose this is so people other than those staying at the marina will not be able use them. At other marinas we usually have a key or a push button combo to get into the heads. While we were on the mooring, there was a crew checking the status of the moorings with a diver and underwater camera. Each morning at 9:00 AM there is a cruisers net on VHF channel 68 with announcements and information related to the harbor and information of interest to cruisers. Each new arriving cruiser is presented with a welcome package with brochures and information about the Marathon area by the Smorgasboat.
The charge to dock your boat in the marinas is $2.00 per foot for transients to park at a crumbling concrete wall or at a plastic floating dock along the other side of the canal. We had just come down the west coast of Florida and paid $13.00 per night for a mooring at Fort Myers Beach, with a great dinghy dock, very nice heads and laundry and the use of the hotel facilities there. We also paid $1.85 per foot for dockage at Factory Bay Marina in Marco Island and had first class, spotless resort quality facilities and some extremely friendly folks. We found the city marina in Marathon in pretty much the same shape it had been in for years with few improvements, but they were spending money to build picnic areas and a castle for kids to play in. We aren’t quite sure where the income from the mooring field has been spent. There is also a pump out boat that will come out to the anchorage and pump out your holding tank for $5.00, which is also included if you are on a mooring for at least a week. Water costs 5 cents per gallon! Here in Marathon is the ONLY place we have ever been charged for water, other than in the Bahamas. We are not sure why this is the case as the water is piped in from the Mainland and is not in any danger of being cut-off. At least in the Bahamas, it is understandable because the water is either from a cistern and dependent on rainfall or is reverse osmosis and requires energy to produce.
One little surprise is their pricing policy if you decide to stay longer. Our plan was to only stay a couple of days, visit a few friends and pick up a package. We should have known better since we have on more than one occasion been stuck here longer than planned because of strong easterly winds when we initially need to go east, then north. (The Keys at this point run east to west.) So after a couple of days we went to the office and stated we would like to pay a pro-rated weekly rate for a mooring instead of continuing to pay the daily rate. Now at every other facility we have stayed at in Florida, Texas, Alabama, the Carolinas and the Chesapeake Bay, heck even in Belize and Guatemala, if we decided to stay longer the marina just adjusted our dockage and credited us what we had already paid toward the weekly/monthly rate. This was just the case in Marco Island after we were weathered in there for longer than planned. But the City of Marathon Marina informed us that they do not do business that way and if we wanted to pay a weekly rate we could but would receive NO CREDIT for the days for which we already paid. We let them know we would leave under those circumstances, but apparently they preferred to have another empty mooring instead of charging us in the same fashion as every other marina at which we have stayed.
So we left, and thanks to the kindness of our friends, Darrell and Jennifer Brand, we moved to their empty slip at Bonefish Marina in Coco Plum, just out of town and about 7 miles from Boot Key Harbor. Had we been informed of the policy for payment when we arrived we might have made a different decision. We let the marina know on the first day we might be staying longer but no one said it would affect the weekly rate. The Marina at Bonefish put us at a dock with power and water in a very nice setting. Since this is off season there are not many folks around. These are condo slips but some are available to rent from owners that do not have boats. The docks ring a much protected basin complete with a club house, four heads with showers and laundry facilities on well manicured grounds. For 2 years in the mid 90’s when we first came to the Keys, we managed this marina and several of our friends bought slips here. Once again, it was like coming home.
There are other dockage options in Boot Key Harbor but they are few and during the high season these are usually full. Plan to have the limit increased on your credit card before you arrive. Marathon Marina at the west entry channel has a transient dockage rate of $2.50 per foot, including water, electric and cable. This is a working boat yard. Burdines, the fuel dock and restaurant, is also $2.50 per foot transient, and that includes water, cable and electric as well. I mention this because most marinas down here, and other places, charge extra for power and that extra expense can be hefty. Sombrero Lighthouse Resort has a transient rate of $2.50 per foot plus $5.00 per day for power with access to the entire resort facilities. The marina known as Sombrero Dockside at the east end of the harbor next to Sombrero Resort, is $2.00 per foot transient with a bar and restaurant on site and shopping nearby. Dockside also has a dinghy dock for the bar and restaurant and if you patronize them, they don’t mind if you go for groceries or whatever. No trash or laundry and don’t abuse it or you will lose it. Both Sombrero Resort and Marathon Marina were purchased by a company that changed them into Cay Clubs and raised rates substantially. That company went into bankruptcy so with changes in ownership and other influences prices, availability and services can change.
Free dinghy dockage in the Keys is very rare. Landing a dinghy anywhere else in Boot Key can get you in trouble. No Trespassing is strictly enforced and the landowners along the harbor in general don’t like the boaters and will call the sheriff. West Marine continues to have a dinghy dock, but it is solely for the use of store patrons and we would advise to use at your own risk. For all of the media push to show Boot Key as a boating destination we feel that the true push is toward bringing in tourist dollars from another source and if you are not here to spend money they would prefer you move on. One major positive aspect we noticed right off was the improvement in the water quality and clarity in the western section of the harbor. It is indeed clearer than we have ever seen it in the 15 years plus that we have either visited or lived here, so obviously some policies are good for the environment and inhabitants. As soon as the winds ease a bit so we can get around the corner and head north we will move up to Key Biscayne.

Fort Myers Beach to Marathon, Florida

Once we left Fort Myers Beach and headed south, we played cat and mouse all day with the rain storms. For most of the day we were able to avoid them even though they were all around us. Making good time, at about 12:20 PM we were less than 1 ½ miles from our waypoint to turn into Marco Island when the cat (the Storm) caught the mouse (us) and was none too kind. We watched the approach on our radar and when it was 4 miles out we took down the sails since we would need to turn and motor into the channel to Marco. With the storm 2 miles out we put down the cockpit side curtains to give us some protection from the rains. The wind line hit us first at about 25 knots, followed by the rain line. The rains steadily increased until visibility was zero and the winds increased to 38 knots. We turned the boat away from the channel and away from shore. Under these conditions you are much safer with plenty of sea room as opposed to being close to shore and getting blown up on the beach. For over a half hour the storm hammered us. We were trying to travel in the opposite direction of the storm path so we would pass each other as quickly as possible. After about a half hour the clouds thinned out and we could start to see the sky clearing. Shortly it all passed and the winds dropped to zero and we were in flat calm water. So we headed into the channel and motored into Factory Bay where we planned to fuel up and anchor.
Marco Island is not a very cruiser friendly place. They had passed some pretty strict anchoring ordinances which were challenged in court. A few local wealthy landowners in the area had the city spend a ton of money challenging the court case but eventually they lost. The judge said in affect that the city could not pass laws on their own that were contrary to state laws and therefore the ordinances could not be enforced. But even with that we were very disappointed to find one of the large local marinas, Marco River Marina, had told us over the phone that their diesel fuel was $4.83 per gallon, not a bad price (relatively speaking!), and based on that, we decided to fuel up there instead of Marathon where the diesel was $4.99 a gallon. We went to the fuel dock and topped off the tanks and when we went to the office to pay we were charged $5.09 per gallon plus tax! We asked why we were given one price over the phone and charged quite a bit more after we fueled up. Their response was “we don’t know what to tell you.” We have to wonder if this might not be a very honest practice, but others should be aware.
We left the fuel dock and dropped anchor in Factory Bay, planning to leave first light the next morning. Well, the weather was not looking good the next morning and the brand new computer we had just purchased decided to crap out. So we planned to grab a slip for a day or so, rent a car, deal with the computer problem, do some grocery shopping and a few other things. We called a few of the local marinas and got prices of $2.00 per foot or more for transient dockage. This is the off season and they don’t get many transients. But when we called Marina at Factory Bay we got a very friendly gentleman named Curtis on the phone and were quoted $1.85 per foot for transient. The docks were very near where we were anchored and the marina looked very nice. Soon we were tied up and greeted by Curtis who explained the marina, where everything is and made us feel welcome. It is a very nice facility with floating docks, an office with big screen TV and internet computer, great heads with very clean showers and complimentary laundry machines. The rental car company is just a few blocks away and most stores and shopping centers, including a Worst Marine, are within walking distance. There are also a couple of good restaurants only a block or two away. Once we had the rental car we spent the rest of the day running all of our errands. We also took the opportunity to find a good eatery for our 18th anniversary dinner. The weather has really been lousy and it has been raining constantly instead of just the afternoon storms. So we decided to stay on the dock for at least another day and get a few things done, including replacing more of our bad VHF coax cable. Well don’t you know, the next morning we got out of the sack at 5:30 AM and tuned in the local news station and watched the current radar. Pretty much the entire southern Florida peninsula was cover with rain and thunderstorms. So we stayed at the dock another day and did more chores and projects. We must get off the dock so we stop spending money and eating out at restaurants. We only hope this weather will break by tomorrow so we can get under way again.
Once again up at 5:30 AM and tuned in to the local news station. Doppler radar shows no rain or storms anywhere and especially out in the Gulf. This is a first for several days and a good sign. After breakfast and completing our pre-departure check list, stowing a few last minute items and disconnecting everything from the dock we are under way, finally. Once out in the Gulf our forecast SW winds where light as expected except out of the south and of course we were heading just a bit east of south. So we motor sailed all day with the wind almost on the nose but making good time. The coast here is very much like the Big Bend region in that there are shallow banks that extend out from the coast for miles, so this must be a consideration in transiting this area. We had a fall back destination of Indian Key just a bit south, if the weather did not look good or if we felt the storms would be a problem again today. Our ultimate goal was the Little Shark River near Cape Sable. This is a good stop-over and jumping off point going to or coming from Marathon. We left Marco Island at 6:40 AM and had the anchor down in Little Shark River at 3:40 PM, a total of 68 miles from anchorage to anchorage. The Little Shark River is very remote and we had no cell phone signal, no weather radio and nothing in the way of civilization. The hurricanes of the past years have done a lot of damage to this area and the huge mangrove trees have not recovered well here since we passed through 2 years ago. The insect population, however, is thriving to say the least! If planning a stop here, be in and secured with screens and insect repellent well before dusk and plan on attacks (mosquitoes and no-see-ums) early in the morning as you pull up the anchor to leave.
South of Cape Sable you enter Florida Bay and leave the Gulf proper. Transiting this area is different than the Gulf in that the swells tend to be smaller and you don’t seem to have the chop in lighter conditions. Our forecast east winds at 5 to 10 were actually south at 5 and our course was south, what else? There were rain storms over the Everglades and due west of us in the Gulf about 12 miles out. At around 9:30AM the winds died completely and we found ourselves motoring in flat calm seas the rest of the day. At 1:35 PM we went through the Seven Mile Bridge at Moser Channel and officially crossed out of the Gulf and into the Atlantic. At 2:45 PM we were sitting on a mooring in Boot Key Harbor. This was a special occasion for several reasons. We had been based out of Marathon for 10 years and we would go off cruising for a while then return to fill the cruising kitty again. We had lots of friends there but like us, most have moved away. The Keys have become a rich man’s playground and common folk like us can’t afford to live there any more. We have covered over 1400 miles since leaving Houston and we are 2/3 of the way to our current destination with the toughest part of the trip now behind us. Any offshore passages at this point will be because we want to and not because we have to.
Boot Key Harbor has changed a lot since we passed through 2 years ago. Almost the entire harbor is covered by a mooring field now and with the local boats anchored in what is left, there is almost no place for visiting boats to anchor now except outside the entrance channel at the west end of the Key. You are pretty much left with no choice but to pick up a mooring from the City of Marathon Marina. Costs at this time are $21.50 per night including tax. The mooring fee does include dinghy dockage, use of the showers and marina facilities. Water is charged at 5 cents per gallon if you need it for the boat. Diesel fuel prices in Marathon are $4.99 per gallon at Burdines or Pancho’s fuel dock. We plan to be here until Tuesday to visit a couple of friends still here and pick up a package that is coming to one of our friend’s house. Then we head north for a change, stopping again along the way to visit with friends.

Sarasota To Fort Myers, Florida

Since things wrapped up quickly in Sarasota we saw no need to hang around so we left early and decided to fuel up a bit further south. Today would be a total of 9 bridges to transit so this would be a bit longer day than it would be to just cover the miles we needed to go. When we reached the Hatchet Creek Bridge we were informed that we would have to wait about 10 minutes for the scheduled opening, and, ”oh, by the way we have maintenance people on the bridge and it would be an additional 20 minutes.” So we waited and watched as the crew used a bucket over the side and apparently were inspecting the underside of the bridge. And they were correct, 30 minutes later we were through the bridge and on our way. Our fuel stop was at Marine Max which is right on the waterway at the Circus Bridge. We fueled up at $4.53 per gallon for diesel and while we were there, took advantage of their extensive parts department to get some coax cable and connectors we needed to make some permanent repairs to the VHF cable. Again we were on our way but the afternoon thunderstorms were already forming in the distance.
From Sarasota south on the waterway, it is a narrow and shallow channel and outside the channel the depths in most areas are measured in inches. Many areas we found only 8 foot depths in the channel and at the Venice Inlet we found only 7 feet for a short distance, we remembered this area heading westbound 2 years ago. Then at about 2:45 PM just about 4 miles from our anchorage, around mile marker 40 just past green 13 and right in the middle of the channel, we came to a screeching halt. We had parked Sea Trek on a 5 foot bar that extended right out into the channel and our 6 foot draft would allow us to proceed no further. Usually we can back off or get the boat to wiggle off the bar but not this time. A small power boat full of British tourists saw us go aground and we asked him to run circles around us to throw up as much wake as possible. He was happy to oblige (the women squealed as they blew around us at top speed) and we were able to bounce the boat about another foot but not far enough. The stern was hard aground and the bow was in enough water to get us going, but nothing worked. So we finally gave up and called Tow Boat US, since we carry unlimited towing insurance with them.
The tow boat showed up in about 20 minutes and assessed the situation. He stated that it was only a short distance to deeper water and should be no problem. We, too, were surprised to find the bar in the middle of the channel. And did we mention it was dead low tide? Then things really went wrong in a flash. He hooked up his tow line on a very short lead and easily pulled us off the bar. Soon we were in 10 feet of water. But he was pulling us too fast and once we were free, Sea Trek, all 13 tons of her, came at his stern with a vengeance. If you have ever seen that bow sprit coming at you it can be intimidating to say the least. For some reason he throttled up and took a hard turn to port, still tied to our bow through the starboard hawse pipe. This pulled the tow line hard across our dolphin striker. Still trying to pull away at full throttle, all he succeeded in doing was to get his boat pulled by us stern first while his engine was still throttled up in forward. This caused his boat to slam hard into our port side. At the same time, we were trying hard to stop our boat from moving forward with the engine hard in reverse. He finally untied the tow line from his boat but it was still at a hefty forward throttle and when the tow line let go he got the small bimini top on his boat tangled in our dinghy outboard which was hanging on the davits. This pretty much pulled the bimini loose on one side of his boat. All of this happened in less than a minute. By now we had Sea Trek stopped and we were just sitting in the channel.
We immediately started inspecting for damage and fortunately the old girl is tough, but not quite tough enough. We expected some serious damage to the new paint because he slammed us hard. Surprisingly other than a small scuff mark, the side of the boat was fine. But under the bow was a different story and we quickly realized that a very important part of our rigging had been broken off and was gone. Sea Trek is a very traditional rig with a long bowsprit. There is a stainless stay that runs from a fitting glassed into the hull at the waterline on the bow and connects to the end of the bowsprit. This is called a bobstay, we suppose named after someone named Bob that invented the stay. About midway down the front of the bow, a stainless steel tube attached to a fitting on the bow keeps the bobstay at the correct angle to the headstay which has the roller furling on it and keeps the mast from falling backward. This tube has a fitting at the bottom of it to keep the bobstay from jumping off. The entire stainless tube, along with the end fitting was gone and the fitting that it attaches to on the hull was sheared off at the base plate that bolts to the hull. This is serious since it does affect the integrity of the mast. We were both in a state of shock at this point and we stated to the tow boat operator what damages we had but he did not seem to understand. Other than a broken fitting on his bimini his damage was very minor.
We had to do some quick damage control. First we attached a spare halyard to our Sampson post and cranked on it hard with the main halyard winch. This stabilized the mast and prevented any strain on the bowsprit. Next we were able to tighten up the bobstay enough to take out the slack, but the angle in relation to the headstay was not right. At least the rig was secured enough to travel although we would not be able to sail. We have had occasion to use Tow Boat US in the past, although not often, and they were always professional, capable, experienced Captains. We still do not know what actually happened but the results were a loss of control by the Tow boat operator. We will have to see what the repair costs will be before we decide how we will proceed. In the meantime, we covered the 4 miles to Cape Haze, which is actually a very nice basin ringed by homes with both sail and power boats at their docks. I did forget to mention that all of this was going on with a large thunderstorm building in the distance a few miles from us. We dropped anchor and prepared for the gale force conditions. But I suppose the universe decided we had enough for the day since the thunderstorm stayed just far enough away and didn’t affect us. Our nerves are really getting frazzled with dealing with these storms every day, even when they don’t quite make it to our location. You see them coming but you don’t know whether they will hit you or not.
The night was calm and early the next morning we were up and off the anchor. It is important that we get settled in early since the storms start at anywhere from 3 to 5 PM. We decided to make a run to Fort Myers Beach because we know there are several repair facilities there. It is a large boating center so we should be able to find the parts we need and get the correct repairs made. We will do the repairs ourselves but we need to get some new fittings welded to replace the missing ones. The 40 miles to Fort Myers Beach was easy and since we left in the morning on a high tide, water depths were not an issue. With only 1 bridge, we covered the distance leaving Cape Haze and arriving at the mooring field in Fort Myers Beach at 2:25PM. When we came through here 2 years ago, the place was packed and the mooring field was full, as were most slips. Wow, were we surprised as we entered the harbor to see only about 3 or 4 boats in this huge mooring field. We called ahead to Matanzas Inn which manages the mooring field, and they gave us a mooring assignment so we had no problem picking up a ball for a couple of days. We will do whatever repairs we need to do and a few things we have been putting off.
Don’t you know, as we settled in and went in and paid our mooring fees, which are $13.00 per day, the thunderstorms hit at 5 PM right on schedule. Same old same old, driving rains, gale force winds, lightening, thunder and did I mention gale force winds? Oh yeah, I did. The NWS was announcing wind gust of 50+ MPH in a community very near to us. Man is this getting very old and very nerve wracking. It is not much better being on a mooring since you have to worry about how secure the mooring is and how well it has been maintained. We can only hope these folks take good care of them. Again the night was calm after the storms so at least we can sleep well after all of the excitement.
Friday was a work day for us since the first order of business was to get the remnants of the bow fitting off so we could get it to a welder. We plan to use the base that was left and some stainless fittings we have on board to build a new fitting and adapt another to fit on the end that holds the bobstay at the correct angle. After 30 years, the old bolts that held the plate were not about to let go, so we had to cut the heads off the bolts and push them through to remove the fittings base. This was accomplished without too much effort and we soon had the parts and pieces to the welder. There are repair facilities for just about everything here in Fort Myers Beach and that is why we decided to get the repairs done here. We also had some other projects that needed done while we were in the maintenance mode. The connector on the end of the TV antenna at the masthead needed replacing so that was done as well as a few other minor things. The welder did not have the parts ready at 4 PM and as usual a storm was moving in so it was not wise to go ashore and meet with him to confirm what needed to be done. We found that the fellow with whom we dropped off the parts was not the fellow that would actually be doing the work. So we agreed to meet at his shop at 9 AM Saturday morning. Meanwhile the afternoon storms hit a bit early, around 4:30 instead of 5:00 and this afternoon was a bit different, as if the storms did not want us to get bored. This was a rain and lightning event without all of the winds although areas around us reported wind gusts to 34 knots. We have been using our water catching system built into the hardtop just for these occasions to top off the water tanks. Yesterday we caught about 15 gallons and today we will catch quite a bit more since as soon as our water buckets were full we directed the hose right into the tank deck fill. Good clean rain water is really a treat and we like the way it makes drinks, ice and especially coffee.
We can not say enough about the great service we received from Olsen Marine Service and the owner, Mark and his crew. They gave us their prompt attention in finding a solution to our damaged hardware, manufactured the parts we needed from the pieces we provided, completed the job when they said they would, charged us a fair price and did wonderful work. That kind of service is very rare in the marine industry today so if you are ever in the Fort Myers Beach area and are in need of service, give them a call at 239-463-6750 and tell them Chuck and Susan from Sea Trek recommended them. You won’t regret it. Once the parts were in our hand, we immediately went to work installing them. The process went quickly albeit with a bit of effort. The interior bolts are as far forward in the anchor locker as possible and in a slot that really does not allow more than a couple of fingers to work. We soon got all of the hardware installed, and the bobstay attached and adjusted for tension. Once the cotter pins were in the turnbuckles, we were back in business. It feels really good to be whole again. We plan another lay day for Sunday just because, and we might do some laundry. One biggy though, NO STORMS TONIGHT, and we thought maybe we had been transported to another part of the planet. I am sure they will make up for it later since our plan is to leave Monday, with more favorable winds, and do a day run to Marco Island. Well, let me clarify, we did not have thunderstorms but did have a storm of a slightly different nature. During the night we had either a very large bird or a flock of birds perch on the boat after we went to sleep. The next morning the deck, sail covers, windshield and cap rail were covered in bird guano. So I suppose you could say we had a sh__ storm overnight and it was truly a mess. If not for the repair delays we would be in the Florida Keys by now, but that is the nature of cruising.
Sunday was safari day for us and there is a trolley system that runs north and south on the main highway that you can ride for only 25 cents per person per ride. A short ride south will bring you to a Publix supermarket or IGA for major provisioning if needed. In the tourist beach areas there are the usual restaurants, food and drink stands, bars and t-shirt shops. Not much in the way of practical shopping, but at both ends of the trolley lines there are large shopping centers with a K-Mart and many other stores. We did our shopping and picked up a few items we needed and got the grand tour of the beach areas south of Fort Myers Beach. Since our last visit here we have discouraged cruisers from stopping here because of the very negative experience we and other cruisers experienced mainly from Salty Sam’s, which managed the mooring fields in the past. This, at that time, did not seem to us and others to be very cruiser friendly, but that has all changed. Matanzas Inn is managing the mooring field, and doing a good job of it. They have built a free dinghy dock which is very nice, with the restaurant, laundry, heads, and dumpsters near by. The entire area seems happy to see you now. We had lunch at the Matanzas Inn and the food was good and plentiful. The prices were also not bad for a tourist area. It seems the locals like to eat here also.
Monday morning we were off the mooring ball shortly after sun up and under way to Marco. Our predicted south winds, the direction we needed to go, were south to be sure, but instead of light 5 knots or less it was at least 8 knots, slowing us down a bit and making the chop it bit larger. Unfortunately, we need to press on so will motorsail into the seas today. Not a bad way to spend our 18th wedding anniversary – underway, on our boat, just the 2 of us.

Anclote Key to Sarasota Florida

The drive down from Anclote Key is a very pleasant one, well except for the small boats running up and down at full throttle. What is up with that? We can attest that the high price of fuel is NOT keeping anyone off the water in Western Florida. This is an old style beach community all along this coast. The glitzy high rise hotels have not yet taken over this area. The old style mom and pop hotels and motels make for a laid back ambience reminiscent of yesterday. The channel is deep enough but very narrow and there is NO water outside in most areas. We transited 5 bridges that needed to open for us, and all did on arrival, and 1 high rise 65 foot bridge. The bridge at Treasure Island was still not working so our plan was to go south on the waterway to Madeira Beach and anchor in a wide spot in the waterway. There are not many options for anchoring along this area so we needed to plan it accordingly. We left Anclote at 8 AM and after a leisurely pace, arrived at our anchor spot at 12:40 PM. The anchorage is just north of the Welch Bridge in Madeira Beach and a McDonald’s and an American Legion post are right here on the waterway. McDonald’s even has a dinghy dock in case you need to visit. Most of the day was very pleasant.
Then about 5 PM, things changed in a hurry. We had been spared the afternoon thunderstorms so far but this was to come to an abrupt end. We watched as the dark clouds continued to build to the east and appeared to be moving in our direction. A quick look at the local radar confirmed our fears so we began tracking them on our own radar. As soon as the storm was 2 miles out we began our preparations. All ports and hatches were closed and secured. Any loose items on deck were also secured. As the storm approached it began looking more and more menacing. Once it reached 1 mile out we started the engine. This is typical practice for us in these conditions, not that we are concerned with the anchor holding but as we know all too well things can go wrong in these conditions in a hurry.
The wind front and rains hit us right on cue and the winds hit hard. At first the winds were 20 to 25 knots with driving rains. This makes sitting at the helm a lot of fun. Within minutes the winds were at 30 to 34 knots and stayed there for some time. Once the winds are over 25 knots we “drive” the boat at anchor, that is to say we put it in gear and throttle up just enough to relieve pressure on the anchor rode but being careful not to over ride the anchor. As the center of the storm hit us with the downdraft, which can be the most dangerous, the winds increased to 40+ knots and the rain was blowing sideways. At that point we were “driving” the boat hard against the brunt of it. And then just as quickly as it started, it was over, the clouds passed and the sun came out. On the plus side it sent all of the little power boats scurrying home for the day. And all of this time the deck party at the American Legion went on without missing a beat. So I had a few Jimmy Buffet renditions as I drove at anchor through the storm. It was kind of surreal.
Monday morning our plan was to start out at 7 AM and make Sarasota by afternoon. At about 7:30 AM we found the Treasure Island Bridge was still broken and no one had a clue when the repairs would happen. This is a 2 year old, 54 million dollar replacement bridge that, as one local Captain told us, “They forgot to get a warranty”. Obviously this happens often. Our plan B would take us out the St. Johns Pass and into the Gulf for a short period and then we would enter Tampa Bay and get back on the waterway. At 7:35 AM we discovered that the St. Johns Pass Bridge was having some repairs done and would not be opening until 11 AM - so much for plans. Around 10:30 we upped the anchor and headed for the pass. We arrived at the bridge a little after 11 AM and the bridge opened for us immediately. But since we lost 4 hours we had to go to plan C. We did not want to be in the middle of Tampa Bay in the afternoon due our encounter with the storm the previous night. These storms are forecast every afternoon for more than the next week. How they work is rather simple. If the east coast sea breeze is strong, the storms begin to form in the center of the state and move to the west coast where they are very strong in the afternoon. If the west coast sea breeze is strong the opposite happens and the storms show up on the east coast. Lucky for us the east coast sea breeze is expected to be strong for a week or more so storms for us EVERY afternoon.
We exited St. Johns Pass, which is a narrow but well marked channel with plenty of water. Once out beyond the shoals we turned south into the south winds, which were pretty light, and made for the outer marker at Pass-A-Grille, another well marked easy entrance channel only 6 miles south. Once inside, the Boca Ciega Bay is wide and deep and we chose an anchorage in a wide spot with 10 to 12 feet of water near the Pinellas Bayway E Bridge. The anchor was down and set by 1 PM and we had some lunch and did some chores we have been putting off. The outboard has been giving us problems so I pulled the carburetor off, pulled it apart, cleaned it well, put it back together, re-installed it and changed the plugs. We will have to see the next time we use it if that solved the problem, but there was some serious gunk in it when I pulled it apart. Susan installed the new soap dispenser on the head counter and we worked on a few other minor things.
Right on schedule at 5 PM the storm front hit us. A carbon copy of the day before. Winds at 25 knots when it hit and built to over 40 knots as it blew through with heavy, heavy rain. At one time we had no idea if the anchor was holding since we could not even see the foredeck it was raining so hard. And of course our preparations and so forth was the exact same as the day before. This is going to get old really fast but what are you going to do? The difference this time though was that the storm moved through but the rain stayed behind for hours. Not heavy rain, but just enough to keep us from opening the ports and hatches. We did enjoy the coolness the passing storm brought. The plan for tomorrow is to head down the waterway to Sarasota and maybe do a marina stop. We have packages that have come to our mail forwarding service that will be delivered to the boat. The folks at NATO in Sarasota have been handling our mail for over 10 years and are wonderful. We will most definitely want to fuel up there although we probably could make it all the way to Marathon with what fuel we have on board.
The rest of our evening was very quiet, thank goodness, and the next morning we were out early. The run down Tampa Bay was very nice with a light breeze on the nose and flat seas. Once out of Tampa Bay and back on the waterway south we found some of the thinnest water yet on this trip. Many spots in the channel were only 8 feet and we did go over one 6 foot spot although we did not touch. Even boat traffic was light today but it usually is on Tampa bay, with only a couple of ships. Also, they are sandblasting the Skyway Bridge. It seems like every bridge in Florida is under repair or being replaced.
We reached Sarasota and re-anchored by 1:30 PM among the long term live-a-boards that have been here for a long time. These folks are the reason Florida is passing so many anchoring laws, to get rid of them, and making it hard for all of us. Most were in the same spots when we came through 2 years ago. There is supposed to be a city mooring field here now but we sure could not see one. We decided to anchor out instead of taking a slip at Marina Jack, first because they charge $2.00 per foot per day, and second because our packages are here and we can get them today and move on tomorrow. We will keep our fingers crossed for this afternoon and hope we get a break today from Mother Nature. Our packages had arrived at our mail forwarding service and the owner Ron was kind enough to drive it over to one of the local restaurants on the waterfront and drop it off to us. We can not say enough about the wonderful service we have received from NATO over the years and as always they have gone over and above in service. We have included a link to their web site if anyone is interested. We are hopeful for some relief from these daily storms but will have to wait and see.

Barge Canal to Anclote Key, Tarpon Springs

Our arrival at the barge canal was not without a bit of excitement. We arrived tired and in the late morning without much sleep the night before. Our original plan was to go just past the Highway 19 Bridge and anchor next to the boat ramp for easy access to the dinghy dock and a place to park our car. The bridge is 65 feet and there is a charted overhead power cable at about 75 feet just beyond the bridge. What is NOT on the chart, hard to see when you come in with the sun in your face and no sleep all night, is another overhead power cable just before the bridge that is 50 FEET. Our mast is 57 feet and we found the cable at the very last instant. Once turned around and anchored, we soon found the current was pretty strong and with the prevailing sea breeze against it, the boat was sailing at a pretty good clip all over the canal at anchor. It took quite a while to sort things out and get 2 anchors down to keep the boat under control but once we did everything settled down and we finally had some time to rest up and recover.

The next 3 days was spent catching up with the relatives and friends in the area. Since our cars were here, we did some extensive shopping and shipping. Our satellite TV receiver and the tracking device both decided to give it up at the same time so we made arrangements to get a new receiver shipped and have the tracker shipped back to the manufacturer for repairs. We had been doing great with our monthly budget up until now. The computer, which we rely upon for a lot of functions, has been acting up and on occasion will not boot up. We backed up all of the important stuff and set out to find a replacement. We settled on a Gateway with plenty of power and found one at a great price at Walmart. Now that we have purchased it, the old one will probably not break down for a couple of years. So far for replacements and repairs at this stop, we have just about blown our budget for the month in just a few days.

It is also time to change the engine oil before we set out in the morning for Tarpon Springs at o'dark hundred. It is a 60+ mile trek so we need to get an early start in order to get in and find a spot to anchor at a decent hour. As we spent a week in Tarpon Springs 2 years ago, we will likely anchor at Anclote Key, just down river from the town so we can up anchor and continue south the following morning. We hope to have another great sail and hopefully catch another mackerel/wahoo. There is still a debate about exactly what it was we caught, but all we know is it was tasty on the grill!

I had been amazed that after 4 days with two anchors out for the reversing currents and the wind against current in the afternoon that they had not twisted together something terrible. But by Friday night they were still set fore and aft with no twists. On Saturday, we were up just before sun up and after breakfast got everything ready and started to raise the anchors. Well they twisted up pretty good over night, wouldn't you know. After a bit of work we got them untangled and up and soon we were under way. A visitor had taken up residence in our mainsail while we were there so we also spent a little time coaxing the bat out of the rigging and convinced him or her to head back to shore and stay with his or her other bat friends. We chose Saturday to head south for two reasons. First, the wind conditions sounded good, east wind at 10 knots, since we were heading almost due south, and B, the chances for afternoon showers and thunderstorms would be the lowest of the rest of the week. Don't you know, as we left the canal and entered the Gulf we found SSE winds, almost the direction we were headed, and very light, maybe 6 to 8 knots. If you are going to have head winds I suppose they should be light. So the day was a motor sail the entire way with a once again crappy forecast. With the BILLIONS of dollars in equipment, satellites, ships and more at the disposal of the NWS and NOAA, you would think that every once in a while we could get a fair forecast. But for weeks or more they have not
been correct once. I must suppose that with all of that equipment and information at their disposal they simply do not have people competent enough to formulate it into a usable forecast.

The day was long and the engine did a great job but it gets tiring hearing it hour after hour (not to mention all of the money we burned in fuel). We were also disappointed not catching any fish today, but I suppose that is why it is called fishing and not catching. At around 6PM we dropped the anchor behind Anclote Key near Tarpon Springs in a nice NW breeze and finally shut down the engine. The holding appears to be pretty good here since as soon as the anchor was down it grabbed the bottom with a vengeance. We really like when that happens. We are anchored on the east side in about 10 feet of water and it shallows up pretty fast toward the Key so we are a fair distance out. There is no protection here from north or south winds if they are blowing strong. A bit of not so good news was on the VHF as we arrived. One of the bridges over the Intracoastal that we will need to pass through tomorrow is stuck in the closed position. It is never the other way around, so we may have to do another outside run tomorrow. We'll see.

Dog Island to The the Florida Barge Canal, Crystal River

Our morning started out with NW winds even though the forecast insisted it was west and would stay that way all day and be in the 5 to 10 range. Of course this would not be good for us since it put the winds directly astern and at that speed meant apparent winds of about zero. In other words, it would be a motoring trip for about 135 miles to the Florida Barge Canal near Crystal River. By noon we decided to go anyway and see how things shaped up along the way. Shortly after clearing the coast the wind went south then southwest, a perfect wind angle for us. Not only was it SW but also about 10 to 15 instead of 5 to 10. At one point we actually had to reduce sail to slow us down so we did not arrive at the canal in the dark and to take some of the strain off the autopilot since winds were at 15kn with higher gusts. But by 5 PM they had dropped a bit, all sails were back up and we were making good time.

Just as the sun was getting low we had a hit on the fishing line and landed a very nice size Wahoo. At one point during the evening another Wahoo chased a smaller fish out of the water and the smaller fish landed on our deck. The Wahoo came close to doing the same thing. During the night we also had some Dolphins stop by for a visit. The sailing was fantastic at this point except for the seas. The Gulf is not one of our favorite bodies of water to sail on because no matter what the winds do the seas are like a washing machine on the wash cycle. The strength of the wind determines how uncomfortable you are. Especially in light conditions, the swells and waves come from all directions and the boat rolls constantly. But the trip went well and by 4 AM the wind had dropped so we motored the last 20 or so miles. We saw lightning all night from storms over the mainland, but fortunately they stayed there.

At 8 AM we reached our waypoint to the channel that would lead to the Florida Barge Canal. This is another project that was started by the state to cut across from the Gulf to the Atlantic but never got very far. The channel leading in is one of the few along the Big Bend area that we can use with our 6 foot draft. Getting into the canal is pretty straight forward as long as you don't get confused and head up the channel to the nuclear power plant by mistake. Boats usually don't get far before they are intercepted. At 10:40 AM we dropped anchor in the canal near the Highway 19 Bridge and a public boat ramp we will be able to use to get ashore. There is another boat that has been anchored here for a year or more and we can't tell if it is abandoned or just really seriously neglected. Our plans are to stay here till the weekend and visit relatives that live very near by. Afternoon and evening thunderstorms are pretty common this time of year so we will have to keep a close eye on the weather each day since these storms can be severe and the canal is narrow. Although the run from here to Tarpon Springs is out in the Gulf, it is a day run from the Canal. Right now we will rest and relax from the overnight since we seldom get much sleep while underway for such a short period.

White City to Carrabelle

The dock at White City was great as usual. This is a nice park with picnic pavilions, a playground, barbecue pits, trash cans and rest rooms but no showers. The boat ramp does not seem to be used more than occasionally. The docks are in pretty good shape but some construction is going on. The seawall on the point is getting ready to fall into the canal and they are working on that. Some other work is being done also and large equipment and lots of workers are going from 8AM till about 7PM but after that it is quiet and peaceful. Even the 73 foot bridge next to us does not seem to have much traffic. There is a convenience store a mile or so down the road but it sells pretty much just beer, soda and snacks, the three major food groups. They also sell gasoline. We both had a really good nights' sleep and needed it after the crossing. The next morning we slept late and did not get under way until about 10:30 AM. It did not matter since our next anchorage was only 15 miles away.

This section of the waterway is very much like its counterpart in the Carolinas. The waters are deep and lined with beautiful cypress and pine forests with the occasional palm tree. There is still very little boat traffic at this point. We have to remind ourselves that this is indeed Florida but has not yet been developed to death. 15 miles down the waterway we arrived at Saul Creek and our destination for the day. We have anchored here before and it is very sheltered and quiet with cypress all around us. As we came in and dropped anchor we spotted a gator swimming back and forth along the shore line, which is very close, and we could swear he was licking his lips. It was, after all, lunch time. We spent another quiet night tucked into this narrow creek and other than us, the gator's and some very vicious flying insects, it seemed the rest of the world was far away.

The next morning we headed out and made Apalachicola at about 10 AM. We stopped for fuel at Miller Marine, which is right on the waterway next to a high rise bridge. Diesel here was $4.61 a gallon plus sales tax and we filled up both fuel and water tanks. Soon we were back on our way and heading across Apalachicola Bay then into St. George Sound. The channel in the bay is very narrow and quite shallow outside it. As we headed out into the sound, a parade of boats was heading in, including two large shrimp boats, one towing the other. Care needs to be taken in navigating this channel since a fair side current constantly tries to pull you out into shallow water. We found the channel deeper on the green side than the red. After going under the 65 foot bridge that leads over to St. George Island, at around 1 PM we turned off the channel and headed south a short distance to anchor behind the island. There are large beautiful homes here with white sandy beaches. To our surprise we had a hard time getting the anchor to set. It took 3 tries in 3 different spots before we finally got it to hold. We were also pleased to find we had a WiFi hotspot here so we could get some computer work done. The waters in this area are a lot shallower than we have been used to for a long time. Once we had the anchor set we settled in and shortly after a wind switch we found we were sitting on the bottom at low, low tide. Oh, well, this is not the first time and probably won't be the last. The tide will be up in a few hours and by tomorrow AM when we leave we will be on a rising tide with enough water to get going.

As usual, things did not quite work out as planned. By 10 PM the tide had come up, but we were still sitting on the bottom and the depth sounder was still reading the same. The wind had switched to the NW where we were totally exposed to the sound and pushing us back on the shoal. So in the dark, we pulled up the anchor, throttled off the shoal and moved out about a quarter mile into deeper water. Because we had problems initially setting the anchor we were concerned, but it seemed to bite and we felt better being out of the shallow water. The rest of the night went fine.

A short 10 mile run in the late morning brought us to a lovely cove on the west end of Dog Island. The white crescent beach on the sound side and the just as white beach about a hundred yards across the barrier island on the Gulf side reminded us why we do this. There are several homes here on the island but the only way to get here is by boat, no roads or bridges. What a great spot, but we always think about how exposed it is to storms especially since this is the first day of the 2008 hurricane season. Since we arrived at about lunchtime, (there seems to be a pattern here) we had some lunch, launched the dinghy, fixed a problem with the outboard, and went ashore to stroll on the Gulf side beach and do some shelling (which was great!) We were dive bombed by terns and realized we had wandered too close to their nesting area, so we turned and walked the beach the other direction. We can't say enough about this spot and unfortunately we will only be here over night if the forecasts hold, (yeah right). Our plan is to leave here around mid day tomorrow, Monday, and head straight for the Florida Barge Canal near the Crystal and Withlacochee Rivers. It looks like we will either have a great sail or be motoring all the way.