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Inside Route: Naples, Rookery Bay, Goodland

Travelogue - February 21, 2007

Blue water

We left Ft. Myers Beach on Friday, February 9. After staying at the mooring field for a month we had become quite settled into our comfortable rut. So it's a good thing we got going' while the goin' was good. Out in the Gulf we swung Sea Gator's helm toward the south.

As you may recall from our first season, last year we traveled north of the Caloosahatchee to Tarpon Springs. This year we're going south to Key West (Not Cuba. Not yet. At least not on purpose).

San Carlos Bay The cruise south of Ft. Myers Beach marked our first sojourn outside the marked, protected channels of Western Florida's Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). We were never more than five nautical miles away from shore and were within sight of land the entire time. If we had known our local landmarks - which we don't - we could have followed the course by "dead reckoning" (that is, you plot your route on the paper charts, calculate and follow your compass bearings, and estimate the time it should take to traverse the distance, taking into account variations due to wind and current; then confirm and verify repeatedly with landmarks ashore). Rick and I both enjoy this very basic, no-batteries-required method of wayfinding.

But we don't know our landmarks in that area. And we are contemplating more lengthy off-shore passages which will be beyond any visual landmarks. So in preparation for future passages, today we practiced. Our resident computer geek had implemented the following technologies:

(1) Navigation software "SeaClearII" (screen captures shown here). We downloaded the most recent NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) charts and used the software to plan our route to latitude/longitude waypoints. Then we connected my laptop to Sea Gator's onboard GPS. Every half hour while underway, I would come down to the lower helm station and wake up the screen saver. The software illustrated our waypoints (bright blue/green on the graphics here) and route, and provided an up-to-the-moment track of our journey.

It was a simple matter to see whether the "route" line and the emerging "track" line were identical. This is my favorite - because it uses actual charts, the representations of landforms and measurements are true. In other words, I like the graphics.

Gordon Pass (2) Hand-held Garmin GPS and associated "MapSource" software. I entered the waypoints and routes into "MapSource" and uploaded that data to the hand-held GPS. Meanwhile Rick installed a 12-volt power supply at the upper helm station so we had the hand-held running while underway and we watched our track there as well.

The graphics are pretty rough - even though the bearings and waypoints are accurate, at one point our route was shown on land! Still, Rick prefers following the routes laid out on the GPS system, because of its simplicity.

After all that, the cruise was nice, uneventful, calm and all in all a reassuring experience. I was still shaken up from a fall down the stairs earlier in the day, so I even took a nap for awhile since it was so calm. Yes I abandoned my post, while Rick forged bravely onward.

Dense, high rise development crowded the shore virtually uninterrupted all the way south from Ft. Myers Beach. I guess that some of the high-rise condos could be considered landmarks, but they all looked the same to me. The building heights dropped dramatically as we neared Naples; obviously there are some stringent town planning regulations in effect - the town's famous beauty confirms this.

Needless to say, we arrived at our destination. And astonishingly enough, we arrived EXACTLY at our destination! Hallelujah! Our bearings brought us to the channel marker (signified on the second chart by a magenta teardrop shape and the legend Fl G 2.5s 16ft 4M '1', which identifies a green light flashing every 2.5 seconds, 16' high, visible up to 4 miles, numbered 1) at the mouth of Gordon Pass.

This was a trial run of just under five hours start to finish, but it was a worthwhile experiment. We'll have the opportunity to perfect our techniques as we go along.

Naples

We'd heard how pretty the town is. Last year Louise and I came for an afternoon and I looked forward to visiting again with Rick. You know, shopping, dining, seeing the sights.

But in the meantime we've been hearing lots of talk about the problems in this town for boaters. Namely, that the residents - who, mind you, bought property on the water - do not want to see boats. Or rather, they don't want to see other people's boats. Specifically OUR boat, maybe even.

In short, although the State has declared that boats "under navigation" (i.e. not hulks) may anchor at will anywhere other than within a town-administered anchorage, the towns of Naples and Marco Island have passed ordinances intended to keep boats out. Terry and Kitty reported that their southbound friends were "boarded" by police to check their documentation, EVERY DAY for several days. In other late-breaking news, the owners of a large trawler have decided to make an issue of it and are currently anchored near Marco, waiting to be arrested. Sheesh.

Naples neighborhood Well, after our cruise down from Ft. Myers Beach, we arrived at Gordon Pass; we followed the Pass into sheltered inland waters, then turned upstream and into the canals of Naples' Port Royal neighborhood. At 3:00 pm we pulled into a lovely, sheltered cove (above left) and dropped anchor within sight of a great number of monstrously huge homes (below right). I had our documentation ready, photocopies neatly bound in a red folder labeled "Sea Gator and Bump Head Documentation and CG Rules". But, not a single one of Naples' finest came to call. We stayed that night, quiet as church mice and conscientious of our status as lowly trespassers. It was not comfortable.

Naples residence And that's all we know about Naples. Except that their boaters drive way too fast in the heavy traffic of Gordon Pass.

By 9:00 on Saturday morning, our anchor (I call him "Peter", calling upon St. Peter The Rock) was weighed and secured and we were out of there without a backward glance.

Marco Island-Naples Waterway

We had pulled into Naples in the first place because, once you've departed the Gulf at Gordon Pass, you can access another inland route. It employs a channel marking system similar to that of the ICW although it is considered a separate waterway.

Within a hundred yards of passing south of the intersection with Gordon Pass, we were in the "wilderness" of Dollar Bay. The Bay, and further along the channel, is bound by natural mangrove edges; coves and smaller bays opened here and there. It was quiet and still, we were out early enough to be ahead of many of the fishing boats. It was a beautiful cruise - gone were the conspicuous mansions, the high-rise condos, the beachside tiki bars. It was a huge relief. We all heaved a great sigh.

Rookery Bay sign Within an hour we arrived at our goal and set the anchor in Rookery Channel. This side channel leads from the main channel to a relatively undisturbed area, Rookery Bay. We didn't know it from our cruising guidebooks - whose authors understandably prefer dining choices over obscure public-owned lands - but the anchorage is within the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Here's the scoop:

Located at the northern end of the Ten Thousand Islands on the gulf coast of Florida, the Rookery Bay Reserve represents one of the few remaining undisturbed mangrove estuaries in North America.

An amazing world exists within the 110,000 acres of pristine mangrove forest, uplands and protected waters of Rookery Bay. Where rivers and streams meet the sea, a unique habitat is formed. A myriad of wildlife, including 150 species of birds and many threatened and endangered animals, thrive in the estuarine environment and surrounding upland hammocks and scrub found within the Reserve.

The mission of the Reserve is to provide a basis for informed coastal decisions through land management, restoration research and education. The Reserve works in partnership with local communities to promote coastal stewardship.

The Rookery Bay Research Reserve is managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in cooperation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In fact, this is one of 27 estuaries protected nationwide! Be amazed at www.nerrs.noaa.gov, click [reserves] for a map of estuaries on both coasts and the Gulf.

Rookery Bay channel This is a wonderful place! Less than 15 minutes after we arrived, and while Rick was still putting his chafing line on the anchor rode, a manatee surfaced with a loud wet POUF! just below him. There are also pelicans, dolphins, cormorants, osprey, herons and gulls.

Many fishing boats came in and out during the day, but only one other late-arriving trawler spent the night. They left in the morning as we were heading out for an exploratory venture on Bump Head. We puttered the short distance remaining in the channel (centered in the photo, above) then entered the vast expanse of Rookery Bay.

Mangrove shoreline I took lots and lots of photos... and they all look like these. The photo above was taken from our anchorage, up high on Bump Head's platform, looking up the channel toward the Bay. I don't know if the photo conveys the vastness of this channel and bay, and the peacefulness and solitude here.

Here are mangroves at the water's edge, right. It looks impenetrable, doesn't it? The entire channel and bay are lined with mangroves. One night I went up after dark and sat on Bump Head's platform. He was in the water hosting pelicans, as you see below right, so I had the upper deck to myself. I sat in the darkness, listening. And guess what: the sound of waves whopping against the knees of the mangroves sounds exactly like heavy footsteps in the dark woods. It took me a moment to figure it out, but until then I wondered: Just what is the tropical sub-species of Big Foot?

Pelican on Bump Head No matter. What they DO have nearby are panthers! Florida panthers are pale of face, tan like our western pumas. They are very much endangered, there are only about 100 in the entire state. Rick read in the Naples on-line newspaper that one young male panther had been visiting Keewaydin Island (our next stop). The scientists tracking him can't imagine what he finds interesting there, unless he's been snacking on the non-native and obnoxious iguanas. They've named him Beach Boy, because he had to swim to the island and there's nothing there but beach. Swims, does he? Hmmm. Goldie must remain out of sight, just in case. When it comes to supporting wildlife, I draw the line only at feeding them my family members.

Rick dozing in Rookery Bay Anyway. We took Bump Head into the main body of the Bay, and chugged quietly along the perimeter for a long time. We didn't even come close to the far reaches of the Bay. We found intriguing little nooks and crannies, many of them too shallow even for Bump Head (only because of the outboard) but perfect for a canoe or kayak. Several fishing boats were spotted here and there, but they were insignificant in the vastness of the Bay. Finally we found a nice mangrove island to tie up to and loiter against, and we paused for lunch and naps and quiet contemplation of our good fortune.

Pat in Rookery Bay Tonight we are solo in this vast area, and it is a wonderful experience. I didn't realize how long we'd been in the "city" until we left it behind, and I feel so much better. We are all starting to feel and act like ourselves again. We'll head on out, southbound, tomorrow.

Brightwork

I can't put it off any longer. I'm doing the work, I may as well tell you about it.

"Brightwork" refers to the finish on a ship's woodwork. It can be beautiful indeed. Unfortunately, Sea Gator's exterior teak had been left to its own devices, and now that I'm pondering it I see that the varnish is scored, cracked, peeling, and in some areas just worn completely down to the teak, which has then grayed in the weather.

Brightwork before Tsk tsk. This cannot be.

I am currently working on most of the exterior cabinets, and most of the trim around the base of the upper storage lockers - that's a lot of area. Later, I'll tackle the hatch and its doors, and the forward helm door, one more cabinet, the base of our dining table, the door to the swim platform and the last few feet of trim (jeez that's a lot, now I'm depressed). Anyway, those most visible areas will happen after I've perfected my techniques.

I'm following the course outlined by Rebecca J. Wittman in her how-to book "The Brightwork Companion". I wish she would include some photos of works in progress and some more advice directed at people who know NOTHING ("Suggested attire: No ostrich feather boas" in the section on stripping varnish with a heat gun is amusing but not helpful). I have to make certain assumptions and cross my fingers. But still the book has been a great source of information. So now it's time to dive right in.

Brightwork during In cases where the finish cannot be restored (sayeth Rebecca) it should be removed. So, that was my first job. I used varying combinations of a sharp scraper and sandpaper, and rarely resorted to chemical paint and varnish remover ("Citristrip" gel, which can be neutralized with water or mineral spirits). I also had to pry out some caulking, old and new. The trickiest part is to manage the scrapings and sawdust, because those toxic nasties must not go into our lungs or into the water, or back into my new varnish.

Well, finally I'm down to bare wood. The photo, above left, is of a cabinet door and frame that have been sanded with 150 (after all that work by hand, I was informed that we have a battery-powered palm sander on board. Well, my life will be easier henceforth). I will go over it all again, then I will attempt to remove ALL dust particles from the boat (ha ha!) before beginning to lay down coats of varnish. We'll see how that goes!

Little Marco / Keewaydin Island Channel

After several idyllic days at Rookery Channel, we continued south to the channel between Little Marco Island and Keewaydin Island (temporary snacking grounds of Beach Boy the puma - no, we did not see him).

Little Marco Island One of our cruising guides calls this anchorage a "haven". We anchored in the channel, and I think "freeway" would be more like it. Boats zipped back and forth all day at high speeds, heading for the beach; I admit it became annoying. Then we went to the beach ourselves.

Well, I can't blame them for hurrying. It is a wonderful beach so now I understand their eagerness to arrive. And there they are, above, having arrived, and lined up along the island side of the channel.

Rick on the dunes We waded Bump Head ashore and tied his line to a shrub, then went to explore. There were a lot of signs warning folks to take the paths and avoid trampling the dunes. We saw no trampling; maybe because everyone was hanging around the boats sunning, eating, drinking, laughing. It was a nice afternoon.

Pat on the beach The first thing we did was follow a path to the beach. There goes Rick, working on evening out his farmer's tan. This far south on the island there were no more trees or shrubs, just the grasses and subshrubs populating the dunes. The sand was fine - soft and white, the beach was clean and breezy.

Diane and Rick We met a lady collecting shells and whatnot and we stopped to visit with her ("Howdy! Whatcha collectin' there?"). And so she told us and we discussed the evolution of shell collecting - from eyeing every shell you come across, to pursuing THE flawless shell in its perfection, to searching for the marks of character embodied in cracks, erosion and graceful aging (I realized later: shell collecting is just like love! Well, it was Valentine's Day, after all).

As you can imagine the conversation meandered from there. We learned that Diane is from New York and that her worked evolved from producing commercials to restoring old houses. She made the most interesting observation, stating in effect that the tools she'd learned as a television producer translated well to construction rehab: staging, layout, function, etc. If I understand correctly, she approaches the homes as she would a stage set. Now that's a different perspective on This Old House! I really enjoyed talking with her; we had a very nice visit and we look forward to seeing her someday in Wyoming.

Tripod Key

After returning to Sea Gator from the beach we debated our plan, weighing the three "W"s (Weather, Work, Wake) and adding the current overriding necessity to remain in the area so that we can spend time with Rick's Aunt Claire when she arrives. Rather than stay at our current anchorage in the channel and get beat up by boat's wakes we decided to move on.

Osprey nest on the Naples-Marco Waterway Bright and early the next day we weighed anchor and continued south, wending our way by late morning through mangrove-lined rivers and channels. Right, a pair of nesting osprey watched us pass from their well-established nest atop a channel marker (note the manatee sign). When we spotted the nest I quickly scrambled up on Bump Head's platform, hoping to peer down into the nest and see if there were any little ones. If there were little tykes I didn't get to see them, but the two adults were beautiful.

Soon we erupted into "civilization" again, arriving on the north side of Marco Island where we dropped anchor for an hour or so.

Marco Island shoreline Here is Marco Island, left - quite a sudden change from the estuarine sanctuary that surrounds it. We had a snack and rested, and when the tide was that much higher we cruised the very shallow passage just south of the city (no problems), then continued along the Big Marco River to the village of Goodland. Just south and east of Goodland we anchored north of the mangrove-lined banks of Tripod Key, on the channel to Sugar Bay.

Tripod Key channel Many local fishermen have passed by - many of them slow down and most of them wave! It's very different already from our experiences at Little Marco Island and even Rookery Channel. We don't know what to expect of Goodland, but I already know that there is no local restaurant that serves breakfast (!!) nor is there a grocery store. But that's fine because we need the exercise so we'll finally break out the bicycles and bike back to Marco Island for groceries and (of course) the Ace Hardware for Rick's ongoing project list.

Wildlife

This is a beautiful spot, it's a large pass sheltered by mangrove islands (see Sea Gator at anchor, above right). Several tranquil evenings here have given me time and material to ponder my previous question: what is the tropical sub-species of Big Foot?

Answer: The Mosquito.

'Skeeter Yes, friends, the Florida Mosquito (Suckum dryecia var. Gigantus) is as big as a 9' primate. OK, that's a slight exaggeration (photo, right, not actual size). But the skeeters here are indeed larger than our modest, diminutive Mountain variety, and overall they are a glossy black instead of pale gray. That makes them easier to spot anyway - IF you see them before they do their dastardly work, the results of which are easy to spot: welts of 1/4" are typical. Typical on me, at any rate; the varmits don't seem to have a taste for Rick.

The good news is, mosquito bites respond favorably to the neem oil ointment that Rick's Aunt Roshni gave us last year for no-see-um bites. And the mosquito bites are only typically annoying, whereas the no-see-um bites (which laugh off any and all ointments and treatments) have a delayed reaction time, where you'll think "This isn't bad" and three days later they'll flare up again. And you could excise the bite area clear to the bone and it would still itch horribly.

The bad news is, no-see-ums are here, too.

So if I have to pick only ONE mindlessly sadistic stealthily omnipresent uber-predator, I guess it would have to be S.dryecia every time.

Pelican visiting And if we had to pick among overly friendly web-footed creatures, I guess the pelican would be first in our hearts. And on our dinghy. And on our sundeck. This fellow made himself right at home, no doubt looking for fish guts, of which we were fresh out. He flapped heavily down onto the deck and followed Rick around the table, ready and eager to assist with any and all fish cleaning chores. I opened the gate to the swim platform while Rick said, "Shoo, shoo, scoot now..." We had to work hard to encourage him to shuffle along to someone else's fish guts.

Goldie And it goes without saying that everyone's favorite fur-bearing mammal is, of course, Goldie. Here she enjoys a golden moment in the late afternoon sunshine.

Hope you are all well, and keeping warm

Pat, Rick and Goldie

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