Saturday, December 27, 2008

Time to Move Again

I have been in Ft. Myers Florida for a week now and had a great time visiting my dad, step mom, uncle and some old friends but I am now itching to move on. Actually, I have been in a slip at Burnt Store Marina in Punta Gorda. Tomorrow (Sunday) I plan to head down the southwest coast of Florida to the Florida Keys. I will likely make stops in Estero Island, Naples and Marco Island. There is no more ICW "magenta line" to follow from here on out and I will be out on the ocean (actually Gulf of Mexico).

After the Keys, then I'll probably head up towards Miami before setting out across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. That's as far as my (even vague) plans go. I did buy a SPOT messenger which will allow me send to an email with my GPS location from anywhere. A few people will be receiving this periodic email but I don't know how often I will be able to update my blog. I'm not sure how much cell or WiFi service I will have in the islands.

Happy New Year to all!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Meeting The Boat Heeler

No, Starshine is not sick. In fact she has operated flawlessly on this trip (knock wood). But I did need to meet with the Boat Heeler, Billy Owens. I got the contact info on the Heeler in Indiantown. The problem was that there is a 49 foot bridge just before Lake Okeechobee and I have a 52 foot mast. Well, Billy and his pal, met me at the bridge and proceeded to load 7 barrels onto the port side deck. These were plastic 55-gallon drums which he then proceeded to pump full of water. By the time he was done, Starshine was heeled over about 15 to 20 degrees and ready for the bridge. I powered under slowly but didn't even touch the VHF antenna. After the bridge, the Heeler emptied all the barrels, loaded them back on his runabout and we parted ways.

After passing through the Port Mayaca lock (it was such a small change in water level they just opened both lock doors and we went straight through) we headed out onto Lake Okeechobee. We were able to sail a little bit before the wind died and then motored into Moore Haven (after one more "down" lock). Today we continued through two more locks to get back to sea level and I am now tied up at Jack's Marina, about 10 miles before Ft. Myers. Tomorrow it's on into Ft. Myers to get a slip for the week, see my dad for xmas and do some boat work before heading on to the Keys and the Bahamas.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

In the Heart of Florida

I finally left the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) today at mile marker 987 near St. Lucie Inlet. I decided to cross the state on the Okeechobee waterway cutting across the middle of Florida to Ft. Myers. I plan to stop there for a bit, visit my dad for xmas and do some work on the boat. Then it's on to the Florida Keys and Bahamas.

Lots of excitement today. First I had to pass through 3 bridges close together in a very strong current. As I started towards the first fixed bridge, the second, a railroad bascule bridge started closing. I had to turn around and wait about a half hour for a train to pass and then had a close call getting through the two bascule bridges with lots of traffic, several narrow passages and lots of current. We made it though. The next bridge, a high fixed bridge brought the next challenge. A large sportfishing boat came through going the other direction and the guy would not slow down or move over in the channel. I eased over to the very edge of the channel as he passed and slowly watched the depth decrease. As he went by, I bounced along the bottom before getting back into the channel. The next bridge had only a 54 foot clearance. All the bridges on the ICW are 65 foot clearance and I thought my mast height was 50 feet but I wasn't sure. Well, I squeaked under the bridge but couldn't tell how close I was. At the next bridge, with a 56 foot clearance, I asked a tug driver going the other direction how close I was to the bridge and he said I had about 4 feet of clearance. Another close call. I guess I need about 52 feet.

The next bit of excitement was going through the St. Lucie Lock. The book recommended against doing this solo but I didn't have much choice so I went ahead. It was a pretty good rise, I'd guess around 15 feet and it was a handful handling two lines as we went up. But we made it through that challenge as well.

I finally got a slip in Indiantown Marina just shortly before Lake Okeechobee (27 deg 00.53' N, 80 28.09 W). It was my first marina in 4 or 5 days but there is no anchorage available on this part of the waterway. I have now gone well over 1000 miles since leaving Maryland! My big challenge tomorrow is to get under a fixed, 49 foot bridge. I have a guy lined up to meet me at the bridge who will put several barrels on one side of the boat, fill them up and tip me over enough to clear the bridge - hopefully. I'll let you know how that adventure goes! Then it's across the lake, several more locks and on into Ft. Myers.

BTW - thanks to whoever added the comment on my last post. Oh, and I just had to include the picture of the dolphin swimming in my wake. It's kinda like sex, it doesn't matter how many times you experience it, it is always fun.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Rhythm of the Waterway

After weeks of being away from the rat race and living the ICW lifestyle, I have learned there is a rhythm to the waterway. Each night I review the charts and guidebooks to see what the next day has in store for me. Each morning I review the options and pick one or more to be the day's destination (it usually changes anyway). Then it's coffee, breakfast, engine maintenance and then shoving off the dock or raising anchor. After a long day of motoring it's time to drop the anchor, enjoy happy hour, make dinner and then start the process over by reviewing what is ahead.

During the day one simply enjoys the scenery, marvels at the wildlife and feels whatever the weather has to offer. It is great to feel the chill when the cold wind blows, to feel the warmth of the sun on your face, to get wet when it rains, to be part of the weather that Mother Earth throws at you. At night, if it is clear, the stars are amazing. The Milky Way and constellations provide the best light show imaginable. I even know the phase of the moon at all times! I watch every sunset and experience every sunrise. It is amazing what you miss when you spend your life in a human-friendly environment.

The other rythm you notice is the wildlife. I don't think I will ever get tired of seeing dolphins swimming under the bow wave and then turning sideways to look you in the eye. And the birds on the ICW come in countless varieties. There are cormorants, gulls, ducks, wading birds, diving birds, swimming birds and some that defy description. Some have long legs, long necks and long beaks while others have long legs, short necks and long beaks. Every other possible combination is also represented. It is eerie to be gliding along and then have a cormorant just pop up out of the water next to you. Then, as quickly as he appears, he dives again and you can watch for minutes and never see him resurface.

Sometimes, there are rythm changes, such as when you run aground and need to wait for the tide to lift you off or when you get a stretch of open water and can put up the sails. Other times, there is a traffic jam on the waterway waiting for a bridge to open (see picture). Even the dolphins seemed to be playing around waiting for the bridge. I also posted several new pictures in the pics section of the website.
For those following along, I am at 29 deg 55.07 N and 81 deg 18.45 W (St. Augustine). Making great progress and finally in warmer weather in Florida! Anchored 6 out of the last 8 nights, getting good at setting and retrieving the anchor by myself! May see about cutting across Florida on Okechobee waterway once I reach Stuart.