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Boca Grande through Cape Haze

Travelogue - February 5, 2006

Chart 11425, Cape Haze Rumors of our disappearance are greatly exaggerated! We are at Cape Haze. If you want to see it on a chart, go to www.nauticalcharts.gov. Select Gulf Coast, then select Chart # 11425, Intracoastal Waterway Charlotte Harbor to Tampa Bay.

Click in middle of the chart on the lower right... then again and again, panning right, until you can see a circular inlet near "Cape Haze", just across the ICW from Little Gasparilla Island and just left of Placida Harbor. Here is the relevant portion of the chart, left.

We came here to be sheltered from weather: Friday through Saturday featured brilliant lightning and crashing thunder (not typical for winter, we're told), winds to 20+ mph and screaming gusts of 36+. There were a number of boats when we got here but they all left - I wondered if they knew something we didn't? But it was nice to have all that room, just in case. However, our two anchors, let down in tandem, held just fine. These were the same force winds we experienced on Nightmare Thursday at Boca Grande. What a difference: swinging into the wind, as opposed to being hit broadside. Still, it was not restful and I say, enough is enough, bring on the calm!

Commuting across Boca Grande Bayou Backtracking: We had spent a week in Boca Grande following Nightmare Thursday. It was gorgeous! This photo shows the commute to the docks down at the end of the anchorage, where I will tie and lock Bump Head to a piling. Then I'll clamber out (an ungraceful process, depending on the tide) and stroll into town for groceries, meeting, library, shopping, post office, etc.

See that red-roofed building in the background? That is the historic Gasparilla Inn, a beautiful place where the Bush family and other genteel folk come to lounge and golf and fish. It reminded me of Yellowstone's Lake Lodge. I waved to the memory of Presidents and royalty as I strolled by in my Tevas.

Small heron Boca Grande is a beautiful town, easy to get around in - the former railroad grade is now a pathway running the full island, north-south. Many residents avoid cars and either ride bikes or drive golf carts through town! One day, as I was walking back from the library, I heard a bell behind me. A nice couple offered to chauffeur me to my destination in their golf cart. When will I have another such opportunity?! So I hopped aboard, and in answer to their questions told them my story. Well. Come to find out they had just moved to dry land after living aboard their boat for several years! It was a great conversation. They dropped me off in the middle of town - the "town square" features the restored railroad depot, now a restaurant - and I finished my errands in style.

Gulf beach While I was running errands and meeting townsfolk, Rick was working aboard. He paused long enough to photograph this bird (above left) perched in the mangroves behind the boat - it had wild feathers growing every which way from its head and back, looking like something Dr. Seuss would draw, but is in reality a small heron (I know this, because I had bought a bird book at the resale section in the library).

On the weekend, Rick took the day off to come with me. We brought our folding bikes on the dinghy and reassembled them on the dock. Our first sight was one of the legendary giant iguanas which has proliferated on the island and is now a menace to native vegetation and small pets. No photo - I didn't get that close! Then we crossed the narrow island to one of the many beautiful sandy beaches on the Gulf. The day was too cold for swimming, but perfect for bicycle riding.

Historic Gasparilla lighthouse At the south point of the island is an historic lighthouse (right), overlooking the pass (Boca Grande Pass) into Charlotte Harbor from the Gulf of Mexico. It was recently restored as a museum, and is the focal point of Gasparilla State Park. We had an excellent picnic lunch beneath the palms, and watched boats maneuver the rough ride through the pass into the Harbor. There were many people sunbathing, and fortunately most honored the "Swift Current - No Swimming!" signs.

Rick overlooking Boca Grande Pass We returned to Don and Lu's about mid-January: Rick had to fly to California, so we tied Sea Gator to their dock and Goldie and I moved in bag, baggage and litter box. I ask: who among us would voluntarily spend a week alone with their in-laws? Put another way: who would voluntarily invite their daughter-in-law and cat-in-law to stay for a week? Well, Goldie and I had a very nice time, and I can only hope Don and Lu would say the same. Below left, Goldie follows Pat's and Aunt Louise' lead and helps herself to Lu's closet.

I fetched Rick at the Southwest Regional Airport in Ft. Myers. It is a new airport, built in the new boondocks. The access road features "Panther Crossing" warning signs, with a silhouette of the big cat. It's interesting and heart-breaking at the same time; the sign is a clear reminder that wildlife habitat is being paved over at a horrific rate around here. But here's something good: they have a "cell phone lot." You pull in and turn off your engine, peer into the woods in hope of a panther, and wait in the quiet for your phone to ring. When it does you collect your loved one at the curb. No endless circling, no "where did I leave the car?" It was great.

Goldie in the closet When Rick returned from his successful "installation and training" mission he and Don upgraded Sea Gator's battery banks and installed cleats on the concrete sea wall. We reserved a safe place to store Sea Gator on land come May, and I scrubbed the bilge again and got some "real" work done.

I want to put in a word for in-laws; mine, in particular. Don, a semi-retired glazing contractor, volunteered several days buffing Sea Gator's windows of old salt and other stains that were etched into the glass. He accomplished this with pumice and a power buffer and a whole lot of effort. The results are impressive, to say the least. He also single-handedly restored the gloss to the entire fiberglass superstructure, taught me to use the power buffer, resurrected Bump Head's finish, designed and fabricated an aluminum cover for our propane stove (doubling our counter space), and watched over me and Goldie with utmost care.

Islets Lu, in addition to sharing her closet with Goldie (above left) and its contents with me ("oh, heavens no, I could never take your blou... oooh! that's cute!") took me to an Arts & Crafts Fair in historic downtown Punta Gorda - it was nice to go with someone who also likes to look in every booth! - taught me to play some fun card games, invited me along to the flea market with her girlfriends, and courageously loaned me her car. We encouraged each other to try new foods, and shared a lot of laughs. I am blessed. THANKS, Don and Lu!

When Rick, Goldie and I left Punta Gorda Isles, we cruised back down Charlotte Harbor, then turned north at Boca Grande into new territory (above right). Immediately the water became greener than brown, as the water was coming more from the Gulf than from the rivers. Soon it was like opaque glass, calm and still and vivid. Really beautiful! We saw dolphins (still no photos of an actual dolphin!), many birds, many fishermen.

We passed through the remains of the original railroad to Gasparilla Island... Old railroad

then peddled in place, waiting for the scheduled opening of the Boca Grande Swing Bridge... Swing bridge opening

which we passed through with no problems and, several miles later, we pulled into the Cape Haze anchorage in time for sunset Wednesday evening. Classic sunset photo, below.

Then came all the storming and blowing and lightening and other scary stuff, which we discussed above. Whew, I am very glad that's over!

FINALLY, this morning things had calmed considerably. We were able to lower Bump Head into the water (he'd been up there a long time), and we headed out to Don Pedro State Park - one of several protected, barrier island parks in this region. This ride took us north on the ICW for a short distance, then when we spotted the brown Park Service sign we turned in to a narrow channel between two mangrove islands. The channel was only 2.5' deep, hence only small boats need apply. The channel opened into a large "enbayment" (never heard that before) which is said to be home to many endangered manatees. We followed the posted directions and avoided the grassy middle areas, which are typical manatee feeding and resting grounds. Our route took us right, following the east perimeter. Still haven't seen a manatee!

Don Pedro State Park enbayment There were only a few boats at the Park dock. We enjoyed the picnic tables, nature trails, and beach on the Gulf. It is still not tropically warm as you can discern from the multiple layers, below left, but what can we expect the day after a cold front blows in on a thunder storm?

On the beach The nature walks were sandy trails meandering among Sabal Palms, Sea Grape (one formed an arch over the trail - very cool), Spanish Bayonet and Sea Oats. We saw a specimen of the endangered Gopher Tortoise, and two bald eagles. The eagles had a nest atop a crag, which was all that remained of a very tall Australian Pine. There were many of those crags about: because Australian Pines are invasive, all public entities are working to eradicate them. It's a good ecological cause, but kind of reduces wind protection to certain areas - an issue of personal concern. Still, I'm all in favor.

We also had a long chat with the captain of the ferry which brings people to the Park - formerly you could only get there by private boat, but the Park Service is encouraging more people to come and therefore makes it convenient for private companies to provide the service. All in all, it was a great day ashore.

Now I'm up to date.

Sunset over barrier island We plan to stay here for bit longer (may as well, we know we're secure) and get caught up with work, do a few more trips to Don Pedro beach, and ride our bikes to lunch and the grocery store (I'm reasonably certain we can find it). I need to wash the post-storm salt spray off all the windows so they stay pristine. And clean the bilge again. Egads, the glamour! (At least we've finished rebuilding the toilets, aka heads. I'll spare you the details of that chore).

Soon we'll head north toward Venice. We've heard it's a pretty interesting town, and we will let you know.

I will close with the view from our sundeck, at anchor the day we arrived. And of course one last photo of Goldie, who has made a fort of the outdoor cushions stored in the forward berth. She is very creative when it comes to naps. Since she's had her dinner, I believe she is up there as we speak.

Goldie on the forward upper berth I hope you are all staying warm and dry.

Best wishes - Pat

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