We pulled into Port Labelle Marina on a windy Thursday afternoon, stopping first at the few floating slips with power near the fuel dock. From this location, we could wash her down, charge up the batteries, do laundry and finish any other tasks that require water or power. We had a long list of things to do and the marathon was just beginning. It would take us all of the next 5 days to get them all done before we got in the car and headed north. (For an inventory of the things we did to get her ready, see the checklist we prepared.)
Cathy divided her attention between the inside and outside. She had to clean and remove the enclosure and bimini and secure the supporting arches. The compartments below had to be cleaned and anything flammable or perishable removed. Anything of value or that we needed on Orion needed to be pulled out and staged to be loaded in the car when we picked it up on Monday.
By Tuesday, we were getting down to the wire. We needed to start stowing things down below, which meant we weren’t spending another night on the boat. By the time we were done, the dinghy, the smaller outboard, the solar panels, the bimini and enclosure were all stowed below and we had removed everything we think we need on Orion. Dave rigged the small solar panel to keep the batteries charged and we declared her “done” and ready to leave.
We left Fort Myers Beach early on a Wednesday morning, again trying to beat the power boat traffic, heading through Fort Myers and up the Caloosahatchie River toward LaBelle. All was going smoothly until we approached the Franklin Lock. When we had traveled through it westbound, the lock was on request. However, when we called at 2pm to say we were 15 minutes out, we got the unfortunate news that the lock opened only on the odd hours. This was because the lake levels are lower and the locks need to limit the outflow of water. We had almost an hour to kill. We throttled back and did large circles in the river waiting until 3pm. These circles were made more difficult by the nearby Ranger training course where park rangers were weaving at high speeds in and out of buoys. With relief we locked through at 3pm, alone except for the manatees who were also headed eastbound toward the Lake.
We pulled into a slip at the park on the other side of the lock. It was our first time on a dock since our last visit here almost 2 ½ months earlier. Unlike our stay in January, we were accompanied by 7 other boats, most of them cruisers on their way to Glades or Turkey Creek to put their boats away for the summer. We spent some time with our neighbors who were interested in cruising advice on seeing the Chesapeake Bay. Cathy pulled out the sewing machine and sat at the picnic table in the shelter sewing more chafe protection for our hurricane lines.
The next day, we made a later start, using the morning hours to pull the dinghy over to the boat ramp and clean the bottom. With winds and storms forecast for the afternoon, we were pushing to get through the 3 opening bridges as soon as possible and into LaBelle before conditions worsened. The warmer weather was an eye-opener as the season brought out the alligators who were nowhere to be found in January. Also, the citrus trees we passed were scenting the air with the sweet aroma of orange blossoms. It was almost a completely different experience.
On to Hampton
Taking 2 days to travel north, we arrived in Hampton only 1 day ahead of Pat and Fred, who had made a record run north on Marianna. Cathy joined them for dinner, but unfortunately Dave had come down with a virus that took him out of commission for the day and he had to send his regrets. After a weekend spent with the kids and grandkids, we’re now taking stock of Orion and finalizing her to put her on the market. If you know of anyone who might be interested in a wonderful cruising boat, send them our way. Orion could be the boat for them.