After what seemed like endless delays waiting for spare parts and weather, we finally said our farewell to Marathon, Florida. We had stopped for a two month stay and ending up staying over two years! It’s one of those sort of places that draws you in and makes it hard to leave. We enjoyed the beach, snorkeling, kayaking, sailing and easy access to groceries, hardware, and the library. We met a lot of nice people, especially through our participation in the home schoolers group. It was a mixed feeling to say good-bye, but it was time to go.
As you may recall, we bought a new “old” boat about a year ago and have been spending the time since working on a refit – and trying to sell our old boat. Finally just a couple of weeks before we planned to leave, a buyer came forward and our dear old Glass Slipper has a new owner. A very nice young man, French Canadian, is now the new owner. He is new to sailing so I threw in a couple of lessons to sweeten the deal. He is quite a fast learner, and within two weeks, and after only two times sailing on their own, he and a friend headed up the west coast of Florida to leave her in a boatyard until his summer vacation. I prayed like crazy for those two and am happy to report that they made it just fine and seemed to enjoy the adventure! They even sent a picture of the 3 lobsters they caught and grilled while underway.
We are headed to the Bahamas by a circuitous route that takes us for a layover in the Glades boatyard, just west of Lake Okeechobee. I am not looking forward to the boat yard part of the trip – so we decided to take our time getting there, stopping for several days in the Little Shark River and perhaps for a few more in 10,000 Islands. I need about 6 or 7 days in the boat yard, and I’m also waiting for new sails – which should be ready by early February, so no real reason to get in a hurry.
When we finally left the anchorage in Marathon it was late in the day, and we anchored just off the shore of Vaca Key. It was certainly not a long trip (only about 15 minutes), but it was huge in effort. Pulling up the hook after several months, takes superhuman effort. Everything seems to want to pull you in to stay for another day. We were so happy and had a quite peaceful evening, although I was still securing gear.
Coleen and I were both up before 6 a.m. to begin our journey as we had high hopes of reaching Little Shark River before dark. Florida Bay was as flat calm as a lake, and there was barely a breeze – so it was a motoring day. I suspect this was just as well, as there were still a few things stored on deck that could have caused trouble in a big sea. We set the autopilot and enjoyed an 11 hour run, dodging crab pots along the way. I’m happy to report that although we hit two crab pots dead on - despite my careful watch keeping, our prop cutters did their job and we didn’t actually snag one. By contrast, DJ on Perseverance managed to snag 3 and his autopilot quit working so he had much more tiresome day. Coleen and I spent a fair bit of time sitting on the bow looking for sea life and to be the first one to yell “land ho!”. I easily took that prize as I had the binoculars :-) Only occasionally did we have to stir from our prime spot on deck to walk back and hit the autopilot to dodge a crab pot. We had great fun singing songs, playing word games on our Kindles and just enjoying the most beautiful day you can imagine – clear blue skies, temps in the 70’s and a flat calm sea… yes, sailing would have been better, but we weren’t complaining, rather we were thankful that our 30 year old engine was up to the task. (I digress – you simply have not lived until you’ve smelled freshly baked pumpernickel bread hot out of the oven! ) We are planning to re-power with a new engine while in the boat yard, but we only spoke of it in whispers on the foredeck, per Coleen’s suggestion. She didn’t want our current engine to get its feelings hurt and give out on us before we arrive :-)
Little Shark River
The entrance to Little Shark River is not an impressive sight. At first glance it appears to be a forlorn, weary place devoid of life as the shore is lined with the tall, narrow remains of trees, silvery ashen trunks barren of branches, standing like soldiers straight and strong. From a distance of a few miles the shore appeared to be a high cliff but my common sense told me that couldn’t be as land is flat in this area of the Everglades. As I continued to peer through the binoculars the cliffs vanished and the ashen trees appeared. I would suppose the trees on the shore’s edge are thus so from taking the brunt of hurricane winds and seas.
As we made our way through the entrance I was also surprised to see approximately 20 cruising boats already nestled on their anchors for the night. It seems to be a common practice here to anchor in the middle of the channel. We picked our way carefully among the boats until we arrived at the end of the fleet. It would have been nice to go a bit further but those pesky noseeums were beginning to make an appearance and it seemed prudent to drop the hook as quickly as possible and take refuge below behind the screens.
As it turned out the bugs weren’t too bothersome and one lighted mosquito coil kept them away until the cool night air drifted in. We sat in the cockpit enjoying a cold beer and a makeshift supper of assorted cheeses, crackers, summer sausage, carrots, green peppers and apples. It took all the energy I had left to put that together.
It was then that the real show began. First a flock of brilliant white egrets appeared making a graceful pattern in the sky. As they flew further into the river the whole flock began to float down to the river’s surface hovering just inches above, and then they would dart up above the tree tops again. The flock stretched from one river bank to the other. Soon thereafter another flock appeared. These were dark birds, flying too fast for me to identify. Again and again for almost an hour flock after flock of birds came in from the sea, glided down the river and off into the interior – literally hundreds of birds.It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
Yesterday Coleen’s Social Studies lesson was actually about the Everglades National Park. How timely was that! I made a special reading lesson from our Florida Wildlife book’s section on wading birds, too. Our afternoon field trip was a nature scavenger hunt. Coleen paddled her kayak and I rowed my dinghy. We rowed against the current until we ran out of energy, Coleen dropped her kayak anchor and we just sat still for a while enjoying it all. We then had a drifting race back to the Glass Slipper. In a drifting race you are only allowed to use your paddle or oars to steer. The banks of the river are a hodgepodge of trees about 30 feet tall. The shoreline is a twisted mess of tree roots. It was so incredibly quiet and peaceful, just slowly drifting and watching the wildlife, although I will admit to an underlying fear of an alligator jumping out to get me! We saw butterflies, dolphins, sea turtles, great blue heron, white ibis, snowy egret, brown pelican and a few other little birds we couldn’t identify.
Catching a glimpse of a sea turtle is quite a sight. Generally all you see is a little yellowish, knobby looking head poke up. They make the most dreadful sound when they look at you sort of like a hiss – but harsher. It’s only for a couple of seconds and then they quickly disappear, leaving a large circular ripple on the water’s surface. We never did see one closely enough to identify the type of sea turtle. Still it was awesome every time!
Most of the other cruising boats left yesterday so we have this beautiful treasure pretty much to ourselves. We had a celebratory dinner last night – steaks, ceaser salad, green beans & rice and then topped it off with a homemade apple crisp. Yes we are so happy to be out cruising once more – exploring new areas.
January 20, 2012
Today was a well earned lazy day. I started the morning with a bowl of oatmeal, blueberries and almonds, then helped Coleen with her lessons. She has settled quite well into 4th grade. We spend about 2 hours together going over the material. We read the lessons and I ask questions to make sure she understands. Aside from Math, I assign all book work and writing as “homework”. This allows her to work at her own pace and she actually enjoys doing the work in the evening. Thankfully I never have to remind her to do the homework. She is becoming a very disciplined student.
Coleen received a Kindle for her birthday and it has proven to be quite a hit. Being an avid reader – easily consuming 10 books each week, having her own Kindle provides her with a have a huge collection of books. She is currently enjoying reading the Bobsey Twins series. We are also able to check out library books from both Tulsa and Marathon on the Kindle, which means that for any given two week period we can have 15 library books – not as many as we are used to, but still sufficient and we are thankful.
She is also studying French for about an hour each day using Rosetta Stone. Hopefully this will come in handy when we visit French-speaking islands in the Caribbean.
Coleen got a kayak for Christmas this year, her very first boat. We outfitted it with a nice dry bag (for her books) and an anchor. She is quite fond of kayaking out just a bit away from the boat, dropping her anchor and reading in her own little world. I of course, insist on a long sleeved shirt, hat and sunglasses…. Of course she also enjoys heading out into the kayak trails, but she is not allowed to do that unaccompanied, perhaps when she is older.
After mixing up some pumpernickel bread and setting it to rise, I enjoyed a lazy afternoon in the hammock, alternately dozing and reading Sailing Alone in the Yawl Rob Roy. It’s an old but interesting and well written tale of a British man sailing in a small sailboat – before the days of engines, gps, water makers and electrical systems. I’d recommend it highly for any of my sailing friends.
January 20, 2012
We started the day early (for cruisers that is) and by 7:30 were nestled in the cockpit under blankets, sipping tea and looking for wildlife. We were not to be disappointed as our bird friends were in the midst of returning to the shore and we were treated once again to huge flocks flying bye. We also saw more sea turtles, dolphins feeding along the river banks, and a very large woodpecker with a red-head. A canoeist stopped by later to tell us a large manatee had been in front of our boat for about an hour – but we didn’t’ see it.
After a brunch of bacon, vegetable omelet, pumpernickel toast and oranges, we decided to pull anchor and head down the river and see how far we could get before running into shallow water. It was the most beautiful morning, clear blue skies, about 75 degrees, barely a breeze. Coleen decided to ride on the boom and settled in with a book. With her back leaned against the mast, she had a great view of where we’d been, but not where we were going :-) The terrain slowly changed from very tall trees to low lying mangroves and a bit of grass, though not much grass. I was surprised that we saw very little wildlife aside from a hawk of some sort, sitting in a tree eating a fish, and an occasional egret or pelican. The water became brackish, though I’m not sure exactly at what point. We traveled through a small branch connecting the Little Shark River to Shark River that was only about 7 feet deep. Coleen climbed up the mast a few steps to see the view and determine if marshes were ahead. She saw only more trees in the distance. I kept searching for alligators, but to no avail, although I did see one clear depression in a small grassy section of the bank that seemed to indicate an alligator had been nearby at some point. In all we traveled about 9 miles inland, going at a slow pace (even slower than usual) so we could fully take it all in. This is quite possibly the most beautiful place I’ve seen in our travels so far – and so very quiet.
Eventually we made it to Tarpon Bay. The chart showed 5 foot depths ahead, so we decided to turn back after first dropping the hook for a quick bite to eat, and a short rest. No sooner did we have the hook down than a National Park Ranger boat pulled up alongside. I must admit I didn’t know there were National Park Ranger boats :-) The rangers were very friendly and even presented Coleen with a Junior Park Ranger Activity workbook and handed me a badge to give her once the workbook is complete. She was very excited and immediately started working on it. We visited with the Rangers for a few minutes, and she reassured me that kayaking would not be an issue – not to worry about the alligators. She said we were welcome to spend the night where we were anchored and said we should have enough water even when the tide dropped – and that it would be very quiet with little to no boats going by – although there was a houseboat with volunteer rangers nearby and they might have a little party later :-) I assured her we wouldn’t hear anything.
So we decided to stay overnight in this amazing place. Not as much wildlife – at least that we can see, but gorgeous nonetheless. We had a quiet afternoon with Coleen finishing her schoolwork (even though it was a Saturday). Coleen and I enjoyed a video on “drawing basic shapes” and both were quite proud of our resulting work. I enjoyed a little more hammock time, and then DJ invited us to Perseverance for supper. He made a delicious taco salad. It was nice to get off our boat for a little while – and was extra nice not to cook or wash dishes for a change. The only flaw in the whole day was digging out the new bottle of Cola syrup for our SodaStream only to find that the protective wrapping was missing and it was already opened, guess I didn’t check it carefully at the store. We decided not to risk using it… so no rum and cokes for a while....
OMG, just now, sitting in the cockpit writing this I glanced up to see a huge pink bird flying by! At first I thought it was just the sun making the feathers look pink, but I grabbed the binoculars, and it was a huge pink bird. It went by too fast to determine if it was a flamingo or a roseate spoonbill. Either way – it was awesome – and I woke everyone else up with my excitement shouting “pink bird, pink bird”! He did not look at all like those poor sad pink flamingos standing on one leg at the zoo – much more amazing to see one in flight!!!!
January 23, 2012
This morning we pulled anchor around 10 a.m. and headed back towards the coast. It was another lovely morning and Coleen traveled in the hammock, which is strung, from the forestay to the mast. It seemed quite comfortable up there. Sometime around noon we tucked into a little anchorage and then loaded up DJ’s dinghy for some more in-depth exploration. We used the outboard motor so we could travel more distance. We used a fairly detailed chart and a handheld compass for navigation, carried a handheld GPS for backup, as well as food, water, a VHF radio, and a flashlight. I managed to snug my beach chair into the dinghy so I had a very comfortable spot, and with binoculars in hand we took off. We scooted along the narrow waterways for about 5 miles before making our way back into the main river. I’ll admit to being anxious most of the time as I was still looking for that alligator that was sure to get me. DJ did see a small crocodile, but thankfully I did not.
As we entered the Shark River we met up with a dolphin who was up for a race! He followed along within 10 yards from our dinghy, and every time he jumped up it was quite a fright! He even swam under the dinghy from one side to the other a couple of times. I was sure he was going to tip us over. Thankfully his attention span was not that long, and within 5 minutes or so he was off to cause trouble elsewhere, leaving us laughing and shaking our heads.
The chart shows several back country camping platforms and one was nearby so I requested a small detour to check it out. It was a quite nicely made platform using that plastic decking material and cover with a nice metal roof – nearby was a port a john. We hopped up on the deck to have a walk around as Coleen reminded us that we had not been on shore for several days. Technically this was also not on shore, but since it was solidly fixed to the ground we counted it… She did several jumping jacks and danced a bit before we headed back to our anchored boats.
A quick cocktail was in order and thankfully I managed to find a bottle of cranberry juice so we could have Cape Codders and a small tray of cheese and crackers while watching the sunset. I then tried a new recipe that included pasta, sweet potatoes, and a chile, peanut/cream cheese sauce. It looked great in the picture – but did not meet with rave reviews from the crew. Recipe was wadded up and tossed this morning – but alas, the leftovers will need to be lunch! DJ enjoyed a game of scrabble (which I won) while Coleen finished some homework and then watched a movie. Another great day on the Glass Slipper Adventure!
January 24, 2012 <Anchorage to exploration trip &running aground>
This morning we moved the boats to a small anchorage just around the corner from the main anchorage at the mouth of the Little Shark River. DJ anchored his boat, I pulled up alongside and he hopped on. We were headed out to explore another area too shoal for Perseverance’s 6 ½ ft draft. I let him take the helm while I whipped up a quick and delicious pasta dish – sautéed yellow squash, garlic, onion, fresh tomato, chopped bacon held together with parmesan cheese and a little light cream – served over egg noodles. It was unbelievably yummy and something I just made up with ingredients that needed to be eaten! After lunch I gathered my binoculars, bird guide book, cameras and a pillow and headed off the try out the hammock while underway. Now that’s the way to travel! Too bad I can’t do it while under sail!
We traveled to Oyster Bay about as far as the depth and remaining daylight would allow before heading back. We had quite a dolphin show at one point and I tried to catch in on film, but it seems I still need a lot of practice with my new camera. I took the helm on the return trip using only the paper chart for navigation. It was quite tricky with all the twists and turns. We made it back to within a couple hundred yards of Perseverance and then I took a wrong turn around a little island. One minute we’re scooting along in 7 feet of water and suddenly we abruptly stop in 2 feet of water! Our entire keel was buried deep in the mud (which was thankfully very soft and forgiving). We were settled on the edge of a shoal. We tried all the usual methods for getting free, kedging off with an anchor, swinging out the boom and pulling on it using the dinghy and motor to tilt the boat over… we never budged an inch. There was nothing left to do but wait for high tide which was expected at 1 a.m. I suggested that DJ take the dinghy back to his boat, as it was his night to cook dinner, and then come back for a tide watch party. I’ll admit that it was very unsettling to be stuck in the mud and I was somewhat fearful that the boat might tip over, but she just remained settled on her bottom, mostly upright, making terrible creaking noises now and then. After a bit DJ came back dressed in full bug armor, covered from head to toe except for little slits for his eyes, carrying a delicious Shepard’s Pie for dinner. After dinner, we set the alarm for midnight and then fell asleep listening to the Radio Classics channel on satellite radio.
I woke up just before midnight, donned my mosquito gear and a flashlight and headed outside for a look. We were still in the same place although the tide was up. After a lot of effort DJ managed to swing the boat around into deeper water by pulling on the kedge anchor. We slowly motored around the island (on the proper side). It was quite eerie navigating on the tiny channel in the dark, but also quite beautiful. I could see the reflection of the stars on the water. Soon we were rafted up to Perseverance and I was snug in my bunk.
January 23, 2012
We had a quiet uneventful day. Coleen and I had a short kayaking trip around one of the islands. She spotted a bird perched on one of the low mangrove branches. I floated the kayak over quietly to observe. I was amazed that I managed to get within 10 feet of him. He must have been too scared to move. It was a yellow crowned night heron – very distinct markings – so beautiful. I quietly back away so as not to startle him. I was a bit afraid he would fly into my face!
We pulled anchor just after lunch and made our way back to an anchorage almost at the mouth the Little Shark River. Only a small narrow island, perhaps 200 ft, stood between the ocean and us and we could see it clearly through the trees. I motored the dinghy down a couple of small waterways until it ran out of gas, and I had to row. Once again I attempted to take video but it didn’t turn out well.
The rest of the afternoon was spent getting ready for tomorrow’s 35 mile voyage to the 10,000 Islands. The dinghy was stored on deck and Coleen had to scrub its bottom. We found a new spot to store the kayak, tied along the lifelines near the starboard bow rail. We completed our preparations for sea just in time to enjoy a final sunset cocktail in this splendid place. I then spent the evening installing some dowels in the galley counter to hold everything in place while underway. (will post pictures later).
<Yes we are storing the dinghy on deck while underway. She fits quite nicely there. The boat did have dinghy davits when I bought her, but I never really liked having the dinghy hanging in the air behind the boat. It seemed to be in the way, and it wasn’t really all that easy to lift it in the davits anyway. It takes about the same amount to use the halyard to lift her on deck. So I removed the davits and sold them for a ridiculous price just before we left Marathon.>
January 25, 2012 Voyage to 10,000 Islands
Our planned departure at 7 a.m. seemed doomed. The morning tide was especially low and the areas where I had taken the dinghy yesterday had no water at all, they were just mud flats. Still I readied everything to get underway, hopeful we could make it through out the entrance. Coleen popped up and begged me to be allowed to travel on Perseverance for the day, saying “I packed my bag last night, just in case you said Yes”. Well how could I say no to that. So my crew jumped ship and I was left alone for the day. About this time I saw another (larger) sailboat head out the entrance without issue, so we decided to follow. We had to make our way out about 4 miles offshore to have enough depth to be comfortable – about 10 feet.
We had quite a nice sail in the morning, scooting along at 4.5 to 5 knots in an East to Southeast wind, with 2 foot waves taking us on the quarter. Despite my careful lookout, I managed to snag a crab pot and had to put the boat in irons (dead into the wind with sails flapping) while I cut it free. Once again I used the tiny grapnel anchor to snag the line so I could pull it up high enough to reach with my trusty ginsu knife. Still I had to squeeze myself under the back rail and lean way over to reach with my very long knife. I put away all my crab pot removal gear, turned the boat back into the wind and we were underway. Lord, I detest crab pots! Sea litter I tell you, just sea litter!!
The forecast called for 12-15 knot wind all day, but sometime after noon, the wind and seas died down and we had to turn on the motor. Thankfully we had made our way out of crab pot country there was nothing but ocean ahead, meaning I could relax my vigil at the helm and enjoy the ride. I found a perfect spot on the cabin top, settled in between the dinghy and handrail. The dinghy made a great backrest. I had my binoculars, one of my favorite books (Two Against A Big Ocean by Hal Roth), a refreshing glass of ice water and there was nothing to do but relax and scan the horizon for boats from time to time. I saw other boats on two occasions and had to leave my perch until we had safely passed.
Now you’d think that with all this relaxing I would have had lots of energy when we finally reached our anchorage just inside Indian Key at the 10,000 Islands. Not so! I was so tired that after a quick beer, and salad, I was passed out on the settee listening to the radio at 7:00 p.m.!