Thursday, June 29, 2017

Back in the Gulf, bound for the Keys

We are once again under way in the Gulf of Mexico, now southbound for the Florida Keys. This will be our final leg in the gulf this season. Right here, off the coast of about Sarasota or so, the water temperature is a balmy 88.5 degrees.

Vector on the face dock at Clearwater Harbor Marina, right downtown.

We dropped lines this morning at 05:20, well before sunrise, at the Clearwater Harbor Marina in downtown Clearwater, Florida (map). While a little pricey by our standards, at $2 per foot, we really needed air conditioning and an easy way to get off the boat. As a bonus, they had recycling, and we cleared out a two-week accumulation.

Passing Anclote Keys Light.

We ended up remaining anchored right where we were, behind Anclote Key, Tuesday night. We had a nice dinner at anchor and a quiet night, and awoke Wednesday much more rested. That let us weigh anchor early and run the two hours or so to Clearwater before lunch time. It's a nice cruise, but the ICW is very narrow and very shallow here; we registered just over seven feet at a tide of plus one.

This abandoned motor yacht is hard aground at one of the spoil islands lining the ICW.

Our friends and fellow boaters Steph and Martin drove up from their new home in St. Pete to have lunch with us. While we would have loved to see their new digs, we'll save that for a less rushed visit when we can run into St. Pete and stay a few days. We'll most likely see them again this season on the Chesapeake, where they are keeping the boat for the season and alternating their time between the two each month while they renovate the house. It was great catching up; it's been far too long.

In the evening our friend Karen picked us up for dinner. She had a much shorter drive, and we ended up in funky Dunedin for dinner. Dunedin itself has a lovely waterfront and a nice marina -- we cruised right past it in Vector earlier in the day -- but it's all too shallow for us, even the closest anchorages.

Karen is a professional photographer... even her selfies come out great! We're sorry we missed hubby Ben, who is off getting the finishing touches on their Flxible bus conversion in Oregon.

We ruminated about spending another night right there. It's a nice marina, and an easy walk to downtown Clearwater with a number of interesting restaurants and buildings, not that any walk is pleasant in this heat and humidity. We also have more friends in the area, and we would have loved to have a chance to see everyone (apologies to those we missed). But we'd planned to already be on the east coast by now, and well on our way north by the first of the month, and the next few days are perfect weather windows to keep moving. On top of that, this weekend is a holiday, and finding a slip anywhere is a challenge.

It was only after we came back from dinner and had a chance to regroup that we decided to forego the extra night and keep moving. The timing of this long leg to the keys is such that it's either an early morning start, for a single overnight and late arrival, or else a late evening start, for two overnights and a morning arrival. A single overnight watch is always better than two, and we opted to start our day at 5am.

We slipped out the Clearwater Inlet just before 6am, mostly alone on the water, retracing our steps of a year ago when we squirted out this inlet for points north, just ahead of a storm. It was good to have a track already on the plotter while driving the boat in the darkness. Without that, we would likely have waited for first light, pushing our arrival time uncomfortably into the evening.

Sunset over Clearwater Beach (causeway to left) as seen from our marina.

Our route south to the Seven Mile Bridge at Marathon has us skirting the west coast just five miles or so offshore, at least until we pass Sanibel Island sometime after 10pm tonight. That means we're blessed with Internet coverage for the whole day, with just minor interruptions. I've used that productively to line up arrangements in Fort Lauderdale for a marina night, a 1,000-gallon fuel delivery by truck, and an exchange of our bad house battery, all at the same dock on the afternoon of July 3rd. The marina is sold out on the 4th and we'll need to shove off by 10am that morning.

We'll spend tomorrow night anchored off the Sunset Grille in Marathon, a familiar stop. Good eats, a great view, and they even have a pool. Most likely we'll spend most of Saturday there as well, recovering from our overnight passage and resting up for the next one. That will involve an offshore overnight hop, picking up the Gulf Stream off the middle Keys and riding it all the way to Port Everglades and our rendezvous with the fuel truck.

We have friends in Fort Lauderdale with whom we will try to connect while we're in town. Timing is such that we'll be there over the Fourth, so maybe we'll see some fireworks. And then, if this weather pattern holds, we'll head offshore and again ride the Gulf Stream north, all the way to South Carolina.

Update: Since starting this post, we've moved considerably further south. We're now abreast Charlotte Harbor and Cayo Costa. We've hit a small front, which has us listing several degrees to starboard. Inland from here our friends Chris and Cherie are snug in the Fort Myers Marina, which is on the way to Lake Okeechobee. We briefly considered trying to cross the lake, which would have made an opportunity to get together, but the controlling depth is still just over six feet. We remember touching bottom in places when the depth was published at over seven. Saving a half day and 160 miles was not worth running aground, or the concentration required to navigate that route.


  1. Back when we were both in our buses, traveling 50+ m out of our way to connect was a no-brainer. Now, just a mere 20 or so nautical miles (each way) keeps us apart - such a different scale of distance in this mode of transport, for sure!

    Sad we'll miss you this time around, but look forward to Y-Not and Vector meeting hopefully later this year, and hugging on you guys in person.

    Fair winds and following seas on your journey around Florida.

  2. Saw Odyssey in Ypsilanti, MI. on 6/29/17. I briefly spoke with the current owner, I think. Didn't want to bother them as they were inside the bus with the door open on a side street. There was an event in the old downtown area, The Great Race competitors were in town on a leg of the race. My reason for being there and I live in the area. Not sure if it was related. Just thought you might like to know. Mike-73 Bluebird Wanderlodge restored.


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