Sunday, April 15, 2018

Punta Blanca Island to Steinhatchee, FL

Total Miles Traveled 2420

On our last day at Punta Blanca Island (one of our favorite anchorages in all of North America), we decided to try to find the Tunnel of Love.  We heard about it during our loop when passing through here in 2015, but didn’t have the time to look for it.  It is located about 2 miles or so from our anchorage, and it’s not easy to find, camouflaged with overhanging mangroves at the entrance, you’re not sure if you are entering a dead end or entering the tunnel.

Cayo Costa is a barrier island that forms the northern portion of Pine Island Sound; Cabbage Key is tucked into its eastern shore near the middle of the island.  An indention called Murdock Bayou cuts into the island.  In past times the Bayou was open to the Gulf of Mexico and provided passage from the sound.  This wildlife preserve has always been a special place…the Calusa Indians, European explorers, fishing schooners from Cuba, local fishing families; even smugglers have found this spot useful.

Each passing storm moves the sand of the beaches as it sees fit.  A strip of beach closes the cut now.  All that remains is a narrow tidal creek where the water floods and ebbs with the moon.  A canopy of mangroves bathes the creek with cool air.  Soft light filters down through the leaves and branches.  At the western end the sky opens up and the creek widens briefly before ending at the spectacular Cayo Costa beach.  This is a magical place…the Tunnel of Love.

 Yes, we had a close eye out in the branches for snakes and along the shore for creepy crawlers.

 That is a bald eagle in the tree close to shore.

 The way back...I think?

We had an awesome dinner when we returned to the boat.

Moni painted a great mural on our door mat, I really like the signal flags in the lower corner MJ.

On April 2nd, we took a side trip to Punta Gorda, we have passed it up several times and decided to check it out on our way north.  Kevin and Jill from “Chasing 80” drove up from Ft Myers and gave us the grand tour, thanks guys, we had a great time!

Since we had mild winds, we continued our way north on April 3rd.  Charlotte Harbor is a huge body of water several miles long and wide, not fun if the wind is greater than 10 mph.  After leaving the harbor and reentering the GICW, we anchored near Cape Haze Florida and took the dinghy to Don Pedro Island, accessible only by private boat or ferry.  The island is home to several endangered species such as West Indian Manatees, gopher tortoises, bald eagles and American Oystercatchers. 
On the Gulf side of the barrier island is a 1 mile stretch of white sandy beach.

This piece of driftwood has turned into a work of art by passing beachgoers. 

On April 5th we anchored at Sarasota then anchored again at Redington Shores to wait out a passing cold front and rain.  We moved to the Gulfport Florida marina on April 8th as another front with rain and winds were forecast the next few days.  This gave us an opportunity to rent a car and stock up on groceries, get haircuts, and take care of our laundry. 

On our way to Redington Shores, not use to seeing horses along the waterway.

Our next stop on April 11th was Dunedin Florida where we planned to reunite with our friends Charlie and Robin on the “The Lower Place”.  We met them last Spring near Stuart Florida and crossed to the Bahamas with them, then met them again at Green Turtle Bay when they were finishing their loop, and again last Fall at Columbus Mississippi on our way to the Keys.  They are also heading back home so we’ll be traveling together for a while.   

Leaving Dunedin at daybreak, thanks for the picture Ivy and Jacqui!

Crossing the Gulf to Cedar Key with “The Lower Place”

We left Cedar Key at first light, and planned to be northbound before increasing winds from the south arrived.  At least that was the plan; we had 3-4 footers coming out of the channel into the Gulf before turning north, my anchor almost dipped in the waves a few times.  Once we turned north east we had the wind and the Cedar Keys behind us so the cruise to Steinhatchee was not bad at all.  Oh by the way, we made this decision on Friday the 13th.

We arrived at Steinhatchee at the Sea Hag Marina about 2:30, the wind and waves on our stern gave us a pretty good push for the 60 mile run.  The marina had a fishing tournament scheduled for Saturday April 14th so we decided to drop the dinghy in the water and participate.  What a great day!

Okay, we didn’t really catch those fish, we just watched everybody else bring them in.  Charlie asked one the fishing guides if we could take a liars picture.  He said what’s that?  Charlie explained that we would stand behind the board and lie about catching them.

There is a sad story behind the tournament though; we had heard that fishing tournament was in memory of the original founder, which used the proceeds to fund an animal shelter organization.  We happened to be sitting next to the founders sister and she told Moni and Robin that her sister and husband were flying back home for Christmas in 2016.  They were driving to the airport to meet them and were texting each other as both were going to arrive at the airport about same time.  Her sister texted that her GPS indicated they would be at the airport in 8 minutes, and she texted back and said to slow down, her GPS says we won’t be there for 9 minutes.  That’s that last communication they had as the plane crashed killing both her sister and husband in dense fog on their approach.

We’ll be at Steinhatchee a few days waiting out another band of storms heading across the south.  The front is only a few miles away as I write this blog.  This is why we like to be tied up at a marina when we have approaching storms.

The wind has now weakened and only light rain continues to fall, we should have clearing before dark today.  It looks like Wednesday though before the Gulf will calm down enough for us to continue on to Carrabelle and back into the protected waters of the GICW. 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Islamorada to Punta Blanca Island, FL

Total Miles Traveled 2095

We spent eight days on Islamorada, a village encompassing six of the Florida Keys.  We moored our boat at Plantation Yacht Harbor Marina, located on the Florida Bay side of the Keys.  When we started our loop in 2015, we met Phil and Jeanne, and their dog Buster on “Knot Yet”.  We haven’t seen them since; they are currently full time live aboards at this marina.  We also found that the dock master is originally from Evansville, Indiana and one of the boats wintering here is from Eddy Creek Marina, not far from our home port at Grand Rivers Kentucky.

Our purpose for staying here was to visit with our family during their Spring Break 2018.  They found a condo about a mile from the marina with a nice pool and an awesome view of the sunsets. 

Everyone wanted to snorkel during their stay but the weather didn’t cooperate very well (surprise, surprise).  We had temperatures in the 80’s but only had one day during their stay with calm winds.  We had planned to snorkel at Alligator Reef Lighthouse, located about five miles east of Indian Key on the Ocean side of the Keys.  Although the forecast indicated calm seas, it was too rough to anchor and snorkel. 

After cruising out to the lighthouse, we returned to calmer conditions in Florida Bay and were able to snorkel close to our marina.  Our friends Phil and Jeanne had snorkel equipment for their grandkids and were kind enough to offer it to us.  Thanks’ guys!  An experience our family will not soon forget.

We also visited the marine mammal park  Theater of the Sea,  which offers dolphin shows, sea lion shows parrot shows, and a path leading through the lagoon to see alligators, crocodiles, turtles, and several species of fish.

As usual the week went fast but we had a great time during their visit.  We left Islamorada March 24th and anchored in Little Shark River, then anchored again at Naples Florida on the 25th before continuing up the Gordon River to the Naples City Marina on the 26th.  The marina has been completely renovated with new docks, restrooms, showers and laundry facilities. 

Although the marina is not located close to Old or New Naples, we walked several blocks to make a loop around the entire area.  Our first observation is this is a town of the rich and famous.  I don’t believe I have seen so many BMW’s, Cadillac’s, or Mercedes all in one location.  All of the areas we walked though were very upscale and well groomed.  We also noticed that all of the condominiums or apartments were called clubs?  I’m sure there is a reason for it but hey, I’m from the Midwest.  We also realized that everything is very expensive, no souvenirs here, and when you ask about happy hour you get that deer in the headlights look.  Yep, a nice place to visit but wouldn’t want to live here.

We left Naples on March 28th and cruised to Ft Myers Beach at Salty Sam’s Marina.  We made a fuel stop on the way at Ballard Fuel dock to top off our tanks at $2.79 a gallon.  This is currently the best diesel price on the west coast of Florida.  Kevin and Jill from “Chasing 80” drove over from their house at Ft Myers to meet us at the marinas Parrot Key Caribbean Grill for happy hour one evening, we had a great visit.

Ft Myers Beach….a little crowded during spring break.  I guess we’re just spoiled by having our own private beach most of the time.

After a short stay we continued north on March 30th to one of our favorite anchorages at Punta Blanca Island located between Cayo Costa State Park and Pine Island Sound.

Passing Sanibel Island Lighthouse, one of the first lighthouses on Florida’s Gulf coast north of Key West and the Dry Tortugas.

After passing under the Sanibel Causeway bridge, we’ll be back into the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GICW).

This dolphin is having fun jumping the wake of a passing boat in Pine Island Sound.

We have seen more wildlife anchored at Punta Blanca Island than any other anchorage during our adventures. 

We also took the dinghy to Cabbage Key, our favorite place to get a cheeseburger in paradise.   Many thanks to our friends Shannon and Dot, for showing us this island several years ago.  If you’re ever in the area, it’s a must stop.