Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, a national treasure – 11/30/15

First of All -

  • First birds galore: sandwich tern, roseatte spoonbill, reddish egret, dunelin, sanderling, mottled duck, yellow crowned night heron
  • First crustaceans: horseshoe crab, tree crab
  • First alligator seen in Florida
  • First time encountering construction zone flaggers who stopped traffic to let bicycles pass

Namely Speaking-

  • Ding Darling
  • Ladyfinger Lake

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Power: 7; Sail: 0
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 2,233
  • Hours Underway: 1 1/2
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 12.58
  • Wind Speed: 10-12 ; Wind Direction: NE
  • Daily High Temperature: 85
  • Water Temperature: 72

DSCF9451I’m up early, with just a hint of dawn to the east. I heat coffee water, quickly eat a couple of cinnamon rolls, and then load my fishing gearDSCF9452 into the dinghy and shove off. I take the hand held radio so Sandy and I can talk if need be. It’s a little breezy out where the boat is anchored, but close in toward the mangroves, where I want to fish, it’s more protected. I motor to the upwind end of the shore, shut the kicker off, and drift. I start out casting a surface popper, and work it all along the edge of the mangroves, but without luck. The mullet are jumping all over the place, but I know that they are algae feeders and won’t hit a lure. I change to a rapalla lure and try it down near the shallow entrance to Tarpon Bay, which we explored yesterday afternoon. A large fish jumps at it but misses. I get another bite a bit later, but again miss the fish. A tern flying by at just that moment doesn’t miss, however. He swoops down and snatches my lure up in his beak. He hangs on until he’s about 15 feet above the water before deciding he doesn’t care for plastic fish. I’m relieved that he didn’t run afoul of my treble hooks. I decide to call it quits around 9:30, and motor back to the boat. We get under way and carefully motor out of our anchorage rounding the tip of Sanibel Island and carefully feeling our way into the narrow channel which leads to Tarpon Bay. We’re coming in just before low tide, but depths range from 4 feet to 9 feet and we have no trouble getting into the bay. Channel markers lead us across the bay to the Tarpon Bay Explorers Nature Tours and Rentals center. We anchor the boat a hundred yards offshore and dinghy in. DSCF9471We’re greeted by a friendly employee who shows us where we can tie up our dinghy. We arrange to rent bicycles, and then have a picnic lunch at a nice shady table. We pedal along a beautiful 2 mile long paved bicycle path, which parallels a busy boulevard, and turn in at the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge entrance. We’ve visited many National Wildlife Refuges in the past, but Ding Darling must truly be one of the real gems of the system. And how fitting that it be named in honor of one of the real giants in the history of theDSCF9465 conservation movement. Ding Darling drew editorial cartoons for the Des Moines Register newspaper for more than 50 years. His work was nationally syndicated, and through his art, his keen insight, and his deep appreciation for our nation’s natural heritage, he called attention to the great conservation issues of his day. He was appointed as the first director of the US Biological Survey, the direct antecedent to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. As director, he initiated the Federal Duck Stamp program, and personally drew the design for the first duck stamp. This program, now in its 82nd year, has generated millions of dollars which have been used to purchase critical waterfowl habitat areas. How fitting that this wonderful refuge bears his name.

Once at the refuge, we check out the visitior center, which features exhibits on both the wildlife of the area as well as on the life of Ding Darling. We sign up for a guided tour of the refuge. We board a large tram, with shade roof overhead but open air sides, which are designed to maximize wildlife viewing opportunities. Our guide is enthusiastic and very knowledgable. We’ve arrived at low tide, which is an ideal time for viewing birds. The exposed sand bars attract large numbers DSCF9482of pelicans, egrets, ibises, cormorants, shorebirds, and gulls. I’m particularly hoping that we’ll get to see the roseatte spoonbill, which is the only pink colored bird native to North America (pink flamingoes can be seen in the wild in Florida, but are most likely escapees from zoos). At our first stop we’re rewarded with a great sighting of a spoonbill, and quite close to the road. While viewing it, another flies in to the sand bar and lands. They are unique and beautiful birds, and we feel fortunate to have seen them. Another rare bird we see on the tour is the reddish egret. We’re told that Ding Darling is one of the fewDSCF9500 places where this bird can be seen. We see several alligators along the way, including one who is out swimming. Usually they’re just laying on the mud banks sunning themselves. Seeing the clean water and lush vegetation, and the thriving wildlife in this rich ecosystem, we can’t help but appreciate the vision and dedicated efforts of people like Ding Darling who labored to set them aside for future generations.

After our tour we have just enough time to return to the visitor center to see what we missed the first time through. We also make a quick stop in the gift store to shop for grandkids, before hopping on our bikes for the ride back. Along the way we come across a work site on the trail, where a crew is running a large rotary mowing machine which is cutting back the dense vegetation. The equipment completely blocks the bike path, but not to worry. A pair of flagmen are present, and their sole job is to stop traffic so that bicycles can safely pass the work zone. That’s a real switch. Back at the Explorers center we turn in our bicycles and dinghy back to the boat. We aren’t permitted to moor overnight on Tarpon Bay, so we motor out to a cove just outside the refuge boundary and drop the anchor. It’s dead calm outside, and the cruise across Tarpon Bay is beautiful, with dolphins surfacing and pelicans flying to roost on the small mangrove islands. For dinner we barbque some great hamburgers and are entertained with a stunning sunset, which is magnified and reflected by the glassy smooth waters of Tarpon Bay.

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Great day, until… – 12/1/15

First of All -

  • First time sailing off the anchor
  • First birds: fish crow, red shouldered hawk, common moorhen
  • First engine failure
  • First time having to rely on kicker and jib to reach an anchorage

Namely Speaking-

  • Picnic Island
  • Miguel Key
  • Punta Rassa

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: 16 Power (last 3 using the 2.5hp kicker motor; Sail: 3 miles with jib helping kicker
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 2,245
  • Hours Underway: 4
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 12.56
  • Wind Speed: under 10; Wind Direction: E
  • Daily High Temperature: 86
  • Water Temperature: 74

DSCF9527Day starts out with a beautiful sunrise and just the slightest of breezes. After breakfast I decide to sail off the anchor and try sailing intoDSCF9528 Tarpon Bay on the jib. It’s peaceful and relaxing, but we can only get 1.5 to 2 mph out of the light breeze so, halfway in, I start the engine. We motor to the same spot where we anchored yesterday, and I drop the anchor. We’ve got this drill down. Dinghy ashore and arrange to rent bicycles. Today we decide to explore the trails in the Bailey Unit of Ding Darling NWR. This is a small isolated tract which features a freshwater marsh habitat, and numerous trailes which run along levees in the unit. It’s late morning by the time we get there, and we see just a few birds. Still, its a pretty area and the trails are comfortable to ride. We next ride back to the main refuge. Sandy wants to browse the gift store and look more carefully at the exhibits while I want to bicycle the Indigo Trail, which traverses a different portion of the refuge than we saw from the tram tour yesterday. I find the trail somewhat disappointing in terms of wildlife seen. I get a good look at another yellow crowned night heron and some bluewinged teal, but not much else. I return to the visitor center, and Sandy and head back toward Tarpon Bay. Along the way we stop and visit the National Shell Museum. Yes, you guessed it, a museum entirely devoted to shells. They have an amazing collection of shells from all over the world. They do a great job telling the story of molluscs and displaying outstanding examples, including several which are world record in size for their species. The colors and variety are remarkable. We particularly love the sailors valentine artistic displays, where colorful shells are arranged in artistic patterns within a hexagonal display box. As the clock nears 4pm we must leave and return DSCF9530our bicycles. We dinghy back to the boat and pull anchor. I decide to head for a new anchorage, just past the Sanibel Island bridge. It will be a good jump off point for further explorations of this area. We motor out of Tarpon Bay and then across San Carlos Bay, heading toward the channel which will take us under the bridge. We see several excursion pontoon boats parked out in the middle of the bay,DSCF9533 clearly out there to view the sunset, which is shaping up to be another spectacular one. We’re nearing the bridge, snapping occasional sunset pictures and looking forward to reaching our anchorage when the engine coughs, and starts to sputter. Rats. I’ve run her out of gas. I don’t like to do that, preferring to switch tanks or transfer fuel into the working tank from gas cans, but this time I get caught misjudging how much fuel is left in the tank. The short runs and sails of the past few days have given me a false impression of how much is left in the tank. I drop the throttle down to idle, and the engine continues to run as I switch over to the starbard tank. I squeeze the bulb on the fuel line and increase the throttle setting to around 2000rpm. The engine revs up and we’re going again, but not for long. After just a few minutes, the engine again coughs, sputters and then quits entirely. I check the fuel line connection, look for kinks in the line, double check the fuel tank vent valve, and try to restart the engine. It tries to catch, but can’t. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, it’s clear that we’ll need to get to our anchorage by other means, and then figure next moves out from there. I drop the little 2.5 hp Suzuki kicker into the water and start it up. I lock it in position, set the throttle at about 3/4 power, lower the rudders, and we’re moving again, but not very fast. We’re only making about 2mph as we approach and then pass beneath the high bridge. The anchorage is just a short ways past the bridge, however between our position and the anchorage is a very inconvenient shoal, which rund about 1.5 miles past the DSCF9538bridge. I’m tempted to try sneaking over the shallow water, but decide not to risk it. It’s nearly dark by now and we’re showing our steaming and running lights. We pick up a light breeze, which allows me to run out the jib. This gives us an extra mph, but it still takes a good while before we clear the shoal and make our turn toward the anchorage. It’s empty of boats this night, but that’s ok. More room forDSCF9546 me to maneuver. I go as far in as I dare, then furl the jib and turn the boat into the breeze. I turn the kicker off, go up to the bow, and slowly lower the anchor into 8 feet of water. I pay out 60 feet of rode, relying on the wind to set the anchor. Dinner is way over due, so Sandy heats up some left overs. We’re in a good out of the way place for the time being, and not very far from towing, service and support if needed. I’m glad I opted for that unlimited towing insurance policy before we took off on this trip. Right now I’m suspecting that I sucked up some junk from the fuel tank when I ran it dry. If that’s the case, I’m not sure how easy or difficult that will be to deal with. I expect we’ll learn more tomorrow.

 

 

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Waiting for phone calls – 12/02/15

First of All -

  • First day stuck on account of engine trouble
  • First time having to backtrack

Namely Speaking-

  • St. James City

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Power: 3; Sail: 2
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 2,250
  • Hours Underway: 3
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 12.55
  • Wind Speed: 5; Wind Direction: SE
  • Daily High Temperature: 84
  • Water Temperature: 75

DSCF9563Today we play the waiting game. We wait until 8am, so I can phone Bob and Annie’s Boatyard, which sells and services Suzuki engines,DSCF9568 so I can find out whether they think they can help us with our engine troubles. We wait until 1pm, when our boat dealership in Seattle, Blue Water Yachts, opens up so I can try talking with Todd, the Suzuki expert. And then we wait for the phone to ring, since I need to receive call backs in both cases. I decide to move the boat in the morning, to the north side of the bridge where I figure we’ll have more protection if a south or southwest wind kicks up. We anchor out in front of the boat launch ramp in 2.5 feet of low tide water, but not before having to deal with another minor crisis. While maneuvering around for a decent spot to anchor, and I’m running on kicker power and using the rudders for steering control, I find ourselves simply going in a circle, no matter how I turn the wheel. For some reason we’ve lost steering control. I shut the kicker off and drop anchor right where we are. It turns out to be a decent location, thank goodness. Next, I try to see why I can’t move the rudders with the steering wheel. The source of trouble quickly reveals itself when I notice a linkage pin lying in the motor well. Somehow, the split ring which holds it in place has worked free (and it’s nowhere in sight – must have fallen into the drain hole) and the steering piston is simply moving freely beneath the arms which connect to the rudders and outboard. I dive into my spare parts box, grab a new split ring, and the problem is soon fixed. Oh that the outboard engine trouble could be so easily fixed.

DSCF9567The rest of the afternoon is a lazy waiting game. I notice several tow boats passing by, hauling disabled pleasure boats to who knows where. We’re constantly rocked by power boats with perfectly functioning outboards, rushing to and fro. I hear conversation on the radio about how the king mackeral are biting like crazy offshore, and how today’s settled weather will be perfect for offshore fishing. I try not to think about my disrupted plans for going offshore today myself. Around 3pm Sandy has had about enough of working on the laptop, and IDSCF9569 can’t read another page. We decide to go ashore in the dinghy for a walk. Just as we’re getting ready to take off, the cell phone rings. The local boatyard is calling back. Chris initially thought he wouldn’t be able to work on our engine until Friday, but he tells me he’ll be able to get on it tomorrow morning. This is good news. Instead of going ashore we get the boat ready for a move out to Picnic Island, which is a nice anchorage only a couple miles away from Bob and Annie’s Boat Yard. I raise the main, start the kicker, then go forward and raise the anchor. A light breeze will enable us to sail the first leg of our route. With both sails out and the kicker just idling along, we’re able to make 4.5 mph. This nice progress doesn’t last long, however. Our turn brings us right into the wind, and on top of that, we’re bucking a bit of current. This drops our speed down to 2 mph and sometimes less. It’s painfully slow progress, but at least we’re moving. We’re entertained along the way by a playful pod of dolphins who come over to check us out. We’re clearly too poky for them, and we see them fall in behind a power boat, where they enjoy surfing in the wake. While underway the cell phone rings and it’s Todd. I tell him my story and he gives me some helpful suggestions and ideas. He explains how I can check for water in the fuel, which I plan to do once we get anchored. Getting into the Picnic Island cove is tricky, given how shallow the water is. I can’t raise my rudders because I’m relying on them for steering. I release the rudder lines, which allows them to kick DSCF9572 up when they touch bottom. We manage to get into the cove and I drop the anchor in a good location on the first try. I then pull the cowling off the engine, grab a flash light and screw driver, and climb into the dinghy. Trying to turn a mostly hidden screw on the underside of a complex outboard engine, while sliding on the water in a dinghy is a real trick. I find the screw and loosen it, hoping to detect water dripping out. Instead it’s fuel, which could mean a more serious problem with the engine. I close things up, since that’s about the extent of what I’m able to do out here. We’ll stick with the plan of going in to Bob and Annies in the morning. If it’s fairly calm out, I’ll run in with the kicker. If it’s windy I’ll not risk it and call for a tow. The kicker simply doesn’t have enough power to overcome the effect of a stiff wind on the boat. Well, the engine is still inoperable, but at least we have a chance tomorrow to get it on the road to recovery.

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Engine repairs – 12/03/15

First of All -

  • First time putting in to a boat yard for engine repair
  • First significant rain in a long time

Namely Speaking-

  • Matlacha Pass
  • Starvation Key
  • Connie Mack Island
  • Estero Island
  • Ft. Myers Beach

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Power: 14 (3 using the kicker); Sail: motor sailed with genoa for 3 miles
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 2,264
  • Hours Underway: 3
  • Fuel: 13.7
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 12.35
  • Wind Speed: 10; Wind Direction: E
  • Daily High Temperature: 80
  • Water Temperature: 75

DSCF9583It’s dead calm and overcast when we get up at 6:30am. I eat a quick breakfast and prepare for the run over to Bob and Annie’s Boat Yard. The boat is pointing in the wrong direction, and because of the limited space in our anchorage and also, our limited ability to maneuver and steer, I decide to turn the boat while still at anchor. I set the wheel hard over and turn the kicker in the same direction. This enablesDSCF9585 us to pivot on the anchor until we’re facing out. I reset the steering and the direction of thrust for the kicker, then go forward and raise the anchor. We come off the anchor under way and in the proper direction. We have plenty of time to get to the boat yard, so I set the kicker throttle about half way, and we make 2.5 to 3 mph on the calm waters of San Carlos Bay. The boat yard is located at the head of a long, narrow canal. We time our arrival perfectly, at the agreed upon 9am. Bringing the boat in to dock with the kicker is a real trick. I have no reverse and very limited steering. I can only adjust the throttle or shift into neutral by hanging head down over the transom. I manage to pull it off in decent fashion, helped by Chris, the boat yard manager, who is in position to take our lines. I’m told that it will be an hour or so before they’ll be able to look at our engine, so Sandy and I walk across the street to the Spotted Ass Saloon to hang out. Sandy has the laptop with her, and the waitress at the Spotted Ass shows her a nice table where she can plug in and use their wifi. It should be noted that this establishment is way more than a saloon. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They have a funky bar, a nice dining room, and dock tie up access if you arrive in a dinghy or small boat. I understand it can get wild there at night, but it was the perfect spot for us to kill time while the engine is getting fixed. After half an hour I head back to the boat yard and I’m met by Chris, who tells me that they’ve checked the engine out at the dock, and have already gotten it running. I’m amazed. Their mechanic, Mike, discovered that DSCF9590 the squeeze bulb on our fuel line was defective. The ball in the internal check valve had gotten hung up somehow, and was preventing fuel from getting to the motor. He messed with it a bit and got some fuel to pass, and the engine started right up. They billed me a half hour of labor to diagnose the problem and install a new squeeze bulb. Additionally, they let us keep the boat tied up at their dock while we had lunch at the Spotted Ass Saloon. I can’t say enough good things about the folks at Bob and Annie’s Boat Yard. They are truly top notch in my book.

After lunch we climb aboard, start the 60hp up, and idle back down the canal toward San Carlos Bay. I phone up Sanibel Marina, thinkingDSCF9596 that we will head there for the night. They tell me that they’re filled to capacity, so I must come up with plan B. I see several marinas located a little to the south, at Ft. Myers Beach on Estero Island. I call the first one, Pink Shell, but get no answer. I can’t raise them on VHF either, so I go to my next choice, Moss Marina, and reserve a slip. They are very welcoming. We stop at the fuel dock and fill our tanks, and then move over to our slip. The dock hands help us in, and it starts to rain as we’re tying up. Once we’re secure, we head for the downtown area, which is very close by. It’s raining lightly, but that doesn’t deter us. We stroll both sides of Old San Carlos Boulevard. The shop windows are filled with the usual assortment of souveniers, tee shirts, and beach apparel. As we’re walking back the pace of rain picks up, prompting us to look for a place to have dinner. Maybe by the time we’re finished the rain will have let up. We select Nervous Nellie’s and sit at an under cover outdoor table. In our wet clothing, the air conditioning inside is simply too chilly for comfort. Dinner is good, and desserts excellent. We take our time and sure enough, by the time we’re ready to leave the rain has eased up. We walk dinner off with another stroll down Old San Carlos Boulevard. We have trouble dodging the puddles in the streets on our way back to the boat. Puddle isn’t the appropriate word. The streets have turned into shallow lakes, and we have no choice but to wade through them. One stretch is at least 4 inches deep. My first thought is that they really need storm sewers here, until I realize that there is really no place for the water to go. Sea level at high tide is just inches below street level, and it takes gradient for storm sewers to work. This place is already dealing with with high sea levels. Global warming and rising sea levels will really make things interesting around here.

We head up to the shower building after returning to the boat. We could get the job done by simply standing around outside. It’s begun raining hard again. The showers are great, among the best we’ve found on the trip.

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Gray day at Moss Marina – 12/04/15

First of All -

  • First time scraping barnacles off the hull

Namely Speaking-

  • Lynx

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Layover day
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 2,264
  • Hours Underway: NA
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 12.8 (plugged in)
  • Wind Speed: 15; Wind Direction: SE
  • Daily High Temperature: 76
  • Water Temperature: 75

DSCF9600It rained like crazy last night, even forcing water past the sealant on the port side overhead window. We sleep in late, and the rain has quit by the time we get up. The dinghy has 4 inches of water sloshing around in it. We don’t have anything particular on the agenda today. After breakfast I haul a bicycle out of the king berth and ride over to the hardware store, where I pick up a tube of black silicon sealant, so I can try and seal up that window. Sandy works up a grocery list while I’m gone, and after I work on the window I head back out to pick up a few grocery items. Sandy is enjoying the excellent internet connection here, which enables her to download a number of large documents for her geneology research. After lunch I dump the water out of the dinghy. While adjusting dock lines I’ve noticed a substantial growth of barnacles just above the edge of the bottom paint on the port side. For some reason the starbard side is completely clean. After thinking on it a bit, I realize that, due to how we’ve got gas cans and gear stowed on the boat, we tend to sit a bit lower in the water on the port side. I climb into the dinghy and scrape the barnacles off the hull with my recently purchased scraper. The tool works well, and the small barnacles clean up without much effort. I’d like to improve our trim, but because of where I have to stow my 5 gallon and 2.5 gallon gas cans, as well as the folding bikes, I’m afraid we’ll continue to lean slightly to port. I’ll just have to keep an eye out on the barnacles.

In the afternoon we go out for a walk. We head down Old San Carlos Boulevard, toward the town fishing pier. From there we walk outDSCF9605 onto the broad beach. The sand is hard packed after all the rain, and easy to walk on. We aren’t expecting to find much in the way of shells here, considering how much use this beach receives. However, we’re wrong. The beach is heavily littered with small shells, and to our surprise, a good percentage of them are coquinas. Elsewhere we’ve had to look hard to find them, and brightly colored ones are a rare find. Here, though, they’re everywhere. The only problem is that, for some reason, most of the shells have a growth of green algae at the base of their shells. I DSCF9601 think, when they’re alive and dug into the sand, the algae grows on the part of the shell sticking up out of the sand. We do our best to select coquinas with the brightest color and the least amount of green stain. We end up collecting a sizeable plastic bag of coquinas. It’s a pleasant way to pass the afternoon. While strolling the beach we see the Lynx, a full sized replica of an 1812 era top square sail schooner, of a type used by Americans against the British during the War of 1812. She’s a pretty ship and we see her out under full sail on the Gulf. I regret having left the camera back at the boat. When she’s on her way in, we hear a loub boom from her stern chaser cannon.

We walk back to the marina, passing all the great food smells wafting from the Times Square food vendors. It sets us to thinking about dinner. Sandy fixes up some great sloopy joes, served open face on hamburger buns. Tonight we’ll do a small laundry, in preparation for heading out in the morning. We plan to go south, on an explore of Estero Bay.

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Christmas shopping on the beach – 12/05/15

First of All -

  • First time spending 3 straight nights at the same marina
  • First time watching a boat parade

Namely Speaking-

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Layover day
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 0
  • Hours Underway: NA
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 14.5 (plugged in)
  • Wind Speed: 15-20 ; Wind Direction: NE
  • Daily High Temperature: 74
  • Water Temperature: 75

DSCF9608We get up this morning fully intending on heading out, but when I go up to the boaters lounge for coffee I chat with a marina employee whoDSCF9607 is cleaning the room. He asks if we’re staying to watch the Christmas boat parade this evening. This is the first I’ve heard of it, and it sounds really nice. It’s supposed to be quite windy today, and I’m not all that eager to head out. I talk it over with Sandy, and we decide to hang out here for another day. After breakfast we walk into town and head for the beach. We walk a good ways up the beach and then start shelling our way back. The tide is way out, and we get into some great coquina deposits. We’re totally enchanted with the colors and patterns on these amazing little shells, and we can’t resist collecting them. We decide they’ll make fun little Christmas gifts for grandkids and friends. The only thing that compels us to stop gathering shells is our midday appetites, and we stop at a nice beachfront restaurant for lunch. Back at the boat I take an afternoon nap while Sandy works with the laptop up in the boater’s lounge. The folks at the marina are putting together a hot dog roastDSCF9609 to accompany the Christmas boat parade. We bring some chips and dip to go along with the dogs and buns they serve up. Then we walk out to the end of the dock where our boat is moored and watch the boat parade. About 30 boats, brightly decorated with multi colored lights are in the parade. Many are playing music. Our favorite takes as its theme the movie Christmas Story, with the iconic “leg lamp” outlined in LED lights. It’s a beautiful parade, and I admire the boaters who participate. It must be particularly challenging at night with all the shallow water around here, and with strong winds blowing out on the bay. We wrap up the day with a Skype call to son Ken and family. We’re only 10 days away from flying out to see them, and we’re looking forward to the visit.

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On the move again, exploring Estero Bay – 12/06/15

First of All -

  • First time anchoring out on the open Gulf

Namely Speaking-

  • Estero Bay
  • Carlos Point
  • Lovers Key
  • Strarvation Key
  • Mound Key

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Power: 14; Sail: 0
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 2,278
  • Hours Underway: 3
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 12.65
  • Wind Speed: 10-12 ; Wind Direction: NE
  • Daily High Temperature: 73
  • Water Temperature: 73

Moving day at last. The wind is still with us, but it’s out of the northeast and expected to diminish in the afternoon. We empty the wastebasket, fill the water tank, turn in the boater’s lounge key, forget to buy another bag of ice, and prepare to depart. There’s just enough wind that I ask one of the marina staff to give us a hand getting clear of the dock. The assistance is welcome, and we back out without incident. We cruise down the channel, past the pirate boat, the Key West Express, and the fleet of working shrimp boats. As we enter shallow Estero Bay, we bounce into the DSCF9670chop which is being kicked up by 15 knots of wind. I’m not too concerned, since my plan is to go through Big Carlos Pass and out into the Gulf. With the wind out of the northeast, we’ll be in the lee on the open Gulf, and the water close to shore should be nearly smooth, and the wind reduced. I radio the bascule bridge at Carlos Point, and the bridge tender says he’ll open as soon as we get close, and he does. We pass through the narrow bridge opening and onto calmer waters. I turn south, heading for a beach at the south end of Lovers Key. The knowledgable Moss Marina dockmaster Matt has told me about a good shelling beach, and that’s where we’re headed. We drop the anchor about 100 yards from shore. I put the kicker on the dinghy while Sandy prepares lunch. We see small groups of people slowly walking the beach, hunched over in the typical shell hunting posture. We run the dinghy in near the south end of the beach, where I rig the dinghyDSCF9671 anchor so that it will float on its anchor far well clear of the beach. I tie the retrieval line to a snag which is buried in the sand. Clearly, this beach is well known to locals, and the large shells have been thoroughly picked over. For the most part, just broken and weathered shells remain. However, the pickins are great for our lovely little coquinas. We can afford to be selective, gatherng only the brightest and prettiest ones. And, unlike at Ft. Myers Beach, these shells have no signs of unsightly green algae on them. We while away the afternoon picking up shells, but as 3 o’clock approaches, it’s time to get going. We dinghy back to the boat, pull anchor, and return back under the accomodatingly opened Carlos Point bridge. I plan to pick my way east, across Estero Bay, toward Mound Key, another interesting place recommended by Matt. Mound Key was once the ceremonial center of the Calusa tribe’s domain in this region. The Calusa thrived here for thousands of years, but were completely wiped out after contact with Spanish explorers, exploiters, and colonizeres. It’s a sad but all too familiar story. Mound Key is now a Florida State Park, and has been studied by archeologists. There’s supposed to be a nature trail across the island, and we plan to check it out tomorrow. For now, we’re content to anchor in the quiet bay near where the trail starts. Steak on the barbque grill makes for a fine dinner. The salt spray we kicked up when crossing Estero Bay earlier today is being conviently rinsed off by a passing rain shower. The wind has nearly completely died, and we have this peaceful spot all to ourselves tonight.

Return to Sanibel 12/07/15

First of All -

  • First time wearing long pants and long sleeves in a long time
  • First time standing more than 30 feet above sea level since arriving in Florida
  • First bird: red breasted merganser

Namely Speaking-

  • Point Ybel

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Power: 21; Sail: 0
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 2,299
  • Hours Underway: 4
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 12.55
  • Wind Speed: 5-10; Wind Direction: NE
  • Daily High Temperature: 75
  • Water Temperature: 72

DSCF9675This persistent wind out of the northeast is having its effect on temperatures down here. The extreme fringes of winter air is pushing overnight lows around here into the lower 60’s. Brrr – (just kidding). It is enough, though, to prompt me to put on long pants and long sleeves this morning. I can’t remember the last time I’ve worn anything except shorts and tee shirt. The cockpit is dry, so our humidityDSCF9677 must be low as well. After breakfast I busy myself with rinsing our coquina shell collection and arranging them on paper towels to dry. Individually they’re striking. When layed out in a group, the effect is simply magnified.

It’s very quiet here. Except for the occasional sound of a passing airliner, all we hear is the occasional call of a bird or the splash of a leaping mullet. It’s easy to transport oneself back in time, listening for hints of the Calusa who once inhabited this place and considered it special, perhaps even sacred. Archaelogists believe Mound Key was a ceremonial center for the Calusa, and considering that the shell mound on this island reaches 33 feet above sea level, making it the highest elevation in this entire part of Florida, the Calusa are thought to have thrived here for 2000 years. We row ashore quietly, in the dinghy, and walk the trail which crosses the island. A few interpretive signs along the way tell a bit of the story of the Calusa. The sparseness of the signs is somehow indicative of the little we know of these people. They died of disease, war and captivity before more could be learned. The bleached shells we see on top of the midden mound DSCF9679 retain the shape of fresh shells. It’s possible to imagine people here gathering the mollusks at low tide, eating the meat, and tossing them onto the pile of shells. How could they realize that, when Spanish ships arrived, their midden would grow no more.

Such somber thoughts are lightened a bit by the tropical vegetation, birds, and butterflies we see along the trail. We see several newDSCF9680 species of birds, however, they’re too shy to allow for identification. We do get a great look at a red bellied woodpecker and a gray catbird. The butterflies are just too flighty to pose for pictures. When we return to the dinghy we see a manatee swirling around near the mangroves. We have lunch on the boat, and then depart. I decide to take advantage of the settled weather to go offshore a little ways, and try my luck trolling. Maybe I’ll hook up with another king mackeral. I go about 5 miles offshore, but only reach 30 feet of water. The fish don’t cooperate, so we turn back toward shore. I call Sanibel Marina and confirm that they have space for us. We arrive shortly before 4pm. It’s a small marina, neat in appearance. The slips are tight, but well protected. In the calm air I have no problem getting in. Tonight we’ll barbque chicken and then go over to Dot’s Restaurant for dessert.

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Layover at Sanibel Marina – 12/08/15

First of All -

  • First time reading a newspaper since leaving home in August

Namely Speaking-

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: 0 – Layover day
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 2,299
  • Hours Underway: NA
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 12.57
  • Wind Speed: 15; Wind Direction: NE
  • Daily High Temperature: 74
  • Water Temperature: 72

DSCF9691It’s gray and breezy when I emerge from the cabin around 7:30am. I see a local newspaper, in its protective plastic bag, lying on the floor of the cockpit. I’ve read about this nice touch here at Sanibel Marina. I heat some coffee water and, for the first time since we left home on August 15, I read the newspaper. Local news, national news, sports, the funnies, and I even work the crossword puzzle. Near as I can tell, the news hasn’t changed any since we left home – still too much violence, crime, and political disfunction. After breakfast I haul outDSCF9685 the bicycles and we head out, in search of the beach. Most of Sanibel’s Gulf side shoreline is privately owned, and heavily developed with single family homes as well as resorts and condominiums. Here and there, however, a few local streets sneak past the developments and terminate in small parking areas and trails over to the beach. I can see them on the satellite images on my smart phone, and they enable us to find our way to a local access spot. Despite the fact that it’s a weekday, and a gray, windy one at that, there are lots of folks out on the beach. Some are sitting on lounge chairs, but most are doing the everpresent “shell hunting walk”, hunched over, slowly strolling, and occasionally stooping over to snatch up a little treasure. The shells are thick on the beach here, however with so many eyes scanning them, they are heavily picked over. We find no interesting larger shells. Not to worry, however. The beach is well stocked with our lovely little coquinas. We have no trouble picking up another good bag full. We’ve brought our lunch along, and we pick out a pair of unused condo lounge chairs for our lunch break. Near our lunch spot we run across a remarkable shell mosaic. Someone, or ones, put a great amount of effort and artistic talent into creating a Santa, complete with sleight and reindeer, completely out of shells. It’s beautifully done.

DSCF9689We return to the boat after finishing lunch. Sandy wants to hang out there, while I’m interested in pedaling down toward the lighthouse at the south end of the island. Before getting all the way down I find another beach access. I park the bike there and walk across to the beach. Not so many people on this stretch of beach, and the cocquina hunting is once again very productive. I learn from a lady who has been coming here for over 20 years, that she’s never seen so many coquinas on the beach. I walk in the direction of the lighthouse, andDSCF9692 eventually get there. This lighthouse was commissioned in 1888 and has been in continual service ever since. The light is atop a simple steel scaffold, which looks a bit like an old oil drilling tower. And coincidentally, the light was designed to be fueled by oil. It’s now time to pedal back to the boat, rinse off and dry the newest batch of shells, and begin thinking about dinner. Since we have just a few short days before we pull the boat out of the water, we’ll again cook on board.

Fair weather run to Ft. Myers – 12/09/15

First of All -

  • First time snagging a crab trap line

Namely Speaking-

  • Shell Point
  • Cape Coral
  • Caloosahatchee River
  • Ft. Myers

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Power: 17; Sail: 4
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 2,299
  • Hours Underway: 4
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 12.4
  • Wind Speed: ; Wind Direction:
  • Daily High Temperature: 80
  • Water Temperature: 72

DSCF9695Air is cool, wind is calm, cockpit is dry when I rise. I walk up to the marina office and ask about the paper and blueberry muffins they are noted for here. The dockmaster apoligizes and says he’ll bake up some muffins and bring them, along with a paper, down to the boat. It’s a nice touch, and it starts our day off right. I fold up the bikes, zip them in their storage bags, and slide them into the kingberth stowage area. It doesn’t take long to get everything in its proper place, and we’re ready to depart. The calm air simplifies backing out of our tight slip. I find a light breeze out on San Carlos Bay and decide to sail across to the bridge. The wind angle isn’t ideal, and I have to tack a couple ofDSCF9696 times. We’re also fighting a modest current. While making a tack I see a crab trap foat ahead. The current drifts us onto it, and the line snags my port rudder. If I’d been motoring, this would have been at least a serious inconvenience. Since it just catches on the rudder, it es simple to just raise the rudder. The line slides off and we continue on our way. Unfortunately, the light only allows 2 mph and I deem that unacceptable, and so down goes the engine. We motor sail under the Sanibel bridge, but I drop the sail once we enter the Caloosahatchee River and head toward Ft. Myers. We encounter a steady parade of boats heading out, obviously intent on taking advantage of the beautiful weather. The slightest of breezes ruffles the water, the sun warms the air to 80 degrees, and there are just enough clouds overhead to make for pretty skies. I call the municipal marina and confirm that they have space for us. We pull in around 2pm and tie up along the long dock. It’s east getting in, although the large pilings outside the edge of the dock make for a long step from boat to dock. After getting squared away we walk up into DSCF9698 town. Ft. Myers has a lovely historic downtown, just a block away from the marina. We walk a few blocks, and then catch the free trolley. We ride the entire trolley route, which gives us a nice tour of the downtown area. Tomorrow we’ll take the trolley out to the Edison and Ford mansions, which are a major attraction here. We get off the trolley a couple blocks short of the marina, and admire the historic Burroughs mansion. We will eat dinner on the boat (grilled steak) and go out for dinner tomorrow. After dinner we’ll walk back into town to see it all lit up. Maybe we’ll find an inviting spot for dessert.

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