Post # 41: SWAMP!. Day 263; January 22, 2015 – On board: Paul, Hank (my Dad), Red Southerton (my brother-in-law), Jim K
Happy New Year (a bit late, I know). I hope everyone had an enjoyable holiday season! After about a month at home in Boston and a visit to my Dad and siblings in Buffalo, we’re back on the water, having resumed our march south to the Everglades this past Friday (January 16). I won’t bore you with family pictures from the holidays, but I did want to share one image:
Before I describe our recent progress, here are a few statistics that people inquired about over the holidays: As of the holiday break, we have traveled 4,155 miles on the water, and we’ve used a total of 1,013 gallons of diesel fuel – that averages out to 4.1 miles per gallon. When traveling at “trawler speed” for various intervals, we got up to 9.4 miles per gallon. Not bad for water travel with a 34′ long, 17′ wide boat – I’ve had cars that got less mileage than that. We’re probably about 2/3 of the way around the Loop Boston to Boston, with around 2,000 – 2,500 miles to go. A total of 32 people have traveled with us on board at various times for various lengths of time, 5 of which have been on board multiple times.
We’re now at Everglade City, a unique rural outpost adjacent to the Ten Thousand Islands and Chokoloskee Bay – really a small, rather isolated town instead of a city. Surrounded by mangroves and sea grass and located about 6 miles up a narrow channel from the open Gulf, Everglade City has a population of just 400 people. Outdoors is king here, and Everglade City is home to several outfitters that run kayak tours, airboat tours, alligator tours, and other outdoor adventures centered on the Everglades. If you come to South Florida, I recommend a mangrove tunnel tour by “Everglades Area Tours” (239 695 3633, evergladesareatours.com) – you will travel by kayak into the mangrove swamps and will literally paddle through tunnels formed by the mangroves. You’ll also see large and numerous alligators in the wild up close and personal, and they will be watching you as closely as you will be watching them.
Everglade City has a colorful history of its own. In 1923, the Florida legislature created Collier County and designated Everglade City as the county seat. However, Hurricane Donna caused extensive damage to the small, rural town in 1960, so shortly thereafter the county seat was moved to East Naples and Everglade City remained a small, anonymous outpost off the beaten path. The combination of its isolated location, the dense surrounding mangroves, and the 10,000 islands around the channel entrance created an ideal location for drug smuggling in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Smugglers would drop bales of marijuana from boats and airplanes, and counterparts in Everglade City would pick them up for distribution throughout the U. S., using the isolated airstrip near the town. With a lack of employment opportunities in the town, many local residents became involved in the smuggling operations. However, Ronald Reagon’s “War on Drugs” in the mid-1980’s abruptly ended the smuggling operations (as far as we know…).
We didn’t encounter any drug smugglers (that we know of), but we did meet some interesting people in a unique town. Here are some images from Everglade City:
Due to some shallow spots in the channel, we had to enter and leave Everglade City near high tide. High tide was in the afternoon and our next stop was Flamingo, 70 miles away, so we decided to leave the next afternoon and anchor in the Ten Thousand Islands – doing so enabled us to leave the next morning, ensuring that we would have ample daylight to reach Flamingo. Here are some pictures from our overnight anchorage:
The history of the Everglades is a fascinating story with all the elements and intrigue of a best-selling novel. Known as the “River of Grass”, the Everglades is literally a slow-moving river 60 miles wide and 100 miles long, conveying water from as far away as Orlando to the southern tip of Florida. It is shaped by water and fire, with an endless cycle of flooding in the summer wet season and drought in the winter dry season. Humans first came to the Everglades about 15,000 years ago, and the Calusa Indians dominated the area when the Spanish first arrived in the late 16th century. Evidence of the Calusas abound in southern Florida, primarily in the form of enormous mounds formed by discarded shells. The Calusa’s were decimated by disease and conflicts with the Spanish, and had virtually disappeared by the late 18th century. However, the Seminole Indians retreated into the Everglades in the early 19th century during the Seminole Wars when they were forced from northern Florida by the U. S. Army. The Seminoles learned to live, fight, and hide in the hostile environment – despite a concerted effort and several attempts, the Army was never able to remove the Seminols and re-settle them in the western plains, as was the fate of other tribes. Today, the Seminoles live on reservations in the Everglades region and – you guessed it – run gambling casinos.
The Everglades was originally considered to be a wasteland – however, the fertile land was coveted as prime farmland, if only someone could figure out how to get rid of the water. The first attempt to drain the Everglades occurred in 1882, and nearly a century of effort created an immense series of canals, dikes, and control structures which ultimately converted nearly 50% of the original Everglades into urban areas or farmland, much of it used to grow sugar cane and graze cattle. However, in the 1970’s, as the environmental movement took hold, efforts grew to halt the destruction and attempt to restore the remaining Everglades. These efforts gained traction when UNESCO designated the Everglades as one of only three wetland areas of global importance in the entire world. Finally, in 2000, Congress approved the “Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan”. Originally estimated to cost $7.8 billion and take 30 years to complete, it is the most comprehensive and expensive environmental repair project ever attempted. The key elements of the restoration are (1) restore the natural flow of water to the south, now impeded by the man-made barrier of the Tamiami Trail and many diversion canals and structures, (2) restore the amount of water flowing into the Everglades, much of which is now diverted elsewhere for irrigation and flood control, and (3) remove the nutrients and pollution from the water, which originates from cattle grazing and sugar cane fields. However, politics being what it is, battles in Congress over funding have plagued the project – although some progress is being made, the Everglades continue to deteriorate.
Since huge amounts of money have been involved from the earliest attempts to drain the Everglades and create valuable farmland from a worthless swamp, the full story of the Everglades is packed with intrigue, drama, lawlessness, greed, fraud, and every other facet of human nature as various figures competed for power, money, and control. The full story from the earliest human occupation to the present day is expertly told in the fascinating book “The Swamp” by Michael Grunwald – it reads like a novel and you won’t be able to put it down.
Back to our trip. The evening before we left Fort Myers Beach, my Dad and I had dinner with my Dad’s cousin, Bob Conley, and his wonderful bride, Mary Conley, who live in Cape Coral:
Our first stop after leaving Fort Myers Beach, before we reached Everglade City, was the affluent city of Naples. The 35 mile run was calm, warm, and sunny. We were fortunate that Paul’s college fraternity brother, Walter Lewis, lives in Naples and spent the afternoon and evening as our tour guide, showing us the sights and taking us to a wonderful local restaurant for dinner. Here are some images from our stay in Naples:
Leaving Naples, we wanted to take the interesting but sometimes shallow, 15 mile-long inside water route from Naples to Marco Island, rather than the outside route in the Gulf – being able to go where many other cruisers can’t is a major advantage of a shallow-draft catamaran. However, we needed to time our passage with the incoming tide, so we left later in the morning than usual. Walter joined us on board for the day, and we docked at one of the many marinas on Marco Island. There is no pedestrian-oriented retail center on Marco, and the island consists mostly of single family homes and high rise condominiums along the beach and waterfront areas. Man-made canals throughout the island provide boating access from the back yard of many of the homes. Here is a picture of the beach on Marco:
From Marco Island, we ran 40 miles to Everglade City, as described above, where we’re now at anchor. Our next stop will be Flamingo, an isolated outpost at the very southern tip of Florida on Florida Bay, 70 miles away by water along the open Gulf.
A couple of parting shots. I’m not a big shopper, but when I’m wandering through gift shops, I often read some of the sometimes clever and sometimes insightful signs on display. Here are a couple that I liked: