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Florida's West Coast
Cabbage Key & Useppa Island
also Clearwater Beach & Ft. Myers Beach
Boarded by Drug Enforcement while Underway!
We left Ft. Myers Beach and had sailed an all-nighter.. well, that is technically sailed because no sails were out. The wind was right on our nose and the iron jenny had to do all the work. Bill and I took shifts at the helm. We were on our way to Clearwater Beach we were going to anchor off Anna Maria Island, at the southern tip of Tampa Bay, after 20-hrs at the helm. We could see the Tampa Bay Bridge so clearly yet not clear enough for a photo that morning. As we entered the area we thought we could anchor, the water got surprisingly shallow. Not at all what the charts indicated! The area had silted in and we decided to turn about and continue on another 4-hrs to arrive in Clearwater Beach.
As we left the shallows and headed towards Clearwater Beach, I noticed a vessel speeding off the shore. Looked a bit different but didn't pay it too much attention. Suddenly I felt like someone was watching me. I turned around from the helm and there was a vessel about six inches away from our stern. Drug Enforcement. They said they wanted to board. Okie Dokie. I was told not to slow down and was doing about 6 knots under motor. Thank goodness we weren't under sail. Two young men did a "Fear Factor" jump from their vessel to ours... have mercy! They asked to see our documentation and we were fully cooperative. One of the officers went below and I heard him ask my husband if we had "any firearms, drugs, or illegals." I think he meant illegal aliens aboard. Not us! Bill talked with the officer and the young man asked to see inside our bilge. Bill opened the bilge and the officer shined a flashlight to and fro. He was satisfied we were not carrying any contraband. As he got up, he looked forward to the salon and I heard the young officer say, "Whoa!" I thought, what on earth could be happening.
He said, again, "Whoa." Huh? Then it all made sense as he continued, "I have never seen a salon this neat on a sailing vessel underway." He yelled up to the cockpit, "Man, she's got crystal vases with fresh flowers and water in them! Statues!" I laughed. We all were disarmed and friendly now. He looked in the bilge and said he was satisfied we were straight-up American citizens and his job was done. Nothing to worry about with us. As he came back up he told his fellow officer, his thumb pointing backwards to our salon: "I got to tell everyone about this." He turned to me and said, " How do you keep everything from falling. I just can't believe it. Sailboats always have stuff strewn all over the boat." I told him my secret was a fabulous product called "Museum Putty." We then had a conversation about Museum Putty, how it works and where I get it. Got your interest, huh?
I tell ya, the stuff is truly incredible. One little ball of it will hold up to 40 lbs. The flower vases have water in them... the water stays in the vase... that's how good the holding is. It is nothing short of amazing as the young officer's reaction surely attested to that.
Thank you, Museum Putty!!
Useppa Island/Cabbage Key
Anchorage & Tourist Stop
Anchorage off the ICW between Useppa (to right) and Cabbage Key (unseen at left). One guy was real happy he got his new boat and new dinghy, new motor, the works. He proceeded to go full out around his boat while waiting for his wife to dress for dinner. I looked over at Bill as if to say, ID-IO-YACHT. It really was stupid. Sometimes God watches over boaters... his big honkin' motor flew off the back of his dinghy and sunk in the anchorage. Gone. See ya! I heard him tell his wife, "Well, we'll have quite a story to tell everyone when we get back." Hmmm... wonder if he'll tell the real story! The guy left at dawn. I think embarrassment may have gotten the better of him.
The fish were biting in the anchorage! Bill caught this nice Spanish mackerel rather quickly. They have teeth and they're sharp! Not too good for my palate, but they can be smoked to make a delicious pate.
Looking from the anchorage off Useppa Island over to Cabbage Key.
Cabbage Key is hopping with tourists. Very popular place. If you want to bring your boat in to their Marina, better call first. It's small and during lunchtime is packed full to the gills.
Bill's parents arrived by charter boat. They live in Punta Gorda this time of year and it was just perfect for them to take the 15-minute ferry ride to us while we were anchored near Cabbage Key. They are two adventurous octogenarians and didn't bat an eyelash when we told them the arrangements we'd made for them to come and see us.
Bill's mom is all smiles.
A big hug between father and son.
It's not easy to find something Bill's parent's haven't already done! They just loved the whole trip and Cabbage Key. The crew of the vessel they were on, from Island Girl Ferries out of Pine Island, took great care of them both. Thank you so much!
The Day on Cabbage Key
We all had lunch up at the Cabbage Key Restaurant. The food was unremarkable, the type you find when a place has a captive audience they'll probably never see again. I've never had potato salad with crunchy potatoes and no taste whatsoever. The smoked salmon appetizer was not too bad, but the Reuben (how difficult is it to make a Reuben?!) was not very good. Mom Ladd liked her chicken sandwich, Dad Ladd was happy with his meal of fish. Bill and I knew what day it was and couldn't wait for dessert. Now there's something they got right! Huge slices of Chocolate Mud Ice Cream Pie. There is usually something to save the day and the Mud Pie did just that!
The bird in the photo above begged at every table. He knew better than to come to ours as I stared him down like I was going to shoot him and eat him myself. Ha! But in all seriousness, it's terrible watching tourists feed these beautiful birds all kinds of junk food. They think it's cute, but it's not. The birds are so used to it they will land on your table and snatch your food. Ain't nothing cute about that! All day this bird walked around stuffing himself like he'd never eat again. These birds do not have hamburger and french fries as part of their natural diet. Use your heads, people! You're killing these animals with what you think is kindness. Kindness like that they just don't need. Keep your human food to yourselves, please!
After lunch, we all went for a walk along the well-marked trail on 100-acre Cabbage Key. There are homes there where the owners and many of the employees live. It's a quaint area and is not to be missed if you get around this way. We really enjoyed ourselves.
The picture above reminds me of Jimmy Durante's dying words (as he literally kicked the bucket), "You're looking for a BIG W," in the 60s movie "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." Love that movie. Jonathan Winters at his best while trying to ride a little girl's bicycle. Just thinking about that part cracks me up. An All-Star cast if ever there was one (Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Imogene Cocoa, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Buddy Hackett, Jim Backus, Terry Thomas, and tons of cameos by just about every comedian from Jack Benny to Don Knotts. If you haven't seen the movie, rent it today. Funny, funny stuff!
The Cabbage Key Marina is bustling with ferry boat passengers all coming to lunch. So many boats were in there I didn't think they'd get them all in. I did see many turn around once they saw how crowded it was. Also saw a sailboat go aground. The water outside the channel markers is quite shallow... you needn't worry if you heed the adage, "Brown, brown, run aground!" The sailboat helmsman simply wasn't paying attention. He should have not been in that shallow area at all. Excitement does things to people. Trust me, it's not that exciting at Cabbage Key that I'd lose my head and run aground! The waiting staff said it happens at least three times a day, every day!
The Cabbage Key Marina after the lunchtime crunch. Peaceful and lovely.
Beautiful day with my beautiful In-Laws (of nearly 35 years now). Wonderful people, my husband's parents Joe and Freida Ladd.
We spotted lots of little critters while walking the trails. Lots of fun. Saw this turtle come out and he sure acted like we were going to feed him as well! The tourists are spoiling these animals. But... I sure liked it that he wasn't afraid of us at all. He even posed for the photo above. What a Turtle Camera Ham!
It was a great day on Cabbage Key.
At the end of the day, as Bill's parents got back on the charter boat, we watched them depart. We're all waving wildly and Bill's Dad yelled back to us, "Be careful and be sure you wear your life preservers." I yelled back, "I've already got mine on," as I put a hand on each boob. The whole boat erupted in laughter. What a hoot!
Again, thank you so much Island Girl Ferries!
The "Green Bananas" Birthday Bash for Sir Charles
We came to sail up this way in order to attend the 80th birthday of our good friend and sailor, Charles Eans (aka "Sir Charles). Sir Charles' wife, my dear friend, Susan (I call her by her middle name, "Liz") put on a birthday bash the likes of which Clearwater Beach will be talking about for years to come. It was a fabulous reunion of the friends of Sir Charles. The highlight of the party for us was finally getting to meet Sir Charles' children and to meet Liz's sister, Dottie. It certainly didn't surprise me they were all very cool people. I mean cool as in "with it!" Good people! People we seemed to have known our whole lives. And that silly Dick and Diane... what a hoot they were! So glad to have met them. So many people there and we met just about them all. I'll never forget Willie who came all the way from Puerto Rico to be there. Handsome guy too... he looks like a Hispanic George Clooney. Easy on the eyes! And Jahn, our mutual German friend who came all the way from where he was working in Russia to be there. Tell me Sir Charles is not loved!! I tell ya, we had a full-tilt boogie PARTAY!
And how did he get the moniker of "Sir Charles?" One guess. Okay, maybe two. It was not long after I had met Charles and Susan (Liz). We were all drinking, having a wonderful time at the Dockside Marina Tikki hut in Marathon. Charles said something and I said, "Okay, Chuck." He got his feathers ruffled and said, "My name is not Chuck. My name is CHARLES." I said, "Yes Sir, Sir Charles." And the name stuck. So what started out as being a "You-Pompous-Ass" identifier has turned into a beloved nickname. And it is beloved. And I'm glad it was I who coined it. Sir Charles, I believe, is too!
Everyone truly was wonderful. About 80 guests, one for each of Sir Charles' birthday years, were there to celebrate. Fantastic time. The theme of the birthday bash was "Green Bananas," and just about everyone brought them. I'm sure you're wondering just why "Green Bananas." Sir Charles has been known to say, "I'm so old I don't even buy green bananas!" So we bought them for him! LOL God love him. 'Cause we sure do! Good friends Ron and Lisa from here in Marathon were there too. We went out to dinner with Ron and Lisa and Charles' daughter Tracy and her husband Steve on one of the nights before one of the five parties... it's all a blur! But what a fabulous blur!
The food at the Bash was fantastic as well. Full open bar, the works! All at a poolside setting in Clearwater Beach. Just so lovely and so well thought out. Even the band, "The Double M Band," had a great time. Those guys were into this party! Lively doesn't even come close. How many guy bands will do a rendition of Nancy Sinatra's "Boots." I was impressed!!
And althought the dress was casual, Sir Charles went back to the boat and came back in a full out tuxedo. The entire crowd gasped. He looked downright SMASHING! I heard ladies whisper, "He looks so handsome." "He is handsome," I added. Sir Charles has given us all a lot to look forward to, that's for sure. Eighty doesn't seem scary at all. Certainly not the Sir Charles Style of Eighty. Kudos, Sir Charles!
We anchored in a little inlet not far from where Liz and Sir Charles' marina is. Sir Charles had no idea we had arrived two days before the party. It was five days of non-stop revelry. Wonderful food, wonderful music, wonderful festivities. Liz, ya outdone yourself, Sis.
I would be remiss not to must mention sweet "Oh my Bob!" and his adorable wife, Nancy. They were so kind to us to let us dinghy up to their vessel and board, making it so much easier to get back and forth to the festivities. Bob and Nancy are two of the sweetest people you'll ever meet. How fortunate we are to have met them both. Bob and Nancy helped pull the whole thing off, and with Liz's sister Dottie at her side... the four of them were a force which became PARTAY CENTRAL. Well done, my Loves!
I'll add some pics here soon.
The Tampa Connection
We had a delightful time with good friend Steve Price and his sweetheart, Carol Edler. We visited them when we came up this way last year. This time we sailed and were anchored in Clearwater Beach, so Steve and Carol drove over to us and we had a fabulous meal at the Island Grill. Great ambiance and lots of laughs with great friends. Steve doesn't look like he'll be sixty-one in June. I tell ya... he's gotta share his secret! Love you, sweet Stephen. It's good to know Steve's got Carol... she keeps "Anal Al" on his toes! LOL It was so great to spend some time with them both. Hugs to yaz!
Ft. Myers Beach
You never know when you'll run into an old friend. This time the old friend is a boat and it was moored right next to us! This is s/v Second Sunrise, formerly the vessel of Denny and Judy Parker. They lived aboard her at Dockside Marina, just a few slips down from us. Judy suffered a stroke and made a miraculous recovery. I knew she would! They are landlubbers now but have decided to purchase another vessel and get back out on the water. Fantastic!! We are still great friends and we miss them dearly. Denny and Judy, we love you!
Another dear friend, Steve Weinstein, from New York City joined us in Ft. Myers. He was visiting his mother in Palm Beach and drove up to see us. He's such a peach of a guy and treated us to a lovely dinner at the Matanzas Inn. Great place and great food! Even though Steve's a New Yorker... he said he was freezin' his patooties off out on the patio. Me, Ms. Hot-Flash Extraordinaire... well you, know...
So we had desert inside. LOL I think it was like 65 or something. That isn't cold! Talked with Weinstein's wife, Carolee, on the phone that night, and she put it in perspective for me: "Girl, we women get hot as we get older and our men get colder." She's right. Bill is always wrapped up in a blanket while I remind him that I can't take off my skin!
What a great time. So sweet of Weinstein to make the drive to see us. It wasn't as far as he's driven to see us in the Keys, but the effort is so appreciated. We love ya, Weinstein!
We met Jerrel and Tammy Roe aboard s/v Osprey the night we hit heavy fog right outside of the Matanzas Harbor Channel. Jerrel made contact right at the moment we decided we'd better be sure his vessel knew our postion. GMTA: Great Minds Think Alike! We all decided to wait out the fog by circling repeatedly outside the Channel and alerting vessels of our position. It was harrowing, to say the least. Huge ferries came out, one in the Channel and one not in the Channel. The one that came blasting towards us at about 20 knots was quite unnerving as we heard him and knew he'd never hear our fog horn over his engines. Tammy got a bit uneasy after that, can't blame her at all, she said over the VHF to us: "I feel like a sitting duck out here." The heavy fog lasted from 4 am until 10 am. Six hours of holding-your-breath anxiety. It will forever amaze, and distress me, to see vessels running full steam under such adverse conditions. Radar or not... I don't understand their hurry. Safety first!
After we returned to Marathon, Karen and Larry aboard s/v La Cay, friends of Jerrel and Tammy contacted us on the VHF during the Marathon Cruisers' Net on Channel 68 every morning at 9 am. They said they'd like to speak with us after the net. Sure. After the net we heard, "We have mutual friends. You must be the September Sea that met s/v Osprey at Ft. Myers." Yup. That we are! It's a small world in the boating community... and the friendliest you'll find. We didn't get to meet Karen and Larry as they left the very next morning. We hope to get a chance to see them next time!
Jerrel and Tammy's S/V Osprey at rest in the Mantazas Harbor mooring field.
Big ferry that berths in Matanzas Harbor.
Mooring ball sits vacant, one of just a few, in Matanzas Harbor.
Fishing fleet at rest in Matanzas Harbor.
The Sail Back to Home Port
Our sail back to Marathon was a screamer! The weather forecast was 10-15 knots of wind all from the east, notheast. Won't be too bad a sail, we thought. As we got out to open water the wind clocked at 20 knots then up to 27 knots. We had 27 knots and up for the last 12 hours of the trip. September Sea loves the wind in her sails. She clocked doing 7.4 knots coming down a wave and we're towing a dinghy behind her! Fabulous! But the winds never let up and as we approached Bullard Bank, north of Marathon and the Seven-Mile Bridge, we knew it would be pretty rough getting from under the bridge into the Harbor. Actually it was far better than we thought. From the Useppa Island area we departed at 10 am and dropped the hook at 1 pm outside of Boot Key Harbor as we waited for high tide. It felt so good out there we decided to go to bed and go in to the Harbor the next day. So glad we did that. What's the hurry?
Sail fast, Live Slow!
We got into the Harbor the following day on high tide. Perfect. The wind was still around 22 knots as we came up on our mooring. Make for easy mooring when the wind is that stiff and on your nose. September Sea just glided up to the ball and stopped. She's like driving a car through gates. Not even a thought about hitting anything as she goes straight ahead, right where I want her.
No problems whatsoever on this trip. No, check that. There was the human element I forgot about. LOL The problem with the fuel as we headed into Clearwater Pass. The water was churned up something awful. We learned to make sure to have lots of diesel in the tank before stirring it all up when we got pushed around coming home last year! Memories do fade, don't they. Oops. Sure enough, as we headed to Sir Charles and Liz in Clearwater, the engine died right smack in the channel.
We had made it through the Washing Machine Cut and all through the meandering channel and were just one turn from being at our destination. September Sea started to choke. Sput. Sput. Nut. Nada. I tired to start her and it was immediately apparent she wasn't going to start. The fuel got stirred up and there wasn't enough good fuel to overcome the yuck in the bottom of the fuel tank. September Sea was drunk as a skunk on tank junk! She was down and out for the count like the little ones below. LOL Funny picture. Bet Heinekin doesn't think it's funny at all. But I sure do!
Bill immediately threw out the anchor and she bit. The channel could not have been more than 25 feet wide at this spot. Markers were on either side of us and we needed the anchor to bite and hold. It did. I cannot sing the praises of the Spade Anchor enough. They are an incredible feat of ingenuity. Their anchors are simply incredible. With no engine and hardly any wind the anchor set and held us there rock solid while Bill worked on the engine. After changing fuel filters and adding diesel to the tank (yup, we were D-R-Y), it was just a matter of time 'til the bottom's sludge would be overtaken by clean fuel. Sure enough, soon we were up and running again. I did announce a "Security" over the VHF to let oncoming vessels know we were disabled and informed them of our position. We're getting to be pretty relaxed even when something happens. Cool heads make for low down time, that's for sure!
Next time we'll make sure we have plenty of fuel and get our tank cleaned soon!!
So... where she we go next? That's a question brought on by this beautiful and simple life we live aboard our sailing vessel. Freedom truly is obtainable. Happiness is too! We have found them both in this lifestyle and as we sit here in lovely Boot Key Harbor down in the Florida Keys we aren't in too much of a hurry to do anything. Even so, I think a Bahamas cruise is in the not-too-distant future. Ahhhh.