Happy Valentine's Day

Travelogue - February 14, 2008

Cacafuego In late January we were at the moorings in Estero Bay adjacent to the island town of Ft. Myers Beach.

Here is a sailboat at the Matanzas Inn docks. Cacafuego. Somebody translate for me, please. Does that mean what I think it means?


On Saturday morning we stopped in at the Matanzas Inn to pay for a couple more nights on the moorings and to schedule a final pump-out. As usual I came away feeling that if I were to burst into flames right there in the office, the fellow could not have been bothered to lean over the counter to spit on me. So we were really anxious to hustle down the island to Reese's Resturant.

Snowy Egret There are signs in the windows proclaiming Reese's the winner of "Best Hostess on the Beach" awards. This is no false claim. I can take or leave being called 'hon' by waitstaff younger than I, and a true gourmandise will take exception to their homely fare. But there is no mistaking their genuine good will. It was a relief to be welcomed with a big smile, a cheerful and legible menu, and cups of real hot good coffee. This has been our experience every time we've been there. It's obviously a favorite of the locals, too, which is always a good sign.

Here is their mascot Snowy Egret (Leucophoyx thula thula), distinguishable from other egrets and white herons by his relatively small size, his black bill, black legs and yellow feet. His mating plumage flutters about. It was the fashion industry's desire for this plumage that brought the birds near extinction - hopefully this fellow will use his to good effect over the next few months. The Snowy Egrets' singular habit is to shuffle their feet across the bottom of ponds to stir up food. I wonder if this guy tromps around on people's pancakes and grits when they are not looking?

After breakfast we returned to the main boulevard and caught the Beach Trolley south. A ride all the way to the end of the line, for a whopping $0.25 apiece, brought us to Lover's Key.

Lover's Key

bike path Lover's Key is one of the many Florida's State Parks created to preserve "the Real Florida". Officials gathered this one into the fold just in the nick of time: the series of low-lying barrier islands had already been dredged for development. Now the canals support myriad birds and fishies, kayaks and canoes. And the land masses are being reclaimed with native plants. It must have been a tricky process, because the dredge materials were piled on top of the original mangroves which left botanists with a man-made moonscape.

The day we visited it looked like a well-rounded forest to our uneducated eyes.

This bike path (right) through the Sabal Palms (Florida's state tree) brought us to the entrance gate where we picked up a map. We strolled to the white sandy beach which was quiet and relaxing compared with the "par-TAY!" activities going on up-island at Ft. Myers Beach.

Spoonbill We saw egrets and herons and ospreys everywhere we looked. We considered ourselves very fortunate to see this Roseat Spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja, of all things), companionably breakfasting among a flock of egrets. He waded knee-deep, spatula-ing his bill through the pond muck. It was really a neat thing to see. And we walked the paths through the woods. Friendly people passed us on rented bikes or kayaks, the interpretive signs were legible and interesting, and all in all it was a peaceful place.

We then took our lives in our hands to scurry across the highway - it is typical in SW Florida that sidewalks dead-end and busses eject passengers on any old side of the highway with no shoulder nor immediate safe destination available. But we arrived safely at the Arts & Crafts Fair.

Hey, it was lucky for us we just happened to be there this weekend for the Fair, eh Rick! ...Rick? The booths formed an elongated oval with vendors on both sides of the aisles, and we made it all the way past two booths (a record) before Rick announced, "I'm done."

Arts & Craft Fair Ha! Nice try. We had a quick lunch and exchanged pleasantries with fellow diners. Then I abandoned my devoted spouse to his own devices.

While I browsed and chatted at my own pace, Rick immediately found entertainment for himself. He met some other gentlemen who were also wandering and also not even pretending to be interested in the show. They found common ground on politics ("enough is enough"), fashion ("Good Egg" t-shirts and hats) and religion ("mind your own business and I'll mind mine"). Meanwhile I bought some earrings and had a very good time.

I had never seen "ear pins" other than a pretty gold set my mom got for me in '92. But suddenly there were three booths which featured them, in a very ornate incarnation. Where have I been? The artist who insists that she was the first - and is still the best - was there and hers really were fun.

U. S. Coast Guard Inspection

"Have you ever been boarded by the Coast Guard?"

What, me personally? Nope. Can't say as I have.

"Then today is your lucky day."

Coast Guard patrol boat The fast boat with flashing blue lights had been plying Matanzas Pass, the channel between Estero Bay and San Carlos Bay, all morning doing spot safety checks. At the officer's direction Rick continued his same course at a slow speed. The Coast Guard boat approached and three blue-clad young Coast Guard servicemen and -women came aboard by hopping from their moving boat's pontoon onto Sea Gator's swim platform.

I was a tad anxious, as you might expect, but also kind of glad for an official inspection. How else to know whether we've overlooked anything important? They fanned out over the boat and checked for:

Requirements vary depending upon the size of the boat, so there was some page flipping and chart consulting going on. Because we were such good citizens they did not cite us for not having the plaque warning ourselves not to dump trash overboard. I'll purchase such a plaque as soon as I have the opportunity - I just hope it goes with our decor. We were also alerted that our documentation would expire on the 1st, and Rick explained that we sent in all our paperwork but haven't received mail for three weeks; hopefully the appropriate papers are awaiting us somewhere.

With our copy of the "Boarding Report" dated 1/28/08 in hand we can decline boarding for a year.

The whole experience was pleasant enough, and I was glad to hear we are on the right track, so far, knock on brightwork.

Ding Darling Anchorage

After we waved our goodbyes to the Coast Guard we continued across San Carlos Bay, and within an hour or so had settled in at anchor just offshore of the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island.

Ding Darling anchorage Rick has been longing to try this anchorage for some time. However, I had phoned the Refuge in advance and confirmed that there is no place for boaters to dinghy ashore. They are limited in the size of their docks - apparently between commercial kayak tours and Refuge boats they are full, and under construction besides. I registered our sincere desire for water-side access to the Refuge, and we resigned ourselves to spending our visit aboard.

It was a very fine, quiet place at night. There is protection from southerly winds, but the anchorage is wide open to winds from the north and wake from the adjacent ICW. We stayed until about noon the next day, which was long enough for me as the wake was becoming tedious. We planned our departure such that we would arrive back at Pelican Bay on the high tide.

Ospreys and Gators and Rangers ... Oh My!

Yep. Here we are. Again. Anchored in Pelican Bay near Cayo Costa.

Osprey Such a fine, fine place! This time we hiked south on the island. We watched an osprey hunt for lunch. His flight pattern was a tight, low circle over the surf, then suddenly he dove! We were surprised that he went completely under the water. Then he'd resurface, shake it off, and labor aloft with wet feathers. He was not successful every dive, which had to be discouraging - it looked like a lot of work. But eventually he did get a large fish. Rick was thrilled when sure enough, just as we'd read, the bird used its talons to shift the fish until it was oriented fore-and-aft for improved aerodynamics and less drag in flight.

The osprey came to this signpost to contemplate his lunch.

Upon the return leg we circled near the alligator pond, which we'd first encountered in last year's January travelogue. We crept carefully, carefully around the pond, eyes sharp for any flash in the water. Where could he be, we whispered? I hung back around Rick's elbow as we made our way past the shrubs...

When a bird burst into a rattle of flight in the dry leaves we both about flew out of our shoes. We figured the 'gator - wherever he was - was probably snickering in his fangs by then. I suppose he sees greenhorns like us every day.

Back near the dinghy dock we met Ranger Mark. We told him about being spooked by the non-existent gator and he began discussing even bigger predators. That is how we learned that he had spent a lot of time in the Wind River range - which, as you know, is practically within sight of our house. That was a fun meeting. He invited us to visit him next time we're on the island and we hope to do just that.

Birthday Festivities

Rick's lovely Aunt Roshni celebrated a landmark birthday this month. And Sister Claire was winding down her visit, so we returned to La Marina to pay homage.

Red Hats The four of us piled in the car and drove up to Tampa where we rendezvoused with Rick's Uncle Arther and Aunt Roshni and their family.

We caravaned to Roshni's favorite seafood restarant at Clearwater Beach. First I have to show you the amazing sight that greeted us when we came around the corner into an entire roomful of lunching ladies in purple blouses and red hats! The Red Hat Society flourishes in Clearwater Beach.

Birthday lunch Our group was quieter and more dignified, as you can see. That's because the pointy party hats did not come out until we returned to the house for cake and cake and cake and cake and ice cream.

I've been warned to keep the pointy-hat pictures to myself, so this is the only photo you will see. Left to right we are Steve, Rick, Marc, Pat, the birthday girl Roshni, Lu, Claire, Sophie, Arthur, and Shireen.

Deck Work

Again? Yes indeed.

If you want to know about our first round of repairs, you can see it in the first travelogue of this year. This recent portion of the deck was larger, trickier, and stickier. But Rick had the system down so he flew through it in half the time. Still, it was a long process:

First Rick sealed all potential sources of water into the deck, to reduce the likelihood of further damage. Then he cut through the fiberglass skin and removed it carefully in three large slabs. Then he scraped and scoured and grinded away the unsound deck "core" materials from the backs of the skins and from the deck itself. He had to carefully remove every bit of the balsa and foam and the epoxy holding it, all without damaging the ceiling of our stateroom below.

Sun deck under construction I made another long trek to Sarasota for more supplies, which was nice because I listened to a great CD on the way. Marc made it for us for Christmas: Salif Keita's M'Bemba.

Back to La Marina des shipyard, I cut three layers of fiberglass and a layer of semi-rigid honeycombed core material. Rick cleaned and taped the work area.

With goggles and rubber gloves and masks on, we layered it up: a thick gloopy layer of polyester resin on the cleaned and exposed surface, then a layer of fiberglass, saturated with resin and then another layer of fiberglass, saturated, and then the core on top. A slight setback occurred when Rick inadvertently wetted the wrong side of the core with resin, but we topped it with a protective sheet of visqueen which does not stick to epoxy, so all was well. Then we weighted the whole thing with about a ton of leftover roofing tiles and let it dry.

After lunch we suited up and returned to the boat. We removed the heavy weights and trimmed off any excessively oozed resin. Then we applied another thick layer of resin, squooshed in fiberglass and saturated it with resin, then replaced the skins. Again we protected it all with visqueen and weighted it.

Success! Rick spent the next few days filling the seams, sanding, sealing and painting. The repaired deck is stable and solid, and the seams are smooth. He did a fine job, and he reports to be thrilled that he is finished. For now.

Sure he invented the light bulb, but can he do deck work?

On Sister Claire's last day in Florida, Arthur and Roshni came down from Tampa and we headed out for seafood. After lunch we made our way to the banks of the Caloosahatchee and the Edison & Ford Winter Estates.

Moonlight GardenThe winter home of Thomas A. Edison, beautifully situated along the Caloosahatchee River, is one of the greatest historic treasures within Lee County. In 1885, Thomas Edison first visited Florida. He purchased property along the Caloosahatchee River and built a vacation home. The vernacular structure, completed in 1886 and dubbed "Seminole Lodge" by the Edisons, served as a winter retreat and work place for the prolific inventor until his death in 1931.

Edison's good friend Henry Ford followed close behind and purchased the neighboring property in 1915. "The Mangoes" was the winter getaway for the Fords. Edison and Ford spent many winters working, talking and even relaxing together in tropical southwest Florida...

The combined properties at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates encompass 17 acres along the riverfront. Edison planted many species from around the world to use in his experiments - there is no mention that any of them got out of hand. But the worlds' second-largest Banyon Tree is on this site - you can see it in a former travelogue. Much of the land was farmed when Edison bought it, and those areas became botanical research fields where he and Ford and Harvey Firestone worked to develop a domestic source of rubber.

Tour group The Moonlight Garden, above right, was designed for Mrs. Edison by Ellen Biddle Shipman who was one of the first female landscape architects in America. The garden and adjacent small office replicate the footprint of Edison's original 1886 laboratory, which had been moved to Ford's museum in Michigan. The garden was filled with blue and white flowers and a small still pool to reflect moonlight. It was recently restored to the 1929 design and in 2006 it received the Award of Merit from the Florida Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects

And here is the clan on the banks of the Caloosahatchee: Sister Claire, Arthur, Roshni, Lu and Rick. The handsets everyone carries pipe interpretive remarks to the visitor. Rick demonstrates.

The interpretive areas include the homes, gardens, laboratory and museum. We enjoyed them all. Everything was in tip top shape and it was an excellent tour.

Sister Claire departed for her snowy home the next day, which was not so good. But we had a consolation prize in mind.


Lu and I, and her friends Marge and Fee, traveled to Ft. Myers' Barbara Mann Theater and saw the amazing Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy:

Aeralists In the ongoing tradition of spectacular touring shows, Neil Goldberg and Cirque Productions have once again reinvented the circus with European flair, imaginitive theatrics and astounding acrobatics.

Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy is an all-new adventure into a magical forest of soaring aerialists, spine bending contortionists, vine swinging characters, strong men and balancers from around the world. The entire family will be amazed by the unpredictable feats, puppeteering, costumes and spectacle...

Usually I'm not one for "spectacle" as I am more than qualified to generate my own. But I was amazed! Acrobats performed amazing feats, in costume and in character. Four very lithe and slender women dressed in slippery leotards slithered and writhed like a nest of snakes; two of them are graduates of the Mongolian State School of Contortion. A man and woman flew around the stage supported by swaths of silk. Feats that would earn an amateur a gold medal in gymnastics were done here in costume - several Russian and Ukrainian cast members are former National Olympic Team members.

The music was fun, too, so I bought the CD. We were all inspired by the performance, so I promised to bring a ladder over to Marge and Fee's house the next day to help them climb down from their ceiling fans, in case they got carried away. But I forgot so for all we know they are still up there.

It's a Small World

We learned that my cousin's father lives nearby at Cape Haze, just down the canal from one of our favorite anchorages. What a coincidence!

Sally and Ron and Yuri of Adventure apparently arrived at the Ft. Myers Beach moorings the afternoon of the day we left. Dagnabbit. They were so close I'm surprised they didn't hear us do our radio check. Well, now we'll just have to wait to see them in Key West.

I received an email out of the blue, from the daughter of Senator Gordon Mailloux of Guam. She found my article Tales of Kidnap Money during a search for her father's long-lost and fondly remembered aide-de-camp. She asked me to hook Mark up with her father, and I was honored to do so. My work here is done.

Meanwhile we accomplished a lot of work, cleaning and polishing of Sea Gator after her deck work, provisioning and planning. We received our updated vessel documentation so are now fully up-to-date as far as Homeland Security is concerned; we also registered both Sea Gator and Bump Head with the State for the coming year which means we gave them money. We hope to head out when the current thunderstorms - and their associated tornado alerts - move elsewhere.

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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