Monday, November 28, 2011

Bringing Baby Home

The following article originally appeared in the Charlotte Sun-Herald, Waterline Boating Supplement, July 15th, 1999

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"Would you like to take a four day boat trip with us?" some friends asked over a glass of wine and a great Italian dinner. "We're picking up our brand new 25 foot Larson Cabrio in St. Augustine and would like you to join us as we bring it home on the water!"
We know spending four days on the water in a small boat can be a true test of friendship, but our friends had lived on a boat for several years and knew what to expect as well as we did. Since they had lived on a boat, we assumed they were knowledgeable and safe boaters. We answered an enthusiastic "Yes! Sounds Great!" and we all started making out the grocery list.
My wife, Ilse, and I left Port Charlotte a little after noon on a beautiful, sunny Thursday and drove down to Cape Coral, about twenty five miles away. We joked on the way this was only the first leg of an epic journey. In retrospect, we had no idea! We were looking forward to the trip down the Intracoastal Waterway to Stuart and then across the 154 mile Okeechobee Waterway to Ft Myers as we brought their new boat to their equally new home in Cape Coral. I had never crossed Lake Okeechobee before, and really anticipated the trip as a great way to see one of Florida's great waterways. I double checked to see I had film and batteries for the camera before we left.
Ilse and I drove our friend, who shall forever be known simply as “our friend,” over to the Ft Myers airport to pick up a one-way rental car to save time. She and her husband, who shall be forever known as “our friend's husband,” and occasionally as "skipper," had rented a van so we would have room for all the clothes and coolers we were taking on the boat. As it turned out, the van had far more room than the boat! Our friends' husband was waiting at the house when we returned so all we had to do was load the van, lock up the house, and head for I-75. We stopped at a family buffet restaurant in Lakeland in the late afternoon and we all ate as if it were our last supper. Probably in anticipation of the what was on the grocery list, and what we knew would soon be in the galley. After a bloated ride up I-4 through Orlando during a beautiful sunset, amid jokes of antacids and overeating, and a short trip on I-95, we arrived at St. Augustine.
It was well after dark but that didn't stop us from finding the new boat. It was tied up at the city marina at the foot of the Bridge of Lions. We looked it over from the floating dock, but didn't board her. She had her canvas on and apparently, according to our friend, it wasn't acceptable to unsnap it and take a look. It was an unspoken protocol, I suppose, as they hadn't yet received the keys. She didn't have her registration numbers on her yet either, having only a temporary registration. We took a short side trip to their old tie-up at the Conch House and chatted with a few of their old friends. We finally pulled into the Quality Inn a little after 11:00 pm. My lingering doubts about his boating skills vanished as we had walked along the dock where they had lived for two years. We relaxed knowing they had actually lived on a 43 foot Hatteras. 
Maiden Voyage! Baby has her 60 gallon fuel tank topped off, St. Augustine, FL
The motel was spotless, but we didn't sleep well as a squeaking room air conditioner was unbearable. We couldn't silence it except for shutting the thing off. That didn't work as the room got stuffy. Oh well, my wife always has earplugs (she swears I snore!) so I borrowed an extra pair and turned the A/C back on. After a Friday morning breakfast at the adjoining IHOP, I went with our friend's husband to pick up the boat and do a short sea trial while the wives drove to Daytona airport to turn in the van. They took a shuttle ride back to the dock and arrived just as we finished up topping off the 60 gallon fuel tank after our short, lurching sea trial. The sea trial raised flags I should have picked up, but somehow in my eagerness to accommodate our friend's husband, I let them slip by. When our friend's husband treated the throttle like an on-off switch, almost knocking the salesman over the seat, I didn't correct him. Neither did the salesman doing the checkout. He probably thought it would be rude to explain to our self-proclaimed, experienced seaman that the throttle can be gently manipulated as well as slammed from one side to the other. If I hadn't been seated, I probably would have gone over the transom. A warning sign I stupidly ignored.
It took two carry-alls to load all the food and bags. We were ready for some serious cruising. After everyone made their last trip to the facilities and a final, wide-eyed tour of the new boat, we were ready. After an awkward castoff, we were on our way down the Intracoastal Waterway on the first leg of our journey. Again, I chalked up the cast off to first time nerves. Wrong.
The trip to Daytona was uneventful and kind of pretty. In the beginning, the girls had a field day checking out landscaping and the foliage. It was fun just getting used to the boat. I took some long distance photos of the Fort at Matanzas and of the many porpoises that we saw along the Intracoastal. Porpoises were everywhere. Weather looked threatening inland, but the clouds soon passed behind us.   Our first leg to Daytona was intentionally planned as a fairly short run in case of "newboatitis", the common inability to propel a new boat as anticipated.  We had no problems at all except the newly installed trim tabs didn't seem to keep the boat from leaning terribly to the left.  Fuel economy seemed great and the Larson was running beautifully.
The Halifax Marina at Daytona is very nice. We pulled in about 5:30 in the afternoon, and after refueling, were lead to our overnight berth by the same fellow that had greeted us at the fuel dock. We followed him as he toodled along in a small skiff. The marina has security and it is exceptionally clean. The toilets and showers were great. After getting cleaned up we walked over to the nearby Chart House restaurant. Another delicious meal, but I passed on the seafood. So far the groceries hadn't been opened. 
Sleeping on the boat was a different matter. Our "bunk" was a nightmare. It was like sleeping in a matchbox. No, more like sleeping under a row of dining room chairs. We couldn't sit up until we turned sideways, toward the rear of the boat, and slipped out like toothpaste being squeezed out of the tube. I had a strange recollection of a Japanese hotel for busy businessmen where they rent little horizontal tubes, like honey comb, that you slide into and out of. Scratch Japan. At least we had a small, clip-on fan that we finally mounted to dissipate the body heat that builds up in an unventilated, closed space.
Friday was great, we were under way by 8:00 AM. Our friend's planning again proved to be meticulous.   She had made all the reservations and coordinated the entire logistics of the trip, from the rental car to making sure the spare prop was on board. I told her she would make a great project manager. She was not impressed, she's already a manager. I asked her if she had arranged the great weather. With a big smile, she said, "of course!" Like I said, she's already a manager.
We saw many Manatees, and, unfortunately, one that was mortally wounded. The gash wounds were deep and the poor animal was absolutely helpless. They should make all the boaters who want to speed in Manatee areas clean up the carcasses. That would slow them down as it is a gruesome, unforgettable sight. The Inter-coastal Waterway is a busy channel, with boats of all shapes and sizes, and speed limits would have little effect with most large boats. Knowing the areas where manatees favor is a big help, but encounters will still happen. Our skipper slowed down, just barely staying on a plane. All eyes were on the channel for the next several miles, but the injured manatee was the last one we saw.

It didn't take long to get back up to speed, so to speak, and we were soon cruising at three-quarters throttle.  A big cruiser, probably bigger than the 43 foot Hatteras our "skipper" claimed to have piloted, approached at full speed from the other direction.  The oncoming cruiser made no attempt to slow down or alter his course.  Its wake was considerably higher than any wave we had yet encountered.  Our "skipper" apparently thought he could jump the approaching four-foot bow-wake like a nimble jet ski.  Wrong again.  Rather than throttle back and turn into the sizable wall of water rushing at us as any experienced boater would have done, our "skipper" simply turned into the wake as the yacht passed and we immediately went airborne at 30 knots, crashing heavily back down with a bone-jarring, frame rattling announcement that our "skipper" was an idiot.  We wallowed and bobbed as the engine had died, we were rolling around, dead in the water.  We had no electronics!  The impact had knocked out the fuse panel!  To make matters worse, the impact had twisted the frames of the cabinets below decks and he couldn't open any drawers!  They were all jammed.  It took twenty minutes or so just to access the tool kit and the spare parts to replace blown fuses and reconnect wires.  We never did get one of the main pantry drawers open again.  We finally got back under way without any comments from our "skipper," but that was the last time he tried to make the cover of Boating magazine.          
We met our only law enforcement officers at New Smyrna Beach, the strictest section of the entire trip.  We got a friendly wave from the officers, but other boaters were stopped.  Our "skipper" was sweating not having the registration numbers on the boat, but we had no problem the whole trip.  New Smyrna was also where we saw our one and only floating hot dog stand! We weren't quite ready for that yet. Besides, there was the off chance we might have rammed and sunk him.
Floating Hot Dog Stand, Sebastian, FL

The run down to and through Mosquito Lagoon is straightforward, but with many local boaters in the ramp access areas we had to throttle back and be careful. The lagoon was flat and wide, and we picked up a steady, heavy cross wind. The right turn into the Haulover canal seems out of place in the middle of a long run down the lagoon. Many boaters were tied up here fishing. Several of the not real bright ones were anchored right in the middle of the channel. We had an uneventful run to the Banana River except for some woman in a bowrider that wanted to follow in our wake's flat zone. She was so close at times we could see the spaces in her teeth. She had a boat load of kids and finally passed us when we decided to throttle back and see if she would go around us. She did.
The Main Assembly Building at the Cape can been seen across Mosquito Lagoon and you can't help but want to watch a shuttle launch from the Banana River. It must be awesome. We trundled on, getting soaked from the spray that incessantly drenched us once we passed Titusville. We were running in a moderate chop and the boat seemed to be wetter than it should have been. We decided to put up the front snap-in weather screens and plexiglass on the Bimini top, but the "skipper" didn't really want to soil the new canvas.  After a half-hearted, symbolic attempt to put up the canvas, it was again rolled up and put away and we "sailored on."  By the time we got to Melbourne I was soaked with salt spray.  An uneventful but bumpy ride until we were well out of sight of the last bridge.
Then we almost ran out of fuel. We think. The "skipper" had misjudged how much farther we could have comfortably traveled on our morning fuel top-off. I didn't really see a problem as we still showed a little better than a 1/4 tank of gas, but it is always better to err on the side of safety, or even convenience. So we throttled back and went in to our first "local boaters" marina near Sebastian. I don't know the name of the place, only that the channel is only four feet deep and the attendant at the fuel pump said he had only worked there for a week.   Another guy playing the guitar in the tiki bar was absolutely alone, although loud and boisterous customers were gathered around the cash register in the adjoining restaurant.  The attendant at the fuel pump looked like he envied us. Until he watched us untie and shove off, I'm sure. After flailing around and narrowly missing the dock and several pilings several times, we slowly struggled out the shallow channel.
A short time after leaving the marina, and for the first time since we left Daytona that morning, I went aft and sat with my wife in the back of the boat. Our friend sat across from us, leaving her husband alone at the helm for the first, and as it turned out, last, time. The three of us were chatting, having a soft drink when the skipper turned violently at full speed to miss the huge steel frame of an Intercoastal Waterway marker. We were all thrown to the floor, and as I fell head-first toward the still pristine fiberglass deck, I glimpsed a huge red marker as it passed almost directly overhead. Our skipper missed the red mark in the channel by mere inches while doing 30 mph because he had been playing with another expensive new toy, a brand new GPS. He had his head buried in the cockpit instead of watching where he was going! He was fascinated watching the mark appear on his GPS screen and it finally dawned on him to look up and see where it actually was! Our friend's husband saw the mark at the last possible second and turned VIOLENTLY to miss it. It was the first time he had been by himself at the wheel while the rest of us relaxed. We missed being killed or at the least severely injured by mere inches. The boat would have been destroyed and we would have been flung against the wreckage like the proverbial rag dolls. None of us had on life jackets, and I have often reflected on that incident, perhaps the closest we have ever come to being killed.  Our stunned shock soon dissipated and we again began to enjoy still being in one piece.  From then on, nobody left the "skipper" alone.  The "skipper" was on his toes from then on, but so were we.  I only spent five or ten minutes with my wife while we were under way for the next two and a half days after that incident.
The run through Vero Beach and Ft. Pierce was really pretty.  The water there was a beautiful bright blue, so bright you think they colored it with dye.  The weather was absolutely perfect and whoever wasn't on watch got to enjoy a beautiful cruise.  We stayed that night at the Marriott Plantation Marina in Port St. Lucie and ate dinner at the Italian restaurant there.  We still hadn't hit the pantry except for lunch sandwiches.  The Plantation Marina is really nice, but it is geared for bigger boats than our 25 footer.  In fact, if "Jack," the skipper of the biggest Carver I've ever seen, hadn't been a true gentleman and helped our "skipper" bring us in, we would still be there floundering around between tide and prevailing winds.  As we finally tied up and packed away the loose ends, Jack told us about bringing his beautiful Carver down from St. Petersburg. He had come through the Okeechobee waterway, the very trip we were going to undertake for the first time the following day. The first hand knowledge is always welcome and usually comes with good tips. One of Jack's tips was to stop in Indiantown for lunch at the Seminole Country Inn.
We showered and cleaned up at their facility, which, although not in bad shape, wasn't as good as the city facility in Daytona Beach. After a tram ride to the restaurant and a marvelous dinner, it was time to pack it in for the evening. The young woman we had asked outside the gift shop had told us it was a short walk to the Italian restaurant which is another quadrant of the Plantation and not part of the main restaurant. We would still be walking if not for a cook outside the main restaurant taking a smoke break. He told us to wait for the tram. He even went and checked the tram schedule for us. You do meet nice people in these places sometimes.
My wife and I had a serious discussion when we got back to the boat, one of those "This is Really Important!" type chats where the decision has complicated ramifications. The decision whether to abandon ship and rent a car to drive home, or stick it out and face the possibility of a nasty confrontation with our friend and her husband was very serious.   I had asked at dinner how much actual sea time our "skipper" had piloting his Hatteras.  He reluctantly informed us he had only somewhat helped the captain he had hired to bring the boat up from Ft Lauderdale to St. Augustine!  The boat hadn't been out of the dock since!  Not once!  I had had about enough of his suffocating ego and dangerous ineptitude, and wanted to head for home right then and there. However, after deciding we could keep him under constant watch and supervision, we would stick it out if for no other reason than to see our friend get home safely. Sleeping was the same punishment as the night before, except the boat rolled more. I used my wife's extra earplugs for the third night in a row.
The St. Lucie River is the entrance to the Okeechobee waterway, and the first few miles show off the beauty of the waterfront homes there. We had shoved off at 9:00 am, a little behind schedule as the skipper had wanted to pump out the holding tank.  The poor dock master kept telling the "skipper" there wasn't anything coming out of the fifteen gallon holding tank, perhaps a valve was set wrong. Actually, the holding tank was still empty as everyone was afraid to baptize the new head.
After the first several bends in the river, and watching a sailboat try to extricate itself from being out of the channel near the new US 1 bridge, we settled back into the "who sees what first" mode of communal navigation. After a few bridges, we began watching for the I-95 and Florida Turnpike bridges. My family moved to Miami in 1953, so I've lived in South Florida since I was a kid. I've been over the Thomas B. Manuel bridge on the Florida Turnpike many, many times. My dad used to honk the car horn every time we crossed over the bridge headed south, a celebration of being home again. It was a strangely exciting to go under it for the first time.
The St. Lucie lock is the first lock and is several miles upstream. We were the only boat going west, and after reading the posted signs and giving the requisite two long and two short blasts, we tried channel 16 on the VHF radio. Basically a waste of time when the waterway is busy. Just watch the light next to the lock-masters station. When it flashes red, stand by and don't run into anybody. By the time the lock opened and five eastbound boats motored out, we were no longer alone in the arrival zone. We were first in line and slowly started in after the light turned green. What a thrill to motor into a dungeon. A vertical, slimy dungeon.
The Lock-master yelled down at us from what seemed to be hundreds of feet above us, "Stay on the port side, do not secure the bow line or the stern line, but run them under a cleat and pull up the slack as the boat rises." OK, so far so good. There are many pairs of lines (ropes) hanging from the rim of the lock. You grab one for the bow and one for the stern, then take out the slack to keep from floundering around the lock. The lock is maybe 15 or 20 feet from rim to low water level. To a sixteen foot runabout it must look like the grand canyon. The lock starts filling up with boats of all shapes and sizes. We ended up with a 16 foot runabout directly in front of us, and before the lock closed, they actually stuffed another sailboat in front of the runabout. The sailboat, the Phoenix, was flying a German flag. The skipper was cursing loudly in German, though were weren't sure at what. My wife is German and is a great translator. She is also very discreet. 
Water pours into the lock at St. Lucie.  Between us and the Phoenix is a small outboard runabout.
It is an impressive sight when they crack open the upstream lock and water starts pouring in from 13 feet over your head. The Myakka River isn't that deep! Come to think of it, neither is most of Charlotte Harbor! I didn't realize the inland water level was that high. When the lock finally fills and they open the upstream lock all the way, you can actually hand the lines back to the Lock-master as you are then at eye level. We got through just fine and were the third boat out into the St. Lucie Canal. The guy in the runabout, however, was terrified. He couldn't restart his outboard and he was about to drift into us as he banged against the wall of the lock. He finally got it started but his eyes were the size of saucers. I sat on our bow, but didn't need to fend him off. His wife was actually pale.
The waterway from the St. Lucie Lock to Indiantown is pretty much an uneventful ditch with several slight bends. A lot of tugs and construction barges early on, then some nice homes scattered along the north bank. We docked at the Indiantown Marina by 1:15 pm and went by van over to the old railroad hotel, the Seminole Country Inn, and had a delicious brunch. They pick you up and bring you back to the dock when you are ready to return to the boat. Just ask at the marina. They'll call the Inn for you. Delicious, but you had to put up with a smiling, signed photograph of Burt Reynolds placed conspicuously on the food counter.
We did not fuel up at the Marina. Our "skipper" had absolute faith in his books and his GPS and his float plan was cast in concrete. Fuel was to be taken on only as scheduled. We cast off and headed back to the waterway. Just after we turned back into the waterway, we met the couple in the runabout. They had tied to a tree along the bank and were eating sandwiches. They didn't wave.
The Port Mayaca lock at the lake was wide open, and we took a straight shot across the lake. The first mark is on the horizon, but not hard to pick up. It looks like you're going across the ocean except it is calm and fairly shallow, running only 12 to 14 feet deep. You can turn left as you leave the lock instead and hug the perimeter of the lake, but the weather was great and we chose the straight across channel. Our "skipper" had me drive the boat for the first time so he could play with his GPS.  I was beginning to think that was the only reason he bought the boat.  After a solid forty five minute run, we entered the channel that leads to Clewiston. He took over again, and at Clewiston we turned and went up to the waterway to Moore Haven. From Clewiston on we had the waterway to ourselves, meeting only two other boats coming from Moore Haven.  One was an airboat that seemed terribly out of place.  We saw alligators and many, many ospreys. The Melaleuca trees alongside the channel are dead or dying, as are the Australian pine trees. They are officially nuisance trees in Florida, and I made a note to see if these trees have died because of a state eradication process or if this is a natural die off. It certainly doesn't look natural. 
Lake Okeechobee rim canal, the run to Moore Haven
 We were the only boat at the lock at Moore Haven. The channel turns left from the lake rim and immediately enters the lock. The Lock-master told us we were the day's 19th lock, joking he had had enough business for one day.  He would have one more as ten miles downstream from the lock we met "Vivian," a big, red tug boat headed past us for Moore Haven.  We couldn't help but be mesmerized by a group a kids and young adults swimming in the waterway right after we left the Moore Haven Lock.  They had put a stepladder down into the dark,  murky water to get up and down the steep bank.  A local sheriff sat with his car parked alongside the pickup trucks and chatted with the adults watching the kids swim and have a grand time. Yes, there is still an America out there. Charles Kuwalt would have been proud.
We had planned to stay at the Hendry Isles Marina, but after a cursory examination of the facilities, and not seeing the fuel pump, we decided to travel on to Labelle. After several minutes back on the waterway however, our "skipper" again got the grim look on his face and throttled back to idle. "We're almost out of gas," he said, as he tapped the gauge with his finger. It was now an hour to sunset. We had between 1/8 and 1/4 of a tank of gas, more than enough for the run to Labelle. But now worry and dread set in. After the refueling yesterday, I wasn't concerned. We hadn't taken on a little more than 40 gallons yesterday, so we should have had twenty or so to go. No matter. Nothing, absolutely nothing, makes boating more fun than two wives who are scared out of their wits.  We motored on slowly, and found we were just around a bend from the Ortona Lock.

The Ortona Lock master came through, as they all did.  He told us the next gas was at Port LaBelle, about five or six miles downstream. He also handed us a copy of the official waterway guide, a folded handout, listing all the marinas and dockages.  The Ortona Lock was another lock we did alone and again, without problem. We were getting to be old hands at the locks. We started off for Port LaBelle with some relief, and of course, still with some trepidation.  Even the cows drinking water alongside the waterway failed to distract our intense "skipper."
We pulled into the Port LaBelle anchorage with a sigh of relief. I noticed the gas gauge still read over 1/8th of a tank. We struggled not to crash into their fuel dock, it doesn't look like it could withstand much of an impact. We tied up and looked around the lagoon at the various power boats and sailboats tied up around the place. Except for the herons and twenty or so turtles, there were no other signs of life. The gas pumps were locked, with a sign that says, "We'll be back at 8:00 in the morning." The showers were open, and the sign at the dock-masters office says, "take time to smell the flowers." This is the perfect place to do just that. The place is past its prime, but clean and well lighted. The frogs serenaded us well past midnight as we finally ate food from our galley. We were the only people there. There was one other boat at the marina with a light on, but we hadn't seen any sign of life. We carefully lit citronella candles and sat outside on the boat free from the mosquitoes. We watched as the first of the season's thunderheads built up north and east of us. We saw a beautiful Florida sunset that no artist could capture. The colors would not be believed if seen on a canvas. This would be our last night on the boat, and we couldn't have had a better evening.
We noticed that the bread was going stale and the lettuce was past eating. Our refrigerator wasn't set cold enough. We started to feed the many turtles that swim up to the back of the boat, but a small alligator immediately joined the turtles and that ended that. We do not feed alligators as we don't want them hanging around the back door, so to speak. It also happens to be against the law as well as against good sense. After dark we sprayed ourselves with one of the new generation insect repellents. We sat on the back of the boat and played with our flashlights on the dark water, counting the pairs of orange, fireball eyes we could see in the lagoon. We counted three pair at one time, though none very close. The new insect repellents actually smell nice, instead of like poison or machine oil. The new stuff works better, too.
We found out the next morning the marina had a restaurant. In fact, the marina is part of the OxBow Golf Club. A fellow surprisingly emerged from one the other nearby boats and stopped to talk to us on his way up the short walk to the facilities. We walked the short way to the hotel and had another great buffet breakfast. By the time we got back, the dock-master was setting up his guitar and his electronic tuning harp on the screen porch of the office. He said, "just wave when you want me," and continued tuning his guitar. We waved a few minutes later, and after a full tank of gas, we were on our way.

From there to the next lock at Franklin is really pretty. After LaBelle it is more like a real river than a ditch. Most bridges are no problem, not counting the railroad bridge over in Port Mayaca if you are in a sailboat with a mast over 49 feet, but there is one swing bridge that even a canoe would have problems with. Well, a really BIG canoe with a Bimini top would have trouble. OK, canoes wouldn't have any problems at all, but we had to put down the canvas Bimini top. We passed underneath without problem. 
"Vivian" is hidden behind the huge barge as she enters Franklin Lock. 

Just before we reached the Franklin Lock, we again met "Vivian". This time she was headed west toward Ft Myers, going our way, so to speak, but pushing a 255 foot barge. We passed "Vivian" and one more bend in the waterway, then had to idle back for the flashing red light at the lock's arrival point. At first, it seemed to be just another wait for the lock to clear, with the "skipper" jockeying the boat around a little bit amid idle jokes and chatter. It was a beautiful morning. Then the barge slowly emerged around the bend in the river behind us. "Vivian" was gaining on us as we now waited a little nervously for a green light. She was looming larger and larger in the waterway behind us. Soon, "Vivian" and her huge barge were directly behind us. Our "skipper" began to fidget, he was not happy.
After we realized we were going through the lock together, I got on the radio and asked "Vivian's" skipper if he wanted us in front or behind as we entered the lock. Actually, commercial traffic has right of way, but the lock-master said we would both fit in the 400 foot lock. The slow, southern drawl that came back said we could do as we pleased, but it would probably be better for us in front of the barge. So we went in first. "Vivian" put a spotter with a radio on the front bow of the barge. The spotter said they were headed back to "Nawlins, finally, after seven months here in Florida". He said mama was gonna be happy.
We were on the starboard side of the lock, as far up as we could go. The "Vivian" and her barge stayed on the port side, actually quite a distance back. It still looked like an aircraft carrier from where we were. All went as smoothly as we dropped the two feet or so down to the Caloosahatchee River and the lock-master signaled our departure. As the lock master opened the gate, a huge fish rolled right in front of us. I yelled up. "Hey, you got porpoises in here!" He laughed and yelled back, "No, those are tarpon!"
It isn't far from there to the familiar red and white smokestacks at the FP&L plant on the Caloosahatchee River. They'll be gone soon as the plant switches to a new generator. Boaters were popping up everywhere soon after we past the I-75 bridges. Traffic was heavy by the time we got to the Tarpon Point turn off at marker 92. The run through Ft. Myers is filled with traffic headed out to the gulf, even on a Monday afternoon. We passed by the Robert E. Lee Motel, where we had spent a couple of weekends many years ago while our daughter sailed in the Florida State Pram championships, the old COPCA, Clearwater Optimist Pram Class Association, series. The regattas were held in the river just behind the motel. The river was quieter then. There were many state regattas over at the Lani Kai on Ft Myers Beach, too, but those days are also past. I couldn't help but muse there were no more bridges to the gulf after the US 41 bridge then.
We got to the house at Cape Coral by 12:30 PM without a major mutiny or serious grounding, although I pulled a boner by not finding a mark after we passed the US 41 bridge. No problem, just a course correction that needed to be implemented prudently and efficiently. After finding the right canal, and slowly idling under the low bridges that dot Cape Coral, we pulled up right behind the house. A small round of applause and after the bath room breaks, a glass of iced tea and lunch. We unloaded the boat and prepared to take it over to it's berth at a nearby Marina
The last part of the adventure was without doubt the most dangerous. The skipper and I took the new boat from Cape Coral to a marina on Ft Myers Beach. Idiots crossed our bow by a few feet under full throttle with complete disregard for right of way. Many, if not most, boaters showed absolutely no regard for safety, much less courtesy. From off shore racing catamarans cutting channel markers to flats boats running through sailboats, it didn't take me long to see this area is just like Biscayne Bay in Miami, perhaps worse. I was glad to get out of the area. It was a good feeling to finally tie up at the marina and see the wives waiting on the dock. While we were loading the car, we heard a marina employee tell a new boat owner, "Oh, you don't need any boat courses! Just remember right on red returning and you'll be just fine." We finished packing in silence. I couldn't help but think our "skipper" would be right at home here.
The boat got good performance marks, but I couldn't honestly give any credit for comfort. With only one seat to see forward, (not everybody wants to rub knees with the Skipper) and being far wetter than I thought she should be, it wasn't much fun to ride in other than in absolutely flat seas. But I didn't buy the boat, and I'm sure the new owner was thrilled with the new "Baby."
I had been standing in the hatch well for the last two days, field glasses and charts in hand. It was the only way I could stand "watch." My wife saw only what was visible from the side or over the stern, and rarely got to look over the front of the boat. Personally, I think it is a great lake boat, but then, I don't think much of many of the new designs.
How did our friendship stand the trip? Well, we all need a break, but we won't be taking any more boat trips with them. We talked on the phone last Friday, we've all got our photos back. We may get together next week, have dinner and swap photos... maybe.
Right now we are still catching up on sleeping with our legs stretched out.


George Mindling
Port Charlotte, Florida
©1999-2011 All Rights Reserved - All Photos by Author

1 comment:

Steven Saint Vincent said...

Good story, George. I've been boating all my life and have known a few "captains" like this.