Once upon a time in this blog we commented on Lauderdale’s bogus claim to be—or to once have been—a fort. Fort Myers, on the other hand, is legit. At least as legit as a base intended for use in the eradication of those pesky Seminoles can be.
Slightly more recently, Tom Edison was cruising around the coast of Florida and decided to buy some land for a winter retreat. Then a lightbulb popped on in his head and he decided to invest time and energy into cultivating rubber trees to help the War effort. Or maybe to help prevent unwanted teenage pregnancies. Then he and his buddy Hank Ford set up some research facilities and built opulent homes in Fort Myers, which is why today there’s a Marina at Edison Ford. We didn’t dock there though.
For our first cruise in Tumbleweed, we left the Marina at Rick and Mary’s House, anticipating a nice short shakedown ride.
Through the residential canal was no problem—unless the shrill alarm warning of dropping voltage constitutes a problem. Either way, a quick call to Rick solved it. We’ll figure out this boat at some point.
Before Dana could organize lines, a storm decided to hit us.
Apparently it hadn’t rained for months before we arrived, but now it’s a daily occurrence. Just our luck. Anyway, with the unexpected wind blowing the unexpected rain into us, we pulled into Legacy Harbour eight miles from where we started.
Fortunately, Legacy Harbour was just far enough to ensure that most everything still works and to set us up for Clewiston, but also just close enough that Chris the Boat Guy From Heaven could stop by to finish up some dinghy cradle repairs after the rain stopped. Perfect.
Friday morning, we left Legacy at dawn. Dawn is early no matter the time, but we have places to be. Plus, it’s not quite as bad when you’re boating.
Until we started Looping we had no idea that the southern third of Florida is an island, just like we previously weren’t aware that Cape Cod is an island. But they are. Which comes in handy when one starts in Fort Myers and needs to get out of Florida quickly because boat insurance companies are unreasonably skittish about Florida hurricanes.
Mostly the first part of the Okeechobee waterway was an easy cruise along the Caloosahatchee River, with only a few locks and bridges but lots of cypress trees.
We only identified ourself as Misty Pearl once, which we think is pretty good.
Because the W.P. Franklin Lock—named for Walter P. aka “The Father of The Okeechobee”— was our first lock in Tumbleweed, we submit a commemorative photo:
Yes, we still haven’t figured out how we’re going to stow all our lines.
Anyway, after the last lock of the day we started passing dozens of eyeballs.
We’ve heard someplace that the distance between an alligator’s eyes and nose somehow allows a calculation of how big it is. We don’t know the exact formula, but by our rudimentary math these guys were at least fifty feet long. At least they’re not tree-climbers like their cousins at the Alabama River Cutoff.
Just as the the water became thick with eyeballs, Dana went below for something that probably was important. Doug—at the helm—started jabbering on the phone about something that almost certainly wasn’t important. This all occurred simultaneously with us reaching the exact spot where the canal makes a fairly sharp starboard turn. We sailed right on past. If there had been trees and such, of course, Doug likely would’ve seen them. But someone had the temerity to place what looks like the continuation of the canal straight ahead. So we kept going straight ahead.
Things started getting darker. The walls of swampy trees started closing in. The water started getting thinner. WTF is going on? Ohhhh, we missed the turn. Turns out this little canal-looking-thingy isn’t a canal at all. It’s an unmaintained, non-navigable drainage ditch. The Waterway Guide warning (referencing the danger from the other direction) was a bit late:
Thank goodness Tumbleweed isn’t a twenty-knot boat. At eight knots, we still managed to get about a half-mile deep before the foolishness of Dana going below became obvious. Well what the hell do we do now?
Luckily, Doug’s years of clean living finally paid off. We found a spot about fifty-five feet wide, somehow sloooowly spun our fifty-foot length around without hitting boulders or stumps or mud, and snuck back out hoping nobody had seen us. It would’ve been quite the ignominious end to our boating life if Dana had been eaten by fifty-foot alligators while slogging through the swamp on foot seeking help, leaving Doug to explain to authorities why he bravely stayed back at the boat to take care of Oscar and the wine bottles until help arrived. Getting careless at the end of a long day in unfamiliar waters is such a newbie mistake that we half expected to find Kim Russo on the dock at Roland Martin Marina waiting to repossess our gold burgees.
Speaking of Roland Martin—the bass fisherman—he may be a BassMaster Hall-of-Famer, but he’s no Bill Dance. Nobody but nobody rocks the Power T like Bill Dance, although Doug still bought a shirt.
Speaking of Roland Martin—the marina—we loved the joint. Well, we loved it after getting tied up safely. Not so much before that. It started when a ne’er-do-well boat that will remain nameless (Island Dreamer) beat us to the Moore Haven Lock by just enough to make us wait a cycle, which allowed her to claim the primo spot on the long dock that runs along a very narrow side-canal. Although he didn’t point fingers, Sam blithely informed us that our spot was now way on down that long dock, past a bunch of other boats. And since the water is low, there’s no place to turn around at the far end. So we’d have to turn around at the front end and go in reverse down that narrow side-canal, past all those other boats, then wedge in in front of a sailboat. “Oh,” he added in a tone that to us seemed unnecessarily cavalier, “Stay away from the rocks on the other side. They extend out underwater and aren’t forgiving.” Obviously neither Island Dreamer nor Sam cared a whit that (1) we don’t know this boat very well yet and (2) we were still reeling from our near-death visit to a part of Okeechobee that even Rick and Mary haven’t dared to see. But the Tiki Bar was outstanding and Doug got the drone up and down before the downpour to photo-document things for posterity.
Up and out this morning after yet another unexpected shower. Lake Okeechobee—supposedly the largest freshwater lake in the country not named Lake Michigan—was the proverbial piece of cake.
Once past the Port Mayaca Lock, it was smooth sailing. No drama at all today. Which of course made us think of our friends Jeff and Ann (and Fred and Zack and Enzo) on No Drama, cruising off the coast of Maine.
The highlight may have been passing the place where we enjoyed dinner, drinks, and music with Jack and Jo of Trust Your Cape, Loopers related to Mallory’s college roommate. Of course, we forgot to look for their house until it was too late, so maybe the highlight was just thinking about them.
We made it back to Sunset Bay in Stuart, finally put some stuff away, and ate a delicious dinner. Crazy that we left Scottsdale barely a week ago, but we’re already ready to stop cruising for a day so we’ll stay here until at least Monday despite the fixed dock.
*For anyone over sixty who needs a nostalgia throwback, here’s a link the Jim Stafford classic: Swamp Witch Hattie.