Chapter IV, Part 3. East Through the Swamp
Chapter IV: Tarpon Springs, Florida to Marathon, Florida, plus 20 miles (cont.)
Part 3. Days 11 through 15: East through the Okeechobee to the Atlantic
Mar. 6, 2004 (Sat.), Day 11
Robin and I both agreed that today was the best day of sailing since Brownsville, Texas. We started sailing east today through the state of Florida. We were able to sail for seven straight hours. This represented 37 miles of travel. We were even able to pass through a drawbridge under sail with the cooperation of the bridgemaster. We had to take down the sails and proceed under motor power when entering the first of several locks to cross the state.
We are now camping out near the town of Alva, Florida, using two anchors to the side of the Okeechobee waterway, which is a natural fresh water river with an average depth of about 25 feet. It is very warm and quite humid. We had to put up the mosquito screens tonight as there are many mosquitoes in the area. As we were anchoring, the sun was setting and the moon was rising at the same time. The moon is at its fullest and very pretty. As we were traveling, there were many large motor vessels in the same channel. On one occasion, the wake we headed into put several inches of water over the bow and all the way to the cockpit. Some of this salt water came through the forward hatch and soaked many of our clothes. Moral to this story is don’t just close the forward hatch but also batten it down. We traveled 40 miles today. When sailing, we sailed on a beam reach part of the time and wing and wing the rest of the time.
Mar. 7, 2004 (Sun.), Day 12
After coffee and snack this morning we weighed both anchors and we were once again on our way east. Now that we are in fresh water we do not see dolphins. The river we are traveling in is about 250 feet wide and 20 to 25 feet deep. The sides alternate between very nice looking homes, most of which have a boat tied to a docking facility, and native vegetation. We also saw a number of citrus orchards containing many oranges. At times the fragrance of orange blossoms in the air was very prevalent. We tried to sail several times, but alas, not enough wind to make it worthwhile. We negotiated through a couple of bridges and a lock, which raised Spirit Song about 8 feet.
We traveled 36 miles today and are now tied to a public dock facility in the town of Moore Haven. This town is located on the western shore of Lake Okeechobee. We have not seen the lake as yet. The mosquitoes are out in full force tonight so up go the mosquito screens. Robin negotiated with a motel owner for the two of us to get much needed showers. Robin was befriended by Danny (some of the local color) who provided transportation to a local restaurant for dinner.
Mar. 8, 2004 (Mon.), Day 13
Our first order of business this morning was to do 3 big loads of laundry at a local laundromat. This included all of the saltwater-soaked clothes from the not tightened down bow hatch episode. The laundry was being heavily used, which meant that we would have to wait for driers. Instead of waiting, we found a small local restaurant about two blocks away and went there for breakfast. When we returned from breakfast, driers were available, so we were able to complete our laundry. We left the dock at about 1:00 PM and continued east. A short distance when we were stopped by a railroad swing bridge waiting for an 85 car freight train. This took about 10 minutes. A short distance further we came to our third lock in as many days. This one raised Spirit Song about 5 feet putting us at the level of the lake.
On the lake side of the channel we observed many acres of dead trees. It appears that it was at one time a very dense forest before man decided to control and raise the level of the lake. We still have not seen the body of Lake Okeechobee. We stopped at a marina near the town of Clewiston, Florida, where we purchased fuel and a meal of fish and chips. We are now tied between two piling clusters to the side of the ICW just a few hundred yards from the marina. Mosquito screens again tonight. We motored 15 miles today.
Mar. 9, 2004 (Tue.), Day 14
After coffee and a snack this morning we untied from the pilings and headed for the lake. Lake Okeechobee is a very large lake. It is about 30 miles in diameter with an average depth of about 10 feet. It took us about 6 hours to cross the lake. Four hours of which we were able to sail. When we first entered the lake the wind was blowing about 20 mph with 2 foot chop. Robin reefed both sails which helped to stabilize the boat for a somewhat smoother ride. After a while the wind settled down and the whitecaps became fewer in number. All in all, it was another good day of sailing.
On reaching Fort Mayaca on the eastern edge of the lake we once again had to proceed through another lock. This time Spirit Song was lowered less than a foot. Just after leaving the lock, we were stopped for about 10 minutes waiting for an Amtrak to pass before the railroad swing bridge was reopened.
We are now anchored to the side of the St. Lucie Canal near Indian Town. We were treated to another beautiful sunset this evening. Robin mounted the 3-1/2 horse outboard motor on the inflatable boat and buzzed around the canal to make sure everything was still in working order while he still had enough daylight to do so. We traveled about 40 miles today and the weather was comfortable cool most of the day. Mosquitoes again tonight. During the night last night the wind picked up quite a bit as a cold front moved through the area.
Mar. 10, 2004 (Wed.), Day 15
We continued traveling Easton the St. Lucie Canal (also referred to as the Okeechobee Waterway). After about 13 miles we went into the St. Lucie Lock. This was our fifth and final lock to go through. Spirit Song was lowered 13 feet to the level of the Atlantic Ocean. It has been quite cool, about 60 (F, with a wind chill a few degrees colder. It was definitely sweatshirt weather today. This wind was very gusty and at times reaching 35 to 40 mph. This became a challenge at times. As we traveled through the canal we passed a number of pumping stations drawing water out of the canal to irrigate the citrus orchards.
Somewhere around 3:00 PM we were experiencing spray coming over the bow so we decided to tie up for awhile at Northside Marina in Stuart, Florida, to see if the wind would subside a bit and also to get a hamburger at the marina restaurant. About 4:30 pm we left the marina and continued on our journey only to find that the wind was still up. We traveled about ½ hour further to a place called “Hoggs Cove” where we could anchor and have some protection from a land mass. We motored 24 miles today. I don’t think we will have a problem with mosquitoes tonight because of the winds.