In Our Own Backyard

Travelogue - January 27, 2008


Sea Gator reflection OK. I'm going to backtrack a little:

We ended the Happy New Year! Shakedown Cruise travelogue with a successful launch from la Marina. As you saw there had been extremely low water levels occurring at about that time. So we timed our departure for a rising tide.

Lu and Sister Claire promised to wave us off at Ponce de Leon Park where the canals empty into Charlotte Harbor, but the two weren't there. We stood anxiously on the deck cradling binoculars and camera searching the dock and the beach. Hoping. Forlorn. Crushed.

If we'd checked our phone messages at the time we would have learned that shortly after our departure Lu had recalled a previous important afternoon appointment.

Fortunately she made it to her appointment in time. So we didn't take it personally but we missed them.

Unfortunately as a result I don't have a photo of the two sisters waving goodbye. Instead, here's this shot of Sea Gator slipping past an outdoor convex mirror. The mirror is one of three providing a glimpse around a treacherous kink near the mouth of the canal. And the birdies like it, too.


Fast forward three hours to the south-west corner of Charlotte Harbor:

There is a wide pass into Pelican Bay - the sheltered anchorage on the east side of Cayo Costa. However, the portion of the pass which is deep enough for boats like Sea Gator is very narrow. We timed our arrival for high tide and Rick knows the way, so we made it through with no problems.

Anchor alarm buttons We found a nice location with appropriate depth and plenty of swing-room and set our anchor. Here's where I'll tell you about our new anchor alarm!

The anchor-setting process consists of Rick and Sea Gator idling around checking depths and gauging distances while I put on gloves, prepare the correct amount of rode (anchor chain + line) and get the anchor ready. We follow the process outlined in the anchoring rant in our first season's St. Petersburg travelogue.

But this time, in the moment before lowering the anchor, I simultaneously pressed the two magic "set" buttons on the anchor alarm, right. And presto! via its integrated GPS receiver the contraption recorded the exact latitude and longitude of the anchor.

Later, after completing his post-cruise tasks, Rick manually entered an acceptable "distance" into the alarm. Now the device's microprocessor continually obtains its current GPS location, compares it to the stored anchor location, and computes the difference. In short, if at any time the difference exceeds the "distance" that Rick determined was acceptable - which would indicate that the alarm's GPS with our boat attached is drifting - an audible alarm will sound. Awesome.

Can't wait to learn more? Read all about how Rick designed and built the Anchor Alarm - A Stand-Alone Portable GPS-Based Anchor Alarm.

The presence of a reliable alarm should make for somewhat more restful sleep eventually. Until the thing goes off, that is! Heaven forbid, forget I said it, knock on wood, cross your fingers.

Adventuring on Cayo Costa

Down timber on the beach Resume "real" travelogue time.

The day after our arrival we went for a fine hike on the island. Cayo Costa is a Florida State Park, and as such has nice amenities such as new-and-improved (thank goodness) dinghy docks, restrooms, hiking trails, tent sites and cabins. We wrote about our previous visits in detail in travelogue Cheeseburger in Paradise. This time, we hiked through the woods northward, took a cross-trail west to the Gulf, walked northward along the beach to Boca Grande Pass where we stopped on a fallen palm tree a la Gilligan's Island for a snack.

We thought we were at the end of the walkable beach, but here came an intrepid hiker from the north. He told us that there was some thigh-deep wading involved but that one could make it along the shoreline as far as the northeast corner of the island.

We were up for some exploring.

We had a fine adventure dodging the fallen trees and branches and incoming tide, and we made it to the northern extreme of the "woods" trail. Here (above right) I am posing for Rick at a clearing. It was telling that when I looked at the deadfall-choked beach my first thought was "Quicksand!". You can tell where I spent my formative adventuring years.

No quicksand anywhere in sight. From the end of the trail it was another long woodsy hike back to the dinghy docks and safely home in Bump Head for an afternoon of work.

On the beach On Sunday, we repeated the circumnavigation in the other direction, seeing more of the island on the "Quarantine Trail." That didn't sound good, but when we finally reached the end-of-trail interpretive sign we learned that Cayo Costa had served as a quarantine station in the early part of this century, for immigrant ships entering Charlotte Harbor. The doctor lived in a house on stilts in the Bay and would row out to visit the anchored ships.

Here is another scenic part of the island, overlooking Boca Grande Pass. That white sand is no illusion, it's like sugar, and sticks to everything.

From here we hiked back through the woods. I think we've been on all the trails now except one traverse - we'll catch that next time, I hope.

The most important meal of the day

We challenged Bump Head on Saturday morning.

One of our favorite breakfast places is Loons on a Limb at Boca Grande, a mere hop skip and jump north across Boca Grande Pass from Pelican Bay.

We got up early, checked weather and tides, donned life jackets and hopped in Bump Head. The ride northward was relatively calm, and Rick got the little dinghy up on a plane and we bounced and banged across the water. We entered Boca Grande Bayou and tied up at the docks all within 30 minutes of our departure from Pelican Bay.

It was well worth it, it's an excellent place!

After breakfast we walked through town, saw the new expanded beach which is the result of the dredging and piping Beach Refurbishment Project we wrote about last year (Bus Driver); shopped at Boca Bargains (of course), looked in at the book store and bought more LCR games to mail out (we highly recommend this simple but engaging dice game - it's a hoot. Some of our friends who have received the game have already made exciting modifications to the rules).

American Egret Throughout our roamings we kept a sharp eye out for Don and Gillian W. Where are you guys? If we had an idea how long it might actually take to cross the Pass we would have called you. Hope to see you next time in town, and now that we know it's do-able we'll call in advance.

When we went to the docks to pick up Bump Head this fine specimen was keeping watch. This is an American Egret (Casmerodius albus egretta, distinguishable from other egrets and white herons by his yellow bill, black legs and black feet). There's the Gasparilla Inn's golf course in the background.

The dinghy ride back was, predictably, a lot rougher. But better up on a plane than down in every single trough. This is the same philosophy some people follow when driving rutted washboard dirt roads, and I'm not entirely convinced. But it was fast and efficient, and only took two days for my ribs to stop hurting. It was all worth it for a great breakfast!

Not Again...

What is it about Estero Bay and Ft. Myers Beach? More specifically, what is it about our boat's water systems, when it comes to this place?

The first time we came to Estero Bay we came earlier than planned because a hose sprung a leak and spilled all our fresh water down the bilge (travelogue Cheeseburger in Paradise). Rick fixed the leak of course, but we ran out of water at Captiva so we hightailed it here to refill. That was our first arrival on empty tanks.

The next time we came to Estero Bay, it was at the end of an 18-hour overnight passage (travelogue Northward Bound) during which someone (t'was I) had left the water pressure pump circuit ON and flying kitchen equipment turned the faucet ON and all our water ran OUT. So again we arrived here on empty.

Budget barge Why did we leave Cayo Costa this week? You guessed it: we are having water problems again.

No, we're not empty. We have a spiffy new Water Level Gauge that assures us this is so. Long story short, Sea Gator's 20-year-old pressure pump is giving up the ghost - and all our fresh water straight into the bilge - at an unsupportable rate. The old thing is on its last legs, and since a storm front complete with thunderstorms is predicted for later this week, it was now or never. We came here on Tuesday.

It was a brisk cruise! The weather forecast included a "wind chill" warning. We bundled up. Of course, we still drove from the exposed fly bridge up top because Rick likes the visibility.

Lady Chadwick I'm glad we were up there. We saw this Budget moving van, above right, heading out from Cayo Costa. Several days ago this van was parked near the Park Manager's house and we were told they'd brought it in by barge on the ocean side. What a rough ride, we thought! So a couple of days later here it is, having come safely around from the beach and through the Pass on its way to the mainland. What a project!

We also saw and waved to the passenger ferry Lady Chadwick, left.

The cruise felt longer than the four hours we logged, but we accomplished it with no noteworthy problems.

Moorings at Estero Bay

And - cruisers note - we were happy to see that most of the mooring buoys now have floats and pennants! It's a miracle, a miracle I tell 'ya!

Most of the buoys were occupied so we ended up out in the north forty, or East Mooring Field as they call it. Rick idled up to the chosen buoy, I leaned over with the boathook and snagged the floating line on the first try. But the pennant itself was so heavy with accumulated sea growth that I really had to struggle to bring it aboard. Then I was sorry I did: every manner of aquarium-infesting bottom-feeding hull-growing science project slithered onto the deck. It didn't help at all when I stomped on the eyesplice, hoping to break off some of the barnacles so we could get our line through. Ugh - do not try this at home. Or on your nice clean deck.

Mooring buoy and tether I dragged the float through Sea Gator's chock to hold us in place and scooped up the squirming sealife - including a 2" squid - and pitched 'em in the drink. Rick fetched a huge shackle and we slid that through the barnacle-infested eyesplice, thus saving any wear and tear on our own line. We tied off, lickety-split.

Meanwhile a neighborly fellow kept floating downwind to visit. At the second "hello" I realized that his dinghy engine had died, and he was rowing upwind to work on his engine then drifting back down to us. But he was nice. He and his wife later headed south to Marathon - thus completing the last leg of their Great Circle Loop.

Later, we coasted up in Bump Head and I held us while Rick scraped all the barnacles and oysters and crusties off the buoy, floats and lines. We had learned last year that this is important to do: there are often conflicting tides and winds here in the Bay. So boats often slide against and/or over their buoys. We lost quite a lot of bottom paint last year to the buoy, and it makes a terrible sound echoing through the hull when you know it's your boat being scratched to shreds. So Rick's 15-minute effort was well worth it.

Here is a clean buoy with its tether and float, above right.

Several days later we learned that a few buoys closer to shore were vacant so we quickly cast off from our buoy using the shackle, and just as quickly tied to a buoy 1/2 mile closer to the dinghy docks. That made a big difference in our commuting times and Bump Head's fuel consumption. Rick went through the process of scraping that gear clear of sharp growies as well, which was greatly appreciated by Sea Gator and her crew.

Old dinghy dock As we speak the town is alledgedly putting the finishing touches on a NEW DINGHY DOCK! This is hugely noteworthy, because the previous "temporary" dock, right, was horrifically inadequate. It consisted of little flat pontoon boat which held about 1/4 the boats it needed to hold, and if you were on the outside you'd have to climb over and through other people's boats to get to land. If you were inside, well, good luck going home.

Also, we heard they are presumably building a NEW SHOWER ROOM, which will have more than one shower for all these sailors and a designated laundry and a waiting room. Won't that be nice?

Water Pump

The next day we hiked over the bridge, then caught the free north-bound trolley. We hopped off at Summerland Square, the end of the line, then went to look for West Marine.

Big news y'all: They've moved. And there is no explanatory or directional sign on the door or windows of the former location.

Water pump repair But no fear, I had spotted their new store while we were still on the trolley. They are just across San Carlos Blvd. from the previous location. We kept a sharp lookout for cars running the stoplights on this nasty road, scurried through the intersection and arrived unscathed. The clerk even recognized Rick from some in-depth conversations the two had about LED lights last winter. We bought our new water pump and returned home.

Rick spent the next hour hunched in the engine room. It didn't sound like a fun time down there, so I just stuck the camera in and fired blind, right. But when he emerged he was triumphant, and the new water pump was working like a dream! And since then, Sea Gator's bilge has been nice and dry. Chalk up another success in Rick's long list of repairs and improvements.

Visit with Don and Pam

When we offered in all seriousness to journey via a series of Trolley and City busses to downtown Ft. Myers to visit Don and Pam at the municipal Marina they asked, in essence, why? Did we really yearn to spend several hours on the City busses coming to the urban construction zone? When we admitted that we were just trying to be nice (since they've driven down here several times in a row already), they quickly offered to drive to the beach again. Sold.

Pat & Rick, Don & Pam V. We had a fine afternoon. During the initial "how have you beens?" in the parking lot Don stepped aside to exchange pleasantries with a fellow Wisconsin football fanatic (the fellow's Packers loyalty was obvious from his plummage). Next thing we knew Don was hugging the man's wife! What? Come to find out, Don and the lady went to high school together! What a small world, imagine, right there in a southwest Florida parking lot!

After that auspicious beginning we ooh'ed and aah'ed over new Grandbaby pictures, walked the beach, and talked and talked and talked and talked.

Pam and I were doing some serious beach walking and eventually we realized that Rick and Don were nowhere to be seen. We turned around to head back and that's when we saw a little shirtless toddler, hiking solo along the surging waterline on a fairly unpopulated stretch of beach. No one appeared to be watching him except a concerned lone bachelor. Waving and pointing transpired, confirming that the child belonged to none of us, so the bachelor and I followed the diaper-clad explorer as he wandered toward the parking lot while Pam went in search of his parents. I thought the parents would be easy to locate - just look for one or more adults screaming frantically and rushing in crazy circles, right? Instead, off down the beach she spotted another little kid just as pale as this one- Ah ha! - quickly deduced their kinship and headed in that direction. Sure enough, evidently the 5-year old was supposed to be "watching" the tyke. "Tsk tsk, I told him to stay by the condo," the casual tourist mom told Pam. Some people shouldn't even be allowed to own plants.

Awhile later we reunited with the men - unbeknownst to us they had opted for standing in place on the beach as we speed-walked away. Soon we were enjoying Happy Hour at an outdoor cafe, above right. Then we trekked inland to the Dockside Sports Pub and we indulged in their memorable thin-crust pizza.

As always, it was great to see Pam and Don and we are making plans to rendezvous again either on land or at anchor somewhere.

Note to Micky: I asked and was told that kids are welcome at the Dockside.

Keeping Warm

Brr-rr! Temps were in the 40s the other night with winds 15-20. Everybody hunkered down. I wore long pants and two sweatshirts plus a fleece vest. Indoors.

Blanket insulation 40s wouldn't have been a big deal except our boat is made for warm weather. And I hadn't stocked in the customary necessities such as cocoa and coffee, what was I thinking? (Well, I was thinking, it's Florida for crying out loud). Finally, Rick fired up the genset, so we were able to make popcorn and run the heater which ran for most of the two playoff games. Still, it was breezy in here!

Finally we resurrected the survival skills I'd mastered while living in my excellent funky freezing drafty old 1st South apartment in Salt Lake City: we tacked a blanket up over the sliding helm door to stop the worst of the whistling drafts. The methodology is documented, left. The blanket helped a lot so the heater could at least break even.

Monday morning was sunny, a tad bit calmer and warmer, and people started to dinghy out and about.

Of course, since was a Monday we stayed inside again, noses to computer screens, diligently producing miracles for our lucky clients. It was good to be so productive, but eight hours of constant rocking and pitching while trying to concentrate becomes very fatiguing on the eyes, brain and back. Fortunately, the wind subsided by midnight - about 60 hours after it started and not a moment too soon for me.

Keeping Fit

It's not that the core workout provided by remaining upright on a tossing and pitching boat isn't thorough. It's just that after awhile it's not a lot of fun.

For the past few weeks I've been feeling stiff and awkward. Physically, I mean. So I became more devoted to my "Yoga With Fran" without Fran, which helped. Then last week I stopped by Estero Island's Curves (if you can't beat 'em, join 'em). There I met Marja who very kindly showed me around. I had barely begun comparing Curves to Jazzercize (unfavorably) when off she and I went on a tanget about boats. It seems she and her husband are fixing up their 80' Broward with an eye to selling their house and living aboard. EIGHTY feet! That could be a LOT of stainless and brightwork!

When the winds had calmed and Rick and I were ready for a break on Tuesday, we dinghied in for a wonderful breakfast at Reese's Restaurant. This is one of our favorites because you can sit outside. We were there for the Early Bird Special (uh-oh) so it was a bit chilly, but we sat outside anyway and drank lots of hot coffee. After breakfast Rick headed back to the boat for more work and I did another Curves (is that the proper terminology?).

Then I walked up the island, arriving at the Chapel By the Sea at 10:30, in time to renew my acquaintance with a group of wonderful ladies and we spent an hour discussing common problems and sharing common solutions. It warmed my heart to be welcomed back, and many faces were familiar, especially Beverly's. She has been supportive and kind both in person and via email throughout the past year.

Jazzercise That morning was hard to top, but I was on a roll.

So after lunch Rick dingied me in to shore and I caught the bus to Summerland Square, then I hiked over hill and dale, through parking lots and loading docks and frontage roads and drainage ditches and past the defunct ZOOMER! amusement park and a disreputable looking landscape yard - to Jazzercise! Yay! I haven't been to a class since November '06 and I still dream about my favorite routines. Only fellow hardcore Jazzercise aficionados will recognize what a thrill this was - I had a huge smile on my face the entire time and it was a GREAT class.

Part of what was so very satisfying was that even though every single routine was new to me, it all felt like second nature, my muscle memory still had the moves and I felt like I was flying.

After class Debbie gave me a lift back to Summerland Square to save me the hike in the half-dark - which was awfully nice since my clothes were wet and I was becoming chilled. The instructor, also Debbie, offered to pick me up on the island and drive me in for the next class but that's such an imposition I'll continue to do the bus routine - but wasn't that nice of both of them?

You meet the nicest women in situations where everyone shares a common goal - exercise venues being a prime example.

Wednesday, btw, only my calves were a little sore. I expected worse since my shoes are old Jazz shoes from several generations back. I went again to Jazzercise on Thursday afternoon and shook everything loose.

Here is the class in action, above! Get a load of that platform, wow! I almost ran into the lady with the pink shirt, on the left, because I "left-ed" when I should have "right-ed". Ooops - but she was very nice about it. It's been way too long since I've been in a roomful of such lovely glowing faces! Every minute of it was wonderful.

Thank you, Debbies, for welcoming me. I'll see you next time we're in town.

Gadding about the Bay

We went to the local Farmer's Market, held under the bridge and adjcent to the Matanzas Inn every Friday. Vendors had beautiful veggies and freshly baked breads.

Produce at the farmers market One sunny afternoon Beverly came to visit. She and her husband have a fast fishing boat, so she was curious to see Sea Gator. I fetched her at the Matanzas Inn dock in Bump Head and we went on a tour of the Bay. First we chugged over to Salty Sam's to see Marja's boat Luck of the Draw III. It was a big ol' boat seen from water level. Marja wasn't home but her husband and dog were so we asked them to convey our greetings.

We returned to Sea Gator for a modest tour, then Beverly came to an introductory round at Curves with me. She is self-motivated about exercise (which I am not) so she probably doesn't need the accountability of showing her face at a routine. But she was a good sport and it was a fun time anyway.

Next up, did y'all know that January 25 is Robbie Burns' birthday? To those less intimately acquainted that would be Robert Burns:

Robert Burns (25 Jan 1759-21 Jul 1796) was a poet and a lyricist. He is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland, and is celebrated worldwide...

As well as making original compositions, Burns also collected folk songs from across Scotland, often revising or adapting them. His poem (and song) Auld Lang Syne is often sung at Hogmanay (New Year), and Scots Wha Hae served for a long time as an unofficial national anthem of the country...

Join in:

Haggis and pipes

"Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murd'ring pattle!"

I'll spare you the rest of my high school recitation, but you get the gist. Learn more at

Well. Our neighbors, Julie and Jim B. of the sailboat Pibroch brought fliers around to everyone at the moorings inviting all cruisers to a "Robbie Burns Supper" at Bonita Bill's, a bay-side bar. We joined everyone for pot luck, and Julie and Jim provided "haggis" and "tatties" and "bashed neeps". There were also homemade crab cakes, salads, tortellinni, shepherds pie, flan, ambrosia and pecan bars. We brought whole wheat rolls. From the store.

The haggis was "piped" in - Rick thought that meant sluicing food onto tables via pipeline, but it proved to be instrumental accompaniment to the presentation of the main course - by Jim of Pibroch. Here in the photo, Julie presents the haggis while Jim plays.

We didn't stay long after dinner. It seems our table was directly in the flight path of hungry pelicans circling an adjacent fish cleaning station. Bombs away! After we and our tablemates dodged and weaved and mopped up for an hour, we made a hasty departure.

Note: Last year here at the moorings we spent many magical evenings on the bow just after dark, listening to bagpipe melodies wafting over the still waters. We never met the piper. Until this evening. Thank you, Jim, for the fond memories. And thank you, Julie for instigating the event.

Goldie du jour

Goldie and a mouse Finally, you say, the end of an interminable Travelogue.

Yes. And here is your allotment of Goldie. She critiques my work. Hey! You, Goldie! Get your paws off the table!

We hope you all are keeping warm and dry, and keeping all four tires/ four paws/ two feet on the road. Thanks for listening.

Pat, Rick and Goldie

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