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Ft. Myers Beach

Travelogue - January 28, 2007

Here we are, still safe and sound on mooring buoy #21 in Estero Bay, just a quick dinghy ride from Ft. Myers Beach. We had just arrived here at the end of the last Travelogue.

Since then we've witnessed several fellow boaters hurry to the rescue of new arrivals, handing up or looping or otherwise gerrymandering an attachment to incomplete buoy tackle. The latest assistance was rendered just this morning in 15-20 k winds, by one of the many gentlemen who insist on driving his dinghy while STANDING UP and holding the bow line in one hand as though he is competing in a bull riding event. (Since we're focused on working when we're home we are usually not the first to notice or respond to those in distress, but our spirits are willing. Even though we drive sitting down).

And we have verified that our double line (the mooring line plus Mr. Stinky) on our buoy is working well - we can tell how the wind and currents have moved us since we got here by counting the number of times the two lines have wrapped around each other. Several times we've paddled over with Bump Head to unsnarl the mess; it's a small price to pay for peace of mind. The only nasty thing is when the wind is completely calm and the current rubs Sea Gator against the buoy. It's an incredible horrible sound from inside; one that brings to mind images of fiberglass and new bottom paint being ripped off by barnacles. Don't tell Tom.

And we've had a fun time on the island.

Belly broiling But before I tell you all about it, I will confess that I have found this place disconcerting. It took me awhile to realize that most of our time has been in the "backcountry" (at anchor all last winter, in Wyoming all summer, then in Boca Grande's bayou, then Pelican Bay and Roosevelt Channel). This haven is the first time we've tarried so long in one place, and it's a sub-tropical urban place at that. So forgive me if I ramble; I haven't quite got it all sorted out yet. Yeah. That's it.

I will sprinkle in some photos of Ft. Myers Beach to while away the time while I tell you about the island. First, yikes, look how people fry themselves! The minute this fellow, photo right, hit the beach he pulled up his shirt and turned toward the sun (I can imagine his daughters: "Daa-aad!"). So whether it's just their belly or their entire person, below, the broiling and baking was proceeding full steam. You know better than to worry about us: we wore hats and long-sleeved sun shirts, and I added some SPF 55 just in case.

Little Luxuries

Crowded dinghy dock On our first day here, after assuring that we were secured (however unconventionally) to the buoy we launched Bump Head. dinghy docking on the designated pontoon at the Matanzas Inn is not for the faint of heart: well over a dozen dingies were tied to the single floating pontoon boat assigned. We jostled our way in and secured Bump Head, leaving him on a long line so those coming in after us could jostle as necessary, too.

Body burning a deux We had to wait in line to use the single shower assigned to boaters, but it was well worth it. Words of wisdom: you can forget soap if you want, forget shampoo or a razor, but never forget to bring cheap flipflops for your shower at a marina.

The next morning, bright and early, winds had calmed considerably so we raised and secured Bump Head, then cast off from our buoy and headed toward the Inn's canal to fetch water. The slips (where we were told we could get water) were still fully occupied, so we idled up the adjacent channel and "rafted" to the Town's small pumpout boat (that is, tied our lines to his canal-side cleats instead of directly to land). We attached our own hose to the Inn's hose bib and filled 'er up. Yay! Rick, meanwhile, had a nice visit with a friendly gentlemen who was sipping coffee in his jammies (quite nice jammies, too, white with red stripes and red piping) in his backyard across the canal.

Body basting We soon learned that the pajama man's brother is "the one everyone loves to hate" on Ft. Myers Beach's Town Council. Our new friend asked how the mooring situation was. He had witnessed our daybreak attempt to fetch water, so that was not news. The trouble with the poorly maintained mooring buoys and our enthusiastic request for recycling bins were a surprise to him, and he said he would pass the information along. And he informed us that the Town Council already has hopes for adequate, secure dinghy docks with adjacent showers, so that good news addressed our last two concerns.

Sing us a song, you're the pajama man.
Sing us a song tonight.
'Cause we're all in the mood for a melody
and you got us feeling alright.

(I'm still humming Billy Joel, after hearing his Greatest Hits at Captiva.)

150 gallons of water heavier, we motored back to our buoy and repeated our tie up, lowered Bump Head again, and Rick fussed with the buoy some more. So we are secured and well hydrated, and what a nice feeling that is!

The mooring buoy system is an excellent response to crowded conditions. The cost is certainly reasonable at $13 per day (or $9 per day if you commit to a month), which includes a weekly "pump out" of your boat's septic holding system. And the Inn has just opened their newly completed bathroom/shower. It's still just one shower, but boy is it a nice one. We are happy to be here. We hope that, the next time we come, the Town and the Inn will have ironed out their few remaining kinks.

Pajamas and Bagpipes in the Moonlight

Tatoo shop, one of many

I couldn't help but notice: the conversation mentioned above marks the second time we've visited with a person dressed in their jammies and/or robe outdoors in Florida. I guess it's do-able when the freezing wind isn't whistling up your legs (speaking of which, our friend and neighbor Mike B. tells us that it already reached minus-40 in Bondo, no surprise to many of you I'm sure). I recalled what it is like to be outside in jammies in Bondo:

We found field mice in the house for a couple of years until Rick found and sealed all their sneaky little entrances. So during that time we set aluminum "live" traps inside. In the darkest hour of the winter night you'd be rattled awake by the clacking of an aluminum box as the little varmits tried to escape. When it was my turn, I'd put on my chenille robe and fleece hat and 'pac' boots and take the trap for a hike to the bottom of the driveway. I'd dumped the little critters at the entrance to a large mouse hole under the cattle guard near Norm's fence and they'd scamper underground.

Building mural That long, half-asleep walk in the wee hours was always a surreal experience. The driveway was illuminated by moonlight and you'd reflexively duck as the universe of stars wheeled overhead, each light sharp enough to cut glass.

The stars are different here, their light is softened by the humidity in the air and dimmed by the surrounding city lights. You can indeed go out and about in pajamas or robe with no fear of personal frostbite. Still, I miss those bright and frozen mouse walks.

And although I miss those walks, I wouldn't have missed this for the world: Picture us, resting against the windshield on the bow of Sea Gator in the moonlight, listening to an anonymous fellow-boater practicing the bagpipes. The sound of the pipes wafteds over the water and we listen to the entire concert by moonlight. The piper makes just enough slips to emphasize how extremely difficult an instrument the bagpipes must be. It is magical. Everyone I've talked to loves it, and no one knows who the player is. I'm happy if he or she remains a mystery; I can imagine him/her in plaid pajamas with the wind whistling up their legs.

Ashore at Estero Island

West mooring field seen from San Carlos bridge The town of Ft. Myers Beach sits on Estero Island. Is it Estero Bay Mooring Field? Ft. Myers Beach City Mooring Field? Matanzas Harbor Mooring Field? Sources differ. Sea Gator is just about centered in this photo of the west mooring field, right, taken from the span of the San Carlos Bridge, or is it Matanzas Pass Bridge? She appears just below the hazy twin towers disappearing into fog on the skyline. Out of range of the photo to the right is the Matanzas Inn and its dinghy dock.

In addition to safety and predictability, the mooring buoy field has an enormous advantage: its dinghy dock is a mere four blocks from the Gulf shore beaches and the "town center" there. The main beach access features a pedestrian area called Times Square which has lots of outdoor restaurants and shops, Lynn Hall Memorial Park, and a long pier extending out into the Gulf.

The beach, north of the pier The beaches string north and south of the pier for the length of the island. The southward beach is lined with restaurants featuring live music, followed by condos and hotels. The northward beach, left, features the city park followed by condos and hotels. At the northern tip of the island is Bowditch Point County Park, which is a rare oasis of undeveloped land.

You might well be wondering, who is this fellow "Bowditch" to warrant his very own park? I'll tell you:

Nathaniel Bowditch (March 26, 1773 - March 16, 1838) was a self-taught mathematician often credited as the founder of modern maritime navigation.

During his time at sea Bowditch became intensely interested in the mathematics involved in celestial navigation. Eventually Bowditch decided to write his own book, and to "put down in the book nothing I can't teach the crew."

In 1802 the first edition of "Bowditch's American Practical Navigator" was published; the book became the western hemisphere shipping industry's standard. The text included several new solutions to the spherical triangle problem, as well as extensive formulae and tables for navigation. In 1866, the United States Hydrographic Office purchased the copyright and since that time the book has been in continuous publication, with regular revisions to keep it current.

Bowditch's influence was so profound that to this day mariners refer to "The American Practical Navigator" simply as "Bowditch."

Source: wikipedia.org

Or, the Park might be named after Bart Bowditch, local rogue and secret illegitimate though beloved son of a founding father. Who knows?

Traffic and Transportation

Boat traffic and car traffic are wild here. The individual boaters are nice; the "wild" part of boats is the HUGE Key West Express triple-deck passenger ships heading in and out twice a day. They pass right behind Sea Gator on their way in and out. Imagine the horsepower: they make it down there in about four hours; it would take us that many days if we really set our minds to it. Anyway, I am SO glad we didn't encounter one on our way through the narrow channel into this Bay! They pass at least twice a day.

The channels adjacent to the mooring field and further on are all "no wake" zones, stringently enforced by the combined might of County Sheriff and Coast Guard patrols. So we haven't been buffeted unduly by wake.

On the Island, auto traffic is continuous. There is the single two-lane Estero Blvd. that traverses the length of the Island, and one two-lane San Carlos Blvd. heading off-island across San Carlos Island thence to the mainland. Beach-bound, traffic has been seen at virtually a standstill depending on the day.

There is, however, a free Trolley running up and down and back and forth. It doesn't help with the on-island rush-hour traffic (three little old ladies kept passing us as we sat on the trolley with our bags of groceries thawing on our laps) but it's really been great for going against the flow and for going off-island.

RV The first time we waited for the Trolley, someone pulled their car right into the bus stop lane to try to make a U-ee. It was a vain attempt which they soon abandoned, but in the meantime they blocked our view of oncoming traffic. Through that person's car windows I saw something big so I stepped off the curb with my arm raised in the universally-recognized bus and taxi hailing gesture, and I flagged down... an RV. And no, it didn't come to a full stop. But the trolley eventually did.

We rode the trolley off-island one day, to the end of the line at Summerlin Square on the mainland. From there we continued on San Carlos Blvd. a mile or so, following a wide, shaded sidewalk to Ace Hardware, the Mecca of all things necessary. The trolley ride back was great, because it has its own lane across the bridge to the island. Toot toot the driver honked the horn and we flew past all the deadlocked traffic! Whee!

We haven't even taken the bikes to shore and probably won't, because the dinghy dock situation is so precarious. It's bad enough to balance oneself in the crowded conditions, crawling from dinghy pontoon to dinghy pontoon like a lumberjack across a logjam. Passing bikes across the mess sounded like a recipe for disaster. So with the exception of the few necessary trolley rides we've walked everywhere.

Ft. Myers Beach - Seeing the Sights and Visiting the Sites

Farmers market Friday mornings they have a farmers market here, just across the road from the Matanzas Inn. How convenient! And how delightful. It was a treat: we bought tomatos, mangos, oranges and bread.

This lady at the tomato table was a hoot. She is from New Jersey and we learned the rest of her life as well. I only bore it through elementary school and then I sidled off, leaving Rick to learn about Junior High, High School and marriage and moving to Florida and where her kids are. I came back for him later, and when another hapless shopper wandered innocently within range to divert her attention I spirited him quickly away.

On a weekend, we walked to a fun restaurant for breakfast - Reese's, in the plaza adjacent to the post office - where I had gone to lunch previously. The restaurant's setting is unique with its large landscaped area (cleverly disguised as a runoff retention basin) with quite nice pools featuring life-sized animal sculptures: an alligator and, inexplicably, a giraffe, elephants and a hippo. There are turtles in the ponds! Then we took the trolley to the south end of the island. From there we walked back, stopping at various attractions along the way: CVS, Publix, and Snooke Bight Marina where we obtained permission to park at their dinghy dock while shopping at Publix.

Back yards on canal On our left is a photo of the view from the Matanzas Inn's pool, across the canal to a typical Ft. Myers Beach back yard complete with dock and sailboat. In fact, that's the very house owned by the man with the nice pajamas!

Visiting with Folks

On the left edge of that photo above, see the gentleman with his dinghy leaping out of the canal? I was inspired to ask him about his project, using my carefully honed, sophisticated, secret technique for soliciting information and meeting new people: "Howdy! Whatchadoin' there?" (just call me 007). And that's how we met Terry and Kitty, of the 41' sailboat Cytherea.

Kitty and Terry aboard Cytherea Terry and Kitty sailed Cytherea down from Wisconsin. How did they do that? you ask. They started across Lake Superior in August, crossed to Lake Michigan then headed down the Mississippi with Cytherea's "stick" lashed to her deck so they could clear the low bridges. Soon they were motoring up the Ohio to Kentucky Lake, then down the Tennessee River to the Ten-Tom Bigbee Waterway, then down the Black Warrior River. In Mobile they reinstalled Cytherea's mast then made a night crossing to Tarpon Springs (you do that so you approach the shallows come daybreak not nightfall), then sailed down Florida's west coast in time to meet me in the canal behind the Matanzas Inn.

If they return home via the East Coast they will have completed what is called the "Great Circle" route, which is one of Sea Gator's long-range goals.

We've enjoyed visiting with them. Here they are aboard their fine boat, above. The four of us hiked across the bridge on San Carlos Blvd. for breakfast at their favorite: Maine's Best Seafood. You wouldn't know the place was there if you didn't know it in advance: it's in the first little strip mall you come to beyond the bridge. They reportedly have the best lobster in the area, and I can tell you that the breakfast was really good, and affordable. After a hearty breakfast we all grabbed the trolley and made a run to the Ace Hardware, where I finished my purchases for "brightwork" on Sea Gator. It's a grueling project, so I'll give you the tedious details at a later date.

Another day we rendezvoused at the dinghy dock then walked to Reese's for breakfast; then Terry and Rick talked about engines and jobs and boats, and Kitty and I shopped and I began some thoughtful planning about my sister's upcoming landmark birthday. By then it was noon and we again rode the Trolley across the bridge and to West Marine, where believe it or not I bought my mom's birthday present. Ssh, it's a secret.

Rick, Don and Lu at the Beach Pierside Grill On another fine day Don and Lu drove down to visit, bringing with them some fun late-arriving Christmas gifts from Angie and Janet, and a battery-monitoring system that Rick had ordered over the Internet. They had an easy time with traffic because they wisely came early in the day. The four of us strolled the beach, lunched outdoors at the Beach Pierside Grill overlooking the Beach and Pier needless to say (photo, left), explored the shops, and met Nathalie at her outdoor shop (below, right).

You can meet Nathalie, too, in a brief introduction called Following Her Bliss.

A couple of times I've spent an hour or so with some ladies discussing common problems and common solutions; once I joined them for lunch afterward, which is when they introduced me to Reese's restaurant. I met more such fellow travelers the other day at noon, both men and women, and that's the advantage of being in one place long enough to learn the lay of the land. I'll get to know those folks better as the weeks progress.

Nathalie Because, well, the weather looks a bit blustery. So we've decided to stay here for another week or two. We've also altered our water gathering system, met some more interesting folks, and done some of the endless boat improvement tasks at hand, but I'll save that fascinating news for later.

The other night at the Matanzas Inn we heard a woman perform a Neil Young medley, so I'm off and running with "Needle and the Damage Done". Watch out. And there is a boat at the Inn's slips named "Science, Trucks & Rock-N-Roll", so add that to the mix and mental serenity is hard to come by. At least Billy Joel gets to take a break.

Keep warm, y'all, please keep all four wheels on the road. And thank you for listening!

Pat, Rick and Goldie

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