March 25 – 28, 2020 Same Trip, Yet It’s Not

Over the last week, we have contemplated when to leave Fort Myers.  Our growing concerns were about the future availability of marinas/fuel, and also the water level in Lake Okeechobee.  We had been experiencing beautiful weather – sunny skies, warm temps, and breezes, but NO rain.  That’s great, except that the water in Lake O was evaporating.  The lake isn’t usually very deep, so as water levels decline, it poses possible problems.  We decided it was time to move.  Paradise Falls concurred, so we planned to leave the 25th for a 3 day trip to cross to the Atlantic coast.

We left early on the 25th.  Unfortunately, there were two slower boats that were already in the channel as we departed.  There was a bridge and a lock to open a short distance ahead, and we knew that there was no use of trying to pass the boats, as we would just have to wait for them at the lock.  So we settled into a slow cruise to enjoy the day.  The four of us were in a line.  I happened to glance back and saw a large Sport Fishing boat coming up fast behind us.  I radioed to the other boats to make them aware, as I anticipated the boat was going to pass;  and pass he did.  SO fast that he created a deep wake that rocked and shook everything in our boat.  I glanced at Paradise Falls, a small 29 ft low tug — the wake swamped the front of their boat as they took a nose dive down and back up.  As the boat passed the others in our line, I heard some choice words over the radio.  The boat had no name or other identifying info on the boat – probably on purpose.  He went on his way, but deeds have a way of catching up with you.  When the four of us approached the bridge that had to be opened, there was the big, bad boat!  We figured the bridge tender had heard the chatter on the radio and decided the guy could just cool his jets for awhile. After we went thru the bridge, it wasn’t too much farther that he turned off to go wherever — good riddance!

We went thru two more locks that day – Franklin Lock (#203) and  Ortona Lock (#204).  We tied to a wall in Moore Haven along with Paradise Falls. The wall was adjacent to a city park; it was a nice setting.  We headed out for a walk, and again experienced the eeriness of so many businesses closed.  Even the City Hall where we paid our overnight fee was locked – a doorbell brought an employee and she gave directions to get one of the provided envelopes, insert our money, and put the envelope through a slot.  We DID manage to find an ice cream store that was open!  We figured someone recognized the medicinal value of ice cream!

We proceeded on the next day and went thru Moore Haven Lock (#205) and into a narrow channel that led us to Clewiston.  Made a left turn there – and we were IN Lake Okeechobee!  We had been warned about low spots in the lake and the necessity of staying IN the channel.  We followed the channel markings and our electronic charts diligently and we still had low water warnings go off three times.  There were small white caps in the lake, but an OK kind of day.  Three hours later we were exiting the lake and going through the Port Mayaca Lock (#206) and on to the St. Lucie Canal.  Our destination was the tie up on the west side of the St Lucie Lock.  There was a park in the area with boat slips, but the park had been closed and boats told to leave the slips.  We read that there were dolphins to which we could tie.

A “dolphin” is a cluster of pilings (think telephone poles).  To tie to dolphins, you need to tie the bow of the boat to one dolphin, and the stern of the boat to another.  Ed drove the boat as close to the front dolphin as possible, where I tried to tie a line to a cleat on the dolphin,  The cleat was rather low for our boat, and it was quite a challenge to get it without running the boat into the dolphin.  Once I did get it,  I had to tie it loosely so that we could get the boat far enough back to the dolphin behind us.  I took over the driving, and Ed went to the stern to catch the cleat there.  We did a lot of maneuvering back and forth trying to get tight between the two dolphins.  We were exhausted by the time we were done.

Meanwhile, Paradise Falls was watching us and waiting to come in and get tied.  We knew there would be some difficulties, so Ed got in our dinghy to try and help them.  Between the three of them, they finally got their boat tied also.  We spent a quiet night there – beautiful and calm.  Since the lock was closed for the day, there wasn’t any traffic in the area.  

UNtieing from dolphins is easier than getting tied.  Once the boats were untied, we went thru the St. Lucie Lock (#207) and headed to Stuart on the Atlantic side of Florida.  We had hoped to stay at Sunset Bay Marina, in downtown Stuart, but they were no longer taking boaters due to the virus.  Instead, our friends Kate and Bill on Steadfast recommended coming to The Harborage, their home port.  So there we went.  We radioed to the marina when we arrived and they gave us directions to our slip.  We were making our way there when the boat stopped – stuck in mud!  We were able to rock out, but we suspected there might have been some damage.  Would it have been so difficult for the dock master to say “Stay close to the boats because the outside is shallow?”  One sentence would have saved us grief.  We got docked and were glad to see Kate and Bill’s boat just across the dock from ours.  They weren’t aboard.  They were moving back into their condo there on the premises.

Fortunately there was a diver at the marina doing work on another boat.  We asked him to check under ours to see if there was any damage.  We were glad to hear that there wasn’t any physical damage to the props, but he said we had “polished off” the protective coating on the props.  The coating is what helps to keep barnacles from growing on the surface.  Good news/bad news kind of result.

The Harborage is a beautiful marina, but all the amenities were closed.  No access to pool, club room, fitness room or restaurant; all closed because of the virus.  But we made note that they didn’t reduced the price for staying at the marina!  

We rode our bikes into town – a lovely town, that was mostly closed.  There is a beautiful waterfront walkway and amphitheater in town.  Known as the “Sailfish Capitol of the World,” Stuart was a favorite fishing spot for President Grover Cleveland.  He bought waterfront property ($225) there to build a home, but died before that happened.  His widow eventually sold the property to the city – at a whopping $25 profit — and it is now the site of City Hall.

We enjoyed biking to one of the parks and then just up and down the streets.  I saw more doctors’ offices than I have ever seen in a town.  You can have your choice of specialists here!

We enjoyed catching up with Kate and Bill.  They were moving back into their “dirt home.”  We got a tour of the condo and that night, along with Paradise Falls, we all ordered take out for dinner and enjoyed a delightful evening with a view from the condo.  We sadly said goodbye the next morning.  We’re nearing the end of our journey, so not sure when we might see Bill and Kate again, but in Looper tradition, we expect we will see them someday, somewhere!

So the journey continues, but not the same kind of journey we started.  For the past year, we have enjoyed exploring cities, towns, and parks – doing all the touristy things that tourists do.  Not possible now.  We’re still traveling the waterways, but not able to tour, and not able to do all the Looper gatherings that have made this trip so special.  Boaters are probably more isolated from the general population than most people, but there is still some wariness about getting on boats, or having large gatherings.  We’ll adapt, but the journey has changed.