Compared to the busy waters on either end, the Okeechobee Waterway (OWW) is a quiet passageway across the middle of the state. It connects 3 natural bodies of water – St. Lucie River on the eastern side, Lake Okeechobee in the center, and the Caloosahatchee River on the western side – via 2 manmade canals and the locks necessary to raise boats up approximately 12.5 feet to the lake’s normal level and then back down again. We had left Vero Beach on a Friday, making it as far south as Jensen Beach (after a stop for lunch at Fort Pierce with Tom and Dau) before daylight was fading. So, Saturday morning, we were up early to begin our trip west. The entrance to the waterway is at the intersection of the St. Lucie River and the ICW. This is a popular outlet to the ocean, which was in evidence on this pleasant Saturday morning. However, we turned west, away from the activity and made our way upriver toward the first of the locks just past Stuart on the St. Lucie River.
The next morning we left a little later, since we needed to wait for the City Hall to open to pay for our dockage. (The dockmaster didn’t manage to get there the night before.) We were headed for LaBelle, which was not too far away, but we wanted to make a stop at Glades Boatyard on the way, another potential storage location for Orion Jr. The winds were up, making us grateful we had crossed the lake the day before. We got a look at Glades, an inexpensive do-it-yourself boatyard, before moving on to LaBelle. Just before the LaBelle bridge and just after Port LaBelle Marina, Dave had found a free dock that he thought we could use. As we approached, a sunbather was enjoying the solitude and fishing there. We disturbed her tranquility and asked about the availability of the dock, which she said we could use. We pulled in and chatted for a bit, but we scared her off. It just wasn’t the same as before.
The old mapmakers warning about all sorts of calamities befalling those who traveled off the edge of the known world really didn’t apply to us, but we were not going to go far without maps of the west coast of Florida for our chartplotter. It’s not that Dave hadn’t been working on getting them for quite a while. Things had just not been going our way. When we switched to the little boat, we went back to using our Garmin 172C chartplotter. As far as we were concerned, it was “old faithful”, having taken us thousands of miles before we upgraded Orion back in 2009. But the older chartplotters require you to unlock regions to get maps for new cruising grounds. Although Dave had purchased an unlock code a couple of years back, he found that he couldn’t use it when he went to unlock the west coast of Florida. After several discussions with Cathy and with Garmin, we developed a plan.
We would buy a refurbished Garmin 535 chartplotter, which came with the inland US charts. These would allow us to travel much of the Great Loop and other potential future destinations. We would then use a credit Garmin was giving us to partially offset the cost of the coast US charts, which would give us the west coast of Florida. Since all of this came together shortly after leaving Palm Coast, we had to find a place to send the chartplotter and chip. That place turned out to be Fort Pierce and our friends Tom and Dau. Since the weather for crossing Lake Okeechobee arrived before the chartplotter and chip, we had to rent a car once we made it across Florida and travel back to pick them up. In a marathon trip across the terrain we had just painstakingly traveled by boat, we drove over and back in a day with the prized possessions in hand.
Dave quickly installed the new chartplotter and had it operational. The bigger task was to start planning routes for our travels on the west coast. We spent all of one day just planning the route from Fort Myers Beach to Marathon. This wasn’t just about creating the waypoints, it was researching where to go, which anchorages are options, which alternate routes should we allow for. Also, Dave had to switch from the more familiar Mapsource software to Homeport, Garmin’s new route-planning solution for the PC. But we managed to work through the changes and are now getting re-accustomed to the new chartplotter, whose user interface is very similar to the one we left behind on Orion.
1116 Cathy as pirate on Ft Myers Beach
OK, let’s face it. Fort Myers Beach is a tourist town. It has miles of beautiful beaches and the associated stores selling everything from ice cream to sunglasses. Needless to say this attracts lots of people. As we made our way around discovering this beach town, we found much to recommend it, despite the crowds. With some chores to do and the weather kicking up, we settled into a routine for about a week on our mooring ball. We had easy access to a trolley that took us up and down the island for 50 cents. And this connected to a bus system on the mainland that would take us to a number of points in the greater Fort Myers area.