After studying the charts and guidebooks for Florida’s southwest coast, we came up with a plan for traveling to the Florida Keys. Our first stop was going to be either Naples or Marco Island, a relatively short distance from each other and a reasonable day’s run from Fort Myers Beach. To ensure enough time on the other end to change our minds, we headed out shortly after sunrise on the 1st of February and made a slow trip around the northern tip of Estero Island before powering up for the run down the coast. There was little wind this day to help us boost our speed, so the outboard pushed us along in the flat seas.
By mid-afternoon, we were heading into Capri Pass, which would take us up to our anchorage in Factory Bay on Marco Island and the last access to fuel and fresh water for the next 5 days. After confirming our entrance to the anchorage by talking to another cruiser anchored there (there is a shoal in the middle of the bay with 2 entrances on either side), we set the hook and then took advantage of the local marina to top off both sets of tanks and remove trash in preparation for our foray into the Everglades.
It was a great place to take a breather from the past few days of travel. We took showers and tidied up the boat, then took time reading and doing some computer work. (Yes, that means the website.) We saw a manatee making a leisurely trip up the river and surfacing every few minutes with a snort to catch a breath before the next dive. And then there were lots of birds. But once again NO alligators.
There was a waiting list for mooring balls in Marathon, so we bypassed the main anchorage in Boot Key Harbor and found a spot in Sisters Creek that gave us all around protection and reasonable access to the marina. We were 23rd on the waiting list the afternoon of our arrival. By Wednesday, we had secured a mooring ball and settled in for a while at this comfortable port in the Middle Keys.
Orion Jr was already freshly bottom-painted when we bought her, which we knew at the time was a mixed blessing. No one likes to do bottom painting, so having her already done took that chore off the project list. However, since she was outfitted as a daysailer, not a cruising boat, we knew the waterline would need to be raised once she was fully loaded. We just didn’t know how high. While this was just a nuisance problem on the fiberglass hull, it was a little more worrisome on the wooden rudder. So, we took advantage of our time on the mooring ball in Marathon to pull the rudder, clean it and re-apply the bottom paint, moving the waterline up a few inches.
Other Boat Stuff
We’ve had the rainiest February in our six years of cruising, which “helped” us find some leaks that needed attention. We re-bedded a shroud on the port side (didn’t we do all those?) which was leaking by Cathy’s head in the V-berth and applied silicone to the starboard aft portlight, which was dripping on Dave where he usually sits in the Main Saloon. At least the leaks were democratic.
Having used our new Garmin 535 chartplotter to travel the couple of hundred miles from Fort Myers Beach, we felt confident to rely on it, so Dave made the wiring more permanent and removed the 172C, holding it in reserve in case of emergency. We also began to think about putting Orion for sale, so we created a “pre-sale” website Beneteau Oceanis 36cc Pre-sale to make her more visible on the search engines by the time we officially list her.
Making the Rounds in Marathon
It didn’t take us long to get back in the swing of things once we pulled into the harbor. After running around getting fuel, water and groceries, we took a breath to check out the activities in the harbor. We re-grouped with the other Waterway Net members at the Ham luncheon in the afternoon and attended a Meet n Greet that night, where we got re-acquainted with the couple on Rising Tide, who had accompanied us from Charleston to Southport back in 2009. (We were both on different boats now, so we didn’t actually put it together until the next day.) We had fun watching Captain Ron ashore with other boaters, most of whom were live-aboards in the harbor. Friends we had met in Vero, Mike and Sue on Indecision had arrived ahead of us and we spent time checking in with them. Stan and Judy were also from Hampton, saw our hailing port and we realized over sundowners that we had many mutual acquaintances in Joy’s Marina back “home”.
But there was an undercurrent in the harbor, which we got wind of on the Waterway Net shortly before our arrival. The marina had made some drastic changes in the rates for boats at anchor using their facilities. These went into effect just days before we came into the harbor. At $22/day and $85/week to use the facilities, we managed to stay mostly away from the dock until we got a mooring assignment. However, the full-time residents in the harbor didn’t have this luxury. It was placing an undue burden on them and those of us waiting to get on a ball. We decided to join a group attending the next City Council meeting to voice our concerns about the change. At the same meeting, the discussion was starting around changes to the designated anchoring rules in the harbor. Dave was among a handful of boaters who spoke to the council to address these issues. Although nothing concrete was decided on the latter topic, the council agreed to re-consider the rate increases. Only time will tell what they decide to do on either topic, but the cruisers and locals are still working to effect a reasonable compromise.
In the meantime, we spend our time with a mix of work and fun, meeting new friends and re-connecting with old ones.