Saturday, January 31, 2009

January 31, 2009 – Marathon, Florida Keys

Wow - it's taken a long time to get this post done! For the longest time there wasn't anything to write about, and then we seemed to get busy and didn't have time! Anyway, here goes....

We had to wait until Thursday Jan 22 for the weather to improve enough that we could leave Cape Coral. In the meantime we continued on with school and regular daily life. On Sunday Jan 18, some new friends, Paul and Roseanne, that have a boat in the marina and a condo in Cape Coral took us to Sanibel Island to explore the Ding Darling Wildlife sanctuary. It was a great place with lots of birds and beautiful mangroves. There is a guided drive through the park and we spent 2 or 3 hours looking at the birds and walking around. We saw Roseated Spoonbills for the first time – like flamingos they turn pink because of the food they eat. After we finished at the park we drove to the north end of Sanibel and watched a spectacular sunset. We finished the day with supper at Doc Ford’s restaurant.
On Thursday Jan 22 we finally said Goodbye to Cape Coral. We left around 10:00 so that the tide had a chance to come up a bit. It was still really shallow going out the channel and we touched bottom, but we didn’t get stuck. We pulled into Glover Bight and Tarpon Springs marina to get some fuel and were on our way again by about 11:00. There was a light wind and it was a lovely day although the wind was chilly. We headed north up Pine Island Sound and were accompanied by lots of dolphins swimming alongside of us and in out bow wave. It was an uneventful trip and we arrived were anchored off Cabbage Key, near Cayo Costa around 4:00. We set off to explore in the dinghy – we’d heard about a neat canal and lagoon on Cayo Costa and we thought we’d see if we could find it. We think we found where it was, but the water was really shallow. There wasn’t even enough water to row the dinghy, let alone use the motor, and around 5:00 we decided to give up and head back to the boat. It was really pretty cold going back in the dinghy. On Friday we headed back to Cayo Costa, but this time we decided to go to the dock. Cayo Costa is a state park and the only way to get there is by boat. There are campsites and cabins on the island, but no power. There is a trolley that takes you about a mile across the island to the beach on a sandy trail. We had a great walk on the beach and found lots and lots of shells and sand dollars. We caught the 12:00 trolley back to the dock and then dinghied back to the boat. The kids had a quick swim while Dave did a couple of things to the engine. The water was really cold! We weighed anchor around 1:30 and headed south again down to Fort Myers Beach. We picked up a mooring in Fort Myers Beach and dinghied to shore with Rudder to watch the sunset. We walked around town a bit and looked for a place to go for supper but in the end we went back to boat instead of eating out. On Saturday we left Fort Myers Beach and went to Naples. It was our first time off shore in months! Fortunately it was a beautiful calm day. The Gulf of Mexico was beautifully smooth. We got to Naples early in the afternoon. The waterway around Naples was really busy with lots of people enjoying a sunny weekend. One boat passed us going way too fast and sent us really rocking. We went to the City Dock in Naples and got tied up. Kristen and I took Rudder for a walk and watched the fishing guides filleting the fish they had caught in the morning charters. They are amazingly quick! The pelicans have a great time catching the scraps the fishermen through away. We had a great walk in Naples and then went for supper at the Dock restaurant right by the marina. On Sunday, Annie and I went for a long walk to the grocery store to get some snacks and something for supper. We had decided that the best way to get to the Florida Key from Naples was to go overnight and arrive in the morning. This whole coast is very shallow and there are very limited placed to anchor. We had a quiet day and pulled away from the dock around 3:00. Once again it was a beautiful day with light winds and calm seas. We had supper as the sun went down and the girls and Dave saw some dolphins jumping in the distance. The overnight went really well. Biggest problem was when we did a shift change at 3:00am I could see all kinds of red lights flashing in the distance. This would have been fine if we had seen red flashing buoys on the chart, but we couldn’t find anything anywhere to indicate what they were. We were still 20 miles or more to shore. It was really strange and very disconcerting Florida Bay is very shallow and subject to shoaling. After watching the lights together for half an hour or so, we decided they weren’t getting any closer and Dave went down for a rest. Eventually we figured out that the lights are towers on the Keys and we were seeing them from over 20 miles away. We arrived at the shallow channel that leads to the high point under the bridge around 6:00am as planned. It was still pretty dark but we were able to find all the channel markers. Good thing too as we were seeing as little as 6’ on the depth sounder. We went under the bridge that put us on the South side of the Florida Keys and then headed a little East to get to Boot Key harbour and the town of Marathon. Marathon is about 50 miles from Key West.
We had to pass under an opening bridge, and the bridge tender was really nice. He wasn’t sure if there would be any moorings available – this was a real surprise to us as we knew there were over 200 moorings in Marathon. We called the marina, and after they checked, they were able to find one for us. We had planned to meet Chris and Penny from Carpe Diem (the folks we crossed from NS to Maine with) in Marathon, and the funny thing was that the mooring they assigned us was right in front of Carpe Diem!
We had a quiet day after a long night. Dave and I walked through Marathon to the grocery store but it was a pretty uneventful day. We had a quick visit from Joe and Mary Beth on Pot of Gold that are from PEI. Hopefully we’ll be able to get together with them again. We took some pictures of Chris and Penny to accompany the article that Chris is having published in Cruising World in May!
On Tuesday it was back to school. Chris and Penny had to take Carpe Diem down to the marina to be taken out of the water as they had hit a rock (quite hard). After school the girls and I dinghied down to the marina to see Chris and Penny and to go to West Marina to exchange the light for the dinghy that wasn’t working. They found a great motel with an efficiency unit and invited us to come down for a swim in the pool.
On Wednesday we spent the morning on school, and in the afternoon we took the dinghy to the beach. It is a great beach and the water was warm enough for swimming. Finally we found a beach where Rudder was welcome and that was great too! The kids found pieces of coral on the beach. Unfortunately the water wasn’t all that clear as it has been quite windy and stirred up a lot of sand. We ran out of time and didn’t make it down to Chris and Penny’ for a swim. There was a potluck at the marina so we went down there for supper and met some more travelers. This is a very busy place!
On Thursday we did school again. Dave finally adjusted the motor mount that has been worrying him since November (some things he did in Cape Coral helped him to figure out how to do it…) In the afternoon we went down to the motel and had a swim.
On Friday it was school again. Dave went snorkeling off the boat to see if there was any damage from the few times we dragged through the mud. Everything is fine including the anodes that protect the boat from electrolysis. Things seem to be a getting a little boring! The weather is always nice, there’s school in the morning and adventure in the afternoon. Today I loaded one of the bikes into the dinghy and took it to shore so I could ride the mile to the grocery store. I bought quite a few groceries, planning to leave some at the store and make two trips back to the dinghy, but when I finished shopping it was pouring out!! Oh my – but "when it rains it pours" must have been written about the rain in Florida. I ended up loading up the bike and making one trip back. I got soaked!
While I was gone, and before the rain started the girls had a great time swimming off the boat. The water was really warm. Now we have to wait for a series of cold fronts to pass through before we can head to the Bahamas.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Christmas in Cape Coral

We had a lovely time staying in the house in Cape Coral. We were able to swim every day, and there was only half a day of rain the entire time we were there (there was some rain over night a couple of times, but that didn’t bother us any). The kids got a big surprise on Sunday night when I left around suppertime and came back with Doreen (their babysitter for the past 10 years!). Doreen stayed with us for a week and we had a busy time with a trip to Busch Gardens in Tampa, lots of shopping, and a trip to Sanibel Island Beach for some sun and sea shells. The second week in the house we decorated for Christmas (we found a 4’ tall live “table top” Christmas tree which was just a great size for decorating!), and did some Christmas shopping. We also had two long “park” days – the first was a trip to Sea World in Orlando. The highlights for me were an interactive ride on the “Polar Express” – We were buckled into our seats and sat in front of a movie screen. When we took off, the seats moved in concert with what we were watching on the screen! It was amazing. When we arrived at the North Pole, Santa was there, as were the Beluga Whales, Penguins and the Polar Bears (no kidding). I also really enjoyed the night time Christmas Shamu whale show with great lighting and sound and Kristen and I fed the Dolphins. Annie and Dave went on Kracken one of the top 10 rated roller coaster in the world (twice). Kristen found a roller coaster that was just right for her in the Shamu fun park (and I had to agree that it was pretty fun too.) Later in the week we went back to Busch Gardens and had a great time on all the water rides (even Kristen!) and re-doing some of the fun things we had done with Doreen. On Friday, Dave and the girls drove back to Tampa to pick up Dave’s parents. It was so great to have them with us for Christmas. Christmas week was a busy blur of last minute shopping combined with lots of time around the pool and a visit to the Ford/Edison Winter Estate. It was especially nice as it was all decorated up for Christmas. After our first tour through in the late afternoon we went for supper, with a plan to return to look at the Christmas lights but it was a really cold evening and we rushed through the second time. Santa was able to find us in Cape Coral which was a relief. I think it was the eggnog and cookies that Kristen and Annie left for him… On Boxing Day (the day after Christmas for all you Americans) we had to take Dave’s parents back to the airport and we were alone once again. One day we went on an exciting kayak adventure. At the place where we rented the kayaks they warned us that it was really shallow at low tide, but I had looked at the tides and felt we would be through the shallow place an hour before low and I figured we’d be okay. They also said it was really narrow in the canals and that made it challenging to steer the boats – I’d seen the canals in Cape Coral, they were really wide – what did they mean?? They said it wasn’t for beginners… But we aren’t beginners – we’d had that extensive training back at the zoo in Melbourne! Anyway, off we went. Narrow! Oh my gosh we were going through this little tunnel in the trees that wasn’t three feet wide. The paddles are about 6 feet long. We had to keep ducking not to hit our head on the overhanging branches. We had to keep backing up the kayaks when they got caught up on the wrong side of little sticks poking out of the water. It took us about 40 minutes through this narrow canal to get to the portage. There you had to pull the kayaks out of the water and drag them over a long twisting boardwalk and then relaunch them on the other side. When we got to the other side we saw there was only about 3 inches of water – oh and the map had gone missing-- and the double kayaks were so long they didn’t fit around the corner in the canal… But we persevered… we found a old tattered map on the portage and then we dragged the kayaks through the mud when they wouldn’t float – it really wasn’t that far – I’m sure was glad that there weren’t any mosquitoes though – that would have been the end of me! I knew that by the time we got back we would be well past low tide and there would be more water and we wouldn’t have to do it again. Shortly after all this the canal got deeper and wider. Then it opened out in to the most wonderful wilderness, full of birds. At one point there were 7 egrets fishing in the canal right in front of us. At every turn in the canal we would see more birds. It was beautiful. We got to the end of the canal and decided it was too windy to go out into the river so we pulled the kayaks up on a little beach to have a snack. Just as we were thinking about leaving we saw this reptile swimming down the other side of the canal (probably about 35 or 40’ away). First we saw it’s head and figured it was a small alligator. They Annie turned away and Dave and I saw the distinctive slithery kink of movement you only see with… snakes…. And this was not a small snake – probably about a 6-8’ boa constrictor that someone could no longer deal with as a pet. Anyway, Dave and I decided it was probably about time to leave… so we kayaked back up the wonderful winding canals towards the portage. Unfortunately, the tide was still going out, so there was actually less water than when we came through the first time. We got covered in mud. The kayaks got covered in mud. Surprisingly our spirits remained intact and we stayed pretty cheery about it all. We pulled the kayaks out at the portage and pulled them back to the other side and relauched into inches of water. It was so nice to float again! We made it back safely to the rental shack and hosed off all the mud. We asked what happened to the father and son (probably around 12-13) that left right after us… “Oh – didn’t you hear him screaming?? They didn’t make it 10 minutes before they were back here”. Funny thing is that was one of the most fun days I had on the whole trip!! Guess I must be a little bit crazy!
Our last week in the house was pretty quite. I bought lots and lots of dry groceries (enough for 8 weeks in the Bahamas) and stored them away in the boat. The kids went to a day camp for two days put on by the City of Cape Coral at the Yacht Club. They had a busy time with fishing, bowling, swimming, tennis, kayaking (yes they did try kayaking again J), and a trip to Mike Greenwell’s where they have games, paint ball, go-carts etc. They were so tired they didn’t even want to do anything for New Years Eve so we stayed home. There were lots of fireworks and firecrackers set off all around us at midnight so we didn’t miss much that way.
We got safely moved back on the boat and spent the next week getting back into the routine of school. The marina is great with the pool on one side and the tennis courts on the other. We’ve been making use of both each day – the girls even bought tennis racquets and have had a couple of tennis lessons. We returned the rental car and are using the bikes to get back and forth to the grocery store. We are busy planning the next leg of our adventure to the Florida Keys and beyond.

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