The Everglades and Florida Keys
313 Days Looping
4,668.3 Nautical Miles Total (5,372.2 Statute Miles)
156.1 Nautical Miles This Week
10.8 Hours Underway This Week
14.5 NMph Average Speed
0 Locks This Week, 154 Total Locks
Monday – Feb 17th – 0 NM – In: Fort Myers, FL
Monday was our prep day to get back underway. I returned the rental car while Brenda did laundry. I also did a repair on the railings where some of our teak had cracked.
In the evening we got together with Connie and Tom from R-Pad and went to Capone’s a coal fire pizza place. This is the last time we’ll see them for a while so we wanted to get together to say goodbye.
Tuesday – Feb 18th – 80.9 NM – To: Everglades City, FL
At 7:30 we started prepping the lines to leave. We have a cast-off routine. Brenda gets our basket ready that contains our handheld radio, binoculars, hats, charging cables, notebook, etc. Also, we bring out our life jackets and put our wallets into our “ditch bag”. I do my engine checks (oil level, transmission fluid level, coolant level, belt tightness, and a general look around to see if anything is leaking! If we are running from the flybridge, I remove the covers, then turn on the electronics and make sure everything is working, that the radio is set to the correct channel (16). We then adjust our fenders. While we are at the dock, we typically put all of our fenders overboard the ones on the dockside protect the boat, the ones on the non-dock side we put over to get them out of the way to make it easy to walk around the boat (also to protect us if someone pulls in or out next to us). Then I start the engines to give them a chance to warm up a bit. While the engines are warming up, we set our lines. First, we remove any extra lines that we attached to keep the boat stable while at the dock. Then based on the wind and current we decide if we need one or two lines to hold the boat steady until we cast off, untie them, and just loop them around a dock cleat or post and back onto the boat so that Brenda or I can just pull and remove them. Once everything is good, we don our marriage saver headsets, I do a quick burst on our thrusters to make sure that they are working and give Brenda the okay to drop the lines. When she has them on board, I put the boat in gear and off we go!
While we were setting our lines, Tom from R-Pad pulled up next to us in his Kayak. He had paddled over from his marina to say goodbye. Right at 8:00 we dropped our lines and followed Tom out of the basin and back into the Caloosahatchee River for our fourth transit! We waved to Tom, went under the bridge, and headed out toward the gulf.
We passed through the “miserable mile” and were paced by a dolphin who was so close to the side of the boat we couldn’t see him over the edge, but other boats kept pointing and calling out to us. Once we were through the slow zone, we picked up the pace a bit, when by the turnoff to Fort Myers Beach, and turned into the Gulf.
The route to Everglades City takes us along the same track as our route to Marco Island. We passed Bonita Springs, Naples, and the entrance to Marco Island. From there we continued south. The water here is amazing, bright blue-green and very clear. It was a perfect day on the water, just a light breeze, no waves to speak of, 80° and bright sunshine with some puffy clouds.
Everglades City is pretty far off of the beaten path. From the main route between Marco Island and Marathon Key, you turn inland through mangroves and up the Barron River. We stayed at the Everglades Rod & Gun Club. The Rod & Gun Club is a historic fishing camp set up when the town was built back in 1864. It’s survived over 150 years of hurricanes and has hosted 5 presidents and even more celebrities. It was pretty heavily damaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017 and is still in the restoration process. The main floor, dining room, and front porch have all been lovingly restored, and walking through the squeaky screen door is like walking back in time!
We were all checked in by 2:00 and we went to the restaurant for some chicken wings for lunch. After lunch, we just relaxed and watched the crab boats come back into the harbor. It was a constant stream, one every 10 or 15 minutes. I washed the salt off the boat and we relaxed and tried to stay cool in the 89°, 80% humidity until dinner time. As soon as the sun went down, the mosquitoes and no-see-ums came out. They were vicious! I lit our citronella candle and put it near the door so that they wouldn’t flood in when we opened the door. At 6:00 we made the short dash up to the lodge for dinner. We sat out on the SCREENED IN porch where there was a light breeze. They had live music, a guitar/harmonica player. He was quite good! I wanted to try the “Swamp & Turf”, frog legs and steak, but unfortunately, they were out of both frog legs and steak. (Boo Hoo!) The Rod & Gun Club doesn’t take credit cards, cash, and local checks only (the only bank in town closed in early 2000). So we had to pay for our dockage fees, lunch, and dinner with cash. We’d been warned so were prepared. After 150 years, they are sort of set in their ways and it’s their way or the highway (5 miles up the road through the swamp), take a look at the disclaimer in the photos below.
Dinner was good and we hung around until about 9:00 listening to the music then bee-lined back to the boat for the night before we were eaten alive.
Wednesday – Feb 19th – 0 NM – In: Everglades City, FL
The area around Everglades City is Airboat Central. There must be 10 airboat ride companies in the area. We wanted to take an airboat ride, so we asked at the Rod & Gun Club which one they recommended. Without hesitation, they said “Wootens!”. We asked where that was and they said it was about 5 miles away up on highway 41. We had driven past it on our way to Miami! They didn’t have a courtesy car, and as for Uber, Lyft, or Taxis, Haa Haa Haa, this is the swamp! We asked which of the ones in the walking distance they would recommend and they suggested one or two but said that it wasn’t anywhere near as good. We called Wootens and explained that the Rod & Gun club had recommended them and asked if there was someone there that would come pick us up. No problem! About 15 minutes later, Cathy, the head ticket clerk drove up and gave us a ride!
When we got there, she jumped into her ticket booth and set us up on one of the smaller boats that goes into the grasslands as well as the mangrove swamps. We boarded the boat and went for an exhilarating ride. Our captain was excellent, he would stop from time to time and shut down the engine so that we could take off our earmuffs and enjoy the sounds of the Everglades and see the birds and gators.
When we got back from our ride, we went to their “animal park”. There were several large ponds with gators that have been rescued or needed to be rehomed. They also had a few exotic animals including a pair of Siberian Tigers one of them white, and a Lion and Lioness. They had a couple of crocodiles, an otter family, and some snakes, lizards, and tortoises. It was a beautiful day and very hot and humid. So after the animal park, we tracked down Cathy and she gave us a lift back to the lodge. She said she likes being able to get out of the office from time to time.
When we got back, we walked across the street through “downtown” to the Museum of the Everglades (which was nicely air-conditioned) and walked around learning about the history of Everglades City. It was a designed city and a company town that was built up when they were building the Tamiami Trail (Route 41) in the 1920s. Unfortunately, like many Florida communities, it suffered during the depression and from hurricanes. Today it’s a sleepy little fishing town.
After the museums, we went back to the boat, and I decided to throw a line into the water. I caught (and released) four catfish, three medium-sized ones, and a pretty good-sized one with giant fin spikes!
We had dinner at the Rod & Gun Club (it’s the only place within walking distance). They had entertainment again, but tonight’s singer wasn’t as good as last night. When we ordered our drinks, Brenda asked for a Coke like she had the night before. “We only have Pepsi,” the waitress said. “You had Coke last night,” I said. “We have three owners and they trade-off in the kitchen and shopping. Tonights likes Pepsi.” Okay, it must be that “Old Florida Charm” they were talking about.
Thursday – Feb 20th – 75.2 NM – To: Marathon, FL
We were woken up again by the 4, 5, and 6 am rocking of the boat as the fishing fleet went out. We had a 75 mile run to Marathon in the Keys, so we cast off at 7:30 and headed out. When we came in, it was mid-tide and we had no problem, as we were leaving it was dead low tide so we picked our way very carefully along. As we crossed Chokoloskee Bay on the way to the Mangroves, a fishing boat pulled up next to us and called out “I’d turn around, there’s a shoal at the end of the bay and you’ll never make it at low tide.” We thanked him but kept going. I have a forward-looking sonar that’s really good at very slow speeds, and we were watching it closely.
From the dock to this point we’d been seeing between 3 and 5 feet under our keel (7-9 feet total depth). As we neared the exit we saw the bottom start to rise. When it reached 3 feet, we slowed way down and pretty much let the outgoing tide push us along. The forward-looking sonar showed 4.5 ft (which gave us 1 foot below the boat), as we passed over the hump, our regular sonar said 1.5 ft below the boat! We made it without incident, and it went back to 3 or more feet below the boat all the way through the Mangroves. We never saw more than 10 feet of total depth until we were almost a mile past the mangroves and into the Gulf.
Even though the Gulf is open water, the average depth along the route is only about 25 ft. This means watching for shoals, and lots and lots of crab pots! The weather was great, hardly any waves at all, beautiful blue water, and temps reaching 90! As we were cruising along dodging crab pots, we saw two Green Sea Turtles! They were very large, at least two feet across. We slowed to get a picture, but as soon as they knew they were spotted, they dived under the water.
About halfway through the day, we were in wide-open water without land or another boat in sight. We’d been dealing with the crab pots since we reached the gulf, and I’ve wondered what they looked like. All we see is the floats on the top of the water. Since there was no one around, I decided to stop and see what one looked like. We pulled up next to a buoy, and I grabbed it with the boat hook and tried to pull it up. I got about 5 ft of muddy, slimy rope up, but the trap wouldn’t budge! So, I wrapped the rope around a cleat and had Brenda put the boat in gear for a moment to free it up from the bottom, then hauled it up. The trap was about the size of a milk crate with small slots in the side to let in water, and a “tunnel” into it about 2 inches wide and 6 inches long. I opened up the trap and there were 3 stone crabs inside as well as a gelatinous bait ball. We took a couple of pictures, and then closed it up and put it back. (No, we didn’t take any crabs, just pulling it up we probably broke some law).
At 12:00 we sighted the 7-mile bridge and Vaca Key. Our track took us straight into the marina entrance and by 12:30 we were all tied up at Marlin Bay Marina.
After settling in we went up to the office to check-in. The marina is located in a gated condo complex with a beautiful pool. It was started back in the early 2000s, abandoned in 2008, and pretty much re-built in 2015. It’s very well maintained and the staff is excellent. There are breakwater walls of blasted coral all around the marina. The local Iguana population thinks that they are excellent places to live. There’s grass and plants nearby, they can sun themselves on the warm rocks, and there are plenty of places to hide. We counted at least 10 with some as long as 3 feet!
In the evening we walked to the Keys Fisheries for dinner. They have a large fleet that brings in fresh fish daily. All around the resort and Keys, Fisheries are acres of crab and lobster pots stacked 24 to a pallet, with pallets stacked 5 and 6 high! They don’t clean them really well, so when the wind blows through them, you can really “smell the ocean”! At Key Fisheries, you can buy fish at the fish market or eat at the restaurant in the back of the fish market. They also have a raised tiki hut with a bar and raw bar. Every year at the beginning of the season, they have a contest to re-name the restaurant! This year it’s called “Clawsa-Blanca”. When we arrived, there was a line wrapping around the parking lot to get in. We decided that we’d come back some other day, and walked around the corner to the Overseas Grill, a local hangout, and had a nice dinner.
When the sun goes down, the restaurant blows a Conch shell horn, and you hear replies from up and down the island.
Friday – Feb 21st – 0 NM – In: Marathon, FL
In Marathon, there is a Sea Turtle Hospital so we broke out the bikes and rode the mile or so to visit it. When we arrived, we found out that all of the tours for the day were full. We made a reservation for Monday and then rode to the city marina and the Boot Key Harbor mooring field. There were several Looper boats there, including our friends Kate & Dave on Lee Loo. We could just see their boat among the 100’s of boats moored there!
It was hot and the wind was picking up so we went back to the boat. The wind really picked up over the afternoon and we had waves breaking over the seawall behind us! In the evening we walked around the marina to chat with some of the other boaters, then climbed up the “Sunset Tower” at the end of the jetty on the west side.
Saturday – Feb 22nd – 0 NM – In: Marathon, FL
Some loopers who winter here in Marathon hold an annual “Sunset Celebration” at their marina, Banana Bay which is about a mile north of where we were staying. In the morning, we rode the bikes to Home Depot which is just a mile up the road to pick up some parts for the boat. Then Brenda baked some treats to bring with us to the gathering, and I did some rewiring on the flybridge.
At 3:00 we walked over to Banana Bay for the get-together. At 3:30 Curtis Stokes, a boat broker gave a talk on the state of the boat resale market. He told us that due to increased insurance costs and a decrease in the market due to millennials not buying larger boats, the market was down about 13%. Not great news but nobody seemed to get too stressed out about it. When Curtis finished, a band started playing, and we all got snacks. There were about 130 people who showed up including some who flew in for the event!
The wind had been strong all day, 20-30 knots (23-34 mph), and the trees were really whipping around. We hung out chatting until around 6:00, when the sun started to set and it got chilly, then walked back to the boat. As the evening progressed the wind got stronger and we recorded a 55-knot gust (63 mph)!
Sunday – Feb 23rd – 0 NM – In: Marathon, FL
Saturday night into Sunday was a disturbed night of sleep. Brenda ended up sleeping in the salon because the bow of the boat where our bedroom is was bouncing and the waves were slapping loudly on the hull.
We had heard about a flea market in Islamorada which is about 37 miles north. There is a bus service that runs on the overseas highway (Route 1) from Florida City in the north, to Marathon in the south. Then in Marathon, there is a local bus service that covers the 50 miles of the lower keys to Key West. The bus costs $2.65 no matter how far you go! It’s a great deal.
The closest bus stop was at mile 50, our marina is at mile 48, so we rode our bikes up to the local K-Mart (Yes there is still an open K-Mart in Marathon!) parking lot which is where the bus stop is. The bus was scheduled for 9:30 and we got there a bit early, so we went over to McDonald’s for breakfast. We locked up the bikes to a tree near the bus stop and took the bus ride up to mile 87 where the flea market was. It was a nice 37-mile ride across the bridges that connect the Keys.
The flea market was okay, very busy! There were over 300 vendors there. Most were new products, lots of fishing tackle and rods, docks, fishing boats, many artists and craftspeople, and lots of food vendors. Some were true flea market stuff like used propellers, old electronics, boxes, and bins of electrical parts. We spent a couple of hours walking around looking at stuff. We didn’t need anything for the boat but we did find a deal on some fishing sun shirts. I think the only other thing we bought was some drinks because it was so hot.
At 12:30 we’d had enough. There was a bus scheduled for 12:40 so we walked just down the street to the bus stop at the Giant Lobster! The flea market was causing a traffic backup, and the bus didn’t arrive until about 1:15. We hopped on and headed back south to mile 50.
After a few stops, we were the only people left on the bus, so we moved up to the front seat. I mentioned to the driver that we were getting off in Marathon at Mile 50. “Not on this bus!” he said. We only go to mile 74 then turn around. “Oh! When is the next but to Marathon?” Checking the schedule (the phone version doesn’t make it clear that the bus only goes to Marathon a few times a day on Sunday).”Not until 3:30.” he said. So, when we got to Mile 74, we got off. Mile 74 is on one of the small islands that make up Islamorada and features a beach, a convenience store/gas station, and stacks of lobster pots. There is NOTHING there! Why they decided to have the bus route end there is a mystery! Our options were to sit at the convenience store for a couple of hours waiting for the bus or call an Uber. I didn’t think we’d find any Uber drivers out there, but when I checked, there was indeed someone available just up the road. 12 minutes later our driver arrived and we got a lift back to Marathon. $45! I think that’s the most expensive Uber ride I’ve ever taken except to the airport in London.
When we got back to Marathon we got on our bikes and rode across the street to the Crane Point Nature Preserve. Crane Point is a 63-acre private nature preserve. The Cranes purchased the land back in the 1950s when development was just starting on Marathon. They saw the clear-cutting and filling that was going on, and after building their home on a point on the Gulf side, decided to preserve the rest of the property as natural. The property had been owned by George Adderley a Bahamian immigrant who did sponge fishing and charcoal production. His home is preserved as a historic structure on the property. The Cranes had walking trails macheted through the “jungle” and put in some boardwalks across the mangrove swamps.
Today the property is managed by a private foundation that has continued to improve the property with more trails and boardwalks but has kept the majority of the property natural. The Crane house is in the process of restoration and is closed, but the Adderley House is open and you can walk through the house which is a simple four-room wattle and daub house in the Bahamian style. The property is frequented by bird watchers and has installed a bird rescue center on the property as well.
We spent a few hours walking around the trails, visiting the bird sanctuary, and doing a few Geocaches. At 4:30 we jumped back on our bikes and rode back to the boat. For dinner we went back to the Overseas Grill, then turned in early as again, the waves were slapping on the boat, and we knew that we would have a disturbed night’s sleep.
NEXT WEEK: Continuing south to Key West!
Tom & Brenda