When you think of mangrove swamps you're probably picturing a place that could very well be in the Everglades National Park. Most of the southern tip of Florida is part of it and it ends around Everglades City. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
A few days after Teri left for New York I got a final load of laundry done, picked up a few things, made a tour of Key West to get the 'tourista' pictures necessary to prove I was actually there.
I also decided to fill my water tanks and take on some gas for the outboard and generator so asked my friends Jack and Billie to come with me to get them. Well, the Sunset Marina, while very nice has a very narrow fairway and I managed to get crosswise in it with the wind blowing me into the mangroves. Nice. I really impressed my guests with my piloting skills...
So I hopped into the dinghy, took a line from the bow and proceeded to tow Pelican to the gas dock impressing the guys standing there. What impressed them is that I could do it with the dinghy and backwards at that. Here's a tip - if you need to tow with an inflatable dinghy, especially if it's a heavy tow, do it with a harness on the transom and tow backwards. Otherwise, the load will cause the stern to sink and the bow will blow around uncontrollably. Just apply power slowly and gently.
Well, after that little faux pas, I was ready to go. The weather report for the next few days were supposed to be good so I had the brilliant idea of heading out to the jetty at the end of the Northwest Channel from Key West. Unfortunately, it was just too rough to do that. So I went back almost to Wisteria Island and anchored for the evening.
The next morning I was on my way at 6:30 and out of the channel at 7:30. The wind was too close to sail alone so I motor-sailed to the Little Shark River. The Little Shark River, just south of Little Shark Island, has a well marked entrance - it's a straight shot from the end of the Northwest Channel.
I arrived there around three pm and anchored about a mile up the river in a very protected stretch. I figured I'd be more or less alone but by five there were an additional four or five boats spread around. Believe me, there's more than enough room. I don't want to say for how many, but enough.
Mercifully, it's still winter here because the mosquitoes in the Everglades are heavily armored - they are hard to kill, not like those wussy northern mosquitoes. I mean, a heavy smack only makes them a little woozy. You really have to put some effort into it. And they sound like small bombers flying around. But there aren't many just now. Apparently, going into the Everglades in the summer is virtually the same as blood self- sacrifice.
The evening was lovely, to be sure, and the next day I decided to go to Everglades City because, well, because it's there. And I had to have some alligator. Mmmm. Tastes like lemon chicken.
Anyway, of course the wind was on the nose, but not too strong until I turned into the Indian Key Pass. The wind picked up and became all too good for sailing. Just not for sailing through the Everglades - the channel going up to Everglades City is narrow but more than deep enough even at the edges.
I arrived at the Everglades City Rod and Gun Club around 4ish - it is 5 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico. What a place! It's so totally a "man's" club - now it's just a restaurant and inn with bungalows, but when it was actually a rod and gun club it was quite a place. There are stuffed animal heads on the wall, a stuffed alligator, little stuffed animals like otters and wildcats and so forth scattered about. It's darkish varnished paneled walls have pictures of hunts, various guns and rifles, and other hunting paraphernalia hanging.
The food is average and a little pricey. But the atmosphere is all male. It's cool and deserves a visit for that reason alone.
Just up the street a few blocks is the Outback Cafe (breakfast, lunch and dinner) which is more my speed. Good food, fast, and a clean and pleasant setting. Inexpensive, too. Definitely a place to eat.
Also, there's a seafood place that advertises and 'all you can eat buffet $7.95' which is a bit of a come-on. It's for the salad bar and all the peel-and-eat shrimp you can do. The real seafood buffet is still reasonable at $34, but has rock crab, crab legs, clams, mussels, caviar, fried shrimp, scallops and includes the salad bar as well. It's pretty good and they keep the food fresh. It's part of the Captain's Table hotel. If you feel gluttonous, by all means, go there.
I met Mark the next morning while wandering around the property - we hit it off and since he had to go to Naples, he invited me along for the ride and to spend some time wandering around while he took care of business.
Naples has basically two streets to visit - 5th Avenue which is like a mini version of New York's 5th Avenue with some pricey stores and restaurants and State Route 41 which goes past the stores and services you'd expect in a regular town like diners, repair centers, and finally a big mall with Macy's and Sears and so forth.
A touristy place in Naples is Tin City with a bunch of small shops and restaurants. It's nice to wander around and if you're looking for souvenirs of Naples, it's the place to go, unless, of course, you want to bring back a multi-thousand dollar piece of local artwork.
After two days, you've pretty much seen all there is to see in Everglades City - had I stayed longer I might have done an airboat ride. But I didn't.
Mark and I left late in the day to anchor in Russell Bay Pass, just a little way into Indian Key Pass. He rafted with me and we had a great old time - he plays guitar really well and better yet, remembers the words to songs. So he played, I cooked and listened. A wonderful evening was had by all. All two of us.
I had to start making my way north to meet Teri so the next day early we got underway - me for Marco Island, Mark, I think, for Little Shark River. It was a bit rough out, so he may have gone back to Russell Bay Pass. I hope to meet up with him again.
Anyway, on the way to Marco Island I heard from Abbotsford II, a boat I met in Little Shark River - We've shared pictures over email but never actually met.
Anyway, I got to Marco Island first. The ride into the channel entrance was pretty wild! The wind and current conspired to form 6-7 foot waves rushing into the harbor. It was definitely exciting!
I noodled my way into Smokehouse Bay and let Abbotsford II know it was ok- the channel has been dredged recently and has enough water to get into the bay without difficulty for boats with up to a six foot draft. The bay itself has up to 19 feet depth for anchoring although it shallows in the middle to four feet or so. It averages around 12 feet.
It's well protected, surrounded by large homes and multi-storey buildings. It was blowing around 20-25 outside but almost calm in Smokehouse Bay. There's access to Marco Island at a small marina in there, but since I was only going to be there one night, I didn't bother putting it together. It's a great anchorage if you don't want to go to Factory Bay.
I got underway early (for me) Sunday morning - it was the first day of Daylight Savings time (and I seriously hate Daylight Savings Time - there really is no purpose for it, but Congress, with not being able to do anything useful seems to believe that moving it was such a good idea and easy to pass that they might as well do it and then be so proud of themselves. But I digress).
I'd forgotten I'd be getting up in pitch darkness. So when the sky started to lighten I got underway for Cape Coral, just across the Caloosahatchee River from Ft. Myers, Fl.
The winds were lighter but still too close to sail in so it was an easy motoring to Cape Coral Yacht Basin - a lovely little marina well protected in one of the canals. It's just inside the cape and is run by the city. My friend, Brooke, from Noank, CT had mentioned her friend, AJ was here and would be happy to meet a fellow cruiser, and so she is!
I've got time to do a lot of deferred maintenance in a very pleasant environment - all the people I've met on the docks are quite friendly and have offered transport to West Marine and other stores. But I've got my scooter and it's been a blast scooting about!
After Teri leaves on March 30, I'll be heading across the Okeechobee Waterway, via the Caloosahatchee River. I may be meeting Jack and Billie and Lee and Karen on the other side near Stuart! Next after that is Green Cove Springs for a short haul and then the long trek home to Connecticut.
See you on the water!