Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Merritt Island

Our time in Ft. Pierce on Sunday was brief but enjoyable.  We got to visit with friends from our first phase of the Great Loop in 2012:  Jim's Joy; Sequel; Good Karma and One September.  It was WONDERFUL to get to see old friends again.  Jim's Joy had a wonderful sentiment on a sign on their motor yacht which is pictured below.

"I live for the nights I can't remember with the friends I'll never forget"
While at Ft. Pierce, we couldn't believe the size of the mullet in the marina and the clarity of the water.  The mullet were a lot bigger than in Biloxi and could be seen by the 100s as you walked up and down the docks there.  We even got to see a manatee between boats but couldn't get a picture quick enough.

Mullet in Ft. Pierce city marina

On Monday, we continued on towards Melbourne area and passed our twin, OZ, and also another neat pirate ship anchored along the way.  We talked with the owners of OZ for a bit on the radio and exchanged information.  They are headed for the Bahamas for the winter.

OZ - another 36' Endeavour TrawlerCat headed for the Bahamas

Pirate Ship anchored on the way to Melbourne area

It was a long 10 hour day to arrive on Monday but we made it before dark.  We had selected a marina to stay for two nights while we could locate our permanent home.  It was a VERY unpleasant two nights.  The marina was quite exposed with little break wall for protection.  Unfortunately the wind was really high at 25 mph the last two days and sleeping was nearly impossible.  The boat was taking 2' beam seas in the slip for both days and nights.  We could hear the dishes sliding around in the cupboards and it felt like you needed a harness to strap you to the mattress for the night. The one highlight were the manatee in the marina.  We were able to get a picture of a nose of one when it came up for air.  Manatee are everywhere here and have been plentiful for viewing the last couple days.  Lots of no wake and even no motor areas to protect them as they don't go very fast.

The dark spot in the middle is a manatee nose getting a breath of fresh air
After five straight days of boating from Ft. Myers Beach to here there was no rest for the weary.  First thing Tuesday morning we picked up a rental car for the day and toured marinas in the area.  We found our new home at Harbortown Marina on Merritt Island.  This morning we relocated and are secured in our new slip on E dock.

Harbortown Marina is located on the Cape Canaveral barge canal and is behind the Cape Canaveral lock so only about a 6 inch tide.  That is good news because the docks here are fixed and not floating. On the other side of the lock the tide is 4 feet.  Below are a few pictures from our arrival this morning.  We face the mangroves and it is very secluded and quiet.  Fortunately it is also a natural hurricane hole.

View entering our row at Harbortown Marina

Our view out the bow

Our view off the stern - lots of sailboats
Since we now have a permanent home we could finalize car transport.  We also got word our cars were picked up this morning in Biloxi and should arrive this evening.  Thanks to our Biloxi Point Cadet Marina neighbors who watched over our babies the past three weeks.

Cars loaded for transport from Biloxi to Merritt Island
Just as the trip down the river was in 2012, the trip to the Atlantic side of Florida was amazing.   Full of adventures and people we'll never forget along the way.  We wish would could have taken longer for this trip and spent more time along the way.

Excluding our 2 hour ride this morning to our new home, we traveled 14 days, covered 961 miles and logged 118 engine hours to travel from Biloxi to Merritt Island.  Since this phase of our Great Loop has come to a close, we'd like to say thanks again to all our loyal followers.  Until next time . . . .    

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Arrival on the Atlantic Side

We have arrived on the Atlantic side of Florida in Stuart!   Another milestone in the trip.  Our eastward journey is complete and the last 100 miles or so will be north.  Crossing from the Gulf to the Atlantic through Lake Okeechobee included five locks in total.  Below is a map of the waterway with the locks highlighted.  The last lock down at St. Lucie was the largest at 14 feet and also the busiest of the five for us.  At the St. Lucie lock six boats total locked through.  All the other locks we were the only boat locking through.  A busy Saturday afternoon for the Lock Master.

Route across Florida
Our next stop is just 23 miles north at Ft. Pierce city marina.  The reason for the short travel day is because four boats that we traveled the river with in fall 2012 are docked there for the winter.  It will be very nice to have docktails and visit with our friends from 3 years ago and catch up on everyone's travels.

While our final marina and new home is still TBD, we have just one more long day to be in the area and make our selection.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Happy New Year

As planned we spent a quiet NYE with friends at W.P. Franklin Lock campground.  On our way there on NYE we saw the most interesting floating house between Ft. Myers and Cape Coral.  Just as we were passing by a boat was docking there.  I bet they all had a fun NYE in the floating house.

Floating House near Ft Myers / Cape Coral area

New Year's Eve aboard Simplified

To cross the state of Florida through Lake Okeechobee, a series of locks must be navigated.  The locks are small compared to the locks coming down the river in the fall of 2012.  They also work a little differently in that the locks empty and fill by the doors at either end of the lock being opened slightly to let water in or out.  The other locks we've been through filled and emptied using chambers in the bottom of the lock.  We've "locked up" through three of the five locks so far and will finish by "locking down" the last two today.

Ortona Lock on Caloosahatchee Canal

Front bays of the lock opening to let water in and raise us 8 feet

Regardless of the direction of travel, boats lock up to Lake Ockeechobee and lock down to either the Gulf or the Atlantic.  The trip from Franklin Lock to Clewiston  was very uneventful and a bit boring.  Much of the trip through the Caloosahatchee River and Canal is either desolate or man made by the Army Corps of Engineers.   It was a day spent "in the ditch".  The most exciting thing were cows and a few alligators.  

Cows on the Caloosahatchee River

The trip on New Years Day was a shorter day at 55 miles and we arrived mid-afternoon.  That gave us time to go split a hamburger for lunch off the boat at the Tiki Bar that is part of Roland Martin Marina.  Yes, Roland Martin the famous bass fisherman.  A neat little resort compound.  Across the canal while docked we saw a rather large iguana just hanging out.  He was pretty active and possibly trying to court a female the way he was throwing his head around and showing off his large beard.

Iguana at Clewiston at Roland Martin Marina on  Lake Okeechobee
This morning we are crossing Lake Okeechobee and plan to dock in Stuart this evening.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Done going South, Time to go East

Since leaving Biloxi two weeks ago we've traveled nine days.  The first five were east and the last four have been south.  Today we start heading east again.

On Dec 29th, we arrived in Ft. Myers Beach Florida.  After traveling for five straight days with most days being 10 hours we choose to take a day off  yesterday.  Today will begin crossing through the southern part of Florida from the Gulf side to the Ocean side through Lake Okeechobee.  NYE will be spent at W.P. Franklin Lock which has a small island campground and eight boat slips on the island just after we pass through the lock.  Our dear friends from Naples will come visit us there for a few hours this afternoon and early evening.

The trip from Sarasota to Ft. Myers Beach on the 29th was an uneventful but long day with 10 hours of travel - exactly 80 miles.  The entire trip required close attention by our Captain as the ICWW markers had to be followed closely.  The day felt like we were on a boat super highway.   We couldn't believe how many boats were out on a Tuesday.  We kept plugging away at 8 - 9 mph while most of the rest were probably cruising past us at 3 or 4 times that speed.  The sun was out and the temperature was about 80 so being the week between Christmas and New Year's EVERYBODY seemed to have the week off work and was out using their boats.

Some of the day was in tighter sections on the ICWW where we could look at homes up close and other sections were quite open water, but you still had to stay in the markers for the channel as many times depths are 1-3 feet right outside the markers.  As has been typical the last few days, tons and tons of dolphins.

Home between Sarasota and Venice Florida

Home Between Sarasota and Venice - Wow!

At MM 34.2 (mile marker) on the ICWW is the Boca Grande Swing Bridge with a clearance of 9'.  We need about 12' so we had to wait for it to swing to open at its scheduled time.   After traveling so far from MI, we thought we'd seen all types of possible bridges, draw, swing, lift, etc.   Well this one was a swing bridge like we've not seen before.  It was a double!  The first lower bridge was built as a swing and then a second new higher bridge was also built as a swing.  When the horn sounded for the opening, they BOTH started to swing.  It was truly the most amazing engineering structure we've seen in awhile.  Both roads carry cars to the Island so both roads stop traffic so the double bridges can swing on the hour and on the half-hour.

Boca Grande Double Swing Bridge

Boca Grande Double Swing Bridge #2
We arrived in Ft. Myers Beach at Moss Marine right before dark.  It is at the base of the southern bridge that goes to the Island on the Island side.   We certainly made use of our daylight on the 29th.  After five days of travel, once we got the boat secured, we didn't even leave the boat to go walk the strip on the beach for dinner.  A good ole' pot of red beans and rice with sausage was the perfect end to a perfect day of boating.  For our northern friends, we equate red beans and rice to chili and it became one of our favorites while we lived in Biloxi.

Yesterday morning Bert had to chase a salt-water leak in the head which is a story for another day.  Yesterday afternoon and evening we visited with dear friends from MI who winter here on the island.  What did we do on our day off?   We went boating of course!  They have a pontoon and gave us a great tour of the island and the canals, etc.  Areas we would not have seen otherwise.  The day wrapped up with BBQ ribs on their deck as the sun set.  

Our friends pontoon boat.

In case today's events don't get posted until the new year, we want to wish everyone a safe and happy New Year's Eve.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Finally feels like Florida

It finally feels like we are in Florida.  Another long day as today we traveled from 8 am to 5 pm and covered roughly 77 miles from Tarpon Springs to Sarasota Bay.  Much of the day was in the ICWW and we passed many huge, expensive homes on the way.  There were lots of boats around, including tourist pirate boats.  Temperature was 79 degrees today and we've been in shorts the last two days.  The color of the water has changed too, to the Florida greenish color.  Hilary's anxiety meter that was 10+ a couple days ago is about a 2 today.  What an improvement.  Crossing Tampa Bay was tense with 4 foot waves but that was short lived for only an hour.  One Christmas ornament broken but everything else "ok" even though for a bit it did feel like our home was coming apart.

Hat tipped to block the rising sun.  An Indiana Jones look.

Pirate Ship #1

Pirate Ship #2

Tonight we are trying something new, a mooring ball.   For those not familiar with boating, a mooring ball is similar to being "on the hook" or anchored, but instead of dropping your own anchor, you run a line to a permanent cement block with a floating ball.  The mooring balls are equally spaced and a mooring field allows for many more boats to be in the same space in a bay without actually anchoring.  There is also no worry of dragging anchor during the night while you are sleeping.  You still have to pay, but it is cheaper than a marina.  For example, tonight the mooring ball is $25 but a slip in the marina in Sarasota is $2.75 per foot plus 7% tax.   We are 36'.   A more typical rate for a transient boater for one night is $1 per foot and that is what we've paid most places since we left Biloxi.  For the real boat geeks, cash price for diesel was $2.14 / gallon.  

The mooring field is a relaxed place and all windows are open for the night to cool the boat.   No generator needed and no air conditioning required.  The mooring field is tranquil, especially considering the Sarasota skyline is so close it feels like you could reach out and grab it.

So as mentioned, a mooring ball is a new experience and something this team has not attempted before.  To prepare Hilary on what to do, last night several YouTube videos were viewed on the correct way to approach a mooring ball along with some more comical videos on how not to approach a mooring ball.   It should be no surprise that the approach by the Captain was perfect.   The ball is hooked by someone on the front of the boat (Hilary) using a boat hook.  Then a line is run through the eye of the mooring line and secured to the boat.   Viola!  If executed correctly, you are all secured for the night.  The mooring line was unexpectedly heavy, but Hilary hooked it on the first try and pulled it up, ran the line through the eye and cleated the line.  All was done just in time to see the sunset over Sarasota Bay.  Now this is what the cruising lifestyle is supposed to be like.   We are sitting nicely in 10' of water as well.  What a comfort after a couple days of some pretty skinny water.

Secured to mooring ball

Mooring Field

Crazy blue V during sunset

Portion of Sarasota skyline


Big Bend - Day #3. Tarpon Springs

With a pre-dawn 7:00 a.m. start, we traversed back out the Withlacoochee River.  The first part was quite peaceful and enjoyable.  We saw loon-type birds in a tree and also noted the full moon.   All pictured below.

Withlacoohee River with full moon in view.

Birds on the River

Withlacoochee River

Ha Ha - someone has a house smaller than ours!

Bert did a masterful job navigating back out the Withlacoochee River and well out into the Gulf of Mexico.  We were going out with the tide so what took an hour and a half coming in the night before only took an hour out the next morning.   Well done Captain!  Rocks that were invisible going in were quite apparent on the way out.

Make sure to stay in the channel!  There are rocks out there.

Day 3 on the Gulf was the best we've had so far.  Very calm.  We arrived in Tarpon Springs around 3:15 p.m. and were greeted once again by Bert's family at the Tarpon Springs Municipal Marina.

Tarpon Springs is a mini-Greece and a village based on the sponge industry.  We enjoyed a fantastic Greek meal with Bert's family at Hella's restaurant.  If you ever find yourself in Tarpon Springs, we highly recommend it.

Dinner at Hella's Restaurant in Tarpon Springs.  Opa!

Dinner at Hella's Restaurant

Bert with is mom and sister

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Big Bend - Day #2

Getting around the Big Bend - Day #2 was by far the most challenging day we've had since we started the trip which is why this post comes a day late.  Fortunately, the Gulf of Mexico was good to us with relatively calm waters and no storms and no fog.  Many of you have asked how Fatty is doing on the boat ride.  I think he's doing just fine when the seas are calm.

Turner aka "Fatty" seems to be handling the stress of the trip just fine.

Day #2 was supposed to be Steinhatchee to Cedar Key.  It was expected to be the shortest of the three days around the Big Bend and was to conclude with a Christmas visit from Bert's family at the marina and an evening enjoying clams.  Cedar Key is known for clams and award winning clam chowder.  Suffice to say the day did not go exactly as planned.

As an aside, when you follow the Big Bend around, it is shallow!   We are fortunate to draft only 3'.  Our prior boat drafted nearly twice that.  Larger boats with a deeper draft can't choose the 3-day Big Bend route and are forced to do the overnight crossing in order to have necessary depth for safe passage.  Another fun fact is that a full moon causes extra low tides.  You may remember I mentioned Christmas was to have a full moon.  So now combine shallow boating waters and an extra low tide and you already know where this story is going. . . .

When we pulled out of Steinhatchee marina slip in the morning it was low tide, four feet lower than when we had come in the prior evening!  Not 30 seconds out of the slip, we bumped bottom.  The first time we've bumped bottom in this boat.  Never a good way to start the day.  Fortunately no damage as the running gear is protected by skegs (protective metal under the running gear).  A clue about the shallow waters should have been the numerous air boats we saw coming into Steinhatchee the night before and also the air boats at the marina.  

Typically, once we are underway, Hilary will call the next marina for the evening and secure a spot.  Hilary called Cedar Key only to be told, it is too shallow and during low tide the docks are mud!   Next thought, holy crap!   Where are we going to stay and what about seeing Bert's family????  Immediately off goes a text to Bert's family:   "Cedar Key is a NO GO!".  Then, frantically out come the guide books for a new location along with the panic that we might have to run all night to Tarpon Springs.    Suwannee River?  No - too shallow.  Crystal River?  No - too shallow.  Withlacoochee River?  Maybe.

A quick call to B's marina up the Withlacoochee only to find out they are full and can't take us.  Please, please, please.  Pretty please, with sugar on top??   Can't you squeeze us in somehow?  

Helen at B's Marina calls Nancy up the road at the Riverside Inn.  Yes, they have room behind the restaurant to take us, but no power hook-up.  We'll take it.

Next come the warnings from Nancy about depth and how to get up the river - 8 miles up the river!  That is an hour for us but at least we can get there before dark and tie safely for the night.  Hilary passes the phone to Bert so he can talk to Nancy's son Zack.  Zack is a fisherman and knows the river.  The sage advice from Zack:  "Stay in the middle".  

Another text to Bert's family:   "Riverside Inn, up the Withlacoochee River in Yankeetown".   A return text:  "OK, we'll find it".  This new cryptic text game is sort of like the boating equivalent of Where's Waldo?

Next the highlight of the day, a full picture of a dolphin, out of the water!  The shot we've been waiting for.

Finally, the Dolphin shot we've been waiting for!

We also got a shot of some out in the lead in front of the boat.

Dolphins lead the way out in front.

Then another low point of the day, the fresh water valve/switch on the head (toilet) that lets fresh water in stopped working and was stuck in the "on" mode.  Unknown to us, the head filled full, over filled, over filled some more, drained into the bilge and in the process emptied what little fresh water we had left on the boat.  This was discovered when Hilary stepped in the room and found herself with wet feet, an overflowed head and a soaking wet rug.  Yuk!   Next comes the hollering:  "Hey Bert, the toilet overflowed".  

Next low point in the day, the fresh water pump quit.  It quit because it had been run dry as a result of the head overflowing and completely emptying the fresh water tank into the bilge.  Fortunately we have two spare fresh water pumps on-board.  Bert added replacing the pump, fixing the toilet fresh water switch and locating more fresh water to the project list for later in the day.  The list already includes several items such as checking engine oil and air conditioner strainer.

Finally we reach the markers to take us into the Withlacoochee River.  We came in at nearly high tide and had frightful depth readings going in.  Will we be able to get out on low tide in the morning?  Hilary watched the depth finder and marked depth on notebook paper at every set of markers for an hour.  We'll double check the tide schedule, do the math and make sure we have enough water to get out in the morning.

It took 1 hour 20 minutes to get up past the red 3 in the circle from the beginning of the markers out in the Gulf.

Remember the advice about staying in the middle?  We'll it is tough to do when you see two shrimping boats side by side headed towards your tiny little catamaran.  Are you kidding!!!  We pass three boats wide "in the middle" of the river.  Two going out and us going in.  Fortunately we all met at a wide part of the river.    Finally after miles of nothing, no houses, no shacks, nothing, we see RiverSide Inn and and welcomed by Bert's family!  They found us.  Zack too.   Zack helped us fill up with fresh water.

Docked at Riverside Inn

After a wonderful post-Christmas dinner at RiverSide Inn with family, back to the boat we go.  Remember, no power so now it is time to fire up the generator to get some air conditioning to cool the boat down!  It is over 80 degrees.  With the air cooling us nicely, Bert gets to work replacing the fresh water pump.  An hour later, we have running water once again and a cool boat.  Things are returning to normal thanks to our Captain who after all the stresses of the day, fixed everything.  He even figured a way to engineer a temporary fresh water switch so the head is operable until the correct part can be located.

After showers to wash away the salt, sweat and grime of the day, off goes the generator for the night and also the heavenly air conditioning.  Oh yea, check the tide charts for the morning and chart the next days route.  Ok - low tide at 10:04 am.  If we get a pre-dawn start we should be out in plenty of time.