Okeechobee waterway January 2015
Our first anchorage after launch was near the marina by the bridge. A couple of cruisers stopped by for a chat. A lady, who has been everywhere, chastised us for not having a dinghy and going ashore to enjoy the area. One fellow, with quite a sense of humor, visited us from a motor yacht. After that is was a quiet first night on the water. Next day, we headed south to Stuart where the Okeechobee Waterway begins. It was an uneventful day unless you consider looking at palm trees instead of 2 feet of snow.
We made one stop to fill the water tanks. Water at Fort Pierce Marina is not for drinking. Then, we anchored where we had anchored when we took “Submit” north for our son’s graduation in Washington, DC. This time there were no breakdowns.
There are two locks between Stuart and the lake, raising you up about 12 feet to lake level. Then there is a choice between route 1 across the lake or route two, the south rim route. For those of us who sail Flathead Lake in Montana, “across the lake” means set your sails and sail there, using the entire lake if necessary. Not here. There is a course laid out from which you must not stray or you’ll risk running aground. The course is about as wide as a two lane highway. Sails might be useful if the wind is from the right direction, which seems to rarely happen, and probably will only work until the next turn.
The rim route follows the southern shore and passes a couple small towns. (one of them is so small the cruising guide sys it only has two bars!) Water depth is limited, and for us, using it depends upon whether it is a wet or dry year. Last time we crossed it was a dry year, we could not use the rim route because the controlling depth was 3.6 feet. We run aground at 5.7 feet. This year is a wet year and controlling depth is 7.1 feet. So, the scenic rim route it is!
Scenic is debatable. (I thought it was quite beautiful. Lush and green as far as the eye can see. Of course, the eye could only see 20 feet on each side.) The lake is held in check by an extensive levee system over which we could not see. So, a lot of the trip was with grassy slopes to port and small man made (spoil) islands to starboard. The shores were full of birds of all descriptions: long tall skinny ones, white, gray, or black, wading or posed in statuesque form. A darting beak gives fresh sushi for one.
One bird which fishes while swimming is black bodied and has a head no bigger than its tan neck. Only its head and neck show above water. Barbara tells me it is called the snake bird and its head and neck surely resemble a snake, lifting its head high to search for prey, as it moves in the water.
A section of the trip was past rushes where not a bird could be seen. However, it was filled with birds, all of which were calling and singing, quite loud and entertaining.
We dropped anchor for the night about a third of the way along the rim route. We were between a spoil island and the levee. There was traffic noise from the invisible highway on the other side of the levee, but not too loud. It would have been a nice anchorage except for … the attack of the blood suckers!
As the daylight dimmed, we noticed a mosquito or two in the salon. We decide it probably would be wise to close the boat except for the screened portlights. We weren’t quick enough. The vanguard was followed by hordes. It seems an overstatement, but at times they were so thick at the portlights they blocked out most of the remaining daylight. Enough of the vanguard had gained entry to keep us busy for hours, hunting and eradicating. Many left smears of red as their tombstones.
And don’t you just love the ones which buzz around your ears? My ears were ringing from having boxed them in an attempt to kill the offenders. Unfortunately, the slap upside the head became so automatic that I hit myself once while taking a sip of merlot. Not all the red stains were from dead mosquitoes.
Not everything is up-to-date along the waterway. Next day, we had to pass through a bridge. This bridge only has 5 feet clearance so it must be swung out of the way to allow us to pass. The bridge operator can be reached by radio, probably at his home. He then drives to the bridge to open it. He manually lowers barricades on either side of the bridge, then walks to the center where he removes from the rail what looks like a 10 foot piece of pipe. The pipe is used as a lever to unlock the bridge. Then, it is inserted into a turnstile and he pushes it around by hand, resembling a draft horse turning a mill grinding stone. It appeared to take a great deal of effort by a man of about 350 pounds to get the bridge moving, but then its own momentum kept it going. A substantial fellow, slow but capable, which is good because the entire process needed to be done in reverse to close the bridge. I wonder if he had a cold one waiting and how many times a day he has to repeat the process (opening the bridge, not having cold ones)?
We passed through the lock at Clewiston and continued to the Lollipop anchorage. It is a canal about a half mile long which leads to an abandoned quarry, making it look like a lollipop on the chart. We anchored in over 30 feet of water in the quarry. Our guests that night were fish, cows, night birds, frogs and a smaller dose of mosquitoes which we managed to prevent entering. In her awake moments during the night, Barbara particularly enjoyed the concerto by night birds and frogs.
After passing through the second “downhill” lock, we tied up at a free newish aluminum floating dock next to a boat ramp in La Belle. Cruising guides told us this was allowable for up to 24 hours. We walked into town and did a little sight seeing and shopping. At the local Ace hardware store, we were informed they could not fill our empty aluminum propane bottle due to a recent law change in Florida. We’re hoping the partial bottle we have will last until we reach Pensacola where we will either have to replace it (aluminum ones are preferred on board because they are lighter and don’t rust, but are much more expensive) or find a re-filling station which does not know the rules.
We stopped at the Curtis Honey Co. store to get some fresh vegetables and perhaps a squeeze bottle for the bulk honey on board. We learned they produce 5 distinctive honeys by moving the bees from blossom crop to blossom crop. As I recall, orange blossoms are first each year and then other blossom crops include wild flowers, mangroves, seagrape and one other. Each has a distinctive flavor. We preferred mangrove.
It was decided to spend the night at the dock because it was getting towards evening and because the next day was predicted to be quite blustery. Also, Barbara wasn’t feeling too well due to a head cold.
Barbara spent the next day weathering her cold while I went hiking about town on a shopping excursion. We ended up patronizing 7 different local businesses during our short stop. None of our purchases were huge, but I guess we are an example of tourism dollars at work.
We thought we could push the limit and stay for another night at the dock. Busted! Not only were we exceeding the 24 hour limit, that limit no longer exists. It had been replaced by a 15 minute limit sometime in the recent past. The local constabulary came to check us out and inform us of our transgressions. I feigned ignorance and pleaded the 24 hour rule which I pointed out to him in two different cruising guides, one from 2007, one from 2008. I provided identification and information about our current Florida, Montana and Federal registrations. That, plus the fact it was well after dark, making it unsafe to move, and telling him we had a minor mechanical problem and would be moving on early next morning, convinced him and his upline that we should be allowed to stay the night.
Noises awakened us early. Boats were being launched next to us. Over two dozen high speed bass boats arrived, were launched and their tow vehicles parked in about an hour without yelling or loud cursing. The boats milled about us in the fog. Apparently they had been assigned numbers because at 0700, in the dark, they were sent off in order by having their number yelled out across the water by some invisible official.
After a quick breakfast we untied at dawn and headed on very slowly. There was dense fog rising from the river so we hugged the north shore, creeping along and watching the depth until the sun came up high enough to eliminate the fog. We did not hit any of the boats, nor did they hit us as they roared past in the fog.
We stopped for a short hike and lunch at the Caloosahatchee State Park and then continued on through the Franklin Lock and have stopped in Fort Myers where we may hang out for a couple days due to small craft warnings and rain storms. Barbara slowly improves. We may not even get off the boat.