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Southward, Northward, and Southward Again

Travelogue - March 19, 2009
The great sea has set me in motion,
set me adrift,
moving like a weed in the river.

The sky,
earth and the great weather,
have moved the spirit inside me
till I am carried along
trembling with joy.

-Uvavnuk

Sunday, February 22: Layered in all of our warm clothing, sporting our Cruella DeVille eyebrows (me) and spontaneous ear hair (Rick), we cast off our Matanzas Pass mooring tether at first light and motored out of the harbor. Heading south, finally. The warm weather has not caught up with us, maybe we can catch up with it.

Ambassadors

We were only a few miles along our way when Little Mick responded to our request for a radio check. Gary and Mickey were already far upriver near Ft. Myers, so our radio contact was sketchy. I phoned them right away, and they relayed this amazing story:

San Carlos Bay The couple was enjoying the sights of downtown Ft. Myers and getting their bearings at the annual Edison Festival of Lights (celebrating no less a world-altering event than Thomas Edison's birthday). They broke for Funnel Cake (!!) and were seated near a woman to whom they said (I paraphrase) "We're visiting from North Carolina, can you tell us about the events here?"

The woman answered, "No, sorry. I'm from Wyoming myself."

Gary, chuckling, asked, "Are you from Jackson Hole?" Because what are the odds, right? Ha ha ha.

She answered, "Well, yes, actually I live south of town."

Astonished, Mickey said, "Do you know Pat and Rick?"

Equally astonished, she said, "Yes, I do!"

We're all astonished! Seriously, Wyoming isn't that small. Is it?

And so Gary and Mickey had Funnel Cake with our neighbor Katherine C. - who I haven't even had Funnel Cake with myself! - and who had traveled to Florida to watch her honey Jim H. run the race at the festival! Jim is a trusted neighbor who periodically lets us know whether our house is still standing while we're gone.

It IS a small world!

We missed Katherine and Jim because we were aboard Sea Gator preparing to head south. Once we made up our minds to go it was time to GO. So we WENT. Finally. Which brings me back to where I started...

Southward Ho! to Tripod Key and Goodland

We headed south in open water as far as Marco, then cut in through Capri Pass. The traffic was light in the Gulf (above, right) until we entered Capri Pass and then watch out.

Capri Pass Here is the oncoming traffic at Capri Pass. Rick managed it with aplomb, and we circled Marco Island then we cruised the Marco River around back to Goodland. We set the anchor at Tripod Key and all was well.

All was perfect, really. No problems. A couple more trawlers came in and we exchanged waves for a few days. Rick and I dinghied in to breakfast at the new Marker 8 Restaurant - that was fine! They are also open for lunch but we did not avail ourselves.

Dinghy at low tide There were some extremely dramatic tidal changes this week, ranging from -0.5 below mean low to 5' above! Very pronounced, as you can see from Marker 8's dock, right, where we tied Bump Head. His keel is all but in the mud. It is unlikely that the lunch crowd uses that ladder - it was barnacle crusted and I had a tough time finding a place for my unprotected hands on the sharp rungs.

We loitered for a week at the quiet anchorage, just Working and hunkering down through yet another cold front. Rick packaged and mailed an Anchor Alarm to a sailor in Western Australia and the lady at the Goodland Post Office was very helpful throughout that endeavor.

BobCat Crossing We spent one night at the famed Calusa Island Marina to take on water and pump out the holding tank. The marina is a nice place and their dockmaster, Paul, was helpful way above and beyond the call. Paul told us he'd joined the Australian Navy at 15, and he had a very interesting way of tying cleats - do even ropes swirl counterclockwise Down Under?

After we had tied up at our slip we busted out the folding bikes and had an exilerating ride on the highway to Marco for produce at the world's busiest Publix. Then a speed ride home against the wind and a good dinner aboard.

Here is a warning sign along the highway - watch out for cyclists and Bob Cats!

The next day we cast off from the dock 30 minutes before high tide, and motored out of the perilously shoal Coon Key Pass with no problems. Southward ho!

Ten Thousand Islands

Panther Key anchorage Well, we could only stay at one of the Ten Thousand Islands at a time. So we popped in to Panther Key mid-afternoon on Friday, February 27. It is a beautiful place, tucked in among numerous (well, 10,000 to be exact) uninhabited mangrove and sandy-beached islands.

Unfortunately, the predicted winds shifted and we realized this anchorage was way too open to ride out the next front. So, the next afternoon we hoisted our anchor and cruised back to the Gulf, then southward again as far as Indian Key Pass and its extremely sheltered Russell Pass.

Russell Pass

The pass is really a river, flowing from the numerous bays and estuaries and creeks between the Gulf and the mainland. It also drains the lower reaches of the Barron River from Everglades City and Chockoloskee.

Russell Pass creek The river is winding and deep and provides excellent shelter. It's so big that, although there were 13 boats snuggled in there during the winds, we only saw five or six of them at any given time. Including the two trawlers who were with us at Tripod Key.

A couple of sailboaters stopped by on a fishing trip to visit with us. Later we lowered Bump Head and went on a dinghy ride through the multitude of mangrove islands, right, and that was really delightful. But other than that we sat quietly, listening to the VHF, doing a lot of reading and sewing and Work. We were all safe in the Pass as the wind whistled overhead and the mangroves danced.

On Sunday, during the worst of the blow, another trawler cruised upriver to anchor near us. Those aboard wore layers of foul weather gear and the boat was salt-crusted. Within an hour they dragged anchor, so they continued another half-mile or so upriver and anchored again. Where at the next low tide they sat aground the adjacent shoal. Finally they floated free and re-anchored nearby - finding safe haven at last for at least a couple days. Whew!

Also on Sunday we listened as the Coast Guard broadcast an alert for an overdue fishing boat. By late Monday we all know that this boat had lost three fishermen, including two NFL players so it was all over the news. There was only one survivor and he clung to the motor of his overturned boat for two nights before being found. What an ordeal.

Suffering We did have our own moderate ordeal in Russell Pass. Again in the spirit of full disclosure, I confess that my intermittent vertigo has come roaring back and I felt as though the boat was whipping through the deluxe spin cycle ($1.75 in quarters at your local marina laundromat) and I lost my cool. And my breakfast. And lunch. Rick nursed me along as best he could.

Later that night Goldie (unlike the bad kitty at right) joined me in my misery. But hers was a fur ball and she did not hang her head in a bucket. And without a word of complaint Rick cleaned up after her, too. What a trooper! He has so many Husband Points racked up he could buy a flat-screened TV and do nothing but watch football every day for an entire month and he'd still be in the black.

This is not a medical emergency, but enough is enough. We vowed that when the weather cleared enough to make an off-shore run - by the weekend, we hoped - we would continue to Marathon and a doctor's appointment scheduled there.

But. Not so fast.

We had to admit that the internet and phone reception at Russell Pass this time was considerably diminished from that of last year - go figure. We were very disappointed, but I wanted wilderness didn't I? So we couldn't stay put for the week. On Tuesday, March 3rd, we waved to the few of our neighbors who remained and motored back out Indian Pass.

Northward Ho!

We had decided to head for the Keys, but the nearest anchorage southward of Russell Pass is pretty much Shark River which is a full days cruise for us. So to wait out the tail of this blow we headed back north an hour (Hey - we're going the wrong way!) to West Pass. We tooled around the anchorage for awhile before we admitted that again we had no cell service. So we abandoned that idea, and returned to the Gulf for another try at Panther Key.

Goldie on the boat deck The weather had deteriorated in just that short period of time, and Sea Gator scampered up and down the north-west swells and a 2'-4' sea. It was fun, and nice to know that it was short-lived.

Wild Cat Aboard

Before we talk about Panther Key, let me tell you about our on-board wildcat.

Goldie has apparently decided: if you can't go OUT go UP. I heard some tromping and banging and ran outside - I couldn't find Goldie and I could hear her cry. In my panic I looked overboard and all around... then I looked UP and there was Goldie peering down upon me from Bump Head's platform! She's fine in the middle where it's safe (above right) but her preference is to loiter at the edges and hang her head over.

Goldie on the bimini It's a long way down for a 10-pound feline.

But that wasn't adventersome enough, so a day later she expanded her territory by hopping up higher, onto the bimini cover. She treats it like a big trampoline, which explains some of the new rips I had noticed. But at least she could get her claws into the canvas if necessary, although my heart stops when I see her way up there. Left, she eyes the radar arch for further explorations.

I run out and I say, "Hey you Goldie, you come off there and get over here by me!" and she hops down to the boat deck and comes along to stick her face in my face - "Whatdayawant?" - or in the camera lens.

Goldie front and center I hustle her down below and give her snacks and brushes and pets and tedious lectures about boat safety.

Panther Key

Anyway, back we went to Panther Key Anchorage. We set our anchor fairly close to where it had been before.

It was so quiet and still there. It was a world away from the moorings at Ft. Myers Beach, and the upcoming crowded moorings at Marathon and the circus that will be Key West.

Many fishing craft cruised by on their way to Facka Hatchee Pass, and some tour boats swooped by.

Rick on the Beach, Panther Key A fleet of canoes from the Outward Bound paddled past us one evening. We exchanged greetings and I told them we'd visited with Jeff and stayed across the river from their base camp before - see Outward Bound. They said that the Mystery Dock is closed since the condo land is for sale, but that we could dock at the Outward Bound basecamp and join them for dinner, because "We have lots of visitors!". I like the sound of that and will write or call ahead to the Camp next time we are in the vicinity.

Each day we dinghied to another of the nearby islands. Panther Key itself is one of the "10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge" where permitted activities are limited to fishing, wildlife viewing and camping, and those only on the beach. The wooded interior is off-limits - but I don't know how one would plow through the dense woods if one desired to anyway, it was a thick tangle. Fortunately the beach was a great place to walk. Left, Rick can't resist the water.

On another day we explored a narrow pass between Panther Key and its neighbor (below right) and found the marked channel up to the mainland. Every little island and cove looked like a fun place to explore. Unfortunately, we had to head back to Sea Gator but we agree that a leisurely few days with kayaks would be an excellent plan.

Southward Ho!

The weather calmed and several days of light easterlies were forecast. So at first light on March 7 we raised our anchor and headed into the open Gulf, embarking on the first of two full days cruising (at seven knots) to get to the Keys.

Pat in the dinghy Sorry, nothing to report except that it was calm and lovely. We were in the lee of the mainland so there were no accumulated swells to disturb us. A light breeze kept things chilly and we both wore several layers of clothes. There was lots of big blue water all around and many instances of dolphin accompaniment, but no photos to prove the dolphins.

We passed Indian Key light from fairly far off shore, and only saw a few other boats out and about on a Saturday morning.

Early that afternoon we cruised into the shelter of the Little Shark River and anchored for the night. We snoozed and Worked and went to bed early.

In the middle of the night I woke up gasping for air. I secretly accused Rick of nocturnal emissions and made a big production of fanning the air, opening windows and spraying bathroom freshener everywhere. But it turns out the fumes were actually the miasma of a very low tide. The air was heavy, wet and rank with the overpowering smell of rotting mud.

Florida Bay This is the odor that convinced our forebears that malaria and yellow fever were caused by the invisible gasses - "miasma" - emitted from a swamp. It wasn't until after tens of thousands of deaths due to those diseases in the tropics that a doctor stationed at the Panama Canal construction zone determined that the tiny mosquito was the cause of the diseases. Many thousands more deaths occurred before anyone believed him. Such is the overwhelming power of the stench. There is not enough organic odor-eliminating citrus air freshener spray in the world.

So my opening all the windows was not helpful as no breeze was stirring, but it gave me something to do since sleep was out of the question.

The next day, first light found us raising our anchor and heading out into the fresh breezes of open water. Whew!

Again, it was a perfect cruise day, above left. For a change this time, instead of following the "yacht channel" toward Long Key we headed toward the Middle Keys. And what a relief! The crab pots were nothing like we had been accustomed to dodging, and the depths were good - no heart-stopping moments at all.

Crossing at Seven-Mile Bridge About mid-afternoon we drew in sight of land and eventually passed under the Overseas Highway at the Seven-Mile Bridge/Moser Cut just southwest of Marathon. In the photo, right, you can see the old Overseas Railroad trestle, which was paved for cars, and later abandoned in favor of the new high-rise seven-mile bridge in the background.

We immediately encountered the swells and chop raised by the easterlies coming in off the Atlantic, but we only had a half-hour or so of rocking and rolling before we entered the harbor.

As we cruised toward the moorings we passed a woman gliding along in a paddle kayak. We all waved at each other, and I thought to myself, Look at that island girl so perfectly at ease in her environment. I turned away but a voice calling "Pat! Hey, Pat!!" brought me back to the rail.

Island Girl was laughing and waving, and suddenly she became Betty - a friend we had met last year. Betty lives aboard Lili and commutes from the Chesepeake to the Keys in season. I waved back "Hey! Betty!" We exchanged the universal "call me" signal - pinkies extended to chins and thumbs to ears - and then Rick drove us into the harbor and I snagged the tether of our assigned mooring on the first try. We had arrived in Marathon.

Marathon

The Band It will be hard to report on anything new, since we've been here twice before and I've told you all about it (see travelogues March 30, 2007 and March 29, 2008). This time, during the first week we pretty much just Worked. I made some nice bike rides to the north end of the Island to meet with a fine group of women and share an hour of valuable experience, strength and hope.

We also completed several appointments with doctors and labs, including one for which we took the bus down to Key West and that sucked up an entire day. But have received no assistance with the vertigo etc etc etc, sheesh. We are disappointed but not surprised.

Seafood Festival crowd at the bandstand The annual Marathon Seafood Festival was in full swing when we arrived Saturday morning. It happens in mid-March and we were happy to catch it again. Our first order of business was to locate the Buck Nakeds booth, featuring Buck Nakeds Reef Rub (warning: if typing in the website address DO NOT omit the 's'). "Chef Buck" is the son of Karen and Bart, whom we had met last year in Key Largo. The booth was there, the Bucks were selling like hotcakes and we bought a couple bottles of the awesome seasonings. Bart and Karen weren't on the scene but "Buck" said he'd tell them we came by if they make it down, so we might get a chance to see them.

The rest of the festival was about eating seafood and listening to music. It was kind of like our County Fair, but without the blue ribbons and rodeo, and featuring seafood instead of beef.

Bungee ride As in past years we heard a couple of good bands (above right) and saw the same local folk exhibiting their dancing skills for a captive audience. But who can blame them? One number was an inspiring rendition of "You Can Leave Your Hat On" ala Joe Cocker. There but for the grace of god...

I became restless when the next band hit their stride and it became evident that their repertoire consisted solely of repetitive and sappy odes to tiki bars and sunsets and barefoots on the beaches unshaven as one's life slips by unheeded. I thought, "Buddy, get a life." Which I'm sure is exactly what they would say to me if I sang, smugly and obsessively, about the important hustle and bustle of maintaining two businesses while cruising on a lovely boat in beautiful surroundings.

Anyway. So I left Rick to rock on with strangers in the shade (above left). The bungee ride (right) looked like great fun but I was in no condition to defy gravity. So I strolled and people watched. I experienced moments of profound gratitude for cold weather and the resultant necessity of keeping things covered, as an unending procession of hairy backs, butt cracks, distended navals and toxic sunburns paraded before me - sometimes individually and sometimes in combination. Use your imagination.

Seafood Festival crowd at the booths I suggest that at the next such event the pirate booty and trinket sales give way to informational booths staffed by dermatologists offering free skin cancer screenings.

The next day we trundled our bikes to shore and went for a ride up to Pigeon Key. It was nice there, and surprisingly deserted. It was so quiet we both fell asleep on our bench. I guess everyone else was at the Seafood Festival, eating boiled lobster and frying themselves and getting stewed.

Rick, Pidgeon Key picnic shelter On the return ride we stopped at RumBums for a late light lunch. There we met Bud and Nan of Easy Silence and after just a few moments learned that they are at the same marina as, and just a berth or two away from, Betty and Lili. Such a small harbor!

All is Well

There are 226 mooring balls here, all occupied and everybody dinghying to the same docks and etc. But we are pretty quiet these days here on Sea Gator.

Betty kayaked over to visit one day, and this afternoon I dinghied myself in then rode my bike to the marina for a jewelry show aboard Lili. Rick and I walk to the grocery store, to Home Depot for "brightwork" supplies, and to breakfast at our favorite Stuffed Pig every chance we get. I've been postponing laundry but will gird my loins and paste a smile on my face and do it one of these days, you bet.

Sunsets are an event. In the Keys tradition, many people blow conch shell horns as the sun sets. When there are several people all blowing horns at the same time and all at different pitches, it sounds somewhat like an orchestra tuning up - one of the world's most exciting sounds of anticipation.

Boot Key Harbor sunset And then - kersplash - sunset.

As a bonus, someone does his or her darnedest to share "Taps" with us all on the trumpet. It's not Pibroch's Jim B. and his bagpipes, alas, but it is nice.

News from back at the ranch: I heard from Denice on the Upper Hoback (hi Denice!) that they are getting some warmer weather accompanied by melting snow and consequently a real workout on the snowshoes around the ranch.

Her email reminded me of my favorite thing about spring in the mountains:

It is that moment when you ski past a tree, or a couple of trees. Which look like any other trees. But as you pass by you inhale a fleeting fragrance of tree sap. It smells for just an instant like warm earth, and you can try to go back and find it again but it will be gone. Dispersed. Miasma.

But just for an instant it was there and suddenly you've been transported into the possibility of Spring. And now nothing else will do.

Unfortunately, there's usually plenty of winter left to come after that moment.

So please, y'all, keep all four tires and four paws and two feet firmly on the ground. Thanks for listening, and thanks Claudia M for the poem!

Pat, Rick and Goldie

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