We left Gotta Life and Sandpiper in Banana River and headed out on our own for Vero Beach around 10:00. It was an uneventful day on the waterway, although you can certainly tell the difference between traveling the waterway on the weekend and traveling during the week. There is so much more boat traffic on the weekend, and the boaters are far less polite and going blowing past without slowing down, so you end up rocking and rolling in their wake. We arrived in Vero around 3:30 and picked up a mooring. We were lucky to get one on our own as most have two or three boats rafted together. Gotta Life left Banana River too late to get here today so we are on our own. We went to shore and found out that the bus service doesn’t run on Sunday, so we couldn’t get Annie to the mall today. Instead we walked about a mile East to the beach. There are some shops here, but they were all closed because it is Sunday. We were able to find an Ice Cream shop that was open though! It finally feels like Florida with lots of sun and warm weather. There were pineapples growing in the garden by the beach and there are coconuts growing in the palm trees!
Nov 24 – Nov 27 - Vero
It was nice to have some time off from travelling everyday! We stayed 4 full days in Vero. Gotta Life arrived around lunch time on Monday. Sandpiper decided to keep going on to Fort Pierce where Bob and Ilene have some friends. Gotta Life rafted up with us so we were tied together which was great for the girls. There was school every morning. On Monday Annie Kristen and I caught the bus with Sheryl, Geneva and Erin and went to the mall. Annie was anxious to get a birthday present and she had her heart set on a cell phone. Surprisingly this actually made sense as we could get a pay as you go phone that is a lot less expensive to use in the US than the Blackberry we brought from home. So Annie got a cell phone for her birthday. It took a while to get to the mall and back, so we didn’t get back to the boat until around 6:00. We BBQ’d steak, hamburgers and chickenburgers for everyone for supper and ate on Gotta Life with the folks from Blue Heaven who was also rafted with us. On Tuesday afternoon we went back to the beach and the kids got bathing suits. They went swimming off the arch on the back of Gotta Life when we got back.
Nov 28 – Vero Beach to St. Lucie Lock
There were some long faces today as we pulled out of Vero and left Gotta Life. They are heading to Miami and then the Bahamas, and we are turning west today to go through the Okeechobee Waterway and across Florida to the West Coast. The day was saved when we had to wait for a bridge and we had two dolphins come right up to the boat. The water was clear enough that we could see them swimming under the water all around the boat. It was great! We traveled about 35 miles further down the ICW to Stuart and then left the main ICW and turned into the OCW (okeechobee waterway). We went another 15 miles west to the St. Lucie Lock. We locked through and were raised about 14 feet. There is a campground on the other side of the lock and we had a reservation there for the night. After we got tied up we went across the lock to the other side and had a walk on the nature trail. Didn’t see any animals, but we saw three badger tortoise dens. These tortoises burrow under the ground that is kind of different. We saw lots of animal tracks too. We were just as glad not to run into any alligators! It was getting dark so it was kind of spooky walking through the woods.
Nov 29 – St. Lucie Lock to Clewiston
It was another beautiful morning when we got up. I took Kristen down to the lock so she could read the display on manatees and make some notes for a project she would like to do. The lock master came over to talk to us – he was really friendly. He talked to us about manatees and then he took us out on the lock and showed us where one was. We also found a beautiful moth. We left St. Lucie Lock around 8:30, ready for the challenges that lay ahead. We have to go under a 49" bridge, and while we measured and re-measured our mast and we’re sure it’s about 47’ it will be nice to clear through that and know we fit. We also have to go across Lake Okeechobee today. This whole waterway was closed for two years because of a lack of water. Apparently now there is a minimum of 8’. It is also supposed to be windy today and it can get pretty nasty when it is windy on such a large, shallow body of water. In the end we had a great day. We made it under the bridge, we went through the Port Mayaca lock and out into the lake. The lake had only a light chop, and the wind never really materialized. We were across the lake to Clewiston by about 4:00. It took us about half an hour to get Bird tied up to the pylons (aka dophins – don’t know why…) beside the waterway. It was a challenging experience and there was lots of creosote but while we offered lots of entertainment value to the folks in the picnic park across the way, all was fine in the end. We all went to shore for a walk around Clewiston. Clewiston is the "sweetest town in America" because of all the sugar produced and refined here. It also has a huge bass fishing reputation. The Christmas lights on the light posts are of a large mouth Bass catching a dragonfly. There is an entirely different feel to Florida here than on the East Coast. It is a rural, agricultural community. Homes are small and there are numerous trailer parks. Entertainment includes shooting the drag through the picnic park on Saturday evening. We found a grocery store, but all the labeling was in Spanish and we didn’t recognize any of the things we needed. We did recognize the Pizza shop and we ordered a pizza for supper. We were a little concerned walking back to the boat at dusk that we wouldn’t have enough light to see the combination to unlock the dinghy. We really hadn’t planned to be out after sunset. We got back to the dinghy and got it unlocked. The kids got in and put on their lifejackets, and then the Florida Fish and Wildlife Patrol boat came by. He was really glad we all had lifejackets, but was concerned that we didn’t have any navigation lights on the dinghy. He escorted us back to Bird and asked for our boat registration papers. He called them into the office, but apparently Canada isn’t on the same computer system, so they weren’t getting a response back on our boat registration. He was a really great guy, but it was kink of nerve racking wondering what was going to happen. In the end, he gave us a written warning on the navigation lights for the dinghy (rather than the $90 fine) and said he would follow up with us tomorrow if there was a problem with the registration. We felt really fortunate. When we went below on Bird she was full (I mean hundreds) of bugs. We don’t think they were of a biting variety, but we sure wanted to get them cleaned up. We had to keep the pizza box closed so they wouldn’t fall into the pizza!!