Key Largo Wildlife

The Florida Keys have wildlife ashore and a-sea. My mama told me it’s not polite to stare at strange people, so I’ll skip describing shore wildlife here. On the aquatic side, we discovered some gems today.

One of our cruising guides, Active Captain, offhandedly mentioned a mangrove tunnel to explore, so we set off in the dink.  This unassuming entrance led into a primordial path almost one mile long, winding though the mangrove island.  Notice the waves at the entrance: the wind was blowing about 15 mph.

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Inside, the world was silent and the water like a mirror.  We could easily imagine being transported to some pre-historic era.  Peg is seriously into mirror shots!

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Toward the other side of the island the tunnel opened up into the mangrove-lined lanes we’ve become accustomed to.

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Along the way we saw many of these small brown/tan jellyfish fluffing their way along.  Other waterborne creatures ducked out of sight as we approached, leaving ripples on the glasslike water.

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Earlier in the day I took my bike to shore in the dinghy and pedaled about six miles to pick up items at West Marine, a dive shop, True Value, and Publix.  As Ieft the dinghy dock to take my loot back to the boat, I spied a trio of manatees in the tiny harbor.  I got Peg and we spent a delightful few minutes floating in the dink as this Manatee, Mommatee and Mini-tee swam around us.  The male was especially curious, coming right up and looking at us.  Unfortunately I did one of those dumb camera tricks where I recorded my lap for a minute and then turned the camera off as he surfaced to look us in the eye.  His interest in us was amazing.  Funny how something the size of a small submarine can be so cuddly.

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Goose Poop

Slip sliding away.  Not what an anchor should do.  Locals call the bottom of this anchorage Goose Poop.  A mixture of sand and teflon, with a coating of sea grass, it has questionable holding properties.

This we found out as the wind picked up to a howl last night.  After sitting steadfastly all day, Endeavor was slowly dragging downwind, ploughing the goop.  Adding both backup anchors solved the problem and we moved not another inch.  We set an anchor alarm on the GPS but did not get a lot of sleep.

Today was a relaxation day, so we made use of free wifi at the library to update all our devices and explored some derelict boats.  This one is firmly stuck and well to becoming a permanent fixture.  The story is it was used by a couple of guys living aboard while working in a local joint.  After a falling out it was abandoned and ended up being tied to someone’s mooring until a knife mysteriously separated it and sent it to its current resting spot.

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Dinner was at the Lorelei Tiki restaurant, with a beautiful setting sun, and retiree age-appropriate hits played by an excellent musician.  For once, the volume was the right level to allow conversation while being clear and crisp.

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Islamorada also has a corny side, with oddball boat tours on these unlikely craft.

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Tomorrow we head for Key Largo to make a quick stop at West Marine and pick up current nautical charts for the Bahamas.

Fessing Up

Only two sailors, in my experience, never ran aground. One never left port and the other was an atrocious liar.      

-Don Bamford

Today I tested Endeavor’s shallow water capability a little too much.  Leaving Lower Matecumbe Key I cut the corner a bit entering the narrow channel and we slid to a stop on the soft sand/mud below.

The mistakes were:

  • Trusting charts too much.  The charts showed 6 feet of water in the area with no shallow spots highlighted.  What actually happened is when they dredged the channel they dumped the spoils along the edge, forming a shallow ridge.  Kind of like a curb along a street.
  • Misjudging the color of the water.  The rhyme used to remember about water depth is:

  “Brown, brown, run aground.
White, white, you just might.
Blue, blue, sail on through.
Green, green, nice and clean.”

Shallow water appears dark brown, deeper water appears blue or green. Sand-covered bottoms appear white and may or may not be deep enough for a vessel to navigate.

I did not have my polarized lenses on, and the sun was low behind us.  This made the slim strand of brown water blend with the green we had been traversing.

  • Taking a shortcut.  ‘Nuf said.

What went right was:

  • The shallow water was narrow, about 2/3 the length of Endeavor.
  • The rudders and centerboard automatically kicked up, as they are designed to do, providing her a smooth, shallow bottom.
  • The propeller is above the lowest point of the hull, so it can still be used to push if only slightly stuck.
  • Our momentum carried us almost over the muck; she was stuck only from the halfway point to the stern.  Her bows were hanging over deeper water.  Her butt, like any graceful gal, tapers upward.
  • We were exiting on a rising tide.
  • We had the wind at our stern.

What we did to get free:

  • Look over our situation.
  • Try pulling her over the muck with the dinghy.  No go.
  • Deployed the jib sail and applied the main outboard.  This did the trick and she slid neatly the remaining 15 feet into deeper water and on her way.

Ironically, we had seen this sign minutes before, off to the side of our path.  The colors there were apparent.  The water is so thin only kayaks and such could get through.

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Once free, we continued on to Islamorada, on Upper Matecumbe Key.  We anchored first in the large bay, surrounded by a number of live-aboard vessels including several derelicts.

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I took the dinghy into Little Basin to get our fuel tanks filled.  There, the dock master assured me Endeavor would have plenty of depth to enter and anchor. So we tempted Neptune again and carefully puttered into the enclosed basin.  The entrance channel was only a few feet wider than us, but we had 3 to 3.5 feet of water all the way into the anchorage, even at low tide.

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We are tucked into this cozy spot and can dinghy easily to the Marina and access to town. The marina includes a large BassPro fishing store looking a lot like a Cabelas inside.  In fact, BassPro recently bought Cabelas.

The shop helped me complete my “weaponization”:  I bought a hand spear for spearfishing in the Bahamas.  Lion Fish, look out!

Peg used the opportunity to browse in town.  She reported finding little of interest but had a nice walk.  I shuttled fresh water out to Endeavor to top off our tanks and got up close and personal with the local wildlife.

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The marina is home to a large school of tarpon.  These brutes are unfazed by the coming and goings of boats at the gas dock.  No, they don’t allow fishing from the dock!

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And the local gulls have become adept at snatching snacks tossed to the fish.

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For the most part, a sailboat navigates through its world of wind and water not leaving a single trace of its passage. Nothing is consumed. Nothing is altered. The winds and the water are left in exactly the same condition for the next user. Sailing is forever.      

Michael B. McPhee

BRRRRRMM

We’re learning hitchhikers like Endeavor.  This little being was hanging out on the front deck and joined me for breakfast, proving Honey Nut Cheerios are a cross-species delight.

 

Once my little breakfast companion was deposited ashore, we raised the spinnaker and Endeavor raced 58 miles from Little Shark River to Lower Matecumbe Key, ending our visit to the Everglades National Park.  We are anchored in 4′ of water next to a protective mangrove.

Leaving Naples behind on Friday, we swooshed down the Florida West coast to New Turkey Key. The coastline is all Everglades Park and accessible only by boat.  It is also a place of total isolation:  no cell signals penetrate the area and VHF radio is sketchy.

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We anchored between the key and a mangrove then went ashore to roam the beach.  We met a group who had come 30 miles to camp and fish.

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A number of small adjoining islands appeared at low tide… there is some skinny water down here.  Much of the island, in fact, is submerged at high tide, leaving the beach littered with shells, horseshoe crabs, and other natural flotsam.

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Later I hopped in the water and gave Endeavor a long awaited waterline scrubbing.  This finally removed much of the brown mustache she acquired coming down the rivers.

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As interesting as it was during the day, the island came alive at dusk and after dark.

A group of pelicans noisily fished nearby until the light faded.  Pretty easy to identify.

Then the mullet came out.  Hundreds of mullet leaping about in a feeding frenzy.  Our spotlight lit their mass insanity.  Again, easy to identify.

Not so easy to identify: whatever kept making a “BRRRRRMM” sound next to the hull.  Freaky.  “BRRRRRMM”?

Oh, and whatever slammed into the hull a few times in the night.  I figure it was a Great White and we’re gonna need a bigger boat.

Made for a restless night.

Saturday we sailed about 28 miles to Little Shark River.  The anchorage, at the bottom left, connects to hundreds of miles of mangrove-lined creeks and rivers.  We headed out on the dink and explored almost 30 miles of the area.

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We were both a bit surprised how uniform the mangroves are along the waterways.  We had pictured the Everglades as being more marshy, and we know they are farther in.  In this area, though, its mainly mangroves.

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There was a lot to see.  The dense tree structures are home to a lot of wildlife, including the little crab who started this post.

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Ents, anyone?

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And especially our favorites, the dolphins.  This pod was feeding with a couple of young ones.  You can see the tidal flow coming past the point.  We figure they were chowing on the seafood flowing past… sort of a moving buffet.

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One could wander the Everglades for weeks and not see everything.  Maybe we’ll have to come back once I get an airboat…

We’ve had an extraordinary string of northeast winds to power our ship.  Leaving Shark River today we raced along the coast in a beam reach (wind 90 degrees on the side).  Endeavor averaged 8.5 mph, dodging hundreds of crab pots and being mindful of the shallow water.  Water depth was less than 10′ all day, sometimes about 5′.  And this was one to three miles offshore!

Naples Hillbillies

We slipped the dock lines this morning and bid Cape Coral goodbye.  Rick captured our departure down the narrow canal.

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He must have hopped in the car and raced down to the point to catch us moving out into the bay.  Endeavor in the distance.  We do appreciate the photos!

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Heading for the Sanibel Island Bridge we fell in behind this larger cat.  The extra width of larger boats is apparent from the gap between the hulls.  This one is likely 19 to 23 feet wide.

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Going under the bridge we spied this motley murderers row.  They apparently took Thanksgiving off: not a one flew off as we motored by.

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Several hours of open-water sailing later we are anchored in a cove at Naples, surrounded by expansive homes and fancy boats.

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We did tidy up so as not to give off too much of a Clampetts vibe.  The surroundings are so pristine we do feel a little out of place. Not enough to leave, only enough to feel bad about hanging laundry out to dry.

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With a little help from our friends

Right now Endeavor looks like a hamster with way too much food stuffed in its cheeks.  While provisioning we  smashed our old grocery shopping record with three full Walmart carts totaling $500.27.  A Yeti cooler replaced our old ice-melting Igloo.  A matching Penn saltwater rod and reel from West Marine joined a pile of other fishing gear.  Several pieces of stainless hardware will improve Endeavor.  Lowes provided a bale of peat moss for the head and expanded steel for a replacement grill screen.  And Goodwill coughed up some parts organizers.  In all, we may be ready, provision-wise, to head to the Bahamas.

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Doing all this would have been a nightmare if it were not for the aid of Gail and Rick.  They drove us all over Cape Coral on search and buy missions.  In between missions we had a fabulous dinner at a local haunt named The Monkey Bar, did laundry, took LONG showers, sated Peg’s cravings for Culvers, ordered in pizza, introduced them to Princess Bride, went for a long bike ride, suffered a flat tire, watched “Hacksaw Ridge”, fabricated an anchor chain deck protector, and generally had a great time visiting.  Basically, I think we dropped like a whirling dervish into their quiet, idyllic life!

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We’ve had a tremendously nice stay here and are truly thankful for the help they provided to our journey.  Tomorrow we will be be celebrating Thanksgiving by leaving with the tide and traveling some 41 miles to to Naples, Florida.  It will be our last stop before we pass the everglades and continue to the Keys.

We hope you all have a loving and peaceful holiday!

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Stocking Up

Y’all keep sending those northern breezes down our way, we’ll keep using them.  The blow we sat out the last two days settled down to a manageable wind and we used it to ride 32 miles into Cape Coral.

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It seemed we were the only sailboat going south.  We passed another sailboats, including this Gemini, powering north through against the breeze.

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On the winding channel into Cape Coral we spied this Funky Floating Bait Shop  originally used as a prop in a Hulk Hogan movie, then towed from St. Petersburg to its current location.  It definitely caught our eye.  The mannequins and flamingos are great!

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Friends Gail and Rick live in a beautiful home at the end of a canal in Cape Coral.  We gratefully took them up on an offer to stay at their dock and provision for our leap to the Keys.  The canal looked much wider on Google Earth!

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Although tight quarters, there was enough room to spin Endeavor and tie up facing out.  Gail and Rick’s is the most plush surrounding Endeavor has enjoyed.  She seems at home among the tiki roofs and palm trees.

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We will be doing a major provisioning here, stocking up on items expensive in the Bahamas.  We’ll fill the back berths with lightweight-yet-bulky items like toilet paper, breakfast cereal, and so on. I’m also shopping for saltwater fishing gear and spearfishing items. The Zebco 33 casting reel I brought from home would strip its gears if a large ocean fish hit.

Procrastination

Thrum, thrum, thrum, thud.

Thrum, thrum, thrum, thud.

Damn, should have put our plastic bucket in the cockpit instead of leaving it on the bow.  Damn thing is rolling back and forth like a pendulum.

Thrum, thrum, thrum, thud.

If I lay here a while longer, maybe the wind will lay down and I won’t have to get out of bed.  It is tied to the railing with a line so it can’t go overboard.

Thrum, thrum, thrum, thud.

Sounds like Murray the dog, on the TV show Mad About You, running from room to room and hitting the wall.

Thrum, thrum, thrum, thud.

But now I’m awake so I might as well…

Thrum, thrum, thrum, thud.

Living on a boat makes everything more immediately your problem.  Leave a halyard (a line for hauling a sail up) loose and you’ll pay for it with slap-slap-slap all night.  Leave the water pressure pump on and it will surely kick on as sleep is approaching.  Leave something plugged in out in the saloon and the tiny indicator light will shine brighter than the sun.  Leave a plastic bucket on the front deck in 25 mph winds and you will regret it at two o’clock in the morning.

Today, a fellow sailor did not pay attention to the narrow entrance and immediately felt the regret of running aground on a sand bottom.

Harley, Janice, Peg and I had landed our dinghies at the State Park dock.  Harley and Janice noticed the sailboat was not moving, so Harley and I hopped back in the dinks and sped out to see if we could help.

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The captain had the option of waiting for high tide and floating off, but the peak was six hours away.  Instead, I used the soft nose of my boat to push sideways on their bow and slowly turn them until pointed toward deeper water.  Harley had them toss him a main halyard. This gave him the end of a long line running to the top of their mast.  By fastening the line to his boat and backing up, he was able to pull the top of the mast sideways and heel their boat over.  This lifted their keel enough so they could slid into deeper water and away.

Funny how two little inflatable dinghies can help free a 20,000 pound boat.  It’s all about leverage.

Having done our good deed for the day we set about beach combing.  Cayo Costa is only accessible by boat; either a ferry or private.  The dock is on the east side and the beach on the west.  The rangers run a shuttle once per hour to take visitors across the island.

Harley and I flew my kite in the sea breeze.  He’s an experienced kite flyer, comfortable with loops.  The kite is 2.5 square meters but looks tiny because it is 100′ away.

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Janice and Peg combed for shells.  The 7 mile long island boasts a 9.5 miles of beach.  The inlet I talked about yesterday is next to the island on the left.

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Even with the clear blue sky, we suffered a cold snap today… it only got up to 69!  So cold I considered leaving the zip-off legs on my convertible pants.  After due deliberation, off they came so tanning could continue.

(Whatashipis.com apologizes if any temperature-challenged readers have been offended by the preceding remarks.  We suggest some warm cocoa and a nice fire. -Ed.)

Gimme Shelter

“NORTH WINDS AROUND 20 KNOTS INCREASING TO 20 TO 25 KNOTS  AFTER MIDNIGHT. SEAS 6 TO 8 FEET.”

I like an exciting sail as much as the next skipper, but … nope!  Rather than tempt Neptune we kept an eye on the forecast and got ourselves to a cozy anchorage to sit out the next two days.  We are anchored in a secure bay of Punta Blanca Island.  The mangrove trees at our bow are blocking much of the wind and we have flat water.  To our stern across the bay is Caya Costa State Park.  We’ll be heading over there in the dinghy tomorrow to hike and do some kite flying.

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We’re tucked in snugly with three other boats.  Folly is also nearby.  Due to their 5 foot draft Harley and Janice elected to anchor out on the center, to the left of “Pelican Bay” on the map above.  More exposed, but still safe in the harbor.

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This evening we again had dolphins feeding nearby.

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To get here we left the intracoastal waterway, went through a pass into the gulf, and ran with the wind about 60 miles.  The day started with light 10-12 knot winds and ended with gusto, pushing us along at up to 8 knots under jib alone.  The video below hopefully gives an idea how peaceful it is running down a fair wind.

At the inlet near Cayo Costa we again went inshore.  The next photo shows what happens when wind and current collide.  Back to the left is 9 feet of water, where we came from, with tide flowing inland left to right.  The rough water is where the depth drops to 48 feet in the main shipping channel.  For a couple hundred yards the water was absolutely mental, going every which way and extremely bumpy.  Then we were past it and inside on smooth water.

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On the way we watched a few minutes of a powerboat race.  Otherwise we were about 2 miles offshore and blissfully away from the chaos of Florida boating.

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We knew we wanted to get in position to make Cayo Costa today, so yesterday we also put in an extra long day and ended up stopping in Sarasota, missing our friends Kim and Rod by a day.  They are on a cruise ship for a few days.

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The anchorage there was the extreme opposite of tonight’s:  right in the city with traffic whizzing by on the nearby bridge.  The channel boat traffic kept Endeavor rolling until after dark.

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Yesterday we passed the iconic Tampa Bay bridge.  Rather pointedly, I couldn’t get Madonna out of my mind the rest of the afternoon.

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This flock took over what appears to be the bones of an old ship.  Good, safe spot to wait for food.

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Virtually every inch of shoreline is developed… not our favorite type of boating but interesting to gawk at.

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Unfortunately Florida has more rude boaters per mile than we’ve ever encountered.  We’ve been waked by enormous cruisers and buzzed within feet by go-fast craft.  They even cheerfully wave while they do it!

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Fortunately Florida has more interesting wildlife to distract cruisers from the rude boaters

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The same as I never tire of looking at Peg, sunsets are a special treat each day.

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Flock of Seagulls

Seagulls teleport.  This is now scientific fact.  An extensive (day-long), intensive (on and off), and expensive (one bag of gone-stale Cheetos) application of the scientific method show Seagulls teleport to the site of food discovery.

Scan the sky and sea carefully and establish a baseline visible population of one or two seagulls.  Dispense one round handful of stale Cheetos to token seagulls.  Voila!  A flock of seagulls appears as if from nowhere.  Conclusion, they teleport in from another dimension.

Endeavor slid quietly out of Turtle Cove Marina at 7am today, boosted by an outgoing tide. By leaving at 7am we had one hour and 47 minutes until low tide.

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On the way out we saw several silent sentinels observing our exit.

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You may remember the sailboat from two days ago looking like it was sinking…

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It did.

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The low tide exposed the other end of the seagull portal.

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This explains the strange monument we saw in Mobile in October!

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(Yes, I’ve been waiting a month to find an excuse to use the shot.  Sue me.)

Along the way we passed through four “bascule” bridges we call to open.  A bascule is a type of bridge with a pivoting section raised and lowered using counterweights.

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And passed a local sailing regatta.

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We are anchored for the night near the Welch Causeway bridge.  We invited Jill and Richard over for spaghetti a la Johnsonville (substituting Cheddar Brats for Italian sausage).

This is our last get together for several months.  Tomorrow they will split off to put their boat on a trailer and take it home to Frostproof, FL for Thanksgiving.  When they hit the water again in a couple weeks we will be staging for the Bahamas, several hundred miles away.  We plan to meet up with these new friends next Spring on the East coast at Sebastian Inlet State Park.  Our time with them has been amazing.

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Tomorrow we will be crossing Tampa Bay as we head south to visit Rick and Gail in Cape Coral.

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