December 6 – December 11.
After three winters in the Bahamas, a winter in Florida retooling, and six weeks of boat chores, we are ready to take Blue Wing somewhere new. This season’s plans include crossing mainland Florida via Lake Okeechobee, sailing south toward Key West, the Marquesas and Dry Tortugas, and making the long sail to Mexico. From there we hope to travel south to Belize and Honduras.
Sunday night 12/6 we slept aboard on stands in the Indiantown work yard. Blue Wing was almost ready for the season. She sported a new bikini, new, clear isinglass on the dodger, new pristine anchor chain, new pumps, chart plotter, and bottom paint job. She carried charts for our new destinations and lots of provisions. Tomorrow was going to be hectic, but I, despite my Type A personality, felt strangely calm.
Monday morning Blue Wing was the first boat moved by the travel lift. We splashed. We tied up. She wasn’t taking on any water. Yay.
The engine wouldn’t start. Last year the reason was a corroded connection on the glow plug switch. Not the problem this year. I flipped the decompression switch to let everything spin freely. It finally cranked.
As we idled and started to hank on the mainsail, folks came up to ask about the tipping party. Seems our new friend Ellen (from Tickity Boo) had made sure every cruiser (and employee) in the yard knew we were attempting to tip the boat on our own. Many were coming to watch — no pressure.
As we talked, the engine slowly died. Friend Chris and I agreed that I should try bleeding the fuel line. There was a lot of air in the line. We bled it, got restarted, and I cleaned diesel up off the newly refinished flooring.
Soon we had cast off! The engine died again as we left the marina. More burping the line and we were underway in earnest.
Click here if you haven’t read about our tipping experience yet.
After tipping we tied up to a pair of pilings (dolphins) on the west side of the railroad bridge. We stayed here through the next night. During the day we stowed all the heavy stuff we had displaced to tip the boat.
On 12/9 we went through the nearby Port Mayaca lock and were suddenly out in Lake Okeechobee. You’ve probably never been to this part of Florida, but you can easily spot the big blue dot on a state map. We had no wind, so we motored across to Clewiston on the southwest side of the lake. Then we turned right into a channel which runs up the lake’s west side.
We spent the next few days crossing a Florida much more scenic than the eastern coast where I grew up. The Okeechobee Waterway winds through flat pasturelands dotted with hummocks of cypress trees covered in spanish moss. Florida holly, cabbage palms and Poinsiana palms hug the waterway’s edge. There are many species of birds; from those that dive for insects in the evening, to the large birds of prey circling as they look down for their next meals. We even saw one manatee surface as we puttered along.
We spent one night tied to dolphins by the lock at Moore Haven. We motored on through the Ortona lock, La Belle, Denaud, Alva and Owanita. The drawbridge operators all tried to time their openings with our arrival. We rarely saw other boats. There were a variety of homes, from large estates with gazebo docks to old mobile home retirement communities.
We anchored in a small lake near Franklin lock. There was a camping park, but we didn’t go ashore. We passed through the lock and the Olga drawbridge the next morning and picked up a dolphin escort.
These were mammals, not the dolphins you tie up to. Usually porpoises buzz our boat, get tired of us, and leave quickly. These three must have been well fed and quite bored. They stayed with us for over a mile, so close that we got sprayed whenever they surfaced for air.
Olga is the last lock. We were in the Caloosahatchee River now. As the river widened it felt as though we were slowing down. Finally, far ahead we saw the bridges of downtown Fort Myers.
We decided to anchor in the yacht basin between the big bridges. Our Garmin, Navionics and paper charts didn’t agree on how to get into the basin, though. Duwan consulted Active Captain. A small channel east of Loftin Island seemed the best approach. At just after low tide there should be a depth of six feet in the channel. And if we touch, the bottom is probably soft enough to power our way through.
We got to the channel. Boy, it was narrow. Once we get in there will be no room to turn around. Again, I felt strangely calm as we eased through. Usually I am not allowed to look at the depth gauge, but I was fine, even when we only had six inches under the keel.
So here we are anchored in Fort Myers. What a contrast from the east coast. Nary a water skier or jet skier in sight.
We have some friends nearby to visit with. We have a little more prep to do. Then we’re going to take one big jump off this large, flat diving board of a state and bounce toward new shores.