Long Boat Key back to Venice

 

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These pictures were taken early in the morning, which means that John took them.  The fog had settled in for a long morning’s nap.  We waited for the sun to chase her away so we could head out into the gulf for a long sail to Venice.  Weather and wind looked good.  It was to be partly cloudy.  The bridge operator warned us that there was fog in the gulf as we passed under.  Copy.  Roger that.  Echoes out.  We figured it was part of what we had just waited out and that it was about to burn off.  We very quickly passed through a curtain of white.  We entered into a world I have never seen before.  It was a quiet, gray world where you could only see maybe forty feet in front of you.  We were on a navigation route of about a mile out into the deep gulf.  A big fishing boat slowly emerged out of the mist right by us going the other way.  It was creepy.   I was standing at the bow to watch for navigation markers and boats and shout back their whereabouts to John.  Our navigation equipment is excellent.  It shows by GPS where you are, the route and the markers which have numbers so you can double check along the way.  We also have radar that displays with a shadowy blotch if anything solid is in front of you and if it is moving.  Later, John will hang a foil like disk on our halyard to make us even more visible on radar for other boats to see us.  So we are creeping along our way.  John is like an excited twelve year old that he gets to use his radar and play with his toys.  I am just nervous.

We make it past our last marker and enter the deep gulf.  I’m still at the bow.  John makes the turn, starts to find his way to our heading and the navigation equipment and radar shut down.  This is the point where you would hear two very different stories if you asked either one of us to tell it.  Let me say that 29 times out of 30 John and I do extremely well under pressure and sorting things out together.  This was a 30.  In all fairness to him, I have to admit I was working off of two accumulative nights of very little sleep due to insomnia.  I wasn’t hitting on all eight.  In fact, I barely reach a seven on my best days.  I normally operate around a five and this was a two to three day.  For instance, the bridge operator hailed me over VHF when we were on our way out to tell me I had missed a marker and was heading to foul ground.  Derp!  Lucky!  And Hurrah for bridge operators!  I blew him kisses as we went through the bridge opening.

We are slowly spinning in circles.  I go back to where John can hear me, because apparently he cannot hear my shouted inquiries, and ask, Gee captain, what are you doing?  I find out that we have no navigation.  I attempt to launch a back up navigational program from his tablet and bugger it up.  It is suggested I return to the bow.  Five minutes later I spy the last navigation beacon from the channel and, my story goes like this….I walk back to the cockpit and say, Hey handsome, why don’t we just circle that there beacon until we get it all sorted out.  John’s version goes like this…..I come running into the cockpit waving my arms and flopping like a fish out of water screaming, WE ARE GOING TO DIE!  HELP!  HELP!  WE ARE GOING TO DIE!  It is suggested that I go back to the bow.  So at the bow I sit for another forty five minutes.  At one point I heard a boat nearby and yelled back at John informing him.  He took it in stride.  I imagined drunk teenagers on a cigarette boat plowing through the fog and splitting our boat in two.  I was scared.   At another point, John gives the air horn three long blasts and I shoot up four feet in the air and almost off the boat frantically looking for what he saw that I missed.  After he hits the horn he yells, I am just doing that for safety.  After?!

I am a person of strong faith.  I am verbose with my creator.  Shocking, I know.  Right about this time I imagine him saying, My Myself!  For Myself’s sake!   Michael, Gabrielle, Frank, Bernadine, anyone!  Go send that woman a sign.  I need some peace!  I am sitting at the bow with my nerves, eyes and ears pealed.  I notice something in the water, small, nonthreatening.  It is still a thick fog.  The seas are glassy smooth; the wake is calmly rocking the boat.  The light is diffused and the air and water are a soft, gray green.   We are moving very slowly.  As the object comes into view out of the mist I cannot believe my eyes.   It is a perfect, large, bright magenta flower petal from some tropical flower.   We are over a mile out on the gulf!  And then, another one, and another.  One passes on our starboard and twenty feet later another passes on our port.  They are floating on the water, curled up at their edges.  They are not damaged and they are not waterlogged.   They look almost velvety.  About a dozen of them floated past and we drove right through them.  When you mark your destination on the GPS navigation screen it creates a line that you follow.  That line is bright pink and it is called the Magenta Line.  I could breathe again.

Shortly after, John comes up mid ship to take a winky tinky.  When you do not have working navigational equipment you do not leave the helm without asking someone to take watch.  So I said something like, Gee honey bunches of love, are you using your bodily resources to tests the depths of the ocean since the depth sounder doesn’t work?  Or, it might have come out more like, What the hell are you doing?  John said, Oh, no problem.  I got the equipment back up and running over a half an hour ago.  I said, And you neglected to tell me?  He shrugged and said he thought I knew.  That boat before?  He knew by radar it wasn’t going to hit us.  I was afraid to open my mouth in case a string of cuss words flew out with such force that they would have stuck to him and he’d have a nick name forever more like our anchor.  So I communicated the best way I could think of at the moment and flipped him the bird.  I am not proud of that.

After three hours of fog, it lifted.  Anger cooled to ash and blew away with the breeze.  The equipment malfunction was partly fussy equipment, partly still unresolved and partly operator error and a learning curve.  We put up our sails and sailed the rest of the way to Venice.

In Venice we did our usual marina necessaries, laundry, grocery, cleaning.  We also met up with my aunt and uncle again for a great evening.

 

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Back to Long Boat Key

We threaded the needle out of the Anna Maria inlet and decided to sail the gulf side back to Long Boat Key for a couple of nights.  John checked the weather like a good captain and we headed out.  The seas out in the big boy water were bumping, rolling and angry and showed no signs of calming down.  After forty five minutes of bopping around like a toy sailboat flushing down a toilet we decided to give up, retrace our steps and go back down the Intracoastal.   We checked the weather again once safely in and they had changed it from three foot seas to six and from twelve knot winds to twenty five with gusts.   It is hard to capture roiling seas on camera but this was my attempt.

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Be forewarned, if you find offense in colorful and inappropriate language you will not like the rest of my story.  I am a sailor you know.

I have to back up and tell you about our anchor, Bitch Pussy.  In all of the 15 years of our sailing it has been my job to handle the anchor and John’s to helm the boat as we set anchor.  Anchoring, in my opinion, is one of the more dangerous and difficult parts of sailing.  You can imagine that anything that can hold a twenty two thousand pound boat in a raging storm has some power and moxie.  Launching and setting such equipment is difficult.  You have to man handle the anchor off the bow roller and let out just the right amount of scope out the chain locker (Math!  Oh no!) in the relation to the depth. If your hair, or clothes, or digits get caught in the chain, well, I shudder to think about it.  I once got a black and blue big toenail from a chain during anchoring and was grateful it was just that.  I have deep respect for this equipment.  Why wouldn’t you just helm and have John do the anchoring, you ask?  Because helming a boat in tight quarters to a precise locations is extremely difficult.  Imagine trying to parallel park a city bus in between a Ferrari and a Rolls, with no brakes, on a moving road, with very sloppy steerage, possibly during a storm.  Have you seen the dent on the front quarter panel of my truck?  It is from a cement column in my local library parking garage.

Echoes’ anchor and equipment is different than any of the boats I’ve sailed.  Her anchor locker is shallow and part of her anchoring equipment is manual.  You have levers you have to place in gears and manually crank them rather than pushing a button on a remote control.  This anchor chain has the habit of jumping off track which then drops the anchor and massive amounts of anchor chain at an alarming speed and with a force behind it that is truly frightening.  You just have to let her go.  She does this jump thing both in deployment of the anchor and during retrieval.  To rectify this, you reach down in the anchor locker and move the heavy, smelly, rusty chain so it doesn’t pile up.  Now your body is in and around this equipment and still she will jump track on me.  It scares me shitless and I have sworn at her so many times her name has just stuck. She is no longer”the anchor.”  Actually, her full name is Bitch Pussy Mother Plucker Shit Head Rat Bastard, but we call her Bitch Pussy for short.  After a particularly difficult fight with her I told John, That’s it.  I’m helming from now on.

So back to the blustery day where we couldn’t sail the gulf because of all the wind.  Now we are anchoring on the somewhat crowded anchorage off Long Boat Key and it is still windy and I am helming.  The wind is pushing me one way, the current is pushing me another way and you have to keep the boat nose to wind because if she spins sideways you have lost control over her.  The key is to put her in gear, give her some throttle and then back to neutral to let her continue her twenty two thousand pound momentum.  You can’t be shy with the throttle or the wind and current will take control.  John is shouting directions to me (because of the wind and noise of the engine.)  Aim towards that boat and then cut it 90 degrees over there so we approach nose to wind!  So I change the course I was on, slip her in gear, give her a great blast of throttle and dig her but good right into the ground.  I didn’t watch my depth.

It took ten minutes of churning up sand, spinning the boat so the rudder could dig its way out and me scooting on my seat to give it more momentum.  I thought for sure we would have to call Sea Tow but we were off and got right back at it to anchor successfully.  John took it all in stride.  Two times my hero!

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We hung out the next day watching thunderstorms come and go and relaxing.  We had an awesome meal that deserves a post of its own sometime.  A couple of strikes but no fish.  We were in chatting distance from a fish charter and I watched an older woman form Iowa man handle her fishing pole as she gave it everything she had to real in a big one.  She was screaming, SOMEONE HELP ME!  HELP ME!  I CAN’T TAKE IT ANY LONGER!   The fishing guide came to her rescue and said, Madame, you have caught my anchor line.

How about a bird story ?  I’m sorry I didn’t get a picture.  I watched this bird that acted so much like a loon but didn’t look like one I recognized.  He would raise his white chest out of the water and flap his wings like only loons do.  I figured he was some kind of a sea loon.  I looked him up in my bird book and he is a Common Loon.  The very same kind that we have on our lake in Stillwater in the summer.  They winter in Florida and their winter plumage is dull grey brown and kind of fluffy.  Also, they don’t make any sound during the winter.  The sleek, black and white plumage and haunting calls are for their festive breeding and brooding months.  Isn’t it amazing that I might see that very bird again this summer at my house?

Anna Maria Island

The predicted weather was to be strong winds and severe thunderstorms so we left our anchorage at Long Boat Key to hunker down at Gilati Marina on Anna Maria.

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The first thing I noticed was that there was not one sailboat among the fifty to seventy beautiful, big, fishing boats.  The second thing I noticed was the jungle type loud noises directly behind our boat.  It was nuts.  It sounded like five hundred pound pissed off bull frogs quarreling, monkeys choking on gob stoppers and herniated hippos with hick ups.  I was wrong, it was what another boater referred to as Bird Island.  I’ve never heard such odd and forceful sounds.  I couldn’t concentrate on the usual tuck in the boat thing.  I just stood in awe.  There were many varieties of birds making as much unique noise as they possibly could.

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We buttoned up the boat and took a long walk to see the quaint, touristy town.  Our friends Mark and Tonya were here a few weeks ago and we were hoping to hook up with them on the island but we move to slow.  I blew out a flip flop.  I did not step on a pop top.  But I did almost drop.  I wondered why I was tripping so much after 2 glasses of wine.  We took a long walk on a short pier, or a short walk on a long pier.

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It did rain a bit.  The wind definitely blew a bunch.  And, oh, did it get cold.  How cold was it,  you ask?  It was soooo cold that I awoke sleeping next to a dark haired stranger!  I thought, Oh my!  I was doing a quick inventory of the night before when the stranger bellowed out a gale gust of a snore that was very familiar sounding and I realized that it was just my blurry vision and John in a winter hat.  I can’t tell you if I was relieved or disappointed.  Did you know that John doesn’t read my posts?  While I write he may be whipping a line (making up the end of a rope with fine line and special paste that looks like flan.  This prevents lines from fraying), taking a nap, doing emails or caressing his diesel engine and begging her for forgiveness for his wife pounding sand up her ass.  Ah, but I get ahead of myself and that is a story of another day.

We learned that sailboats rarely cruise to Anna Maria.  It was a knuckle biter, a white nailer, getting there.  Mind you, we are more naive than gutsy.  What do you think of our neighbor’s boat’s name?  I didn’t get it at first.  Just say it out loud real fast several times if you are stuck.

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You knew I wasn’t done with the birds.   There was a lot of nest building and sitting upon and bird parties going on so that there would be more nest building and sitting upon.   Some of the nests were surprisingly small, just the size of the bird’s rear end and they look like baskets.  Some were surprisingly flat and not sturdy looking.  I am going to leave the bird pictures big rather than in a grouping for my friend Sabra.  Sabra owns and runs the non-profit Avalon Parrots.  This is where I adopted my African Grey, Flower, 15 years ago (she is now 23 years old) and where Flower is boarding now.  Sabra has helped countless abandoned birds find new homes and rescued many from horrible situations.  She is a giving and devoted advocate.  Here is a link to her blog and rescue.  No amount of donation is too small or unappreciated if you feel so moved.    https://avalonparrots.com/home-2/

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Long Boat Key

The Intracoastal Waterway, which we are meandering along, is actually 3000 miles long stretching from Boston, around Key West, Florida, to Texas.  In 1919 Congress authorized the toll-free waterway to be dredged and maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers to a depth of seven to twelve feet.  In Florida, we would not be able to cruise to the places we are visiting if it were not for the waterway.  We see very few sailboats along the way because of the skinny waters and lack of places to anchor, moor or dock off the dredged path that are deep enough.  Sailboats have keels to counterweight the balance of the boat when its sails are full.  We draw 4’10” and have a special shaped keel, called a wing keel, that makes it shorter than other types of keels.  It takes a lot of research and some dumb luck to get around. Sometimes the waterway widens into big beautiful bays and sometimes it seems as narrow as threading a needle.  You have to pay strict attention to the navigation channel markers and your depth.

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We pulled off the Intracoastal to anchor in this small anchorage and ran aground.  It was but a kiss on the bottom and John backed her off without much difficulty.  My stomach was in my throat but no harm done.

We plopped down the anchor and spent Valentine’s day just relaxing with Pringles.

The Grill Master grilled some fantastic ribeyes, brussel sprouts in tin foil and we had pasta with olive oil, fresh basil and cherry tomatoes.  Oh, and a nice bottle of Shiraz.

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Afterwards, we sat in the cockpit sipping wine and heard dolphins breathing.

Sarasota

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We went up the Intracoastal Waterway to Sarasota.  You contact the bridge operators through VHF and ask permission to pass.  You get to use old trucker CB lingo (remember Smokey and the Bandit?) like “copy” and “roger” although we never called them good buddy.   They have schedules, usually on the half hour, to open the bridge for boats.  You can almost hear all the cursing from the cars lined up waiting for an old, lone sail boat to put put put put through.

 

 

We had the privilege of being treated to dinner at a Tiki Bar on the bay  by my Uncle Kim and Aunt Annette who winter in Sarasota to escape the cold of Delphi, Indiana.  It was really great to spend the evening catching up with them and hearing about all of my cousins’ families.  Kim’s mom, my grandmother, wintered in Sarasota so I traveled through fond memories of her during our visit.  I asked John if he smelled something funky when we got back to the boat that night.  No, he didn’t smell anything.

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We woke up to a beautiful day and I thought, a most unpleasant odor.  You don’t smell that?  I asked.  Well, maybe I do.  I reminded him that I am a nasal ranger (I am a smeller at a smell research lab – seriously) and that I should get paid to smell something like this.  He suggested I add some tank deodorizer down our heads.  So I treated them to an extra large dose of toilette mouth wash and we went to a fantastic art fair.

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We grilled out and fished a bit with the same bait that John bought back at Fort Meyers beach.  Anything that would hit on that I would not eat.  And no, that wasn’t the smell.  And yes, the stench had now surpassed John’s denial and wound me up to cantankerous.   John investigated and found we had a leaking macerator pump.  This is a marriage saving, essential contraption that pumps the stuff from the head to the tank and eventually out, or something like that.  All I know is this one was leaking – in.  The following day, Sunday, a lot of the marine shops were closed.  Luckily, West Marine in Sarasota was not.  John looked up their inventory and called to check availability before we headed out.  No, they did not have the pump.  They suggested another (which was completely the wrong part.)  John tried other locations to no avail and called back West Marine to double check.  No, our pump is not in stock.  It will take three to four days to get it.  Four calls and four people later, with a large bit of prodding, John got them to physically  go look as their website said they had eight.  Indeed!  Low and behold they have one!  A curb clipping Uber ride later, sitting on wet  upholstery,  (hopefully from a swimmer?) we get to the store where there is a polithera of pumps that would work, including eight of the very one we wanted.  Did I mention where this leaky, marriage wrecker is located?  Under our, don’t even think about it, bed.

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Before I can say, well done, captain! there was a slight set back.   I went to the fridge to grab something and was blown back 5 feet by the smell THERE!  Out went the week old fish and shrimp bait lickety split and in went a new non-negotiable.  No bait in the fridge!  Now, MY HERO!  It is truly a fringe benefit to be married to a smart, handsome, funny, hard working, adventurous…engineer.

Sarasota’s story was lost in poopouri, but it really was a surprising gem with great sidewalk cafes, farmers’ markets and a fun urban feel.  The moon rises were spectacular and the sunsets, leap worthy.

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Venice

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We sailed!  We left Boca and sailed the gulf down to Venice.  The winds were behind us so we sailed downwind with our jib out.  It was a beautiful and comfortable sail. It was a bit like playing frogger as there were hundreds of crab pots to avoid.  Crab fisherman sink cages down to the bottom and tether them to a little buoy on top.  They can snag around your prop if you hit them and cause much swearing, expense and eventually will turn you into a crab.  You see?  Another creation story.  And why do they paint them blue so they are extra hard to see?

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We docked in Venice at the Crow’s Nest.  It has a great restaurant with a long reaching reputation.  It also has free beach bikes for marina guests.  We biked for an iced coffee in downtown Venice and then to get groceries.  We were loaded up like a circus act.  My grandparents lived here years ago and I visited as a child.  I biked through great memories.

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I was missing my sons and my pet parrot.  Although it would be creepy of me to follow around handsome young men and take their picture, the birds didn’t seem to mind.  The Crow’s Nest even has their own parrot, PePe, who whistles Jingle Bells and sings bad opera.

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Check out this pelican’s yawn!

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White pelicans are “snow birds.”  They winter in Florida.  They are huge, four to six feet, not including wing span.  They hunt together as a small group herding fish to the shallows and then scoop them up with their bills.  And they smell, even from the distance of this picture.  Or maybe that was John.

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From Venice we left for Sarasota where are still moored as of February 13th.

Boca Grande

Boca Grande was one of our favorite stops.  It is an upscale, old money town on the southern tip of Gasparilla Island.   We rented bikes and put on about 20 miles exploring.

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The restaurants were awesome and the marina top notch.   The marina had privacy fences on some of the slips blocking off huge yachts from prying eyes.  It is said that the rich and famous visit often.  We docked next to one of these privacy fences and John wondered if it was “Bee-on-chee’s” boat.  A good friend sailing with us in the BVI remarked that Beyonce sailed there.  John didn’t know who that was and butchered her name so bad that ever since then we call all elaborate yachts Bee-on-chee’s.

It is completely obvious in these marinas who the power boaters are versus the sailors. A woman got off a power yacht next to ours in leather pants, heals and a perfectly poofed up pony tail.  I waved to her with half my hair falling out of my pony, in stained sweats and white, no nonsense socks sticking out of my Birkenstocks.  Sailing is very much like camping.  I must admit we sailors look a little raunchy.  There are no curling irons and closets full of lovely clothes on sailboats.  Why wear makeup?  We shower on the boat only when we are not in a marina.  This entails using as little water as possible as water is like gold.  You get wet with typically cold water, turn it off, soap up, shampoo (if you have hair) and rinse off.  This is why I cut several inches off my hair.  The shower is small and you are bent over or you can sit down in ours.  Or, you take long hot showers in the marina’s public shower.  Some of these leave a lot to be desired.  I shower with my flip flops on.  Laundry mat life is another eye opener.  Just be grateful for your convenient, clean washer and dryer that doesn’t melt your underwear elastic.

Anyway….funny that here we are in this upscale town and all I took pictures of is this anomaly of a marina, Whidden’s.  Among much wealth sits this little beauty that has been in business since 1929.  The original builder’s daughter, who was turning 83 this week, was reclined in the middle of the “store” watching TV.  She didn’t look so well.   There is also a “museum” and a pig.  Someone bought the place and gave the family the right to live there as long as they  wanted.  John had read about it in Cruising world magazine.  It was the town dance hall in the 30’s and has been an operating marina since it was built.

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Burnt Store Marina, Fort Meyers

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We needed to find a marina to water the boat and do laundry among other mundane necessities.  We docked at Burnt Store Marina for Feb 4th and 5th.  It is a large marina that has 525 slips for pleasure boats.  It has a decent but smelly restaurant with live music just steps away from our slip.

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“Oh what a bird is a pelican.  His bill can hold more than his belly can.”  Actually, a pelican can hold 3 gallons of water in his bill pouch.  They catch fish and then let the water drain out before swallowing them whole.  Brown pelicans are the only pelicans that dive for their prey.  This guy was hanging out on a piling our boat was tied to.

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While doing loads of laundry we took a walk down to the dock and discovered several manatees.  I counted 12 of them at one time.  I now have 127 pictures of nostrils.  I will spare you 125 of them.  A local told me to be careful I didn’t get snotted.  They sometimes shoot the water or manatee snot out of their nostrils up to six feet.  I named the granddaddy on the left Barnacle Bill.

We waited for the fog to lift along with John’s mood (due to a stolen credit card number) on Feb 6th before we headed to Boca Grande.  On our way we found out not only was the credit card number with all of our automatic payments tied to it stolen, but also Candis’ email was hacked and our furnace went out at our Minnesota home on Super Bowl Sunday.  Just bumps in the road, or better, waves on the sea.

Useppa and Cabbage Key

 

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We spent two nights, Feb 1st and 2nd,  anchored just off the private island of Useppa and a short dinghy ride to Cabbage Key.  Both Islands are only accessible by boat.  After several phone calls we received the required permission and registration to enter the upscale Useppa Island to go to a museum.  It was a great audio guided tour of island history since the ice age.  There is a staggering amount of crazy information including how Useppa played a big part in the Bay of the Pigs.  The original Calusa Indians, known as the shell Indians, lived peacefully on these islands until a variety of cultures came and screwed it up for them.  They buried their dead under huge shell mounds and these are still visible today on several islands.  The Island got its name from a Spanish Princess that was captured and held hostage by a pirate who didn’t take kindly to her rejection of his affections.  Of course my imagination goes to Johnny Depp and Captain Jack Sparrow and I don’t feel at all sorry for her being held on a beautiful island occasionally bothered by a handsome pirate.

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There is over $50,000 worth of dollar bills on the walls in this Cabbage Key restaurant.

Our favorite part of this anchorage was gained from the ever important local knowledge of bartenders.  Drinking has a wide variety of advantages.   We took our dinghy several miles through and around mangroves to the elusive “tunnel of love.”  There is a narrow tunnel in a mangrove just wide enough for the dinghy and partly too shallow for even that.  We would walk and drag the dinghy at those points.  After many twists and turns we ended up on a long, beautiful and natural beach on the gulf.  We saw all kinds of birds and fish along the way, but no alligators.  This type of exploring is called gunkholing.

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Osprey

We met a great couple, Tom and Jennifer, anchored next to us from Red Lodge, Montana.  Red Lodge is one of our favorite motorcycling and camping stops so we know the town well.  They, too, were pretty new at sailing and cruising and we had fun sharing woopsie stories over a few cocktails.  We headed off in different directions but hope to run into them again.

Chino Island

 

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After navigating the very shallow and narrow passage referred to as the Miserable Mile, we are anchored in front of Chino Island, a small uninhabited island within view of Sanibel.  It is a mangrove filled with a wide variety of  birds.  We are very close to a great bird and wildlife sanctuary, Ding Darling, and these sanctuary suburbs are splendid.  I was helming while we anchored and as I was supposed to be paying attention an osprey flew by not 10 yards from the boat with a big fat fish.  And eagle came out of nowhere and attacked the osprey who dropped his catch.  The eagle swooped down and scooped up the fish and flew off with the osprey in hot pursuit.  Welcome to Chino!

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We anchored on January 30th and enjoyed the solitude so much that we decided to spend all of the 31st in her hushed waters with the occasional company of a passing fisherman.  John tossed a line but only caught a hope.  Since he lacked a bobber he used a wine cork.  I fished for him while he showered and managed to foul up his line in a dramatically short period of time.  It has been cold, a breezy 60’s during the day and 45 degrees at night.  We have no heater on the boat but red wine and multiple layers work well.  The bugs are few, the sunsets are spectacular and the solitude is exactly what we had in mind. The waters here are skinny, very shallow.  Our options are far more limited than I had hoped because of the depth of our keel.   I wanted to check out the Ding Darling wildlife sanctuary and the artist colony at Matchala but they are surrounded by a lot of threatening sand.  Today we think will head to anchor off of Useppa and check out Cabbage Key.

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