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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, good to see you in print again. Are you planning to come up the Chesapeake? If so, your always welcome at Oak Harbor Marina.
    Ken & Barb

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