February 16 – 20.
We left Key West on a gloomy morning. The forecast called for AM rain, then clear for the next few days. We did get rain as we motored out the Northwest Channel. Then it stopped as we turned east toward our first destination.
Many weeks ago, our outbound trip from Ft Myers to Key West was a straight shot. We sailed overnight, making the trip in about 26 hours. We had a different plan for the return trip.
We would be motoring back through fields of crab pots. We wanted to travel in daylight only. Also, we wanted to see more of the islands of southwest Florida. We planned to spread the return trip over five days.
First stop? A sweet little anchorage beside Tarpon Belly Key. Tarpon Belly is 18 miles ENE from Key West as the crow flies. Our trip was more like 25 miles. This spot was in the Cudjoe Channel, a 12 mile cut which runs roughly north-south through the Keys. We saw a few small sport fishing boats, but it was mostly quiet.
Not as quiet as our next couple of anchorages, though. The following night we stayed in Little Shark River, where our companions were a few birds and a few million frogs. I did hear one other strange sound. I imagined it was a Burmese Python that someone had let loose into the Everglades. But when I checked the next morning there were no constrictors aboard.
From Little Shark River we went to Panther Key in the 10,000 islands. We passed Everglades City on the way, but it was hidden to us behind a few thousand of those little keys. This was another quiet anchorage, which we shared with a few more boats.
Next we anchored in Big Marco Pass between Stingaree Island and the well populated Marco Island. There was a lots of traffic here, but we were in a no-wake zone that the locals respected. Now when Iâ€™m too old to sail I think I could settle down in a condo on Marco and spend half my time exploring the 10,000 Islands in a shallow draft power boat.
Leaving through Big Marco, we could see high rise buildings all along the shore to the north. Behind us was the beautiful, lazy, beachless Florida. Ahead was a spring break destination.
We did see some loggerhead or leatherback turtles on this leg of the trip. None of them stayed on the surface long enough for us get a good picture, though.
Then, there it was. Ft Myers Beach! The land of long hot showers. But thatâ€™s a post of a different color.