Sunday, March 29, 2009

Egmont Key to Pine Island Sound/Charlotte Harbor/San Carlos Bay Area

Thursday, March 19, 2009
Last night we arrived in Egmont Key, a small island at the mouth of the inlet to Tampa Bay. Accessible only by boat, Egmont Key is a State Park and Wildlife Refuge. Ferries bring visitors to the northeast end of the key where they can explore the old lighthouse, walk along the beach, and spot the many birds on the island. We're anchored at the southeast end of the island, where we feel more protected from the north-northeast winds that bring waves across the bay.

Our trip to explore the island hasn't gone exactly as planned. Rene didn't want to battle the 90-pound dinghy outboard motor, so he's rowed the dinghy from our boat to the beach. Unfortunately there isn't a place to secure the dinghy, so he's walked the dinghy down the beach to the pier. There are "no trespassing" signs leading to a few buildings on the left, but hopefully we're okay leaving the dinghy here. Walking further down the beach towards the lighthouse, we see a huge blue heron. He's beautiful, and stands about 3' tall. He doesn't seem to be afraid of us, and poses nicely for a picture. Continuing down the beach, we begin to see "beach closed" signs. Okay, this is beginning to feel uncomfortable. First we've tied the dinghy up near a "no trespassing" sign, and now the beach seems to be off-limits from here to the lighthouse. This isn't going as we'd hoped! After the 3rd "closed" sign, we finally turn back. We're frustrated and disappointed that we haven't made it to the lighthouse. Still, that isn't enough to get us to paddle all the way to the north side of the island where the lighthouse stands. It's far enough to get back to Pipe Muh Bligh! Stacy mans the oars for the trip back to the boat, and we spend the rest of the day relaxing in the cockpit and doing boat chores. Tomorrow we'll head south at sunrise.

Friday, March 20, 2009
Flexibility is a good thing, right? We were planning to make the 20 mile trip from Egmont Key to Sarasota today. We've heard good things about Sarasota - beautiful city, great trolley system, and plenty of restaurants, shops, and grocery stores. We wanted to spend a few days there before continuing our journey down the Florida coast. Our first inkling of Sarasota's "bad karma" happened a couple of days ago, when Stacy read that Sarasota had passed a law in January making it illegal to anchor in Sarasota Bay for more than 72 hours. To give you a little background, many Florida cities have been in an ongoing battle with the cruising community for the past few years. Apparently some of the cities have problems with "derelict" boats in their harbors, which can mean run-down or abandoned boats, or anything that's a general eyesore to the owners of the multi-million dollar homes along the waterfront. Unfortunately, all boat-owners, including liveaboards who take care of their boats and full-time cruisers wanting to anchor in a nice spot for a few days, get thrown into the same "derelict" category. The state passed a law in 2006 allowing cruisers to anchor outside of an existing mooring field, but not all cities are following the state law. There have been cases of cruisers contesting the city codes in court and winning, but this is a long and expensive process. Anyway, Sarasota was further crossed off our list when we realized what a chore it would be to get into the harbor. Once again, Florida's shallow inlets have prevailed. Oh, well...we've been looking forward to the Boca Grande area, which based on the charts reminds Stacy of Washington's San Juan Islands. It's a 60-mile trip, so we've left Egmont Key at sunrise (7:30am in FLA) and hope to be in the Boca Grande channel around 6pm tonight.

6:30pm: we've made it! The winds have been mild all day, so we've motor-sailed down. We got to the Boca Grande channel at 6pm, and came around the north end of Cayo Costa island to our anchorage. There's a beautiful spot called Pelican Bay west of us, but the entrance is pretty shallow. We're a bit more unprotected here, but don't expect it to be much worse than Egmont Key. What a lovely area. Cayo Costa is a state park with cabins, campsites, and plenty of beaches for exploring. Hopefully we'll do that in the morning in our dinghy. For tonight, it's a boat drink, an easy dinner, and an early bedtime. We had a long day getting here!

Saturday, March 21, 2009
Well, the morning started off with good intentions. We were going to dinghy over to the mangroves on Cayo Costa and maybe go ashore to explore the island. Rene got the dinghy prepped, and his idea of getting the 90-pound outboard from the back rail to the dinghy using the topping lift was successful. One problem...the engine won't rev. He can start it, the engine idles, but it dies as soon as he tries to increase the power. Rene goes to work taking the cover off and running various tests, and Stacy goes online to get some troubleshooting ideas. The web doesn't offer any clear answers, but it does provide a marine repair yard about 20 miles south of us. Rene speaks to someone there, who tells us that it sounds like the ethanol has broken down and clogged up the carburetor. The outboard manual does mention that this can be a problem, and we're also told that ethanol can begin to break down in as little as a week to a month. Lesson learned: use the dinghy more often, and run the engine out of fuel if you're going to store it for awhile. The marine yard is closed till Monday morning, so we'll enjoy the rest of our weekend and will head to St. James City on the south end of Pine Island tomorrow.

Since last night's anchorage turned out to be a pretty wild ride thanks to the northeast winds, we've moved the boat 2.5 miles south to a more protected anchorage off the private resort island of Useppa. There were 3 other boats when we arrived, but are about 10 of us in all by sunset. What a gorgeous spot! There are amazing homes along the waterfront, and mangroves all around us. Across the channel is Cabbage Key, with more beautiful homes and mangroves to explore. We may not have a working dinghy engine, but we have kayaks! There's a field trip in our future...

Sunday, March 22, 2009
So we've changed our minds again. We were going to head to St. James City and the marine yard today, but have realized that it's 20 miles to the south. We still want to see Punta Gorda and its historical district, which is 20 miles north of us. St. James City is near Captiva and Sanibel Islands, and has always been on our agenda - just not quite this soon. We thought about going south to get to the boat yard Monday morning, then coming back to the north side of the area once our engine is fixed. However, that means going 20 miles south to St. James, then 40 miles north to Punta Gorda, then 40 miles south again. Since you're not supposed to sail in the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW), that's a lot of motoring that we'd just as soon avoid! Instead, we spend today exploring the mangroves and waterfront homes along Useppa Island in our kayaks, followed by a tour around Cabbage Key. Cabbage Key is a lovely little island across the ICW from Useppa that is ringed by mangroves and has a small restaurant and marina (and little else). We follow the coastline from the entrance channel clockwise, and circle the entire island. Truly a beautiful trip! We're amazed by the wildlife in the area - in our short trip around Cabbage Key, we saw dolphins, osprey, spoonbills, and others we can't name. After a short rest at the restaurant's boat ramp, we paddle back to Pipe Muh Bligh for lunch and a nap. Retirement is tiring! Tonight we'll stay at our same anchorage, and tomorrow morning we'll head to Punta Gorda for sightseeing and some much-needed grocery shopping. Fortunately, Punta Gorda has a free first-come, first-served day-use dock at Fishermen's Village, so at least we don't have to worry about needing a dinghy while there.

Monday, March 23, 2009
What a strange day! We left our little spot of Paradise at Useppa at 8am this morning for what we thought would be an easy trip north to Punta Gorda. Not so much... The weather forecast of 10-15 knot winds was completely off, and we found ourselves in 25-30 knot winds crossing Charlotte Harbor towards very dark skies. What happened to "sunny and high 70s"? The kitties were not happy (read "sick"), but we figured it was just as far to turn back as to keep going. Fortunately, the skies cleared by the time we got to Punta Gorda, and we reached the channel leading to Fishermen's Village around lunchtime. Fishermen's Village has shopping, restaurants, and a marina, and is about a mile from Punta Gorda's historic residential district. They have free daytime tie-ups, first-come-first-serve, to anyone visiting the shops or restaurants. We fumbled a bit with the tie-up at Harpoon Harry's (it's not easy lasso-ing those pilings!), but someone from the lunch crowd finally stopped laughing long enough to take pity on us and give us a hand. Once secured to the dock, we hopped off Pipe and enjoyed our first meal on land in nearly a week. Ah, heaven!

Next on the agenda: sightseeing in the historic district and groceries. Armed with our canvas shopping bags, we head north for the mile-walk past some beautiful old homes (many circa-1900) to the local Publix grocery store. Google says it's there, and when is Google wrong? Ahem. We enjoy the walk over. The weather is gorgeous, and there's a breeze blowing to keep us cool. We get to the place where Google says the Publix should be and...no Publix! What the...? We walk back and forth a few times, and finally stop to ask someone at a nearby business. "Oh, there used to be a Publix there, but it was blown away by Hurricane Charley 4-5 years ago." Grrrr... Okay, back to the little convenience store we saw on our way over. It doesn't have much, but we're getting desperate. We grab lunch meat, cheese, bread, beer, and water...the staples! The store also has a small, cold rotisserie chicken in the deli case. It looks pretty wrinkled, but it becomes dinner. Back to the boat we go. Oh, one more stop...since that chicken looks pretty small, we stop at the ice cream shop at Fishermen's Village for a to-go cup for dessert. Groceries get dropped off at the boat, we have a last beer by the water in Punta Gorda, and motor back out of the channel in time for the 4pm high tide. We've found a semi-protected anchorage on the west side of Punta Gorda's peninsula, which will serve as a good jumping-off point for the 40-mile trip down to Pine Island in the morning.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009
It's an uneventful trip to Pine Island. Charlotte Harbor is much kinder and gentler today than during yesterday's storm, and the winds are at our back. We set the sails for "wing and wing", which means the main is kept on one side of the boat while the jib is pulled to the opposite side using a pole attached to the front of the mast. The concept is like a spinnaker, but the execution is much easier when only two people are operating the boat. Before we know it we're doing 7+ knots, and we have a quick trip across Charlotte Harbor to connect with the Intercoastal Waterway near the Boca Grande inlet. From there, we have another 1-2 hours to our anchorage at Chino Island, a barrier island off Pine Island's west coast. The water stays deep fairly close to shore, and we'll need all the protection we can get from tonight's forecasted 15+ knot winds.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Fortunately the weather forecast was wrong again, because winds and waves were calm overnight. Thank goodness, since the wind shifted to a direction that would've made our "protected anchorage" useless. Rene has talked to the marine yard again about our outboard motor, and they've just received 3 other outboards with similar problems. On the plus side, this is something they see a lot and should be able to fix easily. The con is that it'll now be a couple of days before they can look at our motor. So, it's off to Sanibel Island we go! We're ready for a night in a marina where we can do laundry, have a nice meal, and refill our water tanks. Sanibel has a lovely little marina that should be deep enough for our boat, provided we arrive at high tide. We leave Chino Island for the 3-hour trip to Sanibel Marina. As the bird flies, the marina is less than 10 miles from us. However, Sanibel has recently rebuilt its 3 bridges that cross the causeway, and the 70' clearance bridge that we need is the one that's furthest away. There are a lot of small islands surrounded by 1-2' depths between us and the bridge, so we must stay in the channel to avoid running aground.

We arrive at Sanibel Marina at high tide (1pm) and, with some guidance from the marina, avoid the shoal at the entrance and tie up to the end of a T-dock. We're greeted by a huge dolphin swimming in the marina, along with some huge yachts and waterfront houses. So THIS is how the other half lives! With the boat secure and the first load of laundry running, it's time to bring out our fold-up bicycles for a spin. Sanibel has miles of bike trails, and judging by the traffic on the island's 2-lane roads, this is definitely the way to go. We bike to the historic Sanibel Lighthouse (built in 1854) and take a walk along the beautiful beach. We also take a ride to see more of the island and to stop off at the grocery store for a few staples. Fortunately we'll have a car in the next few days for a real shopping trip (more on that later), so we don't have to do any major provisioning on the bikes. Back home, we clean up and enjoy a fabulous dinner at Gramma Dot's in the marina. Blackened scallops for Rene and spinach & Boursin cheese-covered grouper for Stacy...yummy! We're stuffed from dinner, but bring a slice of Gramma Dot's homemade key lime pie to go with the fresh blueberry muffins that the marina will bring us for breakfast. Did we mention we're getting a lot more exersize than we used to?!

Thursday, March 26, 2009
Great news! Our friend Scott's father lives on Pine Island, on the same canal as the marine yard. Scott has talked to his dad, Frank, and has arranged for us to stay behind Frank's house. Frank has an extra dock that we can tie up to, along with a skiff that we can borrow to get the dinghy to the marine yard. Frank meets us at the outer marker of the channel at high tide to lead us to his house. There's plenty of water, and we have no problem getting into the canal. It's a gorgeous area, and there are boats of some kind in front of nearly every home. Frank leaves us to teach his Tai Chi class, but we'll see him again this evening to visit with him and his wife, Sharon, along with their dogs, Susie and Mama. In the meantime, we enjoy Frank's hospitality and take a dip in the pool, hose off the boat, and deliver the outboard to the yard.

Friday, March 27, 2009
This morning we got quite a surprise visitor...a 4' crocodile! Frank spotted him a the base of a waterfall near the mangroves and dock. As Frank approached, the croc jumped back into the water and hovered near the piling. It was exciting to see, but we're awfully glad he wasn't any bigger than that!

Now it's time for some shopping... Frank has loaned us his car to do a major provisioning run to the Winn-Dixie 7 miles up the road. You can't imagine how exciting it is to enter a grocery store if you haven't been able to do so for 3 weeks! We push our cart up and down every aisle, and go nuts over the "10 for $10" deals on canned goods and rice and potato side dishes. And fresh milk! We haven't had that since the crossing! The little things really do start to mean more when you can't get them as easily as you used to.

Tonight Frank and Sharon are taking us to Porkbelly's BBQ (along with seafood and Greek specialties - yummy!). We want to take them to dinner to thank them for their generosity, and this is a great local dinner spot. After dinner, we visit again with Frank and Sharon, and Frank lets us listen to his latest CDs. Besides being a NASA physicist and avid sailor, Frank has been composing and recording music for the past few years. He's currently releasing his 23rd and 24th CDs (island music along with blues & jazz), and we loved listening to them. If you haven't heard of "Island Frank", now's your chance! Go visit Frank's website at www.IslandFrank.com.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

We've finally heard back from the marine yard. The ethanol had decomposed, and gunk built up in the engine. They had to clean the carburetor and replace the fuel filter and fuel hose/bulb. It's been a good lesson, and we're now armed with a bottle of fuel additive to prevent future build-ups. We borrow Frank's skiff again to pick up the engine, and decide that tomorrow will be the day to continue on our journey down the Florida coast. We enjoy another dinner out with Frank and Sharon, this time at the Lazy Flamingo in Bokeelia. We've had such a terrific time with them, and can't thank them enough for their kindness. Hopefully we'll see them again soon, maybe in the Florida Keys or the Bahamas.

Sunday, March 29, 2009
This morning has been the first rainy day we've had since leaving Kemah. It makes us feel lazy, and we manage to avoid all of the boat chores we should be doing outside. (At least it forces Stacy to work on the blog!) We finally bite the bullet at noon and Rene braves the rain to prep the boat. High tide is at 3:10pm, and we need to be ready by then (or before) to make it out of the canal and back to the ICW. Tonight we'll anchor near Sanibel and will head to Naples in the morning. It'll likely be our last stop before the 100-mile trip to Key West, and we're excited to see a new city.

The picture album for this post @
http://picasaweb.google.com/Rene.Foree/2009FloridaWestCoastPartII?feat=directlink

3 comments:

Troy and Deana Jones said...

I'm lovin' the blog and pictures. Especially the one of Captain Underpants and Tawny. Thanks for letting us share the adventure. Miss y'all bunches.

Doug and Pamela Maziur said...

Are you pinching yourselves yet? How awesome. Can I be your cat?

Love - Pamela

Kraig said...

Great adventures! Looking forward to more!