Day 4: From Cayo Costa to Palm Island

My body clock is normally set to sleep at 2 am and wake at 9:30 am due to my usual work schedule. When I’m off work for several days in a row, as I am now, my rhythm normally inches toward a more “normal” schedule. Today, for example, I experienced something I rarely do – a sunrise. I was up to take a photo of a most beautiful early morning sky reflected in the still waters of the Pelican Bay. I then stood on deck watching numerous groupings of dolphins splash all around us in the bay.

Sunrise

Sunrise

After a quick bowl of cereal, we weighed anchor and inched our way out of the shallow bay and back into the ICW. Fortunately, we did fine all night and did not touch the bottom in the sub-five foot depths. What a sublime three hour motor up the ICW under bright sunshine and extreme calm (almost too extreme, we could’ve used a little more breeze). Very soon after leaving our overnight anchorage, we crossed the beautiful Charlotte Harbor. A few miles further north, we encountered our only bridge of the day. After we passed through a non-functioning, always open railroad bridge we made our way through the Boca Grande Swing Bridge.

Calmness of Pelican Bay

Swingbridge on the ICW

Swingbridge on the ICW

Shortly after noon, we made our way into Palm Island Marina in Cape Haze. This marks another first for us. I have intentionally varied our experiences on this trip. We spent the first night sailing on the gulf. We spent the next two anchoring. And we spent the fourth night at a marina. This is the first time we’ve stayed at a marina other than our own. Therefore, we had the new challenge of docking Beatitude in strange environs. I must confess that I am quite pleased with my increasing comfort level in maneuvering Beatitude. You may recall that my greatest uneasiness from the beginning was in approaching and leaving the dock and maneuvering this behemoth of a boat that we call our home in close quarters. Coming into our slip today went flawlessly. I brought her down the entry channel past the dock, spun her around 180 degrees in basically her own space, and eased her into the dock with no difficulties. Thank you Heavenly Father!

I also learned that one must bring one’s own shore power cord when traveling to other marinas. This was not obvious when we left our own marina. We always leave it on the dock when we go out overnight in Tampa Bay. Next time, I’ll remember to bring it. We could have been hooked up to shore power at Palm Island, but could not because we had no power cord. Oh well! Live and learn.

I am very impressed with Palm Island Marina. It is located right on the ICW but tucked into a secluded little spot. Free WiFi (with great connectivity), a wonderful swimming pool, Cable TV, and a free laundry (Yes, I said free!). We weren’t planning on doing laundry today, but couldn’t pass it up for free. At our home in Regatta Pointe, we pay $2.00 per load for wash and $1.50 per load to dry. While the wash was going, the three of us hit the pool for a refreshing swim and relaxation. As if we needed more relaxation. Actually, it was quite nice and a different kind of relaxing.

Beatitude docked at Palm Island Marina

Beatitude docked at Palm Island Marina

Refreshing Pool Time with Beatitude in the Background

Refreshing Pool Time with Beatitude in the Background

Christy

We then caught the water taxi over to Palm Island Resort and had a delicious meal at Rum Bay Restaurant. The baby-back ribs were fall-off-the-bone goodness. We meandered over to the gulf-front beach where we reclined in beach chairs and waded in the warm, clear water. Around 7:30 pm we water-taxied back to the marina and settled in for a peaceful night tied to the dock.

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The sun sets on another beautiful day.

The sun sets on another beautiful day.

Day 3, July 27 – From Sanibel to Cayo Costa

Usually, when at anchor, I sleep somewhat restlessly. I usually get up a couple of times in the night to make sure we’re not dragging. Perhaps this malady will be cured by the tincture of time and experience. Nonetheless, last night I slept soundly. It may have been the product of the total of two to three hours of sleep the previous night. It may have been the 5 ft of water and the huge, gorgeous anchorage. Whatever the case, it was a nice nights rest.

We awoke around 8:30, took showers, had some frosted flakes for breakfast, and pulled up anchor at 10:00. We spent the next several hours motoring up the intracoastal waterway under bright sun and surrounded with the splendor of God’s creation. Around 1:30 we took a left turn at marker “74” and turned into another lovely place to anchor. The approach to the anchorage is quite intimidating. One must head directly toward a “No Wake Zone” sign sitting very close to the beach lined with boats and happy people. When about 50-75 feet from the shore, the boat must be turned to port and follow the beach along until it fades away to the right. I was pretty intimidated, but did not need to be as it was really quite straightforward. We had 6 feet of water all the way in.

Pelican Bay, just off of Cayo Costa, is the name of the anchorage. At 7 p.m., there were 14 boats anchored with us, but the bay is so spacious we were not crowded at all. (That may also be due to the fact that I probably chose a portion of the anchorage which is quite shallow. When I dropped my anchor, the depth meter read 4.8 ft. My draft is 4.2 feet. That leaves about 6 inches of room beneath the hulls. We came in with the tide coming in just after low tide. I didn’t think we would touch ground this night, but I probably should have opted for the more populated parts of the bay. There may be a good reason Beatitude is relatively alone.)

Beatitude

Beatitude

Cayo Costa State Park is on a barrier island accessible only by boat (aren’t we in luck). For 4,000 or more years prior to the arrival of Europeans, a succession of Native American fishing cultures lived and worked in these areas. We took the dinghy over to the dinghy docks at the Ranger Station, bought a Klondike Bar from the little store, and took the tram over the one mile trail to the gulf. What a treat to visit this unspoiled beach. There are no permanent inhabitants of the island. No resorts. No houses (except for some primitive camping cabins). While Cindy and Christy relaxed on the beach, I took the opportunity to go for a 3-mile round trip walk up to the north end of the island. How pleasant! As I walked along the beach, the shells crackled beneath my feet as if I were walking on broken glass. The amorphous shapes of driftwood dotted the beach. Sea turtle nests were prevalent all along the way. I picked up a number of shells (including one which definitely bests my personal record in shell size).

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Cayo Costa Beach

Crunchy Carpet of Sea Shells

Crunchy Carpet of Sea Shells

I loved the driftwood strewn along the beach.  I think there is a large bull beneath the sand.

The Beach at Cayo Costa

The Beach at Cayo Costa

After an hour and a half at the beach, we took the tram back to the inland side of the island, grabbed a couple of bags of ice, and made our way back to Beatitude. But, before we settled aboard for the night, we had one more excursion. We went exploring in our dinghy and found this little inlet through the mangroves which opened up into a mangrove-enveloped lake of about 200 yards in diameter. How lovely! Cindy spotted a gator close to the boat as we were making our turn to exit the lake. Let’s just say that she spent the rest of the dinghy ride sitting in the bottom of the center of the boat. If that gator was going to leap up into the dinghy, Christy or I would be the first to go!

Entering the "Secret" Passage" to the Hidden Lake

Entering the “Secret” Passage” to the Hidden Lake

Alligator?  Loch Ness Monster?

The evening was spent watching a beautiful sunset over Cayo Costa. Cindy made us some bacon western omelettes and home fries for dinner. We watched one of my favorite movies, “Midnight in Paris,” and retired for the night.

Gourmet Omelettes

Gourmet Omelettes

The twins admiring the sunset

Day 2, July 26 – “Ding Darling”

As I awoke to resume watch around 3:00 am, the waning gibbous moon was at midsky. The night was peaceful as the 3-5 foot waves rolled beneath the boat from the northwest. Radar revealed a line of showers to our north, but they seemed to be moving westwardly and did not reveal an immediate threat.

At 5:30 am, after wasting a little time out in the gulf in order to make our entry into San Carlos Bay with daylight, we lowered both sails and fired up the twin diesels. Remarkably, as we entered the bay we saw our first dolphins of the trip. There were three which crossed in front of us. The sky also turned ominous with dark clouds interspersed with streaks of lightning looming ahead. The dark brushstrokes of rain showers filled the sky around us. I put on my poncho expecting the worst. Once again, however, we were blessed to have only received about 5 minutes of moderate rain. There was no significant lightning or thunder directly overhead.

As the dawn broke after a night at sea, these intimidating clouds greeted us as we enter San Carlos Bay.

As the dawn broke after a night at sea, these intimidating clouds greeted us as we enter San Carlos Bay.

As we made our way under Span A of the Sanibel Causeway, it was cause for minor panic on Cindy’s part. We had just, yesterday, watched a video of a sailboat going under a bridge and losing its mast because the clearance was not sufficient. Our mast is just shy of 65 feet. The vertical clearance for Span A is 70 feet. So, I knew (intellectually, that is) that we would make it easily. But, no matter what one’s mind tells him about the logical impossibility of losing his mast, the heart palpitates with fear as one approaches the span. Cindy was certain our mast was a goner. I must confess that, on our approach, I had some trepidation as well. Of course, we cleared it with ease.

Approaching the Sanibel Causeway in the early morning.

Approaching the Sanibel Causeway in the early morning.

The racing of the heart has slowed after slipping  beneath the bridge.

As the day dawned, we made our way through some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. The landscape was littered with seemingly dozens of small islands covered with mangroves. Florida waterfowl played in this wildlife Disneyland. And, we saw boats. It is hard to believe, but from the time we entered the gulf until the time we exited the gulf, we saw no other boats of any kind. Here was evidence that the human race did still exist. We made our way north until we reached the Okeechobee waterway, at which time we made a 90 degree turn to port and motored for another hour or so until we reached our planned anchorage, the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. This place is exceedingly beautiful and the anchorage is well protected. There is a large area of 5-6 foot deep water in which to drop an anchor. Many boats could fit in this anchorage, but there were only two when we arrived. We’ll have to come back another time when we can actually visit the wildlife refuge, which offers nature walks and canoe trips. There are reportedly a number of Florida alligators, anhinga “snakebirds”, egrets, storks, great blue herons, and a number of other species.

A trio of pelicans and their diminutive comrades

A trio of pelicans and their diminutive comrades

Florida's Great Egret with landing gear extended

A great egret looking askance at his neighbor

A great egret looking askance at his neighbor

We anchored at 9:20, did a little boat picking up after the at times boisterous trip, and took showers (after I caught a quick cat nap). We had some of the most delicious BLT sandwiches for lunch and then went exploring in the dinghy. Unfortunately, our explorations were thwarted. Due to low tide and sand bars, access to the island was limited (unless we wanted to dinghy quite a distance). So, after a little exploration from our dinghy we decided to head back to Beatitude and simply relax. The two boats that were there when we left had departed. We had this fantastically beautiful anchorage all to ourselves. Wow!

Beatitude resting at anchor in the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Exploring the wildlife refuge on our dinghy

Cindy suggested I "accidentally" splash Christy at the bow of the dinghy

The day was completed by a beautiful sunset, some burgers, hot dogs, and corn on the grill, a card game of “10 Down” (which I won, of course), and a movie, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” Cindy, Christy, and I had watched the first two installments of the trilogy before beginning our 6-day adventure. It was much better the second time around!

A brilliant ending to a bright and sunny day

A brilliant ending to a bright and sunny day