Friday, January 30, 2015

Exclusive island retreat

We are anchored just off Useppa Island in Pine Island Sound, Florida. Across the ICW channel from us is Cabbage Key, where Martin and Steph treated us to dinner for my birthday at the Cabbage Key Inn on the island. The place was deserted; we were one of only three dinner parties, and the island's marina was empty.

There's a restaurant on Useppa Island, too, but the island is so exclusive that one needs an invitation from a member to dine there. While Cabbage Key gets tourists from a daily ferry, Useppa is completely private and lined with high-end cottages.

We arrived here yesterday afternoon after an interesting cruise which was, unfortunately, not totally uneventful. We left Sarasota at dawn, which proved to have been a tad too early, and we arrived at the first trouble spot, across from Venice Inlet, at the lower of the two daily high tides. We would have had a bit more water a few hours later. We made it through without incident, but I did see the depth sounder register 6.6' at one point, and Blossom touched bottom there.

The route yesterday involved a half dozen or so bridges that had to be opened. There were two bridges that we squeaked under but still needed to open for Blossom. As we were on the radio listening to the first pair of bridges, we heard a disturbing report -- the Boca Grande bridge, our final for the day, was closed for repairs from 1000-1400. Our plotter said we'd be there before 1300, giving us an hour wait with no good options for anchoring.

When we heard this news, we slowed down to steerage speed, putting along at just over four knots. That still gave us an arrival time of 1345, leaving us with having to station-keep among a pack of waiting boats in a narrow channel. I opted to pull out of the main ICW channel instead at the last spot where my chart showed acceptable depths off-channel, so we could sit without doing as much fiddling with the controls.

That proved to be a mistake.  Even though the chart showed depths of six to 12 feet, we promptly ran into a five foot hump of silt and mud, and I spent the next five minutes extricating the boat from the soft grounding, sending giant plumes of stirred-up mud in every direction. We did manage to get off unassisted, and proceeded the mile to the bridge at idle speed, where we ended up waiting for ten minutes.

Somewhere in all the maneuvering in the mud, we must have powered some mud back up the shaft tube and into the packing glad, because one the next engine room check, Louise reporting the stuffing box temperature had skyrocketed to unacceptable levels. We ended up circling around in the open water of Charlotte Harbor, shifting between ahead and astern. to try to clear it all out.  Today we will need to keep a close eye on the temperature under way.

All's well that ends well, and we had a lovely dinner last night and a very pleasant and quiet anchorage.  In a few minutes we will weigh anchor and proceed to Cape Coral, where we will reconnect with friends Brad and Lorraine on Adventure.

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