Completed the Great Loop

Tuesday, August 16th – Jacksonville, FL
Exactly 15 weeks ago today, we left home. What an adventure! We had such a great time! Neither one of us wanted it to end. It was really neat knowing there were so many of you out there following our trip. Thank you for your interest. We arrived back in Jacksonville about 6 p.m. on Monday, August 15th…right in front of the thundershowers. MemoryMaker is nicely tucked under a covered roof…awaiting her next excursion.

After we are settled down…get some projects around here started, we will take some time and do some reflections on the trip and post it here. We have logged our mileage, fuel consumption and ports of call. Before we started our trip, we heard so many say, this trip should not be done unless you have at least a year to do it…that you needed to take time to smell the roses. We sure smelled an awful lot of flowers…and although it would have been nice to have had more time, we are certainly glad we took the opportunity to make the trip.

Cruising the Last Leg

Monday, August 15th – Daytona, FL
The weather on Sunday was great for cruising. Water was smooth and familiar! We pulled out of Ft. Pierce right as the sun was rising and enjoyed a cool ride up the ICW to Merritt Island. Tied up at our friends dock on Merritt Island about 10:00. We were sadden to see that the long standing landmark, the dragon, was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan, which hit last fall. It now just lays as broken green concrete on the tip of the island. Several of the homes on the end of the island were also damaged from the hurricane and are still being put back together. We enjoyed a visit with Donna…hearing about how she had escaped from the hurricane and spent 14 days without electricity. She is currently in the process of installing a big generator.

After we left Merritt Island, the boat traffic seemed to really pick up…there were some crazies out there. We prefer not to travel on the weekend, but…

Several slow zones between New Smyrna and Daytona. Lots less fun traveling at 7 miles per hour…in the heat…there’s very little breeze and it gets hot. Saw both manatees and dolphins along our way playing in the water. We pulled into the Halifax Marina about 3:00. The Daytona crew, Dave & Mary and Gary & Suzanne that we traveled part of the loop with were at the dock. They took us to dinner and then we came back to the boat and enjoyed swapping stories about our adventures. This morning we are all heading out to breakfast together before we travel the final leg to the house.

Great Ride Across the State

Sunday, August 14th – Ft. Pierce, FL
Pulled out from Jack’s Marine in Ft. Myers early Saturday morning to a wonderful ride across the Okeechobee waterway. The marina wasn’t opened, but we gave a little honk as we left…Sue and Chuck live above the marina office. They were super folks. Sue insisted that we take some fresh eggs and some of her Florida key limes with us the day before. Passed by Labella on our way to the big lake…didn’t look a lot different from the water, but we know the area is getting ready to explode with growth….heard an additional bridge is in the works to help with some of the growth.

Fueled at Indiantown…seemed to be a lot more boats there than when we were here last. Made it out to St. Lucie and then started skirting thunderstorms…lots of lightening in the air. So we pulled into Harbortown Marina in Ft. Pierce and called it a day…we’d traveled 140+ miles and did the last of our locks for the trip. They had a jazz festival going on…so we took a dip in their pool, listened to some music, had supper on the boat, took a short walk and called it a night.

We woke about 5 a.m. this morning and will be pulling out soon. Planning to stop in Merritt Island for a short visit with a friend and then see how much farther we get today before the afternoon thunderstorms arrive.

We’re fixed…Brand New Out-Drive Installed

Friday, August 12th – Ft. Myers, FL
Rented a car on Thursday from the Lehigh Acres office. Dave couldn’t believe how the area had grown up since he was here in the late 80’s. Took a ride into Labelle…stopped at Flora and Ellas for lunch. That was where we were heading when the boat broke on Tuesday. Their slogan “Life is unpredictable, Eat Desert First” has been one of Dave’s favorite saying since we went there years ago. The sisters, Flora and Ella, have now both passed away. The property has been sold, the family is carrying on the tradition and they are still selling those fabulous homemade pies. We stopped at a couple real estate offices and as we had heard they confirmed that property values have gone crazy over here. The riverfront lot that we sold for 95K a couple of years ago is worth well over 500K now. We though we did well…but, guess we should have held onto it a little longer.

Came back to the marina about 4:00 to see what Chuck had heard from Volvo. He hadn’t! So a call to them came back with an answer first that the out-drive had been shipped. Five minutes later another call came in to say no, it hadn’t been shipped, but that they were having to build one. We have one of Volvo’s new salt water out-drives and they are not as readily available. Needless to say, we were not very happy! Dave called our friend at the Rinker Manufacturer, Gainer…the gentlemen who has been calling us regularly. Gainer wasn’t very happy either and told us he’d make some calls. It wasn’t too long until we received a call from Scott, from Volvo…the guy who helped us with the problem in Panama City. Dave conversed with him a couple more times during the evening.

This morning, Friday, while Dave was in the office reading the paper, Scott, from Volvo, called Chuck to say he was on his way with an out-drive and that he’d be here about noon. We returned the rental car and came back to the marina. When Scott arrived he not only brought the drive, but he jumped in and led the technician in the removal and assembly of the new one. It was great to see that happening, because he seemed very matriculate about what he was doing. He insisted that the lines be flushed, blowed out, and flushed again until he was sure the metal shaving were out of the system. He also had the technician realign the engine. We were very impressed at his attention to detail. He also insisted that before it went back in the water that the shifting be checked and insisted on taking it out in the water himself and testing. It’s 7:00…too late to head out, so we’re going to get an early start in the morning. Will try to make it to one of our favorite places, Captain Hiram’s in Sebastain tomorrow.

Broke down…

Wednesday, August 10th – East Ft. Myers, FL
We are at Jack’s Marine South on the Caloosahatchee River about 10-15 miles from Labelle. Tuesday afternoon, after we went through our first lock on the Okeechobee Waterway, the boat started sounding funny. Then all of a sudden, we heard a loud sound and the boat stopped and would not go…sounded like metal scrapping against metal. It would kind of go in reverse…so Dave managed to get it pulled over to the side and tied to a private dock. We tied up at a picturesque place…complete with horses roaming in the yard…a real southern charm of a place. The homeowner was very nice, very understanding of our need to be tied to her dock.

After a call to Volvo, they dispatched a tow boat. It was to be there in 2 hours. But, of course it took 3 ½ hours for the tow boat to arrive and they sent the “tow boat captain from hell”. He had to tow us back through the lock to get to Jack’s. What a trip! His tow line was less than 15 feet long. Dave got on the bow and Barbara on the stern with boat hooks and managed to keep MemoryMaker from smacking real hard against the sides of the lock, but the anchor got a good whack. When we arrived at the marina, 5 miles from where we broke, the tow boat captain literally crashed us directly into the dock, bow first. The anchor drilled the pilling; the tow eye chewed up the dock decking and after about 5 minutes of scrambling around we finally got tied up. He then gave us the $835.00 bill. He billed 6 hours for his service with 1 hour being a night time charge. Fortunately, we have towing insurance…

Jack’s Marina has a Ft. Myers address. It is a fairly small mom and pop operation. They have goats, a donkey, chickens, cows, horses and several dogs on the grounds. Sue, the sister of Jack, and her husband run the facility. Sue is a wonder woman. This morning she moved our boat, by herself, without starting the engine, from the front of their place around into their canal…past a half dozen boats tied to their dock. She jumped on and off the other boats and literally walked it around before Dave knew what was going on. Barbara followed her around, but she asked for “hands off” while she did her work. She lifted the boat using a travel lift. They pulled the props off, drained the fluid out of the out-drive, and found that it was full of metal shavings. The technicians said they did not recommend rebuilding…they said it would be best to put in a brand new out-drive. After a call to Volvo, they agreed and are sending one out “overnight”. But it won’t arrive until Friday. So we’ll rent a car…and do some exploring by land here for the next couple of days.

To have to be broken down, this turned out to be a good spot. Once they discovered what the problem was, they put the plug back in the boat and put us back in the water. That was going above and beyond what we expected…but certainly nice to be able to stay on the boat…as opposed to having to rent a motel room. Chuck, the manager, said they’d do everything they could to get us back underway by weekend.

Still Raining…

Monday, August 8th – Englewood, FL
Untied from our friends’, Phyllis and Bill, dock on the Manatee River about 10:30. Started the day with a ride on Lucky, their small boat. We cruised around their neighborhood and actually saw a double rainbow while we were out. When we got back, we rode their new boat, Gullwing, a 43 feet Mikelson, with Bill to the boatyard. He had it hauled out for some maintenance. What a great boat…we enjoyed getting the grand tour and the ride.
We had a short travel day today, Monday, due to rain. We only traveled about 65 miles. Got tied up at the Palm Island Marina in Englewood about 2:00…after managing to stay out of the rain squalls most of the day. It became apparent our luck was going to run out…so we tucked into this marina. Had a swim in the pool, an early dinner and then a walk in the mist of rain …that is still falling.

Sunday, August 7th – Bradenton, FL (Phyllis & Bill’s home)
On Sunday, we moved from the Twin Dolphin Marina over to Phyllis and Bill’s place about noon. They are old friends we met while boating at Silver Glen Springs years ago. Good thing we were not planning to make much time traveling as it rained most of the afternoon. We enjoyed sharing stories, hearing about their trip bringing Gullwing down from New York, and sharing with them some of experiences along the Great Loop. They hope to do this trip themselves in a few years.

Saturday, August 6th – Bradenton, FL
We started the day off on Saturday with a bike ride on Clearwater’s white sandy beach. Untied from the city marina about 10 a.m. and made the decision to run out in the Gulf. Almost as soon as we got out, we were met by gobs of floating dead fish…apparently they have had an outbreak of red tide and it’s killing off bunches of fish. Phew…what a fragrance. Once again, we were in very smooth waters in the Gulf. Instead of going way, way out this time, we followed the coastline, passing St. Petersburg and the Skyway Bridge. We came into Tampa Bay between Egmont Key and Anna Maria Island.
We traveled 47 miles from Clearwater to get to the Twin Dolphins Marina in Bradenton. Twin Dolphins is one of our favorite marinas. We were tied up at their best slip…next to their pool…on a floating dock.

Happy to be back to the Intercoastal Waterway

Friday, August 5th – Clearwater, FL
We could not have asked for smoother Gulf water than what we were in today. It was almost glassy…seas were probably one foot or less. Like every other day this week, the day started with gray skies, looking like we could get some significant rains. Radar showed thunderstorms off the coast. So, we waited it out again…left Crystal River about 10:30. Traveled 88 miles today. Instead of stopping at Tarpon Springs, once we got in the ICW, we traveled a few more miles to Clearwater. The run from Carrabelle down to about Tarpon Springs requires that you go out in the Gulf. There is no inside route. So, we are glad to have had such a smooth passage these last three days. From here on, until we get home, we will now have the option of an inside or outside route.
As we entered the channel off the Gulf, we saw dolphins several different times flipping around right outside the channel. Did not see as many single family homes, but instead tall boxy condominiums lining the waterway. We pulled into the Clearwater Municipal Marina about 4 hours after leaving Crystal River. We are starting to see more boat traffic. Here at the marina, there’s a large charter boat fleet, lots of fishing and tour boats docked. But, the marina is also very transient friendly…it’s just a short stroll over to the beach from here. We’re going to get some dinner and make it over to the pier for the sunset festival. Apparently, it’s like a mini Key West sunset celebration.

Another Great Day on the Gulf

Thursday, August 4th – Crystal River, FL
The Sea Hag Marina in Steinhatchee had a great weather station set up for boaters to check radar…we were in there early looking at their terminal. It showed greens and yellows right off the coast from where we were. So, we did not get in a big hurry. Pedaled our bikes to the Bridge End Restaurant for breakfast. We did not have cell service for a couple of days, so Dave found a spot on top of the bridge by the restaurant where he was able to get enough service to check the home answering machine. Rode by the house on the water that we’d spent some time looking at the night before. We met the owner, Doug last night, an older gentleman, who was anxious to tell us of his many sailing adventures. He had actually bought his boat many years ago in Charlevoix, MI and sailed it to California. We enjoyed hearing his stories…and his place was interesting…
Untied MemoryMaker from the slip about 10:00. Our ride down the Gulf was a little bumpy at first…not too bad, waves were less than 2 feet. But, about half way down, it got even smoother and turned out to be a very pleasant ride. The only real obstacle we ran into was floating seaweeds out in the water. It was like cut grass…way out in the Gulf…several miles out…big huge patches of it.
Took us about 4 hours to make the run down to Crystal River. From marina to marina, it was 98 miles. We have now traveled 4,452 miles since we left Jacksonville 13 weeks ago. The entrance into Crystal River is about a 10 mile run from the mouth of the Gulf. You actually travel through the Homosassa River to get into the Crystal River. As we were heading toward the marina, we dropped an anchor, jumped off the boat, and enjoyed a swim in the refreshing cold, clear water.

We tied up in Crystal River at Pete’s Pier Marina on their fuel dock. It’s really not a transient type of marina. They cater to local boaters…but this is the only marina close enough for us to be able to get our bikes off and explore the town area. Crystal River has turned out to be one of Barbara’s favorite places along the way. The homes are gorgeous. There are some wide canals and the water is fresh water. This area, including Carrabelle and Steinhatchee, is considered Florida’s Nature Coast. There are lots of birds; Crystal River is also a manatee sanctuary…more than 30 streams fed into the river. We did not make it up to any of the springs but rode the bikes along the water while we were exploring. Several times, we were able to see the sandy bottom through the clear water. It would be great to live here along this water and be able to jump into clear fresh water to cool off.
Found a great place for dinner. Biked for a while…ran into a couple of guys who had their sail boats anchored nearby. Turned out one of them, William Good, is a performer and author of several books (“By the Light of the Lighter Pines”) about old Florida. Enjoyed chatting with him…looking forward to reading some of his short stories about Florida (www.lighterpines.com).

Made it across the Gulf

Wednesday, July 3rd – Steinhatchee, FL
Completed the first leg…over to Steinhatchee. We waited around Carrabelle watching the radar on TV until about 9:30…no rain, but the sky didn’t look good. Decided to go for it! Great move…we only had a couple of showers when we first started out…then the waters calmed right down to almost smooth. It was a wonderful crossing. We turned the volume up on the Jimmy Buffett tunes and thoroughly enjoyed being back on the water. Seen a few dolphins and lots of fish jumping around. Passed one boat along the way. Got into Steinhatchee about 2:00. We took a ride up the Steinhatchee River before tying up at the Sea Hag Marina. Looks like this quaint little town is also being bombarded with developers building condos. Lots of construction going on.

Almost as soon as we got tied up, the skies opened up and the rain came down for about a half hour…typical Florida afternoon thundershowers. It’s now hot and we’re planning to jump on the bikes and find dinner…after a stop at the cute little tiki bar here at Sea Hag…

Hopefully, tomorrow we’ll move on down to Crystal River…weather permitting.

Rain, rain, go away…

Tuesday, August 2nd – Carrabelle, FL
Woke to rain again this morning. Watched the weather channel and kept an eye on the radar on the computer…didn’t look good….green, yellow, red. About 1:00, we made the decision not to try it. Our next leg over to Steinhatchee is 71 miles across the Gulf. Barbara is still a little skittish about the big water especially after a couple that we met along the trip, Ed and Barbara, on a boat named “My Way” had such a horrible crossing a couple of weeks ago. They left from Apalachicola to cross the Gulf of Mexico to Tarpon Springs, about 197 miles, and encountered some nasty summer thunder storms that created high winds and high seas. They made the crossing at night. Ed wrote us in an email that he asked Barbara, his wife, “to try to visualize a night on the Gulf with an almost full moon and flat calm seas that in the moonlight would look like a sheet of silver…everywhere.” He added “my anticipation of stopping on the Gulf in brilliant moon glow, sipping a cocktail and savoring the moment so as to committing it to memory as one of the best memories of our 1800 mile water-ways trip.” Their trip did not turn out to be a romantic crossing, but instead, he wrote “there would be 14 hours of fighting to keep the bow into the 4 to 5 foot waves.” He further wrote “Problem was, the moon was obscured by the thunder heads and it was pitch black. Another problem was, that since the waves were so high and coming from every direction, the bow could not easily be pointed to every wave and so the boat pitched and rolled wildly. Just about everything in the cabin that was not screwed down went flying. The inside of the cabin looks like a train wreck.” He wrote that both he and his wife were tossed around in the boat that she was weightless and was slammed around in the V Birth.

So, with this low pressure still hanging on, we have decided to do break the trip up into several smaller legs. Instead of leaving from Apalachicola, we are leaving from Carrabelle, which is a little further east. We will travel 71 miles across to Steinhatchee, spend the night and then travel from there to Crystal River, which is another 82 miles or so. From Crystal River, it’s just 59 miles to Tarpon Springs. Spent a bunch of time today plotting our courses and setting the chart plotter with the coordinates for these legs.

The rain here in Carrabelle was off and on all day so we did some biking. Checked out the real estate market, no deals here. Property values have apparently exploded here in the last couple of years…worse than in Jacksonville. We could not believe how many condos are currently being built. They are even building condominium boat storage. The building is huge; slip prices start at $38k and go up to about $120k, plus a monthly maintenance fee, plus property taxes. Prices for anything on the water, where you could keep a boat, start out at over $500k – even small shacks on tidal water.