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Crossing the State on the Inland Waterway

Travelogue - February 20, 2011
Every time we walk along a beach some ancient urge disturbs us
so that we find ourselves shedding shoes and garments
or scavenging among seaweed and whitened timbers
like the homesick refugees of a long war.

- Loren Eiseley

This became a really long travelogue, sorry folks, but there was just so much to see and do...

Pillow II, the Sequel

While Gary and Mickey and I were waiting for Rick to complete his many labs we went shopping. And I bought a standard generic pillow - a pillow too dispirited by repeated markdowns to put up any kind of fight. And I've been sleeping well ever since. Thank you, KMart.

Thanks to my friends who expressed concern and offered advice, including those who have suffered with me through previous bouts of insomnia. Everything is better when one is well-rested.

The Okeechobee Waterway - Crossing to the Atlantic

Update: Rick is still 100%. As soon as he got clearance from the medical establishment we were ready to leave.

Okeechobee Water Way Here is our route across the state, left.

To recap our intentions, we hope to traverse the state from west to east following the Intracoastal Waterway's (ICW's) 150-mile Okeechobee Waterway, which winds up to and across Lake Okeechobee then down through the St. Lucie canal to Stuart on the Atlantic.


Then we plan to follow the East Coast Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) south from Stuart to Miami, through Biscayne Bay to the Middle Keys. Then across Florida Bay to the west coast to complete the loop, below right.

Our route The ICW is notated by the standard mile, which is more convenient than using latitude and longitude for every point of interest. The Okeechobee Waterway portion of the ICW starts at mile 0 where the St. Lucie River leaves the ICW at Stuart, and ends at mile 150 at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River at San Carlos Bay.

Thursday, February 3, 2011, leaving Ft. Myers Beach. We were underway by 8:30 a.m. We motored through fog until a bleery-eyed morning sun managed to burn it off.

As soon as it began to get warm Goldie clambered out of her travel nest (inside the nearby PFD locker) to enjoy the sunshine and impede my access to the navigational chart, below.

We retraced our 2009 route as far as the Franklin Lock, a journey of five hours which covered about 35 miles. See travelogue Beaches to Barns for a detailed description of this short trip up the Caloosahatchee River to Ft. Myers and beyond, and a photo series of passage through Franklin Lock.

Locks

Franklin is the westernmost of the five Okeechobee locks: Franklin Lock, Ortona Lock, and Moorehaven Lock heading eastward up to the Lake; then Port Mayaca Lock and St. Lucie Lock dropping toward the Atlantic. All in all we would rise then drop about 15', with the Lake level such as it was.

Goldie on the bridge One difference we will experience this year: due to low water levels in the Lake the openings at Franklin and St. Lucie locks are restricted to once every two hours. So we timed our arrival to make the 1:00 p.m. opening at the Franklin Lock and we came through with nothing exciting to report.

As soon as we cleared the lock we idled Sea Gator to the nearby Franklin Lock campground docks. A kind fisherman wandered over to help with our lines and within minutes we were snug and secure, below right.

We hiked to the office to register and we were "home" for the weekend.

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers

I knew I hadn't been quite myself for several days, but I figured my problem was from the neck up as it usually is. But I was surprised to find that, by the time we cleared the railroad bridge above Ft. Myers, I was weak-kneed and popping shiny red Advils like M&Ms.

Sea Gator at Franklin Lock slip So as we signed in with the friendly campground hosts at the Franklin Lock I asked whether there might be a walk-in clinic nearby. And not only did these amazing humans immediately produce a map to nearby clinics... they also handed over the keys to their personal SUV with no questions asked.

Truly, these folks possessed the heart of kindness and the soul of trust.

And thank goodness for that, because the nearest clinic was over 15 miles away. The folks at Lee Memorial Health System's Convenient Care proved to be considerably more organized and efficient than those who besieged Rick at Radiology Regional Center's various outposts near the coast.

Within a few hours we returned the SUV to its owners with a full tank of gas and our undying thanks.

People can be SO nice.

Hickey Creek

By Sunday Rick was ready for some different scenery than me lying on the settee. So we lowered Bump Head and went on an expedition. Hickey Creek came highly recommended from fellow cruisers.

Hickey Creek Our instructions began "Turn in at the camel..."

The last time we traveled this stretch the house which marks the entrance to Hickey Creek had a camel in the backyard. That's right, folks, a camel with a hump. Well, the camel is gone and in its place is a hugely oversized partyboat. And now the oversized house is for sale, complete with embarrassing Gyp-crete camel habitat. Good luck.

The Creek, however, was genuine.

We knew immediately that we had departed the beaten tourist tracks of the coasts. The air stilled and it was silent between verdant banks; we spoke in whispers. Mossy-backed turtles slipped beneath the surface as we passed. The creek meandered back on itself in loops and eddies, sweeping beneath bowing oaks where moss drifted in the air currents like mermaids' hair.

Soon after Rick whispered, "Gator country, you wouldn't want to let your kids swim here..." we spotted an aluminum ladder leading up the trunk of a huge oak toward a rope suspended far over the water. It looked a lot like fun.

Rope swing This was literally the back yard of "old Florida". Time slowed, and stopped.

Houses in a limitless array of size and condition lined the banks like neighbors waiting for a bus. Backyards reflected the general upkeep, and splintered docks in various stages of repair or decrepitude waded into the creek.

We saw a modest house with a well-used garden strewn with benches and ornaments. A hundred yards beyond was the skeleton of a house which had been burned. And next door to that was an overgrown yard where laundry featuring oversized "I heart New York" teeshirts fluttered on a crooked clothesline and a teenaged girl waved at Rick.

Dogs barked and ran flickering through sun and shade to watch us from the banks. One very stable dock supported comfortable furniture and a smiling woman who looked up from her book and waved as we passed; we weren't entirely sure she was real. We gradually left them all behind.

Old barn on Hickey Creek At an unexpected confluence of waters a gator swam silently across our path and there we turned left into the Hickey's Creek Mitigation Park and got a blast of the present:

On April 20,2002 Hickey's Creek Mitigation Park opened its doors to the public, making this natural area available for all to enjoy and cherish. Hickey's Creek Mitigation Park encompasses 862 acres. This wildlife preserve, co-managed with the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission, consists of a variety of habitats including palmetto-oak scrub, pine flatwoods and seasonal wetlands... The ecosystem presently supports the threatened Florida scrub jay and gopher tortoises.

Environmental mitigation is an attempt to offset the detrimental impacts of development on a certain species or a type of native plant community. Mitigation Parks are an effective way to protect native plant communities and the plants and animals that rely on them. Hickey's Creek Mitigation Park was originally established by the FWC and Lee County to mitigate for gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) habitat destroyed by development in southwest Florida.

We idled through the park to the end of the world, where dead leaves eddied in a backwater cul-de-sac and beyond were dragons. Then we turned Bump Head around, and as we retraced our tracks downstream time gradually regained its normal flow; when we reached the main River my watch started ticking again and the sun resumed its march across the sky.

Green Bay vs. Pittsburgh

Modern day and in your FACE!

Rick watched the game from the comfort and convenience of his own boat. The miniscule 7" screen of his RadioShack television didn't diminish his enjoyment of the proceedings in the least. When Superbowl XLV was over, we were ready to move on.

Experiencing Florida From the Water

These past years we've really enjoyed visiting the coastal communities from their water side. It's infinitely more interesting to see towns - particularly those which grew organically from their waterfronts - from the vantage point of their meaty centers BEFORE encountering the cheezy layer of strip development coating their perimeters. Some towns we've seen really do not look like Anytown USA. We are happy to find these.

Rick pointed out that this is true of towns lining inland waters as well. Following the series of rivers and canals that form Florida's inland waterway system gives us access to parts of towns that those traveling by interstate highway may never see.

Next case in point: LaBelle.

LaBelle

Monday, February 7, 2011. We backed quietly out of the Franklin dock and resumed our upriver journey.

Fort Denaud bridge tender We slowed to request an opening at the Fort Denaud swing bridge. This takes a few minutes, as the tender first dons her festive headwear, then walks to her control panel at the center of the bridge. Here she is, left, recording the name of our boat for the edification of Homeland Security.

At the town of LaBelle - with a lot of anxiety but a minimum of screw-ups - we slipped Sea Gator into place at the town's free dock, thus: We set her anchor in mid-stream then backed toward the dock. Easy.

The trickiness came when trying to get close enough to the pilings to get a line over without crashing into the dock. There was a lot of running to the bow to loosen the anchor line then running back to the stern to place the two stern lines, but we finally were snug and secure, below right.

We also put out spring lines to attempt to stabilize Sea Gator's bow against the coming west (beam) winds. And we stacked a series of fenders on her stern. I was adjusting fenders from the swim platform and made myself nervous so I scrambled through the web of crossed lines and up the ladder, just as the first gust drove Sea Gator's swim platform hard beneath the dock. I would have been crunched. We felt a chill in our spines for the rest of our stay.

About Town

Sea Gator at LaBelle town dock While Rick Worked I went scouting. I patronized the post office and grocery store, then I encountered a Sheriff's deputy. I asked him if it was safe for me to walk around his town after dark by myself.

I asked this question with skepticism because a beefy 6' tall white man with a cop attitude generally experiences life differently than the rest of us do. However, he assured me that his wife and daughter walk at night, saying "This is a good town." I guess if it weren't he'd be among the first to know.

So at 6:30 p.m. I arrived in a remote corner of town where I hoped to find a group of folks with whom to discuss common problems and common solutions. I found one other person there for the same purpose and her name was Shari (!). We didn't have a key to the room but we sat outside and got eaten by no-see-ums and had an excellent visit. The minister, working late, occasionally wandered past us singing softly to himself:

"...Whenever two or more of you / Are gathered in his name..."

Close enough. Finally we bid him good evening and continued our discussion while Shari drove me back to the dock. Rick gave her a tour of Sea Gator - her first boat - and it was a fine evening.

LaBelle street sign LaBelle is a nice town. Their ministers are kind and the public works department respects their trees, left. I could live here.

The next morning Rick and I speed-walked to Flora and Ella's for breakfast. I was so busy looking at the sights that I slammed at full speed, hard, into a steel sign post that was tilted directly over the sidewalk at rib-height.

And our youthful waitress at that restaurant had a brassy foghorn voice, the kind of voice that brays "This here's the country, we use our shirt sleeve" when a patron such as myself politely requests an extra napkin. The kind of voice that, when it comes from the painted orange lips of a beehive coiffed veteran named Flo, is authentic and therefore endearing. But not from this untrustworthy gum-smacker who just didn't care.

To seal the deal my waffle was cold, and the neon cheese atop Rick's "Western Omelet" rolled up like a windowshade when he forked it.

LaBelle sucks. We couldn't wait to get out of there.

And Another Thing...

LaBelle bridge opens for river cruise The dock is a nice place - heavy traffic over the adjacent bridge is noisy but it's fun to watch boats pass, right.

However it seems we arrived in the midst of a simmering controversy. The LaBelle Town Code states that no one may stay at the free City dock longer than three days. But, as we all know, many people just park it as long as they wish. Which is fine for them, but not so fine for the next cruiser who wants to buy some groceries or bruise some ribs on LaBelle's fine city streets.

So one sailboater demanded that the Town enforce its own codes. We met this same law-abiding fellow as he brought his battered sailboat to dock next to us. He proudly pointed out a terribly snarky letter, on Town letterhead, posted on the dock bulletin board. The letter accused this same sailor, by name, of compelling the dockmaster to enforce the law against his will. Don't blame me, the letter whined, blame so-and-so.

We thanked so-and-so because we were glad (off and on) to be able to explore LaBelle. So, FYI fellow cruisers, you may have better odds of getting a slip in the future. If not, enjoy needling the dockmaster - maybe he'll dedicate a letter to you.

Local Flavor

Well, when you do successfully snag dock space in LaBelle, follow tips from fellow cruisers as I did and visit the Harold P. Curtis Honey Company, "The Home of Honey". The shop is just south of the bridge. Its walls are painted a soft yellow and the sun pours through bright windows and glows among bottles and jugs filled with golden honey...

Honey shop The lady working there proved to be proprietress and heiress to the bee fortune, Renee Curtis Pratt. I asked her if she'd tell me all about the bee biz and she cheerfully described her family's history and what it was like to be born into a business that demands your lifetime.

Click to read Sweet Life at the Home of Honey for a behind-the-scenes look at the legendary family-owned Harold P. Curtis Honey Company.

Details about the beekeeping itself can be gleaned online. See a brief pictorial essay at Bee Moves: Learning to Love Honey Bees, find detailed info at How Bees Work, and an industry-related site at The Magazine of American Bee Keeping, Bee Culture.

La Belle is an interesting town. Too bad we have to go.

We planned to leave the next morning, when the winds were predicted to die down.

"Good Coffee, Good Times, Good Company"

Coffee shop We prepped for an early departure then walked a couple of blocks inland to the Bridge Street Coffee & Tea Company (23 Fort Thompson Avenue, between Bridge and Main - photos courtesy Caloosahatchee River News).

Locals lined up for their morning jolt. The young man behind the counter was working as fast as he could but falling further behind by the minute. We noticed immediately that there was no sign of impatience from anyone in the growing queue; the place seemed to exude serenity and everyone breathed it in. Pre-caffeine, mind you.

The locals kept asking each other, "Where's Charlie?" and telling the young man "Charlie knows how I like my coffee" and "Charlie's usually here by now" and "Charlie charges me more than that so I'll put the extra in the tip jar and you can work it out later".

Charlie Well, when Charlie arrived hearts were glad and the operation slid smoothly into high gear. Rick and I soon sat down to enjoy our excellent croissant sandwiches and decaf latte.

As owner and proprietor, local graduate Charlie Harris (left) has "managed to create the ideal community social hub, after work or school hang-out, comfort food run, and escape from the norm. In short, an oasis." This from his "Thank you for your support" essay on the back of the menu.

"Oasis" was apt. They served fancy hot and cold coffees, teas, pastries and desserts, sandwiches, soups and salads. There were comfortable chairs, prayer flags, nice lamps, and I think I saw a gong. And tea paraphernalia, new age books, magazines and incense were for sale.

Not only is Charlie an excellent barista, he is also a fearless and charismatic herald of the 21st century right smack in downtown LaBelle Florida.

Moorehaven

Wednesday, February 9, 2011. After our breakfast croissant we returned to Sea Gator and made a smooth show of casting off, if I do say so myself. Several miles upriver we passed the Port LaBelle Marina, which marked the end of our river trip two years ago. From here on out it would be all new terrain.

Cows along the Calloosahatchee The waterway straightened out considerably, and we were soon in the obviously dredged canal. The spoil banks were fairly barren and looked recently disturbed - we learned later from Steve and Diane that the banks used to be thick with Australian Pine, an invasive that the State has been trying to eradicate.

Right, here are some cattle in one of the many breaks through the levee so you could see the field beyond. In the background black smoke plumes mark burning cane - the ash left black smears on everybody's white boats.

A four-hour cruise brought us to the end of the Caloosahatchee and the western edge of Lake Okeechobee, at the town of Moorehaven. We snugged up to the Town dock and walked across the street to the Town Hall and we paid our $1/foot for the night. Quite the good deal, as at Sea Gator's cruising speed we couldn't have made it anywhere else.

Work

A note about bringing Work aboard: Many cruisers move along to new terrain every day. We can't do that, as someone has to keep bringing in the funds and paying the bills. So we move when we can (or must) and between times we settle in.

Downriver from Moorehaven bridge As a consequence we get to learn a place in some detail, and meet locals, and get the feel of a place. It has its own rewards and works well for us.

So - while Rick settled down to some Work I went scouting. I didn't get far because next door to the Town Hall is the Library and they had a book sale out front so that took 30 minutes and then a return to the boat to unload. THEN I went scouting.

I walked north on U.S. Highway 27 until I ran out of sidewalk and then I crossed the highway and kept going. Then I came back the same way.

Then I walked up the 65' span (nosebleed!) of the adjacent bridge and took photos of town looking downriver, above left. There's Sea Gator, second from the left at the far end of the town dock.

The neighborhood around the Town Hall was indeed the original downtown even though it's fairly moribund now; the active enterprises are the Town government, a nice park with playground, the Library and a Christian Academy.

Upriver from Moorehaven bridge Still atop the bridge and now looking east toward Lake Okeechobee, right, one sees the open railroad bridge and the entrance to the Moore Haven Lock. Immediately after the Lock boaters turn hard right.

Far in the distance are grassy flats cut by a side channel. In high water the flats are actually the Lake bed.

Throughout the afternoon I confirmed - to my disappointment - that the dock and adjacent City properties are the nicest part of Moorehaven. Sorry to say, unless you need to go to the grocery store a couples miles away on the highway, there's no need to leave the comfort of the Park and Library.

Well, Moorehaven has a nice new dock in a no-wake zone. We took long hot showers ashore and settled in for a good night's sleep.

Pillow III, Son of Pillow

"Good night's sleep" has a fine ring to it! It's such a simple thing when you know how to do it, so impossible when you've lost the knack. But the new gutless pillow is still working for me, knock on teak!

Now to tackle the problem of icy cotton sheets...

Crossing Lake Okeechobee

Okeechobee canal Thursday, February 10, 2011. The sky was grey and overcast, but the forecast was for moderate winds from the southwest and that's what counts.

At 7:30 a.m. we cast off, following in the wake of Sea Fox and Czech Mate, companion trawlers heading toward the Bahamas. We three locked together through the Moorehaven Lock where the Caloosahatchee makes its final step up to the Lake, then we paraded into the canal bordering Lake Okeechobee, right.

The other two captains invited us to join their VHF radio conversation throughout the crossing, which offer we gratefully accepted. We'd heard ominous stories about crossing the Lake so were rather glad to have their company.

Fish & Game airboat We had been warned that the Lake is gross muddy water that will splash up and stain your boat a murky brown. And we learned that, because the lake is so shallow, any winds with a northerly component will accumulate chop across the Lake and knock the books off your shelves and the fillings out of your teeth. And "whatever you do, don't veer out of the channel!" Well we'd hate to run aground out there and spend the rest of our lives walking the bleak miles of Highway 27 to seek groceries in Moorehaven.

The canal circumnavigates the lower half of the Lake. Its purpose may be to provide an easily-dredged deep water passage to the next town, Clewiston, for whatever reason. We didn't have any problems running the centerline, but alas, one of Sea Fox's twin engines hit a submerged rock or sloping bank as he meandered to the left of center. Steve, her captain, reduced speed on his port engine to attempt to control the disturbing vibration resulting from his newly bent prop.

Companion boats enter the Lake At Clewiston we all turned north, into the Lake proper. Well, it was several miles before we were IN the Lake; because the water is so low, much of the lakebed is grassy shallows at this time and we stuck close in the channel. Here came a Game & Fish airboat blasting through the reeds, left.

Eventually we entered the open Lake, right.

Lake Okeechobee is BIG. We angled northeast, crossing the southeastern third of the Lake. Looking southeast we could see tall buildings in the haze - it looked about like crossing Charlotte Harbour toward Burnt Store, which we've done numerous times. Looking toward the north or northwest, one saw only a misty horizon and no sight of land.

In the Lake Sea Fox and Czech Mate slowed to accommodate the bent prop so we radioed them our intentions to pass. Which we did at a blazing 7 knots per hour. We all continued the crossing with no additional problems.

39 miles from Moorehaven Lock: at the eastern edge of the Lake we entered the Port Mayaca Lock. This lock marks the start of the "downriver" run to the coast. We tied in with no problems except I couldn't understand the heavily-accented (southern) instructions of the lockmaster so I kept yelling "What?", and then we waited in the chilly rain for Sea Fox and Czech Mate to tie in behind us. We three updated each other while the lock operated: They had made arrangements at Indiantown Marina to have their prop repaired; we had decided to tie to the Mayaca "dolphins" and get some Work done.

Dolphins are sets of very sturdy pilings lashed together and provided with cleats, so that boats waiting for the lock to open can hold against the current and so that barges and dredges can tie off when necessary.

Tied to Mayaca dolphin When the lock opened we waved to the dockmaster and our fellow travelers, then motored on down to the dolphins. Rick maneuvered very carefully to one of the end posts and I leaned over and quickly cleated on with "Mr. Stinky", our spare anchor line (the poor guy had windlass' gear oil drip on him at some point in the distant past and he's never recovered), right.

Then we backed down very carefully, and I boat-hooked a wide bowline over the adjacent dolphin from our stern and pulled it taut. Now we were secured bow and stern between the pilings, preventing Sea Gator from swinging into traffic in the channel or into the shallows near the bank. The process went as smoothly as though we'd done it a dozen times, although this was our first. Yay!

By 1:30 we were settled in for a good afternoon of Work, and nary a boat passed us in the river.

St. Lucie Canal

Friday, February 11, 2011. At 7:30 a.m. we were ready to go. We reversed our procedure and released Sea Gator, then turned her bow downstream. Our first landmark is this very unique railroad bridge - the section of rails rises on pulleys. This bridge is the lowest fixed obstacle on the River so some sailboats have to go around by way of the Keys. Another railroad bridge swung on a pivot when we radio'd, I think the operator was huddled in his truck drinking coffee when we hailed.

Mayaca railroad bridge Until now, we'd also heard bleak reports of the St. Lucie canal, because she's been dredged and engineered for her entire length. There certainly were no navigational challenges, but the banks were well vegetated and it was quiet and pretty. We had it pretty much to ourselves because it was too cold for boating!

Rick demonstrates waterline in St. Lucie lock As the morning wore on Rick and I donned another and yet another jacket, hat, scarf, gloves... and we finally put our rain gear on, too, to cut the wind. When it started to rain we abandoned the upper helm station and moved to drive from inside where it was noisy, but dry and somewhat warm.

We hove in view of the St. Lucie Lock - the last lock on our passage - just as the rain tapered off. From inside the lock we looked over the far gates... into wide open space! There was no seeing the river nor banks below. Holy smokes! Hang on!

The lockmaster closed the upstream gates and cracked the downstream gates, and water began pouring out the narrow slit. Gradually the distant shore began to rise to meet us (it seemed) as we dropped a full 14' to the river level below. Here's Rick marking the high water line, our former elevation, as we neared river level.

Aurora at Home

Aurora A few miles down the waterway - now the St. Lucie River - we radioed Aurora, and Diane stepped out onto her sidedecks to wave as we drove past Aurora's home port. Woo-hoo! Hellooo! We made plans to meet later.

Stuart

We made our way easily to our assigned mooring ball at the Sunset Bay Marina's mooring field, brought the pennant aboard and tied in with no problems - it's easy when the marina actually maintains its equipment. By 1:30 we had both Sea Gator and Goldie all snugged in and napping, then we went exploring.

Old Roosevelt Bridge and Sunset Bay Marina The Marina is new and very nice: clean, comfortable, professionally run. Left is the view from atop the nearby Roosevelt Bridge (65', nosebleed) looking southwest up the St. Lucie River. In the foreground is the railroad bridge with its span open for boats most times; just behind that is the former Roosevelt Bridge, which in this photo has opened on request for the mega-yacht passing beneath. In the background is the marina docks and moorings.

Only a short stroll from the Marina, via an excellent river-side boardwalk, is Stuart's historic downtown. We strolled narrow winding streets that reminded Rick of New England, window-shopping the upscale boutiques and quaint restaurants. At one sidewalk cafe we had a snack of "garlic rolls" which were balls of pizza dough, baked and covered in butter and garlic. Perfect on a chilly afternoon.

Fellowship Hall Soon Rick spotted an old brick building on a corner, with a green canvas awning and white lettering proclaiming "Fellowship Hall". He wondered, "Is that THE fellowship?" I thought, no way, nobody's that lucky, and I crossed the street to see... and it WAS! Needless to say I made my way back there first thing the next morning and spent a wonderful hour in the company of total strangers sharing common problems and common solutions. And in another amazing "coincidence" I met there a man who owned a boat I knew from Marathon. We vowed to keep an eye out for each other in future. It's nice to know complete strangers have my back.

Farmer's Market Afterward, back in the real world, the marina loans bicycles to guests so we signed up. The bikes were single-speed, back-pedal to stop, with a big wide seat that makes it feel like you're riding a John Deere. It took a few intersections to relearn the stopping technique, then we rode as far out of town as we could - it was downwind and we thought we were mighty. Then we turned to ride back against the wind and the return trip took somewhat longer.

The city sponsors a Farmers Market downtown every Sunday morning and we enjoyed that immensely, visiting with local authors and learning about hydroponics from a young farming couple, left. Fresh produce is our favorite, but it takes a lot of water to wash bags full of greens - a big sacrifice when water is dinghied aboard via seven-gallon jerrycans. Later a band played raggae on the river front and we watched aged sailors dance.

Diane and Steve The highlight of our stay was Sunday afternoon, when Steve and Diane of Aurora came in to town to meet us, right. We enjoyed a fine visit on the harbor-front deck of the Sailor's Return restaurant and got caught up on the past year's activities and the coming year's plans. They intend to cruise up to Nova Scotia this summer - wow!- and back by fall. We wish them an excellent voyage.

Indian River

Monday, February 14, 2011. The no-wake (slow speed) zone adjacent to the moorings is a scoff-laws' playground, so it was fairly bouncy on the moorings. Time to leave. Fortunately, Diane had gifted me a bag of dark chocolate M&Ms for Valentine's Day (she knows I eat them like Advils and was concerned for my health) so we were provisioned in the most important food group. Thank you, Diane! We cast off from our mooring at 8:00 a.m., piloted through the Roosevelt Bridge, and headed down the St. Lucie River toward its confluence with the Atlantic Ocean.

Just over an hour later we entered the St. Lucie Inlet. This is a confusing confluence, where the St. Lucie River crosses the Indian River before emptying into the Atlantic. A series of barrier islands separates the Indian River from the sea, and this protected north-south River serves as this section of the east coast ICW (Intracoastal Waterway).

We merged into the ICW and turned north.

Vero Beach It was an easy cruise in the wide river, with very little boat traffic and no low bridges. Six hours later we entered the Vero Beach City Marina mooring field. I boat-hooked the pennant and was amazed to find it was just a very very long line with no eyesplice nor thimble; but it was long enough to bring aboard, wrap around the capstan, and cleat. We were secure.

Vero Beach

We've been hearing about Vero Beach from everyone we meet. The town is nicknamed "Velcro Beach" because once you get here it's so hard to leave. We're glad we decided to check it out. It's reputation is well-deserved, it's a superior haven.

The City's marina is clean, shady and well-run. The harbor is quiet and protected from winds and wake. The town is clean and pretty, and a free bus service will transport you just about anywhere. And the Atlantic beaches are a short twenty-minute walk across the island, above right.

Turtle The town's mascot is, apparently, the turtle. Whereas in Jackson the town sponsors artists' renderings on plaster dogs; Cheyenne features painted cowboy boots; Venice FL features (inexplicably) pigs - Vero Beach street corners surprise the unwary pedestrian with bright turtles.

The community's Riverside Theater is just down the road from the marina. One evening we walked over to enjoy standup at the "Comedy Zone". We and the four locals sharing a table enjoyed our pre-performance conversation so much we were sorry when the show came on - but it was a very good show. The first performer asked us to vote whether the annoying heckler should shut up and we all shouted "Yes!" She shut up. We had secretly wanted to tell her to shut up so that was fun.

On Thursdays, boaters meet for Happy Hour. There we spoke with many nice folks, including Laurie and Anthony of S/V Dogonit. This is Anthony's photo of the event, below right. Laurie and I had had a nice walk together after a chance meeting at the grocery store one day, and later the couple came over to Sea Gator so Laurie could pet Goldie. Goldie was relieved to see a new face.

Boaters' Happy Hour at Vero Beach City Marina And we are blessed to have old friends here as well! Ann, formerly of Marathon and now happily enjoying her grandchildren in Vero, came to fetch me on Thursday. We spent an excellent hour with other women of her acquaintance, then we went to lunch and she gave me a fabulous tour of the town and her favorite hot spots and her lovely home. Thank you, Ann! Her friends will be sorry that I didn't take a picture, what was I thinking? But I was so enjoying the visit I forgot to think about travel-logging. My apologies.

On Sunday, Rick's Aunt Sandra and Uncle Gil came to meet us. They've recently moved here as well and we enjoyed seeing their newly renovated condo. They took us shopping to their favorite haunts just in time for us to purchase some nice slacks for Miami, and then together they cooked us an elegant dinner which we fell upon like hyenas. Sandra enjoyed observing how Rick has changed from the headstrong little kid she once babysat into an adventuresome and appreciative eater.

Rick and Sandra enjoyed reminiscing and filling in the gaps in their respective histories for each other and Gil and I just enjoyed, below right. Thank you, Sandra and Gil!

Warmth

Rick Pat Sandra Gil Literally overnight, milder weather moved in. Women boaters were reported to be washing all their winter clothing one last time with the intention of stowing it away for the season.

But I was skeptical.

So Rick and I rode the city bus to the mall where (as I have intended to do for several years) I finally bought flannel sheets for our berth aboard Sea Gator. Why take chances, I thought, when I can virtually guarantee a warming trend by finally preparing for cold?

My friends, it seems to have worked. We've had a beautiful, mild weekend, and Rick is wearing shorts as we speak. You keep the faith and I'll keep flannel sheets on our bed.

South Bound

We're afraid if we don't move we'll get stuck here like everybody else. So we're off in the next weather window.

If you're still with us after this extensive travelogue, thanks for listening.

Take care, everybody! Stay warm...

Pat, Rick and Goldie

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