Monthly Archives: January 2016

Making memories in Marathon!

We have moved from Key West to Marathon and have plans to stay here through the month of February. Many people have told us that is not enough time to see everything in this community. After only a few days here we are starting to understand what they mean as there is quite a bit to do and see.

Here is our latest on our adventures:

Thursday (1/21) – Key West, FL – Today was boat maintenance day for Denise while she awaited Mark’s return from his business trip.  Everything inside the boat was vacuumed, washed, & polished so it would be nice for his homecoming.  She got the last blog update finished and published, and took some pictures around the marina.  She also started and spent most of the day reading the book “13 Hours”; a great insight into what happened at Benghazi, Libya from the perspective of the contractors hired to protect the CIA staff. The story is compelling and she got most of the book read.

Later in the evening Mark returned safely from his trip and we discussed our plans to leave Saturday to head to Marathon. The weather was not looking good and was going to turn bad all weekend so we discussed the possibility of staying a few more days.

Friday (1/22) – Key West, FL – As forecasted, today was an awful weather day in Key West.  The wind was howling from the North at 35 knots with gusts to 40 knots and the stern of our boat took the brunt of it.  It got covered with the salt that blew in off the Gulf and made it difficult to get on and off the boat without getting a bit dirty. Even though there was a breakwater/dock at the entrance to the marina there were 2 foot breaking waves over it, and all the boats in the marina were rocking.  It also began raining and continued off and on throughout the day. Needless to say we were not going to take the SUP out into the Gulf and cruise around like we wanted to. In fact, we really were not going anywhere for a few days as it was going to continue to blow. So, we rescheduled our departure with the marina, and postponed our Marathon arrival until Monday or possibly Tuesday. We stayed close to the boat in the morning so Mark could get some work done and Denise could finish her book.

In the afternoon we rented a car so we could get off the boat.

Our rental car

Our rental car

We used it to go to the movies and see “13 hours”. We had been in communication with our friends on “Endoxi” and “Sassified” who were now in one of the downtown marinas. They took a cab to meet us and see a movie as well.  Afterwards, we all crammed into our rental car for dinner at Salute! This restaurant is owned by the same people who own Blue Heaven and has an outdoor patio that is covered with isinglass windows.  Because the weather was so bad we were able to get seated right away on their enclosed patio. We can see that this would have been a fun place to visit for lunch during a sunny day as there is an outdoor bar and is set up for beach volleyball. This could be a great people-watching spot that we will need to come back to again someday. Together with Pam & Pete (“Endoxi”) and Sharri & Rodney (“Sassified”) we had a delicious meal.

Dinner at Salute with Endoxi & Sassified

Dinner at Salute with Endoxi & Sassified

Saturday (1/23) – Key West, FL– Again the weather was not so great so we went adventuring in the rental car. First we headed out to downtown Key West and to see the impact of the wind on the water. There were a few brave tourists out on the streets, but not many. We went to Mallory Square where there was no one around; something we have never seen before. Here are some pictures of the Key West Harbor area:

High winds in KW Harbor

High winds in KW Harbor

KW Harbor - 40 kt day

KW Harbor – 40 kt day

Mallory Square

Mallory Square

Then we headed to the FL Keys Eco Discovery Center and realized we had made a great discovery of our own.  This center located in the Truman Annex compound offers a plethora of learning about the Florida Keys ecosystems and what is being done to make them sustainable. There are several big aquariums and numerous interactive exhibits, as well as a 20 minute video.  The best part of this center is that is it FREE!  We were so glad we went there as they are closed on Sunday and Monday, and we would have missed it if we did not see it today.  You can learn more about this really cool place here.

Eco Discovery Center

Eco Discovery Center

Sea Urchins at Eco Discovery Center

Sea Urchins at Eco Discovery Center

Lionfish at Eco Discovery Center

Lionfish at Eco Discovery Center

We got back to the boat for a very late lunch and to get out of the weather for a while. Later we went to the 6:00 pm mass at Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea for a second week in a row – the first time in our entire Loop adventure that we have visited the same church more than once.  Afterwards we went back to the boat for dinner and a quieter night then the one before as the wind was finally dying down.

Sunday (1/24) – Key West, FL– Denise went for a run and although the rain stopped and the wind was still blowing a bit.  She ran to and down the promenade on the Gulf side of Key West and saw many more boats out on the water than in the past few days, taking advantage of better weather.

Bike & Pedestrian path

Promenade – Bike & Pedestrian path

We had been watching a sailboat that had been at anchor in the Gulf about a mile away from us. During the high winds over the last few days it dragged closer and closer until this morning it was pushed up onto a shoal just outside the marina.  Others in our marina claimed they saw people aboard the boat and that the Coast Guard and FL Wildlife Commission (FWC) had both been out to see it, but we had not witnessed any activity.  Clearly this boat will require a tow off of the shoal and hopefully for them they will not get cited for any reef damage as the fines for this can be costly.

Sailboat on shoal

Sailboat on shoal

Today we took the rental car and drove east to explore some of the other lower Keys neither of us have ever been to. We traveled through the Saddlebunch Keys, Sugarloaf Keys, and eventually to Cudjoe Key. Although much smaller than Key West, they all have some residential areas and we found many houses for sale that intrigued us, but not enough to get us to make a purchase. The exception of course was Boca Chica which exclusively houses the Naval Air Station.

We did see some very interesting sights along the way, including a radar balloon that was on Cudjoe Key, but was so high up in the air we could see it from our marina on Stock Island.

Radar blimp - Cudjoe Key

Radar blimp – Cudjoe Key

We also saw houses that still had Christmas decorations on display, ala Florida style:

Christmas in Sugarloaf Key

Christmas in Sugarloaf Key

When we returned to the marina, the wind had further calmed down and we got to (finally) cook some steaks on our grill for dinner.

Monday (1/25) – Marathon, FL– Finally a good weather day, so we decided we would take advantage of it and head to Marathon.  We returned the rental car back to the airport and then left the Sunset Marina.  Our trip route took us back through the mooring field, the Fleming Cut and Key West Harbor where we noticed the big yacht “Shalimar” was still at anchor.

"Shalimar" in KW anchorage

“Shalimar” in KW anchorage

"Shalimar's" dinghy and play toy

“Shalimar’s” dinghy and play toy

From there we headed south to the Atlantic Ocean side of the Keys, and then headed east entering Hawk’s Channel for our 55 mile cruise to Marathon. The waves were mostly flat, but the wind was on our nose and the water was a little choppy. It was a little bouncy but quite tolerable.

We cruised past Boca Chica Key and all the Keys we had driven to yesterday.

NAS KW on Boca Chica

NAS KW on Boca Chica

Eventually we came up to Little Torch Key where we stopped to fill up on diesel fuel at one of the more affordable places in the Keys.  The entrance to the channel to get to Little Torch Key took us past Little Palm Island Resort (on Munson Island) – a five-star exclusive resort that is frequently written about in travel magazines like Coastal Living and Conde Nast.  It is extremely expensive (starts at $900/night) and is not inclusive, with everything having a 7.5% sales tax and 20% gratuity.  You can go there just to eat dinner at the resort and they will send a boat launch to the mainland to pick you up if you don’t have your own boat. They do have a dock and allow overnight stays there with access to the beach and resort amenities, but it is very exposed to wind and waves, and very expensive – the discounted price is $600/night and well beyond our Looping budget!

Palm Island Resort

Palm Island Resort

After fueling we made our way back out to Hawk’s Channel and continued our trip east past Big Pine Key, Bahia Honda State Park and Key, and the Seven Mile Bridge which we went under to get back on the Gulf side of the Keys.

"Time Out" near Little Torch Key

“Time Out” near Little Torch Key

7 Mile Bridge

7 Mile Bridge – or at least part of it

We pulled into the Marathon Yacht Club and tied up to our assigned slip without incident. Although not a 5-star resort like Little Palm Island, the MYC is a very nice place with friendly people. Unfortunately for us, the dining room is closed on Mondays so we ventured up the road to have dinner at Takara a Thai restaurant. The food was ok (not bad, but not great), but with only one waiter the service was really slow. We don’t think we will go back as there are many other places to eat at that are within walking distance of the marina.

Takara Thai Restaurant

Takara Thai Restaurant

Tuesday (1/26) – Marathon, FL– In the morning we ran into Jann Mellman (“Ivory Lady”) who we expected to see at the club as her husband Bill is a past Commodore and they had suggested we stay here.  They recently completed their Loop and are now Gold Loopers and have their boat in a neighboring marina (Faro Blanco). Jann invited Denise to the ladies fashion show at the club on Thursday and made plans to sit at the same table.

Today was a work-day and very low-key. Mark came down with a bad cold and used the afternoon to take a 2 hour nap to try and feel better. Denise used the time to download pictures and start on the next blog update. She also spent time doing a load of laundry and communicating with friends and family members.

The weather was fairly nice, although it was still windy. Fortunately, it was out of the South and mostly blocked by the land behind us so we were quite comfortable. But it was hot and for the first time in weeks Denise put on shorts instead of jeans.

The MYC has been around since 1951 and has recently added the swimming pool. The marina has 22 slips, two of which are taken up by a single large Marlow yacht near us. The dining room and bar area occupy most of the area in the building, with club offices, marina restrooms and a laundry facility completing the rest of the facilities.  The main entrance shares the parking lot with the local boat ramp, and the parking lot is across from an elementary school. So there is lots of activity going on all day long. As members of MTOA we were granted reciprocity dockage which includes use of the club facilities and participation in activities while we are here.  Since we will be staying through February we are looking forward to this as they have a lot going on.  Here are some pictures of the marina and club:

MYC Sign from water

MYC Sign from water

MYC Pool

MYC Pool

MYC from marina

MYC from marina

Marathon Boat Ramp near MYC

Marathon Boat Ramp near MYC

MYC from parking lot

MYC from parking lot

Entrance to MYC

Entrance to MYC

MYC Marina

MYC Marina

Wednesday (1/27) – Marathon, FL– Denise went for a morning run, down the bike path that runs along the “Overseas Highway” (US 1) to the 7-mile Bridge and back.  Along the way she passed a new Marriott Courtyard under construction and right next door, the Faro Blanco marina where several of our Looper friends were docked. She also ran past a large section of mangroves that border the bike path with the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. Hiding out in these bushes are numerous homeless people and she was thankful she had waited until later in the morning to run as this would have spooked her if it was still dark (as it is until 7:00 am).

She also ran past a well-known restaurant and bar called “Porky’s”, that looks exactly like the kind of bar you would expect in the FL Keys. Later we learned that this place has really good food, so we have marked it as a “must see” place to get dinner one night.

Porky's

Porky’s

Mark was still fighting a cold but looked like he had turned the corner and was on the road to recovery. He did some work in the morning and then in the afternoon we took a bike ride along the route Denise ran earlier.  We stopped in at Faro Blanco marina to see Looper friends we knew were there including Sonny & Phyllis (“Corkscrew”).  We talked for them for a while and looked for others on “Sum Escape” and “Chasing 80”, but they were not on their boats. We also saw Lila and Allen (“Blue Haven”) whom we met at IVY on the Illinois River, and again in Ft. Myers, but did not get a chance to speak to them. Eventually we got around to “Ivory Lady” and spent time talking with Jann & Bill about our boating adventures.  We missed Willy & Caryn (“Next Chapter”) as they had their boat hauled for maintenance, but would be back in the water their sometime next week.

Noticing the approaching rainstorm, Mark indicated we needed to get back on our bikes and head back to the marina. So we made a quick exit and peddled back to the MYC, arriving just in time as the raindrops started to fall. Because of this we nixed our plans to grill out chicken shishkabobs and instead made chicken fajitas.

Off and on all night long it rained and we were grateful that we had made the repairs to the boat when at Sunset Marina. We have yet to see any water on the floor and felt a sense of relief that this problem was now behind us.

Later in the evening Mark was reading the local (weekly) newspaper (the Free Press) and learned that on Thursday (tomorrow) Monroe County would be conducting a census of all the homeless population in the FL Keys.  Denise suggested they look in the mangroves along the Overseas Highway if they want an accurate number.

Thursday (1/28) – Marathon, FL– We woke up to more rain and a dreary looking overcast sky.  This is what the El Nino conditions brings to the FL Keys.  It was hot and humid and we once again had the air conditioning running.

Mark had scheduled a day full of conference calls and barely came up for air all day.

Denise attended the fashion show luncheon at the MYC. She was invited by Jann Mellman (“Ivory Lady”) who also was one of the “models”, along with a few other women from the club.

Jann and others in Fashion Show

Jann and others in Fashion Show

The women’s auxiliary puts on the show as a fundraiser for their education programs. Also present at the luncheon was Looper friends Pat Hospodor (“Reflections”) and Caryn Bain (“Next Chapter”), and she met several other women who planning to go on the Loop in the near future.

Fashion Show brochure

Fashion Show brochure

After the luncheon Denise spent a bit of time talking with Caryn about things to do and see in the Marathon area and it is clear that we came to stay at the right place.  We may even run out of time to see it all before we move east at the end of February.

In the afternoon it was still drizzling off and on, and the breeze started to pick up. By early evening it was really blowing again and was just miserable out. Our original plan to walk somewhere for dinner was nixed as we didn’t feel like getting soaked.  We debated about eating at the club, but knew we would be participating in the cookout tomorrow night so we nixed that option as well.  Finally, we opted for a pasta dinner on board our Island Office and an evening of debate watching until we couldn’t take it anymore and went to bed.

All night long the boat rocked a lot as the North wind was strong and the entrance to the marina faces the Gulf (north). Still it was not nearly as bad as the 4 days we spent in Grand Haven, Michigan getting blown around our slip.

Friday (1/29) – Marathon, FL– The wind was still blowing strong in the morning, only now the temperature was dropping; 65 degrees in the Keys is still cool, even for January.  The good news is that it meant the weather front was passing and eventually the wind would die down, but not until much later in the day.

We spent the morning on the boat working and writing this blog, and when we had enough rocking opted for a bike ride. We rode north on the bike path along Overseas Highway (US1) to scope out a new development about ¼ mile away called “Marlin Bay Yacht Club”.  There are new homes and a new marina in a gated community that is in the first of five phases of development. It is very nice, but clearly is going to be an exclusive and expensive place.

Marlin Bay Yacht Club

Marlin Bay Yacht Club

The funny thing is it is right next to the Florida Keys Fisheries processing facility, and across the street is a trailer park with a bunch of double-wide trailers.  Only in the Keys!

Fl Keys Fisheries processing plant

Florida Keys Fisheries processing plant

We continued our bike ride up to Banana Bay Resort & Marina where we heard several other Loopers were docked. We saw Cindy & Randy (“I think I can….”) on their Ranger Tug. We had met them at the Spring Rendezvous in Norfolk and again in Deltaville, but had not seen them since. We congratulated them on their Gold Looper Status as they recently crossed their wake.  We rode around the marina to see other Looper boats we recognized including “Sea to Sea” and “Reflection“, but they were not on their boats. So we left Banana Bay, but we will be back here as there is a big Looper event being planned for here on 2/21 and we have already sent in our reservations.

We then headed further east to the next traffic light, which was also where the Walgreens and Publix were located. We used the crosswalk to make our way to the other side of US1 and then rode all the way back to the marina, stopping briefly to check out the prices at Marathon Liquor & Deli. We discovered that it was a really cool store with a great wine selection and lots of deli items, including Boar’s Head products that are cheaper than Publix.  We will be coming back here too, but not for alcohol; it is still cheaper at Costco than here.

Finally we returned back to the boat for lunch. The skies were now sunny, but the wind was still blowing pretty hard.  We hung around reading and working on this blog post for most of the afternoon.

In the evening we attended the usual Friday night cookout dinner at MYC. We provided the meat (a steak) and then used their grills by the pool to cook it. They provided a buffet of salads & fixings, potatoes, rice, and green beans, and an ice cream dessert bar – all for $15. You can choose not to bring your own protein and then order from the club, but the cost then is $26.  Either way we got a great meal and had a chance to meet some other club members. They also provide entertainment and each week it is different; tonight it was a family who played folksy country music (NOT Mark’s favorite).  But they had the cutest little boy who was 5 years old and played the mandolin and had quite a good voice.  It was casual and everyone was very friendly and welcoming.  We had fun and we are glad we did this.

MYC Pool at sunset

MYC Pool at sunset

Mark at MYC Cooking dinner

Mark at MYC Cooking dinner

Grim & Doerfel Trio with son

Grim & Doerfel Trio with son

We then came back to the boat to pack. We leave tomorrow for a quick trip home in order to see Denise’s Aunt who is in visiting, and for a special event with our friends the Medei’s. We will be back on the boat Thursday and the adventures will continue then.

Here are some of our wildlife pictures from the week:

Egret in Sunset Marina

Egret in Sunset Marina

Turtle in MYC marina

Sea Turtle in MYC marina

Stay tuned for more

Advertisements

Wallowing on the West Coast!

We have been enjoying our time along the FL West Coast and we are now in Key West. Our travels have been fun and we have been incredibly busy with moving the boat often and spending time with visiting family.

Here is our latest on our adventures:

Tuesday, (1/5/2016) – Ft Myers, FL – Today was a work day for us, and a day to get the water system fitting repaired so it would not leak when using our water pump. Mark had been in touch with the Supervisor at Dog River Marina in Mobile who installed the coupling, and they agreed to pay to have someone come fix it.

We spent most of the morning working and getting some things in order for the New Year, as well as several client conference calls. Just before noon Craig from VIP Marine Services (the company Dog River Marina was contacting) was on the docks and Mark flagged him down.  He came in to assess the situation and said he needed to go get some parts and lunch, then would be back around 1:00.  He came back as promised and in 20 minutes had the whole thing fixed, with the plastic fitting replaced by a brass one so it would not crack again.  We were very pleased with this repairman and would recommend him to anyone, and we were also happy that Dog River marine stood by their word that they guaranteed their work.

Craig from VIP Marine Services

Craig from VIP Marine Services

In the afternoon Tim and Karen (“TiKa”) met us with their car and took us to Costco for a few item. After that we went to their house for hamburgers on the grill and an evening of great company and conversation. Afterwards they let us take their SUV so we could use it in the morning for a few errands, so we drove back to the marina.

Wednesday, (1/6/2016) – Ft Myers, FL – This morning Denise was able to go for a nice run along the waterfront of the Caloosahatchee River and through downtown Ft. Myers.  Along the way she encountered a group of students attending the city’s firefighter and police college who were also out for their one-a-week 3-mile run.  All of these students were young and she was surprised to see some of them struggle to get in the 3 miles.  She ran through Centennial Park and around the Ft. Myers Yacht Basin before heading back to the boat.  Here are some pictures from her run:

FT Myers War Memorial

FT Myers War Memorial

Ft Myers Muni Marina

Ft Myers Muni Marina

Centenial Park

Centenial Park

After breakfast we used the SUV to go to Publix (even though it was in walking distance to the marina) and then Mark used it to go get a much needed haircut. In the meantime Denise went and got a much-needed pedicure from a terrific salon right near the marina.  We spent the rest of the day working around the boat on various things, including cataloging pictures and publishing the latest blog update.

In the evening we joined Tim & Karen for dinner at a Bonefish Grill that was less than 5 miles from the marina but took us 25 minutes to get there due to traffic. After dinner Tim took us back to the marina and we said our Good-Byes.  We so miss traveling with them and we are grateful for their warm hospitality while we were in Ft. Myers.

Tim & Karen ("TiKa")

Tim & Karen (“TiKa”)

Karen, Tim ("TiKa"), Denise & Mark

Karen, Tim (“TiKa”), Denise & Mark

Thursday, (1/7) – Ft. Myers, FL – it was really foggy this morning, and there was a bit of mist in the air, but it burned off by noon.  We spent the morning working on the boat doing work for clients, conference calls and getting some pictures cataloged.

After lunch we walked the .75 miles to the Edison & Ford Winter Estates, a national register historic site that was the winter homes for Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. We toured the outside of the homes, Edison’s Laboratory, and the museum.  But we were most impressed with the grounds, and all the different types of foliage around the estates.  They grounds were spectacularly beautiful and had an awesome view of the Caloosahatchee River. There was also a building that housed two antique Ford cars (Model A and a Model T).  What was also very intriguing to us was how close friends these two men were; close enough to live side-by-side and share a carriage house for their cars. You can read more about this place here.

Here are some pictures from our visit:

Edison House

Edison House

Ford's House

Ford’s House

Denise at Edison & Ford Estate

Denise at Edison & Ford Estate

Mark and Henry Ford Statue

Mark and Henry Ford Statue

Edison & Ford Estate

Edison & Ford Estate

Edison & Ford Estate

Edison & Ford Estate

Midnight Garden at Edison & Ford Estate

Midnight Garden at Edison & Ford Estate

We walked back to the boat and decided to eat our way through some of the pizza we had in the freezer. It was a quiet night for us and we just wanted some no-socializing down time.  Mark read a book (“13 Hours”) and Denise got caught up on some emails and watched a little TV.

We really liked this area and especially liked Legacy Harbor Marina. They are in a great location and in a very protective harbor.  We would like to come back here again, and since it is right near the entrance to the Okeechobee Waterway, it is highly probable that we will.

Pictures from the marina:

IO at Legacy Marina

IO at Legacy Marina

Legacy Marina

Legacy Marina

Cruiser's Lounge

Cruiser’s Lounge

Marina Office & Cruiser's Lounge

Marina Office & Cruiser’s Lounge

Joe's Crab Shack at Legacy Marina

Joe’s Crab Shack at Legacy Marina

Friday, (1/8) – Naples, FL –  We got up in the morning to a very wet Ft. Myers; it had rained off and on all night and it was still sprinkling. We had previously found some water on the floor near the guest stateroom but this morning it was really bad, indicating that we have a leak somewhere.  We have not been able to find out where it is coming from and Back Cove has suggested several areas to test, which we will do if it ever stops raining.

Eventually it cleared up enough for Denise to get in a quick run past the Edison & Ford estates and down McGregor Boulevard and back.   After a quick shower and prepping of the boat, we left Legacy Harbor and headed back out into the Caloosahatchee River and towards the Gulf of Mexico.

There is no inside (or GICW) route from Fr. Myers to Naples, so we had to go out into the Gulf. The wind was on our nose and the seas that were forecasted to be 1 -2 feet were more like 2 -3 feet.  It was not fun, but it was only 22 miles and took us a little more than an hour to make the passage.  As we got closer to Naples the seas died down a little more, although they did get a bit choppy by the time we entered the harbor. We had to then go North about 20 more minutes to get to the fuel stop (Coastal Marine Fuel) where they have the best price in SW Florida for diesel ($2.24 /gallon).

Our original plan was to anchor out here one night, but when we saw our Looper friend’s boats (“Endoxi” & “Sassified”), we changed our minds and sought out a marina slip where they were at Old Naples Seaport Yacht Association (aka marina). Fortunately, they put us in the slip right across the dock from them; how convenient.   Shortly after arriving Pete & Rodney showed up (Pam and Sharri were still out shopping) and the guys made arrangements for docktails on “Sassified” for 5:30.

Once we settled the boat and got all checked in, we went for a walk to the famous 5th Avenue in downtown Naples. We walked past the numerous restaurants and viewed lots of pretty art in the windows of the numerous galleries.  There were also lots of shops to go into, but we resisted most of them and only “shopped” in a few. Our total take was a new purse for Denise that cost $20 – probably the cheapest thing in all of Naples.

We got back to the boat in time to make some drinks and take an appetizer for the gathering with our friends. We had so much fun talking and enjoying each other’s company that before we realized it we had missed dinner and snacked on all the appetizers. It was after 8:30 when we finally called it a night and went back to our respective boats.

Here are some pictures from today:

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Boat Condo

Boat Condo

Naples House

Naples House

Naples House

Naples House

Naples House

Naples House

5th Avenue

5th Avenue

Playhouse & Community Theater

Playhouse & Community Theater

IO at Old Naples Seaport Yacht Assn

IO at Old Naples Seaport Yacht Assn

Saturday, (1/9) – Naples, FL –  Today was decision day as we had been watching the weather for the next week and trying to determine when we would make the big passage to Key West.  We have to be there no later than Saturday 1/16 as Denise will be participating in a Half Marathon along with several family members and friends.  We studied the weather and wave forecasts for the next 5 days and decided that we could stay in Naples one more day, if we allowed for some contingency routing (go to Marathon first, then back down to Key West/Stock Island on the inside route).  This provided us with more options and still allowed for shorter and (hopefully) not too treacherous days on the Gulf of Mexico between Everglades City and the Keys.  It would also allow us to more easily attend church as the one in Naples was close to the marina; the one in Marco Island would have required a cab ride or long bike ride.

Once we confirmed the marina would let us stay, we set out to enjoy the rest of the area and all the Naples had to offer. We rode our bikes to the Farmer’s Market that is held on 3rd Street every Saturday, and purchased some fresh tangerines and a few other items.  We then continued our bike ride to the Naples pier where we walked all the way to the end and took some pictures.

Fog on GICW

Fog on GICW

Mark at 3rd St. Farmer's Market

Mark at 3rd St. Farmer’s Market

Dutch Pasteries - 3rd St. Farmers Market

Dutch Pastries – 3rd St. Farmers Market

Naples Pier

Naples Pier

Naples Fishing Pier

Naples Fishing Pier

Naples Beach - North

Naples Beach – North

At Naples Pier

At Naples Pier

After the pier stop we continued the bike ride through some old but very nice neighborhoods where we saw some unbelievable homes, and then eventually rode back to the marina.

Naples House

Naples House

We also took advantage of the free washer and did a few quick loads of laundry; something we have learned to take advantage of even if a small load is all that is warranted. Because of the leak in our boat we had lots of dirty towels and this gave us the opportunity to get them cleaned.

Two slips from us in the marina was a Sabre that had a canopy over their back cockpit area that we were admiring. We met and talked with Sven & Kathy (“Flykt”) and discussed the various options they considered. We have been looking for something to protect our back cockpit and provide some shade when we want to sit outside on sunny days.  They let us take pictures of their boat and canopy and then we gave them a tour of our Island Office.

Sven & Kathy ("Flykt")

Sven & Kathy (“Flykt”)

Later in the afternoon we attended the 4 pm mass at St. Ann’s Catholic Church, which was about a mile from the marina. We chose to walk as the rain was threatening and we didn’t want to get caught in it on our bikes; it is easier to walk and hold an umbrella in conditions like this.  This also allowed us to get in lots of walking exercise and burn a few calories. After mass we walked back to the boat and ate a quiet dinner onboard.

St Ann's Catholic Church

St Ann’s Catholic Church

St Ann's Catholic Church

St Ann’s Catholic Church

Doors at St Ann's Catholic Church

Doors at St Ann’s Catholic Church

Other pictures from Naples:

Naples House - Favorite

Naples House – Favorite

St Ann's Catholic School

St Ann’s Catholic School

St Ann's Catholic School

St Ann’s Catholic School

Naples Old Seaport Yacht Assn

Naples Old Seaport Yacht Assn

Sunday, (1/10) – Marco Island, FL – We left Naples just before 11:00 am and cruised the 14 miles to the Esplanade marina in Marco Island, taking the inside route instead of going into the Gulf of Mexico.  As the weather was overcast and quite windy we did not want to deal with 3’ waves and chop of the Gulf, so we chose the more protected inside route. On a sunny day this would have slowed us down a lot, but because of the weather we only encountered a few small fishing boats off the channel in the mangroves, and as we passed through Rookery Bay our wake attracted a few jet skiers.

Jet Skier in Rookery Bay

Jet Skier in Rookery Bay

Common ICW sign - Inside Route

Common ICW sign – Inside Route

We arrived at Esplanade and were tied up to the dock by 12:30. This is a marina located up Smokehouse Bay and it is quite protected from the currents of the Marco River and Gulf breezes.  It also protected on the south side by two very large condominium buildings, and there is a Winn Dixie across the street and a Publix about 3/4 of a mile away.

Condos on Marco Bay

Condos on Marco Bay

Esplanade Marina

Esplanade Marina

Just outside the entrance to the complex is the bridge that can take you west to the beach if you are so inclined, but because we are Floridians the weather is too cool and we did not go.  We did however walk to Publix to get a few items and then decided to take advantage of the free washer at this marina, and finish the last few items we did not get to wash in Naples.

Because it was Sunday, there was a limited number of restaurants open around us and the few that were required a walk back to the area near Publix. Due to the cold and damp weather we did not want to walk all the way back. So, for dinner we opted to go to CJ’s, which was located in the complex of the marina and was open. It had mixed reviews on YELP (our go-to restaurant finder) so we didn’t expect a lot, but we were pleasantly surprised. The food was good and we had good service, so we were happy.

We also studied the weather and confirmed that Tuesday would be the best day for us to go to Key West, so we would still be able to get to Everglades City, but only if we did not stay any longer in Marco Island. Therefore we made plans to leave the next day.

Monday, (1/11) – Everglades City, FL – In the morning, Mark contacted the local TowBoatUS representative who confirmed what we thought; there is an inside route from Marco Island to the 10,000 islands and the entrance to the Everglades. We could take that route to avoid going out into the Gulf, and all the way around a huge shoal area south of Marco Island that would lengthen our trip. So we left the marina just before noon to allow us to transit the areas with the shallowest water on a rising tide and found no problems all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way we passed a few interesting sights, including the Old Marco Lodge & Crab house on Goodland Bay – which has been around since 1869.

Old Marco Lodge & Crabhouse

Old Marco Lodge & Crabhouse

Shortly after that we went through the Coon Key Pass and entered the Gulf of Mexico. Here we found seas of less than 1 foot, and we were happy that we had taken the inside route.  We continued for another 30 minutes cruising along the coast of the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife area.  We then turned left and headed east through the Indian Key Pass. Here we followed the channel through the mangroves and small islands that took us into Everglades City.

Here are some other pictures from today:

Judge Jolley Bridge

Judge Jolley Bridge

Big Marco River

Big Marco River

Birds on Island at Indian Key Pass

Birds on Island at Indian Key Pass

Approaching Barron River entrance

Approaching Barron River entrance

Barron River to Rod & Gun Club

Barron River to Rod & Gun Club

Everglades City Home

Everglades City Home

By 2:30 we had parked the boat on the dock wall at the Rod & Gun Club, a landmark fishing lodge that has been around since 1884.

Rod & Gun Club

Rod & Gun Club

IO at Rod & Gun Club Dock

IO at Rod & Gun Club Dock

Denise went for a long walk while Mark attended to several client needs and conference calls. While not really a ‘downtown’ area, she did go to a souvenir shop to buy postcards and inquire about airboat rides in the Everglades. Not that we were interested in going; we just wanted to know what the going rate was ($38/hr per person). Here are some of the pictures from the Everglades City area:

City Tennis Courts

City Tennis Courts

Captain Jacks Souvenir Shop

Captain Jacks Souvenir Shop

Hibiscus Street!!!

Hibiscus Street!!!

Stone Crab Capital of the World" marker

“Stone Crab Capital of the World” marker

City Hall

City Hall

Jake the Skunk Ape - Tourist Attraction

Jake the Skunk Ape – Tourist Attraction

National Park Signage

National Park Signage

Museum of the Everglades

Museum of the Everglades

In the afternoon our boat was periodically rocked by all the passing commercial fisherman and crabbers returning with their daily catch. This is still very much “old Florida” and the commercial fishing business is very big here – along with the eco-tourism of the Everglades.

Fishing Boat returning at end of day

Fishing Boat returning at end of day

After sunset and the conference calls were over, we went to dinner at the restaurant at the Rod & Gun Club. We were one of only three other tables of guests.  We were told that in 2 weeks the season will be in full swing, but we could see that the employees were concerned that the bad weather had been keeping fisherman away.  This place is well known in fishing circles and everyone had told us we had to come here.  We are glad we did as this was quite an adventure and great way to break up the cruise from Marco Island down to the Keys.

Other pictures from this area:

Rod & Gun Club truck

Rod & Gun Club truck

Rod & Gun Club History

Rod & Gun Club History

Home acrross river from R&G Club

Home across river from R&G Club

Sunset at Everglades City

Sunset at Everglades City

Tuesday, (1/12) – Key West, FL– Figuring we would have a long day on the water, we chose to leave Everglades City as soon as it was light. This was easy as we woke early due to the rocking of the passing fishing boats now leaving at 5:00 am to go set their crab traps or to fish for the day. It didn’t matter that the wind was up and it was raining – they have to make their living.

We quickly made it out into the Gulf of Mexico and entered the Florida Bay where the average depth is 15 – 20 feet. The water was a pretty green and normally would be crystal clear, but for the waves brought on by the 25 kt North wind.  We were very fortunate it was behind us and we were not uncomfortable at all. We plotted a course to head to Marathon with the plan to head there, then cross under the US1 Bridge and head West through Hawk’s Channel into Key West. This was a longer route, but would protect us from the north wind.

Gulf of Mexico

Gulf of Mexico

However we were having a good day and the wind wasn’t as bad as predicted, so we made the decision to head directly to Key West, staying on the northern side of the Keys and in the FL Bay. This ended up saving us lots of time and we were glad we did this.  The waves did build a bit and it got a little rougher as we neared the Key West Harbor entrance, but it was still tolerable.  The most stressful part was the (literally) thousands of crab pots we had to negotiate around. It is stone crab season and all the traps are out!  It took lots of concentration and we had to pay attention making sure we did not foul our prop on any of the pots.

We entered the North West channel and made our way through the Key West Harbor as a Carnival Cruise ship was preparing to leave port.

Key West Harbor

Key West Harbor

We negotiated around it, through the harbor, and then took the Fleming Key Cut to the North side of Key West. From there we had to navigate through a mooring field that had no less than 200 boats on moorings. It was quite a challenge as the wind was blowing really strong and was on our nose at this point, and we were trying to eyeball the channel marks to take us around Sigsbee Park and into the narrow channel into Sunset Marina on Stock Island.

The marina does not communicate on the VHF and we had been trying to reach the dock master via phone since arriving in Key West area, only to get an “out of service” message. Although we had our dock assignment from prior communication, we did not know the layout of this marina and wanted some assistance. The wind was really blowing which made docking a significant challenge.  Fortunately, fellow Loopers Bill & KelliRae (“Ocean Dancer”) whom we had been in touch with, saw us coming in and helped us get to the correct slip and tie up.  We really appreciated their efforts and it was good to see a friendly face.  Come to find out the marina had lost all telecommunications with the high winds and in fact it was out for all of Stock Island. Later in the afternoon it was eventually restored.

Once we had settled the boat and checked in we took a walk around the marina area to see the sights. It was a well-protected location and we were happy with our accommodations as the wind was really blowing.

Sunset Marina

Sunset Marina

We stuck around the boat for the rest of the day and ate a quiet dinner on board.

Wednesday, (1/13) – Key West, FL – Denise started the day with a 4 mile run on Stock Island. Her route included crossing over the Overseas Highway (US1) to the South side of the Island and to the Stock Island Village Marina where most of the Loopers stay but where we were not able to get a slip.  She found fellow Loopers John & Jan (“Mitzvah”) whom we met in Green Turtle Bay, Kentucky and talked with them for a little bit before heading back to the marina.

While she was gone, Mark investigated some possible areas for our boat leak, which was getting worse every day. He was pretty sure that the leak was coming from where the fiberglass cabin top and decking are seamed together, as the caulking there is cracked and chipping away. We had checked all other portholes and hatches and there just was no evidence of water entering from them.  So we resolved to get some blue painters tape and put it over the area to see if this would prevent further leaking.

The rest of the day was a workday on the boat, and a day to resolve computer technical issues for Denise, which literally took all day. Since it was mostly a rainy and windy day we did not venture out much, staying close to the boat and marina.

Thursday, (1/14) – Key West, FL – The rain continued all night and into the day, giving us a bit of cabin fever. In the morning Denise started to read the book Mark had finished (“13 hours”), while Mark started to do some work. Then he got the idea to get a rental car so we could get off the boat and do our errands instead of waiting for our family to arrive on Friday.  This would allow us to go get some blue tape and get a temporary repair on the leak as soon as possible.

So we took a cab to the Key West airport to get the rental car, then went to Home Depot to buy the blue painters tape.

Crab & lobster pots

Crab & lobster pots for sale at Home Depot – Who Knew?  Only in Key West!

We then drove to the Cummins dealer (Key West Engine Service) to pick up the spare generator impeller Mark had ordered when we were in Sarasota. After that we went to the West Marine which had been holding a new water softener we had ordered, as well as a leash for Denise’s new SUP.  Finally, we went to Publix and to get a few things needed for the weekend.

Not wanting to go back to the boat just yet, we opted for a late lunch at the Hurricane Hole, a restaurant on Stock Island. The food was good, but the service was very slow and the place had hardly anyone in it. It had come with good reviews, so we figured our timing was off and just enjoyed being off the boat for a while.

After lunch we drove to the rental house where the family would be staying for the weekend to scope out the surrounding water. It is only 2 miles away and on a canal that leads out to the FL Bay.  We had hoped to be able to take the dinghy there, but the weather does not look favorable for us to do that.

Later in the afternoon, Mark was able to get the water softener installed and we also put blue tape on the seam where we believe the leak was. We had discussed going to the movies in the evening, but the rain came and we just didn’t feel like venturing out. Denise was heavy into her book and Mark had work for clients he was trying to get done. However, since we had the rental car we decided to get a to-go dinner from Outback Steakhouse which was located near the Publix and Home Depot on Key West, a short 4 miles from the boat. After that it was back to reading and relaxing for the rest of the evening.

Friday (1/15) – Key West, FL – The rain continued in the morning but fortunately we had no leaking water.  It looked like we had identified the source, so Mark made some phone calls and found a local person who could do a permanent repair for us. Jorg (George) is from Germany and is a certified master boat builder. He came by and gave us an estimate, and we scheduled him to do the repair work beginning on Monday. Denise spent the rest of the morning finishing her book while Mark did some work for clients and then returned the rental car back to the airport

In the afternoon the family started to arrive. Coming to Key West for the Half Marathon were the following: Denise’s Sister Claire, her husband John, son Johnny & his girlfriend Scarlett – all from Tallahassee; Sister Susan and her husband Steve – from Orlando; Sue and Steve’s three daughters – Jessica, Jaci, & Jeanette – from Tallahassee, Thomasville, Ga, and Tampa, respectively.  These three gals got a weekend pass as they left leaving their young children in the charge of their husbands for the weekend.  Staying nearby at a hotel on Key West was friends Vicki and Liz – from Orlando, who were part of this contingency of folks all planning to walk the half marathon on Sunday.

We spent the afternoon with the family at the rental house hanging out and just chatting and planning for the next few day’s activities. We were also able to take advantage of the washer and dryer in the rental house and get some laundry done.

In the evening we all went to dinner at Blue Heaven. This is a restaurant in Key West that we have eaten at before, and because we were such a large group we were able to get a “reservation”, even though they usually don’t take them. It also helped that the rain had kept most people away as the majority of this restaurant is outside underneath a large banyan tree. Fortunately, the rain had stopped right before we called and we were able to get in at a decent time. We had a lot of fun talking and enjoying each other’s company at this good old Key West standby.

At Blue Heaven

At Blue Heaven

Saturday (1/16) – Key West, FL – in the morning Denise spent time with the family at the rental house and making plans for the rest of the day; Mark washed the boat as it was finally sunny and clear enough to do so. Eventually, we regrouped and all went into downtown Key West to pick up our race packets and attend the expo. It was very windy, but at least it had stopped raining and afforded us time to walk around a bit.

Claire & Denise - Race Packet Pickup

Claire & Denise – Race Packet Pickup

Sign at house on KW

Sign at rental house backyard on KW

Iguana on wall across canal

Iguana on wall across canal from rental house

Of course we forgot to get a picture of the rental house!

Because of the race on Sunday we went to the 6:00 pm mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea. However because of our large group and how crowded it was, all 13 of us had to spread out across three different pews.  Coincidentally, the principal of the school associated with the church was at the same mass and spotted Claire, John & Johnny. He used to teach at John Paull II (Catholic High School in Tallahassee) and moved to Key West a few years ago as his wife is from here. What a small world!

St Mary Star of Sea Basilica Sign

St Mary Star of Sea Basilica Sign

St Mary Star of the Sea Basilica

St Mary Star of the Sea Basilica

St Mary Star of the Sea

St Mary Star of the Sea

We left the church just as the rain drops started coming and made our way back to the rental house on Stock Island. A carbo-loading spaghetti dinner had been planned and all pitched in to help get it cooked and served – buffet style, of course.  We took pictures, watched some football on TV, then we headed back to the boat for the night.

Half Marathoner Carb dinner

Half Marathoner Carb dinner

It rained most of the night and the wind howled but we stayed dry in the boat. Apparently we have found the source of our leak and the temporary repair was holding.

Sunday (1/17) – Key West, FL – It was an early wake-up to coordinate the pickup, drop off and rendezvous with everyone for the start of the race. As we arrived near the start we got word the race had been delayed for one hour due to a tornado warning and pending rain. So we opted to go to Harpoon Harry’s for coffee and protection from the elements which we were glad we did; within 20 minutes it started to pour.  After about 45minutes, it calmed down to a drizzle and stopped completely just before the start of the race.

Our Group - Pre Race

Our Group – Pre Race

Pre - race rain conditions

Pre – race rain conditions

And after that, there was no more rain for the rest of the day. But the winds picked up and were ferocious. Our whole group finished the 13.1 miles and we were all in a celebratory mood, but only after battling the 35 kt headwinds during the last half of the race. It was brutal!

Denise at last mile

Denise at last mile

DSCN1467cc

Afterwards we all hung out at the race after-party for a while and then made our way back to the rental house for lunch.

Post Race Photo

Post Race Photo

We headed back to the boat for showers before regrouping with the gang again in the afternoon. In the late afternoon everyone went down to Mallory Square to watch the sunset, but it was non-existent due to the cloud cover.  We watched a few of the entertainers, and Johnny participated in one of the shows, but because of the wind and cool temperatures we did not stay long once the sun went down.

Johnny volunteering

Johnny volunteering

We had dinner at Two Friends Café located not far from Mallory Square. We enjoyed a great time there celebrating our accomplishment and enjoying each other’s company. We stayed as late as our tired bodies would let us, and then we made our way back to the rental house. There we said our goodbye’s to family and returned to the boat for the night.

Post Race dinner at Two Friends Cafe

Post Race dinner at Two Friends Café

Other sights from today in Key West:

Crazy Key West

Crazy Key West

Typical Key West Rooster

Typical Key West Rooster

Monday (1/18) – Key West, FL – Today all the family left the rental house and headed back to their homes in Tallahassee, Tampa, Orlando and Thomasville.  Denise was sad to see them leave and was even sadder when Mark too left for the airport; he had to go to Ohio to visit a client.

Denise spent the rest of the day beginning the task of cataloging the pictures taken over the last two weeks. It was a big job and she barely made a dent before the day was over.

Tuesday (1/19) – Key West, FL – Again today the wind was howling in the morning and Denise spent the entire day cataloging pictures until she was caught up.  She took a brief time out to talk with Nicholas (local live aboard) whose daughter Kassidy also ran the Half Marathon, and she spent some time talking with Bill & KelliRae (“Ocean Dancer”).  She also worked on an update to the blog posting and in the evening participated in web conference for a professional association she is involved with.

Also during the day, Jorg showed up and started the repair work. This involves taking all the old caulking out of the seam, which is a tedious task. It has to be done carefully so as not to scratch the fiberglass gel coat. He got about half way done the boat before he had to leave for the day, but will be back to finish tomorrow.

Jorg

Jorg

Wednesday (1/20) – Key West, FL – Finally today, the sun came out and the wind seemed to die down a little bit. The temperature was still cool for Key West, but was very pleasant for a change.

Shortly after 10 am, Jorg showed up with his helper Ken, and the two of them went to work on removing the rest of the old caulking. After that they had to clean and then prepare the area for the new sealant to be applied. The actual installation of the new sealant was the easiest and fastest part and by 4:30 pm the job was done.  The boat looked better, our leak was repaired, and our bank account was now lower.

Jorg and Ken hard at work

Jorg and Ken hard at work

While this was going on Denise was able to get in a short run around the Key West Golf Course and the marina, and worked on this blog update. She also participated in a webcast on leadership that was delivered by one of her colleagues and she went up to balcony on the 2nd story of the facilities building to capture the best sunset we have seen yet in Key West.

Sunset over Key West

Sunset over Key West

Sunset over Key West

Sunset over Key West

The marina here is very friendly and there are lots of live-aboards as well as transients and locals.

Here is a little bit about this area on Stock Island:
The marina is bordered by four 3-story condo buildings to Southeast, the Monroe County Juvenile Justice Center (and Jail) to the Southwest and West, a large landfill behind the condos, and the Florida Bay to the North. Across the street and up the road is an elementary school, a Community College, the County hospital and the Key West Golf Course, which is open to the public. Also nearby are two naval air stations and we continuously hear the jets or helicopters taking off and landing, or just running their jets. We also hear the never ending sounds of ambulances going to the hospital making for a sometimes a noisy place.

Sunset Marina

Sunset Marina

County Juvy Justice Center and Jail

County Juvenile Justice Center and Jail

Landfill near marina

Landfill near marina

In the marina there is a marina office that also serves as a mini convenience store and bait shop. There is also a two-story building adjacent to the marina office building that houses the bathrooms, showers and laundry facilities, as well as a multipurpose room which is under some type of renovation. The balcony off of this building provides a spectacular view to the West, where we can see the cruise ships in port in the Key West Harbor and offers a terrific spot to view sunsets.

Marina office

Marina office

Facilities building

Facilities building

View west over jail

View west over jail

There are several commercial fishing charters that are based here and they make use of the fish cleaning stations on the docks when they come in with their catches.

Fish cleaning tables in marina

Fish cleaning tables in marina

This gets a lot of attention by the resident tarpon and pelicans who anxiously await for something to be thrown to them. We have watched the tarpon literally come out of the water to take the fish scraps out of someone’s hand, while the pelicans try to get in on the action as well. This makes for a fun thrill when there is nothing else to do in Key West!

Stay tuned for more of our adventure!

Friends & Fun in West Florida!

We hope you had a wonderful Christmas holiday and that 2016 is starting off well for you. We spent some time at home enjoying family and friends, and are now back on the boat continuing our travels south down the west coast of Florida.

First an update from before the Christmas break:

Wednesday, (12/16) – Dunedin, FL – While Mark was away, Denise got to play.  Well, not really.  The day started with a nice out and back run along the Dunedin Causeway to Honeymoon Island State Park.  It was a beautiful day and the sun stayed behind clouds just long enough for Denise to finish her run.

Bay at Honeymoon Island

Bay at Honeymoon Island

The day was spent doing boat chores and cataloging pictures, as well as starting a blog post – which didn’t get very far due to interruptions.

In the evening Denise met up with a grade and high school friend (Joan Nickerson Wessel) who now lives in Hudson, FL – just north of Tarpon Springs. Joan’s mother was a bus driver for Good Shepard and Bishop Moore Catholic schools where Denise attended.  She and her husband Albert came by the boat for drinks and then we went to dinner at Casa Tina; a very good Mexican restaurant in downtown Dunedin.  We walked around a bit in the downtown area to see some of the shops, and then they returned Denise to the boat and headed home. It was great to see them and reconnect after so much time and hopefully we will get together again in the Orlando area – this time with Mark.

Joan & Denise

Joan & Denise

Sculpture in downtown

Sculpture in downtown Dunedin!

Thursday, (12/17) – Dunedin, FL – Denise spent the day cataloging pictures, visiting with the few Loopers still in the marina who had not yet gone home for Christmas, and taking advantage of the free laundry at Marker 1 Marina.  She was anxious for Mark to return from his Ohio business trip, and for them to move the boat down to Sarasota and eventually Palm Island Marina in Englewood before heading home for Christmas.

In the afternoon and evening the winds started to pick up and the weather was not very pleasant. Denise stayed close to the boat doing emails and reading, while keeping abreast of Mark’s eventual arrival on the boat.

Friday, (12/17) – Dunedin, FL – Today we were planning to leave Dunedin and head south but again woke up to very strong winds that were not going to die down anytime soon.  We put off the decision to leave until mid-morning and felt that although the winds were strong, we could certainly handle the majority of the trip down to Sarasota because most of the ICW through Clearwater and St. Pete would be in narrow and protected areas. However, crossing Tampa Bay and the Sarasota Bay would have been another story and we would have to stop short of crossing those bays and put into another unplanned marina (if available).  And despite having Looper slip neighbors willing to help, exiting our boat slip would have resulted in a bad case of “bumper boats”.  We were so close to leaving with cable, water and power unplugged from the dock when we decided to reconsider leaving.

Given the weather conditions and the fact that we would not make it to Sarasota, we felt there was no reason to stay on the boat either. Mark suggested we just leave the boat at Marker 1 Marina and go home a few days early for Christmas.  Also a contributing factor in the decision was that we would now be pushed past the threshold for daily/weekly rates for dockage and into the monthly (and cheaper) rate. A quick call to the marina office to confirm they could keep our boat through the holidays and this became a “no-brainer”.  Denise was thrilled to be going home for Christmas a few days early!

Then came the task of getting a one-way rental car and getting picked up by Enterprise, which they could do, but not before 3:00 pm. In the meantime we packed and identified things to take off the boat that we had not used or were no longer needed.  It was after 4 pm when we finally left the marina with the car packed to the hilt.

It being the Friday before Christmas, traffic in the Tampa Bay area was awful with all the major freeways congested and accidents everywhere. So we took the backroads to I-75 and eventually took SR 50 all the way across FL until in the Central FL area, stopping along the way for a quick dinner. We were home by 8:00 pm and very happy to be able to sleep in our own bed!

The rest of the holiday week we enjoyed time with our families and several friends we had not seen in months. Denise was delighted to have several good runs with her running buddies, as well as a Christmas dinner that included spouses as well.  It was all quite fun and it was great to see everyone.  Of course we both got to participate in Christmas mass at our home church and see many parishioners who have missed us as much as we missed them.

Here are some other sights from Marker 1 Marina:

Homes near marina

Homes near marina

Sunset from Marker 1

Sunset from Marker 1

And then we returned to our adventure:

Sunday, (12/27) – Dunedin, FL –  We left Winter Park right after mass and got a ride thanks to Susan & Steve (Denise’s sister and brother-in-law) who were going to see their daughter in Tampa.  So we did not have to worry about getting another rental car and we didn’t have to fight too much traffic as we left early enough in the day.  We stopped along the way for lunch and by 2:00 we were back on our Island Office and they were on their way. We really appreciated their taking us and it was good to be able to spend time with them as well.

In the evening we planned for the next day’s departure and ate some of the great leftovers of home-made cooking for dinner. We also caught up with a few other Loopers who were now back in the marina, including Tom & Jane (“Elizabear”) who have the friendliest dog (“Gus”) who loves people.  We spoke with them for a while about our mutual plans and then said good-bye, hoping to connect again further south.

Monday, (12/28) – Sarasota, FL – Yes, today we did finally untie the dock lines and leave Marker 1 Marian in Dunedin.  It was bitter sweet as we really liked this marina.  The people who live and work there are terrific; it a first class joint and the area of Dunedin has much to offer anyone on a boat.  It was a great place and we strongly suggest all other Loopers spend time in this place.

Leaving Marker 1 Marina

Leaving Marker 1 Marina

Our cruise to Sarasota was mostly uneventful. It was very slow going through the no-wake zones of Clearwater, Ana Maria Island and Venice, but the rest of the time we were able to make faster progress. That is when we were not having to slow down for the millions of pleasure craft on the water. Of course the highlight of the day was going by the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa Bay:

Sunshine Skyway Bridge over Tampa Bay

Sunshine Skyway Bridge over Tampa Bay

It was also thrilling to go past “Cortez” which is where we took delivery of our old sailboat (“High Flight”) in 1995. From here on south it is old cruising ground for us and we are thrilled to be doing it again.

Here are some sights from today along the ICW:

ICW home in Clearwater

ICW home in Clearwater

Abominable Snowman and Happy Face Flag - Clearwater

Abominable Snowman and Happy Face Flag – Clearwater

Birds on Wreck - Boca Ciega Aquatic Preserve

Birds on Wreck – Boca Ciega Aquatic Preserve

Unfortunately, while in route we encountered our second mechanical issues on the trip; this time with the generator. It was really hot and we wanted to run the air conditioner while under way, but we could not get the generator to stay on. Mark had confirmed the filter was clean, but it was not pushing water through the system which meant either a clog in the line, or a bad impeller. Since generators like to be used and ours had not been in over 4 weeks, it most likely was the impeller.

We arrived into Sarasota just after 3:00 to some very blustery conditions. The wind had picked up quite a bit making docking a bit of a challenge. Fortunately, Mark knew enough to request a slip on any other dock except A- dock (the outside dock) and they assigned us one on C-dock, offering much better protection.  Denise was grateful and the boat did fine.

Entering Sarasota

Entering Sarasota

Ringling Cswy Bridge

Ringling Cswy Bridge

We were able to connect with our Looper buddy-boat friends Ginny & Bruce (“Snug Tug”) who had left their boat in Michigan and will finish the Loop next summer. That evening they joined us on the boat for drinks first, then we went to dinner at a Mexican Restaurant (“Two Senoritas”) in downtown Sarasota. We had so much catching up to do and so many stories to share that time flew by.  At dinner they presented us with two high quality pictures they had taken of our boat this summer in Canada, and they had enlarged them for framing. They are terrific and we were so touched by their generosity. We shared so many great moments with them that it really was a very special gift, in addition to the gift of their life-long friendship. Of course we were having so much fun, we forgot to take a picture with them!

Tuesday, (12/29) – Sarasota, FL – Denise got to start the day with a nice run in the morning around Lido Key and St. Armands Circle – but it was HOT!  After arriving back at the marina, she was able to take advantage of the fabulous gym on site and really work the arms, which had gotten a little weaker while home over Christmas.

SYC Gym

SYC Gym

In the morning, Mark contacted Cummins about the generator and was able to schedule a service technician to come first thing on Wednesday. We were hoping it was a quick enough repair as to not delay our departure.

In the evening, we had dinner at the Sarasota Yacht Club. The food was excellent and the service was terrific.  We liked that they offered a casual dining atmosphere, while still serving some of the best food. No stuffy yacht club here!  The ambiance and wonderful amenities this place has to offer was a great find and was truly one of the nicest places we had stayed on the Loop.

SYC

SYC

SYC Lobby

SYC Lobby

Dining Room at SYC

Dining Room at SYC

Decorated Boat at SYC

Decorated Boat at SYC

SYC

SYC

SYC Ladies bathroom

SYC Ladies bathroom

SYC Ladies bathroom

SYC Ladies bathroom

SYC

SYC

Our dock at SYC

Our dock at SYC

Homes on Bird Key near SYC

Homes on Bird Key near SYC

Even though we do not belong to another yacht club (with reciprocity) it was through our MTOA (Marine Trawler Owners Group) membership that we were able to stay here. We joined MTOA in the last month as a result of discussion with other Loopers.  The yearly membership ($60) offers us the opportunity to stay at other Yacht Clubs not open to AGLCA or Boat US members.  So, now we (like many other Loopers) are members of 3 separate organizations which each offer unique enough benefits that warrant the yearly dues. Ah the boating life!

Wednesday, (12/30) – Palm Island Marina – Cape Haze, FL –We had barely finished breakfast when the Cummins generator repair guy showed up.  Fortunately, it was a simple impeller replacement that was required and he was done within 90 minutes.  Mark was able to watch what he did and now know how to repair it ourselves in the future. Additionally, a spare part has been put on hold and will be waiting for us when we arrive in Key West.

Once we got the generator repair done, we headed south down the ICW, dodging pleasure craft the entire way, and even getting buzzed by low flying airplanes in Venice.

Stickey Point Bridge

Stickey Point Bridge

ICW Home on Siesta Key

ICW Home on Siesta Key

ICW in Nokimis, FL

ICW in Nokimis, FL

Plane Landing over us at Venice Airport

Plane Landing over us at Venice Airport

Even though it was not a weekend, it is still the winter holiday and there was lots of boat traffic around. Plus it was very sunny and hot, so we cranked up the generator and the AC units and cruised in comfort for the 33 miles to Palm Island Marina in Cape Haze, FL.  Normally this should have taken only 2.5 hours, but it took us 4 hours. This was due mostly to the crazy boat traffic, and also because we had a short wait for a bridge that had an on-the-hour-only opening.  It was almost like traveling the I-4 corridor from Tampa to Orlando on a Friday night.

But we didn’t care that we were on the water this long as this is very familiar cruising ground for us. We pulled into the Palm Island Marina and tied up to the slip without incident, even though it was a narrow entrance. Mark is a master at maneuvering our Island Office into tight places.

Palm Island Marina sign

Palm Island Marina sign

Palm Island Marina

Palm Island Marina

It had been 15 years since we had last stayed at this marina when we were here on Claire’s sailboat (“Aurora”). At that time we were celebrating Denise’s 40th birthday, so it is only quite fitting that we stay here for another celebratory event – New Year’s Eve.  In all actuality, it is very close to two separate friends who we had plans to connect with, and the marina is still a great place to stay.  There is a good restaurant on the premises (Leverock’s) and we were considering eating NYE dinner there.

Leverock's Sign

Leverock’s Sign

Our first meeting was over to Glenda & Alex’s condo for drinks and a wonderful dinner. They are long-time friends of the Gillespie’s from Miami and we visit them every year during our Boca Grande visits.  Glenda is a fabulous cook and Alex makes a terrific smoked salmon spread that we indulged in during fishing stories, political discussions, and college football.  Unfortunately, this is a Gator household and we are Seminoles, but we all enjoyed each other’s company and they were gracious hosts.  We love our time with them and hope to connect with them again soon.

Great dinner cooked by Glenda

Great dinner cooked by Glenda

Thursday, (12/31) – Palm Island Marina – Cape Haze, FL– Before anyone else was up in the marina, Denise was out the door to try and get a run in. Because the marina is located on a two-lane highway with little or no sidewalk paths, this was a bit of a challenge. She did manage to find an older condo complex and do several loops before heading back to the marina and logging only 3 miles. UGH! Hard to train for a half marathon under these conditions.

One of the benefits of this marina was the free washer and dryer. So shortly after the run Denise got one load in before the line formed by other boaters. We opted to let the second load wait until there was a less busy time. There are several full-time live aboard boats in the marina as well as a few seasonal transients so this is a nice perk and they all seemed to have wanted to do their laundry at the same time.

We were able to connect with our other friends Chele & Dave who used to be our neighbors in Winter Park. They moved to Englewood several years ago to take over a family business.  They live less than a half mile up the road, so Chele came by the boat with daughter Tailor and two of her friends.  We made plans to spend the evening together at their place and they took Denise to Publix (where they were also headed) so she could get a few things.

After lunch we took the dinghy out and cruised all around Palm Island and the mangroves that are just west of the marina. We saw many a pieces of real estate we would love to own, but would never be able to afford the insurance or taxes.

Ready for a dinghy ride

Ready for a dinghy ride

Homes on Palm Island

Homes on Palm Island

We cruised north to Rum Cay restaurant (on Pine Island) where we were going to go for a drink, but realized that neither of us had a wallet, money or credit card. So, we left the area and cruised back across the ICW to Cape Haze Marina. We wanted to check it out to see if there were any Loopers present.  We didn’t find any, however there were several large boats in slips and one very big Hatteras yacht on an end tie. We had a chance to speak with the woman who owns the boat and she told us they live aboard full time and now cruise all over Florida. Ah what a life!

Here are some more pictures from our dinghy ride:

Canal around Palm Island

Canal around Palm Island

Sign on Palm Island

Sign on Palm Island

It was getting late so we had to head back to the boat to get cleaned up and ready for our NYE celebrations at Chele & Dave’s. Since they live so close to the marina and the temperature was not too hot, we walked to their place. They live on the 3rd (top) floor of the condo building and we were hoping for a spectacular sunset view. Unfortunately, it was so cloudy and overcast that we saw nothing and abandoned all hope of seeing one.

Mark, Chele, Dave & Denise

Mark, Chele, Dave & Denise

We enjoyed our time with them and meeting other friends they also had over – Dan & Agnieszka Delong with daughters Nika and Kenzie.  Knowing we would not be able to stay up until midnight, Chele was kind enough to drive us back to the marina around 9:30.  It was fairly quiet in the marina and we went right to sleep.  At midnight the celebrating and fireworks by locals in the marina and around Palm Island woke us up, but it didn’t last long and we fell back asleep quickly.

Here are some other pictures of this marina:

Palm Island Marina

Palm Island Marina

IO at Palm Island Marina

IO at Palm Island Marina

Friday, (1/1/2016) – Boca Grande, FL – It was a new year and the best way to start things off right was heading to one of our favorite places in Florida; Boca Grande.  But not before Denise got that second load of laundry done; easy to do since she was up before it was even light out.

While waiting on the laundry Denise talked with Jim, one of the dockhands that work at this marina. He was from the Orlando area (actually Casselberry) originally, spending 70 years there, so they had quite a bit to share. He had recently retired to Rotunda – a community not far from Cape Haze – and told her about how he had paid off his house after winning $90,000 in a FL Lottery scratch off game.  What a lucky guy!

Dockhand Jim

Dockhand Jim

We left Palm Island marina shortly after 10 and cruised 10 miles to Boca Grande, encountering a few dolphins who rode in our bow for a while. Denise was able to take a few pictures of them and really looked them in their eyes to her delight.

Dolphins in bow of boat

Dolphins in bow of boat

Christmas Tree on BG Bridge

Christmas Tree on BG Bridge

BG bridge tender

BG bridge tender

As we approached the entrance into Boca Grande, a float plane landed right behind us and followed us into the Boca Grande Bayou where we set an anchor.

Float plane right behind us

Float plane right behind us

This is right near the docks for the famous “Pink Elephant” restaurant, commonly known as “The Pink”.

The Pink

The Pink

Because this anchorage is very tight quarters and it is an active waterway to and from the inlet to the “Outlet” – a local hotel and eatery, we had to tie our stern off to the adjacent mangrove bushes (called “med mooring”).  It took us no time to set the anchor, then Mark took off in the dinghy to go tie us off.  It took a couple of tries to find the right one with the right angle for our boat so we would not swing into the constant boat traffic.   While it was busy during the day, it settled down and night and we found a great protective anchorage for our boat.

IO at Boca Grande Bayou

IO at Boca Grande Bayou

Shortly after lunch we left the boat and went exploring on our dinghy. We had been in these waters before on a rental boat, but now we had our dinghy and went all around the place; in and out of coves and around some of the most beautiful homes (aka mansions) we have ever seen.  There is big money here and the yachts are plentiful in the back of people’s homes. We have also seen a plethora of Back Coves and Sabre Yachts here – probably more than in any single location to date.  We knew we were in good company.

We arrived back at the boat sweaty and hot. Fortunately, we had left the generator going and the AC cranked so we could get showers and feel refreshed after the fun dinghy ride.  We had tried to get reservations for the upper dining room at “The Pink”, but they were sold old as this is high season here.  Fortunately, they have a downstairs where casual dining is first-come first serve, and we arrived at 5:30 in time to get a great seat inside.  Within 15 minutes the place was packed and by the time we left there was a long line waiting to get inside.

The Pink

The Pink

After dinner we walked around parts of the village (of BG) and took in the sights. We noticed that they had built new cottages that are part of the Gasparilla Inn across the street from the Neil Bush house (yes of GW and W Bush fame) that had previously been a vacant lot. We also noticed how crowded the streets and restaurants all were, and how many people were milling about. It is so different here in January (busy time of year) compared to May when we usually come.  We think we like May better when it is mostly locals.

When we got back to the boat we turned off the generator so that we could remain good citizens with the other boats in the anchorage (generators are loud and disturb the peace). Outside it had cooled down since sunset, but it still made for an uncomfortable evening sleeping.  This has been one hot Florida December.

Saturday, (1/2/2016) – Boca Grande, FL – We were eating breakfast at the anchorage when we heard this loud rushing noise that sounded like water coming from a huge drain pipe.  When we looked out the window of the boat to see its source we were treated to an amazing display of small fish jumping in the water, being chased by bigger fish who were being chased by birds. It was an amazing display of nature and the food chain in action, and the kind of sight you don’t get to see when in a marina.

Fish feeding frenzy

Fish feeding frenzy

Nature at the anchorage

Nature at the anchorage

We had intended to stay a second night anchored in the Bayou as the price was right (free) and it is well protected. But because it was so hot and we didn’t want to run the generator all night for the AC, we made the decision to see if we could get into the Boca Grande Marina for Saturday.  We toyed with the idea of just heading south, but we really wanted to stay here one more night so we could go to mass at our favorite little church; “Our Lady of Mercy” either Saturday night or Sunday morning.

Mark called the (BG) marina and they were able to take us as most all the holiday boats had left and there was plenty of room available. This was a splurge as they are ridiculously expensive ($3.25 night), but the service is unprecedented and it afforded us the ability to walk to everything in BG without launching the dinghy. So we moved the boat to the same marina that 20 years ago provided fuel and ice to us on High Flight (our old sailboat) before we headed through Boca Grande pass to Ft Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas. Ah the circle of life!

Mark retrieving the tied-off stern line

Mark retrieving the tied-off stern line

IO at Boca Grande Marina

IO at Boca Grande Marina

Boca Grande Marina

Boca Grande Marina

We spent a good bit of the day working on plans for future ports in the FL Keys. Mark was able to secure a stay at the Marathon Yacht Club in February and we tentatively planned our stops along the FL west coast after Ft. Myers. In the meantime the wind began to pick up significantly and many boats came into the marina either to eat lunch at the onsite restaurant Docksides, or to stay for the night.  One boat that came it was “Holiday” – a 65’ Marlow Yacht that Denise recognized as they approached.  Sure enough it was Chuck and Sandy from Aspen, CO whom we met in Annapolis, MD and who live on their boat 8 months of the year. They spent all summer up in New England and were making their way to Naples for the rest of the winter.

"Holiday"

“Holiday”

We decided to go to mass on Saturday, leaving Sunday morning for Denise to get a run in before we shoved off and headed south. So we made our way to “Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church” for the 4:00 mass, only to discover that the two Saturday vigil masses (4 pm & 5pm) they have in winter – instead of just one – was not starting until next Saturday. This misfortune turned into a wonderful encounter with a family from Alpharetta, Georgia.

We met Sylvia and Dan Duarte and their 5 children (Peter, Andrew, Matthew, Teresa, Nathan & Catherine) and Sylvia’s parents Luis & Isabella who are originally from Portugal. They too thought mass would be at 4:00 and therefore were early for the 5:00 mass.  We got to spend a delightful 45 minutes getting to know them and talking about our shared Catholic faith and their lives in Alpharetta (an Atlanta suburb we know quite well).  We learned that Isabella’s father and Grandfather were present in Fatima, Portugal for the “Miracle of the Sun” that took place there in 1917.  You can learn more about this phenomenal world event here.  We then sat behind them in mass and watched as all 5 children were on their best behavior.  They were a delightful family and we so enjoyed meeting them.

Peter, Andrew & Teresa Duarte

Peter, Andrew & Teresa Duarte

The Duarte Family

The Duarte Family

We also felt especially privileged to attend mass at this church as it is designated as one of the “Doors of Mercy” churches by the diocese of Venice, FL. This is a distinction afforded certain Catholic churches in response to Pope Francis’s declaration of the “Year of Mercy”.  You can learn more about this here.

Our Lady of Mercy

Our Lady of Mercy

After church we walked to “Sisters” an Italian restaurant that has great food and is the most affordable place on the entire island. Mark got his usual Chicken Parmesan and Denise got Eggplant Parmesan, both portions sufficient enough to take back to the boat for another meal.

We returned to the marina after dark and found the north wind had kicked up quite a fetch. All the boats were rocking and ours was no exception. There were only two boats that were not moving, one was our friends on “Holiday” (65’ Marlow), and the other was the 137’ custom yacht “Hilarium” that was in the private slip area.  This place is definitely a playground for the very wealthy.

Sunday, (1/3/2016) – Pelican Bay, FL – Taking advantage of the marina and a known town, Denise began the day with a 6.5 mile run.  It is so hard to run this distance without running buddies to help make the miles go by in conversation, but she was able to do get it done by knowing the path down to the lighthouse, state park and through the village.

Once back on the boat and with breakfast completed, we checked out and pulled away from the dock. With no other boats near us, Denise was able to get some practice in such windy conditions and not have to worry about crashing our Island Office. While Mark cleaned up the lines and the fenders, Denise made progress out of the marina and back into Charlotte Harbor. It was a short 5 mile run across Charlotte Harbor to Pelican Bay and the anchorage across from Cayo Costa State Park.

Approaching Pelican Bay Anchorage

Approaching Pelican Bay Anchorage

We had been looking forward to putting the boat in this anchorage and then using the dinghy to go to Cabbage Cay for hamburgers. With overcast skies we made plans to head out for lunch, but not soon enough as the rains started and thwarted our efforts. It rained all afternoon and the wind blew strong which kept us from taking out the paddle board or the dinghy. It was just too wet and windy.

Mark made use of the afternoon by reading the Waterway Guide and trying to determine more specifics about our tentative itinerary, while Denise worked on this blog post. It was around 4:00 when we heard the bilge pump kick in and discovered water was flowing into the bilge from a hose connected to our water tanks.  We quickly turned off the water pump which stopped the water flow, and Mark preceded to investigate further.  It didn’t take long to discover that there was a crack in our new fitting put on by the folks at Dog River Marina in Mobile. We attempted to patch the hard plastic fitting with “safety tape”, but it just wouldn’t hold up to the pressure of the pump without leaking. We now had our 3rd mechanical boat problem on the Loop.

We considered our options including pulling the anchor and going into a marina where we could use the inline water system. However, it was too late to make it to a marina before dark, even to Captiva which was the closest place. So, we opted for staying in the anchorage and living without any running water on the boat.  Since we have bottled water we could use for brushing teeth and drinking, this was not critical. It just meant it would be tomorrow before we could shower, and we would have to use bottled water to flush the head (toilet) if required. Of course Mark had one other option that Denise did not have!

This did mean that we would have to leave at first light, and that we would not get to spend time in this beautiful area we love. We had hopes of “playing” here one more day before heading to Ft. Myers, but with more bad weather approaching and now this problem, we must go where this can get fixed.

The anchorage here is beautiful and there were less than 10 boats in an area that could easily handle many more. We felt very comfortable and didn’t rock near as much as in the marina in BG the night before. Usually we would be able to see a million stars in this place, but with the overcast skies we didn’t even see the sun today. No sunset, no stars and no moon made for a dark night.

The good news is that with the generator fixed we were able to use it to power our lights, computers, cell phones and the microwave. Dinner was leftover pasta from “Sisters” and we got in a little reading before turning in for the night.

Monday, (1/4/2016) – Ft Myers, FL – As soon as it was daylight we left the Pelican Bay anchorage. The weather outlook was not good and it wasn’t worth wasting time, plus with our water pipe issue we needed to get to a marina to get it fixed.  Dining at Cabbage Cay, exploring Cayo Costa and “SUPping” around the anchorage would have to wait for another time.

Sunrise at Pelican Bay

Sunrise at Pelican Bay

Pelican Bay Anchorage

Pelican Bay Anchorage

We headed back into the ICW where the wind was really blowing already, but fortunately we were going in the same direction and the cruise wasn’t bad. We pulled into South Seas Resort on Captiva to fill up with fuel, and then fought an awful headwind going back out into the ICW for a short run.

At the fuel dock at South Seas Resort

At the fuel dock at South Seas Resort

Fuel dock - South Seas Plantation

Fuel dock – South Seas Plantation

Entrance to South Seas Resort

Entrance to South Seas Resort

After that it was a direct cruise down the ICW then a left turn up the Caloosahatchee River into Ft. Myers, passing along the towns of St. James and Cape Coral, FL

Cape Coral, FL

Cape Coral, FL

Jaspers Bait Boat on the Caloosahatchee River

Jaspers Bait Boat on the Caloosahatchee River

We had made the decision to stay downtown versus Ft. Myers Beach as the Legacy Marina is an ALGCA sponsor, they offer good discounts, and our friends Tim & Karen (“TiKa”) keep their boat here.

We arrived to greetings from Pete (“Endoxi”) and pulled into a very nice slip not far from the marina office. Shortly after checking in we met up with him and Pam, as well as Sharri & Rodney (“Sassified”) – all of whom we traveled with down the Tennessee and Tombigbee waterways.  Since they are leaving tomorrow we made plans to go to dinner together later.  We then went back to the boat to give the outside a good scrubbing as it was covered in salt.  We also made a temporary repair to the waterline fitting until we were able to get a replacement part, or someone to help us fix it.  Once this was done we were able to use the inline water system on the boat and get our showers.

We joined Pete, Pam, Sharri, and Rodney for dinner at Ford’s Garage in downtown Ft. Myers. It is a 10 minute walk from the marina and in an area where there are several restaurants and shops.

Pam, Pete, Mark, Denise, Rodney & Sharri

Pam, Pete, Mark, Denise, Rodney & Sharri

The place is totally decorated in everything Ford cars, including the sink fixtures and the door handle in the bathrooms.

Ford's Garage

Ford’s Garage

Door handle - Ford's Garage

Door handle – Ford’s Garage

Although this restaurant is an expanding SW FL chain, this is the site of the original, and it comes equipped with an old “Model A” car hanging from the ceiling in the bar.  The food was really good with all types of burgers being their specialty. However, there was a lot of other good menu choices including items for those who prefer vegan or gluten free.  You can learn more about this place here.

We had a lot of fun and discussed our plans to meet up again further down the coast, and for our extended stays in the Keys.

Stay tuned for more of our adventure!