It is said that Charlotte Harbor in Southwest Florida offers some of the best sailing anywhere. With 120 square miles of cruising waters in the harbor (in my mind a bay), and access to the Gulf as well as inland passages south to Fort Myers and north to Tampa Bay, one can find lots of adventures on these waters. And for this past week, that's what we did on Alizee.
After getting getting some running rigging work done the beginning of April, the first mate and I provisioned for a week on the 16th and 17th, and set sail on Monday the 18th to rendezvous with friends in the Dolphins Sailing Club at Pelican Bay at the western mouth of Charlotte Harbor. This little pod of Dolphins had come down from Tampa Bay, some on their way just as far as Fort Myers, some going on to the 10,000 Islands, and a couple of boats headed off for two months in the Bahamas. Because most of the Dolphins' cruises are in the Tampa Bay area or northward (only one or two a year getting down to Charlotte Harbor), this was a real treat for us.
We arrived in Pelican Bay at 14:30, anchored. Pelican Bay has become one of our favorite spots (as it has for many other local boaters). It offers a calm and safe anchorage, is protected from truly heavy winds, has wonderful shorelines to explore, is the gateway to Cayo Costa State Park, and more. Of course to explore the area one needs there dinghy in the water, so once anchored, I lowered ours, I pumped her up good, washed and let her dry, and applied a good coating of 303 Aerospace. Truth is, the hypalon tubes are almost worn out, there are lots of tiny leaks that I can barely keep up with, so we may have to replace her this summer.
I dinghied over to Mikani Koa
, an Island Packet 31 belonging to Mike Palaez, a Dolphin anchored close by whom we had not met. We had a nice conversation, which ended only because the Dolphin pod leaders for this trip, Bob and Sandy MacNeill, dinghied over and introduced themselves. Apparently, happy hour was to be held at 17:00 on Celestial
, a trawler captained by an old Dolphin friend, Steve Cardiff. When the time came, we renewed acquaintances with Joe and Kathy Mansir, of the Island Packet 37 Halcyon
, and met new Dolphin members Mike and Jane Kyot sailing Alors
and bound with the MacNeills for the Bahamas.
Tuesday morning found the pod heading southward down the inland passage (the ICW). The plan was to anchor off St. James City and dinghy into Woody's (a well-know bar/restaurant on a local canal) for lunch. We had a nice sail for half the trip southward, until the channel changed and the wind came head on. Along the way, we caught 5 Spanish Mackerel on our hand line, throwing two of them back as too small and keeping and filleting the others. Meanwhile, before we got to St. James City, the pod's plans changed and everyone moved on to Fort Myers Beach, which has a large protected mooring field. We elected to anchor out in San Carlos Bay, and we didn't go in to the mooring field for the evening happy hour with the group. So rather than being surrounded by other boats and a shoreline, we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset (going down over the bridge from Fort Myers to Sanibel Island).
At 07:00 Wednesday, we were up. The bay was roily, which we did not remember from two previous stays, so after coffee, we weighed anchor and motored south about a mile to anchor just outside the Fort Myers Beach channel and entry. The rest of the morning we relaxed with coffee, I cut off the worn end and then whipped our snubber line, and at 11:30 we dinghied into the dinghy dock under the Mantanza's Pass Bridge, which connects Estero Island (Fort Myers Beach) with San Carlos Island and the mainland, to meet up with the pod for lunch. Lunch at the Salty Crab was fairly pedestrian, but it was nice to get together with everyone, and Mike Palaez and I spotted a good photo op just away from the dinghy dock. When we left, we told Mike that we were leaving early in the morning to sail north in the Gulf to Boca Grande Pass, thence into Charlotte Harbor. We weren't sure we'd make it into Pelican Bay, as the tides were high at about noon, but if not we'd anchor at Useppa Island nearby on the ICW.
On Thursday, 21 April, we were awake at 03:30. The roily waters were a bit much for us, but we'd gone to bed at 21:00 so were pretty rested. Since it was a full moon with cloudless skies, we decided to weigh anchor, and departed the anchorage at about 04:30. With a east wind of 12-14 knots we were under sail heading south to go around the shoal that juts out a couple of miles from Sanibel Island. When we turned west, of course, that put the breeze right on our stern, and the roily seas made it impossible to keep on a good course wing-on-wing. So, we dropped sails, fired up the "iron jenny" and moved ahead at 6 knots over ground to get into position to turn northward and capture the wind again. It took about two hours, during which we saw the moon set and sun rise within 20 minutes of eachother, and during which I fought off a bit of mal de mer
. But once we turned north, we got a lovely sail all the way into Charlotte Harbor, thence after a tack into Pelican Bay almost all the way to the spot we anchored. Mike, who left two hours after we did and came up the ICW, appeared 10 minutes behind us. (We had a bit of a problem with our radio transmitter in the cockpit, which we discovered while trying to keep in contact with Mike. Have to get that sorted out in the next weeks. Also see that the Sunbrella cover on our Genoa sail needs replacing.) Turns out the trip was fairly fast (we probably averaged 5.5 knots), and we arrived at Pelican Bay at high tide: noon. We progged about in the afternoon, read (which we do all the time when on the water), and had Mike over for happy hour at 17:00.
We decided to spend all day Thrusday at anchor, and the day was another one of reading, napping, progging about. Around 16:00, we took our fishing poles and tried our luck in the shallow grassy waters along the mangrove shoreline; lots of sea trout and other fish, but we had no luck. So, we went into the so-called Manatee hole nearby and after sitting quietly for a half-hour were rewarded by Manatee come to investigate us and appearing here and there all over the area. When we returned to our boat, Mike hailed us to come over, where we met another old Dolphin acquaintance, Chris McDonell and his sailing buddy Dennis.
One of the things we do especially well when were cruising is to eat and eat well. Our menu for this trip included filet mignon with potatoes and green beans (Monday dinner), "mom's" spaghetti (Tuesday dinner), fresh fried mackerel for breakfasts (twice -- once with scrambled eggs and peppers and mushrooms), Empress Chile dogs for one lunch and then again for a dinner (because we'd snacked too much at happy hour), and a wonderful Belgian-style rabbit stew with potatoes, peas and mushrooms. When we can we prepare meals at home and freeze them for the trip, and we've gotten pretty good at it all.
Friday, we weighed anchor and departed for home at 10:30. We had a great sail back to Burnt Store, and put the boat away (washed, canvased, cleaned, and packed up) by 15:00. We have a bit more rigging work to be done in the next two weeks, after which it may be too damned hot to enjoy sailing, but this week was perfect!!