Our Boat

Caloosa Spirit

Catalina 42 mkII

Log #66 A Celebration of Friends and Family

The winds have abated somewhat and our third anchor is still holding, so we’re sleeping better. We’re still here in Boot Key Harbor, and we still don’t have the mixing elbow. It’s promised to us tomorrow. Yeh—manana. Island Time is alive and well. However, Jim has decided that Island Time is really just a way of scapegoating the local workers, wherever “local” may be, and that the real culprit is poor management in marine businesses. They really don’t seem to get the concept that service is their best form of marketing. If we had been told over a week ago that this repair would be so long in coming, we could have made other plans. Oh well, enough griping. Let’s move on to some enjoyable times.

As mentioned in our previous log, a couple of days ago we took a bus with Nancy and Jay of Serendipity to Key West for the day. For a mere $3.00 each we got a round-trip ticket, plus use of local buses all day. For the price it was hardly worth the time and effort to move the boat down there. In 1982 Key West briefly seceded from the Union and established itself as the Conch Republic. It had something to do with a traffic-snarling, tourist-halting road block in Florida City, and the resulting bar-moaning, rum-imbibing citizenry in Key West. Whatever the concern was, it got resolved within a day or so, but ever since Key West has celebrated April 23 as Conch Republic Independence Day. Anyone who has ever been to Key West knows that very little is required as a reason to party, so the Independence Day celebration is quite an event, apparently lasting a week or more. The big event of the day that we witnessed was a bed race, with entrants sponsored by local businesses—mostly the bars on Duval St. On the surface such a “race” sounds questionable, I’m sure, but if you use your imagination you can probably feature the types of creative decorations and costuming (or lack thereof) that went into the event. My personal favorite was the bed from a local furniture store sporting a banner proclaiming “Everyone gets lei’d at So-and-so’s.” Flower leis were tossed into the crowd as the bed passed by.

Such revelry wasn’t our only source of pleasure for the day, however. There was the morning happy hour at Schooner’s Wharf, the delicious late afternoon dinner at Fogarty’s, and the evening happy hour on the top deck of the Conch Hotel. In between eating and drinking we found time to visit an Arts and Crafts Fair and to take a self-guided tour of the Audubon House. A most fascinating feature of the Audubon House is that, after being built by wrecker Capt. John Steiger in the 1840s, it was then furnished almost completely with booty from ships wrecked on the nearby reefs. The solid construction has withstood numerous hurricanes for over a century and a half.

Audubon House
Audubon House

As the day began to close we wandered down to Mallory Square for the Sunset Celebration, without which no Key West visit is complete. On our previous stopover we were disappointed to find no performing cats, which the guidebooks had touted as a real attraction. This time, however, we discovered them and their trainer Dominique. At Dominique’s urging and command Chopin, Marguerite, Georges, and others jumped through fire hoops, walked across pipes, and otherwise performed to the crowd’s delight. I was pleased that we got to witness this enchanting feline display.

Performing cats
Performing cats

Although the day had been long, we hated to see the fun end. Key West once again proved to be one of our favorite places to visit, and Jay and Nancy’s company made the day especially enjoyable. What a treat to have found them as friends! We look forward to a future rendezvous with Serendipity and to returning to Key West—hopefully by boat—next year.

Happy hour at Conch Hotel
Happy hour at the Conch Hotel

Well, we finally got the mixing elbow back—for a prince’s ransom, of course. Jim still has to sand off the pricklies from the dried fiberglass overwrap before he can install it, and the yard manager suggested he wait until tomorrow to do that. So it’s another cold shower tonight.

This afternoon we helped Jay and Nancy move their engine-less boat from a canal where they had their engine lifted for repairs to their slip around the corner. With a dinghy on each side and us towing at the bow (in reverse for stability), we were able to move and steer their Union 36 like a well-oiled machine. We were all pretty amazed that the endeavor came off without a hitch.

This is a night for celebrating! The mixing elbow went back in, the refrigeration condenser ground strap got connected, and nothing is leaking!! Tonight we got hot showers and cold drinks. Hot-diggety-dog! We met Nancy and Jay and some other friends at Keys Fisheries (a yummy seafood eatery) for a celebration and farewell dinner. They are leaving tomorrow to take their engine back home to Tennessee, while Serendipity waits in a slip for the repaired engine to return in a couple of weeks. We hope to be long-gone from Boot Key Harbor by then, so we’ll miss their company in the coming months. Hopefully, we can meet up again somewhere along the cruising way.

We had planned to take today “off”, since we’ve put in a lot of time and effort this week working. Yesterday we spent most of the day provisioning—it’s a treat to have fresh food again—and the wind (or lack thereof, more precisely) forecast had suggested that we needn’t be in any hurry. But this morning we decided that, since we aren’t likely to have any wind for another week, we might as well motorsail now as later. So we worked all day to make our preparations, and we finally left Boot Key Harbor this afternoon. We’re anchored for the night just outside the harbor where we can make an early getaway north to the southwest Florida coast.

Our plan is to do something we’ve never done before—anchor several miles off the southwest coast tomorrow evening. The crab pots are so ubiquitous in Florida Bay that traveling at night is ill-advised. With little or no wind, however, the Bay and Gulf should be quite mild, and depths are still in the 15-20 ft. range several miles out. With this plan we can make the same distance in two days that has taken us four in the past. We’ll see how it all works out.

We finally made our break with the Keys and headed up Florida Bay into the Gulf of Mexico. We were quaking in our flip-flops from our recollections of the crab-pot mine fields in these waters, but they weren’t really so bad today. It’s stressful to keep watching for them, though. The tedium was relieved a couple of times by some dolphin greeters. Their playful ride in our bow wave seemed to be their way of saying “Welcome back to the Gulf Coast! We’re glad to see you.” After a long day of motorsailing we’re now anchored on Cape Romano shoal, but with no land in sight we might as well be anchored in the middle of the Gulf. I don’t know if sleep will be in the offing tonight, since we’re sitting in 2-ft. swells which cause noises to emanate from a variety of sources around the boat. The mixture of sounds could be considered either a symphony of the sea or a cacophony of chaos, depending on your point of view. Watching the interesting (if not spectacular) sunset tonight, I was struck by the thought that we’ll be able to see the sun rise tomorrow over the sea’s horizon in this very same spot. That will be a new experience, indeed.

Sunset at Cape Romano shoal
Sunset at Cape Romano Shoal

This is another evening of celebration, because we’re anchored in Pelican Bay!! This is an anchorage in Pine Island Sound that we have yearned to experience aboard Caloosa Spirit, and we’re finally here! Aaaahhh.

It was a rocky night on Cape Romano shoal, but anchoring there through the dark hours spared us some crab pot anxiety. As we continued on our way today we sustained our on-going watch, but we only had to do the crab-pot two-step a few times. We actually missed seeing one until the last moment when it slipped under the hull. We thanked our lucky stars when it popped up astern without snagging our propeller. When Sanibel Island finally appeared on the horizon it was a grand sight indeed. We then eagerly watched Captiva, North Captiva, and Cayo Costa go by on the starboard side. After eleven hours of motorsailing we were happy to finally turn into the Boca Grande channel.

Gail and Paul on Puffin have been here since they left Marathon, and we were thrilled to catch up with them. They are very familiar with Pelican Bay’s tricky entrance over a shallow bar—the main reason we have bypassed this delightful haven on previous Pine Island Sound sojourns. They called us with some GPS waypoints, acquired from neighbors on Diva, and came out to meet us in their dinghy to lead us in. The waypoints and Gail’s directions were both accurate, and we’re now relaxing with nine feet of water beneath our keel. Of course, the champagne that Paul and Gail brought over helped with the relaxation. Mmmmmm—good friends, a tranquil anchorage, and a sparkling bottle of wine. This is how cruising should always be.

About 50 yards away is a narrow entrance through the mangroves that leads to a small lagoon inhabited by a small herd (tribe, gaggle, whatever) of manatees. Twice today we dinghied into, then paddled around, this manatee playground, and both times we were rewarded with numerous sightings. These large docile creatures lumber through the water as they feed off the seagrasses lining the bottom. When they surface for air, often the only body part visible is the nose, but frequently heads, backs, and tails can also be seen. It’s shameful that these gentle giants are so endangered by high speed boat propellers, and we did indeed observe scars on several different backs.

A walk on the beach of Cayo Costa State Park (with a dip in the warm, languid water, of course) and another farewell dinner capped off our day. Gail and Paul plan to head north tomorrow morning, while we stay another couple of days to enjoy Pelican Bay’s natural pleasures.

Cayo Costa beach
Cayo Costa beach

After a couple of days spent lounging around, hiking in the park, and watching the manatees, we’re ready to head north tomorrow. We’re eager to get to Sarasota to see our son Mike. We also hope to visit with Fran, a boating friend from our early days on Lake Monroe in Indiana. We may decide to return to Pelican Bay and Pine Island Sound yet this summer, because it’s truly our favorite spot in southwest Florida.

Today we got to do something we’ve done very little of this cruising season—sail. Only for about an hour of the eight-hour trip to Sarasota, understand, but we were actually sailing with the engine off for that short time. We’re now anchored in the Bayfront anchorage, eagerly anticipating seeing Mike tomorrow.

Once more we’re celebrating—this time because we’re back with Mike after nine months apart. As much as we love our cruising friends, we never stop missing our grown-up kids. So we’ll be spending another week or more here in Sarasota, seeking opportunities to spend more time with our first-born. He’s a very special guy.

Mike joined us for a Mother’s Day of eating, shopping, and celebrating. At dinner tonight we ordered a slice of Key Lime pie with a candle on top, just to honor our daughter’s birthday. We all missed having her with us, but we felt the need to recognize her special day even as she celebrated in Indy. Happy 30th, Lauri!

It’s been a week of spending great times with Mike, and we look forward to more over the coming week. Tomorrow he’ll accompany us for a weekend get-away to Longboat Key anchorage and its many delights. By the way, it’s another day in Paradise (the boat floats, the engine runs, and the head flushes), so we’re still celebrating.

Fair winds and a faithful wake until next time,
Alice & Jim Rutherford
s/v Caloosa Spirit

Posted Friday May 19, 2006

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