Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Useppa Island to Jacksonville, FL

As we left our anchorage at Cabbage Key the plan was to head south to go around the tip of Florida because of low water levels at Lake Okeechobee. This route means going out into the Gulf everyday and going back in to an anchorage or marina on the coast each evening. Because of some weather predictions, Joe started investigating the conditions at the lake again. Through conversations over the radio – one with a boater who happens to live only a few miles from us in Gulf Breeze – we learned that several boats with slightly deeper draft than Carolyn Ann had recently crossed the lake. We committed to that route and headed in at Fort Myers.
Evidently everyone celebrates mother's day on the water there. This is referred to as the "miserable mile" because of the narrow channel and heavy traffic, although this picture doesn't do it justice.

Punk’s first lock experience, at Franklin Lock, was a bit underwhelming as we only raised up about one or two feet. For those of you who are unfamiliar with locks – as I was (Punk): you pull the boat into the lock which has high concrete walls. Spaced along the wall, ropes are hanging down – or the lockmaster drops one down to you. You wrap a rope on a bow cleat and one on a stern cleat to hold the boat in place. The lockmaster closes the gates behind you and starts slowly opening the gates ahead. Since we were going up, water started pouring through the crack between the gates. As the water rises, you pull up the slack on the rope to keep the boat in place. Once the water level in the lock is even with that ahead the gates open all the way, you drop your rope and move on. (note the barge exiting the lock in ahead of us.)

We docked at La Belle - Med style which means you put an anchor at one end and tie up to the dock at the other end. A grocery store was a few blocks away, so we got to stretch our legs a bit - but while shopping it's hard to remember that you're going to have to carry all that stuff!

As we neared Lake Okeechobee we could see huge plumes of smoke rising. Luckily the wind was blowing away from us for the most part.

We spent Monday night at Roland Martins Marina in Clewiston which is on the southwest edge of Lake Okeechobee. It became very windy in the afternoon – which would be bad for a lake crossing – but the winds were to be lighter on Tuesday. We were still hearing about boats crossing the lake – but also getting skeptical looks when we said we were planning to. Tuesday morning – about 6 am – Joe went up to the bait shop and asked if anyone had any advice for us. They told him that a barge had gotten stuck on the way out late Monday, but the speculation was the wind had pushed him out of the narrow channel.

We started out shortly after six with virtually no wind. The channel is narrow – rocks on both sides – and shallow – only about 4 feet.

Before long we could see the barge ahead – stuck crossways in and out of the channel. The same barge that had been in the lock with us the day before! Thanks to our fine captain - or maybe he's the first mate - we made it around the barge without incident.

Once into the main part of the lake it is impressively large. Even with light winds there was quite a chop.

On the other side there is another narrow, shallow channel to navigate. We churned up a good bit of mud for a while, but made it through okay. Then we went through the lock at St. Lucie. There is only one lock on the east side of the lake, so we had about a 9' drop in water level. We had the lock all to ourselves this time.
That night we anchored in Hoggs Cove along the St. Lucie river. We were surrounded by impressively large homes which we're beginning to become accustomed to seeing. Where do so many people get so much money? And who would want to clean that much house?
The next afternoon we were looking for a good place to anchor, when we came upon Jones Fruit Dock. Skipper Bob -the writer of the guide books most people use - had it listed as a $10 a night dockage that no longer sells fruit. As we pulled up and saw the paint job, we decided $10 was almost as cheap as anchoring out and it looked too interesting to pass up.
As we were tying the boat up, Dick and Mary Jones came out to great us and have us sign in their big book - and of course collect our $10. Dick is 89 and Mary is 85.
Mr. Jones' family has lived on that property for 160 years. Their farm has been given a historic pioneer designation for land that has been in one family for at least 100 years. There are only about 120 in the state. They had a citrus orchard until a hurricane pretty much wiped it out. They still have some coconut palms and he gave us a coconut - which Joe had quite a time opening. Chatting with them was well worth the price of dockage!
We cruised uneventfully the following day, Thursday, to our anchorage in Titusville. We were within site of the shuttle hangar where the prep the shuttle for launch. The structure dominates the landscape - it's the only thing sticking up for miles - but for some reason we neglected to take a picture.

I may have mentioned that often we are cruising past immense houses. We take pictures sporadically - sometimes the ones we like, sometimes the ones we think are absurdly large, sometimes ones that just don't look quite right. (Lots of the pictures are on the picasa site.) Of course looking at houses is one of the few interests that Joe and I share, so we really enjoy this aspect of cruising. As we cruised from Titusville to our Friday night anchorage north of Daytona, we went through some areas where the narrow channel passed through those large houses, but also some more modest areas - proving that there is room on the water for everyone.
Not surprisingly we see lots of bridges along the way. Some we have to call for an opening, some we only need to put down the antennas to get under and many are very tall so we just enjoy the view as we glide under. This one in Daytona is the nicest we've seen.

Friday night we anchored north of this bridge - and we have the obligatory sunset:

On to St. Augustine, where we found the harbor leading to the Bridge of Lions filled with anchored boats. Following the marked channel to the bridge was difficult as it looked like you were steering into the anchorage area.

Because of the construction on the bridge, it was even hard to see where space was to go through among all the barges.

We anchored at another Pine Island along with several others. The green head flies were so bad that Joe had to cook our hot dogs inside on the stove instead of outside on the grill. The flies probably would've eaten them before he got them back inside!

Today, Sunday, we left our anchorage and continued north. Contrary to popular belief , when we anchor in the evening, we cannot see the place we left in the morning - too many twists and turns in the route. Actually, we managed to pass these two boats today.

We left the intracoastal waterway to enter the St. John's River - going up stream, which in this case means south. We're on our way to spend a few days in Green Cove Springs to have Mirage make a few repairs.

One of the bridges over the St. John's carries route 9A. Large scaffolding with stairs surround the cables with what looked like big blankets covering areas of it.

Along the way this coast guard vessel passed us, then turned and passed us going the other way. The man in front is holding onto a machine gun. We haven't seen the news much lately - have we missed something?

This is a picture Joe's been wanting to take. These houses are elevated from the river and all have long stairways. This one also has a rail on which a platform rides up and down.

 And here we arrive in Jacksonville. We're tied up at the free dock at the Landings - a commercial waterfront area in downtown.

If you'd like to see more pictures, follow the link to our picasa albums: http://picasaweb.google.com/joseph.pica

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