Day 67. Knowing that we had to get about 140 miles up the coast and into a marina in Miami today before they closed, Phil Berg, Dave Hewes and I got an early start from the Key West City Marina (Phil's the one kneeling).
After refueling at Captain Pip's Marina, we headed north up the Intracoastal along the remaining keys. As we neared the mainland we encountered steadily more islands, and from time to time the channel ran through them.
Day 68. Back at the marina, a local yachtsman confirmed our fear that if we went north through the protected Intracoastal Waterway (IWW) we would have trouble making the ninety-odd miles up the coast to Stuart today, because of all the No Wake zones/Manatee zones. The weather report indicated moderate winds, but from the east-southeast, so the seas would be from the side and behind.
We ran out into the ocean through the Government Cut, the main Miami ship channel. As we reached open water, we were suddenly bucking serious 4-5 ft. waves and I thought we would have to turn back into the IWW. But, as we pushed a little further and turned north, the seas moderated to the level we were expecting. I later learned that there is a lot of current and turbulence as water funnels into that narrow channel.
Day 69. This morning Dave ran up to nearby Ft. Pierce to visit the factory of Maverick Boat Company, who make the renowned Hewes light-tackle boats, used for fishing in shallow-water flats. Amazingly, that Hewes is no relation to Dave's family who have made aluminum boats in Washington state for over a half-century. Upon his return, we left hurriedly to get to the first of several locks on the IWW going across the state -- because this one only opens on the odd hour. We did get there in time, and went through with two other waiting pleasure craft. I was pleased that I now had two crew members to man the bow and stern lines in the locks, so I could just drive and take pictures. Here are busy Phil and multi-tasking Dave.
We had a 30-mile transit through the St. Lucie Canal to Lake Okeechobee, and were watching storm clouds building ahead.
Day 70. We were halfway across Florida, so had to go some 70 miles today to Ft. Myers, and another 25 miles north on the GIWW to Cabbage Key, our island destination. And, on the way we had to negotiate three locks on the Caloosahatchee River, the drainage from Lake Okeechobee west to the Gulf. The third of these locks was another one that opened only on the odd hour. To make the 1:00 opening, Dave and I were pushing all morning, running along the river at 30-32 mph. Again, Phil elected to not do the driving chore, which was fine because Dave and I enjoyed it. As luck would have it, we arrived at the lock about ten minutes early, which couldn't have worked out better.
I was happy to get a room in the inn here, because my relatives Ray and Cathy had described it as a unique and delightful place to stay. It is great. Originally the 100-acre island was owned by a wealthy couple who built their home here. Then in 1944 new owners turned the home into an inn and built several cottages on the island as well. It is touted as a slice of "old Florida", and it is a very charming, rustic, laid-back place to stay.
Dave and I walked a lengthy nature trail, exploring the jungle flora, and climbed a watch tower to survey the scenery from the center of the island.
Day 71. After breakfast we recognized that a huge storm system was coming toward us from the south. We hurried and got underway, and once back on a northerly course in the GIWW, set about outrunning the storm. By the time we crossed Charlotte Harbor we had pretty much done that.
We ran up the coast, following the underwater topography lines on the GPS to stay far enough out, and bounced along in moderate seas. When we reached New Pass we turned to go into Sarasota Bay. I saw a light-colored strip (deeper water) heading in there on the GPS, and without seeing buoys marking a channel in real life, started to follow that strip in. About the time we saw a boat speeding along off to our right, following small buoys, I realized I was in two feet of water and running aground. I had not seen the small print identifying my "deep-water strip" as Abandoned Spoil Area, which is the place they dump the stuff they dredge up out of the channel. We were out on a broad shallow flat.
I hurriedly raised the motor almost out of the water and raced it as we labored, painfully slowly, toward the channel across some twenty yards of frightfully shallow water. Montana deja vu all over again. We slowed almost to a stop, pushing along on the sand, and I had Dave run up front with Phil and me. That seemed to raise the stern just enough to let us break free and slide out into deeper water. The GPS chart had served me exceedingly well over these many weeks, but obviously I was still hanging precariously on its learning curve.
After a most enjoyable lunch with Phil's long-time friends Kristey and Tom Richardson, we headed north up Sarasota Bay. We soon passed Bradenton and Anna Maria Key and by mid-afternoon were out into open water where the Intracoastal crosses the ship channel under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge into Tampa Bay. A storm was developing to our west, and the water was getting rougher, but not too rough for a portrait with the Skyway in the background.
After two more days, I returned home to the foothills outside Denver and backed Little Sadie down the driveway to her spot next to my '49 Ford pickup.
My Hewescraft boat had served me well. The size and shape of the 200 Pro-V was optimal for the range of conditions I would encounter. The design worked well for a ten-week camper "living space". And I was MOST grateful for Little Sadie's reliability and durability.
Like Odysseus, I enjoyed the fact that my old pup Riley immediately recognized me. And Delly and I were glad to have me home.
Acknowledgments: This extensive bucket-list voyage would have been more difficult or impossible without the help of the following, in no particular order: All my shipmates (George, Larry, Randy, David, Rachel, Adam, Bryan, Cathy, Delly, Ray, Dave & Phil), Nan & George Ingersoll, John Zeck, Phil Berg, Ray Gadd & Cathy Peckett, Dr. Jim Allbright, David Miller (The Complete Paddler), Ted Meeker, John Salter, Larry & Elizabeth McPhail (DuroBoat), Sam Evans (Captain's Choice), Capt. Bruce Peterson (Yacht-Pro), John Stamas (Stamas Yachts), Laura Cannell (Marine Navigation), Austen & Dave (Valentine's Marine), Michele & Paul (Paul's Custom Canvas), John Gunter & the folks at Northwest Marine & Sport, Dave, Clint, Brian & the folks at HewesCraft, Lowrance, Navionics, and Honda Marine, all our gracious marina hosts, my wife Delly . . . and everyone who gave us a good word or a helping hand that I've failed to mention here.