Monday, February 20, 2023


We are under way southbound in the Gulf of Mexico, offshore of about Bonita Springs or thereabouts as I begin typing. We are bound for Key West, and the plotter is guessing we will arrive sometime around noon. Wind and waves are higher than forecast, but we're having a mostly comfortable ride, and it's the best night for it this week.

Sunset, over Sanibel Island, off Fort Myers Beach, for a small but appreciative crowd.

Thursday morning we weighed anchor in time to make the 8:45 bridge opening, and we slogged down the ICW to Venice, where we were tied up at the yacht club (map) before 1:30. We had done that leg offshore on the northbound trip, but the gulf was less settled this time. The shallow stretches along the inside route, at times bringing us within 6" of the bottom, no longer bother us the way they once did.

Dinner at Snug Harbor, Fort Myers Beach, happy to be spending money here.

The club has reopened its main kitchen and dining room since our last visit, but we opted instead to again eat outside at the tiki bar, with a more casual menu and vibe. We strolled out to the jetty and back after dinner to stretch our legs and in the morning we took on water and offloaded the trash and recycling before dropping lines.

Friday's cruise brought us down the inside to Cabbage Key, where we dropped the hook in our usual spot (map) and tendered ashore for dinner. The Inn had surprisingly little damage from Ian, and even most of the dollar bills stuck to the ceiling rode out the storm, in a screen room at that. We were happy to see it.

Cabbage Key Inn, famous for dollar bills on the ceiling and inspiring the song Cheeseburger in Paradise.

It was here that we took final stock of our weather situation and schedule to inform our decision to either cross back through the lake, or else head down to the Keys. Neither one of us particularly relished the idea of going back through the lake, so when a check of the weather revealed two good days this week, we made our choice.

That left something of a quandary, as we'd need a place to wait for today's window. The anchorage at Cabbage is not a comfortable place to wait, and the Inn is the only thing there. We could divert along the ICW and the Caloosahatchee toward Fort Myers and a comfortable anchorage at Glover Bight, but there's no way to get ashore there post-Ian, and it adds about ten miles to our route. And the yacht club in the same neighborhood had such a shallow entrance that it would be impossible to leave on schedule.

The sun setting behind the resilient palms of Fort Myers Beach.

Ultimately we decided to head to the epicenter of Ian's destruction, Fort Myers Beach. We'd never been there prior to the storm, and it's a bit odd to be starting now, but it was in the right place at the right time for us to stage for the crossing. I had heard the channel had been cleaned up and there was at least one marina open to get ashore.

These waterfront restaurants are on the verge of reopening, even among the sunken vessels.

With most of the infrastructure closed, including the city mooring field, we had figured to anchor, and I had scoped out a couple of spots that would work. But when we arrived in the harbor we found a line of brand new mooring balls from the harbor entrance all the way past the bridge. They were taking up every available anchoring spot and then some. We saw a half dozen boats on them, notwithstanding the city's web site stating the mooring field, which prior to the storm did not extend this far, to be closed. I called the harbor master and left a message.

Rest rooms and other beach infrastructure were swept away, but the city has placed temporary facilities to reopen the beach. Snack vendors operate from trailers.

After a half hour of wandering around the harbor looking for another option, we decided to just pick up a ball in the area that had larger, beefier tackle set further apart (map), and I left another message for the city. We later learned the balls were just installed, and they are waiting until the dinghy dock, bath house, and pumpout boat are all operational to officially open. One of the other boaters had a visit from someone official who said they were not able to collect fees yet but it was OK to stay a couple of days, and that put us at ease.

Beefy new city mooring. The growth on the pendant is from just a few weeks.

I had been expecting to pay $20 to land our dinghy at the marina, but we discovered that the Snug Harbor waterfront restaurant was open and had its own customer docks. They had a limited menu, but the drafts were cold and the food was decent. After dinner, when the dock was not busy, we strolled the town, taking in the scope of the destruction and the rays of hope. They've come a long way in five months, but the road ahead is long and arduous.

Aptly named Hurricane Tina's, doing their best, operating out of easy-ups in the parking lot, with live music to boot.

Long-time readers know that we spent a decade as disaster relief volunteers with the American Red Cross. We've been to a lot of disaster areas, and frankly you never get used to it. Our first deployment was Hurricane Katrina, where we spent three months, and nothing since has ever come close, but Fort Myers Beach is right up there among the worst we have seen. The economy here runs entirely on tourism, and it is a mad scramble to try to open up enough things for the golden goose to return. Putting new moorings in is a part of that process. We were happy to be able to spend some money in town.

One of the businesses along the main drag. We could not take photos like this when we were volunteers, and even today I am reluctant to show homes, respecting those who have lost so much.

Yesterday I took a little dinghy ride to explore what else was open. I found a fuel dock that had reopened and I filled up the tender, and I found places to land the dinghy on both sides of the channel. I walked a bit on both sides, and learned that our other dining option was Wahoo Willies right across the street from Snug Harbor. They are sister properties, and when we returned at dinner time we were able to use the same dock.

Impromptu dinghy landing, tied to a guardrail on a bulkhead under the bridge. In normal times the police would stop this.

We had hoped to connect with our nearby friends Laura and Ben while we were in town, but they were already committed during our entire stay. I did get a couple of projects done while we had some downtime, including replacing the engine anodes and making adjustments to the MOB alarm.

Folks making shelter however they can.

We made one final pilgrimage to Snug Harbor after lunch today, to get in a little walk around town and have a beer, wanting to leave a few more bucks in support of local businesses. We did not get the chance; while we were sitting at the bar, local denizen Steve sat down next to us and struck up a conversation. He was in town to check on his condo, still uninhabitable and likely to remain that way for quite some time. In the meantime he's had to move in with family in Punta Gorda. After 45 minutes of conversation he insisted on picking up our beers, a munificent gesture.

What looked like a piling at the Snug Harbor dock turned out to be a carved dolphin.

We left the harbor at 4pm on a fair tide, hoping to get out past the 9nm line and the bulk of the unending pot floats well before dark. At dinner time I reduced RPM to try to delay our arrival, but we're doing 6.8 knots right now while making turns for just 6. The plotter is now showing an arrival before 10am, and we'll have to slow down further at the 3am change of watch if we still have this much following current.

This Napa auto repair is doing business, even with part of the roof missing (note the sunlight in the left bay).

We'll probably be in Key West through the weekend, or until the anchorage gets uncomfortable, whichever is sooner. My next post will be whenever we get back under way. Our friends Dorsey and Bruce are in Key West and we are looking forward to reconnecting with them.

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