Destination, Clearwater Florida. Our goal is to make it up the west coast of Florida and visit friends in the Tampa area. There are three routes. Down through Key West and up across the Gulf of Mexico, coming in near Naples. Or, with a bit of luck, one can sneak through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and hug the Everglades around the bottom of the mainland. The third option is the Okeechobee Waterway.
At over 150 miles long, with 5 locks and a massive lake in the middle, it’s unlike anywhere we’ve been so far. We’ve driven down by car to the St. Lucie Lock to see how it works and talk about how we would enter, maintain control and exit the lock. We got to see a few boats go through and this helped alleviate some of the mystery. With this excursion under our belt we begin the trip. South from Vero Beach to Stuart FL, where we take a hard right off the ICW and head up the St. Lucie River. Away from the ‘big water’ boats on the ICW. We’re feeling rather out-of-place at first. Lots of runabouts, water skiers and small fishing boats zipping about in all directions.
The channel through this area isn’t all that wide and we have to concentrate a bit harder to be sure we don’t get distracted. After several hours, the river narrows and we begin the actual trip across. Our goal is to make it to that first lock before they close at 4:30 PM. If we don’t, we’ll spend the night anchored out below the lock and dam. Jan nails the schedule and before 4 PM we are nudging our way into a cavernous box. It is a bit intimidating. Shangri-La has a lot of momentum and my worry is keeping her ‘quiet’ while getting close enough to the lock wall where we will grab the lines hanging down over the side. I leave the girls (Pam and Sarah, our pet names for the Port and Starboard engines) idling, in case we lose control.Continue reading “Okeechobee Gone”
When we started this adventure, the biggest argument against it from our families was – what if you get hurt?? How will you get help? Legit points for sure. Lots of things can happen. A slip, a fall, machinery, ropes, motors and more. But we are careful. We think things through and we stay safe. . .
Until now. Anchored out for a few days in Roosevelt Channel alongside Captiva Island we’d been buffeted the entire time by high winds. One day we decide we will move to the coast, up near Venice, FL, and continue on our way to Clearwater. We’ve already made the 3 day trip across the state, through the 5 locks of the Okeechobee Waterway to Captiva. We’re pros. We got this.
Early on the morning of Sunday, February 26 we were going to make our way out of the channel and head north. The wind is over 30 knots and the water in the channel has blown out, leaving a lower than low tide. We call a tow service to confirm we can safely exit the channel and head out into the waterway separating Captiva from the mainland. “No problem, they keep that channel dredged.” 30 minutes later we are at the final marker indicating the entrance / exit of the channel. And we’re stuck. Back away, try another path. Nothing. We keep stubbing our toe trying to get over the sand bar. We have no choice. We fall back into the bay alongside another trawler, also waiting to get out.Continue reading “Uh Oh!!”
Living in the ‘dirt house’ as long-term boaters refer to conventional homes, we get used to the noises. That creak in the hallway floor. The whine of the air conditioner. That vinyl siding creeping on nail heads as it warms in the spring sun after a cold night. Dozens of sounds. The way the wind rattles the porch light and makes the cover on the grill flap against the metal lid. We get used to them. We know them by heart.
And now – new noises. I’ve slept in my runabout before. Heard the creaking of the dock lines. Barely, but it sounded ‘shippy’ to me so it was pretty cool. Our first night in Coinjock I heard a different sound coming from the dock lines. That noise they use in movies featuring old wooden ships. A base level creaking, not some wimpy screech but rather a creak with smoker’s cough. Low, slow, more like a growl. The movies do a good job on it – or else they recorded real ships pulling against the dock piling and cleats. Continue reading “The Sounds – Noises”
Be not afraid. Easier said than done. After a lifetime of being on the water in small boats things were about to change – big time. My runabouts, 14 and 18 footers got me through a lot of tough spots. Spots I probably should never have gotten myself into. Storms I could not even believe, including one wicked thunderstorm coming back from Charity Islands with my young son in the middle of the night. “9 foot seas” the Coast Guard told me when I called them at midnight to report we’d made it back to the dock. Wicked. I thought I knew fear.
Now here we were, taking possession of a 34 thousand pound twin-engine 42′ long boat. Home. It was now our home. Having sold everything we’re moving aboard and this is it. All we have. I pull up the hatch to the engine room and crawl down to survey the space. It’s a factory down here. Continue reading “Fear”
On the what? First time we heard this term we were indeed confused. After all, if something is ‘off the hook’ it’s a good thing, right? So what on earth is ‘on the hook?’ Duh. That means your swingin on your anchor rode (it’s not a rope if there’s a hook on the other end.) And swinging it is. Riding the hook is simply ‘at anchor.’ Well heck, I’ve been hookin it for 50 years on lakes all over Michigan. Been hookin in Higgins Lake, Burt Lake, a hundred other smaller lakes and rivers as well as Lake Huron.
No big deal. Drop the hook and sit back and relax. On a lake. With no current. Without a fetch of 8 miles across the sound. With no tide. It is indeed a piece of cake. I could anchor the Nightcrawler, our 18′ open bow runabout directly over the fish. Every time. Read the breeze, let out some rode. Good to go. A couple of things make it much more exciting now. First, we’re 17′ out of the water to the bimini top. With the eisenglass zipped in, we make a dandy sail. Then there’s the bow. On this particular vessel, our bow is an old school, a nearly vertical knife falling 4 and a half feet below the surface. Like a giant rudder, only on the front.Continue reading “On The Hook”
Actually, we have two boats. One, our home on the water, the second is our dingy. Affectionately call a ‘dink’ in boating circles. Ten feet long it is known as a RIB – Rigid Hulled Inflatable boat. Sounds pretty cool, ‘eh? How could one go wrong leaving the dock in a boat that’s both solid fiberglass hull and inflatable? But then again. .
Our dink sits atop the roof of the stateroom in a solid wooden cradle. Part of the charm of our old trawler is the mast and boom which work in tandem to manage the launching and retrieving of the dingy. It’s far too heavy to manhandle over the side considering it has a fiberglass hull and 15 hp outboard. Launching the dink is easy. Continue reading “The Dink”
“When you leave Coinjock you can head out into the sound, set the autopilot and relax.” That’s a lie. We cleared the entrance to Albemarle Sound and set course for Roanoke Island. 200 yards later Jan says, “so what are those white things??” Crab pots. Hundreds of millions of crab pots. Autopilot adios.
We started weaving between them for a bit then figured out, they are in a string – just like on Deadliest Catch. The buoys, no bigger than a soda bottle, were laid in straight lines, cris crossing this vast stretch of open water. From the air it has to look like artwork drawn by a 3 year old. There was no going straight for long. All we could do was follow a string in the general direction of south, then jump across and pick up the next one. I felt like we were tacking in a sailboat. Maddening. No, it was worse. We wanted to relax, enjoy this fine day and let the Cummins diesels hum us to our next stop. Continue reading “Crab Pots??”
And away we go! Our maiden voyage. Mile marker 7 on the ICW. Leaving Chesapeake, VA took us down the Virginia Cut towards Currituck sound. Our first big water. Having grown up on the Great Lakes I was thrilled! Finally our blue water boat would get to stretch her legs and we’d see how she handled. As it turned out the trip was very – nice. Calm seas and beautiful weather gave us time to enjoy the thrum of the diesels and take in the scenery. At 7-8 knots, we had time to truly savor the ride.
Along the way we passed huge marshes alive with waterfowl. Nestled into the back of some sloughs were half sunken abandoned boats of all types. What on earth? Why would someone try to navigate into such an obvious dead end? Later we learned this is the wet version of that long gone farmer’s field. Littered with old cars, rusty plows and refrigerators. Boats, on their last prop taken to that eternal rest nestled in the marsh grass.
Our first stop on this maiden voyage was Coinjock, NC. Coinjock, really there’s a town by that name? Indeed. Coinjock with a face dock, whew! Face docks are just that, long stretches of tired timbers lined against the shore. Face docks are easy. Nestle up alongside, toss the lines and snug her up. Nothing to it. Face docks in calm water with no current and no wind – nothing to it. Thankfully this afternoon we’re at slack tide and light winds as we ease up to the dock. Jan has the fenders out, ready with the lines. She is anxious to give instructions to the dock master. “Throw me a bow line.” he says. And it begins. Continue reading “Coinjock –”
After 6 months aboard our new home, we have a lot to catch up. Two tropical storms, one hurricane, two groundings and a dozen upgrades. We have a lot of writing to get done. Bottom line, we’re now half a year into our adventure. And we’ve been blessed throughout with the friendship of so many wonderful people.Continue reading “Surprise – It’s the People”