|Happy Hour aboard S/V Liza with Sally and Mary|
|Liza before sunrise at Useppa Island|
I can't describe the feeling exactly... it's like opening the floodgates to my soul. We switch from one frame of mind to another... from that life to this life...one drop at a time. All of the memories of how we did things while cruising come flooding back... and we remember why we do this.
|Dinner with new friends at Grazzi in St. Pete|
St. Pete was kind of a stopover between our two worlds... A halfway house...Not quite "at the dock", but not quite cruising yet either. We provisioned, we hung out, we waited for the arrival of Sally and Jerry on Encore before continuing on.
Then we waited for high winds to stop blowing every day. We planned offshore passages. Our desire to spend a few days at the Dry Tortugas was dashed as the winds kept us here and finally we decided that we would just make our way south in the ICW. Not our first choice but it was the more comfortable one, and at least we were moving...
We started backtracking... back the way we had come in early summer. Back towards the islands. Very. Slowly. Next stop: Sarasota. We crossed Tampa Bay motoring towards the ICW entrance on the other side. Gusty winds did little to make these protected waters unpleasant.
This time out we vowed to sail more, anchor out more, and motor less... but when we arrived in Sarasota after motoring all day, we checked out the possible anchorages there, and it just seemed stupid to forego the safety and comfort of the mooring ball... so we succumbed to temptation and were rewarded with a peaceful night's sleep before continuing on in the morning.
Our next planned stop was Cape Haze. It is a small but well protected spot on the ICW where we've stayed before, but with the favorable current, (for a change) we made such good time we decided to push on to Useppa Island. Useppa is just across the mouth of the Charlotte Harbor inlet, which would give us the choice of hopping out into the Gulf for an outside run down to Ft. Myers Beach, or continuing on in the protected ICW...
It was there at Useppa that we caught up with another boat from Alabama, Mary and David aboard Liza. We had a lovely happy hour on their boat with lots of laughs as our worries dissolved away... drip.drip.drop...Now we're having fun!
These channels cross this straight and narrow passage and make for wicked crosscurrents... with lots of small boat traffic zipping and darting by, it can be quite unpleasant for sailboats. Today we were lucky and made it here near slack tide. The current was almost imperceptible except for one spot, and even then it was totally manageable.
Sometimes the things that we fear turn out to be not as fearsome in hindsight. We put one of those fears to bed today...
|The channel leading inside has been dredged. Much deeper than before.|
We had previously been led to believe that the length of our boat made it impossible for us to be given a ball in the West Field... my how things change...
There was a brief window of opportunity and Liza took it. They were on a short cruise and had more reason to get going that we did. We said goodbye to them and Encore moved up to their ball next to us.
We spent our days provisioning, doing laundry... and buying a new Mac. Yes... I think I've killed our Macbook Air. It was inside my backpack and slid to the floor while I was doing laundry. Ever since then it has been acting very strangely. I REALLY didn't want to spend the money for a new computer right now... but with our impending departure from the US... I just could NOT be without a computer and it looks like it's going that way. I spend two days vacillating but in the end, an all day bus trip got us a new Macbook Pro. I'm still getting over it but it's better that it happened now than later... That's what I'm telling myself.
|Jezebel lays around and she didn't even EAT any turkey!|
The day after Thanksgiving we moved from the mooring field to an anchorage just outside the entrance to the harbor. Bruce and I had used this anchorage coming north. It is an easy in/easy out and perfect for a pre-dawn departure.
|Sun setting behind Sanibel Island|
We were well protected from the NE winds. Holding is very good and the water was nearly flat. We spent a peaceful night and were up before dawn and ready to go.
But... we had not factored in the numerous crab traps that would hinder our plans...
Bruce and I have cutters on our prop shaft, but even with those, we really don't want to test whether or not they work by motoring over one of the many MANY floating balls littering our path. So we waited for dawn.
Sitting there in the dark, Bruce and I saw a falling star. How long has it been? I can't remember the last time we saw one. The drops became a trickle in that unplanned moment...
Encore sailed the entire way to our next anchorage... Bruce and I motorsailed. We had a distance of almost 60 miles to make and we wanted to make good time. But even more, we wanted to make WATER!
We moved down the coast, passing Marco Island early in the day. Marco is an option for anchoring along this route... we didn't want to go there because it's really a distance to the anchorage and because the residents of Marco Island aren't really very welcoming to us cruisers... We don't want to BE anywhere that doesn't want us...
|A band of White Pelicans on Tiny Indian Key|
|Happy Boat Cat|
|Encore arriving to Indian Key|
We watched the birds dive and float. We listened to fish splash. We felt the wind come down and take the waves with it, leaving us with a most peaceful stop for the night.
The NE winds had to go through a lot to get to us... so our night was sublime. Other than the few Crab boats coming and going before sunset, there was nothing to rock our boat...
|Encore Up Anchor!|
Today we sail! Conditions were just perfect. I started the engine while Bruce used the windlass to pull the anchor, but as soon as it was up I shut the engine down. We trimmed the main and rolled out the jib as I brought the boat to our course.
|Bruce in his Happy Place|
They aren't always that easy to see with the sun on the water... sometimes we were almost on top of one and had to divert to avoid running right over the top of it.
|Can you see it?|
The winds really picked up as we approached and rounded Cape Sable. We saw a few gusts to 20 knots and the sea state became quite choppy. I began to really worry that our night would be very long...
Things began looking better as we rounded the last point and could see flat water. We dropped sail and motored up as close as we could get to the shore, counting on it to flatten the water just in case the wind didn't die down in the evening.
I'm always very careful (after our experience in West Bay) to know what the tide is doing when we arrive to an anchorage. I estimate how much the water level should drop during our time in the anchorage and maybe add a few inches to what we would like to keep beneath our keel... and come up with our "magic number". I motor in as close as I can until the water begins to shallow to my "magic number" and then I do a wide circle, watching the depth so that I have a track on the Garmin that shows where we do not want to be. Then I pick our spot and Bruce drops anchor.
By the time Encore arrived, I had done all of this and we were settling in for the evening. They anchored close enough to shout back and forth between boats... which bothered nobody, because there was nobody here but us! We were all too lazy to get our dinghies down from the davits so we sat in our cockpits and enjoyed nature's show.
|Looking for the elusive Green Flast|
|Wake the neighbors, it's time to GO!|
Morning came and soon we found ourselves motoring down through Florida Bay. Many Cruisers don't do this alternate ICW route due to the shallow depths. Bruce and I have done it twice already and have tracks to follow so we felt pretty confident about leading our friends through it. Our only concern was that perhaps the north winds might push water out of places which otherwise carried ample depth...
We were heading right for a huge black cloud...
|See that light spot, that's our path through the rain!|
We shall soon see...
What I had failed to realize was that the hazard marker was just the BEGINNING of the shoaling and that it would continue through this entire stretch.
We approached the mark (from the left in this picture) and saw the depths begin to plummet. I grew more and more nervous as I looked back and saw how low Encore was sitting on their waterline... I don't know how to explain what happened out there. We cruised along, afraid to reduce speed or change anything that might stop the magic...
I was afraid to even tell Bruce that the depth sounder was reading depths as shallow as 4'2"... a full SIX inches lower than it usually reads just seconds before we run aground... Somehow, we didn't run aground, nor did Encore. They snuggled right up to our stern and I kept thinking "I know why they're doing it... so that they can run in the furrow we're plowing". But there was no trail of sand kicked up behind us... And no bumping whatsoever. I just hoped that we DIDN'T come to an abrupt stop because Encore would be all up in our business!
We motored through the gate and things were bright and beautiful on the other side. I had forgotten that the waters here were so much more clean and green...
|Brown line is our planned route, green line is our track|
|Crabbers were working the traps all over Florida Bay "Back Country"|
|Birds lined Bowlegy Cut|
I'm sure my greed cost us more than an hour of motoring around... but it was still early in the day so no harm no foul...
We motored through Bowlegys Cut and wove our way through still more crab traps... to the mooring balls.
|Oh look, another sailboat came... Oops! Thats US!!|
|Rainbow bits, harbinger of good|
|Channel Five Bridge|
|We finally made it past the Fowery Rocks Tower|
This was another new stop for us. We could easily have made it to the more popular Rodriguez Key, but we needed to stop at Tavernier to pick up some water maker spares from Ryan, our water maker dealer.
|Crab pots don't stop because it's raining...|
|He just can't sit still... Wiping the windows... so I can see crab pots!|
|Safely anchored at Tavernier Key|
I was wrong about the NE winds causing the water here to be rough. I guess the Key to the north breaks it even though the map seems to indicate that a NE wind would blow waves right in here...
Bruce and I dropped the dinghy into the water and zoomed off to get our spares, then back to the boat for yet another peaceful night at anchor. One more day until we rest... Hold on folks... we're almost there!
|Lots of boats heading south!|
We made our final approach to this familiar Florida Channel icon with big following seas. We scooted up into the channel and the waters calmed significantly as we found our anchorage just outside of No Name Harbor.
But somewhere along the way, these miles, this month... we were swept up again by our dream and we can't wait to see where this year (our third!!! And they said we wouldn't last) leads us. And HERE'S YOUR SUNSET!