Tuesday, May 17th: First things first – the timing of our arrival was perfect. I was able to call my Mum on her birthday!
Port St. Joe is a very pretty little town. There are lots of craft/gift shops and restaurants, but the season doesn’t really pick up until Memorial Day so everything was very quiet. However, it’s great for boaters because everything is in walking distance, or bicycle distance if you want to pick up groceries.
The marina has free loaner bicycles and one tricycle with a basket for groceries.There is a laundry with one washer and drier, which I tied up for most of the day! The trip to the fuel dock was uneventful, which is more than can be said for the trip back! Now let me say that we loved this little marina, but little is the operative word. We found it very tight to get around with our 40ft boat, so I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone with a larger boat. The transient dock is at the north end of the marina, with a fairway of about 50ft. The wind was blowing us off the dock and we figured that, being tied up on our starboard side, facing into the marina would make for a difficult exit early the next morning. So when we went to the fuel dock we walked the boat back. This was possible but not easy, so on the return we decided to turn the boat round, leaving us ready to sail straight out. Suffice it to say that turning a 40ft boat, which hates to be in reverse, in a 50ft fairway with winds blowing her off the dock all the time took quite some time, several lines and a lot of brute strength! It was a struggle, but made the next morning so much easier!
There is a bar in the marina, but we decided to try the Haughty Heron, which is a liquor store/bar just a few minutes walk from the marina. It was a nice evening, chatting with a couple of the locals, before heading back. We would have an early start the next day.
Wednesday, May 18th – Friday, May 20th: next morning, we left Port St Joe and headed towards Clearwater. Again, we motorsailed, and during the day, we had an escort of about 9 dolphins. They stayed with us for quite a while, occasionally breaking away to catch a flying fish.
(sorry about the orientation of the video. The iPhone does not always translate to the PC)
We were making good time, so as we approached Clearwater and had cell phone access, we managed to contact Paul & Diane Sullivan, on Sea Casa, an S36. They are friends from Kemah who we believed were in the area. They were down in Punta Gorda, about another day’s sail. So as the weather forecast was good, we changed our plans and headed there, arriving in Fisherman’s Village Marina the next morning.
Now I am very glad we went to Punta Gorda to visit with friends, but I would not recommend this marina to anyone. I want this blog to be about our experiences, rather than a list of complaints about marinas, so I would refer you to my review of the marina in ActiveCaptain. We went for a walk around the Fisherman’s Village Mall and then down into the town itself. We managed to find what we now know is the only bar (other than restaurant/bars) in Punta Gorda. It’s owned by Steve from Guernsey, and is called CJ’s. Great bar and great fun chatting with Steve. On our return to the marina, we visited with Paul & Diane. We spent a lovely evening with them, catching up with their adventures (of which there have been many!) and eating dinner, while watching the sunset, at Harpoon Harry’s.
We borrowed two of the loaner bikes, as they have baskets which would make picking up groceries easier. The bike ride to Publix was fine apart from the fact that I have never ridden a bicycle that you have to backpedal to brake before. I had a couple of hairy moments there that had Moray tearing his hair (what there is of it) out, but we made it in one piece.
We just spent the rest of the day relaxing, and planning for the departure on Sunday morning.
Sunday, May 22nd: while in Punta Gorda, we managed to make contact with Karen and Ron, on Polite Compromise, more friends from Kemah. They had been cruising the Bahamas for the past 6 months and were headed home. We made plans to meet up in the Dry Tortugas.
As we had been offshore for the whole trip, we decided to take the ICW from Punta Gorda to Sanibel. This was an eye-opener for us, as we had only ever seen the ICW in Texas, where it is very much a commercial waterway with lots of barges. We saw beautiful scenery – islands with only boat access, etc. There was a lot of boat traffic but all pleasure boats. Now I hate to say it, but given that Florida is a boater’s paradise, I was more than a little surprised and disappointed at the lack of respect/concern shown by people driving powerful fishing cruisers for the for more rare sailboats. On more than one occasion, we were passed by a boat, at speed, as close as 10 feet away. Apart from that, the trip to Sanibel was beautiful and relaxed. Using ActiveCaptain, we found an anchorage in San Carlos Bay, where we were protected from the wind, and were the only boat! So Moray went for a swim, and we had a lovely evening, watching the sunset together for a change!
Monday, May 23rd: after an unhurried morning, we set off for the Dry Tortugas. We crossed the ICW and headed back out into the Gulf. Although once again, we motored rather than sailed, it was a beautiful day and night.
In case you are wondering what we do during these multi-day crossings, let me tell you! During the day, we catch catnaps when we can. Also, I read – right now I am reading stories from a book of short sailing stories that we were given as a leaving gift. I am reading them aloud so that we can enjoy them together. Also, we play games – I-spy didn’t last long! One game is to name songs that fit a theme, an example being songs with foods in them – “Sugar, Sugar” being an example! We have picked a different theme each day, and as the day progresses, and it becomes harder to find a new one, we get a little creative. Another game Moray came up with he called “Hear, Here”, though we are still working on that! To play the game you have to give clues to two words, that are pronounced the same. For example, the clues would be “collar” and “not smooth”, and the answer would be “ruff/rough”. There are a surprising number of these words, but coming up with the clues is sometimes a bit difficult. And then, of course, there is the infamous “hink/pink”!!!!
Tuesday, May 24th: just after daybreak, we arrived in the Dry Tortugas, and anchored in Garden Key, right in front of Fort Jefferson. The place is absolutely stunning – the water is clear and warm, with plenty of fish. We spent the morning reading, swimming and watching the sea-planes coming and going.
Garden Key is a National Park and is popular for camping, scuba diving and kayaking. It also is the site of a National Monument, Fort Jefferson, which we planned to tour the next day. A ferry and several sea-plane loads of visitors arrived from Key West during the day, and around mid-afternoon, Karen and Ron arrived on Compromise, also from Key West. As the anchorage was getting a little crowded, and there is limited space that is deep enough for anchoring, they rafted up next to us. That was great, as we could just step across to each other’s boat to visit! We spent a great afternoon and evening with them, hearing all about their adventures and experiences in the Bahamas. I picked Karen’s brain for cooking and provisioning tips, while Moray and Ron shared sailing versus motoring stories! While we were there, calls started coming over the VHF from a liveaboard dive boat that we had passed on the way down. One of their divers was missing and sunset was fast approaching. The park rangers and other employees who live on the island acted very fast. Their boats were able to check shallower areas than the dive boat could, and they estimated where the tide and currents would have taken him. Luckily, this was a story with a happy ending and they located the diver shortly before sunset. Kudos to the park rangers.
Wednesday, May 25th: as soon as the park opened, we dinghied over to Garden Key and took a look around the Fort. It dates back to the 1800s and was never actually finished as a fort, but it has had several uses, including a prison. The most famous inmate was Dr. Mudd, who was rather dubiously convicted of complicity in the assassination of President Lincoln. His story is the basis of the phrase “his name is Mud”. It was a very interesting place, with a visitor center showing 3D videos of one of the dive sites. The park ranger was very entertaining and informative. It was a great couple of hours.
After that, we needed to head out towards Marathon. Before we left at the beginning of May, we had ordered a part for our wifi antenna, and had thought that we would be arriving in Marathon by the time it arrived from Canada. So the package had been sitting in Boot Key’s marina office since May 5th and we really needed to get there to pick it up. Added to that, we were now less than a week away from the official start of hurricane season and we wanted to get as far north as possible to avoid being caught in any storms. So we said goodbye to Karen and Ron and set out for Marathon.
Thursday, May 26th – Friday, May 27th: we had anticipated arriving in Marathon late on Thursday, but once again, the Gulf of Mexico had other ideas. While the winds were not too strong, the seas were very confused and we were having trouble managing much more than three knots. That made for a very uncomfortable crossing and used a lot of fuel. So late on Thursday evening, we decided to head for Stock Island, near Key West, where we could refuel, and pick up a few groceries. We got in there and tied up at the fuel dock at 7am, to find that they don’t open until 8am. So we ate breakfast, and then I walked to the nearest grocery store, while Moray took care of refueling. As we had bought fuel, they let us fill our water tank and drop off our trash, which was great. By 9am, we were on our way to Boot Key. The weather was great and we made good time. After a very brief stop to pick up the package we were on our way, but not before taking a look at the place and deciding that we will definitely stay there on our way back down the coast later this year.
Friday, May 27th – Saturday, May 28th: initially, we thought about heading offshore from Boot Key to Miami, then entering the ICW and taking that all the way to Stuart, our next scheduled stop. We need new sails and the best quote we had been given when we researched the cost of new sails last year was from Mack Sails, who are based in Stuart, FL. Rather than try to get everything done over the phone and then pay for the sails to be shipped, we decided to wait until we could get to Stuart, where the whole process would be so much smoother. When putting the route together, however, we discovered that there is one bridge in Miami that was too low for us to pass, so we checked the weather forecast, which was for SE winds, 10-15 kts and 2-3 ft seas. Add to that the fact that we could use the Gulf Stream, an offshore passage would be great. Given our past experiences, however, we put together an alternative route, just in case. Thank heavens! The winds were from the north and north east, and the seas started getting very uncomfortable, with the boat crashing through the waves. We decided to put Plan B into action and cut back into the ICW at Fort Lauderdale.
Now this part of the trip was fascinating. There are 33 bridges crossing the ICW between Fort Lauderdale, of which 4 are tall enough for our boat to pass under. The other 29 have to be opened to let us through. Of these, 7 will open when you call the bridge, with the other 23 having fixed opening times. It became quite an exercise, after a few nights of overnight passages and lack of sleep, to figure out what speed we needed to do in order to make the next bridge crossing. Otherwise, we would need to hang around for half an hour at each bridge, waiting for the next opening. I had picked out an anchorage about halfway to Stuart, but when we got there, I managed to run us aground 😦 Moray managed to get us free, but that meant that we would not be anchoring there! We double checked with the next bridge operator that the bridges were manned 24/7, and decided to just keep going until we got to Stuart. We are becoming experts at taking naps whenever the opportunity arises, so we took turns at the wheel so that we could grab 30 minutes sleep here and there. Moray took us through most of the bridges, though I did get brave enough to try one! I even called the bridge operator myself – woohoo – I may become a real sailor one of these days!
Now the ICW here is completely different again from that in Texas or the more northerly section of the west Florida coast. Here, it is lined by multi-million dollar homes in places like Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton and West Palm Beach. The views are stunning! Some of the houses took up whole blocks! And the boats – our 40ft sail boat looks tiny compared to the ones we were seeing! Once you leave those areas and head into the Okeechobee Waterway/St Lucie River, the scenery changes yet again. Here the ICW is lined by mangroves, with anchorages in beautiful spots. I made a note of the anchorages in case we get a chance to stop there on the way back down the coast.
We went through our last bridge at about 8am and headed to the Sunset Bay Marina. After we refueled, we moved to our slip – our home for the next 4 days.