Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Happy Holidays from Sunny Florida

We are anchored off Lofton Island, across the channel from Fort Myers, Florida (map). We dropped the hook here yesterday afternoon, and tendered ashore for Christmas dinner. We wanted to explore a bit more of the town while things were actually open, so we opted to spend a second night here tonight.

Tree in the park near Ft. Myers waterfront.

After two pleasant nights in Sarasota, we dropped lines Saturday morning to continue southbound. We had thought to perhaps stop in Venice for a night, just because every time we pass through I think it would make a nice stop. With no anchorages, we are limited to just a single marina there with adequate depth, the Crow's Nest. When I called, however, they had no space for us, although the offered to put us on the fuel dock from 5pm to 8am.

Vector behind art at City Island Park, Sarasota.

That's not the sort of pleasant visit we wanted, especially at $120 a night, and so we opted to pass it by, and we set our sites on the familiar anchorage at Manasota Key, where we could get to a nice beachfront joint for dinner. Looking ahead on the route, however, I realized that the cheapest fuel in Florida was just a few miles further along, at the Cape Haze Marina.

With a very shallow entrance channel, and low tide being in the morning, the only way we could possibly get fuel there would be on an afternoon arrival, and so we set our destination for the day to be an anchorage just beyond the marina. As it turned out, when we arrived abreast the marina we still could not have any confidence about making it in and out their skinny channel, and with literally dozens of small boats zipping in and out on a warm holiday weekend, we reluctantly steamed past without stopping.

Lights in the park, Sarasota.

That gave us a bit of an early arrival at our chosen anchorage, in a small basin within a housing development near Cape Haze (map). Our guide said that if we were willing to make an unconventional landing it was possible to get ashore at a small bridge over an adjacent canal, and access a grocery store and other services. Perfect, as we had only one day's worth of milk left.

We splashed the tender and I went ashore while Louise made phone calls.  At idle speed of four knots, it was a long ten-minute trip up the canal. As I was pounding a stake in the ground near the bridge to tie up, and preparing to clamber up a drainage pipe to reach the road, a canal-side resident came strolling down the bulkhead to offer me a dock to tie to instead. I pulled my stake and drove about three houses further down the canal.

Vector in the basin at Cape Haze.

It was very nice of Moe to offer me the use of his floating dock. He has a sailing cat tied up behind the house, nicely decorated for the holidays, and we chatted for a few minutes about cruising the west coast and interesting stops. I mentioned I heard about a pizza place nearby and he said it was good and that we could use the dock again in the evening if we wished. Cruising is a lifestyle, and cruisers are often quick to help other cruisers, one of the things we enjoy about it.

After a short walk of a quarter mile or so I found a gas station with a well-stocked C-store, but I continued beyond to the very nice Publix grocery for my milk, where I also picked up a few other items. On the way I passed the pizza joint, Lil' Tony's, which looked fine and had draft beer, and in the same plaza is also a bank and a UPS store, which makes this a superb anchorage in my book. We returned in the evening for pizza and beer, and came home with half a pizza leftover.

Sunset from the anchorage, Cape Haze. You can see our holiday lights on the bow.

Sunday was Christmas Eve, and the waterway was chock full of Floridians in small boats out enjoying the holidays with their grandchildren, visiting no doubt from some snow-bound state. Even in our anchorage we heard several children ashore shouting in near-disbelief as a handful of dolphins surfaced around Vector while they fed, and surely everyone who lives along this water is used to dolphins on a daily basis.

We had a short but pleasant cruise, albeit in traffic, to Cabbage Key, a familiar stop for us (map). I had made dinner reservations thinking they might be crowded for the holiday, but we had the whole restaurant to ourselves. It's a casual affair, with dollar bills covering the walls and ceiling, but the food is tasty and the service friendly, and at dinner time it's very relaxed. Apparently you can't get near the place for lunch on the weekends. We climbed the historic water tower to the observation platform for a nice sunset view before dinner.

Vector from the patio at Cabbage Key. Useppa Island in the background.

The decision to have Christmas Eve at Cabbage Key meant a fairly long cruise on Christmas Day, made longer by dodging endless traffic and having to push our way up the Caloosahatchee against the tide. But the weather was gorgeous, and it's hard for me to complain too loudly about being passed by hundreds of boats full of women in bikinis. It was 82° when we dropped the hook.

Just a tiny fraction of traffic we passed on the "Miserable Mile."

The water here is shallow, and my two charts disagree about where the depth contours lie. TowBoatUS was passing through as we arrived and I got some advice and soundings from him; we are anchored in just 7' at low tide. But we're right across the channel from the city dock, and our draft prevents us from easily accessing the much larger anchorage across the river.

Vector anchored in front of Lofton Island, with the Edison Bridges in the background.

I had made Christmas reservations at The Twisted Vine, which was offering a buffet of all the traditional holiday flavors. It was just two blocks from the dock, and we strolled around the historic downtown a bit before our reserved time.

I can't speak to the restaurant's normal menu, but the holiday meal was excellent. They were carving prime rib just the way we like it, and there was also roast turkey, pork, fish, and the usual accompaniments. Salads and peel-and-eat cocktail shrimp were plentiful on the cold side. Our 5pm seating was near the end of the day (they closed at 6), and we very nearly missed the pumpkin pie, but our on-the-ball waitress snagged us two pieces from the last pies of the day just as they came out of the oven.

The Twisted Vine just after Christmas dinner.

We arrived back at Vector after dinner to find her lying perpendicular to the current; in the tide change she swung into the shallows and her keel was in he mud. We had to power out -- one quick blip of the throttle and she was free and lying to the current in short order.

Today has been something of a catch-up day. Between all the driving, route and holiday planning, tender operations, and family calls, we've not had much time to tend to business. I had a laundry list of phone calls related to our upcoming stops and never-ending boat maintenance, and I've been doing quite a bit of research as well.

This expensive Aere inflatable fender was floating near Vector when we returned from dinner in Sarasota. It's the second fender we recovered in this mooring field, the last one being a big orange ball.

This afternoon we rode the free trolley around downtown before having dinner at The Standard, adjacent to the Indigo Hotel. The trolley passed a Publix but there was nothing we needed after my quick stop in Cape Haze.

Tomorrow we'll weigh anchor in the morning and continue up the Caloosahatchee on our way to Lake Okeechobee. I expect to end the day in LaBelle. If all goes well we should be in Stuart for New Years Eve, and I've booked a rental car so we can drive up to Vero Beach on New Years Day to attend our friends' annual party; they invite us every year but we've never before been close enough.

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