Our Boat

Caloosa Spirit

Catalina 42 mkII

Log #34 Independence Rules!

I’ve been lazy about the log again. Last week we left Key West and are now back in Marathon’s Boot Key Harbor. We’ve developed a real appreciation for this anchorage. It’s VERY protected from any seas, but it’s also VERY breezy so it stays cool on the water. There is an active cruiser community here with a “cruiser’s net” on the VHF radio each morning. By tuning in each day we sold our old grill (finally), learned where to get parts for the dinghy, and have met some other cruisers. Yesterday there was a pot-luck and barbecue at the City Marina for all cruisers in the harbor, and a fun time was had by all. The City Marina doesn’t actually have any slips, although it does have some limited dockage. What it does have are mooring buoys and dinghy dockage at very reasonable rates, an adequate if not luxurious facility, and, most importantly, a desire to be of service to cruisers. One of the best services offered is mobile pump-out. Our heads flush into holding tanks rather than overboard (I’m sure everyone is happy to know that!), so we must have the holding tanks pumped out periodically—preferably before they’re full. Usually that means moving the boat to a dock where a pump-out machine is available, a cumbersome and time-consuming activity. But here in Boot Key Harbor all we do is call on the radio to have the pump-out boat come and tie up next to us on the water. For an incredibly small fee of $5 the 10-minute service is provided even while we’re on our own anchor rather than on a mooring.

The down-side to this harbor is the distance to stores with no public transportation. We really wish we had bicycles on board. We can walk to Publix and K-Mart, but they’re a hike. Fortunately, West Marine has its own dinghy dock. And the local beach is certainly nothing to write home about. But all things considered, this is really the best anchorage in the Keys, so we expect to spend more time here next winter. We may take a mooring then.

I mentioned that we sold our old grill through the cruiser’s net. The guy who bought it owns a business selling and servicing inflatable dinghies here in town. That’s how we happened to acquire some minor parts that we needed, and we went to his shop for some further consultation. After he gave us his card we realized that we knew that name, and, yes, we thought he looked familiar. Lee Wooldridge once owned a Catalina 25 and sailed on Lake Monroe in Indiana some 20+ years ago, just like us! The world seems to be getting smaller all the time, and we just never know when our paths will re-cross those of others along the way.

By the way, thanks to everyone who sent us info on the name Arcturus. We’ll never have to wonder about that one again. Speaking of names, does anyone out there wonder how the town of Marathon got its name? Well, I’ll tell you anyway. When Henry Flagler had his Overseas Railroad constructed between 1905 and 1912, the longest bridge—what is now known as the Seven-Mile Bridge, because it really is seven miles long—began at Knight’s Key, just west of Vaca Key, the island on which Marathon sits. The railroad construction crew lived on the island, and they worked so hard and so fast on that bridge they felt as if they were in a “marathon” to get it completed. The name stuck.

A couple of other tidbits about the Overseas Railroad: It was the first continuous connection of the Keys islands to the Florida mainland, and it was truly a marvel of engineering and construction. Economically, however, for a variety of reasons the railroad was for the most part a losing proposition. A devastating hurricane in 1935 wiped out a large section of track just east of Marathon, and the railroad went into bankruptcy. By then automobiles were quite common, so the Overseas Highway took the railroad’s place. The railroad bridges were converted to highway bridges, and some of the track beds became road beds. At Bahia Honda the railroad trestle was too narrow for two highway lanes, so the road was built on top of the trestle. It’s a strange looking structure to this day. Over time a number of the original railroad/highway bridges have been replaced, but many of the old bridges are still standing—a testament to the quality of their design and construction, and an on-going tribute to the workers who built them.

Old Bahia Honda bridge

This morning we left Marathon and had a comfortable 40-mile sail across Florida Bay to Little Shark River in the Everglades. Along the way, the color combination of spring-bud green water meeting the robin’s-egg blue sky with the drifted-snow white clouds above was a breath-taking testament to the wisdom of Creation’s Master Decorator. The anchorage here at Little Shark River among the mangroves with no civilization within 20 miles is a contemplative, restful spot—except for the bugs. We closed up early and plan on a pre-dawn departure tomorrow for the 54-mile stretch to Marco Island. This is now afternoon thunderstorm season, and we want to be comfortably anchored by the time the storms kick in.

This morning the weather forecast indicated that a weak tropical wave would be passing south Florida in the afternoon, and the chance of rain was 60%. If we had been anywhere other than Big Mosquito…er, Little Shark River we would have hunkered down for the day. But given the choice between 100% bugs and 60% rain, we opted for the possible rain. Wouldn’t you know it, we overslept and were an hour later leaving than we had planned. I just knew at least one storm would catch us before we would reach Marco Island at around 5:00 PM. Sure enough, the weak tropical wave started to follow us at about 11:00. Those ominous clouds teased and cajoled, and eventually poured rain—several miles ahead of us. The sky cleared for a while, and we wiped our brows in relief as we kept putting miles toward our anchorage under the keel. Then, after a couple of severe storm warnings on the radio, at around 2:30 the clouds gathered for another onslaught and the sky turned charcoal and ponderous. Soon the rain came down in sheets—several miles behind us. The stretch we were covering offered no real opportunity for another haven. Most of it was over open water with no land in sight. By 3:30, however, we could see Marco Island, and we were down to the last hour of the trip. The clouds continued to boil and hover, but it became apparent that we would make it into the anchorage before another deluge. On the last leg approaching the channel markers into Capri Pass, just as we were heaving a collective sigh, thud!—we ran hard aground. What?? There’s no 5-ft. patch on the chart! Well, through some expert maneuvering, Jim got us ungrounded and into the channel. As weary as we were, it was torturous to creep through the channel watching the depth sounder, but that’s what we did. We’re now comfortably anchored behind what’s left of Coconut Island, just off Marco Island. Perhaps the sands of Coconut Island that have apparently washed away are now out there just off the channel. Anyway, the evening has been much more pleasant than we expected. The dolphins, pelicans, skimmers, and terns have all given us our evening’s entertainment. The predicted thunder storms? I guess we’ve been charmed today. As angry as the sky looked earlier, we haven’t had a drop of rain. We even got treated to another soothing sunset! What a life!

A long, boring motor-sail with virtually no wind finally brought us back into Matanzas Pass anchorage at Ft. Myers Beach. Again we beat the forecast afternoon and evening thunder storms. This evening it rained, but only lightly. The clouds didn’t keep us from going out to a restaurant to celebrate our engagement anniversary—34 years and counting. Jim was delighted to find Maine lobster on the menu at a reasonable—make that downright cheap—price. [Jim: Actually I wouldn’t have even asked about the lobster’s market price if Alice had not prompted me, and I even got crab stuffing! (Fixed-income-itis.)] And I hadn’t had prime rib in ages, again very reasonable. The dinner was a pleasant welcome back to an anchorage that we enjoy. We’ll get some mail and do a few small projects while we’re here for the next week.

We missed it last year, when we spent all day traveling 75 miles across the Bahama Bank on our way home to Florida, and the 4th of July isn’t a Bahamian holiday. So tonight’s fireworks were especially sweet. We stayed on board and watched from our cockpit, as the red, white, and blue rockets burst in the sky off the beach. At one time in my life I sneered at patriotism, and I considered July 4th highly overrated. But after living for 10 months last year outside of the U.S., I’m acutely aware of the value of living in the good-ol’ U.S.A. Happy Independence Day!

Ft. Myers Beach anchorage on July 4th

One year ago today we sailed into Port Everglades at Ft. Lauderdale after island-hopping over 1100 miles from the Virgin Islands. I still remember our exhilaration and relief at having finally arrived after 10 months away. Today was much less exciting, but much more relaxing. We spent time on the beach, and rented a video for this evening’s entertainment. How privileged we feel to be living this cruising life.

Fair winds and smooth sailing until next time,
Alice & Jim Rutherford

Posted Tuesday July 6, 2004

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