Crossing to Eastern Florida

March 20, 2019

We left Fort Meyers, having gratefully relished its sunny breezes. An early morning start heading east on the Caloosahatchee River and into the Okeechobee Waterway (OWW) landed us at a highly-rated marina, River Forest, past LaBelle and near…nothing, really. The purpose of the stop was for an oil change, for which we hear recommendations to do every 100 engine hours….or every 250 engine hours. Take your pick! We putzed the remainder of the day, and then the technician came aboard Friday, and we putzed some more while Steve paid attention and learned some mechanicthings. I know Steve wants me to be able to share in routine maintenance, such as daily oil checks and cleaning of strainers, but after the trauma of falling into the engine compartment last June, I still get a little panicky when down there. Evidently, our engine is due a 3-day 1000-hour servicing,  but we don’t have time for that, not today!

The pickings are slim for services along this route, so we felt lucky to snag the 35-foot free dock by the boat ramp at Clewiston where we docked without assistance or drama—an extra high high-five for us! 🥳  We had 5 locks to transit on this trip across Florida which required a different  technique than the river locks we are accustomed to. Instead of using only one line at midship to loop over a floating bollard, these locks employ lines hanging down from the top of each lock, two of which I had to grab and secure, one to a bow cleat and the other to a stern clete. Our technique still is not as smooth as we like but experience is a good teacher. I wonder whether those lock operators go home and regale their friends with stories about funny things they saw in their lock that day.  The saying goes that sometimes you watch the show and sometimes you ARE the show! After docking, we hopped on our bikes and headed to town to check out the Clewiston Sugar Festival, which was the cause of the marina jam. Country Western music blared from a small arena, big screen TVs showed the action onstage close up, and festival food was everywhere. We finally settled on “Redneck Sundaes,” smoked mac and cheese topped with pulled pork, and a sweet finish of strawberry shortcake, the latter of which was exceptional. A sudden downpour dampened our spirit for exploration, and despite the dry cleaning bags with hoods that the festival generously passed out, we were ready to return to the boat. The remote dock was home to some very raucous birds, and we enjoyed being in a wild place as we spent the remainder of the evening in trip planning.

A lovely bucolic setting at Clewiston
Not big on selfies, we thought the moment in which we donned these elegant ponchos called for one!

On Sunday we crossed Okeechobee under cloudy skies. Winds whipped up a 2-foot chop in the middle and created the kind of ride in which one tries not to move around the boat much. There is hype about how shallow Lake O can get, and how it is not a place you want to have any mechanical malfunctions, but for the most part we had plenty of depth and an easy cruise. A flock of seagulls followed in our draft the entire way. For nearly 4 hours, the lead birds spelled one another off, and at the end two of them circled back at couple of times, corralling and encouraging the stragglers. On the other side of Okeechobee we reached our designated anchorage already at 11:30! Recalling the reviews that it was buggy and a nighttime survey of the shoreline with one’s flashlight reflected the eyes of alligators, we decided that we could make it to Stuart. We anchored in good mud in Pendarvis Cove, not our most idyllic setting, but the real estate surrounding it was nice, and lots of other boats were there. 

Central Florida is agricultural. 
These happen to be Cormorants, but every dock is lined with birds, opportunists awaiting the gate action to herd fish their way. 

Monday we continued the route east, entering the congestion of the confluence of the Atlantic Intra Coastal Water Way and the Okeechobee Water Way. The St. Lucie Inlet and the Indian River, with the addition of tidal currents create water-flow that require attention to timing and ATONs (aids to navigation), and traffic is challenging as well. Upon entering the ICW, we began cruising northward. With wind on our nose and a nice wide channel up the Indian River, we arrived at Fort Pierce Municipal Marina where we will spend the next few days hunkered down due to high wind. 

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