We spent the first half of January visiting with Lib's mom and sister in Englewood. Because the resort rules don't allow sleeping aboard at the dock we would shove off each evening and anchor by the mangroves on the far side of the channel. That was pretty much the extent of our boating during that period, just as well, lots of wind made even the Intracoastal sloppy. I did do a run to Stump Pass Marina for windlass repair, oil changes, and badly needed bottom cleaning. Interesting to see that the growth had changed from soft and fibrous to hard shell in just a few weeks. Norm and his excellent marina service team did a great job and worked hard to accommodate our schedule-full marks!
We departed Englewood mid month and headed for Cayo Costa State Park on the seaward edge of Big Pine Sound. CCSP is a lovely island park with campsites, cabins, trails and miles of shell covered beaches. We spent three days there waiting out the first gale of our loop so we were able to explore it thoroughly.
Once the wind died we ran down Pine Island Sound and entered Estero Bay. We wanted to explore Mound Island State Park there but another gale was in the forecast. We would have liked a few fresh provisions but realized that a shopping stop in Naples would probably mean waiting out the blow there. We quickly agreed that eating canned and dried chow in the wilderness of Everglades National Park was a lot more appealing than a city stay. With that decision made we ran on flat calm seas past Naples and stopped briefly for gas and ice on Marco Island.
A poor route planning decision on my part ended up with a long boring open water run. I should have gone inside Marco Island and skirted the Ten Thousand Islands, a lovely area where we kayak camped years ago. Instead I set a course outside of Marco Island not realizing how far south the shoals of Cape Romano extend. By the time we cleared the shoals, the most expedient course was a straight line across open water to the mouth of Shark River.
Located in the center of the Everglades coast, Shark River is a myriad of mangrove islands and winding channels. Full of birds, dolphins and sea turtles it was the perfect spot to wait out three days of wind. We even managed to catch a nice speckled trout for dinner to alleviate the boredom of canned meat.
After the blow we re entered the Gulf and cruised along the beaches of Cape Sable and entered the boat basin at Flamingo. At a rather shoddy marina concession we paid the highest gas price of the loop-$5.29/gallon! The shabbiness of the concession was a stark contrast to the immaculately maintained park campgrounds and trails cared for by the park staff and volunteers.
We crossed Florida Bay to the Keys and took advantage of the free mooring at Lignum Vitae State Park. We've enjoyed landing at the park and wandering amongst the historic buildings in the past but opted for an early departureWe spent the next three nights at Bahia Honda State Park waiting for calm seas, one anchored out and two in the marina. We met a retired foot ball coach there who cruises a 23' wood/fiberglass downeaster. He invited us to visit him on Sanibel Island when we head north and we look forward to that.
We also chatted with a crew on a Maine built catamaran(Maine Cat) that have been sailing the Pacific and Atlantic for 3 years. I was washing dishes one morning and chatting on the phone and looked up to see these guys patting a manatee that had been attracted to the freshwater they were spraying to rinse the boat.
The inelegantly named Mud Keys are among our favorite anchorages. Located about fifteen miles northeast of Key West they're a part of the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge. Wild mangrove islands tightly spaced with deep winding channels teeming with fish, its a great area to spend a few days. We were there for 4 days and enjoyed a fish dinner each night. We caught and ate whited grunts, Lane Snapper, Barracuda (great tasting and safe to eat fish less than three and a half feet long) and Spanish Mackerel. We had a great paddle in the kayak along where the flats meet the mangroves on the north side of the keys. Lots of egrets, pelicans and comorants and secluded little deep holes that were full of fish.
Now spending a night or two at the city marina in Key West. Weather does not look promising for a run to the Marquessas so this may be the southern terminus of the loop. Sorry to miss the Marquessas, theyr'e spectacular but we've visited them before and will again.