February and March have been very busy months for us, but not in terms of the number of miles we have travelled, nor in the number of ports of call we have visited. We planned to stay for over a month on the west coast of Florida for two main reasons: Southwest Florida Ranger/Cutwater Rendezvous and the start of baseball’s Grapefruit League spring training games. Turns out there were more than those two events to keep us there.
First off, we have actually been in the state of Florida since January 14, 2019 (a little over 11 weeks) although we were more than 3 miles off-shore when we crossed the Gulf of Mexico. So, technically, as far as the State of Florida is concerned, our 90-day transient stay clock began on January 24, 2019, when we completed that crossing.
Since February 3rd, our progress was as follows:
- February 2-3: South Pasadena Marina, South Pasadena, FL
- February 4: Marina Jack’s, Sarasota, FL
- February 5: Gasparilla Marina, Gasparilla, FL
- February 6 – March 6: Burnt Store Marina, Punta Gorda, FL
- March 7 – 10: Cape Coral Yacht Basin, Cape Coral, FL
- March 11: Port of LaBelle, LaBelle, FL
- March 12-13 Roland Martin’s Marina, Clewiston, FL
- March 14: Harborage Marina (formerly Loggerhead), Stuart, FL
- March 15-17: Harbortown, Fort Pierce, FL
- March 18: Eau Gallie Yacht Club, Melbourne, FL
- March 19 -24: New Smyrna Beach City Marina, New Smyrna Beach, FL
Now what the heck did we do for all this time?
The Ranger Tug/Cutwater Boats Southwest Florida Rendezvous was held at Burnt Store Marina, Punta Gorda, from February 8–11th. By the way, there actually was a local landmark called Burnt Store. The Burnt Store story begins with the usual Spanish Explorer Ponce de Leon visit followed by acrimonious relations between early settlers and, in this case, the once thriving Calusa Indians. As stated in the literature, “after the Seminole massacre of 1839, this group of Indians was pushed back into limited territory but still managed to live peacefully side by side with the settlers. All of this in the shadow of the Trading Post… which acted as General Store and gathering place for everything from gossip to politics.”
To no one’s surprise, the peaceful coexistence ended when a certain Lt. Gil Harstuff, the new commander in the area, treated the Indians with utter contempt and disdain while flagrantly disrespecting what little remained of their territorial claims. In retaliation for the continued affront to the land and the tribe’s sovereignty, an Indian known as Billy Bowlegs led an assault on the Trading Post, burning it to the ground and killing several settlers in the process. Having also suffered heavy losses in the conflagration, the Indians fled the region shortly thereafter. The Trading Post was never rebuilt, and the area was henceforth known as Burnt Store. (This is all according to an article on the AllatSea website.)
The Rendezvous was a chance to meet some people we had only contacted electronically, as well as make new friends who live on the East Coast. We have to say that the flotilla of over 30 boats was quite colorful. Most Rangers and Cutwaters are anything but white, and most other boats are white. Ours is technically called Claret Red, of which there were several others, along with Hero red (a more orangey red), dark blues, light greens, dark grey and some whites. The transient moorings were just in front of the Cass Cay restaurant, and we had many “tourists” that weekend to look at the boats and ask questions. All of us are very proud owners and happy to provide answers. The program itself was educational (including a valuable Garmin electronic chart plotters’ update) and fun (including Ranger/Cutwater Trivia). The latter was fraught with controversy, as people disputed the number of possible hull colors available, but friendly nevertheless. Lenny won the individual prize for the highest number of right answers. We all got swag bags that were practical and useful.
Many of us were recipients of “Fix My Boat,” which featured Kevin Lamont from the factory. Armed with tools and parts, Kevin addressed warranty issues first, then any other issues. Remember our shattered window? Well, we were Number One on the list to get it replaced at no charge, along with re-installing the blackwater tank sensor so it actually turned colors from green to yellow. (We haven’t seen it turn red and hope not to.) Why was this so important? We can’t flush our toilet directly into the river or waterways; it goes into the black water holding tank, which is then pumped out at a marina. Up until that point, we could only guess at how full it was and we harkened back to our water conserving ways concerning the necessity for flushing or not. Things are just great now.
There were a couple other reasons to stay at Burnt Store for a month. We had planned to have some work done on the boat: additional window coverings, stabilizing the shaky dining room table, adding some stainless-steel grab bars, and so on. We had an estimator come by from a local shop that allegedly could do all of these and he was going to call us back with the feasibility of getting things done. We waited, and waited, and WAITED for a call back, even leaving some messages. Finally, the day we were planning to depart, his boss called and said, “oh, we can’t do this!” Several things made us mad about this state of affairs: If we had known within a couple days of his visit that they couldn’t do it, we could have tried to find someone else and, more importantly, the company’s workers were deprived of the earnings they would have made from our boat.
But, on the joyful side, the reason to stay so long was (drum roll please) …BASEBALL SPRING TRAINING GAMES!! Just as there is the National League and the American League during the regular season, spring training also has two leagues: The Cactus League (based in Arizona – mostly Phoenix) and The Grapefruit League, based in Florida.
There are several versions of the origin of the name “Grapefruit League.” One popular myth was that Casey Stengel threw a grapefruit at Brooklyn Dodgers manager Wilbert Robinson. The accepted version is that aviator Ruth Law threw the grapefruit. In 1915, Law had been throwing golf balls from her airplane to advertise a golf course. Someone suggested throwing a baseball from her airplane. Robinson, whose team was in the Daytona Beach area for spring training, agreed to try to catch the baseball. Flying 525 feet above Robinson, Law realized she had forgotten her baseball and threw a grapefruit that she had. When Robinson tried to catch it, the grapefruit exploded in his face, at first leading him to believe he had been seriously injured. (According to Wikipedia.)
One reason we did not linger in Sarasota en route to Burnt Store was because we knew we would return to sightsee and catch a game. We attended 3 games overall: Opening Day at Port Charlotte Sports Park, just up the road from Burnt Store, where we saw the Phillies beat the Tampa Bay Rays. Who knew that the TB Rays are Not Sting Rays Nor Manta Rays, but beams of sunshine? (I am not making this up.) Game two was between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the 2018 World Champion Boston Red Sox. Many Boston fans were wandering around wearing smirks and t-shirts that boasted both their World Series and Super Bowl wins. They changed their tunes when the Pirates rallied in the 7th and 8th innings to beat the Red Sox. Our final game was in Sarasota where we saw the Baltimore Orioles triumph over the Detroit Tigers. We hope to see many of these teams in regular season play as we make our way northward along the East Coast and later across the Great Lakes.
We stayed an extra day in Sarasota, which has more to see than just baseball. Yes, hard to believe that there were other sights to see, isn’t it? Sarasota is also very famous as the winter home of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. We decided to take Discover Sarasota’s Circus Tour, since we really didn’t have any idea what we should be looking for. The Ringling family are well-represented here and were instrumental in changing what was a small fishing village into the mid-size city that Sarasota is today. According to our tour guide, who had been a publicist for the circus in the 1970’s and 80’s, the Ringlings made much more money in real estate than in the circus business, and you can see their influence throughout the town. You may have thought that the Ringling College was a clown college, but it is in fact a very respected school of art and design. St. Martha’s Catholic Church is known as the church that the circus built, because of the many performers that worshipped there and who would hold benefit performances to augment the church’s finances. There are even carved circus wagon wheels as part of the church’s décor. By the way, the slang term “Make the Nut,” meaning “cover your expenses,” comes from the locals’ practice of removing the nuts from the circus wagon wheels and only returning them once every debt had been cleared so that the show could move on.
Thanks to Facebook’s “events in my area” feature, we discovered that the German American Social Club in Cape Coral was opening their grounds for a Biergarten with German food and a live German Band. I was taken back to 1972 when I spent a summer in the Munich area, enlarging my conversational vocabulary. Most people don’t know that I possess a degree in German Literature from Mt. Holyoke College, and when I went to Germany, I could easily discuss the uses of metaphor in Kafka’s works, but was unable to go grocery shopping. One way I learned my everyday German was to hang out in the beer and wine bars, and this festival brought back many happy memories. Their sausages tasted so authentic I would swear that they imported them from Bavaria. We had such an enjoyable time that we didn’t want to go back to Burnt Store marina, about 30 minutes away by car.
Left: Prosit at the Biergarten! Right: Celebrating Lenny’s 70th Birthday at Cape Coral.
You are probably wondering why move to the Cape Coral Yacht Basin, if it was only 30 minutes away from Burnt Store? Just as your car needs maintenance at certain regular intervals, like the 10,000-mile checkup, so does our Volvo D4 diesel engine. We had maintenance performed in Eddyville, KY, last October and now it was time for the regular 600-hour maintenance. To keep our 5-year warranty intact, the service needs to be provided by an authorized Volvo diesel mechanic, and the Cape Coral Yacht Basin, which is run by the city, allows outside workers.
With that work completed, we also had time to tour the winter homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, which were adjacent to each other in Fort Meyers. Beautifully restored homes are meticulously landscaped as they would have been in the late 1880’s and early 1900’s. The Ford family only spent about 2 weeks out of the year there but the Edison family stayed much longer. Thomas Edison even built a lab so he and Henry Ford could experiment with domestically producing rubber from native American plants. After testing over 17,000 samples, he found that goldenrod was a viable source.
We knew that we would not be sailing southbound to the Everglades after we left Cape Coral because of crossing Lake Okeechobee. So, we just figured that we would not be able to see that part of the country. Disappointment was just setting in and we were resigned to passing by an opportunity to experience that wonder of the country when… wait, Wait, WAIT, WAIT!! All day eco-safari tours leaving from Fort Meyers! And there was room on the day we wanted to partake of that activity! That tour took its rightful place among highlights of our trip. The Eco-Safari Tour was limited to 12 passengers per mini-bus and led by a guide who was knowledgeable about both history and natural sciences. The tour included a nature walk, a small boat ride, a crossing of Alligator Alley by mini-bus, and finally an air boat ride. On the nature walk, we learned how to identify alligators, who are masters of camouflage.
Our guide talked about the effect of the latest hurricane to hit the Everglades. Tall trees were snapped off, the water table was filled to over capacity and sunlight was able to penetrate to plants that were normally shaded, thus altering the plant and animal population. So, if the answer to the Final Jeopardy question was “Mount St. Helens 1980 Eruption,” the question is “What sudden destructive event also changed the landscape and ecosystems in a comparable way to an Everglades hurricane?“ Ding, ding, ding, you would be rich. I felt very gratified that I could make the connection between these two locations more than 3400 miles apart and explain it to Lenny in a way that he could understand.
The boat ride featured many dolphins at play (we never get tired of their antics) and a sighting of a roseate spoonbill in flight, which I am told avid birders would give an arm and a leg to experience. (I just thought, “wow, what a gorgeous bird.” Unfortunately, no picture in time.) Our trip across Alligator Alley lived up to its name as we saw many alligators along the way. We were experts at spotting them. A fun fact: if you see multiple alligators together, they will always be about the same size, since the big ones eat the smaller ones. I, personally, did not care for the airboat ride. An airboat has an airplane engine as its power source and it skims over the top of the water, which makes it handy to explore the grassland shores. I thought it was too loud and not really ecologically sound.
Our van driver/guide also explained to us how all the over-building in Florida will cause even more flooding, since natural wetlands are being filled in and the rain water or tidal water will have no place to be absorbed. If buying a house, be sure to look at the surrounding topography to see where the water will go when it rains.
We used our alligator-spotting skills as we made our way across central Florida, to cross Lake Okeechobee en route to the east coast. We spotted at least 22 of them in one day as we made our way to Roland Martins Marina. Roland Martin is a well-known Championship Bass Fisherman, and our intention was to have Lenny take a guided fishing trip. However, as always, we were paying attention to the weather. Lake Okeechobee is very shallow and open, so wind can play a major factor in determining when you can safely cross 26 miles of open water. We decided to forego the fishing to take advantage of a no-rain/moderate amount of wind weather window to do the crossing. We finally saw the Atlantic Ocean and made the big left turn to head up the Atlantic ICW.
The final leg of this portion of our journey culminated with meeting up with longtime friend Carla Triemer and her husband Cliff Frasch in New Smyrna Beach, FL. Carla and I have worked with each other at two very different companies: the Marin County Sheriff’s Office, where we founded the civilian crime analysis unit, and at IBM. Carla is one of the friends you have where you take up just as if you had seen each other yesterday. Those friends are the blessings in a person’s life. She went on a boat ride with us, looking for manatees. Didn’t find any but saw lots of dolphins and crazy people in speed boats instead. Cliff joined us on shore and we ate dinner together on two separate nights. Now that we are on the East Coast, we will be able to meet up with many more friends that we don’t normally see.
A big shout out to the New Smyrna Beach City Marina! All floating docks, pump out at the slip, an awesome laundry, and all within walking distance of the historic district and a very nice Saturday Farmers’ Market. We stocked up on fresh produce and had to always ask each other, “Do we have room for this?” The local museum was in between the Farmer’s Market and the restaurants. It is worth a visit if you are in the area. One of the items that fascinated me was a series of about 8 embroidered panels depicting noteworthy events in the life of the city, all made in 1934 by local seamstresses under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA was formed during Franklin Roosevelt’s first administration and was designed to employ people of all skill sets as a means to counteract the Depression. Most people think of it as employing millions of people (mostly unskilled men) to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads. However, the WPA also supported the arts: Besides this project, many murals in public buildings were created by artists as a part of the WPA, for example.
People keep asking us, “When are you going home, you know back to Vancouver?” We say, “Not just yet. We are having too much fun!” So, we will continue our journey, knowing that, for right now, Then Again is our home.
Our Trip So Far
As of Sunday March 24, 2019…
- Days: 276
- Locks Passed Through: 60
- Miles Sailed: 3797
- Engine Hours: 483
- Gallons of Diesel: 1567