|Lionheart Cruise: Mobile to Key West|
On November 1, 2006, we arrived in Mobile Bay, Alabama. As we had neared the Gulf of Mexico the land flattened out and turned into salt marshes. Mobile Bay itself is somewhat protected from the Gulf by the barrier islands but as we docked at the Dog River Marina, the wind was really picking up and by the next day was howling and making the bay very choppy. Once again we were going to be waiting for weather before we began the final leg of our trip around The Great Loop of America.
We spent 3 lovely days at Dog River Marina, catching up with friends on Total Return, and KAOS. We did our chores, I got a haircut, went grocery shopping and out to eat, while waiting for a fair wind to begin our trip down to southern Florida.
On Saturday, November 4, we left the marina at 7:30 AM, accompanying KAOS east across Mobile Bay and entering the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway (GIWW). It was nice to be back in salt water with all the seabirds and dolphins playing in our wake. It was windy and cold until we entered the GIWW at Bay Bon Secour. There is a lot of building going on in this part of the world which was so badly hit by the hurricanes of 2005. The GIWW between Mobile and Texas to the west was decimated by Katrina. The marinas were all wiped out and many have not been, and will not be, rebuilt. What is happening is developers are buying up the land and building condos which will include fancy marina facilities for owners. This will make it ever more difficult for cruisers to find reasonably priced transient docks.
On our first day in the GIWW we passed through Homeport, Alabama, right past Lulu's Restaurant which is purported to be THE home of Jimmy Buffett's Cheeseburger In Paradise. We did not stop for lunch because we had passed it when we saw it. Besides, the USC game was on that evening and I wanted to make sure we were anchored up and ready to watch. The further east we went the more beautiful white sand beaches appeared on the barrier islands which we were passing through. We arrived in Pensacola Beach, Florida, and anchored behind Perdido Key well before sunset. We visited the Pensacola Beach Yacht Club for a sunset drink with Alan and Susan on KAOS. After dinner, we watched USC trounce Stanford and went to bed happy.
The next day we made it to Panama City just about dusk and anchored in front of the home of a Looper couple we had met at the AGLCA rendezvous. They had invited KAOS to stop by when they passed through on their way to Florida so we tagged along and had an evening of great fun and hospitality with Greg and Carl Vernon. Not only did they treat us to a fantastic dinner of fish chowder, the next morning they took us to breakfast at a local waterside restaurant and showed us the lovely little town of Panama City. This was the first of the quaint little towns that we visited in what is called The Forgotten Coast of Florida. It is also called the Redneck Riviera. Whatever you call it, it is a beautiful and laid back part of the world.
The next night was spent at anchor in Cedar Creek which was a kind of swampy area. Since we had seen a number of bird houses perched on poles near the sides of the GIWW with what appeared to be lampshades fastened about halfway up the pole, we assumed this was an area full of water snakes. The shade like device would keep the snakes out of the nests. SO, I requested that the captain put duct tape over the hawse holes (openings in the hull of the boat where you put ropes through when tying the boat to a dock) so that no snakes would venture onto the decks of Lionheart causing moi to have a heart attack. Having done that, we were not attacked by any water snakes and I slept well.
The next day, November 7, we arrived in Apalachicola before lunch. We went into the quaint little town that is famous for local oysters and ate at Joes. Raw oysters, boiled shrimp, fried oysters, you name it and we ate it. We also walked around town to enjoy the old buildings and lush foliage of the area. On the 8th we had a short trip to Carrabelle where we planned to wait for the right weather window to cross the Gulf of Mexico to a spot on the southwest coast of Florida. The reason we had to cross the Gulf at this point instead of cruising from town to town around what is known as "the armpit of Florida" is because the GIWW ends at Carrabelle and the water of the Gulf is too shallow for close to land coastal cruising. We checked the local weather report which confirmed other weather research, and decided we would go the next morning. We checked out the local seafood and bought some groceries and were ready for the trip.
We left Carrabelle on November 9, at dawn in the company of KAOS. The trip across the Gulf was 238 miles. It took us 27.5 hours and was our first overnight venture since our trip across the Gulf from Isla Mujeres to the Dry Tortugas in April. The big difference was that the water was so calm that it was like a pond and there was a beautiful 3/4 harvest moon. It is sooooo much nicer to travel at night with a moon. The absence of 6 to 8 foot waves was also a huge factor. We arrived at Pelican Bay which is south of Tampa and north of Ft. Meyers about mid-day on the 10th. This is a beautiful spot amid the barrier islands that line the west coast of Florida. It was sunny and warm and we had a lovely 2 days there relaxing before heading out again.
While we were anchored, Bob Dein, who heads up the DeFeever Cruisers Association happened to be in the neighborhood and saw the boat. We had last seen the Deins in Charleston on our way north last May. Bob and Barbara have a dock on Useppa Island which is a private island resort in the area. He invited us over to see the island and we spent the afternoon wandering around a true island paradise. This is an old fashioned kind of place with some 100 year old cottages. Since they were hit hard by the hurricanes in 2005, many of the homes are still being rehabbed. However, the clubhouse, restaurant, croquet court and swimming pool, as well as most homes and the grounds had already been completely restored to their previous glory. The big banon trees and lush planting were a delight to behold.
On Sunday, Nov. 12, we headed to Ft. Meyers where we picked up the Intercostal Waterway (ICW) that runs down the west coast of Florida from Tampa Bay to the Everglades. Our big jump across the Gulf meant we bypassed Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Venice. In Ft. Meyers we stayed in a marina where the big gambling casino boat was docked at the end of our dock with it's big generator running all the time. We once again did our chores, ate dinner out and got ready to move on. Ft. Meyers Beach is a lot like Huntington Beach, Manhattan Beach, etc., but not as classy. However, that is not the case in Naples, Florida, where we anchored on the 14th. This was like Huntington Harbour on steroids! Big beautiful homes on very large lots around the waterways (all with mighty storm shutters). We took the dingy into Naples city and visited the tourist dock area. This part of the Florida Coast has many high-rise condos and hotels and caters to the seasonal winter birds. Naples seems to have a very wealthy second home clientele as well, with all the big boats and fancy restaurants one finds in Newport Beach. Private jets fly overhead every few minutes it seems.
Our next stop was in the Everglades. Everglades National Park covers a large portion of mainland southwest Florida. It is a place in a time warp. No fancy hotels or high-rise buildings south of Marcos Island. It is an area of mangrove islands and mangrove lined rivers and estuaries complete with a lot of wild life, including alligators and man eating insects. Our friends on Total Return had suggested that we should go into Everglades City and dock at the Rod and Gun Club. It was an excellent stop. The Rod and Gun Club building dates from 1864. While the lodge is old, there is a lovely dining room, screened-in dining porch (did I mention the mosquitoes?) and a beautiful pool. We were docked right in front of the lodge and had dinner there on Thursday evening. Also dining there was a very interesting gentleman who had just finished a week of kayaking in the Everglades with a friend. Tommy Newell is a volunteer for the National Park Service, spending time in the Everglades and Yellowstone. He invited us to have breakfast with him out near the Ranger Station which is about 5 miles out of Everglades City. We learned a lot about the Everglades area from him and the Rangers.
We were hoping to have Liz and Ritchie (our Canadian crew member & her guy, now living in Marathon) join us for the weekend but a scheduling problem arose with them so that did not work out. After our airboat ride on Saturday we went back out to anchor in Russell Pass and wait for KAOS to catch up (we had parted in Ft. Meyers). The airboat ride was fun and we certainly saw some alligators but after all the wild country we have seen, it seemed a kind of tame. Although, I will say being that close to an alligator in the wild is a special experience.
We met up with KAOS on the 18th in Russell Pass and left early in the morning of the 19th to travel the last 85 miles of our Great Loop trip. It was a bit of a rough ride because of the storm that we were trying to beat into Key West but we arrived in time to celebrate finishing the Great Loop of America, with a margarita from The Hog's Breath, in Mallory Square at sunset. A cool and windy sunset but none the less, very special for us.
Completing the Great Loop was the second of several objectives of this grand adventure that we have embarked upon. The first was transiting the Panama Canal which we did in February. We left Key West on April 15, 2006 and crossed our wake (as Loopers say) on November 19, 2006. It took 7 months and 4 days to travel 5,186 miles. We are now anchored and at rest in Key West Bight right off the city of Key West. We have been here over a week hanging out with our KAOS friends who have now gone to a marina and will leave for the Bahamas next week. We enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with them at a locally popular dive named Pepe's. They served a really nice turkey dinner (nothing compared to our usual feast at the Noll's) and a very darned good pecan pie.
We have been traveling for the past 13 months. In that time we have covered a total of 12,037 miles. It has been interesting, exciting, fun, and not so fun sometimes, but it has definitely been an adventure. We will spend the month of December in Marathon which is just 38 miles up the road. We will have Lionheart out of the water for repairs while the Captain visits family and friends on the west coast and I stay with Nick at Liz and Ritchie's. We will be heliskiing in B.C. for the holidays. In January we will put the boat back in the water and head out to the Bahamas for the winter. We plan to take it easy in 2007. We won't cover nearly so many miles on Lionheart but we plan to enjoy the Bahamas, the east coast of the US, especially the Chesapeake and Washington, D.C., with Thanksgiving in 2007 with family in Williamsburg, Virginia.
The travel log will continue next year. We wish everyone a Happy Holiday Season and a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year.
Leaving Mobile early in the AM heading east into the Gulf Intercoastal Water Way
Lulu's Restaurant, home of the "Cheeseburger In Paradise" This one is for all the Parrot Heads in the family.
This channel in the GIWW is called the ditch. It is a 30 mile long section that is very popular with fishermen located between Pensacola and Panama City.
Dinner at Greg and Carl Vernon's in Panama City.
Greg & Carl's home in the Cove section of Panama City.
A great lunch at Papa Joe's in Apalachiacola.
Departing Carrabelle at dawn on Nov. 9 to cross the Gulf.
Sunset on the Gulf later on Nov. 9
Useppa Island.....A private paradise.
Tommy & John had just finished a 1-week kayaking trip in the wilds of the Florida, Everglades. Impressive expedition!
An alligator in the Everglades.
The Captain holds a baby alligator. Cute huh?
Celebrating "Closing the Loop" at sunset in Mallory Square, Key West, Florida
We bicycled to the southernmost point in the USA which is on the southern point of Key West. It is marked by the big cone where everyone is standing in line to have their picture taken.
Thanksgiving 2006 with Alan and Susan from KAOS at Pepe's in Key West.