Sunday, April 19, 2009

Naples and Marco Island, FL

Monday, March 30 - Monday, April 6, 2009
We've arrived in Naples from Sanibel Island. It was a short trip from Sanibel, about 15 miles or 3 hours to the outer marker of Gordon Pass. Naples is another 4 miles upriver, and we pass by elaborate homes that line the river on both sides. We'd hoped to get one of the mooring balls that have been installed near the City Dock, but have discovered that the mooring field, while in place for 3 years now, still isn't open. Huh??? The gentleman at the City Dock says something about "waiting for federal approval", but in the meantime, you'll still be ticketed if you try to anchor in the mooring field. Perfect! So can we anchor anywhere? "There's no official anchorage, but you can anchor anywhere as long as you're out of the channel and not blocking someone's dock." Hmmmm... Okay, so we turn the boat around and head back downriver. Stacy has found a 10' deep spot on the chart plotter, but when we arrive there we find a small channel that is marked by private aids but isn't on the plotter. To top it off, every house has its own dock and they're fairly close together. This isn't going to work! We continue downriver until we see a 6-7' deep area off of channel marker 22 in front of 4-5 homes plus an empty lot. It's not ideal, but it should still be close enough to town that we can still take the dinghy to town and West Marine. We set the anchor in 7' of water as close to the empty lot as possible. There are people fishing off the breakers in front of one of the houses, and another family waves to us from their boat and "awww's" over the kitties as they pass us to get to their boat dock. So far, so good...right? Maybe not. As dusk falls, the house with the young fishermen turns on a spotlight towards the water, we assume to help with some nighttime fishing. Next we see people standing on the balcony watching us through binoculars, one of whom is wearing a policeman's or security guard's uniform! No, this is not good at all. We've been warned that Naples is "posh", and that local police are extremely protective of the high tax dollar residents along the waterfront. So how long before the local sherriff comes along in his speedboat to check on us? We have a few laughs about the situation with our friends back in TX via Facebook, then sit down to a movie with a glass of wine. Naturally, we keep one of the blinds open that faces the channel to watch for flashing red and blue lights.

Day 2 and no one has shooed us out yet! There have even been sheriff's boats passing by in the channel, but none of them have paid us any attention. Our only challenge has been the wind, which has turned 180 degrees in the opposite direction. We're now in the middle of a small channel leading to a canal, and boats are having to go around us to get in and out of the canal. Oops! We've decided to stay at this anchorage for one more night (brave or stupid?), so we reset our anchor to get out of the channel and get back to our boat duties. Stacy can't face mopping the floors yet, so she sticks with dishes and blog entries. Rene has discovered that our small bilge pump (for a/c and shower sump) has stopped working, so he's curled up in the engine room trying to figure out how much work is ahead of him. Ah, the glamorous life!

Wednesday we decide it's time to spend a night in a marina, so we head back upriver to the Naples City Dock. Dock fees are $1.50/ft with our trusty BoatUS discount - not nearly as bad as we'd feared. They have a transient slip we can use; it's 50' long and 19' wide - plenty of room for Big Bertha's (aka Pipe Muh Bligh's) 14.5' beam. One minor issue...many of the marinas we've seen in Florida have finger piers that only run down a portion of the length of the slip. That means getting on and off the boat can be extremely tricky if Pipe's widest point is past the end of the finger pier! Faced with this configuration at Naples City Dock, we try to back Pipe into the slip to align the gate with the end of the finger pier. Unfortunately backing in isn't quite as easy when you have 15-20 knot winds on your beam. As we've mentioned before, Pipe is a big girl, and she's easily manipulated by heavy winds. If we don't get the approach right the first time, it doesn't take much for the wind to catch us and push us in the wrong direction - in this case, towards the piling (i.e. big post) in the middle of the channel or the pilings on either side of our slip. After two aborted approaches, we finally decide to go nose-first into the slip. Stacy practices her lasso-ing routine while Rene attacks the bow-thruster to keep us straight. It's not pretty, but we finally get her in and tied up. After a quick lunch and a Modelo to reduce our docking stress, we head out of the marina to see the nearby Naples sights. We stop in at the Naples Ship Store outside of the marina to see their nautical gifts and marine supplies, then walk to Tin City, a collection of shops and restaurants located a mile from our marina. From there we head to Old Naples on 5th Avenue, which is a palm-lined cobblestone street filled with boutiques and restaurants. Boat rule still applies, so there's no souvenir shopping for us. Still, boat rule allows for a taste of the local brew now and then, and we find a perfect place to stop: McCabe's Irish Pub & Grill at the Inn on Fifth has their own amber beer, and offers a good people-watching spot. Later we head back to the marina, stopping at a local fish market to get some tuna steaks for tomorrow's dinner. We finally make it back to the boat, where we hook up the power cord for some much-needed air conditioning (it's muggy in Naples!!), use the marina's laundry facilities, and order an "everything" pizza (our first since Panama City) from Napoli, a little hole-in-the-wall pizzeria around the corner.

Thursday is a big day for us - we're going to Starbucks for the first time since we've left Kemah! Okay, maybe it's not a big deal for some, but if you knew how often Stacy filled her Starbucks card in TX, you'd understand. The bikes are loaded onto the dock, and off we go...back to 5th Avenue and Old Naples. Rene gets his Pike Place drip, and Stacy gets her triple venti skinny cinnamon dolce latte. Hey, if you're going to do it, you might as well go all out. Fully charged, we head off to West Marine for a few marine parts and a price check on boat batteries. Side note...before we left Kemah, we talked about the fact that we'd likely need to replace our boat batteries (all 3 of them) before heading to the Bahamas at the end of the year. Boat batteries apparently last 3-4 years, and we thought it would be better to replace them in the States vs. having to do it in the pricier Bahamas. Wouldn't you know, two weeks ago the batteries began losing their charges...FAST. We can recharge the batteries using the generator or the boat's engine, but either way the charge falls into the red within a couple of hours. That'll be our #1 boat project once we get to Key West. Anyway, after West Marine, we bike to Ace Hardware and Wynn's market, which is like a Central Market or Whole Foods on steroids. Nice grocery store, but you wouldn't want to do all of your shopping there. Finally, we make a last stop at CVS and are back to boat to stow the bikes and refill the water tanks before checkout. Of course, the winds are up again and are making it difficult to get out of the slip. We see an incoming catamaran having problems maneuvering in, so Rene goes to help while Stacy holds the lines for dear life to keep us from rubbing the dock. In return, the couple help with our lines so we can have a more controlled exit from the slip. We finally make it out without hitting anything, and head to our next anchorage. We've found one listed online near markers 12/13. It turns out to be a fantastic spot: it's in a protected canal, has 9' depths, and is surrounded by mansions (but no binocular-waving security guards, thank goodness). We feel even more comfortable as we're joined by a motor cruiser in the anchorage on Thursday afternoon, and two more sailboats on Friday.

Friday we take advantage of our protected anchorage and do some kayaking. There are two canals that continue from our small bay, so we paddle down each of them to gawk at the houses aligning each one. We know the economy is in dire straights, but you'd never know it from the construction going on in Naples! We see 6-8 waterfront homes being built on our brief kayaking trip, and are sure there are more throughout Naples' canal system. It's certainly a chance to see how the "other half" lives!

Saturday we say goodbye to Naples and head south to Marco Island, our jumping-off point to Key West. Marco Island has had a bad reputation among cruisers over the past few years due to a lawsuit involving city-defined anchoring limits. A cruiser decided to fight the new rule and intentionally violated the city's law. The city cited him, and the case went to court. The state of Florida eventually found in favor of the cruiser, and said that the state allowed anyone to anchor outside of a mooring field, and that no community could try to enforce more restrictive laws. We're happy to report that we loved Marco Island, and found it very cruiser-friendly. We anchored in the south end of Factory Bay, and were able to use the dinghy dock for $5/day at the Marco River Marina. It's an easy bike ride to groceries, shopping, and restaurants. Publix is less than a mile away and sits in a shopping center that also houses a West Marine, restaurants, clothing stores, and a liquor store. Winn Dixie is just a bit further down the main drag and is across from the Esplanade, an Italian-style outdoor shopping-dining-marina complex. We didn't venture to the larger resorts and beaches, but have heard that Marco Island is a beautiful spot for longer vacations. For us, this is a quick visit as the winds are shifting to the north on Monday and Tuesday. If we want to make the 85-mile journey to Key West without beating into the wind, we need to take advantage of this weather window. We expect it to be a rough trip, as the forecast says we'll have 20-25 knot winds and 8-ft seas on Monday. The winds calm down to 15-20kts on Tuesday, but the waves are expected to be 9-12 feet. Hoping for the lesser of the evils, we're heading out on Monday. More to come from Key West!

The pictures for this section are at

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