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First Cruise, Visit from Jay,
and All About the Intra-Coastal Waterway

Travelogue - December 9, 2005

Night falls fast in the subtropics. BANG! and it's dark. At this moment, Rick is working to shore up our battery power for improved lighting, because we are no longer tethered to shore power at the marina. That's right, we are out in the Wide Blue World!

Rick Finally, and thank goodness! Because this photo is pretty much all we've seen of Rick for the past three weeks. It isn't quite as bad as it looks - the rest of the salon floor comes up and off for full access to the engine room. But flexibility helps.

In fact, during last week's time crunch, I got wedged in above the generator and behind the fuel tank, trying to see a hose fitting. I had slid in OK, but when it came time to back out I found myself in trouble. My ribs got hung up on the manifold and I crunched them out, but then my bosoms toggled open and I was at a loss. It took some effort - and engine lube - to extricate me, and I still have the bruises to show for it.

on the flybridge We did a successful shake-down cruise and anchoring practice on Sunday (look at the picture, Megan, I really am there in person! Hi honey! Is everybody sick of that pink shirt yet?) Part of what we learned is that nowhere below decks is quiet enough for triangular furry feline ears, so Goldie came up to the flybridge with us in her hutch, and I tied its straps to the rails for security (lashed her to the mainmast, one could say). She viewed the scenery and napped. Problem solved, Goldie is fine.

Last Saturday we took the evening off with Don and Lu to see the lighted boat parade at Punta Gorda. It is a fun event where people light their boats with holiday themes and parade through the basin at night. Very festive! The next night I joined them for an excellent Christmas Concert at their community center. The orchestra brought in a guest tenor and he was wonderful.

Another afternoon we were pleasantly surprised when Don and Gillian W. dinghied up to our Marinatown slip. They told us they were anchored nearby in the Caloosahatchee, across from the Ft. Myers city yacht basin, so we arranged to meet them at the city marina. Don picked us up in their dinghy and ferried us to Jazz for dinner and conversation.

That was fun: we crossed the river to their anchorage just as the sun set, on a bumpy ride across the wide Caloosahatchee to the lovely Jazz - she looks like a miniature Mississippi river boat. We had a warm evening, then a cool breezy ride back across the water with moonlight and starlight above - it couldn't have been more perfect. Thanks, Don and Gillian!

Jay Then on the morning of December 6th - back to where we started above - we cut the umbilical cord and slid out from the Marinatown fraternity for good. Yippee! It was a tad breezy, but we wanted an early start to beat the worse weather. By the time we were ready to go my USU college friend, Jay K., had arrived. His dad lives in Ft. Myers and Jay had come down for the holidays (even though he lives in Boise, we had to cross the entire continent to see each other).

We welcomed Jay aboard, said goodbye to Mr. K., and waved to our dock-mates as we chugged out of the canal. Here's Jay, left, working on his sea legs. Hang on, Jay! I had asked him to hold my camera bag so he was burdened and it's not as easy as it looks.

Marinatown's canal intersects the main channel of the Caloosahatchee River, a.k.a. Okeechobee Water Way, which is a part of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). For those of you who, like me, did not know about the ICW, I will tell you what I have learned so far:

The Waterway was established to protect shipping from German submarines along the coast during WWII. It takes advantage of channels barrier islands and rivers where possible. Following the ICW, one can sail from the Rio Grande around the Gulf, across Florida via the Caloosahatchee River and Lake Okeechobee, and up the East Coast as far as New York - theoretically all in waters protected from the storms and torpedos of the ocean.

After that, one cruises up the New York canals to the Great Lakes, then down the Mississippi and back to the Gulf - this is known as the "Great Circle Route" - but that's another travelogue in, maybe, ten or fifteen years.

I find our country's maritime history really fascinating. But anyway, on to modern inconveniences. Our first stop was the Ft. Myers city marina for fuel. It was only my second VHF radio experience. As instructed by Capt. Gary, I used Channel 16, the hailing and distress frequency, which is monitored by one and all: "Fort Myers Yacht Basin, Fort Myers Yacht Basin, Fort Myers Yacht Basin, this is the trawler Sea Gator."

A disembodied voice replied, "Sea Gator, Sea Gator, acknowledge, switch to channel 11, channel one-one."

Ft. Myers Yacht Basin, fuel dock I said, "Channel one-one." And we all quickly switched our dials to channel 11. Anyone who does more than hail on channel 16 gets a loud reprimand from the Coast Guard - entertaining to those not involved, but agonizing for those needing channel 16 to call a real emergency.

Safely dialed onto channel 11, the dockmaster confirmed what we needed and he directed us to pull in "bow to bow" with the trawler already at the dock. Rick handled it sweetly and we conducted our business without embarrassing ourselves too much - just a slight snafu when Jay thought he was reporting the gallons fueled, and we all agreed "That was quick," when in fact he was reading the dollars gauge, and we were nowhere near our tank fill. Yikes! Edified and considerably poorer, we pulled away from the dock and headed downriver.

More ICW facts: The channel is dredged by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because otherwise the water is pretty darned shallow. See how wide it looks, below, as Rick steers toward downtown Ft. Myers? That is deceiving! Depth can be a mere foot or two at low tide throughout much of Florida's coastal waters. Sea Gator's draft is 3.5', so unlike the outboards skimming past, we had to stay well within the channel. Fortunately, it is marked:

Ft. Myers skyline There are triangular, red markers on the north side of the Caloosahatchee and as you head up any river or channel ("Red Right Returning"), and green squares on the opposite side. Each marker is numbered (even numbers are on red markers, odd numbers are on green); some are lighted; and all are charted. The markers are larger on the main I.C.W. channel which makes it easy to distinguish them from markers indicating private or side channels. When you are going around the coast, red is inside (landward), green is seaward.

I used sticky notes on the chart to keep track of where we were and where we were heading, and Jay used the binoculars to spot the upcoming markers and read their numbers at a distance.

Flybridge Left, we see Rick driving, Jay enjoying the scenery, and Goldie's hutch securely strapped to the railing on the left.

A two-and-a-half hour cruise downriver and we located our goal: a side channel heading into a labyrinth of private canals and waterways. I fussed, preparing the anchor, chain, and lines while Rick and Jay tracked the main channel and brought us in to Bimini Basin.

This protected bay in Cape Coral is surrounded by homes, apartments, and a city Park - it's a wise choice for our first anchorage (thanks again, Don and Gillian!). Jay and I gradually lowered the anchor, then its chain and line, and Rick let the boat back away on the wind. Would the anchor set? HORRORS, it did not! Watching the water is deceptive, so you visually line up two landmarks ashore, one in the foreground and one in the distance... when those fixed objects move apart you know you are sliding. A dragged anchor means we'll drift and end up hitting an adjacent boat or nearby dock or piling, or aground on goodness knows what - probably somebody's flower bed or swimming pool surround. It would be a very costly side trip.

Jay and I (but mostly Jay) hauled in the ground tackle in reverse order: line, chain and anchor (a 66 pound "claw" anchor). We tried again; held our breaths... it held. Whew! HUGE relief! We tied a chafing line to protect the anchor line, had lunch to celebrate, verified we were still in place, then lowered Bump Head and puttered into shore.

Jay Pat Rick This was very cool: We tied up Bump Head in the city Park and headed down the street. We soon found the grocery store, marine supply store, postal store, and (thank heaven) a coffee shop, where Jay phoned his dad and we enjoyed a last conversation. When Mr. K. arrived (it was less than an hour's drive for him) we bid a sad farewell, until next time. Jay - it was great to see you, and thank you for your fine seamanship!

So here we are, back to the three of us and still "on the hook". It's pretty interesting, I'll tell you. Scenery slides past the windows as though we are on a moving train. But no, we are stable - just swinging, swinging, swinging on the end of our anchor line.

Each time the wind or current changes, we and the four sailboats and two other trawlers in this anchorage all rotate, more or less in tandem, to face the new current or breeze. It happens continually, to my profound surprise, and so far we've covered an arc of nearly 270 degrees: on a clockwise swing the view out the port windows slides backward and the view out the starboard windows slides forward; yet Sea Gator is so stable I don't feel as though I'm moving. It was disconcerting at first, but I've grown accustomed to checking my landmarks periodically and ignoring it the rest of the time.

It's very magical here at night. Many people have Christmas lights on their boats, and many of the houses are decorated with lights on the water side. It is very festive indeed. The boat across the way has a giant reindeer wireframe all wrapped in white lights, and everyone around the basin has lights on their palm trees. It's probably for the festival: I discovered that there will be a lighted boat parade in this basin on December 18th, so we need to hightail it out of here before then or risk being a party-pooper with our no-christmas-decorations boat! Meanwhile, however, we've received an invitation from the family with the tallest lights on their palm trees, to come visit and chat and have a cool drink. Ho Ho Ho!

Bimini Basin Here is Sea Gator at anchor in the late afternoon, viewed from Cape Coral's "Four Freedoms" city park, where we tie up the dinghy ashore.

Don and Lu will visit tomorrow; I'll finish some work, email it to the nearby blueprint service then put hard copies in the snail-mail; Rick will continue to work on our battery power situation; and we'll plot a course to our next anchorage.

We hope to get away from the Caloosahatchee and its crowds, and out into Pine Island Sound by the middle of next week - into peace and quiet; explore Sanibel, Captiva, Boca Grande and all the hundreds of little islands and anchorages that await us with their blue blue blue water and sandy beaches.

Enough chit-chat; it's back to work for me! Thanks for listening

- Pat

P.S. Yes, it was nearly 80 today; I wore a sun hat and SPF shirt to the grocery store, with shorts and sandals. We've been following the weather reports of the snow and the evil cold blast you have experienced in the Midwest and mountain west. I feel for you, I really do, but it's hard to imagine, here with the windows open, listening to the splashes as fish jump and birds dive. I had to ask my sister for coasters for the boat, because my lemonade glass is sweating on the table. In unison, with sarcasm: "Awwwww!"

I wish you warmth and light!

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