THE BAHAMAS!

Post #47 – THE BAHAMAS!  March 21, 2015.  On Board:  Jenny K, Chris Hart, Trish K, Jim K.

According to an official count made in 1864 for Governor Rawson, the Bahamas consist of 29 islands, 661 cays, and 2,387 rocks. It’s unknown if anyone has attempted a re-count the rocks since then. By the way, by definition, an island has its own source of fresh water, while a cay has no fresh water. (Incidentally, after being corrected several times, I learned that “cay” is pronounced “key”). I don’t know the definition of a “rock” used to make the count.

The first humans are thought to have arrived in the Bahamas in the first millennium AD, migrating in dugout canoes from the Cuba, Hispaniola (now Haiti/Dominican Republic), and the islands of the Caribbean. Just prior to European contact, the population of what is now the Bahamas rose to about 40,000 people.  Everything changed on October 12, 1492, however, when Columbus landed on one of the islands in the Bahamas, though historians disagree on which island it was.  Over the next 30 years, nearly the entire population was transported by the Spaniards to other islands to work as slaves – when the Spaniards decided to move any remaining people to Hispaniola, they could find only eleven. The islands remained uninhabited for the next 130 years – since they had no gold, Spain had no real interest in them.  Europeans then began to form small settlements in various locations in the mid 1600’s. Life was hard – the sparse population supported itself by living off the sea, farming, and increasingly by wrecking – the practice of salvaging goods from ships which wrecked on the many reefs and shoals surrounding the islands. However, the future of the islands changed dramatically once again when Britain lost the Revolutionary War. Thousands of Loyalists – loyal to Britain – fled the new American nation and settled in the Bahamas, tripling the population within just a few years. The Loyalists brought slaves with them; in addition, thousands of captive Africans who were liberated from foreign slave ships by the British after the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 were resettled in the Bahamas as free men. As a result, today, 85% of the population of the Bahamas are descendants of slaves. Many of the others are descendants of the Loyalists from the 1700’s.

So the next leg of our trip started when Trish, our daughter Jenny, and her boyfriend Chris flew to Freeport and arrived in the West End.  Our plan was to work our way to Marsh Harbor in the Abacos by the end of the week, where Jenny & Chris would fly out and our next crew would fly in. First, we spent a day in the West End, where we hired one of the local fisherman to take us out on his skiff to do some spear fishing, some hand-line fishing, and some diving for conch. He goes by the nickname “Magic”, and is a real character. His old outboard motor would only start by hand, so he had to take the cover off every time he needed to start the motor.  Here are some pictures:

Magic promising we're going to catch some fish and some conch...

Magic promising we’re going to catch some fish and some conch…his personality comes across in this picture.

Magic showing us how to hand-line, the old fashion way

Magic showing us how to hand-line, the old fashion way

Magic with a lion fish, which he speared.  Lion fish are an invasive species in the Bahamas, and impart a very painful sting with the barbs on their back.  They are small but, very tasty.

Magic with a lion fish, which he speared. Lion fish are an invasive species in the Bahamas, and impart a very painful sting with the barbs on their back. They are small but, very tasty.

Chris bringing up a Lion Fish which he speared.

Chris bringing up a Lion Fish which he speared.

Our day with Magic yielded a cooler full of fish and about a dozen conch Chris and Jenny cooked up for dinner the next couple of nights.

Our day with Magic yielded a cooler full of fish and about a dozen conch which Chris and Jenny cooked up for dinner the next couple of nights.

What a feast!!!

What a feast!!!

 

Our first stop after the West End was Grand Cay, one of the more remote outer cays in the northern Abacos.  Here are some pictures from the 65 mile run to Grand Cay:

Before we headed to Grand Cay, I hired two divers to clean the marine growth off the bottom of the boat. It grows rapidly in the warm waters of south Florida and the Bahamas, and will significantly reduce fuel economy and slow the boat if left unchecked.  It was last done in January in Fort Myers Beach.

Before we headed to Grand Cay, I hired two divers to clean the marine growth off the bottom of the boat. It grows rapidly in the warm waters of south Florida and the Bahamas, and will significantly reduce fuel economy and slow the boat if left unchecked. It was last done in January in Fort Myers Beach.

Chris put out a fishing line as we cruised at about 8 knots toward Grand Cay.  After catching a small tuna, we hooked onto a couple a barracuda, both of which we brought to the boat then released. Here is one of them as it was being brought to the boat.

Chris put out a fishing line as we cruised at about 8 knots toward Grand Cay. After catching a small tuna, we hooked onto a couple a barracuda, both of which we brought to the boat then released. Here is one of them as it was being brought to the boat.

Jenny trying to reel it in...

Jenny trying to reel it in…

Chris trying to figure out how to get the hook out of the barracuda - I'm glad it was his job...

Chris trying to figure out how to get the hook out of the barracuda – I’m glad it was his job…

Notwithstanding the barracudas which are obviously present, a swim to cool off was too tempting for Chris

Notwithstanding the presence of the barracudas, a swim to cool off was too tempting for Chris….

...and Jenny.

…and Jenny.

Grand Cay is “off the beaten path” – it’s a small, rather remote cay with a population of about 600 Bahamians.  It is a small fishing settlement, and ninety percent of the people make their living by fishing or diving for conch and spiney lobsters. Scores of small skiffs go out every morning with two or three men to a boat. Divers wear wet suits for protection more than warmth, and spend the day mostly under water. There are no tanks – a small compressor in the boat continuously pumps air to the diver through a hose while the diver scours the bottom for conch and lobster in 10-15 feet of water.  At the end of the day, the skiffs start returning in the late afternoon and into the evening, and the catch is cleaned and frozen for shipment to Marsh Harbor or Freeport. It is hard work and a sparse living, but the people take pride in what they do and most that I spoke with wouldn’t want any other lifestyle.  It seems that anyone who wants to fish and dive can do so and have an outlet for their catch, so there seems to be less poverty and less joblessness than in the West End, where the fishing is primarily subsistence fishing.

We docked at Rosie’s Place (Rosie is an older gentleman – Roosevelt is his name), which is the only marina on the island and one of the two operations which collect and ship the catch to Marsh Harbor & Freeport. The dock where we tied up is right in the middle of the fishing operation and is quite rustic – no resort here.

Here are some images:

Rosie's Place in the harbor on Grand Cay, where the skiffs depart in the morning and return with their catch in the evening.

Rosie’s Place in the harbor on Grand Cay, where the skiffs depart in the morning and return with their catch in the evening.

A skiff coming in to Rosie's Place at dusk

A skiff coming in to Rosie’s Place at dusk

The dock where fishermen bring their catch to the other operation on the island that ships it out - Doug, did you build this?

The dock where fishermen bring their catch to the other operation on the island that ships the catch to market – Doug, did you build this?

The settlement consists of small houses, some well kept and others in disrepair. A few "commercial" establishments provide services to the local people - baking bread, small stores, and the like.

The settlement consists of small houses, some well kept and others in disrepair. A few “commercial” establishments provide services to the local people – baking bread, small stores, and the like.

All the streets are of concrete and are narrow - there are no cars on the island, only golf carts.

All the streets are of concrete and are narrow – there are no cars on the island, only golf carts.

 

Many of the colors are quite vibrant

Many of the colors are quite vibrant

From Grand Cay, we took the dinghy about 3 miles to Double Breasted and Sandy Cays, which are small, remote, uninhabited cays with incredible beauty – acre upon acre of sandy beach which is exposed at low tide and a foot under water at high tide, and rock/coral islands which are teeming with fish and aquatic plants. Here are some pictures from our visit:

Acres of white sand, a foot under water at high tide

Acres of white sand, a foot under water at high tide

Sandy Cay, with some rock/coral islands in the background

Sandy Cay, with some rock/coral islands in the background

Jenny on one of the rock/coral islands at Double Breasted Cay

Jenny on one of the rock/coral islands at Double Breasted Cay

Jenny & Chris getting ready to spear fish at Double Breasted Cay

Jenny & Chris getting ready to spear fish at Double Breasted Cay

On the hunt....

On the hunt….

Even Trish got into the swing of things - but from the boat....

Even Trish got into the swing of things – but from the boat….

Coming back in the dingy from Sandy & Double Breasted Cays

Coming back in the dingy from Sandy & Double Breasted Cays

Our next stop was Spanish Cay, 65 miles southeast of Grand Cay. Spanish Cay is privately owned, and most of the development was built by a former owner of the Dallas Cowboys. There is an enormous marina, a large, quaint restaurant/pub, and no people.  When we arrived, we were the ONLY boat in the marina, which has perhaps a hundred slips. The couple who manages the island and runs the restaurant and a staff of about 5 were the only people on the island until two sportfishing boats arrived late in the day. Here are some pictures:

One of three sets of empty docks at Spanish Cay...

One of three sets of empty docks at Spanish Cay…

The restaurant at Spanish Cay, with the Joint Adventure docked in front

The restaurant at Spanish Cay, with the Joint Adventure docked in front

A huge assortment of fish swam in the clear water at the docks, including half a dozen sharks - including this one. When one of the men on the sportfisher cleaned a mahi-mahi they had caught and threw the guts & carcuss in the water, the sharks put on a feeding-frenzy show.

A huge assortment of fish swam in the clear water at the docks, including half a dozen sharks, like this one. When one of the men on the sportfisher cleaned a mahi-mahi they had caught and threw the guts & carcuss into the water, the sharks put on a feeding-frenzy show.

We biked throughout the island, and came upon this enormous airstrip - the past & present owner of the island and a handful of private homeowners  apparently fly in occasionally

We biked throughout the island, and came upon this enormous airstrip – the past & present owner of the island and a handful of private homeowners apparently fly in occasionally.  However, no one was there during our visit.

Despite the lack of people, the managers of the island cooked up a great meal for us in the restaurant.  Before dinner, we had a drink at the bar. We've been married for 35 years, and I can't remember Trish having a shot of anything during that period. However, she got into the spirit of the Bahamas that evening...

Despite the lack of people, the managers of the island cooked up a great meal for us in the restaurant. Before dinner, we had a drink at the bar. Trish and I have been married for 35 years, and I can’t remember Trish having a shot of anything during that period. However, she got into the spirit of the Bahamas that evening…

Our next stop was Great Guana Cay – in addition to a spectacular beach, it is home to Nippers:

The famous bar high on the dunes overlooking the reefs and the ocean is named Nippers - the local name for bugs that we call "no-see=ums".  The view is spectacular, as is the beach below

The famous bar high on the dunes overlooking the reefs and the ocean is named Nippers – the local name for bugs that we call “no-see-ums”. The view is spectacular, as is the beach below

After another stop at Man Of War Cay (more on that later, as we made a return trip), we went on to Hopetown, perhaps the most iconic tourist magnet in the Abacos:

Hopetown is best known for its iconic lighthouse which dominates the harbor.  More on the lighthouse later...

Hopetown is best known for its iconic lighthouse which dominates the harbor. More on the lighthouse later…

The lighthouse is open to the public to climb and enjoy the view, such as this one -

The lighthouse is open to the public to climb and enjoy the view, such as this one from the top of the lighthouse

Hopetown is pretty and quaint, with well-kept homes, many small shops, and several quaint restaurants

Hopetown is pretty and quaint, with well-kept homes, many small shops, and several quaint restaurants

A typical home in Hopetown

A typical home in Hopetown

While docked in Hopetown, we heard a live band after dinner from across the water, so we piled into the dingy, crossed the harbor, and went dancing - Jenny & Chris, putting on a show (Janet & Doug, you would have been proud of us, though we did not close the place like we did when you were on board...)

While docked in Hopetown, we heard a live band after dinner from across the water, so we piled into the dingy, crossed the harbor, and went dancing – Jenny & Chris, putting on a show (Janet & Doug, you would have been proud of us, though we did not close the place like we did when you were on board…)

From Hopetown, we went to Marsh Harbor where we picked up our crew for the next week – more on that in the next installment.

 

 

 

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CROSSING THE GULF STREAM

Post #46 – CROSSING THE GULF STREAM;  March  13, 2015.  On Board:  Paul, Jim K.

The Gulf Stream!  Harrowing stories abound, from early merchant ships to today’s yachtsmen, about monster waves, turbulence, and disappearing ships. A brisk wind from the north, running against the current from the South, can quickly build steep, breaking waves to 10 or 15 feet and higher.  Crossing at the wrong time can and often is a harrowing, sometimes tragic experience.

None of those things happened to us.

The Gulf Stream was discovered as far back as 1512 by Ponce de Leon, who summarized a ship’s voyage by describing “A great current such that, although they had great wind, they could not proceed forward, but backward, and it seems that they were proceeding well;  at the end it was known that the current was more powerful than the wind.”  Benjamin Franklin studied the Gulf Stream after he learned of a curious complaint from the Colonial Board of Customs while in London:  Why did it take British packets several weeks longer than it took American merchant ships to reach ports on the US East coast? Franklin worked with several experienced American ships’ captains who learned to identify the current by whale behavior, changes in water temperature, changes in water color, and the speed of bubbles on the surface. The captains then avoided sailing directly into the current, but instead crossed it perpendicular. Franklin developed and published a map of the Gulf Stream in 1770, but the British mostly ignored it for years.  When they did finally accept Franklin’s advice, they reduced their sailing time by two weeks.

There are several conflicting theories about the cause of the Gulf Stream, but conventional wisdom suggests that the primary cause is thermal ocean currents caused by the warm water in the Gulf of Mexico migrating north along the surface while cold water from northern climates migrates south along the ocean floor, creating a massive ocean circulation. The Gulf Stream thereby transports 30 MILLION cubic meters of water per SECOND through the Florida Straight. It is typically about 60 miles wide and a half mile deep, and runs as fast as 2.5 to 3 knots.

So what did all this mean to us? It meant that, in order to cross the Gulf Stream, we needed a day with light winds from a southerly direction – any wind at all from a northerly direction, running contrary to the current, will kick up steep waves. So we became VERY focused on weather forecasts, and signed on with a local weather guru named Chris Parker who is used for detailed marine forecasts by many full time cruisers around the Bahamas/Turks & Caicos/offshore South Florida areas, including our friends Bruce & Gayleen Donadt on the Pearl. We also took seriously safety preparations for us and the boat:

Paul is checking the expiration date on our on-board flares to make sure they are still current.  The yellow box on the seat contains an EPIRB, which I rented from BoatUS for the duration of our trip to and from the Bahamas.  When activated in the case of an accident, either manually or automatically if it becomes submerged in seawater, it automatically transmits an emergency call to the Coast Guard, including the details of the vessel and the exact location at the time of activation.  I do not expect to need either of these, but we took these safety precautions just in case.

Paul is checking the expiration date on our on-board flares to make sure they are still current. The yellow box on the seat contains an EPIRB, which I rented from BoatUS for the duration of our trip to and from the Bahamas. When activated in the case of an accident, either manually or automatically if it becomes submerged in seawater, it will transmit an emergency call to the Coast Guard, including the details of the vessel and the exact location at the time of activation. I do not expect to need either of these devises, but we took these safety precautions just in case.

The afternoon

The afternoon before we left, I notices a piece of rope beneath the boat near the starboard propeller.  Pulling on it failed to free it up, so I had to dive under the boat – sure enough, it was wound around the propeller and I had to cut it off with a knife.

Our wait started on Monday (March 2), and we were fortunate to get a short but favorable window on the following Friday, March 6 (people sometimes wait for weeks to get across during the winter months). The wind was forecast to be favorable early in the morning, but shift to the northeast by noon. So we set our alarms for 5:15 AM and cast off before 6:00 in the dark. We set a course due East for the West End of Grand Bahama Island, 65 miles away. Our planning and patience paid off – the wind was non-existent and the sea was calm for us, once we got a bit past the turbulence of the inlet from the ICW to the open ocean. By 11:30 AM we were tied up at the West End:

The Gulf Stream!  The take-away from this photo is how unremarkable the sea looks - reflecting our good fortune to get a very calm, windless day to cross the Stream.

The Gulf Stream! The take-away from this photo is how unremarkable the sea looks – reflecting our good fortune to get a very calm, windless day to cross the Stream.

So – our crossing makes for a boring story, which is exactly the way we wanted it!

When entering the port of entry in the Bahamas, a vessel must fly a yellow “quarantine” flag until it has cleared customs.  It is also customary, but not required, to fly a “courtesy flag” of the country which is being entered (you may recall that I embarrassed myself by inadvertently hanging the Canadian courtesy flag upside down when we entered Canada last Spring). We did better this time:

The yellow quarantine flag and the Bahamas courtesy flag on the Joint Adventure as we entered the West End

The yellow quarantine flag and the Bahamas courtesy flag on the Joint Adventure as we entered the West End

In the picture below, the large yellow form in the upper right corner is the southeastern part of the Florida peninsula. The large yellow and orange form at the bottom is Cuba.  All of the rest of the yellow forms and dots form the Bahamas – some 1500 miles long. The whitish-blue are the Bahama banks – shallow water ranging from a few feet to seldom more than 15 feet deep. The Bahama banks are surrounded by water thousands of feet deep – in fact, upon approaching Grand Bahama Island, the water depth went from over a thousand feet deep to 15 feet in less than a mile!  The abrupt change in depth is why the Bahamas is world renowned for big game sport fishing.

The Bahamas

The Bahamas

Back to the map – Grand Bahama Island is the northwestern-most island, and the West End is at the western tip of that island – just 65 miles from the inlet at West Palm Beach. That’s where we crossed.

The West End consists of two different parts. Old Bahama Bay Marina is part of a resort at the tip of the island, which includes the amenities that you would expect of a resort – rental units, a sand beach, a fine restaurant, a tiki bar, small sailboats to rent, etc.   A mile away is the West End Village where the local Bahamians live.  Unfortunately, it is rural and poor – a lack of jobs and the devastating hurricane in 2004 has made it a difficult place to live.  The people are resilient and friendly, however, and I met many of them during my frequent visits to the Village during the several days that I rode my bike into the Village to meet the people and explore. Here are some images from the West End of Grand Bahama Island:

The rental units at the resort, overlooking the harbor basin

The rental units at the resort, overlooking the harbor basin

The Wet End Village runs along the water, which is the focus of subsistence fishing by the residents. The primary focus is on the harvesting of conch, which is done by diving in shallow water up to about 12 feet and picking them off the sandy ocean floor. No diving equipment is used - just masks, and they hold their breath to dive.

The West End Village runs along the water, which is the focus of subsistence fishing by the residents. The primary focus is the harvesting of conch, which is done by diving in shallow water up to about 12 feet and picking them off the sandy ocean floor. No diving equipment is used – just masks while they hold their breath and dive.

I stopped to talk to this guy while he was removing the conch that he brought in that day from the shells.  He showed me in detail how it is done and how the meat is then separated from the organs.

I stopped to talk to this gentleman while he was removing the conch from the shells that he brought in that day. He showed me in detail how it is done and how the meat is then separated from the organs.

Along the shore of the West End Village are numerous piles of empty conch shells from which the conch have been harvested and the shells discarded.

Along the shore of the West End Village are numerous piles like this one of empty conch shells from which the conch have been harvested and the shells discarded.

This swimmer near the shore is looking for conch or spiney lobster or anything else of value that he can find and catch on the ocean floor. He is pulling the tub behind him as he goes - any thing he gets is stored in the tub while he continues to hunt until he swims back to shore.

This swimmer near the shore is looking for conch or spiney lobster or anything else of value that he can find and catch on the ocean floor. He is pulling the tub behind him as he goes – anything he gets is stored in the tub while he continues to hunt until he swims back to shore.

A subsistence fisherman cleaning his catch.

A subsistence fisherman cleaning his catch.

Located in the West End Village, this is the oldest hotel in the Bahamas.  Today only the bar is open, and that seems to be only occasionally.

Located in the West End Village, this is the oldest hotel in the Bahamas. Today only the bar is open, and that seems to be only occasionally. I was told that the buildings behind the hotel contain tunnels running from building to building where bootleg liquor was hid and stored during Prohibition pending distribution to the US by bootleggers, which purportedly included an operation run by Joseph Kennedy.

This is probably my favorite picture from the entire trip.  In many of the rural villages in the Bahamas, there is a woman who bakes and sells fresh bread. I went looking for her and asked this guy if he knew where she lived.  After he gave me directions, we exchanged  compliments on each other's beards and chatted for about 20 minutes. Although I could only understand about every other word due to his thick Creole accent, his smile reflects his totally joyful personality.  We saw each other several times during our visit, and we always stopped to chat.

This is probably my favorite picture from the entire trip. In many of the rural villages in the Bahamas, there is a woman who bakes and sells fresh bread. I went looking for her and asked this guy if he knew where she lived. After he gave me directions, we exchanged compliments on each other’s beard and chatted for about 20 minutes. Although I could only understand about every other word due to his thick Creole accent, his smile reflects his totally joyful personality. We saw each other several times during our visit, and we always stopped to chat.

This is Effie's house - I knocked on her door and bought a loaf of fresh coconut bread and a coconut/pineapple pastry, somewhat like a pie.  Yummy!

This is Effie’s house – I knocked on her door and bought a loaf of fresh coconut bread and a coconut/pineapple pastry, somewhat like a pie. Yummy!

I asked if there was someplace in the Village where I could get ice cream - I was sent to this home where a woman named Lori lives.  She goes to Freeport every two weeks or so and brings back a few tubs of ice cream which she sells from her house for $1 for two large scoops. I visited every day. She also sews beautiful hand-made dresses which she sells from her home as well.

I asked if there was someplace in the Village where I could get ice cream – I was sent to this home where a woman named Lori lives. She goes to Freeport every two weeks or so and brings back a few tubs of ice cream which she sells from her house for $1 for two large scoops. I visited every day. She also sews beautiful hand-made dresses which she sells from her home as well.

We went to Freeport and to Port Lucaya for a couple of days. There is virtually nothing to see in Freeport. About 10 years ago, the large hotel/casino closed, and cruise ships arriving in Freeport Harbor are now bussed directly to Port Lucaya, which has a pleasant beach, some resort hotels, and a marketplace somewhat analogous to the Fanueil Hall marketplace in Boston (without the historic character). This photo is of the virtually abandoned "international marketplace" in Freeport, which withered away when the hotel/casino closed and tourists were bussed to Port Lucaya.

We also went to Freeport and to Port Lucaya for a couple of days. There is virtually nothing to see in Freeport. About 10 years ago, the large hotel/casino closed, and the tourists on cruise ships arriving in Freeport Harbor are now bussed directly to Port Lucaya, which has a pleasant beach, some resort hotels, and a marketplace somewhat analogous to the Fanueil Hall marketplace in Boston (without the historic character). This photo is of the virtually abandoned “international marketplace” in Freeport, which withered away when the hotel/casino closed and tourists were bussed to Port Lucaya.

Paul left at the end of our stay in the West End, and Trish, my daughter Jenny, and her boyfriend Chris flew into Freeport to start our journey into the Abacos and the outer cays. More to come!

 

 

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BEACHES, HIGHRISES, MANSIONS, AND MEGAYACHTS

Post #45:  BEACHES, HIGHRISES, MANSIONS, & MEGAYACHTS – Day 293, February 21, 2015.  On Board:  Bob Hall, Audrey Hall, Carly Hall, Pat Coates, Paul Coates, Trish K, Jim K.

The Gold Coast – the Atlantic shore from Miami to Palm Beach – is a seemingly unbroken span of incredibly beautiful sand beaches, highrise condominiums of every design and description, beautiful mansions perched on the water’s edge, and sleek megayachts that confound the imagination. The barrier islands are home to the beaches, and the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) is the conduit that ties it all together.

We spent six days with seven of us aboard running from Miami to Palm Beach, with stops at Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, Deerfield Beach, and the Palm Beach area. Here is our crew:

Our "Gang of Seven" - from left to right: Carly Hall, Trish K., Audrey Hall, Bob Hall, Pat Coates, Jim K, Paul in front

Our “Gang of Seven” – from left to right: Carly Hall, Trish K., Audrey Hall, Bob Hall, Pat Coates, Jim K, Paul in front

The boat is designed to sleep six when the dining area is converted to a bed, so with seven aboard, someone sleeps on the floor. I had the honor at times over the summer and fall, but Carly won out this time:

A cushy air mattress, a sleeping bag, and a pillow makes for a cozy night!

A cushy air mattress, a sleeping bag, and a pillow makes for a cozy night!

The ICW on the Gold Coast stretch from Miami to Palm Beach is unlike any other area we’ve seen – for nearly the entire 70 miles, the ICW is within seawalls on both sides and is fully developed, ranging from single family homes to older 70’s-style mid or low rise apartments/condominiums to magnificent highrise buildings lining both shores.  here are some images from the Gold Coast ICW:

The high rise buildings can be dated by the style of the architecture - each successive decade gats higher and more elegant.

The high rise buildings can be dated by the style of the architecture – each successive decade gats higher and more elegant.

Many, many houses of this style and size line segments of the ICW.

Many, many houses of this style and size line segments of the ICW.

No description needed -

They must have a big family….

This house was an aberration in terms of architecture - there are very few truly modern-style house along the way

This house was an aberration in terms of architecture – there are very few truly modern-style house along the way

We looked up this house on the internet - located in Deerfield Beach with the oceanfront beach in back and a dock for a megayacht in front, it is the most expensive house currently on the market in the entire USA. With 8 bedrooms and 13 baths, it can be had for a mere $139 million. Maybe the seller would take back a second mortgage....

We looked up this house on the internet – located in Deerfield Beach with the oceanfront beach in back and a dock for a megayacht in front, it is the most expensive house currently on the market in the entire USA. With 8 bedrooms and 13 baths, it can be had for a mere $139 million. Maybe the seller would take back a second mortgage….

Speaking of megayachts....we saw literally hundreds of them in various locations along this stretch.  Notice the helicopter on the rear landing pad....

Speaking of megayachts….we saw literally hundreds of them in various locations along this stretch. Notice the helicopter on the rear landing pad….

A hundred or more megayachts for sale at the Miami Boat Show

A hundred or more megayachts for sale at the Miami Boat Show

Our own little "megayacht" Bob Hall driving the Joint Adventure, which seemed big until we saw it next to al these real megayachts.  However, when docking in a tight slip with a current and a crosswind - the Joint Adventure still seems mighty big....

Our own little “megayacht” – Bob Hall driving the Joint Adventure, which seemed big until we saw it next to all these real megayachts. However, when docking in a tight slip with a current and a crosswind – the Joint Adventure still seems mighty big….

The other dominant feature of the Gold Coast ICW is the ubiquitous drawbridges - we must have passed through 50 bridges.  While we can pass under some, we required an opening from 20 or so of the bridges. Most are restricted to two openings per hour, so progress can be slow at times.

The other dominant feature of the Gold Coast ICW is the ubiquitous drawbridges – we must have passed through 50 of them. While we can pass under some, we required an opening from 25 or so of the bridges. Most are restricted to two openings per hour, so progress can be slow at times.

Bob & Audrey along the ICW

Bob & Audrey pose along the ICW while waiting for a bridge opening

Our first stop after leaving Miami was Hollywood, Florida, founded by a man named Joseph Young in the 1920’s. He originally named it Hollywood By the Sea – the “Hollywood” part because he planned to build a motion picture colony on the East Coast, patterned after Hollywood, California;  the “By the Sea” part to distinguish it from a similar venture called “Hollywood In the Hills” in New York.  Hollywood today is the 12th largest city in Florida and boasts fantastic beaches and perhaps the best boardwalk (along with Fort Lauderdale)for walking and biking with sand and waves on one side and restaurants, pubs, and shops on the other. Here are some images from our visit:

We parked our bikes on the edge of the paved "boardwalk" along the beach while we indulged in - you guessed it - ice cream!

We parked our bikes on the edge of the paved “boardwalk” along the beach while we indulged in – you guessed it – ice cream!

Letting the ice cream settle while we enjoy the scenery and the people-watching.  From left to right:  Bob, Audrey, & Carly Hall, Trish K.

Letting the ice cream settle while we enjoy the scenery and the people-watching. From left to right: Bob, Audrey, & Carly Hall, Trish K.

I couldn't resist a swim in the turquois water -

I couldn’t resist a swim in the turquois water – it may have felt a bit chilly when I first got in….

 

Our next stop was downtown Fort Lauderdale, about 2 miles up the New River. We experienced a special treat here – our good and longtime friends from our younger skiing days, Bruce & Gayleen Donadt, sold their house, their cars, and their worldly possessions three years ago and bought a 41′ sailboat. They live year-round on the SV Pearl, cruising the East coast and the Bahamas. They were headed south along the coast waiting for a favorable weather window to cross the Gulf Stream, and we, of course, are slowly heading north. So with a bit of planning, our paths crossed in Fort Lauderdale, and we headed up the New River where they were docked to spend a day and evening catching up and breaking bread together.  Here are some pictures:

Bruce & Gayleen aboard their home and their mode of transportation, the SV Pearl - she's a 41' Morgan with a 14' beam - very seaworthy. Gayleen had little sailing experience before they moved aboard, but her adventurous spirit and quick-learner ability has turned her into an "old salt", although she's actually quite young, like the rest of us...

Bruce & Gayleen aboard their home and their mode of transportation, the SV Pearl – she’s a 41′ Morgan with a 14′ beam – very seaworthy. Gayleen had little sailing experience before they moved aboard, but her adventurous spirit and quick-learning ability has turned her into an “old salt”, although she’s actually quite young, like the rest of us…

Getting a tour and reminiscing in the cockpit of the Pearl.

Getting a tour and reminiscing in the cockpit of the Pearl. From left to right:  Gayleen, Carly, Audrey, Bruce, Bob, Trish in front.

Bruce giving a tour of the main salon, the primary inside living space on the Pearl. The 14' beam creates a spacious and comfortable place to hang out.

Bruce giving a tour of the main salon, the primary inside living space on the Pearl. The 14′ beam creates a spacious and comfortable place to hang out.

After visiting the Pearl, we congregated later in the afternoon for Happy Hour aboard the Joint Adventure - Paul's brother Steve and his lovely bride Sue came down from Tampa to be with us as well.  Left to right: Carly, Gayleen, Steve Coates, Bob, Audrey, Bruce

After visiting the Pearl, we congregated later in the afternoon for Happy Hour aboard the Joint Adventure – Paul’s brother Steve and his lovely bride Sue came down from Tampa to be with us as well. Left to right: Carly, Gayleen, Steve Coates, Bob, Audrey, Bruce

From Happy Hour to dinner for 11- good food, good drinks, great company:  From left to right: Trish K. Sue Coates, Pat Coates, Bob Hall, Audrey Hall, Carly Hall, Gayleen Donadt, Bruce Donadt, Jim K, Paul Coates, Steve Coates.

From Happy Hour to dinner for 11 of us – good food, good drinks, great company: From left to right: Trish K. Sue Coates, Pat Coates, Bob Hall, Audrey Hall, Carly Hall, Gayleen Donadt, Bruce Donadt, Jim K, Paul Coates, Steve Coates.

Let's label this "Bad Hair Day".  Or perhaps "The Two Losers in the Hair Beautiful Contest".  Or maybe "My Long Lost Brother". Or maybe you can suggest a caption... Anyway, Roberto was the Owner of the Pirate restaurant where we had dinner and others couldn't resist documenting the resemblance....

Let’s label this picture “Bad Hair Day”. Or perhaps “The Two Losers in the Hair Beautiful Contest”. Or maybe “My Long Lost Brother”. Or maybe you can suggest a caption… Anyway, Roberto was the Owner of the Pirate restaurant where the 11 of us had dinner. Some in our group couldn’t resist documenting the resemblance, though I don’t see it….

The New River

Transiting the New River is a trip all its own – A significant current, narrow passages, plenty of boat traffic, and an abundance of draw bridges all add to the fun….

The New River

The New River through downtown Fort Lauderdale

From our dockage on the New River, we ran just 3 miles to a marina on the ICW, right next to Fort Lauderdale Beach – another of the great beaches and paved boardwalks along the sand.  Here are some pictures from our stay:

The beach is very active, with plenty of restaurants, shops, and pubs along the boardwalk and plenty of hotels and condominiums overlooking the beach.

The beach is very active, with plenty of restaurants, shops, and pubs along the great paved boardwalk and plenty of hotels and condominiums overlooking the beach.

Fort Lauderdale Beach at its best...

Fort Lauderdale Beach at its best…

Swimming amongst the waves -

Swimming amongst the waves – Pat, Audrey, and Jim K

Miami and Fort Lauderdale are Kings of the Cruise Ship industry - an enormous cruise ship leaving through the Fort Lauderdale inlet

Miami and Fort Lauderdale are Kings of the cruise ship industry – an enormous cruise ship leaving through the Fort Lauderdale inlet

While in Fort Lauderdale, we took the dingy out for a spin. We carry her on a davit, and it takes about 5-10 minutes to untie her and lower her into the water. There is a pulley on each end to facilitate the process. Carrying her on a davit allows us to leave the motor on the dingy so we don't have to lug it on and off and find a place to store it.

While in Fort Lauderdale, we took the dingy out for a spin. We carry her on a davit, and it takes about 5-10 minutes to untie her and lower her into the water. There is a pulley on each end to facilitate the process. Carrying her on a davit allows us to leave the motor on the dingy so we don’t have to lug it on and off and find a place to store it.

An interesting anecdote regarding Fort Lauderdale Beach. Up until the early 1960’s, Fort Lauderdale beach, like most beaches in the South, were segregated – blacks – called “Coloreds” back then – were prohibited from entering or using the beach. In 1954, the County had purchased an isolated section of the beach for Coloreds, promising to build a beach access, tables, restrooms, shelters, and fresh water at what became known as “Colored Beach”.  However, nothing was built, so on July 4, 1961, a group that started with 3 activists and 4 college students staged a “wade-in” at Fort Lauderdale beach as a protest. The group soon grew to over 200 African-Americans who staged a series of “wade-ins” during July & August of 1961. On August 12, 1961, the City of Fort Lauderdale filed suit in an attempt to stop the “wade-ins” and prevent the “Coloreds” from using the beach. A year later, the court denied the City’s request, issuing a decision which effectively desegregated the County’s beaches and marked a turning point in the struggle to desegregate all public facilities in Broward County. Two years later, desegregation, including “public accommodation”, became the law of the land when Lyndon Johnson, to the shock and disappointment of many of his former Southern colleagues in the Senate, forced passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

By the way, if you’re interested in this chapter of the struggle for civil rights and the Johnson legacy, an absolutely superb book is “The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson” by Robert Caro. It describes in fascinating detail the gut-wrenching transition from Kennedy to Johnson in the wake of Kennedy’s assassination, and Johnson’s decision and arm-twisting tactics to ultimately pass Kennedy’s civil rights bill – the controversial bill had been floundering in the Senate, and became known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – the most important and sweeping civil rights law since the Emancipation Proclamation and passage of the 13th Amendment a hundred years earlier.

After two days in Fort Lauderdale, we ran about 15 miles to Deerfield Beach/Boca Raton and stayed at a restaurant/marina.  Here are some images:

Another beautiful beach, but without the long boardwalk for walking and biking along the edge

Another beautiful beach, but without the long boardwalk for walking and biking along the edge

A gentle reminder....

A gentle reminder….

Our final destination for this leg of the journey was the Palm Beach/West Palm Beach area, where the Joint Adventure is now. Here are some pictures:

We're

We’re actually docked at the Riviera Beach Municipal Marina, which is undergoing a complete re-make – they tore down the entire waterfront including the restaurant, and are building a new $350 million complex. In the meantime, they moved this elegant tour boat/restaurant into the marina where lunch and dinner are served on three levels, along with live music in the evenings.

The middle level of the dinner boat, with live music

The middle level of the dinner boat, with live music

This is a 1937 Burger that came into the marina shortly after we did - it is the oldest recreational Burger still in existence

This is a 1937 Burger that came into the marina shortly after we did – it is the oldest recreational Burger still in existence

An interesting name for a boat - not sure what this guy does for a living - does he have two professions?

An interesting name for a boat – not sure what this guy does for a living – does he have two professions?

OK, feel free to ignore this picture and explanation if you've heard enough about our toilet woes. But here goes:  We have continued to be plagued by problems with pumping out our holding tank, which finally came to a head (pun intended) on the day we ran to Palm Beach. So I somehow found the ONLY guy in the area that is willing to work on boat sanitation systems - not a pretty job. We ended up forcibly removing a panel on the top of the tank to discover that 12 years of "stuff" had reacted with the salt water that flushes the head to crystalize in the tank, finally blocking nearly all passage into the pump-out hose. YYAAYY!! A thorough cleaning, some acid treatment, reconstruction of the panel, and once and for all our toilet/holding tank problems are FINALLY behind us for good!  By the way, a tip for you boaters - I'm told that putting a cup of vinegar in the toilet once a month or so will prevent this from happening. Now I know...

OK, feel free to ignore this picture and explanation if you’ve heard enough about our toilet woes. But here goes: We have continued to be plagued by problems with pumping out our holding tank, which finally came to a head (pun intended) on the day we ran to Palm Beach. So I somehow found the ONLY guy in the area that is willing to work on boat sanitation systems – not a pretty job. We ended up forcibly removing a panel on the top of the tank to discover that 12 years of “stuff” had reacted with the salt water that flushes the head to crystalize and harden in the tank, finally blocking nearly all passage into the pump-out hose. YYAAYY!! A thorough cleaning, some acid treatment, reconstruction of the panel, and once and for all our toilet/holding tank problems are FINALLY behind us for good! By the way, a tip for you boaters – I’m told that putting a cup of vinegar in the toilet once a month or so will prevent this from happening. Now I know…

So the Joint Adventure is tucked in at Riviera Beach for a week or so, and we all came home to do a bit of skiing in Vermont.  Paul and I will return to the boat on March 2, and we hope to get a favorable weather window sometime the following week.  If we do, we plan to leave Florida behind and head due east, across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas.  YIKES!!

 

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STILTSVILLE (AND MIAMI)

Post #44 – STILTSVILLE (AND MIAMI) – Day 284, February 11, 2015 – On board:  Paul, Hank, Jim K.

Talk about culture shock! For nearly a month we have been traveling along the Everglades, a deserted anchorage, the Florida Keys – often rural and rustic, always laid back and unhurried – “island time”.  Suddenly we’re docked in downtown Miami – highrises tower over the waterfront and everywhere there is hustle and bustle.  Not complaining, mind you, for Miami is a great and fun city – but things sure did change in a hurry!

Our 50 mile run from Key Largo was quite pleasant, and seeing the Miami skyline rise and grow on the horizon was very exciting:

The City of Miami skyline, approaching from the south in Biscayne Bay -

The City of Miami skyline, approaching from the south in Biscayne Bay –

As we approached Key Biscayne, we saw some houses standing by themselves out in the ocean, built on stilts. We decided to explore, and wound our way through a cluster of seven such houses, known as Stiltsville, with quite an interesting story. The first such house was apparently built in the early 30’s during Prohibition by a character named “Crawfish” Eddie as a gambling house, since gambling was legal at that time a mile or more offshore. He allegedly sold bait, beer, and crawfish chowder, the latter of which he made from crawfish he caught underneath his shack. Eddie’s fishing buddies and others constructed shacks on stilts as well in subsequent years, followed by the construction of several social and fishing clubs – all on stilts over a mile from land and accessible only by boat. In a February, 1941 issue, LIFE magazine featured an article about one such club, describing the Quarterdeck, an exclusive membership only club as a “…$100,000 play-palace equipped with bar, lounge, bridge deck, and dining room, …an extraordinary American community dedicated solely to sunlight, salt water, and the well-being of the human spirit.” At its peak in 1960, there were 27 structures in Stiltsville, when Hurricane Donna severely damaged the Quarterdeck and most of the houses. Some were rebuilt, however, and in 1962 a scam artist named Harry Church grounded a 150 foot yacht on the mudflats of Stitltsville and turned it into a social club called the Bikini Club in which drinks were free to women wearing bikinis, and which featured a sundeck for nude sunbathing and staterooms that could be rented, presumably by the hour. A few years later, the Florida Beverage Commission raided the Bikini Club and closed it down for selling liquor without a license. However, Hurricane Betsy in 1965, effectively destroyed the Bikini Club and again severely damaged most of the existing structures. Following Betsy, Florida decided to assert jurisdiction over Stitltsville, requiring lease payments, refusing to issue new Building Permits, and refusing to allow any structure which sustained more than 50% damage to be rebuilt. The leases expired in 1999 and required the owners to remove the structures at that time at the owners’ expense. However, in 1980, Congress expanded Biscayne National Park to include Stiltsville, so the United States Park Service now had control but agreed to honor the existing leases. Hurricane Andrew destroyed half of the 14 remaining structures in 1992, leaving just seven. As the 1999 deadline approached, the owners and several preservation groups attempted to list the remaining buildings on the National Register of Historic Places to keep them from being destroyed, but the applications were denied because the structures were not yet 50 years old. In 1998, 57 years after its first article, LIFE magazine featured another article about Stiltsville, this time describing the grassroots efforts to fight the federal government and save the buildings. Over 75,000 people signed a petition of support, and in 2000, the Park Service reversed its position and agreed to allow the houses to be preserved. Today the houses are vacant but are being maintained as the Park Service works with a non-profit Trust on a plan to preserve and utilize the remaining seven structures. Quite a story.

Here are some pictures of them:

In the open water

The stilt houses are built on a mud flat of shallow water more than a mile offshore, in the open ocean.

One of the stilt houses - notice the Miami skyline in the background -

One of the stilt houses – notice the Miami skyline in the background –

A more complex structure than the others

A more complex structure than the others

A simpler version -

A simpler version –

After meandering through Stiltsville, we ran along the coast of Biscayne Bay and ducked into an anchorage known as No Name Harbor adjacent to a state park:

Non Name Harbor on Key Biscayne - a wonderful anchorage!

Non Name Harbor on Key Biscayne – a wonderful, fully-protected anchorage with park facilities on the adjacent shore

A couple of the spectacular houses in Key Biscayne overlooking the water.  We looked for the ghost of Richard Nixon, but saw nothing...

A couple of the spectacular houses in Key Biscayne overlooking the water. We looked for the ghost of Richard Nixon, but saw nothing…

A couple other houses in Key Biscayne -

A couple other houses in Key Biscayne –

The twin cities of Miami and Miami Beach are vibrant, diverse cities with an incredible combination of cultures. Our week-long stay coincided with the set-up for the Miami Boat Show, so dockage space was difficult to find and we stayed two days each in four different places, each a unique experience. The first was the Miami Municipal Marina, immediately downtown, surrounded by highrise buildings and the “Bayside” marketplace featuring restaurants, shops, live music on the street, etc. We took several tours of the city to acclimate ourselves,  Here are some images:

Celebrating our arrival in Miami at a waterfront pub

Celebrating our arrival in Miami at a waterfront pub

This is a picture of a rendering of the future - Miami is intending to build a 1000 foot iconic tower to create an iconic image for the city - similar to the Needle in Seattle or the Arch in St. Louis. The marina in the foreground, which will remain, is where we docked for two of our nights in Miami. Construction is scheduled to start this Spring.

This is a picture of a rendering of the future – Miami is intending to build a 1000 foot tower to create an iconic image for the city – similar to the Needle in Seattle or the Arch in St. Louis. The marina where we docked the Joint Adventure for the first two days is in the foreground, and will remain when the tower is built. Construction is scheduled to start this Spring. The white dome in the bottom right is the American Airlines Arena where the Miami Heat play.

The original Miami Customs House, which for a time was the tallest building in Miami

The original Miami Customs House, now called the Freedom Tower, is the building where the government processed the Cuban refugees which have come to America since Castro took control.  Cubans refer to it as the Cuban Ellis Island. For a time, it was the tallest building in Miami

The Perez Art Museum at the waterfront in downtown Miami

The Perez Art Museum at the waterfront in downtown Miami

The original Miami Customs House, which for a time was the tallest building in Miami

The original Miami Customs House, now referred to as the Freedom Tower or the Cuban Ellis Island, served as the processing point for Cuban refugees entering the US after Castro seized control. For a time, it was the tallest building in Miami.

After two days in the Municipal Marina on the waterfront, all boats had to leave so they could set up for the Boat Show. We moved to a marina 1.5 miles up the Miami River. Here are some images:

Entering the mouth of the Miami River from Miami Harbor

Entering the mouth of the Miami River from Miami Harbor

The Miami River, navigable for about 7 miles or so, cuts through the heart of the city with highrises on both sides and bridges every couple of blocks. While it serves recreational traffic, the river is a major commercial waterway as well - fishing boats utilize the river to offload their catch, freighters offload goods, and several commercial boatyards line the river.

The Miami River, navigable for about 7 miles or so, cuts through the heart of the city with highrises on both sides and bridges every couple of blocks. While it serves recreational traffic, the river is a major commercial waterway as well – fishing boats utilize the river to offload their catch, freighters offload goods, and several commercial boatyards line the river.

The Joint Adventure docked on the river - notice the boat in front of us - we complained that they let such rif-raf share dock space with us....

The Joint Adventure docked on the river – notice the boat in front of us – we complained that they let such rif-raf share dock space with us….

One of life's strange coincidences - working with a Boston-based developer with whom we have worked closely for many years, Koningisor, Luciano, & Associates has done a fair amount of work in Miami, and the building in the picture immediately across the river from where we are docked is a building in which we managed the permitting and construction. There are four such buildings within sight from the bridge of the Joint Adventure at this dockage. We're very fortunate to have an extraordinary Florida construction expert, Grier Silverbach, work with us to oversee the construction of these buildings. Two more are currently underway.

One of life’s strange coincidences – working with a Boston-based developer with whom we have worked closely for many years, Koningisor, Luciano, & Associates has done a fair amount of work in Miami – the building in the picture immediately across the river from where we are docked is a building in which we managed the permitting and oversaw the construction. There are three such buildings within sight from the bridge of the Joint Adventure at this dockage. Two more are currently underway.

Miami is an incredibly diverse city, characterized by many ethnic neighborhoods from various parts of the Carribean, Central America, and South America.  Of course, Cubans dominate, since nearly 700,000 Cubans have emigrated to America, the vast majority to Miami, over the past three decades or so. The Cuban culture is pervasive throughout the City, but no more so than in Little Havana:  Here are some pictures:

An enormous map of Cuba dominates a small park in Little Havana

An enormous map of Cuba dominates a small park in Little Havana

This is a monument to those who lost their lives in the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.  Older Cubans still fault America for the alleged failure to provide promised air support that was expected to help the overthrow of Castro to succeed.

This is a monument to Cubans who lost their lives in the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. Older Cubans still fault America for the alleged failure to provide promised air support that was expected to help the overthrow of Castro to succeed. Most Cuban-Americans with whom I spoke supported Obama’s decision to move toward normalizing relations with Cuba, though all were quick to point out that many, especially older Cuban-Americans, were adamantly opposed.

In the heart of Little Havana is Domino Park, a place where Cuban Americans gather at permanent tables to play dominos, seven days a week.

In the heart of Little Havana is Domino Park, a place where Cuban Americans gather at permanent tables to play dominos, seven days a week.

A Cuban band plays music while people dance in Dominos Park

A Cuban band plays music while people dance in Domino Park

A really cool Cuban restaurant/pub in Little Havana

A really cool Cuban restaurant/pub in Little Havana

He reminded me of Kermit, so I couldn't resist including a picture of him...I couldn't resist

He reminded me of Kermit, so I couldn’t resist including a picture of him.

Now THIS is great architecture that I can relate to...

Now THIS is great architecture that I can relate to…

Another unique and fascinating ethnic neighborhood in Miami is called Overtown. As Miami developed in the first half of the 1900’s, blacks were segregated to an area west of the railroad tracks which was originally called “Colored Town”, now called Overtown. Within Overtown is the Wynwood Art District which features incredible murals painted on buildings and walls throughout the district. I’ve truly never seen anything like it on such a scale. Following are a number of photos of just a few of the murals. The artwork speaks for itself, so I have provided only a few captions:

This is a two-story high building -

This is a two-story high building –

AAAM-Art1

AAAM-Art2

AAAM-Art3

AAAM-Art4

AAAM-Art5

AAAM-Art6

AAAM-Art7

AAAM-Art8

AAAM-Art9AAAM-Art10

This is actually an entire wall of real flowers

This is actually an entire wall of real flowers

AAAM-Art12

From our dockage on the Miami River, we were fortunate to arrange for dockage for two nights at the Coral Reef Yacht Club in Coconut Grove, an upscale area on the south side of Miami. Here are some images:

Hank driving on our way to Coconut Grove

Hank driving on our way to Coconut Grove

The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables was built in 1926 to cater to wealthy northerners during the winter months. The War Department took it over during World War 2 and converted it to a hospital, covering the original marble floors with government-issued linoleum. After the war, it was used as a VA hospital and campus of the University of Miami Medical School until 1968. After extensive renovations and restoration of its original finishes, it was again converted to a hotel, opening in 1987.

The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables was built in 1926 to cater to wealthy northerners during the winter months. The War Department took it over during World War 2 and converted it to a hospital, covering the original marble floors with government-issued linoleum. After the war, it was used as a VA hospital and campus of the University of Miami Medical School until 1968. After extensive renovations and restoration of its original finishes, it was again converted to a hotel, opening in 1987. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

The interior of the Biltmore hotel is spectacular -

The interior of the Biltmore hotel is spectacular –

Built from 1914-1923 by James Deering, founder of International Harvester, the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens rivals the mansions of Newport. It was built to feel like a 1700's Italian villa, and the gardens cover acres with plantings and coral walls, arches, and sculptures.

Built from 1914-1923 by James Deering, founder of International Harvester, the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens rivals the mansions of Newport. It was built to feel like a 1700’s Italian villa, and the gardens cover acres with plantings and coral walls, arches, and sculptures.

My friend and colleague from First Florida Builders, who built most of the apartment projects we worked on in Miami, was able to join us for a Happy Hour cocktail while we were in Coconut Grove

My friend and colleague from First Florida Builders, who built most of the apartment projects we worked on in Miami, was able to join us for a Happy Hour cocktail while we were in Coconut Grove

Our last stop in the Miami area was Miami Beach – built largely on fill over a mangrove swamp now some of the most expensive real estate in the country:

Ocean Avenue on Miami Beach

Ocean Avenue on Miami Beach

Much of the architecture in Miami Beach is art deco - Ocean Avenue is lined with restaurants, bars, and clubs.

Much of the architecture in Miami Beach is art deco – Ocean Avenue is lined with restaurants, bars, and clubs.

No description of Miami Beach would be complete without a picture of South Beach. Though it was a bit cool when I walked the beach, there were beautiful people galore - the beach lived up to its reputation.

No description of Miami Beach would be complete without a picture of South Beach. Though it was a bit cool when I walked the beach, there were beautiful people galore – the beach lived up to its reputation.

From Miami, we begin to slowly work our way in a northerly direction, though we’re going to leave the boat for a little over a week at the end of February to visit home, shovel some snow, and do some skiing.

 

 

 

 

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THE RAILROAD THAT DIED AT SEA

THE RAILROAD THAT DIED AT SEA – Post #43, Day 276, February 3, 2015 – On board”  Paul, Hank, Jim K

Henry Flagler was a man ahead of his time. Despite quitting school at the age of 14, he went on to co-found Standard Oil, to found Palm Beach, and to be considered the “father of Miami”. But he is best known for opening the east coast of Florida to tourism and development by building a railroad south from Jacksonville to Miami.  Before his railroad, the spectacular beaches along the Atlantic were difficult to get to and only sparsely inhabited. Flagler changed all that.

Henry Flagler first visited Florida when his wife became ill and her doctor recommended an extended visit to the warm climate. He stayed at a hotel in St. Augustine, and was so taken by the beaches and the winter climate that he began building luxury hotels along the Florida coast, including the first development in Palm Beach. However, when a hard frost hit Palm Beach but not Miami, he decided to extend his railroad to further south and build a hotel there as well. The rest is history. He had one more goal to accomplish near the end of his life, however, and that goal became an obsession. He decided to extend the railroad to Key West, 156 miles across islands, swamp, and open water, all infested with mosquitos and other insects. The longest open-water segment required a bridge 7 miles long. Concrete was chosen as the structure of the bridge to withstand the power of the sea during harsh winter storms. However, concrete at the time could not withstand the ravages of salt water, so a new salt-resistant concrete had to be developed before construction could begin. The new concrete that Flagler’s team researched and created revolutionized marine construction for many years thereafter. Work began in 1905, but hurricanes in 1906, 1909, and 1910 destroyed much of the railroad that had been built at the time and killed more than 100 workers. Still Flagler pressed on, accelerating the work so it could be completed before he died.  Finally, in 1912, seven years after the start of construction, the railroad was completed.  Flagler, by then blind, traveled in the first railroad car to make the trip from the mainland to Key West.  He told the welcoming crowd: “Now I can die happy. My dream is fulfilled”. The railroad had cost $1.31 billion in today’s dollars, all paid for by Flagler’s personal fortune. It was dubbed the “eighth Wonder of the World”.

In 1935, a massive hurricane destroyed 40 miles of the railroad. By that time, automobile travel was replacing railroad travel, so the State of Florida purchased the bridge. The state converted the old railroad bridges into the Overseas Highway, which opened in 1938, utilizing the undamaged portion of the bridges and building the highway on top of the railway. The bridge was substantially re-built again in its entirety in 1980. Without Flagler, there would be no highway access the Florida Keys  today.

At the risk of boring everyone with more pictures of bridges, this is a pretty special one so I couldn’t resist:

The original concrete arch railroad bridge. The new highway bridge can be seen adjacent to the old railroad bridge.

Not a very good picture, but this is a small portion of the original concrete-arch Seven Mile Bridge. The new highway bridge can be seen adjacent to the old railroad bridge.

The original concrete-arch railroad bridge with the new highway bridge next to it. Each span of the old bridge has a section removed at the highest span of the new bridge to allow tall boats to pass through. Each remaining section of the old bridge is now used as a fishing pier.

The original concrete-arch railroad bridge with the new highway bridge next to it. Each length of the old bridge has a section removed at the highest span of the new bridge to allow taller boats to pass through. Each remaining section of the old bridge is now used as a fishing pier.

One more interesting anecdote about Henry Flagler – his second wife had been institutionalized for mental illness for six years when Flagler used his political influence to persuade the Florida Legislature in 1901 to pass a law that made incurable insanity legal grounds for divorce;  he divorced his wife the following year. Flagler was the only person to be divorced under the law he instigated before it was repealed shortly thereafter.

After being spoiled by 7 days of calm, near-perfect weather in a row on our way from Fort Myers Beach to the Keys, we’re now in a pattern of windy weather. After 5 days in Key West, a one day weather window opened up and we ran 85 miles to Islamorada on Upper Matecumbe Key (I can’t pronounce them either). Islamorada consists of a narrow spit of land with commercial strip stores along Route 1 and a series of quaint and charming places to stay and open-air restaurants/tiki bars overlooking the bayside or the ocean side of the island. We stayed at one such place tucked in a small, protected harbor. Music is king here, and there was live music throughout the lunch period, the afternoon, and the evening every day. The highlights of our stay were a day of fishing with a guide and watching the Patriots from an open-air tiki bar win the Super Bowl;  here are some pictures:

We've seen all sorts of vessels on this trip, but this one was quite unique -

We’ve seen all sorts of vessels on this trip, but this one was quite unique –

Most marinas have finger piers that make it easy to get on and off the boat.  Not so at our dockage at Islamorada, with a fixed dock.  Because the dinghy hangs on davits and extends past the back of the boat, it becomes difficult to get on and off in this dockage configuration. Not a problem for my Dad, however!

Most marinas have finger piers that make it easy to get on and off the boat. Not so at our dockage at Islamorada, with a fixed dock. Because the dinghy hangs on davits and extends past the back of the boat, it becomes difficult to get on and off in this dockage configuration. Not a problem for my Dad, however!

Seems like a perfect combination to me....

Seems like a perfect combination to me….

The first order of business on our fishing trip was to catch live bait, which our guide Frank caught with a net.

The first order of business on our fishing trip was to catch live bait, which our guide Frank caught with a net.

Hank terrorizing the fish...

Hank terrorizing the fish…

YESSS!!  We caught mostly Mangrove Snapper, which are not large but are good eating - we caught about a dozon and a half, ranging in size from the legal limit of 8" to about a foot.

YESSS!! We caught mostly Mangrove Snapper, which are not large but are good eating – we caught about a dozen and a half, ranging in size from the legal limit of 8″ to about a foot.

This fish is called is a Jack - we caught one of these in addition to the Mangrove Snapper

This fish is called is a Jack – we caught one of these in addition to the Mangrove Snapper

This is Paul, holding up the one that got away...

This is Paul, holding up the one that got away…

Incredibly, this is a bird that  picked live baitfish right off the hook in the air as it was being cast - these birds are incredibly fast and accurate and persistent in their pursuit of food.

Incredibly, this is a bird picking a live baitfish right off the hook IN THE AIR AS IT WAS BEING CAST!  These birds are incredibly fast, accurate, and persistent in their pursuit of food.

This bird and 2 others during our trip got hooked while trying to eat the baitfish off our hook - one got hooked in the air and the other dove on the baitfish moments after it hit the water.  Frank reeled in both birds and was able to remove the hook without the birds being hurt.

This bird, now in the water, and 2 others during our trip got hooked while trying to eat the baitfish off our hook – one got hooked in the air and the others dove on the baitfish moments after it hit the water. Frank reeled in all three birds and was able to remove the hook without the birds being hurt.

A pelican catching the fish carcass being thrown into the water next to the fish cleaning station.

A pelican catching the fish carcass being thrown into the water next to the fish cleaning station.

Happy fishermen after a successful day of fishing - a total of six fresh fish dinners -

Happy fishermen after a successful day of fishing – a total of six fresh fish dinners –

Our next stop was Key Largo after a run of about 30 miles in sunny, 80 degree weather. We’re back in the Intracoastal Waterway on the Gulf side, which is more protected from east and south winds than the Hawk Channel on the Atlantic side. Here are some images from our stay in Key Largo:

Another strange looking boat, this one in Key Largo

Another strange looking boat, this one in Key Largo

 

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore....

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore….

Hardcore movie buffs may recognize this boat. Hint:  if you look closely, you might see Humphrey Bogart or Lauren Bacall.  Yes, it is the African Queen. It was built in England and was shipped to the Congo for use as a supply transportation boat on the Congo River, The film producers purchased the boat for use in the movie.  Afterwards, it ended up in the US and fell into disrepair until it was purchased in 1982 and refurbished. When the owner's health failed, it again languished and deteriorated until a local Key West couple leased it and spent $90,000 repairing it. It now goes out several times a day for 1 1/2 hour tours.  My Dad being a movie buff, we of course had to go!

Hardcore movie buffs may recognize this boat. Hint: if you look closely, you might see Humphrey Bogart or Lauren Bacall on the boat. Yes, it is the African Queen! It was built in England in 1912 and was shipped to the Congo where it was used as a supply transportation boat on the Congo River. The film producers purchased the boat for use in the movie. Afterwards, it ended up in the US and fell into disrepair until it was purchased in 1982 and refurbished. When the owner’s health failed, it again languished and deteriorated until a local Key West couple leased it and spent $90,000 repairing it. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The African Queen now goes out several times a day for 1 1/2 hour tours. My Dad being a movie buff, we of course had to go!

The African Queen is still steam powered - the steam boiler is in the center of the boat, and the steam engine is behind it, the workings fully exposed.

The African Queen is still steam powered – the steam boiler is in the center of the boat, and the steam engine is behind it, the workings fully exposed.

Hank sort of looks like Humphrey Bogart steering the African Queen....

Hank sort of looks like Humphrey Bogart steering the African Queen….

Our next stop will be Miami!

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THE END OF THE ROAD – TWICE

Post #42 – THE END OF THE ROAD – TWICE – Day 272, January 29, 2015 – On board:  Paul, Hank (my Dad), Red Southerton, Jim K

Flamingo is the absolute end of the road – it was our next destination after leaving the anchorage in the Ten Thousand Islands, 70 miles away. Located at the very southern tip of the Florida peninsula, it is the southernmost outpost in the mainland United States. I say outpost, because it’s hard to claim it’s a village or a town – no one actually lives there, and it is an hour’s drive down a road through the wilderness to the nearest town. Other than some small out-buildings containing restrooms and the like and a few houses that provide temporary housing for the park rangers, there are only two buildings in Flamingo, one of which houses a small marine/souvenir type store and the other of which houses the southernmost headquarters of the Everglades National Park, the Visitor Center, and, surprisingly, a café with outdoor, screened-in seating that is open only during the winter season.  However, there is a marina and a campground, and there was a surprising amount of activity with campers, canoers, kayakers, and boaters in small boats coming and going – outdoor activities are king here. Flamingo is the southern terminus of the 99-mile Wilderness Waterway, a winding water route through the Everglades from Everglade City to Flamingo.  We were the only cruiser in the small marina, as this is not a normal sop for Loopers on the way to the Keys (or any other cruisers, for that matter). It is about 30 miles out of the way, and the channel carries only 3 feet of water at low tide;  therefore, we again timed our arrival and departure to coincide with higher tides. Mosquitos and “no-see-ums” rule the dusk and the dawn here, and some people walk around completely covered with mosquito netting (I wonder why more cruisers don’t come here…?). However, it is an interesting place with interesting people and an interesting history. Flamingo was originally located 4 1/2 miles west of the current location, but the few residents were relocated shortly after the National Park was created – all that remains of the original settlement are some foundations.  In 1959, a 103 room lodge and 24 cabins were built, but those were destroyed by the 9-foot storm surge when Hurricane Wilma roared ashore in 2005. Wilma did extensive damage to the other facilities as well, which are still being repaired – we had to move the Joint Adventure several times before we could find one of only 2 or 3 electrical stations that hade been repaired from damage from Wilma 10 years ago!

Here are some images from Flamingo:

The modest but sturdy store in Flamingo - one of the two buildings that make up the "town".

The modest but sturdy store in Flamingo – one of the two buildings that make up the “town”.

The Visitor Center/Park Headquarters building, overlooking Florida Bay. The screened-in café is on the lower level, facing the Bay.

The Visitor Center/Park Headquarters building, overlooking Florida Bay is the other building in Flamingo. The screened-in café is on the lower level, facing the Bay.

The screened-n eating area at the Flamingo Café.  The food was surprisingly good, and we had alligator tail for dinner (how could you have anything else in this setting...).  The kitchen is housed in a mobile trailer, seen in the background, which can be hooked to a truck and taken elsewhere during hurricane season.

The screened-in eating area at the Flamingo Café. The food was surprisingly good, and we had alligator tail for dinner (how could you have anything else in this setting…?). The kitchen is housed in a mobile trailer, seen in the background, which can be hooked to a truck and taken elsewhere during hurricane season or if a large storm approaches.

The campground in Flamingo, overlooking Florida Bay. Numerous trails into the Everglades and the Wilderness Waterway originate from Flamingo. A healthy breeze will keep the mosquitos and no-see-ums at bay, but there was no breeze the evening we were there.

The campground in Flamingo, overlooking Florida Bay. Numerous trails into the Everglades and the Wilderness Waterway originate from Flamingo. A healthy breeze will keep the mosquitos and no-see-ums at bay, but there was no breeze the evening we were there, and they came out in force at dusk.

The southern tip of Florida is home to the rare American Crocodile - this handsome specimen is from a picture, not a live one that we saw.  You can differentiate the croc from an alligator by its teeth, which protrude on the outside of its mouth whereas the teeth of an alligator are inside its mouth (now you can tell them apart the next time you meet one...).

The southern tip of Florida is home to the rare American Crocodile – this handsome specimen is from a picture, not a live one that we saw. You can differentiate the croc from an alligator by its teeth, which protrude on the outside of its mouth whereas the teeth of an alligator are inside its mouth (now you can tell them apart the next time you meet one…).

Red & I did some exploring by bike - according to Red, it was the first time in some 20 years since he'd been on a bike -

Red & I did some exploring by bike – according to Red, it was the first time in some 20 years since he’d been on a bike – Yayy, Red!

We left early the next morning before the tide ran out, headed 40 miles nearly due south to the town of Marathon on Boot Key. The weather was ideal and the run was pleasant, though the water throughout Florida Bay is shallow, ranging from a foot or two to 8-10 feet deep.

The sun rising through some clouds as we left Flamingo early in the morning.

The sun rising through some clouds as we left Flamingo early in the morning.

Red at the helm on our way to the Keys on a rare, perfectly calm day on Florida Bay.

Red at the helm on our way to the Keys on a rare, perfectly calm day on Florida Bay.

Paul broke out his "keys wardrobe" on the boat in anticipation of arriving in Marathon on Boot Key.

Paul broke out his “Keys wardrobe” on the boat in anticipation of arriving in Marathon on Boot Key.

We made it to the Keys, our first stop being Marathon on Boot Key!  Marathon is a dichotomy – the culture is clearly an “island culture” and its residents are on “island time”, while it is the largest commercial center in the Keys. A new and opulent Hyatt Hotel just opened on the Gulf side of the island and there are some large and luxurious homes; however, most of the island’s residents live in very modest homes, many of which are small trailers in fairly dense trailer parks. The large, relatively deep harbor is filled with perhaps a thousand boats, ranging from megayachts to small, old boats containing live-aboards. Restaurants abound, many of which are modest, open-air places with reasonable prices. A portion of the people here are vacationers or retirees, here to enjoy the climate, while the larger portion of the people are working-class people earning a living by servicing the vacationers and retirees. Most of the buildings are 60’s-era.  All in all, it’s a very interesting place. The only certified turtle hospital in the world that is dedicated exclusively to the rehabilitation of turtles is here, and there is an interesting Natural History Museum with a 25 acre preserve with extensive interactive walking trails on the island.  There is both a movie theater and a live community theater as well, both of which we took advantage of.

The perfectly calm weather with which we arrived abandoned us, and we ended up staying an extra day due to high winds. Here are some pictures from our stay:

A magazine article called "Dive Bars - Friends in Low Places" identified eight of the "loudest, rowdiest, most fun establishments on the water" along the Florida coast. Surprisingly, I had been to three of them, though not necessarily during "prime time" - Flora-Bama at the border between Alabama and the Florida panhandle, which we visited on this trip;  Bonita Bills on Fort Myers Beach;  and Bert's Bar & Grill in Matlacha on Pine Island. So we had lunch at a fourth, the Dockside Tropical Bar in Marathon, pictured above. Unfortunately, we didn't make it back there at night when the band plays and it apparently fills up and then some.

A magazine article called “Dive Bars – Friends in Low Places” identified eight of the “loudest, rowdiest, most fun establishments on the water” along the Florida coast. Surprisingly, I had been to three of them, though not necessarily during “prime time”, including Flora-Bama at the border between Alabama and the Florida panhandle, which we visited on this trip.  So we had lunch at a fourth, the Dockside Tropical Bar in Marathon, pictured above. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it back there at night when the band plays and it apparently fills up and then some.

Boudines marina, near the entrance to Boot Key Harbor, featured Happy Hour with live music during the sunset & dinner period. We were docked at the marina next door, so we made ample use of their Happy Hour.

Boudines marina, near the entrance to Boot Key Harbor, featured Happy Hour with live music during the sunset & dinner period. We were docked at the marina next door, so we made ample use of their Happy Hour.

The restaurant/tiki bar at Sunset Point is a larger, more upscale place where crowds gather to watch the sunset, have a cocktail, and enjoy dinner virtually every evening.

The restaurant/tiki bar at Sunset Point is a larger, more upscale place where crowds gather every night to watch the sunset, have a cocktail, and enjoy dinner.

The beach in Marathan was pleasant but smaller then I expected. However, we went for a swim in the warm water amidst the tropical breeze.

The beach in Marathan was pleasant but smaller then I expected. However, we went for a swim in the warm water amidst the tropical breeze.

Most of the original railroad bridge is unusable for vehicles and has been replaced with new highway bridges. the old railroad bridge going west from Marathon is open to pedestrians and used as a walking/biking trail and fishing pier. A section has been removed in the middle, however, to allow higher boats to pass through.  The newer highway bridge can be seen to the left in this picture.

Most of the original railroad bridge from the mainland to Key West is unusable for vehicles and has been replaced with new highway bridges. The old railroad bridge going west from Marathon is open to pedestrians and used as a walking/biking trail and fishing pier. A section has been removed in the middle, however, to allow higher boats to pass through. The newer highway bridge can be seen to the left in this picture.

While cruising Boot Key Harbor in the dinghy, we came upon Dede skippered by Henry and his wife Dede, whom we originally met on the Trent Severn Waterway last summer. Henry & Dede spent four years building Dede themselves to cruise the Great Loop, which they will complete this Spring when they reach their home port of Norfolk.

While cruising Boot Key Harbor in the dinghy, we came upon the vessel Dede skippered by Henry and his wife Dede, whom we originally met on the Trent Severn Waterway last summer. Henry & Dede spent four years building Dede themselves to cruise the Great Loop, which they will complete this Spring when they reach their home port of Norfolk.

As I mentioned above, the only full-time turtle hospital in the world is located in Marathon. The founder, after retiring from his career-job, bought a small motel in Marathon.  It had a salt water pool but his guests were more interested in a fresh water pool, so he built one then converted the salt water pool to a huge fish tank for the entertainment of his guests. One day a child asked him why there were no turtles in the pool, so he decided to add a couple.  However, he found that sea turtles were protected and one could only get a permit to acquire them if they were injured and needed to recuperate in a protected environment. So he obtained a permit to acquire two such turtles; the turtle hospital was born and grew into a full-time non-profit operation which has rehabilitated and returned to the sea over 1200 injured turtles:

We took a 1 1/2 hour tour of the Turtle Hospital and saw many species of turtles in various stages of rehabilitation.

We took a 1 1/2 hour tour of the Turtle Hospital and saw many species of turtles in various stages of rehabilitation.

This enormous sea turtle was hit by a boat - you can see the damage to his shell.  It will take about 6 months, but they will repair the shell, nurse him back to health, and return him to the sea.

This enormous sea turtle was hit by a boat – you can see the damage to his shell. It will take about 6 months, but they will repair the shell, nurse him back to health, and return him to the sea.

This is a creative advertising slogan that I hadn't encountered before...

This is a creative advertising slogan that I hadn’t encountered before…

The winds eased for us for a day, and we headed 50 miles to Key West on a beautiful tropical day. KEY WEST!  The REAL end of the road!Another milestone – the southernmost point on our Great Loop voyage.  From this point on, we start gradually working our way in a northerly direction towards home.

Key West! What an interesting place. From a distant outpost inhabited largely by hippies, outcasts, and other “interesting” people, it has morphed into an upscale resort area – however, it has managed to retain it rebelliousness, its irreverence, and even some of its crudeness. Restaurants and pubs abound, nearly all of which are open to the streets and many of which have live music which spills out onto the streets as well, reminiscent of Bourbon Street in New Orleans.  You can buy Jello shots and shots of vodka on the sidewalks, which teem with people into the wee hours, even on a Sunday night. Apparently they hold a 10-day Fantasy Fest in October, with parades, balls, drag queen contests, nude body painting, and much more. Our stay was a bit more tame, but certainly interesting.  Here are some images:

We just had to celebrate our arrival at the southernmost point on our trip with a "dockage beer" on the bridge of the Joint Adventure

We just had to celebrate our arrival at the southernmost point on our trip with a “dockage beer” on the bridge of the Joint Adventure

During our "dockage beer", Todd & Kelly, visitors from Canada, were noticing the Joint Adventure, so we invited them aboard to share our celebration. When we asked them about their profession they replied that they are both police officers - we quietly hid our contraband...(just kidding).

During our “dockage beer”, Todd & Kelly, visitors from Canada, were noticing the Joint Adventure, so we invited them aboard to share our celebration. When we asked them about their profession they replied that they are both police officers – we quietly hid our contraband…(just kidding).

My Dad enjoying the view from the deck at the Tiki Bar at the marina -

My Dad enjoying the view from the deck at the Tiki Bar at the marina –

Founded in 1933, Sloppy Joe's is a famous bar on Duval Street, the main entertainment area in Key West. It's most famous patrons were Ernest Hemmingway, who coined the name "Sloppy Joes", and the infamous rumrunner Habana Joe. Mentioned in the movie "Citizen Kane", the bar is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today it features live music from noon to 2:00 AM, including a show band from in the evening, and a dance band starting at 10:00. Of course, Red and I had to check it out, and the bands were excellent!

Founded in 1933, Sloppy Joe’s is a famous bar on Duval Street, the main entertainment area in Key West. It’s most famous patrons were Ernest Hemmingway, who coined the name “Sloppy Joes”, and the infamous rumrunner Habana Joe. Mentioned in the movie “Citizen Kane”, the bar is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today it features live music from noon to 2:00 AM, including a show band in the evening and a dance band starting at 10:00 PM. Of course, Red and I had to check it out, and the music was excellent!

Paul & Red enjoying a beer at Captain Tony's - it is the original location of Sloppy Joe's where Ernest Hemenway spent many evenings drinking and partying with the owner of the bar and their buddies. The bar owner leased the building. However, when the owner of the building raised the rent by $1 per week, Hemenway and the bar owner removed all of the toilets, light fixtures, and equipment and moved them into the new location of Sloppy Joes' where it remains today.

Paul & Red enjoying a beer at Captain Tony’s – it is the original location of Sloppy Joe’s where Ernest Hemingway spent many evenings drinking and partying with the owner of the bar and their buddies. The bar owner leased the building. However, when the owner of the building raised the rent by $1 per week, Hemingway and the bar owner removed all of the toilets, light fixtures, and equipment and moved them into the new location of Sloppy Joes’ where it remains today.

There are bars and bands of all sizes, shapes, and sounds throughout the "downtown" Key West area, but this was by far the smallest, as its sign suggests - about 8 feet wide and 12 feet deep.

There are bars and bands of all sizes, shapes, and sounds throughout the “downtown” Key West area, but this was by far the smallest bar, as its sign suggests – about 8 feet wide and 12 feet deep.

We couldn't resist visiting the fifth "Dive Bar" listed in the magazine article, since it is on Key West - the Green Parrot. It lived up to its image...

We couldn’t resist visiting the fifth “Dive Bar” listed in the magazine article, since it is on Key West – the Green Parrot. It lived up to its image…as I arrived, there was a patron holding onto a wrought iron screen on one of the windows shouting at the top of his lungs to tourists on an open tour bus “Help!  Please help me!  I’m trapped here! They won’t let me out!!  Please come get me out!!

 

This building contains a bar with three levels, the third of which is on the roof. The vegetation around the perimeter is a screen because the top level is "clothing optional".  I talked Red into a visit, arguing that you can't come here and NOT check it out. Unfortunately, the only person with no clothes on was a man sitting at the bar.  Oh, well. It was quite cool while we ere there, so maybe in warmer weather...

This building contains a bar with three levels, the third of which is on the roof. The vegetation around the perimeter is a screen because the top level is “clothing optional”. I talked Red into a visit, arguing that you can’t come here and NOT check it out. Unfortunately, the only person with no clothes on was a man sitting at the bar. Oh, well.  It was quite cool while we were there, so maybe in warmer weather…

There appears to be some snobby places here and there....

There appears to be some snobby places here as well….

These desserts must be REALLY, good...

These desserts must be REALLY, good…

On a more serious note, Key West, we discovered, is more than just a fun-in-the-sun place.  There is a great deal of history and culture here, and many more interesting stories than I could put in the blog. Here are some examples:

 

Mel Fischer was a famous treasure hunter who, after searching for 17 years, finally found the remains of a Spanish ship sunk in 1622 by a hurricane. The recovered treasure is valued at half a billion dollars, the loss of which at the time nearly caused the collapse of the heavily indebted Spanish government. The Mel Fischer museum in Key West is fascinating, featuring displays and artifacts from the ship, including solid gold chains, silver bullions, and a multitude of silver coins, plus extensive displays and artifacts from the many pirates who plied the waters of the Keys, Cuba, and the Bahamas.

Mel Fischer was a famous treasure hunter who, after searching for 17 years, finally found the remains of a Spanish ship sunk in 1622 by a hurricane. The recovered treasure is valued at half a billion dollars, the loss of which at the time nearly caused the collapse of the heavily indebted Spanish government. The Mel Fischer museum in Key West is fascinating, featuring displays and artifacts from the ship, including solid gold chains, silver bullions, and a multitude of silver coins, plus extensive displays and artifacts from the many pirates who plied the waters of the Keys, Cuba, and the Bahamas.

This sign tells the fascinating story of two women pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy

This sign tells the fascinating story of two women pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy

 

Nineteen months after Harry Truman became president, his doctor told him he would suffer the same fate as Roosevelt if he didn't take a vacation. So he was sent to a house on the Naval Base here, and fell in love with Key West. As a result, he ended up spending 175 days - or 10% of his presidency - in Key West. The house became known as the Little White House, and is now on the National Register. It became an office as well as a retreat, and Truman held several cabinet meetings there, requiring cabinet members to remove their white shirts and ties and to wear a brightly colored "key West" shirt. In the evening, he often played poker with his visitors on a table that had a removable top so Bess wouldn't know it was a poker table. The table and virtually all the original Truman furniture remains and is ised today. Other presidents have continued to use the house, including Eisenhower, Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton. There are scheduled tours of the entire house, with knowledgeable tour guides with story after story about Harry and the Truman years.

Nineteen months after Harry Truman became president, his doctor told him he would suffer the same fate as Roosevelt if he didn’t take a vacation. So he was sent to a house on the Naval Base here, and fell in love with Key West. As a result, he ended up spending 175 days – or 10% of his presidency – in Key West. The house became known as the Little White House, and is now on the National Register. It became an office as well as a retreat, and Truman held several cabinet meetings there, requiring cabinet members to remove their white shirts and ties and wear a brightly colored “Key West” shirts. In the evening, he often played poker with his visitors on a table that had a removable top so Bess wouldn’t know it was a poker table. The table and virtually all the original Truman furniture remains and is still used today. Other presidents have continued to use the house, including Eisenhower, Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton. There are scheduled tours of the entire house, with knowledgeable tour guides with story after story about Harry and the Truman years.

Ernest Hemingway spent a great deal of time in this home that he owned in Key West, and wrote many of his books while here. He was a renegade, and stories abound about some of his antics while here. The house is open for tours.

Ernest Hemingway spent a great deal of time in this home that he owned in Key West, and wrote many of his books while here. He was a renegade, and stories abound about some of his antics while here. The house is open for tours.

The Shipwreck Museum focuses on "wreckers" - professional salvagers who made fortunes salvaging treasure and merchandise from the many ships that were wrecked on the shoals along the Keys. At its heyday in the mid 1800's, an average of a ship a week would wreck on the shoals, and most of the population was in some manner involved with the salvage industry in which salvaged goods would be sold at auction - salvage from one ship could bring in as much as $1 million in todays dollars. As a result, Key West during the golden age of shipping became the richest per capita town in the entire country!

The Shipwreck Museum focuses on “wreckers” – professional salvagers who made fortunes salvaging treasure and merchandise from the many ships that were wrecked on the shoals along the Keys. At its heyday in the mid 1800’s, an average of a ship a week would wreck on the shoals, and most of the population was in some manner involved with the salvage industry in which salvaged goods would be sold at auction – salvage from one ship could bring in as much as $1 million in today’s dollars. As a result, Key West during the golden age of shipping became the richest per capita town in the entire country!

This enormous statue is in front of the Art & History Museum in the downtown area

Key West also features an Art & History Museum – this enormous statue is in front of the Museum in the downtown area

This statue is on the grounds of the Art & History Museum. I wonder what that gut on the ground is thinking...?

This statue is on the grounds of the Art & History Museum. I wonder what that guy on the ground is thinking…?

Every evening, upwards of a thousand people congregate on the waterfront in Mallory Square to watch the sunset. There are street performers, vendors, portable bars, and great people-watching. The view is spectacular.

Every evening, upwards of a thousand people congregate on the waterfront in Mallory Square to watch the sunset. There are street performers, vendors, portable bars, and great people-watching. The view is spectacular.

The sunset from Mallory Square on our first night in Key West

The sunset from Mallory Square on our first night in Key West

This enormous monument marks the southernmost point in the continental US, and is the most visited single place on Key West.  But it's a fraud. It WAS the southernmost point before World War 2.  However, during the war, the Navy need to expand the naval base and increased the size of the island to 1 1/2 times its original size - including a substantial portion which is south of this point!

This enormous monument marks the southernmost point in the continental US, and is the most visited single place on Key West. But it’s a fraud. It WAS the southernmost point before World War 2. However, during the war, the Navy needed to expand the naval base, so they increased the size of the island to 1 1/2 times its original size – including a substantial portion which is south of this point!

He may be 90, but my Dad can still spring into action to save this tree from collapsing onto the parking lot...

He may be 90, but my Dad can still spring into action to save this tree from collapsing onto the parking lot…

Here are a few things that caught my eye when wandering around the downtown area:

The sign next to the door of a bar in downtown -

The sign next to the door of a bar in downtown –

You can get a T-shirt that says pretty much anything in Key West

You can get a T-shirt that says pretty much anything in Key West

There you have it....

There you have it….

One for my two lawyer daughters and their lawyer friends -

For my two lawyer-daughters…

Dogs have a tough life sometimes...

It’s hard to read, but the words on the bottom of this picture say “is really slow”. Dogs have a tough life sometimes…

Don't leave home without one....

Don’t leave home without one….

We continue to be laundry-challenged.  After putting the laundry and soap in the machine and inserting the coins, I couldn’t get the coin tray to push in to start the machine.  It jammed and, try as I might, would not go in.  Impatient and angry, I went to the office to complain indignantly and, when asked,  I showed the attendant the coins I had inserted. “Sir, those are dollar coins, not quarters” he patiently explained.  I slinked out with my tail between my legs and inserted quarters.  My Dad then went to move the clothes from the washer into the dryer. He was soon in the same office talking to the same attendant, explaining that he needed help – he had inserted Canadian quarters (which I had given him) and the machine was jammed.  I’m not sure they are going to let us use the laundry machines again…

So we took the ferry for a day trip to the Dry Tortugas, a small group of island comprised of sand and coral 70 miles west of Key West. It was named Las Tortugas by Ponce de Leon because of the abundance of turtles, and the word “dry” was added to early maps to warn sea captains that there was no fresh water to be had there. Since the islands are located in a strategic spot in the shipping channel between the Florida keys and Cuba, the Army decided to build an enormous brick fort and a fleet of battleships there. The fort covers virtually the entirety of the largest island, and is the third largest fort ever built in the US. Construction was started in 1846 and was finally halted 30 years later,in 1875 – the fort was never completed.

Here are some images:

Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas, as seen from the ferry

Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas, as seen from the ferry. When the Civil War broke out, the U. S Army was in the process of installing artillery, but none were yet installed. Shortly after the war started, a Confederate battleship anchored next to the fort and sent a messenger demanding the surrender of the fort.  The fort’s commander yelled back to the messenger:  “You tell your Captain to be gone within 10 minutes or I’ll blow his ship out of the water!”.  The bluff worked, and the fort remained in Union hands – it was critical to the successful Union blockade of the South throughout the war.

A moat was constructed around the entire fort, for two reasons:  First, since the fort covers virtually the entire island, the outer wall of the moat provides the fort some protection from wave action.  Second, the wall prevents enemy ships from reaching the wall of the fort in an attack.

A moat was constructed around the entire fort, for two reasons: First, since the fort covers virtually the entire island, the outer wall of the moat provides the fort some protection from wave action. Second, the wall prevents enemy ships from reaching the wall of the fort in an attack.

The fort has six sides, and the enormity can be somewhat gauged in this picture that shows about half of one side. Sixteen million bricks had been used by the time construction was halted. Bricks were shipped to the fort from Pensacola until the outbreak of the Civil War, after which, believe it or not, they were shipped from Maine.  The cannon in the foreground weighs 50,000 pounds!

The fort has six sides, and the enormity can be somewhat gauged in this picture that shows about half of one side. Sixteen million bricks had been used by the time construction was halted. Bricks were shipped to the fort from Pensacola until the outbreak of the Civil War, after which, believe it or not, they were shipped from Maine. The cannon in the foreground weighs 50,000 pounds!

This interpretive sign highlights the difficulties of building the fort

This interpretive sign highlights the difficulties of building the fort

Sometimes it doesn't pay to hire the lowest bidder...

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to hire the lowest bidder…

 

The fort was used in part as a prison, although it was not designed for that purpose. One of the prisoners was Dr. Mudd, the doctor who was convicted as a co-conspirator after treating John Wilkes Booth when he broke his leg after assassinating President Lincoln. This was his cell.  When the fort's regular doctor and nurses died of Yellow Fever, Dr. Mudd, then the only doctor at the fort, was called into service to treat other patients. As a result, President Johnson granted him a pardon in 1869.

The fort was used in part as a prison, although it was not designed for that purpose. One of the prisoners was Dr. Mudd, the doctor who was convicted as a co-conspirator after treating John Wilkes Booth when he broke his leg after assassinating President Lincoln. This was his cell. When the fort’s regular doctor and nurses died of Yellow Fever, Dr. Mudd, then the only doctor at the fort, was called into service to treat other patients. As a result, President Johnson granted him a pardon in 1869.

This is one of several boats at the fort that successfully brought Cuban refugees to the US. Under Federal law, any Cuban refugee who reached dry land in the US can stay,  As a result, boats reach the Dry Tortugas on a regular basis, and the refugees ride the ferry back to Key West along with the tourists.  None arrived while we were there.

This is one of several boats at the fort that successfully brought Cuban refugees to the US. Under Federal law, any Cuban refugee who reached dry land in the US can stay. As a result, boats reach the Dry Tortugas on a regular basis, and the refugees ride the ferry back to Key West along with the tourists. None arrived while we were there.

A bit hard to see, but we were very fortunate to see a an American Crocodile that showed up a few years ago at the fort.  Sightings are rare, but he happened to come into the moat during our visit.

A bit hard to see, but we were very fortunate to see a an American Crocodile that showed up a few years ago at the fort. Sightings are rare, but he happened to come into the moat during our visit.

So Key West turned out to be much more than we expected, and we could easily spend another week or more here.  However, we expect a reasonable weather window tomorrow, and plan to head east and work our way towards Miami.

 

 

 

 

 

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SWAMP!

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:

My Dad lost his hat which he liked to wear on the boat that said "Old Salt" on the front. So for Christmas, my daughters had the three hats above made for the three generations of "Old Salts"

My Dad lost his hat which he liked to wear on the boat that said “Old Salt” on the front. So for Christmas, my daughters had the three hats above made for the three generations of “Old Salts”

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:

As seen in this aerial photo of Everglade City, the town is built on a small area of upland (much of it filled) and is surrounded by mangrove swamp. The narrow and sometimes shallow channel winds for six miles through the Ten Thousand Islands and Chokoloski Bay

As seen in this aerial photo of Everglade City, the town is built on a small area of upland (much of it filled) and is surrounded by mangrove swamp. The narrow and sometimes shallow channel from the Gulf into the harbor winds for six miles through the Ten Thousand Islands and Chokoloskee Bay

The Rod & Gun Club in Everglade City

The Rod & Gun Club, where we docked in Everglade City – an interesting place, as described in the caption below

We docked at the Rod & Gun Club on the river in Everglade City. Built in the late 1800's  and appearing from the outside as simply an old wooden lodge, the next few pictures will show the incredible ambiance of the interior. Inside is a time-warp, with the dark hand-crafted wood and the furniture all original from the time it was built. In disrepair and condemned for demolition, it was discovered by the Bowen family when they were stopped on the Tamiami Trail by a downed tree felled by the hurricane in 1960. On the other side of the tree, a man was also stopped as he was trying to go in the other direction. So they simply swapped cars and continued on, and the Bowen family ended up in Everglade City and discovered the Rod & Gun Club building, which they painstakingly restored.

We docked at the Rod & Gun Club on the river in Everglade City. Built in the late 1800’s and appearing from the outside as simply an old wooden lodge, the next few pictures will show the incredible ambiance of the interior. Inside is a time-warp, with the dark hand-crafted wood and the furniture all original from the time it was built around the turn of the century. In disrepair and condemned for demolition, it was discovered by the Bowen family when they were stopped on the Tamiami Trail by a downed tree felled by the hurricane in 1960. On the other side of the tree, a man was also stopped as he was trying to go in the other direction. So they simply swapped cars and they each continued on (how cool is that!). As a result, the Bowen family ended up in Everglade City and discovered the Rod & Gun Club building, which they painstakingly restored.

The natural wood, the original furniture, and the authentic artifacts throughout the building make this a truly unique and remarkable place

The natural wood, original furniture, and authentic artifacts throughout the building make this a truly unique and remarkable place

 

One of many hunting trophies throughout the building from the days when the Rod & Gun Club was a fishing and hunting get-away for the rich and famous. Five presidents have stayed here - Hoover, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, and Nixon, in addition to many celebrities, including John Wayne, Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Sean Connery, Burl Ives, Gypsy Rose (while filming "Winds Across the Everglades"), Mick Jagger, and Ernest Hemingway.

One of many hunting trophies throughout the building from the days when the Rod & Gun Club was a fishing and hunting get-away for the rich and famous. Five presidents have stayed here – Hoover, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, and Nixon – as have many celebrities, including John Wayne, Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Sean Connery, Burl Ives, Gypsy Rose Lee (while filming “Winds Across the Everglades”), Mick Jagger, Ernest Hemingway, and many others.

He looks happy, but I still wouldn't want to mess with this guy...

I wouldn’t want to mess with this guy in the wild…

The picturesque City Hall in Everglade City

The picturesque City Hall in Everglade City

Airboats are iconic in the Everglades.  Powered like an airplane by an enormous propeller mounted on the stern, they draw only a few inches so can go in very shallow water and through the grassy swamps. Airboat tours are widespread, but I recommend tours in an outboard powered boat instead. The airboats are so noisy that they scare away the wildlife long before the airboat arrives, and earmuffs must be worn the muffle the noise.

Airboats are iconic in the Everglades. Powered like an airplane by an enormous propeller mounted on the stern, they draw only a few inches so they can go in very shallow water and through the grassy swamps. Airboat tours are widespread, but I recommend tours in an outboard powered boat instead – the airboats are so noisy that they scare away the wildlife long before the airboat arrives, and earmuffs must be worn the muffle the noise.

Although it is hard to see in this picture, we encountered this sand bar which was covered with hundreds of rare white pelicans on our way through the Ten Thousand Islands along the six mile long channel into Everglade City.

Although it is hard to see in this picture, we encountered this sand bar which was covered with hundreds of rare white pelicans on our way through the Ten Thousand Islands along the six mile long channel into 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 view from the bridge of the Joint Adventure at anchor - the opening to the Gulf from the Ten Thousand Islands is in the background. Somehow this empty Heiniken bottle ended up in the foreground...

The view from the bridge of the Joint Adventure at anchor – the opening to the Gulf from the Ten Thousand Islands is in the background. Somehow this empty Heiniken bottle ended up in the foreground…

Red Southerton and I took the dinghy out for a spin among the mangrove islands. The Joint Adventure at anchor is in the background.

Red and I took the dinghy out for a spin among the mangrove islands. The Joint Adventure at anchor is in the background.

Paul and Hank watching us as we head off into the wilderness in the dinghy

Paul and Hank holding down the fort as we head off into the wilderness in the dinghy

We had met Bob & Diedrie on the vessel "Tide Hiker" at the dock in front of the Rod & Gun Club, and we both anchored the next day in the same area. They invited us aboard for Happy Hour, so the four of us piled into the dinghy and joined them for an hour and a half of drinks, snacks, stories, and many, many laughs

We had met Bob & Diedrie on the vessel “Tide Hiker” at the dock in front of the Rod & Gun Club, and we both anchored the next day in the same area. They invited us aboard for Happy Hour, so the four of us piled into the dinghy and joined them for an hour and a half of drinks, snacks, stories, and many, many laughs

Knowing we would be at anchor, Paul bought some fresh grouper right off the boat in Everglade City, and Red prepared it in the galley then cooked it outside on the grill after we returned from our outing on Tide Hiker. Best grouper I ever tasted!

Knowing we would be at anchor, Paul bought some fresh grouper right off the boat in Everglade City, and Red prepared it in the galley then cooked it outside on the grill after we returned from our outing on Tide Hiker. Best grouper I ever tasted!

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:

Bob & Mary Conley and my Dad at Matanzas Inn on Fort Myers Beach

Bob & Mary Conley and my Dad at Matanzas Inn on Fort Myers Beach

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:

Most marinas in Naples were booked, but we found space at the Naples Bay Resort, an upscale marina surrounded by condos, a hotel, retail shops, and restaurants overlooking the docks

Most marinas in Naples were booked, but we found space at the Naples Bay Resort, an upscale marina surrounded by condos, a hotel, retail shops, and restaurants overlooking the docks

Fifth Avenue, the main retain area in downtown Naples, is pleasant, well-designed and beautiful - and expensive

Fifth Avenue, the main retail area in downtown Naples, is pleasant, well-designed, beautiful – and expensive

An alternative shopping/dining area to downtown is Tin City, a funky collection of old metal industrial buildings on the harbor that were converted to restaurants and shops

An alternative shopping/dining area to downtown is Tin City, a funky collection of old metal industrial buildings on the harbor that were converted to restaurants and shops

 

As one might expect, the beach in Naples is spectacular, with white, sugar-like sand.

As one might expect, the beach in Naples is spectacular, with white, sugar-like sand.

Before dinner, Walter took us to his home for some pre-dinner cocktails. Here's Walter telling one of his many interesting and often humorous stories.

Before dinner, Walter took us to his home for some pre-dinner cocktails. Here’s Walter telling one of his many interesting and often humorous stories on his back porch. Walter was smart and visionary enough to buy a modest home in the 70’s before real estate prices skyrocketed, then rebuild it to his liking. Today home prices in the downtown Naples area (not on the water) start in the low to mid $2 million range.

Walter took us to Tulias for dinner, where we experimented with dishes not readily available in New England, such as this appetizer plate of pig's ear and pasta with chunks of wild boar meat.

Walter took us to Tulias for dinner, where we experimented with dishes not readily available in New England, such as this appetizer plate of pig’s ear and pasta with chunks of wild boar meat.

Walter's tour included a synopsis of the Naples Real Estate market and a look at some of the mansions in Naples, the most expensive of which you can purchase for a mere $80 million. This is one of many such homes overlooking the 2-mile long entrance into Nape harbor.

Walter’s tour included a synopsis of the Naples Real Estate market and a look at some of the mansions in Naples, the most expensive of which you can purchase for a mere $80 million. This is one of many such homes overlooking the 2-mile long entrance into Naples harbor.

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:

The beach on Marco Island is lined with high-rise condominium buildings and was well used.

The beach on Marco Island is lined with high-rise condominium buildings and was well used.

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:

No explanation needed....

No explanation needed….

How true....

How true….

 

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CROSSING OUR WAKE AND A GOLD FLAG

Post # 40: CROSSING OUR WAKE AND A GOLD FLAG  – Day 223 , December 13, 2014.  On Board:  Paul Coates, Jim K.

It seems a long time since my last post, probably because it has been – a week at home for the Thanksgiving holiday, followed by a week running from St. Petersburg to Fort Meyers Beach, followed by more tardiness on my part.

St. Pete proved to be a beautiful, interesting city. Most business activity in the area takes place across the bay in Tampa, so St. Pete is primarily a residential city. A number of high rise condominium buildings have been constructed near the waterfront over the past couple of decades, which dominate the St. Petersburg skyline. This has led to active streetscapes with outdoor seating along the sidewalks, an abundance of retail shops, and some interesting museums.

At the St Petersburg Museum of History, in addition to a great deal of Florida history, I learned that the first commercial airline in the world was started in St. Pete in 1914. The entrepreneurs who started the airline first approached the City Council in Tampa, who rejected the plan – they were worried that fast transportation to St. Pete would take business away from Tampa and transfer it its competitor-city across the Bay.  The City Council in St. Petersburg, however, embraced the idea, so the airline was chartered and based there. The plan was to fly passengers in an airboat 21 miles across Tampa Bay between the two cities, a flight that took 23 minutes if all went well.  The fare was $5, but the first ticket was auctioned off and purchased by the former mayor of St. Petersburg for $400. However, halfway through the first flight, a chain came off its sprocket on the airboat, so they had to perform an emergency landing in Tampa Bay and wait while the pilot put the chain back on before they could resume the flight. Despite the problems, however, the new airline was successful and is recognized today as the first step in legitimizing commercial air travel.

Here are some images from our time in St. Pete:

The new high rises forming the St. Petersburg skyline are virtually all residential buildings, most built in the last 2 or 3 decades.

The new high rises forming the St. Petersburg skyline are virtually all residential buildings, most built in the last 2 or 3 decades.

Constructed in 1973, The Pier, or unofficially called the Pyramid, is an iconic image for St. Petersburg;  it used to contain the city's Aquarium, retail shops, two restaurants, and administrative offices.  However, it was vacated and closed in 2013 due to structural deterioration of the connecting causeway.  It was scheduled to be demolished and replaced with a new structure called The Lens, which was approved by the City Council. However, a subsequent voter referendum rejected the plan, so the future plans are now in turmoil

Constructed in 1973, The Pier, or unofficially called the Pyramid, is an iconic image of St. Petersburg; it used to contain the city’s Aquarium, retail shops, two restaurants, and administrative offices. However, it was vacated and closed in 2013 due to structural deterioration of the connecting causeway. It was scheduled to be demolished and replaced with a new structure called The Lens, which was approved by the City Council. However, a subsequent voter referendum rejected the design, so the future plans are now in turmoil.

OK, so maybe I'm a bit obsessed with trees.  This is a magnificent one in the waterfront area that I couldn't resist.

OK, so maybe I’m a bit obsessed with trees. This is a magnificent one in the waterfront area that I couldn’t resist. This is all one tree!

The famous Dali Museum, exhibiting the works of Salvatore Dali, a Spanish artist whose career spanned a series of different styles as his works evolved. The museum building is stunning and the artwork fascinating, even to an art neophyte like me

The famous Dali Museum exhibits the works of Salvatore Dali, a Spanish artist and friend of Picasso whose career spanned a series of different styles as his works evolved. The museum building is stunning and the artwork fascinating, even to an art neophyte like me

The atrium of the Dali Museum

The atrium of the Dali Museum

One of several enormous works that nearly covers the entire wall in the museum

One of several enormous works that nearly covers the entire wall in the museum. This is from Dali’s “spiritual” period.

Another enormous painting in the museum

Another enormous painting in the museum; the more you look at it, the more new images appear that you didn’t notice before.

This painting changes images a one views it from different distances. From afar, the image of Lincoln appears, which is indistinguishable from closer distances

This painting changes images as one views it from different distances. From afar, the image of Lincoln appears, which is indistinguishable from closer distances

Another stunning display of art is the Chihuly Collection by Dale Chihuly, a glass sculpture who uses glass and light to create amazing images. Following are a few of his works seen at the Chihuly Collection in St. Pete

Another stunning display of art is the Chihuly Collection by Dale Chihuly, a glass sculpturer who uses glass and light to create amazing images. Following are a few of his works seen at the Chihuly Collection in St. Pete. These are all made of glass.

StPete-Chihuly2

StPete-Chihuly3

StPete-Chihuly4

Supposedly, one appears to be underwater when a picture is taken underneath this glass sculpture due to the lighting and the surroundings. You be the judge...

Supposedly, one appears to be underwater when a picture is taken underneath this glass sculpture due to the lighting and the surroundings. You be the judge…

The historic neighborhood in St. Pete contains hundreds of beautifully preserved historic homes.

The historic neighborhood in St. Pete contains hundreds of beautifully preserved historic homes.

Another beautiful historic home

Another beautiful historic home

I could think of a number of captions for this picture, but am wise enough to not use any of them.  Any suggestions?

I could think of a number of captions for this picture, but have become wise enough to not use any of them. Any suggestions?

Paul's brother Steve and his wife Sue live in St. Pete, and we had the pleasure of spending some time together, in addition to a wonderful dinner with the Coates family, including Bill Coates, the Patriarch. Steve took us to this pub with a deck overlooking an inlet to the Gulf, where we enjoyed dinner, a couple of beers, the sunset, and the pleasure of Steve's company.

Paul’s brother Steve and his wife Sue live in St. Pete, and we had the pleasure of spending some time together;  I also had the honor of  attending a wonderful dinner with extended members of the Coates family, including Bill Coates, the Patriarch. Steve took us to this pub with a deck overlooking an inlet to the Gulf, where we enjoyed dinner, a couple of beers, the sunset, and the pleasure of Steve’s company.

Steve and his wonderful bride, Sue. Ten years ago, when my daughter Jenny and I rode our bicycles cross country to raise money for breast cancer research, we ended our journey in St. Augustine, Florida.  We didn't know anyone there, so Steve & Sue drove 3 hours across the state to congratulate us on the completion of our journey - an incredible gesture that we have never forgotten, but a commonplace act of kindness for Steve & Sue.

Steve and his wonderful bride, Sue. Ten years ago, when my daughter Jenny and I rode our bicycles cross country to raise money for breast cancer research, we ended our journey in St. Augustine, Florida. We didn’t know anyone there, so Steve & Sue drove 3 hours each way across the state to meet and congratulate us on the completion of our journey – an incredible gesture that we have never forgotten, but a commonplace act of kindness for Steve & Sue.

OH, NO. Not another bridge!  I couldn't resist - this is the suspension bridge span of the bridge/causeway across Tampa Bay, which we passed under on our way south from St. Petersburg.

OH, NO. Not another bridge! I couldn’t resist – this is the Sunshine Skyway Bridge across Tampa Bay, which we passed under on our way south from St. Petersburg. The original bridge was constructed in 1954, but collapsed in 1980 when a supporting pier was struck by the freighter SUMMIT VENTURE during a blinding thunderstorm;  the collision caused 1200 feet of the bridge to plummet into Tampa Bay, taking 6 cars, a truck, and a greyhound bus with it. One person miraculously survived when his pick-up truck landed on the deck of the freighter before falling into the Bay, but 35 people were killed. This current bridge, spanning 4.1 miles across the Bay, replaced the collapsed one in 1987.

Our next stop was Sarasota, a 30 mile run south from St. Petersburg. Sarasota is a very upscale city with a beautiful beachfront area on the barrier islands and a thriving residential downtown area across the bridge on the mainland. We were fortunate enough to stay at the opulent Sarasota Yacht Club on the beach side for free.

Sarasota is home to the Ringling Brothers Circus Museum and Art Gallery. It’s clear that the Ringling Brothers legacy continues to have a significant presence in Sarasota. The Ringling Brothers Circus was founded in 1884 by five of the seven Ringling Brothers. Although each brother had a different job with a different level of effort and responsibility, the five brothers always divided the proceeds equally among them. In 1887, they went to Philadelphia and acquired several railroad cars, which enabled them to travel greater distances to larger towns, thus playing to larger audiences each night and grow their reputation and following exponentially. The image of the railroad cars also became an icon of the Ringling Brothers Circus. In 1907, they acquired the Barnum & Bailey’s Circus and merged them in 1919 to become “The Greatest Show On Earth”. In 1929, they bought 7 other circus shows, including Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, after which they owned every traveling circus show in America.

In 1927, they moved their winter headquarters to Saraota, where John and wife Mable Ringling had been wintering since 1909. John was instrumental in the development of modern-day Sarasota, and became one of the richest men on earth. He and Mable acquired an enormous collection of art, and first established the art museum in Sarasota in 1927. Upon his death in 1936, John Ringling willed the art collection plus a $1.2 million endowment (a huge sum back then) to the State of Florida, despite the fact that he was nearly bankrupt at that time (after all, this is America). Creditors contested the donation, but the state eventually won after years of court battles.  However, the state allowed the property to fall into disrepair until 2002, when it finally appropriated $43 million in construction funds, provided that the private sector kicked in $50 million within 5 years. By the time the deadline arrived, $55 million had been raised, and in 2007, a $79 million expansion and renovation project was finished. Designated as the official Florida State Art Museum, it contains over 10,000 pieces of art and over 150,000 square feet of new space, including the Art Museum, the Circus Museum, the Ringlings’ mansion, and the historic Asolo Theater.

Here are some images from our stay in Sarasota:

The skyline of the mainland-side os Sarasota consists mostly of residential buildings

Similar to St. Petersburg, the skyline of the mainland-side of Sarasota consists mostly of residential buildings

To give you an idea of how upscale the City is - this is Marina Jack, the main marina serving the City of Sarasota

To give you an idea of how upscale Sarasota is – this is Marina Jack’s, the main marina serving the City of Sarasota….a bit different from the marinas along the inland routes on the Great Loop.

The waterfront dining overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway at Marina Jack's

The waterfront dining overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway at Marina Jack’s

The wide beach at Sarasota is spectacular, with fine white sugar-like sand

The wide beach at Sarasota is spectacular, with fine white sugar-like sand

On the mainland-side of Sarasota, there is this enormous statue of the famous photograph taken of a sailor kissing a nurse in the streets moments after the surrender of Japan ending World War II was announced. There happened to be a wedding just getting underway beneath the statue as I rode up on my bike and snapped this picture.

On the mainland-side of Sarasota stands this enormous statue of the famous photograph taken of a sailor kissing a nurse in a street in Europe moments after the announcement of the surrender of Japan ending World War II. There happened to be a wedding just getting underway beneath the statue as I rode up on my bike and snapped this picture.

It had been over a month, since we were together at Fairhope, Alabama, since we had seen our good friends Tom & Tim, the grandfather/grandson team aboard the vessel IF. Thus, I was thrilled to find them in Sarasota at Marina Jack's and to spend some time with them aboard IF.

It had been over a month since we were together at Fairhope, Alabama with our good friends Tom & Tim, the grandfather/grandson team aboard the vessel IF. Thus, I was thrilled to find them in Sarasota at Marina Jack’s and to spend some time with them aboard IF.

Cruising south along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway continued to provide some interesting scenery:

Both the house and the setting - on a long peninsula sticking out into the GICW, struck me as we came upon this house

Both the house and the setting – on a long peninsula sticking out into the GICW  – captured my attention as we cruised by it.

Here is a closer shot of the house

Here is a closer shot of the house

We haven't seen a swing bridge since the historic, manually-operated wooden swing bridges on the Trent-Severn Waterway, so I couldn't resist capturing this one

We haven’t seen a swing bridge since the historic, manually-operated wooden swing bridges on the Trent-Severn Waterway, so I couldn’t resist taking a picture of this one

We then ran just 15 miles south to Venice, Florida, a smaller version of Sarasota with a European twist. Here are some images:

This picturesque islands greets boaters as they approach Venice on the GICW from the north.

This picturesque islands greets boaters as they approach Venice on the GICW from the north.

The marina where we stayed in Venice is directly on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway

The marina where we stayed in Venice is directly on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway – the day was sunny and calm.

The "Italy" theme is quite prevalent throughout the city, as its namesake would suggest

The “Italy” theme is quite prevalent throughout the city, as its namesake would suggest

An image from the main street in downtown Venice

An image from the main street in downtown Venice

Notice the balcony, reminiscent of buildings throughout Italy

Notice the balcony, reminiscent of buildings throughout Italy

Another spectacular beach along the Gulf coast of Florida - this one in Venice

Another spectacular beach along the Gulf coast of Florida – this one in Venice

Our next stop was Englewood Beach on Manasota Key, one of our favorite places. It is about 25 miles south of Venice, but very different from both Venice and Sarasota.  Instead of high-rises and resorts, Englewood Beach is lined primarily with more modest older cottages and two-story homes. The commercial area is small and a bit funky. There is only one small marina tucked in a corner of the harbor on the bay side of the island, with some commercial fishing boats docked in the harbor as well and a fish market where you can buy fresh fish just brought in off the boats. There are two fun and funky restaurant/pubs overlooking the harbor, both of which feature outdoor and indoor seating and live music every night and often during the afternoon as well. Here are some images:

Another picture of the cozy marina at Englewood

The Joint Adventure tucked in the corner of the cozy marina at Englewood, which is surrounded by mangroves right to the edge of the docks

Another picture of the marina and the Joint Adventure

Another picture of the marina and the Joint Adventure

Notice the lack of high-rises along the beach. However, the sand is a bit coarser that the sugar-fine sand on the beaches further north.

Notice the lack of high-rises along the beach

The entrance to a funky hotel on Englewood Beach

The entrance to a funky hotel on Englewood Beach

This is the entrance to a funky hotel located along Englewood Beach

A view of the entrance courtyard of the hotel once you pass through the vegetated archway

One of the two fun restaurant/pubs overlooking the waterfront on the bay side

One of the two fun restaurant/pubs overlooking the waterfront on the bay side

The three-piece band playing outside on the deck in the afternoon - we couldn't resist an early happy-hour visit...

The three-piece band playing outside on the deck in the afternoon – we couldn’t resist an early happy-hour visit…

You may have seen one of these before, but I never had and I was fascinated - it is an electronic drum set, in which striking each of the eight panels produces the sound if a different drum - base, snare, cymbals, etc.  What will they think of next?

You may have seen one of these before, but I never had and I was fascinated – it is an electronic drum set, in which striking each of the eight panels produces the sound if a different drum – base, snare, cymbals, etc. What will they think of next?

We next visited Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island, another barrier island with an interesting history. Boca Grande is Spanish for “Big Mouth”, so named due to the width and depth of the pass at the southern tip of the island, which, at 80 feet deep, is one of the deepest natural inlets in Florida. The first settlers came to Gasparilla Island to fish, but the discovery of phosphate rock on the nearby banks of the Peace River in 1885 brought prosperity to the island. Due to the deep water pass, a railroad was built to carry phosphate onto and down the length of the island where a 1/5 mile long pier and deep water facilities were built to load the phosphate directly onto ocean-going freighters for shipment throughout the world. As a result, at its peak in 1969, Port Boca Grande was the 4th busiest port in Florida. However, use of the port ceased 10 years later as it became cheaper to ship through Tampa Bay.  Today, the abandoned railroad bed is an active bike trail that goes through the center of the upscale town.

Fishing is the other activity that put Boca Grande on the map – the area is renowned as the world’s premier tarpon fishing location which yields more tarpon than any other place in the entire world. Today, Boca Grande is an upscale tourist destination with many restored buildings from its past, upscale shops, and fine homes.  Here are some images:

The old train depot brought wealthy visitors to the island until a roadway was built.  It now houses a restaurant in the center of town, as well as numerous shops.

The old train depot brought wealthy visitors to the island until a roadway was built. It now houses a restaurant in the center of town, as well as numerous shops.

 

Golf carts are the primary means of transportation on the island, and are available for rent at numerous locations.

Golf carts are the primary means of transportation on the island, and are available for rent at numerous locations.

How true this is....

How true this is….

The enormous Gasparilla Inn & Club was built in 1911 and has been beautifully restored to its original opulence when it was built to cater to wealthy visitors from the north who came to Boca Grande for the world-class fishing and the warm winter climate.

The enormous Gasparilla Inn & Club was built in 1911 and has been beautifully restored to its original opulence when it was built to cater to wealthy visitors from the north who came to Boca Grande for the world-class fishing and the warm winter climate.

Inside the Gasparilla Inn -

Inside the Gasparilla Inn –

The banyan trees literally create a tunnel through which aptly-named Banyan Road passes.

The banyan trees literally create a tunnel through which aptly-named Banyan Road passes.

This is all one banyan tree in downtown Boca Grade!

This is all one interconnected banyan tree in downtown Boca Grande!

We left Boca Grande and headed for Fort Myers as our next stop on our Great Loop Adventure. Believe it or not, there is actually a non-profit organization that was formed in 1999 which is focused on people who are interested in traveling the Great Loop.  Called “America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association”, it provides moral and informational support to those who are traveling or thinking of traveling the Great Loop. They also have available two different types of flags to those who travel the Loop.  The first is a white flag that looks like this:

The white Looper flag identifies the vessel as underway on the Great Loop

The white Looper flag identifies the vessel as underway on the Great Loop

Virtually all Loopers fly this flag so that we can identify each other, which virtually always leads to an exchange of information, camaraderie, “docktails” (shared cocktails on the dock), and new friendships. However, when one finally completes the entire Loop, referred to as “crossing your wake”, you are entitled to fly a new, gold flag that identifies you as having completed the entire Loop.

Although we started our current voyage on May 2 of this year, we bought the Joint Adventure in December of 2012 in Port Charlotte, Florida, a few miles from Boca Grande. We then brought her to Boston the following spring, crossing central Florida on the Okeechobee Waterway to the East coast, then transiting the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway north from Florida to Boston, thus transiting the portion of the Great Loop from Port Charlotte to Boston. Therefore, at 7:55 AM on Saturday, December 6, when we passed the mouth of Charlotte Harbor where we had passed through two years ago nearly to the day, we “crossed our wake” and officially completed our circumnavigation of the Eastern half of the U.S. – the Great Loop. We would have popped open a bottle of Champaign, but we still had to operate the vessel safely for the next 4 hours on our way to Fort Myers. However, we did put it in neutral, exchanged high fives, danced around the deck, and took a few pictures:

 

Crossing Or Wake - we took down the white flag and put up the gold one!

Crossing Or Wake – we took down the white flag and put up the gold one!

GICW-gold flag2

While we have officially completed the Great Loop, our current trip has always been Boston to Boston, so on we go!

Our next destination was downtown Fort Myers, about 45 miles away and 15 miles up the Caloosahatchee River. Fort Myers literally started out as a fort along the Caloosahatchee River, built as a base of operations to support the series of wars with the Seminole Indians. Afterwards, during the Civil War, the fort was used as a base for Confederate blockade runners and cattle ranchers, then was abandoned. There was still no permanent settlement at Fort Myers until the first settlers arrived in 1866. Just 20 years later, in 1886 when Fort Myers was still no more than a rustic outpost, Thomas Edison visited and fell in love with the beauty of the place and built his winter estate on the bank of the Caloosahatchee River. However, the settlement hardly grew until a winter resort called the Royal Palm Hotel was built around the turn of the century and a railroad link was established in 1904. In 1914, Edison famously declared “There is only one Fort Myers, and 90 million people are going to find it out”.  Shortly thereafter, in 1915, Edison’s close friend and confidante, Henry Ford, built his winter estate next door to Edison’s;  the two inventers, along with mutual friend and frequent visitor Harvey Firestone, maker of tires, traded ideas and conducted experiments in Edison’s lab at his home. Today, the Edison and Ford estates are on the National Register of Historic places and are open to the public, along with the fascinating Edison Museum which displays many of his early successful and some unsuccessful inventions.

The City of Fort Myers has recently reinvented itself by restoring its downtown area and creating a hub of activity for both tourists and young people looking for night life. Many weekend evenings feature music festivals, art festivals, and other activities in which the streets downtown are closed to traffic and become outdoor pedestrian enclaves. There is a very active arts community, and there are no less than four venues for the performing arts.

Here are some images from our visit to Fort Myers:

This guy knows how to live. He set up shop on one of the several beautiful, uninhabited islands in the Coloosahatchee River on the way to Fort Myers. The river was extremely busy with boat traffic on the warm, sunny Saturday when we steamed up the river, and he sat and watched the parade.

This guy knows how to live. He set up shop on one of the several beautiful, uninhabited islands in the Caloosahatchee River on the way to Fort Myers. The river was extremely busy with boat traffic on the warm, sunny Saturday when we steamed up the river, and he watched the parade go by while sipping his drink.

This floating bait shop on the Caloosahatchee River enables one to replenish the bait supply without having to go to shore

This floating bait shop on the Caloosahatchee River enables one to replenish the bait supply without having to waste valuable fishing time going to shore

The recent restoration of downtown Fort Myers includes brick streets, royal palms, and renovated historic buildings

The recent restoration of downtown Fort Myers includes brick streets, royal palms, and renovated historic buildings

Sidewalk seating along the downtown streets activate the streets, which are alive with pedestrians

Sidewalk seating along the downtown streets creates a festive atmosphere, which is alive with pedestrians

The Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center in the heart of downtown is a magnificently restored building which hosts live theater, exhibits, and other activities throughout the year

The Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center in the heart of downtown is a magnificently restored historic building which hosts live theater, exhibits, and other activities throughout the year

A restaurant/pub called "Ford's Garage" features a full-sized replica of a model T hanging from the ceiling over the bar. The garage theme is carried into the rest rooms as shown with the unique sinks and faucets

A restaurant/pub called “Ford’s Garage” features a full-sized replica of a model T hanging from the ceiling over the bar. The garage theme is carried into the rest rooms as shown with the unique sinks and faucets

This sign on a downtown fountain explains the history of the fountain

This sign on a downtown fountain explains the interesting history of the fountain

A view of the Caloosahatchee River and the waterfront taken from the 4th floor deck of a downtown restaurant/pub

A view of the Caloosahatchee River and the waterfront taken from the 4th floor deck of a downtown restaurant/pub

Another view from the 4th floor deck - the Joint Adventure is docked in the City Marina - the blue bimini cover can barely be seen on the right-hand side of the photo

Another view from the 4th floor deck – the Joint Adventure is docked in the City Marina – the blue bimini cover can barely be seen on the right-hand side of the photo

Our final run before docking the boat and returning home for the holidays was to the town of Fort Myers Beach, about 25 miles by water from Fort Myers. The Joint Adventure will stay here until we return from home on January 15 after spending the holiday season with family and friends. Our voyage at that time again changes dramatically, as we leave the protected waters of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, which turns eastward up the Caloosahatchee River and through Lake Okeechobee to the East coast of Florida.  Instead, we will head south along the open waters of the Gulf once again, headed for the Everglades and the Florida Keys

So the next blog update will likely be sometime in January.  In the meantime, please accept my wishes for a wonderful holiday season, and a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year!

 

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SWIMMING WITH MANATEES IN THE WILD

Post #39, SWIMMING WITH MANATEES IN THE WILD, Day 203, November 23, 2014.  On board:  Paul, Jim K.

Did you know that the closest living relative to a manatee is the elephant? The two species share a number of similar and unique physical and biological functions which indicate that the two species are related, evolving quite differently from the same ancient ancestor.

Manatees are mammals, which means they breathe air and give live birth to their young (as opposed to eggs or larvae or some other multi-phase process). A baby manatee (calf) weighs about 60 pounds when born after a year-long gestation period in it’s mother’s womb. Adult manatees live up to 60 years, measuring up to 13 feet long and weighing up to 1300 pounds! They generally swim about 3-5 mph, but can accelerate up to 20 mph for short bursts – don’t get in the way of a 1300 pound manatee traveling at 20 mph!  They spend approximately 50% of their time sleeping submerged, surfacing for a breath of air every 20 minutes or so. They spend most of the rest of their time grazing on underwater plants in shallow water, in which they will usually eat 10-15% of their body weight EACH DAY, which translates to about 7 hours per day eating.  That’s a lot of salad!  They also perform their one other goal in life – mating. Eat, sleep, mate – it sounds like quite a good life – until you realize that they only mate about once every two years.

Manatees are generally solitary animals, and are also quite intelligent – similar to dolphins, they possess long term memory (like an elephant) and are capable of complex learning. They communicate via a wide range of sounds, mostly between mother and calf or during play or during the mating ritual (I can only imagine what they might be saying after waiting for two years to mate (“Remind me again – what do we do next” or  “Let’s try to make this LAST”).

Manatees are listed as an Endangered Species – their primary threat is collisions with powerboats or ships, and loss of habitat. All boaters in Florida are familiar with “idle speed only” manatee zones, designed to minimize collisions with manatees in areas where there they are known to hang out.

So much to our surprise, we learned that Crystal River is reportedly the only place in the world – certainly it is the only place in the U.S. – where it is legal to swim with manatees in the wild!  The town of Crystal River is located 8 miles up the river itself, which originates from a cluster of 50 natural springs that feed King’s Bay at the head of the river.  Because it is spring-fed, King’s Bay, resembling a small lake at the terminus of the river, maintains a constant temperature of 72 degrees year round. Manatees do not like cold water – they therefore seek areas of relatively warm water to hang out in the wintertime. Thus, King’s Bay and Crystal River are home to over 400 manatees during the winter. So, of course, since we’re in Crystal River, we had to experience swimming with the manatees firsthand. Here are some images:

While it is permitted to take your dinghy and go into the area of the springs where the manatee hang out on your own, there are guides who know the best place to go at any given time and who provide wet suits, snorkel equipment, etc., so it is a far better experience for a first-timer to go with a guide. Our guide was Jeff from Double J Adventures and this is his boat.  He and his wife, also a guide, started the business two years ago and provide vey personal service - we were the only two on the boat.

While it is permitted to take your dinghy and go on your own into the area of the springs where the manatees hang out, there are guides who know the best place to go at any given time and who provide wet suits, snorkel equipment, etc., so it is a far better experience for a first-timer to go with a guide. Our guide was Jeff from Double J Adventures and this is his boat. He and his wife, also a guide, started the business two years ago and provide vey personal service – we were the only two on the boat and Jeff took these pictures with his underwater camera, then put them on a CD for us.

Jeff guiding the boat to the springs in search of manatee

Jeff guiding the boat to the springs in search of manatees

Paul & I in our wetsuits, preparing for the swim

Paul & I in our wetsuits, preparing for the swim

If this won't scare away a manatee, nothing will....

If this won’t scare away a manatee, nothing will….

It's a staring contest - who will look away first?  Ok, you win...

It’s a staring contest – who will look away first? Ok, you win…

A face only a mother could love...

A face only a mother could love…

Manatees propel themselves with their tail, then steer with their two front flippers

Manatees propel themselves with their tail, then steer with their two front flippers

A mother with her calf, who stays with the mother and nurses for 12-18 months

A mother with her calf, who stays with the mother and nurses for 12-18 months

 

The mother nursing the calf - the nipple is located beneath the mother's flipper

A mother nursing her calf – the mother’s breast is located beneath the her flipper

In addition to the manatees, we saw many fish - this is a good-sized snook that swam beneath us. Where is my fishing rod when I need it?

In addition to the manatees, we saw many fish – this is a good-sized snook that swam beneath us. Where is my fishing rod when I need it?

There are very strict rules regarding behavior while swimming with the manatees – the swimmer is to be a passive observer unless the manatee initiates interaction, in which case touching the manatee is allowed. As it was explained to me, some manatees have no interest in interacting, similar to how some cats tend to shy away from close interaction with people. Other manatees are curious and will, at times, initiate and seem to enjoy interaction. I was fortunate in that a large manatee swam up to me while I was hovering, and she clearly wanted to interact:

This manatee approached me with focused curiosity - maybe it was the beard...

This manatee approached me with focused curiosity – maybe it was the beard…our first interaction was the stare-down.

She hung around, seemingly waiting to be pet, so I did - she seemed to like it

She hung around, seemingly waiting to be petted, so I did – she seemed to like it!

Congratulating her on winning the stare-down...

Congratulating her on winning the stare-down…

 

This manatee swam directly under me - for a minute I thought I was going to get a ride...

She then started to swim directly under me – for a minute I thought I was going to get a ride…

She hovered seemingly waiting to be petted

She hovered seemingly waiting to be petted

Her skin is surprisingly rough

Her skin is surprisingly rough

 

The enormous manatee turned sideways to me, as if waiting to be pet. I did so, and she stayedstill for about a minute while I pet her like a dag, which she seemed to enjoy

She then turned sideways to me so I could pet her back – she stayed still for about two minutes while I pet her like a dog, which she clearly seemed to enjoy

By the way, I keep referring to these behemoths as “she” – I have no idea whether any of them (except the mother with the baby) is a he or she.  However, I wasn’t about to try to put myself in a position to find out…

If you want to swim with the manatees, Crystal River is only about a 1 1/2 hour drive from Tampa/St. Pete. You can do so year-round, although I imagine it is much better in the winter since the manatees come up the river at that time to escape the colder water of the Gulf. Call Jeff or Joanne at Double J Adventures, 352 445 2483.

So Crystal River was our first stop after we left Suwannee, and our last stop along the Big Bend. We left Suwannee at first light last Sunday about 2 hours before high tide, with a goal of reaching the mouth of Crystal River a couple of hours before low tide there, since there had been shoaling reported in the channel and in the 8 mile run up the river. Conversations with the local Boat US/Tow Boat operator provided some additional “local knowledge”, and we had no difficulties. The town of Crystal River is notably larger than our previous stops on the Big Bend, with  a population of about 3,000 (still a small town).  It’s economy is focused on tourism, supported by the manatees and by water sports and boating centered on King’s Bay.  There is some fishing, but it does not dominate the culture as it did in the other Big Bend towns of St. Marks, Steinhatchee, or Suwannee. Here are some images:

The Crystal River power plant located on the Gulf at the mouth of Crystal River. The nuclear reactor was permanently shut down in 2013 after a gap in the concrete containment building was discovered during a routine maintenance and upgrade. The gap was apparently caused earlier when workers cut the concrete containment to  replace a generator. The four coal-fired plants on the site continue to operate.

The Crystal River power plant located on the Gulf at the mouth of Crystal River. The nuclear reactor was permanently shut down in 2013 after a gap in the concrete containment building was discovered during a routine maintenance and upgrade. The gap was apparently caused earlier when workers cut the concrete containment to replace a generator. The four coal-fired plants on the site continue to operate. As you can see, the image of the power plant dominates the view as you approach the mouth of Crystal River from the Gulf.

Pete's Pier, the marina where we stayed at King's Bay, at the end of Crystal River.

Pete’s Pier, the marina where we stayed at King’s Bay, at the headwaters of the Crystal River 8 miles by water from the Gulf. Double J Adventures operates from Pete’s Pier as well.

The original City Hall building in Crystal River now houses a small museum

The original City Hall building in Crystal River, built around 1939, now houses a small, interesting museum focused on the history of Crystal River.

There is an interesting street in the village that contains many historic buildings from the turn of the century, which now contain a few shops and some small businesses and offices

There is an interesting street in the village that contains many historic buildings from the turn of the century, which now contain a few shops and some small businesses and offices

This is the historic train depot, also built in the early 1900's after the first depot burned down.  There are also some historic train cars on display at the depot.

This is the historic train depot, also built in the early 1900’s after the first depot burned down. There are also some historic train cars on display at the depot as well.

I've been trying for some time to get a representative picture of the many magnificent Live Oaks draped with Spanish Moss that are prevalent in Florida and other places in the south. While no picture I have taken do these stately trees justice, here is an example

I’ve been trying for some time to get a representative picture of the many magnificent Live Oaks draped with Spanish Moss that are prevalent in Florida and other places in the southeast. While no picture I have taken do these stately trees justice, here is an example

Florida cracker refers to English or American pioneer settlers from colonial times and their descendants. They started to arrive after Spain ceded Florida to Britain following the end of the French & Indian War in 1763. Since the influx of Northerners after World War II and widespread use of air conditioning, some whose family has been here much longer describe themselves proudly as "crackers". Others view the term as offensive and insulting since it usually describes poor southern whites. The owner of this pick-up seems to be in the former group.

“Florida Cracker” refers to English or American pioneer settlers from colonial times and their descendants. They started to arrive after Spain ceded Florida to Britain following the end of the French & Indian War in 1763. Since the influx of Northerners after World War II following the widespread use of air conditioning, some whose family has been here much longer describe themselves proudly as “crackers”. Others view the term as offensive and insulting since it usually describes poor southern whites. The owner of this pick-up seems to be in the former group.

As we have moved through various parts of the country, it’s fascinating to see the different attitudes regarding alcohol. In some areas, there is tight regulatory control over the sale and use of alcohol (such as in Massachusetts). In other areas, you can walk into a gas station and buy a can of beer from a tub of ice next to the cash register when you pay for your gas. In many parts of the south however, particularly in Alabama and Mississippi, you cannot buy alcohol at all – many towns and/or counties are completely dry. But I had a unique experience in Crystal River, now that I’m in Florida – I went into a large liquor store and asked the clerk where I could find a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream. “Have you ever had Michael’s Irish Cream – it’s better and $2 cheaper”, he said. “No, I think I’ll stick with the Baileys”, I replied. “It really is better – would you like to try a sample?” he asked. “What?” “Would you like a sample?”  “Uhh – sure”.  So he took a bottle of Michael’s Irish Cream off the shelf, opened it, poured some in a glass and handed it to me to drink.  He then poured samples and handed them to several other customers in the store who happened to walk by. I knew I was surely in Florida.  I bought the Michael’s.

So we stayed an extra two days in Crystal River due to windy weather (not to mention cold – it was 27 degrees in the morning!). We therefore rented a car and drove to Yankeetown then Cedar Key, the only two Big Bend stops that we had bypassed.  Yankeetown proved to be no more than a wide spot in the road a few miles from the river, and the marina where we would have stayed was remote and in very poor condition:

The marina in Yankeetown had some boats in some of the slips, but was in general disrepair and was locked up when we stopped by - fortunately we had decided to bypass this stop with the boat even though it has deep water access without having to worry about the tides

The marina in Yankeetown had some boats in some of the slips, but was in general disrepair and was locked up when we stopped by – fortunately we had decided to bypass this stop with the boat even though it has deep water access without having to worry about the tides

We then drove to Cedar Key (accessible by bridge), which proved to be a fun, funky, artsy island community with shops, restaurants, pubs, and interesting old buildings.  We had lunch and, of course, ice cream as we walked around and took in the sights of the town. Here are some images:

The architecture is varied, with many of the buildings dating back to the early 1900's

The architecture is varied, with many of the buildings dating back to the early 1900’s

AACK-bldg3

These restaurants and shops overlook the water with spectacular views of a nearby island and the Gulf

These restaurants and shops overlook the water with spectacular views of a nearby island and the Gulf

This building also overlooks the Gulf

This building also overlooks the Gulf

For some reason, this guy didn't seem to be catching much...

For some reason, this guy didn’t seem to be catching much…however, I can relate to the look on his face from my fishing experiences…

This large sign was on a big grey wall along the main street in town.  See if you can read the message - start at the bottom -

This large sign was on a big grey wall along the main street in town. The sign next to it says “Spin to Read”.  See if you can read the message – start at the bottom –

The forecast was finally for lighter winds Thursday morning – however, the tide schedule was challenging.  Low tide occurs 2 1/2 hours LATER at the upper end of the Crystal River than it does at the mouth, 8 miles downriver. There is a shoal a short ways from the end of the river where we were docked, and another one at Shell Island, at the mouth of the river.  We therefore left at first light to get past the first shoal before the tide got too low, but then had to dawdle for a couple of hours to wait for the tide to fill in at Shell Island at the mouth of the river. On top of that, when we cast off at first light, the temperature was 29 degrees and there was ICE on the decks – we had to hold onto the railings to keep from falling on the ice as we collected the docklines and cast off.  I thought we were in Florida!  The net result was a long, 11 hour day, for we had a 60 mile run to Tarpon Springs after we finally cleared the channel – we left at first light and pulled into the dock at Tarpon Springs at sunset.

Tarpon Springs marks the official end of Florida’s “Big Bend”, and marks the resumption of the protected waters of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. You may recall from previous posts that southbound trawler-type boats have a choice of crossing the Big Bend via a 20-hour overnight passage of about 175 miles or taking the “hopscotch” route and stopping at various harbors along the way, as we did, which adds about 100 miles to the trip. The overnight trip requires a 2-day weather window of light winds and favorable weather. A flotilla of boats left Carabelle on the same day that we left on the “hopscotch route” two weeks ago, and had a pleasant passage.  Unfortunately for those boats that arrived at the start of the Big Bend a day or two later, the favorable weather window slammed shut – there are now about 25 boats that have been waiting for another weather window for two weeks now, and are expected to have to wait at least until the coming weekend before they can cross, and will spend Thanksgiving wherever they are. Welcome to boating!

Tarpon Springs is a sizable tourist town with two dominant themes, which are related to each other.  First, it has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the United States. As a result, it is known for it’s many Greek restaurants which are reputed to be some of the best Greek restaurants in the nation. Second, it is known for the harvesting of sponges, in which early Greek immigrants played a critical role.

Tarpon Springs was first settles in 1876 by both white and black fishermen and farmers. They named the new settlement “Tarpon Springs” when they observed many tarpon jumping out of the water. In the 1880’s, the harvesting of sponges began and grew – sponges grew naturally in the shallow waters of the Gulf adjacent to the settlement. The harvesting of sponges was a significant industry in Greece at the time, so a number of Greek immigrants were attracted to Tarpon Springs to work in the sponge industry. In 1905, a Greek entrepreneur introduced sponge diving as a more efficient method of harvesting sponges, and he recruited divers and their crews from Greece to come to Tarpon Springs to harvest sponges. As a result, the Greek population increased dramatically. Thus, the two dominant themes in the city today – Greek culture and sponges – stem from the origins of Tarpon Springs and the relationship between those two forces that was forged over 100 years ago.

Here are some images from our stay in Tarpon Springs:

You have your pick of literally dozens of Greek restaurants, all reputed to serve great and authentic Greek food

You have your pick of literally dozens of Greek restaurants, all reputed to serve great, authentic Greek food

In addition to Greek restaurants, sponges are everywhere - in every gift shop, in dedicated sponge stores, in the "Sponge and Soap Museum, etc.  You can even go on sponge tours in which harvesters take you on their boat and you observe the harvesting of sponges in the Gulf waters

In addition to Greek restaurants, sponges are everywhere – in every gift shop, in dedicated sponge stores, in the “Sponge and Soap Museum”, etc. You can even go on sponge tours in which harvesters take you on their boat and you observe the harvesting of sponges in the Gulf waters

Spongeorama???

Spongeorama???

Sponges of every size and shape are available in the many gif shops along the waterfront, from utilitarian sponges which are said to be superior in their characteristics to the manufactured sponges that most of us use to sponges intended for ornamentation to sponges made into items intended to be used such as waste baskets for your bathroom

Sponges of every size and shape are available in the many gift shops along the waterfront, from utilitarian sponges which are said to be superior in their characteristics to the manufactured sponges that most of us use, to sponges intended for ornamentation, to sponges made into useful items, such as waste baskets for your bathroom

One of the many sponge harvesting boats on its way int the harbor - notice the bundles of sponges tied to the roof.  Sponge boats come in all shapes and sizes

One of the many sponge harvesting boats on its way into the harbor – notice the bundles of sponges tied to the roof. Sponge boats come in all shapes and sizes

The city of Tarpon Springs is located about 3 miles up Anclote River.  The harbor is fairly narrow and is lined with boats of every description, many rafted 5 and 6 boats deep due to limited space within the harbor

The city of Tarpon Springs is located about 3 miles up Anclote River. The harbor is fairly narrow and is lined with boats of every description, many rafted 5 and 6 boats deep due to limited space within the harbor

This statue of a diver on the waterfront commemorates the importance of sponge diving to both the history of Tarpon Springs and its current economy

This statue of a diver on the waterfront commemorates the importance of sponge diving to both the history of Tarpon Springs and its current economy

In addition to the waterfront along the harbor that is lined with Greek restaurants and sponge & gift shops, there is a historic downtown in Tarpon Springs that is quite interesting with architecture dating back to the late 1800's and early 1900's

In addition to the waterfront along the harbor that is lined with Greek restaurants and sponge & gift shops, there is a historic downtown in Tarpon Springs that is quite interesting with architecture dating back to the late 1800’s and early 1900’s

This Mediterranean-style building in downtown Tarpon Springs was built in the 1920's as the Howard Hotel.  It has now been restored and converted into commercial space, and is on the National Register of Historic Places

This Mediterranean-style building in downtown Tarpon Springs was built in the 1920’s as the Howard Hotel. It has now been restored and converted into commercial space, and is on the National Register of Historic Places

The city has several residential neighborhoods surrounding the downtown area in which the architecture of the houses clearly reflect their Greek heritage

The city has several residential neighborhoods surrounding the downtown area in which the architecture of the houses clearly reflect their Greek heritage

Another house reflecting its Greek heritage

Another house reflecting its Greek heritage

No Greek community would be complete without an iconic Greek Orthodox church

No Greek community would be complete without an iconic Greek Orthodox church

WOW!  Do you really think he lived here???

WOW! Do you really think he lived here?

So we went fishing while we were in Tarpon Springs and finally caught The Big One....(OK, just kidding...)

So we went fishing while we were in Tarpon Springs and finally caught The Big One….(OK, so we didn’t…)

Our next stop was Clearwater Beach, about 15 miles south of Tarpon Springs. Talk about culture change from our experiences along the Big Bend over the past week and a half! Clearwater Beach is a sprawling, new, modern, resort area with high rise condominiums, street performers, restaurant chains, and resort-type activities. The wide beach is truly spectacular with fine, white sand. Here are some images:

The beach and pier at Clearwater Beach. It was breezy and a bit cool the day we were there, so the beach wasn't crowded

The beach and pier at Clearwater Beach. It was breezy and a bit cool the day we were there, so the beach wasn’t crowded

The beach as the sun was setting, taken from the pier

The beach as the sun was setting, taken from the pier

Street vendors lining the long pier known as "Pier 60"

Street vendors lining the long pier known as “Pier 60”

The colorful umbrellas are ordinarily used by the street vendors on the pier to shade them from the sun - however, it was breezy and mostly cloudy the day we were there, so the vendors used the umbrellas instead to block the wind, creating a colorful scene

The colorful umbrellas are ordinarily used by the street vendors on the pier to shade them from the sun – however, it was breezy and mostly cloudy the day we were there, so the vendors used the umbrellas instead to block the wind, creating a colorful scene

One of the many tourist-type activities is this "Surf Machine" - water is jetted up the surface of the fiberglass "wave" so you can surf on it, moving up or down or being stationary.  I don't think I would want to be their insurance carrier...

One of the many tourist-type activities is this “Surf Machine” – water is jetted up the surface of the fiberglass “wave” so you can surf on it, moving up or down or being stationary. I don’t think I would want to be their insurance carrier…

The section of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg for the most part runs directly behind the barrier islands with the Gulf beaches just on the other side of the islands. Here are some images:

The Intracoastal in this location iseparated from the Gulf only by a narrow spit of beach with some palm trees on it.  This picture reminded me of the Korona commercials "find your beach" theme

The Intracoastal in this location is separated from the Gulf only by a narrow spit of beach with some palm trees on it. This picture reminded me of the Corona commercials “find your beach” theme

Running along the Intracoastal, you can identify the areas that are newly developed, characterized by glitzy high rise condominiums such as those in Clearwater Beach, and areas that were developed in the 50's or 60's or perhaps the early 70's, characterized by utilitarian three or four story buildings that might have originally been built as apartments or motels, now mostly converted to condominiums - basic housing but still million-dollar views and beaches

Running along the Intracoastal, you can identify the areas that are newly developed, characterized by glitzy high rise condominiums such as those in Clearwater Beach, and areas that were developed in the 50’s or 60’s or perhaps the early 70’s, characterized by utilitarian three or four story buildings that might have originally been built as apartments or motels, now mostly converted to condominiums – basic housing but still million-dollar views and beaches

An unwelcome sight on the Intracoastal - this is not a derelict boat that was abandoned or neglected and eventually sunk, but a fairly new cruiser that recently took on water until it sunk and is sitting on the bottom - I have no idea why

An unwelcome sight on the Intracoastal – this is not a derelict boat that was abandoned or neglected and eventually sunk, but a fairly new cruiser that recently took on water until it sunk and is sitting on the bottom – I have no idea why

On Saturday, our run of about 40 miles from Clearwater Beach to Saint Petersburg was marked by cloudy weather but no rain, and 15 knot winds with gusts to 20. Though not a problem on the protected areas of the Intracoastal Waterway, we were confronted with 3′-5′ waves once we entered the wide and open waters of Tampa Bay. We picked our way slowly up the bay to St. Pete, carefully managing the angle of the boat to the waves (catamarans don’t like waves on the beam). However, we reached the marina in downtown St. Pete without incident, where we are leaving the Joint Adventure for a week over the Thanksgiving holiday.  As I write this on Sunday morning, I’m preparing to leave for the airport and a flight home.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

 

 

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WAY DOWN UPON THE SUWANNEE RIVER…

Post #38 – WAY DOWN UPON THE SUWANNEE RIVER – Day 195;  November 15, 2014.  On board:  Paul Coates, Jim K

Sing with me:  “Wayyy down upon the Suwan-nee River…far, far away…”.  Most everyone, I think, learned this song, or parts of it, as schoolchildren. The song was written in 1851 by Stephen Foster, a white man. But are you aware of the controversy it has caused over the years, and continues to cause? The song was written in the first person from the perspective of a black slave at a time when slavery was legal in half the country. The narrator sings “…longing for de old plantation…”, which has long drawn criticism as romanticizing slavery. Worse, the lyrics of the chorus includes “Oh, darkies, how my heart grows weary…”  – the word “darkies”, of course, has long been considered a racial slur. I was therefore amazed to learn when I arrived here that the song is the official state song of Florida. In order to make the song more palatable, when it was sung at the dedication of the new Florida capitol building in 1978, the word “brothers” was substituted for the word “darkies”. However, as the lyrics became more and more objectionable over time, an effort to change the state song gained traction. A contest to select a new state song was undertaken in 2007, and the song “”Florida (Where the Sawgrass Meets the Sky)” was selected as the winner in early 2008.  However, when faced with a decision, the politicians did what politicians do best – they tried to please everyone – so they adopted the new song as the state ANTHEM and kept “Suwannee River” as the state SONG. In doing so, they also officially changed some of the objectionable lyrics.  Predictably, the “two song solution” appears to have satisfied no one.

So as I write this, we are docked about three miles up the fabled Suwannee River in the town of Suwannee, Florida. The heart and soul of the town are focused on the river, and like many of the towns along the Big Bend, it is a fishing town – the locals grew up fishing since they were old enough to walk, and it has recently become a fishing destination for weekenders, vacationers, and others who have a condo or second home here on the river or who come here to rent a boat and fish or go out on a fishing charter. The boats are not offshore boats that are the hallmark of New England charters, but are small skiffs or 25′ center consoles with outboard motors.  The shallow water of the Gulf and the desire to poke into shallow places on the river or side creeks keep the boats and the fishing parties small. The year-round population of the town is only 350, and the summer population is only about 750, so it is not a big place. There is one restaurant that serves only breakfast and lunch and another that serves only dinner, and there is a very small general store that has some groceries. There are some condos that were built just before the Great Recession, and there are homes along a network of canals that were built in the 60’s. Most of the homes are modest – it is a fishing destination, not a resort-type place at all. Many of the homes and the few businesses that are here could benefit from some sprucing-up.

Here are some images from Suwannee:

It's always good to have a roadside sign to point you in the right direction -

It’s always good to have a roadside sign to point you in the right direction –

The bank of the Suwannee River, entering the mouth

The bank of the Suwannee River, entering the mouth

The banks of the Suwannee River are lined with cypress trees and beautiful, natural scenery

The banks of the Suwannee River are lined with cypress trees and beautiful, natural scenery

One of the many creels and side channels off the main river, which is in the background

One of the many creeks and side channels off the main Suwannee River, which is in the background

A creek-side house in Suwannee - there were at least 30 enormous turkey vultures roosting on the dock, deck, and roof

A creek-side house in Suwannee – there were at least 30 enormous turkey vultures roosting on the dock, deck, and roof of the house

A "typical" house on a canal in Suwannee

A “typical” house on a canal in Suwannee

Notice the sling for the boat lift under the house - a modest house, but a great place to store your boat under cover with instant access to it -

Notice the sling as part of the boat lift under the house – a modest house, but a great place to store your boat under cover with instant access to it!

The only breakfast restaurant in town is a gathering place in the morning, especially for people who are going fishing - the restaurant is part of a small marina.  We went by dinghy

The only breakfast restaurant in town is a gathering place in the morning, especially for those going fishing – the restaurant is part of a small marina. We went by dinghy

Florida has no car inspection requirement....they may want to re-think that...

Florida has no car inspection requirement….they may want to re-think that.   Notice the convertible top, which can be removed by simply untying a couple of knots holding the tarp in place.  Notice also the rope holding up the bumper…

Suwannee is literally the "end of the road"....

Suwannee is literally the “end of the road”….

We agonized a bit over whether to come here at all, as almost no loopers do, and the guidebooks all warn of shallow water and the need to ride the tides just so. We had visions of catastrophe – running aground in the narrow, shallow channel or inadvertently wandering off the channel into a shoal with waves crashing down upon us. However, remembering Eleanor Roosevelt’s inspirational words of encouragement: “My life was full of catastrophes, most of which never happened”, we were enticed to ignore our visions of worst-case scenarios and go forward.  We waited until nearly noon to leave Steinhatchee for the 42 mile run so we would arrive at about 4:30 PM, an hour and a half or so before high tide in the channel. Eleanor Roosevelt was right – we poked our way slowly through the 2-mile long channel then 3 miles up the river and had no trouble.

We had planned to stay in Suwannee an extra day or so, but the weather gods decided we should stay longer – the winds on the Gulf have kicked up seas that we don’t like, so we’re waiting for more benign weather. We therefore decided to go fishing:   When in Rome….  We found a guide that was willing to take us out for half a day.  Here are some images:

Captain Jackie, our guide, who has forgotten more about fishing than I'll ever know

Captain Jackie, our guide, who has forgotten more about fishing than I’ll ever know

A "keeper" redfish that Paul caught - Captain Jackie cleaned the fish for us, and we took them to the local restaurant where they cooked them for us for dinner-

A “keeper” redfish that Paul caught – Captain Jackie cleaned the fish for us, and we took them to the local restaurant where they cooked them for us for dinner-talk about fresh fish!

One of the Sheep's head that I caught -

This fish is called a “sheep’s head” – I don’t know why.  In addition to the two “keeper” redfish, we caught about half a dozen “keeper” sheep’s head.

A respectable catch for a day of fishing -

A respectable catch for a half a day of fishing –

Look closely and you'll see a wild boar that we saw along the shore.  There is a baby boar there as well, but it is behind the mother in this picture.  While out fishing, we also saw three large alligators, several large turtles, and a bald eagle

Look closely and you’ll see a wild boar that we saw along the shore of the Suwannee River. There is a baby boar there as well, but it is behind the mother in this picture. While out fishing, we also saw three large alligators, several large turtles, and a bald eagle which circled directly overhead.

Our fresh redfish dinner, cooked for us by the local restaurant -

Our fresh redfish dinner, cooked for us by the local restaurant –

No, we really did catch these fish!  However, my friend Doug has been known to stop at a fish market on the way home from a fishing trip when he got skunked and insist on buying the whole fish to bring home....

No, we really did catch these fish! However, my friend Doug has been known to stop at a fish market on the way home from a fishing trip when he got skunked and insist on buying the whole fish to bring home….

So I jumped ahead to Suwannee after describing our stay at Apalachicola in the last post – please allow me to back up and fill in the gap between those two places. Our first day on the Big Bend last Sunday from Apalachicola to Carrabelle was pleasantly uneventful. Carrabelle has a beautiful, well-protected harbor with plenty of space for boats.  However, the town is too small to have a real “downtown”, but instead has a few pockets of commercial establishments along a mile-long stretch of road. The town appears to have overreached in the mid 2000’s, and has several vacant, dilapidated buildings.  In addition, there are countless vacant docks, many of which appear abandoned, and a large waterfront “bank owned” housing development in which infrastructure was installed but only a few buildings built. It seems like the natural environment is attractive enough to make this a destination, but it has not happened yet. Here are a few images:

Carrabelle has a large, deep natural harbor

Carrabelle has a large, deep, very beautiful natural harbor

Entering Carrabelle Harbor at low tide -

Entering Carrabelle Harbor at low tide –

A salt water marsh adjacent to Carrabelle Harbor

A salt water marsh adjacent to Carrabelle Harbor

There were about 15 – 18  loopers at the marina in Carabelle last Sunday, so an impromptu “Happy Hour” was convened in the lounge at the marina. We learned that, of the group, we were the ONLY boat that would be taking the “hopscotch” route across the Big Bend. A favorable weather window for an overnight crossing was being forecast for Monday and Tuesday nights, so most of the other loopers were preparing to leave the following afternoon for an overnight passage, with one or two fast boats planning to leave early in the morning for a daylight passage.  However, we pressed on, planning to make four stops and run five separate days on our way to Tarpon Springs, where the Intracoastal Waterway resumes. Our first “hopscotch stop” was a small, out of the way place that almost no cruisers visit called St. Marks – it is off-route by about 40 miles, meaning you travel about 55 miles but end up only 15 miles further along the Great Loop route.  However, though no one could understand why we were going here, we LOVE out of the way places where no one goes, and St. Marks did not let us down.  The town lays 10 miles north up the winding St. Marks River, with gorgeous views of salt water marshes along the way. It is primarily a fishing town, boasting one of the oldest fishing camps in Florida.  It is another town that is literally located at “the end of the road”. Here are some images:

A salt water marsh lined the riverbank for much of the ride up the St. Marks River

A salt water marsh lined the riverbank for much of the ride up the St. Marks River

We thought that finding dockage for the Joint Adventure might be a problem on this trip due to her wide 17' beam, but it has not been a problem at all.  However, in St. Marks, we had to put her into a slip with steel posts on both sides that was om;y inches wider than her beam. Fortunately, there was no wind and a light current as the tide was changing.

We thought that finding dockage for the Joint Adventure might be a problem on this trip due to her wide 17′ beam, but it has not been a problem at all. However, in St. Marks, we had to put her into a slip with steel posts on both sides that were only inches wider than her beam. Fortunately, there was no wind and a light current as the tide was changing, so we wedged her in tight..

This is the remnant of an old bridge abutment of a railroad bridge that went to a ghost town that has disappeared called Port Leon.  The bridge was built in 1838 to extend the railroad 2 miles south of St. Marks so cotton could be transported directly to ships waiting offshore. An entire town called Port Leon was built at the terminus, including a saw mill, a grist mill, a hotel, two taverns, a post office, and a newspaper. However, just 5 years later, in 1843, a hurricane destroyed both the town and the bridge, both of which were abandoned and have since disappeared.

This is the remnant of an abutment from an old railroad bridge that went to a ghost town that disappeared long ago called Port Leon. The bridge was built in 1838 to extend the railroad 2 miles south of St. Marks so cotton could be transported directly to ships waiting offshore. An entire town called Port Leon was quickly built at the terminus, including a saw mill, a grist mill, a hotel, two taverns, a post office, and a newspaper. However, just 5 years later, in 1843, a hurricane destroyed the town and the bridge, both of which were abandoned and have since disappeared.

There is now a 16 mile long bike path where the railroad used to run in 1843

There is now a 16 mile long bike path where the railroad used to run in 1843

City Hal in St. Marks - not exactly an urban setting....

City Hall in St. Marks – not exactly an urban setting….

The one and only grocery store in town

The one and only grocery store in town

Yes, it is a fishing town...

Yes, it is a fishing town…

There is no car wash in town - but wait, this is a fishing town, and they have their priorities straight...

There is no car wash in town – but wait, this is a fishing town, and they have their priorities straight…

You may recall from the last post the "rustic" restaurant with great, fresh seafood in Panama City called Bayou Joe's.  We found another one in St. Marks - overlooking the water, just as rustic, catering to the local fisherman - and fresh fish caught earlier that day - red fish, mullet, grouper - but don't expect a white tablecloth -

You may recall from the last post the “rustic” restaurant with great, fresh seafood in Panama City called Bayou Joe’s. We found another one in St. Marks – overlooking the water, just as rustic, catering to the local fisherman, with fresh fish caught earlier that day – red fish, mullet, grouper – just don’t expect a white tablecloth –

One more story from St. Marks. In 1850, a wood-fired, sidewheeler steamship named Spray started picking up passengers, mail, and cargo in St. Marks and bringing them downriver to ships anchored in deeper water offshore, then returning to St. Marks with arriving passengers, mail, and cargo. However, in 1864, the ship was commandeered by the Confederate Navy and outfitted with two guns – its mission was to guard the mouth of the river, which was seen as an entry point for Union forces to attack Tallahassee.  The Spray was involved in several skirmishes, and is credited with a critical role in preventing Tallahassee from ever falling to the Union forces – the only Confederate capital not to fall. Near the end of the war, the Spray was eventually surrendered to the Union and taken to Key West.  After the war, the Union Navy returner her to her owner, who then resumed service ferrying passengers, mail, and cargo to and from St. Marks. After he died about a decade later, the Spray was left idle and eventually sank. She has recently been found, and possible salvage plans are now being discussed.

With a long way to go to our next stop, a small town called Steinhatchee, we left as the sun was rising:

It was cold!  Forty degrees, and there was fog on the river.  I thought this was Florida?

It was cold! Forty degrees, and there was fog on the river. I thought this was Florida!

The early morning sun on the grasses of the salt water marsh was spectacular -

The early morning sun on the grasses of the salt water marsh was spectacular –

The 65 mile run in the open Gulf was more eventful that we like. A short ways out of St. Marks, we started to encounter crab pots, marked by floats on the surface of the water. Unfortunately, we were headed directly into the rising sun, so it was very difficult to see the floats with the sun’s reflection on the water in our eyes.  Sure enough, despite both Paul and I watching for floats, we snagged one that we never saw on the rudder/propeller.  We couldn’t get it free, so we had no choice but to cut the line (it was part of a string, so the trap could still be retrieved).  Fortunately, it did not get wrapped around the prop or do any damage, so we were able to continue. The rest of the day required focus and concentration to avoid getting snagged again.

Steinhatchee is little more than a wide spot in the road, but like many of these coastal/river towns that cater to fishing, it had a local restaurant where all of the seafood was caught fresh that day. It was time for an oil change for the Joint Adventure, so part of the afternoon was spent working with the mechanic from the marina changing the oil and doing some other minor maintenance chores.

So tomorrow (Sunday) we expect to get a one day weather window, in which we plan to head to our fourth stop on the Big Bend, called Crystal River. Shallow water and timing the tides at both ends of the run continue to be a challenge, so we plan to cast off at first light so we leave Suwannee on an incoming tide and reach the mouth of Crystal River before the tide is too low.  We then have an 8 mile run up the river as the tide continues to drop. We always try to obtain some local knowledge when conditions are uncertain, so we’ve been calling the local Sea Tow or Boat US/Tow Boat operator and getting information about shoaling, shallow spots, missing markers, etc.  They have been very helpful and always willing to share what they know.

Stay tuned!

 

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