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.
The arena at the Clewiston Sugar Festival blared country western music.
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.
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.
From Venice, we cruised down to the iconic, congested waters around Fort Meyers. It being Friday and Spring Break season, the traffic was nutty. Our hopes of having lunch in “Cheeseburger Paradise” (Jimmy Buffet) on Cabbage Key were dashed by the shortest finger piers we’ve ever seen. Snazzy power boats surrounded us at the pier, and even though we had called ahead and a slip had been reserved for us, the fact that we always “bow in” (as opposed to “stern in”) rendered disembarking impossible. We gazed at the 6-foot down and 2- foot out jump to that tiny pier and envisioned being younger and more lithe. And then we giggled at the thought of trying to get back ON the boat, and that realization made the decision for us. A lot of boats carry a step stool; finding space to store said step stool is our problem. Sooo, no cheeseburgers for us today. Instead, after vacating the slip we had just pulled into, we snacked on our cheese, summer sausage and PB-stuffed celery as we headed “on down the road again.” Even this disappointment did not mar the gorgeous day!
We arrived at Sanibel Island in much better time than we had calculated, thanks to our aborted lunch plans. Gold loopers Joe and Pat Apicella invited us onto their Mainship 430, Glory Days, for docktails and we enjoyed their stories and advice. Dinner at Gramma Dots at the marina, while highly recommended was unremarkable. Saturday morning we hopped on our new bikes and arrived at LighthouseBeach around 8:00. Already it was packed with folks shelling, wind surfing, walking their dogs, and jogging. We had read about the “Sanibel Stoop” and observed that many take their shelling seriously! I asked a young woman if she would show me what she had collected in her little zippered bag. She explained, as she identified each treasure, that she had arrived at 5:00 and started searching for shells by flashlight. Remembering the big jar of beautiful shells that we sold in our estate sale last May, I was neither disappointed to be late to the morning search nor wishing to return another morning. But it was so much fun to watch the scene!
After an early lunch, we headed the other way on our bikes to the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. We were disappointed that recommendations to allow an hour were not sufficient for our mode of viewing. The shell collections are fabulous but I would have enjoyed learning more about the mollusks that inhabit them. While studying a poster on the anatomy and propulsion of a scallop, I felt sadness for capturing and eating these fabulous creatures, and by our lack of connection to and understanding of our food sources. 😔
The cause for our needing to rush through the shell museum was to catch a naturalist-led tram tour of the “Ding” Darling Nature Refuge, which occupies one-third of the island. (Another one-third of the island is protected from development, in accordance with a very strong resident-steered land use plan). Ding was a cartoonist and a visionary who purchased this protected land in the 1920s. We learned that the white pelican has an average wing span of 9 feet, second only to the condor in the US, and saw a number of them, just before migration time when they head north for the summer. We saw several varieties of herons, anhingas, and egrets (as many as we saw along the rivers, I never knew to look for the elegant “golden slippers” of snowy egrets). In addition, we learned about the important role that mangrove trees play in securing the coasts of Florida; their valuable protection against hurricane winds led to legislation that makes it illegal to remove or even prune a mangrove tree. Having thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon nature lesson, we found ice cream before returning back to the boat, and plans for dinner took a back seat, as the ice cream satiated our appetites.
In the evening, there was a knock on the boat, and there stood Steve from Just Right, a friend and fellow-Hoosier from the Rendezvous and Chattanooga. He and Kathleen (correct—“Steve and Kathleen!”) are here in Sanibel for the night with 5 guests aboard. It turns out that they will be a few days ahead of us as they cross to eastern Florida, but we hope our paths cross again as we head north—they’re lovely people!
The Sunday morning cruise to Fort Meyers was a new experience. Our pier-neighbor warned us that we would be on the “miserable mile,” and while neither Steve nor I understood what he meant, we discovered soon enough. The traffic was indeed MISERABLE! For several miles, within a relatively narrow channel there were at least several dozen boats heading toward us and looking behind, dozens as well, many itching to get around us. We were “waked” numerous times, challenging the enjoyment of my morning coffee routine; and despite extra-careful stowing, the cabin floor was strewn with telltale signs of significant rocking. Finally tucked in at Ft. Meyers Yacht Basin, we were ready to see the city.
Monday was laundry-and-catch-up day and wedding-conference-call-day with Steph and Luke and Luke’s parents Sue and Kieron. During the conference call, a Looper with whom we left Demopolis knocked on our boat, and we arranged to have dinner with him. The afternoon offered time to explore; even though we know cyclists who brave city traffic (aka Boston madness), we felt more comfortable on foot. Historic Fort Meyers has charm with inviting eateries and boutiques in an area of a few square blocks. Come evening we shared a casual al fresco dinner at Ford Garage with Nick from Kaillany, and conversation never veered from looping topics. It was a fun evening.
“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” -Henry Ford
Tuesday we toured the fascinating Edison-Ford Winter Estates, the main attraction in downtown Fort Meyers and one of the 10 most visited historic home properties in the United States. In 1885 Thomas Edison was fishing out on Florida’s Caloosahatchee River, when he noticed several varieties of bamboo growing along the shore. Of even greater importance was a “for sale” sign posted nearby. Edison was working on electric light bulbs, and he thought bamboo might serve as filaments in the bulbs. But further, his doctor had been admonishing him to spend the frigid months of New Jersey in warmer climes for health reasons, and he’dbeen considering buying a winter home. Earlier that year, his wife Mary had tragically died*, leaving the young father with three children and a loan taken out to cover the cost of her burial. Having sufficiently recovered emotionally and financially by the end of the year, he tracked down the property’s owner and bought the land for a carelessly exorbitant sum.A year later Seminole Lodge was built in the newly incorporated town of Fort Myers, and Thomas Edison and his new bride Mina became some of Florida’s original snowbirds. Mina, being the 20-year-old daughter of Lewis Miller, farm machinery inventor and founder of Chataqua, a life-long learning retreat center on the southern shores of the Lake Erie, was an educated and cultured young woman of means, and evidently was well-prepared for life with men of few words and a profusion of ideas! She had been around famous people all her life and was raised to “take charge” of situations. She became matriarch of both the 23-room Victorian mansion at West Orange, NJ where Edison’s main laboratory was located and, of course, this simpler arts and crafts winter home on 17 acres. Though not an architect, Edison drew up the plans for the home and its adjoining guesthouse. Because Mina donated the property at the end of her life to the city in 1947 on the condition that it become a museum, the property is relatively unchanged since the Edisons’ time. The house was built to take advantage of the river breezes, with full-length doors on every side that are thrown open to allow visitors a good look at the rooms over neatly labeled glass dividers. All the furniture is original: early electric-light chandeliers hang from the ceilings; gramophones sit on desks. Edison’s 800 books reside behind glass, and the twin lace-covered beds still stand in Thomas and Mina’s room. It was not long after building before the Edisons were receiving visitors, and by the 1920s they had hosted many of the country’s rich and famous: Charles Lindbergh, the Kelloggs, the Colgates, Herbert Hoover, naturalist John Burroughs, and Harvey Firestone. (I can’t help but choke on these sexist “who’s who” lists. Surely strong and savvy women were included among the roles!) Edison did much of his significant work at their winter home, a lifetime accumulation of 1,093 patents from 1869 through his final year, having set a goal of producing a “minor invention every ten days and a big thing every six months or so.” Of all his inventions, the phonograph remained his favorite, and Steve and I listened to examples of the original tin-foil-wrapped tubes, wax rolls (which went through many iterations), and 1/4” thick records made of a diamond-infused plastic similar to Bakelite. Another frequent guest at Seminole Lodge, of course, was Henry Ford, who was so charmed by Edison’s surroundings that in 1916 he bought the house next door, called the Mangoes. He and Edison had forged a close bond after the two met in Detroit and older inventor encouraged the younger entrepreneur to continue working on his “quadricycle” idea, even though it was derided by the public. Most of us remember Ford’s pivotal development of the assembly line in 1913, but I had forgotten that the Model T which had previously been built in more than 12 hours, suddenly could be assembled in 93 minutes! The Fords’ home has been furnished with period furniture that reflects their tastes, because it was sold to a single family whose home it was for decades until it was purchased for historical restoration, and then, of course, the Fords’ personal furnishings were scattered. In 1927 Ford, Edison, and their friend Harvey Firestone formed the Edison Botanical Research Corporation and built a lab on Edison’s property to study latex-producing plants. World War I had jeopardized the country’s access to rubber, giving latex immense strategic and monetary value. A multitude of latex-producing plants were growing on the property, and they became subject to thousands of tests in their state-of-the-art lab, which still gleams as if newly built. Here the inventors and their staff (called muckers) dried the latex-bearing plants and ground them into powder. Equipment on several tables outfitted with water, gas, and electricity (both DC and AC—Edison couldn’t hold out forever against AC) was used to determine the latex content of the samples. The distillation apparatus then extracted latex from the plant material and purified and recycled the solvents. Out off 17,000 plant samples from around the world, the big discovery at the lab was that the humble goldenrod had the highest percentage of latex content of all. (A variety that was created at the lab and produces even more latex is named in Edison’s honor, Solidago edisoniana.) The project continued for five years after Edison’s death before the U.S. Department of Agriculture took it over. (Not long after, synthetic rubber derived from petroleum stormed onto the scene, it being a less intensive process. ) In 2014 the lab became the first site in Florida designated by the American Chemical Society as a National Historic Chemical Landmark. Seminole Lodge, the Mangoes, and the Edison Botanic Research Laboratory make up the heart of the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers. Together the properties make for a meticulous time capsule of the lives of these extraordinary people.
The Estate has done a spectacular job of maintaining not only the buildings but the 21 acres of grounds, which were home to more than 1,700 plants representing more than 400 species from 6 continents before the ravages of Hurricane Irma, but is still is a worthy destination for lovers of horticulture. There are latex-producing plants—figs and banyans among them (including the largest banyan in the contiguous United States). There is also quite a collection of mango and citrus trees. The Moonlight Garden—full of plants that flower at night—is tucked away behind Edison’s study. The Heritage Garden which once grew vegetables for the Edisons and Fords to eat and to sell to neighbors now produces its bounty for local farmers markets.
The Wizard Invents gallery houses many of Edison inventions: the phonograph, the kinetoscope (an early motion picture–viewing device), an updated telegraph, and an impressive display of light bulbs. There’s also Edison’s improved stock ticker, his first lucrative invention: Edison’s device could be synchronized with all the other stock tickers on a telegraph line, eliminating the need for employees to monitor and reset them if they fell out of unison. Also on display is the electric pen, which—after failing in its original task of duplicating handwritten documents—had a much more successful second life as the tattoo machine we know today. Into the Wild covers the escapades of the Vagabonds, the name Edison, Ford, Firestone, and Burroughs gave themselves when they went off on their annual camping adventures between 1914 and 1924. What started as small camping trips grew into weeks-long excursions that included family, household staff, professional chefs, and on two occasions sitting presidents of the United States. There were dining tents and a kitchen car specially equipped with a built-in gas stove and refrigerator. Edison rigged up lights for the campsites; guests participated in tree-cutting or sprinting contests. Reporters and photographers covered the exploits like some kind of “glamping” reality show, and their stories played a major role in popularizing recreational camping.
The museum has significantly more material about Edison than Ford. In fairness, Ford moved in 30 years after Edison and stayed for shorter periods. The museum does house a gleaming 1937 Ford flathead V-8 engine, along with a history of the Ford Motor Company.** Come June, porch furniture is moved into the garage at the Mangoes, and significant pieces of furniture, such as Mina Edison’s beloved piano, are transferred to safer locations. It’s a wise move considering that the property has been hit by a dozen hurricanes since Edison’s arrival in 1886.***
Our experience on Wednesday was the consolation for realizing that we have insufficient time to truly immerse ourselves in the mysteries of Everglades National Park. On Wednesday Steve and I embarked on an “Everglades Ecotour Safari.” Whatever. It was recommended in the AAA book, so we rather blindly signed up. It turned out to be a hurry-here-and-there alligator hunt. We started with a boat ride and hunted for dolphins. (We LOVE dolphins! But we’ve seen dozens and dozens from Red Pearl, up close and personal.) Then came the board walk hike through a swamp, which actually was pretty cool, albeit hurried. Next, after scoping out hurricane damaged homes in Everglades City, we ate a seafood lunch, which included a couple of bites of deep fried alligator. (Tastes like chicken. No joke.) Over lunch we conversed with our fellow tour-takers, 1 American from Wyoming, 8 Canadians, and 2 Germans. What fun we had hearing their take on the US political state of affairs! After lunch, we got serious about hunting alligators, all from the van, of course. We sped by slews of them, assured that there were hundreds there. I took his word for it. The day ended with an ear-splitting airboat ride across some lake. In search for more alligators, the most interesting thing we saw was an osprey ripping at a whole fish. Sigh. Not my cup of tea, but the guide worked hard and was well-meaning.
Fort Meyers will be a fun memory—the best, and the not-so-best. Now we prepare already to head across Lake Okeechobee and back north!
* It is thought that Mary Edison probably died from a morphine overdose. “… By 1890, opiates were the main ingredient in everything from teething powders to analgesics for menstrual cramps. Patent medicines – so-called because they often contained secret “patented” ingredients – flooded the market. Some served a useful purpose, but they also became easy methods to get high. One famous product was Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, a morphine and alcohol concoction that was marketed to parents of fussy children as a “perfectly harmless and pleasant” way to produce a “natural quiet sleep, by relieving the child from pain.” After the civil war, even more potent drugs entered the market, including the opiate heroin (introduced by Bayer around the same time as aspirin) and the stimulant cocaine, which was used in everything from cough syrups to Coca-Cola (despite the company’s stringent denials).
Opium imports hit their peak in the 1890s, right around the rise of the temperance movement, perhaps because of the demonization of alcohol, or perhaps because opiate use was easier to hide. This was the status quo until 1906, when the federal government under Teddy Roosevelt stepped in with its landmark Pure Food and Drug Act, which required any “dangerous” or “addictive” drugs to appear on the label of products….”
-Excerpted from “The Strange History of Opiates” in “The Guardian”
**Fun Fact: The term “pick up truck” comes from the early days of the auto industry. Trucks were often purchased by mail and the new owner would have to go to the local shipping depot at the train station in order to“pick up” his new truck. The first manufactured multipurpose truck came on a Model TT chassis in 1925.
After two weeks at home, we are back on Red Pearl and raring to go! We had a lovely time with our parents, celebrating Mom Hollenberg’s 90th, and quietly spending Mom Barr’s birthday with Dad. We went to doctors appointments, met with friends, and shared dinner with nephews. And then we returned to Red Pearl with dear friends Joel and Beverly Eikenberry in a rental car. They spent 2 days with us in St. Petersburg on the boat, but we were disappointed that high winds prevented us from truly introducing them to the cruising life; instead we opted for a quick 2-hour cruise during which winds did not exceed 12 mph. We revisited the Dali Museum, picked up our new folding bikes, enjoyed delicious stone crab at Billy’s, and made a quick sashay to St. Pete Beach, which is gorgeous when the weather is inviting—but it was not! On our last day in St. Pete we reconnected with friends Jeff Sickels and Twila Liggett over a leisurely lunch and talked about a possible rendezvous next winter in the Keys.
Before returning home in February, Steve and I spent a lovely day in Sarasota on the Ringling Estate. We enjoyed the fabulous art collection which John Ringling amassed, comprised primarily of works of Baroque European masters, and toured the stunning home, Ca’d’zan, of John and Mable Ringling. John (1866-1936) was one of five Ringling brothers of the circus legacy, and his job was to seek talent for their circus acts, traveling the globe with Mabel. His wealth, built apart from the circus business through investments in oil, ranching, railroads, and real estate, made him the 13th wealthiest man at one point. In 1924, he and Mable finally began construction on a permanent home. The 36,000 square foot residence was the setting for lavish parties, hosting guests such as Will Rogers and New York Mayor Jimmy Walker. Built for $1.5 million, it is valued at nearly $21 million today. Mabel died only 3 years after moving into the home from Addison’s Disease and the complications of diabetes. Nine years later, at John’s death, the tangled web of his convoluted financial affairs, hounding creditors, bitter family rivalries, competing state and local governments, and a scorned former and second wife took 10 years to wind its way through probate. At his passing, John’s art museum and residential estate were left to the people of Florida, and $311.00 remained in his checking account. After leaving the Ringling estate, we drove to St. Armands Circle, remembering how exciting the shopping seemed 40 years ago when we discovered it. (Call us jaded.) We stumbled onto the Columbia (Restaurant), at which I remember the Cuban preparation of our filet mignon way back then, and we savored another memorable dinner there.
Tomorrow we head down the western coast of Florida to Venice. Time is shorter than we had hoped, due to time spent in Indiana and the press to be north of the hurricane belt in May before we head to Ireland for Stephanie and Luke’s wedding. It’s ALL good—special time at home, and weddings abroad! But we are tantalized by the idea of returning next winter for some of the stops we’re having to bypass this time around.
We finally are cruising as we envisioned, and we are “chasing 80 [degrees]!” After a thoroughly enjoyable cruise south, we arrived at St. Petersburg Municipal Marina, a 600-slip facility. We were asked to tread water for 45 minutes, while a disabled yacht finished fueling and was docked before we were assisted in docking at her bow. We were to be the last boat on the transient wall, with a nice distance between us and the next boat. I was showering for dinner when I heard Steve yell in an unusually high-pitched voice. As I threw on some clothes to be available for whatever Steve needed, I heard it again and then I felt the impact. (Can we just have an uneventful, thoroughly sunny blog with no drama?!) Marina personnel, evidently, changed their mind and directed a madman on a 30-foot boat to our stern, and he had absolutely no docking skills. As he jammed his boat back and forth from forward to reverse at RPMs way too high, he rear-ended us. It actually was our dinghy that he rammed, which swings a bit on its davits, and nothing seems damaged at this point. We are mystified by his lack of concern and his immediate claim that he’s been boating for 26 years and this is the FIRST time he has ever hit anything. First of all, with his lack of finesse, his claim is highly improbable; second, anyone who needs to make a claim like this is probably lying (as one might observe in our current political arena); and third, most boaters, if they are honest, miscue at some point in 26 years, and are wise to learn from their mistakes. We have witnesses of the event and spent the next morning fighting the system 🤯 to file a report with the FWC (Florida Wildlife and Conservation), verifying the skipper’s information, and waiting to assist with his lines as he departed in order to avert another impact—which we WOULD have had, as his plan for releasing his lines would not have controlled his windage. Steve helped him think it through and, thankfully, he was willing to use Steve’s strategy.
With that bit of unpleasantness behind us, we rhapsodized over the treasure at the Dali Museum. St. Pete was the recipient of the over-80-piece collection of philanthropists Reynolds and Eleanor Morse from Cleveland. (More of their story is at the end of this “rhapsody.”*) The collection moved into its current, hurricane-safe home in 2011, and the museum quickly became self-sustaining within two years. One gets a sense of Dali’s quirks as one approaches the building, with its “avant-garden,” extensive use of stone, and the bulbous-shaped geodesic protrusions from an otherwise severe cement cubical structure. We toured with a docent who shed light on this flamboyant personality and mischievous provocateur, whose work was influenced by his fascination with math and science, his vibrant dream world, his love for opera, his preoccupation with religion, and sex. Salvador Dali, born in Catalonia, Spain, was the third in his family by that name, preceded by his father and his deceased brother. Some of his psychological influences can be traced to his parents’ belief that he was an incarnation of his brother who was two when he died. A prodigious child artist, Dali attended the prestigious Academy for Art in Madrid; however, he was neither a compliant nor a serious student and was finally expelled shortly before final exams for declaring that no member of the faculty was competent enough to examine him.
We learned about Dali’s stylistic periods. Quite capable of competing with Dutch and Flemish masters, he found realism boring. Invited by others in the Surrealism movement, he joined this avant-garde group, one in which fantastic and incongruous imagery are irrationally juxtaposed, such as one experiences in dreams. He married Gala, a woman previously married to a Surrealist poet and 10 years his senior, who was truly his muse throughout his life. In the 1930s the Surrealism community expelled him, largely over his fascination with Hitler as expressed in a few of his works. Gala and Dali moved to the States due to WW II in 1940 and lived in New York and California for 8 years, during which time he met the Morses. In his classical period of the 1950s, he created 19 large canvases, characterized by meticulously detailed images of religious, historical and scientific themes, or what Dali called “nuclear mysticism.” He became obsessed with geometry, DNA, divinity, and experimented with visual images. His last large work was painted in 1975, a mind-shattering visual illusion entitled “Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln.” This fabulous work exemplifies his mastery of perspective and light. We learned about some of the imagery in his eccentric work: ants representing death and decay, a reminder of human mortality and our impermanence; melting clocks being an impression Dali derived from a melting wheel of Camembert cheese and representing the timelessness of the dream world and, conversely, the omnipresence of time and its mastery of the human world; the spiral, which Dali deemed to be nature’s most perfect form, and its presence in his work representing cosmic order. After several hours, Steve and I were enlivened, but also saturated and overwhelmed. We will look forward to another visit!
Dali:“The fact that I myself, at the moment of painting, do not understand my own pictures, does not mean that these pictures have no meaning; on the contrary , their meaning is so profound, complex, coherent, and involuntary that it escapes the most simple analysis of logical intuition.”
After the Dali, we went to see the Chihuly Collection, similar to but smaller than the exhibit in Seattle. We marveled again at this iconic glass blower’s huge, whimsical, organic work. Afterward, we watched a glass blowing demonstration by local artists.
On the way back to the boat, we passed a shop on Central Ave. that sells folding bikes—ONLY folding bikes. We would love to have bikes on this journey, and stopped to learn more and were able to test drive a couple. After researching and shopping, we returned a few days later and put a deposit down on them.
Dinner both Friday and Saturday were in the
company of Jeff Sickles and Twila Liggett, friends from last winter at Suntex Marina in St. Pete. We didn’t know them well, but he’s quite a story teller, and she is a creative woman with grit, the developer and producer of “Reading Rainbow,” a children’s TV program encouraging a love for reading, and the proud recipient of TEN Emmys. We’ve had fun reconnecting with these lovely people.
Sunday was low-key, with a good walk through the Old Northeast neighborhood past beautiful old homes, to Florida’s first roadside attraction, Sunken Gardens, open in 1903. A small botanical garden, it was a lovely way to while away a couple of hours in the shade of a huge variety of majestic palms and a nice array plantings, visit with personable parrots, and wonder at funky flamingos. Lots of families with little kids were there… and everyone was smiling!
We have now moved the boat from the Municipal Marina to Suntex, where we will leave Red Pearl while we drive home to the frigid climes. We’ll celebrate both mom’s birthdays—Mom Barr’s with Dad, remembering many happy celebrations in the past, and Mom Hollenberg’s 90th! The Hollenberg family will gather at Pokagon in April to celebrate this landmark. We now have a few days to do some small chores aboard and to explore the area a bit more via rental car, reveling in the lovely sun and cool breeze.
*More on the Morses: Reynold Morse worked in the plastic molding business, and Eleanor was schooled in Music, French and Spanish. They first saw Dali’s work in a traveling Museum of Modern Art show in 1943 and being drawn immediately to it, bought ”Daddy Longlegs of the Evening — Hope!” (1940), as a wedding present to themselves. Within a year they had purchased three more Dalis, all from the early 30’s. ”We plunged instead of hedging,” Mr. Morse said, ”and after a while I was becoming known as the nut who was backing a dark horse. Or vice versa.” They embarked on a sometimes turbulent friendship with Dali and his wife, Gala, regularly visiting the Dalis’s villa in Port Lligat, Spain. They had first pick of his New York gallery shows and usually paid the tab for post-opening dinners at the Pierre Hotel. Mrs. Morse’s linguistic background made her instrumental in translating and disseminating Dali’s writings and ideas to a wider audience. In 1989 by order of King Juan Carlos of Spain, Mrs. Morse received the knighting that is the highest honor the Spanish government can bestow upon a non-Spanish citizen. Having collected over 100 paintings and more than 1000 sketches and drawings, the couple sought a place where their collection would benefit the public and remain intact; and the city of St Petersburg was the only applicant willing to comply with all of their requirements. In 1997 The American Benefactor placed the Morses in the 100 Most Generous Americans for this gift.
Of the myriad of choices Loopers have on this 6000-mile journey, there is probably more discussion and angst expressed over the decision as to whether to cruise around the Big Bend of Florida, which is shallow and rocky, or cut across the Gulf 180 miles from the Carrabelle vicinity to either Tarpon Springs or Clearwater. We chose the cut. There being a large field of crab pots* upon sight of land on the other side, one must make the approach in daylight, and preferably late enough in the morning that the sun in not blinding, since it is a south easterly route. Walking back that time table, one calculates that at 8 to 9 knots, one needs to allow 20 hours to cross, which means leaving harbor around 3-4:00pm, cruising overnight, and arriving at one’s destination around noon.
We caravanned with three other boats. Watching the cloak of darkness fall around us stirred up feelings of awe and vulnerability, even with our perfect weather window, the flat seas, the straight route, and the minuscule chance of anything intercepting our path. Steve and I took turns at the helm, an hour-and-a-half on, an hour-and-a-half off. We buddy-checked by radio every 2 hours and reported on conditions more often as needed. While the cabin was warm, steering the boat from below while standing for 20 hours was out of the question, so we bundled up in layers upon layers, topped with our foul weather gear and stood watch with autopilot from the more exposed fly bridge. I was grudgingly warm enough if I tucked my nose under my scarf, but this is not something I want to experience with any regularity!
As well-prepared as we were, each boat experienced its own drama at some point during the night. We watched the lead boat wander off course, as it lost electric power and its ability to steer for perhaps 10 minutes before they identified the problem and were able to correct it. Theincident which affected us happened after dark as we were beset by fog. With radar the fog should not have posed a problem, but Steve suddenly lost the GPS track on the navigation screen and becamedisorientated. The problem with buddy-boating is that it creates obstacles to hit in such situations, and we had a near miss, as a red light** flashed across our bow and then disappeared into the fog. Steve jammed the boat into reverse to avert a collision, and I, now awake from a nap below, saw two loop-de-loop tracks in the lower nav station and quickly had a sense of what had happened. We learned later that the skipper of the “near-miss boat” was also having technical issues, and with his nose buried in his iPad, he was totally unaware of the near disaster. All’s well that ends well, and we are wiser for these experiences—wiser and very grateful.
We were greeted at our destination at Turtle Cove Marina in Tarpon Springs by Loopers assisting with our lines. We wonder if there is any other activity in which one has a ready community nearly everywhere we land!*** We were invited to docktails at 5:00, and after changing into SHORTS (yay!) and washing the salt off Pearlie, we crashed for a couple of hours.
Dock tails were fun, with unapologetically liberal folks from Wisconsin and Utah…and quieter folks from Alabama. One guy who worked in the State Department asked Steve if we’re readers and wondered if we would read his novel. As much fun as we had, the snacks were mostly stale chips, and so we scoped out a lovely Greek restaurant and shared a Greek salad (traditional, with a hidden scoop of potato salad in the middle–yum!), a gyro, and baklava cheesecake (evidently, the Greeks invented cheesecake, too!), and I savored a thick, muddy Greek coffee.
Tarpon Springs still today is the largest Greek settlement in the U.S. The sponge industry moved northward from the Keys, by 1900 Tarpon Springs was the largest sponge port in the US. The Greeks, having depleted their sponge fields, set their sights on the vast supply in the Gulf of Mexico. In the next few years they brought experienced divers, and by using rubberized diving suits and helmets, were able to increase the harvests. By 1905 over 500 sponge divers were at work, utilizing 50 boats, attracting sponges traders in silent auctions and supporting industries, such as restaurants. For the next 30 years, the sponge industry out of Tarpon Springs was the largest industry in Florida, larger than the citrus industry or tourism, and Tarpon Springs became known as the sponge capital of the world. Fortunes shifted quickly when a blight in the 40s nearly wiped out the sponge fields. Finally in the 80s new beds were found, and sustainable sponge harvesting started booming again. The Deep Horizon BP oil spill also posed a major setback for the shallow beds around the Big Bend area, where the most desirable Wool Sponges grow, but they, too, are gradually recovering. Steve and I couldn’t resist the pitch: luxurious natural sponges—antibacterial, sustainably managed and harvested, lasting 5 years, a way to support local industry, light and highly packable for schlepping on the boat…. We bought a sackful! On our final evening in Tarpon Springs, we met our Gulf crossing partners to celebrate and debrief. It was a spirited evening, and we look forward to running into these good folks again.
*Crab pots are cages set out and tended by fishermen which are marked by a floating ball attached to the cage by a rope or wire. In these waters, they literally catch stone crabs, but boaters use the term “crab pot” generically, meaning any sort of fish or sea life trap. Tangling your prop in one of these can ruin your day.
**A red light is the port side (left side facing the bow) navigation light. Seeing the red light in front of us meant that the boat was crossing our path from our right to left and communicated to steer right to go behind him to avoid colliding.
***How do folks know we are Loopers? Well, we all sport a burgee, a pennant on our boats. One Looper has said that the burgee is better for meeting people than a puppy. Loopers also stay in touch! We added our name to the “Class of 2019” through the daily online forum, and one of the newest technologies for tracking Looping boats is through NeBo. A lot of folks watch to see who is coming into harbor and are ready to lend a hand. Others keep track of fellow loopers who they want to remain in touch with through NeBo. If you are interested in watching our progress, you can download the app and…ask Steve to coach you.
Immediately upon leaving Fairhope, the dolphins greeted us, three of them crossing our path and then playing in our wake. We entered the Gulf Intra Coastal Waterway (GICW), and the landscape changed; we’ve left industrial Mobile and entered the playground of the Southeast. While, we still encounter commercial tows, white sugar beaches, and beautiful homes and condos with their water toys at water’s edge, line the coast. A short 20 miles later we arrived at Barbour Marina near Orange Beach, a lovely marina with nothing around.
The next day again, the dolphins greeted us and cormorants escorted us another 20 miles on a gorgeous, sunny 63-degree day east to Pensacola, where we slipped at Palafox Marina right downtown. We are finally in Florida! Here we hunkered down for a stormy day spent indoors at the highly-acclaimed Naval Aviation Museum. In the last few days, I had discovered that I left my Drivers License at home, and I discovered that it is absolutely imperative to have a government-issued photo ID to enter the naval base. This meant that Steve went to the museum alone, and I spent the afternoon doing things that I have trouble finding time to do when Steve is around. Steve’s report of the museum is that “there were lots and lots of planes.” 😂 I heard as much about his conversation with his cab drivers as I did about the museum.
Another 45 miles east found us in Fort Walton Beach. A number of military bases around here have been closed, but it seems that there are still a lot. As we cruised through “The Narrows” by Santa Rosa Island, planes took off and landed, and a cadre of 8 helicopters hovered. We arrived at Two Georges Marina at Shalimar, and one of the dock crew helping with our pump out saw that we’re from Indiana and told us his grandfather built the grain elevators and started the public library in Shipshewanna! Small world.
The sixty miles to Panama City was beautiful cruising, but we wished we had gotten an earlier start. Scenery turned from upscale residential to remote again, trading the red clay of Alabama for sandy, eroded banks. We eked into Lighthouse Marina just as the sun was dropping behind the horizon. This area having been heavily damaged last fall by Hurricane Michael, we feel lucky to have found any marina open. It was fun to be greeted by Dale and Merna Hartwig on The Journey, who spent a month (!) at Dog River, and we joined them for appetizers and lively conversation at the marina restaurant, Grand Marlin. Dale having been a hospital administrator, we had lots to talk about besides Looping.
TV images of hurrican damage came to life as we observed the scenes.
White City was a short 40-mile hop. We were sobered by hurricane devastation and felt an eerie absence of wildlife on a stretch in which the trees were snapped off and uprooted. White City, named for the Chicago’s Worlds Fair “White City” and both founded in 1893, boasts a population of 3700 and has a “ghost town” history. After a shyster named Colonel Meyers came to town, took down-payments for a land scheme, and collected residents’ savings for a promised bank, he disappeared. Scamming is not new. The next year, the area suffered a big freeze which wiped out all the crops and destroyed the local economy, scattering the desolate little community. 😭 We chatted for quite a while with a fellow who is living aboard his boat here at the free dock. He weathered the hurricane here with minimal damage to his boat, but after the 5-foot surge, his boat was left sitting on the pier. He said that recovery in this area has been heroic and, as a retired electrical engineer, he is amazed at the quick return of services. Still, he says that nearly half of Panama City was destroyed and will be recovering for years.
High tension line work
Now to the other side of the ICW. Yee hah!
Last stop, Carrabelle! We experienced a nail-biting pass of a huge dredge just past Appalachiacola. Already a narrow channel in which we dinged a prop on our northerly trip in June, the dredge operators did little to assist us in our pass, and we fought to get to deeper water when our depth alarm sounded. Dolphins accompanied us now and again as we crossed the wide-open waters of Appalachiacola Bay and St. George Sound and we sighted a bald eagle. A tiny burg of 1300, with more people inside the local state penitentiary than living on the outside, Carrabelle, too, was hit hard by the hurricane. We found the brave little town to be rebuilding industriously and its inhabitants to be friendly. The coast line has a communist Soviet Union look, with grimy buildings, missing shingles, ramshackle piers, and clutter everywhere, but there are cute pockets in town.Moorings Marina serves breakfast every morning to their guests, a couple notches more delicious than Holiday Inn Express fare. We met Gabe, a congenial Looping 11-year-old, who was walking his dogs and then met his parents at breakfast. And a big, long breakfast it was! Gabe came over in the afternoon and invited us to their boat for dinner, a casual, grilled pork chop dinner. Gabe’s dad was raised in the salvage tow business and has been on the Gulf in every condition imaginable, and he builds dragsters—he is an engine man! It is fun to hear his stories, and those of his friends Len and Terry, who have cruised all over the world for 40 years. We also met Gold Loopers Alan and Sherry Johnson on Sea Jamm,joining them for lunch at the cute Carrabelle Junction Cafe and then scoped out the glass bottle house, built by a local artist from wine bottles and mortar. Unfortunately, the artist was not around to give a tour, and the skies were cloudy, so the colors did not sparkle. Our to-do list includes installation of the engine compartment vent with its new louvers, laundry, frig defrosting, hair cut, group trip planning, and provisioning before our Gulf crossing tomorrow.
We departed Dog River with a flurry of last minute tasks, one of which was to visit the shop of outboard engine repairman to get a lesson on the tricks of this old and unusual Mercury engine. Paul hadn’t found anything wrong with it, but he was also testing it in a 50-gallon oil barrel. Not learning anything particularly new, we thanked him and loaded it into the courtesy truck, uncertain that anything will change its poor performance. And so we departed Dog River with a couple of repairs yet waiting for the right time, the right parts and equipment, the right frame of mind, and the right budget allocation.
We cruised directly east across Mobile Bay, feeling vulnerable as we crossed the heavily-trafficked shipping lanes and recollected sobering stories of other cruisers’ close calls with huge commercial vessels. A short cruise of 20 miles landed us in the tiny and beautiful town of Fairhope, Alabama, dubbed America’s most romantic town. Founded in 1894 by a group of 28 people, 9 of which were children, it was a socialist community based on the Single Tax Theory of economist Henry George. The town’s proximity to Mobile was strategic in developing their trades. Also notable in Fairhope was the formation of an organic “no fail” school in which the well-being of the entire child was valued and much of the learning was hands-on. This school continues today as a private school and is able to avoid the testing climate by side-stepping state accreditation. The town today continues to be a pocket of intellectualism and progressivism in a very conservative state, and more published authors live here per capita than anywhere else in the United States.
We called an Uber to go into town and were greeted by streets lined everywhere with blooming red tulips, cheery daffodils, and cool dusty miller amid sprinklings of pansies, dianthus, and sweet alyssum. We savored brunch at Julwin’s, “Baldwin County’s oldest restaurant where country cooking is a tradition and customers are our passion,” spent a pleasant hour at the historical museum with friendly docents, and walked out on the long community pier. Dessert at Sandra’s, whose coconut cake has been featured in Southern Living Magazine beckoned us, and then we retraced our steps all the way back to the pier for my lost scarf—sadly, still a necessity these cold days. After browsing some boutiques in the attractive business district, we hit the market for garlic, and the two bags of provisions we exited with precipitated our return to the boat. Come evening we took a short dinghy ride to Sunset Point, a local favorite which has been featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.” The seafood lettuce wrap and the mahi mahi fish and chips did not disappoint, and even though we did not need it after our afternoon cake, we had been told not to miss the key lime curd. Essentially a piece of pie turned on its head in a jelly canning jar, it was topped with a deliciously crisp Grahm cracker crust. So delicious.