……after an easy (enough) trip South from Brunswick. We pulled away from the dock on Oct. 30th and made our way down the Coast to the northern tip of Amelia Island. There, at Tiger Point boatyard, we got the Slappey hauled out and replaced our ancient propeller (that is always the ‘Royal We.’) I contributed by agreeing to stay aboard while we were on the hard, after threatening to get an expensive hotel room. Instead, I opted for an expensive rental car, as the Tiger Point boatyard is next to absolutely nothing. I attempted to walk back from the town of Fernandina once, and a lady with a minivan full of kids was so taken aback by seeing me walking on the busy road to nowhere, that she stopped and insisted that I let her drive me to the marina. I agreed to do her that favor.
After only two days propped up on jackstands, we were back in the water, and given dock space at Tiger Point while we waited for the winds to calm. We were hoping to go on the outside all the way to Ft. Pierce, but gave up and started down the Intracoastal once again. After a couple of really blustery days of travel, the weather cleared and we had a fine time heading down to some familiar places, and some new places. For example, on the way North in the Summer, I had wanted to stop in New Smyrna Beach, but couldn’t fit it into the schedule; this time we did. New Smyrna was one of the stops on the famous Clem family vacation of 1968 (the ONLY Clem family vacation, as I never tired of reminding my parents,) and all I could remember of it was that there were cars parked right on the beach. Today, in 2016, there are STILL cars parked right on the beach. I thought it was neat when I was 8. At present, I am not impressed. But the town of little New Smyrna is cute enough. It also has a surprising amount of current running through the marina, which we were slow to acknowledge on the day we left. Somewhat improbably, we hit no one on the way out.
We made it to Ft. Pierce by mid-November, hoping to stay for awhile, but there was no room at the inn, so we left after a week– and a nice Thanksgiving in their new cruiser’s lounge. Ft. Piece City marina has great new docks, a very persnickety electrical supply, and more marine life around the docks than I have ever seen. Many birds, dolphins and manatees (yes, manatees) around the boat, and so many fish one might have been able to walk across the water on the backs of them. I suppose it helped that the marina store sold fish food to all the tourists. We particularly like the A.E. Backus art museum next door. He was a Ft. Pierce native who did gorgeous Florida landscapes, and served as a mentor to the Highwaymen, a group of Florida landscape painters who sold their art from the trunks of their cars, having been frozen out of the usual galleries for painting while Black. There is a great number of their paintings at his museum as well. Should anyone wish to purchase expensive original paintings for me, they could do much worse than anything by A.E.Backus or any one of the Highwaymen.
The day after Thanksgiving, we decided to head West, through the middle of Florida, via the Okeechobee Waterway. There are three things to be mindful of when planning a trek across Lake Okeechobee–weather (it’s a very large, very shallow body of water,) water datum of the lake (constantly changing,) and your boat’s mast height from the waterline. This is because there is a very limiting 49 foot railway lift bridge. Therefore, only smallish boats like the Slappey can make it through. It so happened we had fair weather, a lake datum of nearly 15 feet (making the depths doable for our draft of 5 feet,) and a mast height of only 44 feet. So, we went for it. One week and five locks later, we ended up in Ft. Myers.
The locks were much smaller than the grand Hiram Chittenden locks in Seattle, which we had traversed a few times, so we weren’t terribly worried, but there is always drama involved. We had to devise a system of guarding our solar panels which might be smushed up against the concrete lock wall if left unattended to. Once or twice, there was frantic shoving and boat hook activity, but no harm was done to the solar panels in the end. There was also yelling, plus my right arm still aches from holding the bow in tight to the wall. Otherwise, there was nice scenery in the canals leading to and from the lake, including a few gators, but not so much near the lake itself. The canal around the bottom is ringed by a high, bare levee. Every few miles there is another gravel pit, and some hurricane gates…all in all, pretty industrial looking. Our anchorage at the very bottom of the lake was notable for hundreds of birds, and about a goober-gabillion bugs. They didn’t bite us, they only swarmed us and got stuck in the buckets of dew that sloshed on deck every morning. The area is also known for sugar cane, which was being burned at the time, raining ash down on the Slappey.
So now we are in Ft. Myers, on the west coast of Florida. There is a nice revitalized and historical downtown, free trolleys, a big new library about 2 blocks away, and the Edison and Ford winter estates to tour. We plan to spend some time here before a lazy gunkhole north toward St. Petersburg.
That brings us to Ft.Myers, and a post for another day.