Part 1 - Part
Not liking the severe cold of
Northern Minnesota winters any more I decided to spend the winter
in Florida on my Bolger Bantam, Drifter. No particular plans
on where to cruise except for wanting to cruise Pine Island
Sound and the Ten Thousand Islands. Seventeen years ago I took
midlife break, quit my job, and went cruising, taking my Bruce
Roberts Spray, Crystal Dawn, down the rivers from Minnesota
to the Gulf, around the GICW and across to the Bahamas. That’s
a story from a different time, however. The point is that I
missed cruising those areas then as I had to go right on through
and up the Caloosahatchee River to escape a late season Hurricane.
Went on East instead of going back. Now I wanted to see what
I had missed.
The Free dock at LaBelle.
Arriving in Florida the second
week of January I took my time deciding where to launch first
by checking out the rivers and coastal areas of the Panhandle.
Wanted Ideas for cruising in March when it warms up in northern
Florida. After a week, a Norther came in prompting me to get
my rear south , so headed for Ft Myers.
I launched in a backwater of
the Caloosahatchee River near Chester Young’s house. Chester
was kind enough to allow me to park my van and boat trailer
in his side yard while I went off cruising this area of Florida.
Thanks Chester! He owns the Bolger Tennessee Esther Mae, which
was written up in MAIB.
I had planned on heading down
river to Pine Island Sound right off, but the cold front was
kicking things up out there, so went up river instead. The nice
thing about Drifter is that I only need 12 inches to float,
so can get in to some really nice protected places to anchor.
Not being one to think I have to move every day, I laid around
for a couple of days, taking care of some projects around the
boat that I didn’t have time to do before winter had set
in up north, reading, and just enjoying being back living aboard
in Florida again.
Dock at Hontoon Island
When that cold front ended and
was followed by another one I decided to head on up to LaBelle.
Arrived just as two trawlers cleared the bridge from up stream
and started docking procedures. Anchored across the way as this
could take a bit as you have to dock Med style here. After they
had docked I saw there was one place left on the dock proper,
but thought that since it was this crowded I would leave it
for someone who needed deep water and tied up on the end where
it was only about 18 inches deep. I would have just stayed at
anchor, except that I needed to get food, ice and use the computer
in the Library.
LaBelle is still a great, boater
friendly place. You can stay at the dock for three days and
they even provide water and electricity! Everything you need
to provision is within easy walking distance. Had to go get
a piece of pie from Flora & Ella’s of course. Found
out they had moved from the original place a couple of blocks
away and were now a pretty good walk away. The pies are still
great, but I liked the atmosphere of the old place better.
Being at the dock also gave me
a chance to talk to other boaters, something you miss if you
are always anchored in out of the way places in shallow water.
This gave me insight into the boating problems in Florida. I’m
sure you have all read some of the stories about how Marinas
are being replaced by Condos because of high property taxes.
The only way for the marinas to survive is by charging really
high prices. Talked to Jack, who told me that after living aboard
for 13 years at a marina at Anna Maria Island ( barrier island
off the south end of Tampa Bay) that he couldn’t afford
it and had to go back to living on the hook. According to Jack,
they were charging $600.00 a month for dock space. Forcing Marinas
out of business seems short sighted since Florida gets $18.4
billion dollars a year from boating. Not to mention more and
more of those ugly 50 story condos. To me, condos are human
sized bee hives and I can’t imagine why anyone would want
to live in one, or anywhere near one, for that matter! We also
discussed the recent law passed in Florida regarding anchoring,
and how many places were ignoring it and still telling anchored
boat to leave after 24 to 72 hours, depending on where you were.
Well, with seemingly one cold
front after another giving Florida an unusually cold winter
I was considering heading East to the Atlantic, then South through
the Keys. Determined to see Pine Island Sound and the Ten Thousand
Islands, however, I started to slowly head back down river towards
the Gulf. Seventeen years ago, most of the loops left from straightening
the channel for barge traffic were all wilderness and made great
gunk holes for anchoring. Now most of them were filled up with
houses. You can still anchor of course, but it’s not as
nice as before. Fortunately you can still find places if you
search them out. At least you can if you don’t have a
deep draft boat.
After waiting out a two day blow
anchored back in the Power Plant Slough north of Ft Myers, the
forecast was finally promising to get the weather more normal
for this time of year. I headed down river again and stopped
in at Bimini Basin in Cape Coral, another of the few remaining
boater friendly places. Well protected, with a city park on
which to pull up your dingy (in my case a solo canoe), everything
you need to provision is within easy walking distance, including
a West Marine, Ace Hardware, Publix, and many restaurants. A
great place to stop for supplies, but no wilderness., Just expensive
houses on a maze of canals. When the weather finally broke off
I went for Pine Island Sound.
Since it was a glorious day,
I just kept going all the way up to Cayo Costa Island and the
State Park, which comprises 90% of the island. A beautiful place,
with beautiful beaches. Well, mostly beautiful anyway. Here
I came upon another new Florida problem, although I wouldn’t
read about this until later on down on Sanibel Island. While
the beaches were great, if you wanted to actually go swimming
you had to walk through deep piles of red algae or seaweed to
get to the water. I later read that this is caused by too much
fertilizer runoff from agriculture and is a big problem for
the tourist resorts whose clients expect pristine beaches.
The beach at Cayo Costa
There were 27 boats at anchor
in the Cayo Costa anchorage one day, and I observed some interesting
human behavior. While most of the big sailboats had fast outboard
powered dinghies, three of the biggest power boats had sailing
dinghies. They apparently could not be satisfied in just sailing
for the fun of it, but set out fenders as markers and proceeded
to have a race, complete with air horn signals, thereby ruining
the pristine silence of the anchorage. I’ve never understood
why so many people can’t seem to find enjoyment in something
unless they can beat someone else, thereby proclaiming themselves
superior, at least for that day. Ah - the human super ego, the
root of most human problems. Anyway, after determining that
I would not be allowed to shoot the damned horn out of his hand
I instead paddled to shore and walked to the other side of the
island for the rest of the afternoon.
Having satisfied my curiosity
on Cayo Costa, and realizing I was not going to find any Angel
Wing shells there, I upped anchor and headed across the bay
to the anchorage on the SE side of Punta Blanca island. This
was the more typical anchorage as I was to find out, meaning
there was no place to go ashore, being nothing but Mangroves.
Since there is a nice beach around the corner however, I decided
to go around and beach to talk a walk and do some shelling.
Came around the corner and found a rather large, long legged
Feral Hog had already staked out the beach. Not being one to
argue with something that has bigger teeth then me, I left him
his beach and went on down to North Captiva and Foster‘s
Bay. Having read in a previous article in MAIB that it is tricky
getting in without local knowledge I went in slowly. I finally
realized that some fisherperson had set all his/her traps on
both sides of the channel and just followed them across the
flats and into the anchorage areas. I could see that the hurricane,
Charley, I think, had done much damage to the mangroves and
had, in fact cut a new channel through the island. So, are charts
in the future going to show a South North Captiva, and a North
Captiva? Will they give it a different name? Hmmm.
|Birds at morning feeding. Five differant
large wading birds in one shot!
After too many boats came into
the small anchorage areas, it being a Friday, I left for places
with more room to be away from others. Finally found myself
down in the bight between Buck Key and Captiva as far away as
I could get from the other boats. The next day I went paddling
around and found that Captiva is not a boater friendly place.
Not to boaters who anchor anyway. It seems that unless you take
a marina slip or go eat at one of the expensive shore side restaurants,
you are not welcome here. I digress again. I have noticed in
my travels, that people who travel to find out what life is
like and how people live in other countries are not really welcome
either. On one of my trips to Mexico I was wandering around
it the local market seeing how vastly different it is from shopping
in the US and kept repeating “solo Miranda” to all
the shopkeepers trying to sell me everything, none of which
I have any need. As I came up to a woman who spoke English,
she said “if you are only looking, what good are you?”
Apparently you are expected to
buy things you don’t need, just to help the economy. But
what do you then do with all those “things” you
don’t need? Hmmm, actually, buying things not needed seems
to be the American way to keep the economy going also. Oh well,
having too much “stuff” already, I stopped buying
anything on my travels 30 years ago. Lodging, food and transportation
is it. Be that as it may, I found it kind of irksome to find
that same attitude is here. Seventeen years ago is was easy
to find places to go ashore, in fact the guidebooks I had then
not only told you where to anchor, but where on shore to go
tie up your dingy. I had three Florida cruising guides with
me this time, and none of them gave any hint of where you could
tie up. So, I tied my canoe in an out of the way place by the
parking lot of the Green Flash Restaurant, and having paid my
dues to the tune of $25.00 for a fish sandwich and a beer, plus
tip, spent the afternoon wandering around Captiva. While it
is definitely touristy , and expensive, it is still a pleasant
place in that the stores, shops, etc. are small and feel like
they belong to an older Florida than all the newer 50 story
Nice spot at N.E. end
of Blue Island.
Moving on down the chain to Sanibel
I anchored in Tarpon Bay, finding way more water than shown
on my chart. Took my canoe and set off to explore. After going
through six different bays back into the mangroves, most of
them having more than one cut through them I decided this was
not such a good thing to do without either a handheld GPS, or
a lot of red ribbon to tie onto the mangroves to mark your way
back. Since mangroves pretty much look all the same, it is hard
to get your bearings without any real landmark. I figured six
small bays back was about the limit to my aging memory and paddled
back before it got dark.
The next day was rainy and windy,
so I just stayed put and read. The day after that arose clear
and sunny, so upped anchor and followed the channel markers
to the other end of the bay and anchored off the Park Concession
place where they rent boats, canoes, kayaks and bikes, and have
excursion boats to take people out on tours of Tarpon Bay. Paddled
ashore and walked into town, looked around, bought supplies
and went back to the boat for the night. Next day I paddled
ashore and rented a bike to explore the “Ding” Darling
Wildlife area. From there to the start of the Wildlife Drive
is two miles, then 8 miles around the outer loop, than another
4 around the inner loop, then to the beach, back into town to
the Bailey Tract, then around town, bought more supplies and
back to the boat. Peddled about 20 miles, which was easy by
bike, but not possible by walking. Although I could rent a bike
here, it was at this point that I regretted not bringing along
my folding bike. Next year! It was a very nice day, seeing many
kinds of birds and a few gators, although no really big ones.
|Dock at Murphy Island Conservation Area.
When I got back home I happened
to see a special on TV about how Sanibel had decided to get
inline with the rest of Florida’s populated areas regarding
gators and hired hunters to get rid of any over 8 feet. This
was after two people were killed by gators, the last straw being
a well know woman landscaper who was taken 15 feet from shore
in 2004. If I had seen the film showing just how fast a big
gator can be out of the water with its jaws clamped on your
leg, I would have been much more careful than I was, to say
the least. It seems a gator can propel itself onshore the length
of itself in the blink of an eye. Thus, a 15 foot gator can
be out 15 feet before you can react. Later, on the St. Johns
River, I saw for myself just how fast these ancient creatures
Leaving Sanibel I drifted on
down to Estero Island (Ft Myers Beach) and anchored past the
mooring fields, behind the little island. While passing the
mooring fields I saw the Mark V, Heart of Gold, circled around,
but no one aboard. Then, in the anchorage, was a Bolger sailboat
that looked like an AS 29. The owner was not onboard, but a
friend of his on board said that is was a Bolger, but 39 feet,
and that was all he knew. There was no name on the boat and
he didn’t know that either. Oh well. In my quest to stay
away from other boats I anchored way over by the shoals. Late
in the afternoon, a guy swung by in his dingy and told me I
would be grounded at low tide. I decided to stay put as it was
all sand and see how it takes the ground.
Back in Cross Creek.
I had been having problems with
my new Fortress anchor setting. Once set, it holds great, but
it is so light for the size of it’s flukes that it “sails”
to the bottom and has trouble setting. In a crowded anchorage
I thought grounding during the highest tidal current might not
be a bad thing. I did ground, and everything was OK.
The next day I had to go ashore
to do laundry and shop for food and beer. Instead of taking
the long paddle across the busy channel to the dinghy area (I
had asked a local live aboard) I went over to another shoal
spot right next to the channel to the dinghy area, made sure
I had a nice flat sandy area and did the same. I figured the
Brits do this all the time, so why not? Note - never do your
laundry in a bar, unless you are a smoker. My clothes came out
smelling like cigarette smoke!
Having taken care of shore needs
I headed down island to the S end of Estera and anchored off
Coon Key within site of the bridge over Big Carlos Pass. This
was a very nice anchorage , no one there but me, good holding,
and close to Lovers key State Park with its nice beaches. I
explored the Estero Sound area while waiting for a cold front
to pass before heading out on the open Gulf. The boat having
been designed for protected waters, I am not one to push things
This gator was 14 to 15
feet! Glad I'm in a big enough boat!
After seeing all I cared to in
that area NOAA said I would have half day of 2 to 4 feet before
another cold front pushed the surf up again for 2 more days.
Not wanted to spend another 3 days here, I left immediately
and headed for Delnor-Wiggens Pass, about 9.5 miles south. The
nice thing about this part of the Gulf is you are never more
than 6 miles from an inlet in case things get rough.
The swells were on my starboard
quarter and Drifter handled them very well. Entered Wiggins
pass and thought to explore up river first, but past the marina
area it went right to 2 feet. I probably could have gone further
by using the bow mounted trolling motor, but decided to look
for the State Park instead. Went back and turned off onto the
channel heading south to Water Turkey Bay and found the ramp
for the park. Since there was a good size dock I tied up and
went ashore to explore.
The main park road was only about
a quarter mile away with the beaches right beyond. Spigots in
the rest rooms were handy to refill my water jugs towing them
from the dock in my handy folding cart. Got back and found a
guy fishing off the end of the dock by my boat, and not wanting
to disturb his fishing I decided to stay there until he left,
state parks closing at sunset. I was only going 200 feet to
|Beached at Blue Springs S.P.
Settled down to read and watched
the fishing with interest as I wasn’t having much luck.
Everything down here in saltwater is different from my northern
freshwater fishing. Well, maybe not so different after all.
I watched him lose about two dozen shrimp to Clown Fish during
the course of 3 hours. I know they were Clown Fish because two
of them surfaced before tangling themselves in the mangroves.
Having noticed a few days before that bait shrimp were selling
for $4.50 a dozen, I decided that you would be better off just
eating the shrimp rather than feeding the fish!
After he left I went and anchored.
This was right on the edge of the park, so half the anchorage
was natural, and the other half was all condos. It was very
protected however, and the next few days were small craft warnings
on the gulf. That, plus a paddle of only 200 feet to shore to
walk in the Park made it a great place.
I spent the next few days lazing
around, reading, and walking the beaches, which were very windy
and chilly with the cold front. I also explored the canals on
south into North Naples Park. Many obscenely huge homes, but
no stores. Some of these homes were so big that a whole third
word village could have lived in them. I never will understand
why some people need so much space, either in a house or on
a boat. On what I figured would be my last day here before I
headed further south I took my grocery pack and started off
walking to find a store. I ended up with a 6 mile roundtrip
to get to a Publix, the first grocery store I found. Good exercise,
but hardly a good provisioning area!
My "Creature of the
Black Lagoon" site on Cross Creek off the St. Johns
in the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge.
The cold front over, and the
Gulf having calmed down, I headed out and south for Naples.
It was a beautiful day on the Gulf, then I arrived in Naples
and found boat after boat after boat. I headed back north from
the pass to explore, but after a mile or so decided this is
just too crowded for me and turned back south into the inland
waterway to Goodland. This turned out to be the busiest place
on my whole trip, with boat after boat passing me. My guidebook
mentioned the many inviting beaches along this route, but must
not have been updated. I did see many nice looking beaches,
but almost all of them had docks, cabins or houses, and no trespassing
signs. With all the wakes from all the boats passing within
50 to 80 feet from shore I would not have wanted to be there
When I got to Marco Island, where
the ICW goes almost out to the Gulf before heading back in,
I got another good example of one of the big problems facing
the boating industry. As I was slowly (no wake zone) headed
towards the pass before the turn there was a boat coming across
the channel off my port side. I was in his right of way zone,
so I had the right of way. Of course, I know better than to
believe people know the rules of the road, or even that there
are rules of the road. I kept on just to see if he would give
way, there being no danger since he was going slow also. When
we got to, maybe, 50 feet, he kept coming, but turned his body
sideways in the boat and put his hand down, backside towards
me, and pushed them out a couple of times in the classic, shoo,
shoo, go away signal. I immediately changed course to go behind
him, as it was now clear the man was an idiot. Then, after I
had turned back inland, I found seven boats coming towards me
taking up the whole channel from one side to another. Apparently
they thought the channel was one way, in their direction. After
this, I gave up all thoughts of stopping in Marco, left it to
the crowds of idiots, and headed on to Goodland.
I digress, again. What I have
noticed in recent years is that the average cruising boat is
now about 10 to 12 feet longer than 17 hears ago, and almost
all the boats, large or small, want to go fast. It seems the
current thought is that simply buying a boat makes one a boater.
I know it is not popular to think of government licensing. I
don’t want that either. But something has to be done to
teach these idiots that there ARE rules, just as in driving
a car; and they MUST be obeyed for boating to be safe. As it
stands now, If I won the lottery and could afford a 150 foot
boat, I can legally operate it unless using it commercially.
How idiotic. I may have been boating all my life, but I know
I am not, at present, capable of safely handling a vessel that
large. Maybe part of the solution is that no one be allowed
to buy a boat without showing proof of completing either a Coast
Guard Auxiliary or Power Squadron course. At least, then, they
would know the rules, whys and hows of safe handing. Whether
they would follow them is another matter. This, at least, would
not be a government license.
on to Part 2 ...