Very early one morning in mid March we began what would be a multi-phased trip from Florida’s west to east coast. We had to wait only for sunrise AND the delivery of our new mattress before pulling out of St. Petersburg Municipal Marina, our winter home. It was a parting with very mixed emotions: we loved St. Pete’s: the city, the marina, and most important, the people. In addition to our SEASENSE friends, we had come to know several other, really good folks and it was difficult to say goodbye. But we knew, if we didn’t go then, we might stay forever, and we had many, many more places to see, people to meet, and adventures to experience!
Sunshine Skyway Bridge
After running the length of Tampa Bay, we passed under the incredible (beautiful and large) Sunshine Skyway bridge and then by Bradenton, Anna Maria Island, and Longboat Key. We spent the first night at Marina Jack’s, a really delightful place right downtown Sarasota. The marina was the best we had seen and the on-site restaurant was wonderful! During the next day we cruised through and by many famous Florida spots, including Venice, Englewood, and Cape Haze on our way to Boca Grande for a night at a not-so-delightful (but clean and safe) marina. The next day’s itinerary took us by several incredibly beautiful islands, including Useppa, Captiva, Pine and Sanibel Islands, all places where it would be terrific to anchor out… if we had the time…. We also hit some very skinny (both narrow and shallow) water along the way… Lemon Bay and the Miserable Mile seem most memorable, but there were several other spots as well. Because we were still less than comfortable with either narrow or “skinny” (aka shallow) water much less both, that reality detracted us some from the enjoyment of the trip… at least it prevented us from taking lots of pictures… By mid afternoon on the third day, we pulled into the City of Ft. Myers Marina, our destination for the first leg of the eastward trek. We spent the rest of the afternoon with essential boat-care tasks, especially washing salt off the boat (and ourselves) before having an early dinner downtown with about 400 attendees of a Bikers’ Convention (!!)- We’ve never seen so many motorcycles!! By road and car, this three-day boat trip (St. Pete to Ft. Myers) covered about 100 hundred miles and would take a couple of hours…. but we really preferred the three day journey on the water! The weather and sights along the way were strikingly beautiful!!! The hours of close attention to charts, channels and navigational marks were challenging, however, especially after such a long layover in St. Petersburg. Overall, this jaunt was exhausting and energizing at the same time, and it left us wanting more!! Sojourner remained at Ft. Myers for about 3 weeks, during which she was visited by good friend Patty who spent much of her UK Spring Break with us.
The second leg of our eastward journey was one we both had looked forward to from the very beginning of our thoughts about doing the Great Loop: crossing the famed Lake Okeechobee! From the day we left Sojourner in Ft. Myers, we began checking the water levels in “Lake O” to ensure that we could cross as planned in mid April. Unfortunately, in late March the lake levels began dropping precipitously (1/2 inch/day). We finally decided we couldn’t wait any longer and tried to squeeze the crossing in between different sets of company coming to visit in Orlando during various university spring breaks! FAMU’s break was in early March and thus, Carolyn could not get away for the trip across the Lake, and so once again we turned to SEASENSE to assist. Capt. Patti joined Susan and together they took Sojourner from Ft. Myers on the west coast through the Okeechobee Lake Waterway to Stuart/the Manatee Pocket on east coast: including travel on the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers at the beginning and ending of the trip respectively, under several draw and swing bridges, through the Franklin, Ortona, Moore Haven, Port Mayaca and St. Lucie locks as well as across Lake O itself. Under other circumstances, it could have been a leisurely 3-4 day excursion, but Sojourner did it in only two days with a stop overnight just prior to entering the Lake itself at Roland Martin in Clewiston, one of the few marinas along the entire length of the waterway. Though the trip was rather quick, there was still time to marvel at the changing vistas and landscapes as Sojourner passed between and among natural bodies of water and humanly created ones… to see the lush vegetation along the rivers and contrast that with the still scarred lands along the canals leading to Lake O and to wonder about the wisdom of clear cutting and intentionally burning out non native trees and other growth.
Clearly, the 30+ alligators spotted during the afternoon before entering the Lake proper didn’t seem to mind, but there wasn’t much other life visible. Susan was truly sorry she had not read Michael Grunwald’s THE SWAMP: The Everglades, Florida and the Politics of Paradise BEFORE making the trip. It is certainly an informative volume on the long term misuse and consistent mismanagement of such a unique natural wonder and invaluable natural resource. Two thrills climaxed the trip once on the eastern side of Florida: Cousin Evie watched and waved Sojourner through the St. Lucie Lock. And Sojourner successfully navigated through a set of 3 very different kinds of bridges in rapid succession just as the bridge closure warning bell on one of them began to ring! After that, everyone was glad to find docking space at Mariner Cay Marina near the entrance of Manatee Pocket.
While at Manatee Pocket, our last “Spring Break” visitors, Jenny and Ryan from Chicago, came to visit. They spent a couple days in the Orlando area with Carolyn and then all three joined Susan and Sojourner on the coast. While on the boat, they helped us move her from a roomy fuel dock tie up to a more fitting, though much smaller, face dock berth. With but inches to spare at either end, we learned never to say “she’s a Selene 36” if there’s any chance the questioner wants to know her length!! Sojourner is actually over 41 feet long and in this case, the difference was critical!
The final segment of the west-to-east coast trek came in three short jumps from Mariner Cay to the Titusville Municipal Marina via Vero Beach and Melbourne and including a rather close pass by the NASA complex at Cape Canaveral. These jaunts were made over two weekends with the indispensible help of Susan’s sister, Patti, our masterful “Roadie”! She drove the car, met us each night along the way, and enabled us to get back and forth between the boat and Orlando as well. In between the weekend jumps, she and Susan enjoyed Epcot and other Orlando sights while Carolyn worked to finish up the semester. [More Pix]