Welcome to the blog of Fred and Julaine as we chronicle our adventures traveling the "Great Loop" on Boreas, our Carver 405.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Days 167 through 173 – at Snook Bight Marina - December 20-26, 2011

We are enjoying our time here at Snook Bight.  We used the rental car to do some more errands and also to take a trip to Sanibel and Captiva Islands.  John and Rita and Mac (John and Rita’s standard poodle) joined us on the trip to Sanibel and Captiva.  These are beautiful islands and we enjoyed doing a bit of shopping while we were there.  It was amazing the number of homes that were for sale – we picked up a real estate guide and learned that even the small, cottage type homes on the water were selling for over $1 million and often much, much more than that.  We didn’t do any beach walking as the beach parking lots are very tiny and were already full with other cars.  Perhaps someday we’ll have a chance to stay at the marina on Sanibel and explore the island more fully.

Boreas has been decorated for Christmas with lights and a tiny tree.  The lights are snowflake shaped blue and white LED lights around the outside rails and green and red blinking lights under the upper canvas. It is fun to have decorations on the boat and it makes us feel quite festive.

We took John and Rita to the airport on Thursday for their trip back home to Toronto.  They will return to Fort Myers Beach on January 3.  We also volunteered to dog-sit for Mac while they are gone, so we are experiencing life with a dog on board.  The tides and the fixed dock make getting him to shore a challenge at low tide, but we are getting better at it (and so is Mac).

We returned the rental car on Friday.  Estero Island has been getting busier and busier with holiday traffic, so we think we made a good decision to keep the car for just the one week.  The locals had been telling us how busy the beach would get between Christmas and New Years, but I don’t think we fully believed them until we saw it ourselves.  The two lane road that runs from one end of the island to the other is often a parking lot now.

Snook Bight’s biggest claim to fame (in our opinion) is the amazing amount of rack storage they have for boats and the size of the boats they can accommodate.  They have space for 201 boats with space for boats as large as 42’ in length, with 18’ overhead height and beams of 15’.  To be able to move these boats in and out of their racks, they have the largest boat forklift we have ever seen.  Boats as big as Boreas are stored inside and picked up with a forklift – amazing!

            Miles: 0           Bridges: 0        Locks: 0

Fred standing next to the huge forklift
(that's Fred standing next to the front tire)

one side of the rack storage building at Snook Bight Marina

a Little Blue Heron hanging out near our slip at Snook Bight Marina

Boreas all decked out for Christmas - the blue and white lights along
the rail are actually snowflake shaped lights

another picture of Boreas all decorated for Christmas

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Day 166 – at Snook Bight Marina - December 19, 2011

We did a few boat chores today.  Fred changed the oil on the engines and I did laundry.  We also made another trip to the camping supply store for more LED lights.  The one we installed works great and we will be replacing two others next to the galley table.  We also had some more boat shopping to do – we needed fuel filters and replacement zincs.

As we were finishing our errands, we got a call from John and Rita on Brandy IV that they were at Sanibel Marina for the night, so we headed across the causeway and met them for dinner.  We have not seen John and Rita since we left Carrabelle.  They had some boat problems that prevented them from making “the crossing” when we did.  With their boat repairs completed a week ago, they were forced to hang out in Carrabelle for a number of days waiting for a weather window to open.  The good news was that a window did finally open and they had a great trip across the Gulf.  John and Rita will join us at Snook Bight tomorrow.

             Miles: 0           Bridges: 0        Locks: 0

Day 165 – at Snook Bight Marina – visit to the Florida Everglades - December 18, 2011

We decided to take a ride through Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve today.  Our route took us across the state (west to east) on I-75, then south on US-27 and finally back across the state (east to west) on US-41.  This was a great trip.  The roadside parks in the Big Cypress National Preserve are very well done with very nice wooden boardwalks that take you into the Preserve.  We saw an amazing number of birds we have never seen before – we picked up a quick-reference card for southwest Florida birds that has been a great help in identifying them.  We also saw our first alligators – initially at one of the Big Cypress Preserve visitor centers and later along US-41.  I’m not sure how I feel being that close to alligators and I’m not sure how I’ll feel when I see them from the deck of Boreas – that might be just a bit too close to nature for me.  
            Miles: 0           Bridges: 0        Locks: 0

alligators along the boardwalk at the Oasis Visitor Center
in Big Cypress National Preserve

a least bittern (at least I think that's who he is) hanging out with the
alligators at the Oasis Visitor Center

another alligator in the Big Cypress National Preserve

these are Florida gar, swimming with the alligators at the Oasis Visitor Center

I'm not sure I'm ready to meet this guy at an anchorage here in Florida

cypress trees along the boardwalk at the Kirby Storter
Roadside Park in Big Cypress National Preserve

a snake (type unknown), curled up on a fallen tree just off the boardwalk
at the Kirby Storter Roadside Park

a white ibis hanging out in the Big Cypress Nation Preserve

this is an eagle nest in the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve
State Park - the eagles who live in this nest have been
here in the Preserve since 1985

another one of those alligators - he is so still, as is the water, that it is
difficult to see what is real and what is reflection

we saw lots of these trees which look like they are full of bird nests - upon
further investigation (and help from a sign at the Big Cypress Bend
boardwalk) we now know they are not nests, but Epiphytes
or air plants (see description below)

an air plant along the Big Cypress Bend boardwalk

an air plant along the Kirby Storter Roadside Park boardwalk

Day 163 & 164 – at Snook Bight Marina, Fort Myers Beach, FL - December 16-17, 2011

We are very happy with our accommodations here at Snook Bight Marina.  The on-shore facilities are very new with beautiful bathrooms, showers, laundry facilities and a pool.  There is also an on-site restaurant (which we haven’t had a chance to try yet).  The grocery store couldn’t be closer – the Publix actually shares an entrance with the marina.  Not only that, but fabulous Fort Myers Beach is just across the street.  It doesn’t even take five minutes to walk there.  And this is a beautiful beach, perfect for walking.  In fact, we have already enjoyed a walk and a great sunset.

We decided we would like to have a rental car for our first week here.  There are places we’d like to explore and errands we need to run that we can’t do without a car.  After a bit of price shopping, we determined an Avis car that we would pick up at the airport was the best deal, so we set up the reservation and grabbed a taxi to the airport.  After picking up the car, we stopped at a camping supply store in hopes of finding 12volt lights for under the counter in the galley.   We have been looking for replacement lights for this location for awhile and have been unable to find anything that will fit.  We found an LED light that might work at the camping supply – Fred will install the light and we’ll see what we think.  Our other errands took us to the Sun Harvest Citrus company where we got some grapefruit, oranges and strawberry/orange juice.  We also stopped at West Marina and picked up a few things we need.

While we were hanging out on the boat on Saturday, an underwater diver arrived at the marina.  He was doing work on other boats and Fred asked him if he would do a visual inspection on Boreas.  The inspection went well.  Our zincs are in good shape, the bottom paint looks good and we have almost no green growth on the bottom.  The diver brushed off a bit of growth on the water intake screens and brushed a few small barnacles off the trim-tabs.  He recommended Fred take a brush to the trim tabs every week or so to keep them in good shape.  This is all good news and we are glad we were able to have someone check things out for us.

             Miles: 0           Bridges: 0        Locks: 0
looking south along Fort Myers Beach

the sun beginning to set off Fort Myers Beach

the sun is almost gone

just the smallest sliver of sun is still showing

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Day 162 – Cabbage Key to Snook Bight Marina, Fort Myers Beach, FL - December 15, 2011

Today is a short travel day – less than 25 miles.  We will travel through Pine Island Sound and then across San Carlos Bay, ending up on the land side of Estero Island.  We have not had breakfast out in quite awhile, so we decide to have breakfast at the Cabbage Key restaurant before we depart.  As with the other meals we have had here, the food is excellent.

We have seen more boat traffic today than we have seen in a long time.  We have seen runabouts, fishing boats, cruisers and sailboats.  We even saw a small barge and tow; the barge was transporting a large Penske rental truck (see picture below).  We are guessing that they were headed to Useppa Island which has lots of homes on it, but no bridge to the mainland.  It is nice to see other boaters out enjoying this beautiful area. 

We arrived at Snook Bight Marina in Fort Myers Beach just after 1:00pm.  We will be staying here until mid-January.  We stopped first at the fuel dock so we could look at the facilities and figure out which slip we would be occupying.  The dockmaster has a couple of slips for us to check out as we want it to be as easy as possible to get on and off the boat.  They have fixed docks here and over a 2 foot tide swing – that can make things difficult for someone with shorter legs.  We decide a slip on the far edge of the marina that we would stern into would be best.  That gives us access to the boat using either the swim platform or the stairs leading up to the sun porch from the swim platform.  Then, depending on the tide, we can hop on and off the boat at the correct height.

This is our first long stay at any one location – we’ll see how we like being at one dock for an extended time.

             Miles: 23.3      Bridges: 2        Locks: 0

a strange site on the water - a rental truck, a barge and a tow

Sanibel Island Lighthouse

the bridge to Estero Island

Day 161 – Burnt Store Marina to Cabbage Key - December 14, 2011

Upon the advice of Greg and Kate on Grianan, we decided to spend a night at Cabbage Key.  Since it was such a short trip, we left late (after 9:00am) and arrived early (before 11:30am).

Many of the docks in Florida are fixed docks with just a short finger pier so we have to stern in so we can get on and off the boat using the swim platform (we are stern in here at Cabbage Key).  Since backing into a slip isn’t something we do very much of, Fred is learning this new skill.  I think being at the helm almost every day for the past five months – maneuvering in locks, at fuel docks and in slips – has really improved Fred’s ability to get the boat to do what he wants it to.  Now if we can just get the person handling the lines to take care of her job, we should be all set.

Cabbage Key is a tiny island with a small marina, a restaurant, an inn and seven cottages (which are available for rent).  Cabbage Key is only accessible via water (there is no bridge to the mainland).  The first owners purchased the island in the early 1930’s and built their winter estate here. The resort was opened to the public in 1944 and has had just two additional owners since then.  We had great food at the restaurant.  A surprising number of boaters arrived during the afternoon and enjoyed lunch at the restaurant.  We were told by the wait staff that during the busy Christmas season they would serve about 700 lunches in a day.  It is hard to imagine that much activity in this tiny marina.  After lunch we enjoyed a nature walk around the island.  We can see why Greg and Kate enjoy this stop.

            Miles: 12.9      Bridges: 0        Locks: 0
Boreas in a slip at Cabbage Key - taken from the watertower
at the top of the island

another view from watertower at the top of Cabbage Key

Day 160 – at Burnt Store Marina, Charlotte Harbor - December 13, 2011

We are here at Burnt Store Marina for a second day.  We spent the day relaxing and we took a walk around the facilities at Burnt Store.  The marina is part of a 626-acre gated community with estate homes, single family residences, condominiums, villas and high-rise homes.  There are also tennis courts, a fitness center, a golf course and a yacht club.  This is a beautifully protected harbor and would be a great place to keep a boat in Florida.

This harbor, as well as many along this coast of Florida, is a protected manatee area.  We looked for manatees, but didn’t see any.  We did however see some very disturbed water (swirling mud and strange looking currents) that we suspect indicates a manatee was swimming below.

            Miles: 0           Bridges: 0        Locks: 0

a pelican on the dock at Burnt Store Marina

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Day 159 – Marina Jack to Burnt Store Marina, Charlotte Harbor - December 12, 2011

We have a longer day planned today.  With our stop at Sarasota instead of Venice, we will travel over 50 miles today.  While we have easily done that many miles (and more) on other sections of the trip, that is an aggressive schedule for this area.  There are two reasons it is difficult to travel that many miles each day – speed limits and bridges.  There are an amazing number of “speed limits” on the Gulf Intercoastal.  You have no wake speed, minimum wake speed, 25 mph limits and normal safe operating speed (which we assume is faster than 25 mph for some boats).  Sometimes the speed limit is for inside the channel and sometimes just for outside the channel.  So, along with watching your channel marks, you also need to watch your speed limit signs.

While most bridges don’t need to open for us to go through, there are a few swing bridges with very low clearance (usually around 9 feet).  Two swing bridges had to open for us today, but with the radio antenna down on Boreas, none of the other bridges needed to open (we were lucky on one bridge to be at relatively low tide, giving us two extra feet of clearance which made a big difference).  Bridges can slow you down not only because they have to open for you, but also because some of them are on a schedule and open only two or three times an hour (versus on demand).  One of today’s swing bridges only opens on the hour and half hour.  We did a few minutes of running hard to make that bridge so we didn’t have to wait an extra half hour for the next opening.

We had an awesome dolphin encounter as we cruised through Gasparilla Sound toward Charlotte Harbor.  We had over 10 dolphins swimming with us at one time.  They were swimming under the bow and on both sides of the boat surfing in the wake.  I tried to get some pictures, but wasn’t very successful (lots of pictures of water where a dolphin had just been).

            Miles: 57.0      Bridges: 10      Locks: 0
speed limit sign along the waterway - this one lets you travel at
up to 25 mph in the channel, but slow speed, minimum wake
outside the channel

slow speed, minimum wake (versus slow speed, no wake)

an osprey perched on a speed sign

white pelicans hanging out on a sandbar

Great Blue Heron on the dock at
Burnt Store Marina

Great Blue Heron

an osprey and his nest on a green channel marker

Day 158 – Regatta Point Marina to Marina Jack, Sarasota - December 11, 2011

We departed this morning planning to go about 40 miles to Venice, FL.  There was a 30% chance of showers today and as we approached Sarasota the clouds began to move in.  We gave a call to Marina Jack to see if they had available space for the night and since they did, we decided to stop instead of taking a chance on traveling in poor conditions.

We headed to the grocery store when we got in and enjoyed a nice walk along Sarasota Bay.  We planned our walk perfectly and the rain started just after we got back on the boat.  Sarasota is definitely an area where there is lots to do (site seeing, beach walking, shopping).  If we weren’t working our way toward Fort Myers Beach, this would be a great spot to stop for a week, rent a car and see some of the sights.

            Miles: 28.0      Bridges: 3        Locks: 0
low tide along the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway

looking out the back of the boat at a dolphin fountain along the
waterfront in Sarasota

the same dolphin fountain at night

Day 157 – at Regatta Point Marina, Palmetto, FL - December 10, 2011

As usually happens when we spend more than one night at a particular location, we spent part of today doing chores (like laundry and boat cleaning).  It is difficult to do those things when you arrive at a marina in the late afternoon and leave the next morning – an extra day makes a big difference.

Tonight was the local Christmas Lights Boat Parade sponsored by the Bradenton Yacht Club.  Prize money was awarded in two categories and the boats competed hard to take home the honor of a winning entry (and the cash).  The restaurant at Regatta Point was an excellent site for parade viewing, so we enjoyed an extended dinner and watched the boats go by right from our table.  Loopers in Carrabelle and Sarasota also enjoyed boat parades tonight.  This is certainly a spectacle we don’t have in Michigan where at this time of year all the boats are safely tucked away in winter storage.

             Miles: 0           Bridges: 0        Locks: 0

Following are pictures of the Christmas Lights Boat Parade - we are still learning how to take pictures at night and they are a bit blurry, but they still look cool.

Day 156 – Maximo Marina, St. Petersburg to Regatta Point Marina, Palmetto (near Bradenton) - December 9, 2011

We checked the AGLCA website for sponsors along the west coast of Florida and found Regatta Point Marina.  Although slightly off the beaten path (up the Manatee River a few miles), it looks like a nice place so we plan to spend two nights there.

We crossed Tampa Bay today and spent lots of time looking at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.  We picked a good day for this travel and our crossing was easy and uneventful.  One of the more interesting things about travel along this portion of the Intercoastal is how shallow the water is outside the channel.  As we traveled in the channel alongside the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the water on either side of us was just a few inches deep with slightly deeper water just past that (if you can call 1 to 2 feet of water deeper!).  It is very important to know your route and stay in the channel, making sure you are not accidently drifting out of the channel because of wind or current.

Regatta Point Marina is indeed a nice spot and I’m sure we will enjoy our time here.

            Miles: 24.2      Bridges: 2        Locks: 0
our first  view of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge

heading toward Tampa bay and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge

as you can see, it is VERY shallow just outside the channel - yes,
those birds are standing on a sandbar just outside the green mark!

getting close to the main span of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge

looking through the main span of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Day 155 – Clearwater Beach Municipal Marina to Maximo Marina, St. Petersburg - December 8, 2011

We awoke to a very windy, cool morning.  We were hoping to leave Clearwater Beach and head a bit south.  Since we had less than 25 miles planned, we decided to hold off and see if the weather improved as the day went on.  Luckily the weather did improve.  The wind died down and the sun came out and it was quite pleasant.  We departed just after 1:00pm and Once Around followed us out.

Today’s travel was mainly in rather narrow bays (Clearwater Harbor and Boca Ciega Bay) and one river-like section called “the Narrows”.  The bays have lots of canals carved along the edges.  These canals allow for many, many more homes to have water access.

We stopped at Maximo Marina for the night.  This is an extremely well protected marina at the end of a ¾ mile long entrance channel – as a result there is very little wind or wave action.  The marina is mostly covered slips and they have gated access to their site.  As a result this is a good place to leave your boat for a few weeks if you are traveling home for the holidays.  

             Miles: 22.9      Bridges: 6        Locks: 0
the canals on Boca Ciega Bay (a picture from the Navionics app
on the iPad 2)

Clearwater Beach (from the Intercoastal)

homes along Clearwater Harbor

more homes along Clearwater Harbor