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by Steve Axon - Challis, Idaho - USA

This winter, Helen and I sailed all of 15 miles from the boat yard at Charlotte Harbor! After 14 years of winter cruising hundreds of miles around Florida and across the Bahamas, we realized that what kept us coming back was seeing old friends and meeting new ones. And having a comfortable anchorage with a nice place to go ashore and mess around (like Georgetown ). Cayo Costa offered all that right by us on the West coast of Florida, so we explored a new style of cruising, anchoring in one place, and letting the world come to us.

Pelican Harbor is the nicest anchorage I've found on either coast of Florida. Cayo Costa is a 7 mile long barrier island island that closes off the south end of Charlotte Harbor, and forms the NW boundary of Pine Island Sound. The smaller Punta Blanca island (1 ½ miles long) parallels the NE end of Costa, and defines Pelican harbor. This enclosure is large enough to offer great protected kayaking and dinghy sailing, but small enough to be comfortable in a blow from any direction. Shallow bars make the entrance a bit tricky, which keeps the clowns out, and entertains us with frequent groundings.

While Cayo Costa has an interesting history of fishing villages, schools and even a boat yard 100 years ago, it is returning to it's natural state these days as a State Park. The Gulf shore is one long beach, with fine sand and prolific shelling. The sound (east) side is all mangroves, with several interesting lagoons to explore. One is full of manatees all winter, who seem to be attracted to the fresh water springs there.

Bird and Cat.

So Cayo became our home for the winter. We lived aboard Shanty, and commuted ashore by dinghy to work at the Park each day. We found the rangers friendly, and the other volunteers very interesting. Many had been coming to this unique bit of Old Florida for decades. The boat only access protects the place from the hordes that overrun most parks, and it is mainly visited by day tourists on harbor cruise boats, and private boaters. The place is also a mecca for trailer sailors, with it's free day docks and rest rooms.

Attached are some more "Scenes from the Dink", subjects I thought might be of interest to your readers. And of course many photo's of Dennis Bradley's "Egret", still the queen of Pine Island sound.

"Shanty" is Med Moored here in the mangroves at the Boca Grande bayou. This was our weekend home, and frequently our spot to weather the cold fronts (which came through weekly every Friday this year). The spot is well protected, but a med moor leaves you beam on to some winds, and we had one 40 knot gust that dragged our 2 hooks, and left us beam on in the mangroves. Happily, these function beautifully as a green cushion, and we suffered very little scratching during our hour in the brush.

Pelican harbor is an ideal spot for dinghy sailing. Here friends from "Yellowbird" tool around in my home built 2 piece nesting dink (a modified V-10). The salvaged sailboard rig came from Dennis Bradley's pile of boat gear. As you can see, my sprit is an oar.

Nesting V-10 dink with salvaged windsurfer rig.
Dyer flying wind scoop

These folks have figured out how to use their "windscoop" (a hatch ventilator) as a dink spinnaker!

Outward Bound has finally given up on their massive old 30' double enders, and this is their new sailing/pulling beach cruiser.

Outward Bound's new hi-tech boat.

"Ibis" was one of the best home built cruisers I had ever seen. She is a Walter Greene "Even Keel 35" catamaran, with an open bridge deck. This thing was a lightening sailor, and then could anchor in 2' of water. It had two king sized beds tucked into the forward cross arm, a huge galley in the starboard hull, and an 8' workbench port side. Using a composting toilet, they had no thru hulls and no pump out compliance issues. Life mainly went on under a sun awning in the huge cockpit. Which is just where you want to be in the tropics.

Ibis stern
Ibis, now a power cat

I had last seen her in 2002, and feared Ted and Patty had "swallowed the hook", as so many folks do at a certain age. Then one evening, after I had just described Ibis to a couple from a Gemini cat, a sleek motor cat pulled in and anchored between us. Sure enough, it was the re-incarnated Ibis! I had not seen them because they had been down in the western Caribbean (Belize, Honduras) for years. After that adventure, they were feeling less ambitious about their sailing plans, and less able to handle the big rig. But they still wanted to putter about Florida's west coast. So at very little expense, Ted took the rig down, built a hard top for the cockpit, and added a second sled and 4 cycle outboard motor. Now he has a terrific power cat that can fit under the many bridges along the ICW! Ibis can spin in place, and with her shoal draft, squeeze into the many cozy mangrove anchorages along the coast.

The square roof is less graceful to my eye, but provides shade and shelter, plus a home for almost infinite solar panels. The thing is even set up to catch rain water, and divert it directly into the tanks. Notice how Ibis combines the useful sugar scoop steps in the stern with transom mounted kick up rudders, usually seen as incompatible features! I'm impressed by any design that converts from sail to power so easily, since that's the progression most older cruisers make as well.

Dennis Bradley winters on the north end of Pine Island at Bokellia, and still sails around in his 28' Monroe sharpie, "Egret". The bowsprit and jib have done wonders for her performance, and she's usually the largest "beach" boat at any gathering. With her sweet sheer and traditional good looks, she draws a crowd wherever he goes.

Spectacular Egret

The middle of March featured a gathering of the SW Trailer Sailors association in the shallow sand hook at the north end of Pelican harbor. No camping is allowed here, so folks just beached their boats in the protected spot, and slept aboard. It's an ideal location for a meet, half a day's sail away from any roads, but with an variety of protected waters available for sailing in all conditions.

Here Dennis stands in front of an overpowering Sea Pearl tri. Twin engines seems a bit much for the easily driven Pearl, but there is something to be said for redundancy.

Dennis Bradley, Pearl tri with 2 outboards.

"Dalliance" is an elegant mini-tri, cutter rigged and with all of the bells and whistles you'd find in a 40 foot cruiser. She's got solar panels and electric power, Bay Hens. Marshall Cats, Mono and Tri Pearls made up the bulk of the fleet, though some less traditional modern boats were in attendance too.

Daliance, hi-tech mini-tri
Shanty med morred in the mangroves

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