Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Eckels' Visit & the trip to Key West

Bob and Linda Eckels arrived late Thursday afternoon, February 8th, following a leisurely drive from St. Petersburg. After getting settled in, we went across the bridge to the beach and had a nice dinner at the Pierside Grill. We then wandered over to Cabasca's, a nearby establishment, to chat and listen to their live entertainment before retiring to the boat for the evening.

On Friday we drove to Sanibel Island to do some beach combing. We didn't find much in the way of seashells, but the weather was beautiful and we all enjoyed the warmth of the sun as we walked along the beach and waded in the water in search of island treasures. We stopped at The Island Cow (home of "Udderly Great Food") for lunch and then continued along the road toward Captiva. We reached the end of the island at South Seas Plantation, a very high-end resort and marina, and stopped at another section of beach on the way back. The sand on the beach in this area was much darker than it had been on the south end of the island and the shells were also different, which we found interesting since the entire island is probably less than 10 miles long.

This heron exhibited virtually no fear of us as it strolled by on the beach.

This guy is waiting for someone to feed him!

The heron creeps ever-closer as Todd assists a young lady who caught a fish. After Todd got the fish off the hook, the heron took off with it!

The heron is still stalking as I looked for seashells.

On the way back to Fort Myers Beach, we stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few items and then spent a quiet evening on the boat. None of us were very hungry after our big lunch at The Island Cow, so I made a rock shrimp and avocado pizza for everyone to snack on that evening with plans to have a nice breakfast the next morning on the boat.

After breakfast, we headed to the Fort Myers River District downtown on Saturday where Bob and Linda spent a few hours visiting the Edison & Ford Winter Estates while we visited with Mike & Mary on their boat at the city marina. The Edison & Ford Winter Estates include Thomas Edison's and Henry Ford's respective winter homes, a botanic research laboratory, research gardens, museum and much more. Apparently, Edison and Ford were good friends and their families enjoyed exploring southwest Florida, fishing and boating during their trips to Fort Myers.

When we were at dinner Thursday evening at the Pierside Grill, Todd had noticed a poster in the restaurant advertising that Fuzzy Thurston was having a book signing at the Dockside Sports Pub on Saturday afternoon. Fred "Fuzzy" Thurston was the Left Guard for the Green Bay Packers under coach Vince Lombardi and holds two Super Bowl rings - from the first two Super Bowls ever! At any rate, Bob Eckels is a big Green Bay Packer fan and really wanted to go to the book signing, so we headed back to the beach and made it to the Dockside about 30 minutes before the book signing was over.

Bob and Fuzzy Thurston at the Dockside Sports Pub.

After having a few appetizers at Dockside, we came back to the boat and relaxed for a while before driving down the street to the Parrot Key Caribbean Grill at Salty Sam's Marina to have dinner. The Parrot Key was very busy and we had to wait about an hour for a table, but the food was very good and we all enjoyed a very nice evening - our final evening together in Fort Myers Beach.

Dinner at the Parrot Key Caribbean Grill at Salty Sam's Marina.

Todd and I borrowed the Eckels' car Sunday morning to make a run to Wal-Mart while they slept in a bit. When we returned, Bob and Linda were over at Bonita Bill's having breakfast, so we dropped our bags off at the boat and joined them for a quick bite. The Eckels left shortly after noon to head back to St. Petersburg to catch their late afternoon flight, and we spent the remainder of the day getting things together for our trip to Key West.

It was raining when we woke up Monday morning. Eddie, a local gentleman who works for Key West Express and hangs out at Bonita Bill's, gave us a ride to Salty Sam's where the Key West Express is docked. The rain continued throughout our trip to Key West and even after we arrived, but the boat ride was good and Paz was there to meet us at the terminal, along with Susan and Anna Lee. Susan is Paz's significant other and Anna Lee is Susan's 10-year-old daughter.

After introductions were made, we headed into "downtown" Key West and had a drink at the Hog's Breath (As they say in Key West: "Hog's Breath is better than no breath at all!") before stopping for lunch at Flying Monkeys Saloon (a.k.a. Fogarty's) on Duval Street. They had a huge selection of premade frozen cocktails, which I was more than happy to sample, and Todd had a killer burger that he shared with Paz. We then headed to the house at Summerland Key, about 20 miles north of Key West, where Todd and Paz promptly decided to go fishing. They returned fairly quickly as the water was too rough, and we spent a quiet evening at the house while Paz and Susan prepared slabs of ribeye steak and crab cakes for dinner.

A beautiful sunrise at Summerland Key.

Todd and Paz headed out again late Tuesday morning to try their luck fishing; Susan, Anna Lee and I hung out at the pool. It was a beautiful, sunny day and it didn't take long before we had all the sun we could handle. Susan and Anna Lee went to play miniature golf while I sat in the shade and read. Todd and Paz returned later that afternoon with fresh fish for dinner - a Dorado (Mahi Mahi) and a Yellow Tail Snapper, both of which were excellent!

Susan looks on as Paz prepares the fishing bait.

Paz and Todd proudly display their respective catches of the day!

Paz, Susan and Anna Lee decided to go out in the boat together on Wednesday, and Todd and I took their car and drove into Key West to play tourist for a few hours. After we got our fill of shopping and frozen cocktails, we headed back to Summerland Key to find the rest of the gang hanging out by the pool. That evening we all went to play miniature golf. Todd was the big winner, followed closely by Paz, and I came in dead last. Paz bought fresh Cobia and Bass for dinner and invited their neighbor, Dave, and his friend Mike to join us - another great meal!

Todd, Paz and Dave went out in the boat on Thursday while the rest of us spent some time around the pool. The fish weren't biting, so the guys returned a few hours later and joined me at the pool. Susan had left shortly before the guys got back to take Anna Lee golfing again. While we were hanging around the pool, the neighbor across the canal asked if we would like some fresh swordfish. He had gone out fishing the previous evening and fished all night before returning home about 5:00 a.m. that morning with about 100 pounds of swordfish, so we were more than happy to take some of it off his hands!

When Susan and Anna Lee returned, we all played a few games of Yahtzee before starting dinner. After yet another excellent meal of fresh fish, Todd, Paz and Anna Lee went golfing - again! - while Susan and I worked on a jigsaw puzzle. Much to Paz's dismay, Todd prevailed as miniature golf champion but Anna Lee kicked our butts in Yahtzee.

By Friday, the weather had turned quite cool. We headed into Key West early that afternoon and spent several hours wandering around. We stopped at Flying Monkeys Saloon again where Todd and Anna Lee played hangman, and Todd and Paz entertained us with their mind-reading abilities and other assorted tricks. Paz dropped us off at the Key West Express terminal around 5:00 p.m. and we said our good-byes. We had a great visit and very much enjoyed meeting Susan and Anna Lee. We hope to see them again when we get up in their neck of the woods on the boat.

Our final day together in Key West.

Even though it was rainy and somewhat rough on the ride down to Key West (probably 3- to 5- foot seas for the most part, with a few 6-footers thrown in for good measure), it was still a pleasant trip; the trip back was not as pleasant. The Key West Express is a large catamaran that plows through the seas very well at about 40 miles per hour; however, we experienced 6- to 8-foot seas on the return trip and a large percentage of the passengers got seasick. Todd and I did fine, but the crew was kept quite busy taking care of dozens of sick passengers, and the boat looked like an infirmary by the time we got back to Fort Myers Beach!

Todd's sister Jennifer and her boyfriend, Mark, had driven over from Orlando to spend the weekend on the boat with us, so they picked us up at Salty Sam's about 10:00 Friday evening. By then it was very cold and windy and we were more than ready to get out of the weather. We returned to the boat and cranked up the heat and then spent a couple of hours chatting before calling it a night.

We went over to Bonita Bill's for an early lunch on Saturday before Mark left to spend some time with his daughter, Jessie. He returned a few hours later to pick Jennifer up and they spent the rest of the afternoon thrift-shopping around Fort Myers. Jennifer and Mark returned that evening with steak and chicken to grill for dinner, accompanied by a great Asian salad mix and a loaf of French bread.While they were gone, I fixed a spinach artichoke dip to have as an appetizer when they returned. Mark's other daughter, Rachel, had just returned to Fort Myers after being out of town all weekend, so she stopped by to join us for dinner.

Mark took Todd to the grocery store Sunday morning to pick up a few items, and then Jennifer and Mark took off late Sunday morning as they wanted to stop by to see Rachel at the coffee shop where she works before heading back to Orlando. It was still cool and incredibly windy all day Sunday, so Todd and I spent a quiet day on the sundeck reading and watching the turbulent water in the Pass behind us.

Monday was still cool but the wind had died down to a tolerable level, so we rode the trolley to the laundromat and spent a few hours getting caught up on our laundry. It is supposed to be in the upper 70's today, so we may walk across the bridge to the beach this afternoon for a few hours. Mike & Mary are planning to catch a ride to Fort Myers Beach tomorrow (Wednesday) with some marina friends of theirs, so we are looking forward to spending some time on the beach with them.

We still don't have any definite future plans once we leave Fort Myers Beach but are hoping to hear something from our insurance company soon as to whether our coverage extends to the Exumas. If it doesn't, that will narrow down our options as to what we do between now and the beginning of hurricane season. At any rate, we should have a tentative plan put together for our next blog update.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Hello, Ft. Myers Beach!

As planned, we left Boca Grande on Friday, January 26th, and enjoyed a relatively short cruise to Ft. Myers Beach. The 685-mile Gulf Intracoastal Water Way (GIWW), which starts in Brownsville, TX, ends just north of Ft. Myers. From Ft. Myers, you have two options to get to the east coast of Florida and the Atlantic Ocean.

The route from Ft. Myers to the Florida Keys via the west coast is characterzied by short trips in exposed, shallow Gulf Coast water broken by stops in protected, laid-back communities and is roughly 150 miles. The other option is to head east from Ft. Myers via the Caloosahatchee River and the Okeechobee Waterway. Most of this trip is in fresh water and includes five locks as you boat across the Florida peninsula. This trip is also about 150 miles and enters the Atlantic Ocean at Stuart, FL. Fortunatly, we don't have to decide which way to head yet as our plans have us in Ft. Myers Beach for the next six weeks or so.

As we mentioned in our last blog update, our original plan was to anchor out Friday evening and scope out possible marinas in the area. However, once we got here we decided fairly quickly that we would stay at the Semmer Electric docks by Bonita Bill's, a local bar/restaurant hang-out. Getting into the dock turned out to be a little stressful for us as we haven't had much experience dealing with the type of tides and currents we found in Matanzas Pass where the dock is located.

After some nerve-racking moments trying to fight the current as it pushed us away from the dock, we got secured with the assistance of Captain Bruce, the dock manager, and a few of the resident live-a-boards. The accomodations at Bonita Bill's are a series of funky little piers and docks that don't really qualify as a full-fledged marina, but we like it here as we are right by the bridge leading to Estero Island, where Ft. Myers Beach is located, and we have a great view of Matanzas Pass from the sundeck. We are technically on San Carlos Island, but the address is Ft. Myers Beach; downtown Ft. Myers is about 45 minutes north. Fortunately, there is a free trolley service that we can utilize to go to the grocery store, laundromat, etc., and the city has a local bus service that will take you pretty much anywhere you want to go in Ft. Myers.

This is a shot of "Life's2Short" from the 65-foot bridge that leads from San Carlos Island to Estero Island. Our boat is parallel to the pier in the lower left side of the photo.

Bonita Bill's has karaoke on Tuesday and Friday nights, so we were "serenaded" by the locals our first night here. Saturday was spent cleaning and Sunday was spent relaxing. Greg and Sandy from "Latitude Dancer" stopped by to see us Sunday afternoon on their way back to their boat across the bridge from us. We met Greg and Sandy in Demopolis last summer when we were waiting for our transmission to be replaced and have kept in touch with them off and on since. We knew they were somewhere in the Ft. Myers area but didn't know we would be docked just across Matanzas Pass from them. We saw their boat when we arrived Friday afternoon and called to let them know where we were.

Jennifer's friend, Mark, had to be in the Ft. Myers area on Monday for business, so he drove over from Orlando Sunday afternoon and spent Sunday night on the boat with us. Since his girls live in Ft. Myers, he invited Jessie and Rachel over to the boat for dinner which he had prepared before leaving Orlando and brought with him - meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and deviled eggs. We had a great meal and visit and then went to breakfast with Mark on Monday before he left.

The Captain had been fighting a developing cold, so the rest of Monday was spent hanging out on the boat and relaxing. By Tuesday, he felt somewhat better and we decided to walk across the bridge to see the beach. It was a cool, cloudy and breezy day so we just took a relatively short walk along the beach, found a place to have lunch and came back to the boat. The next few days were also cloudy, cool and breezy so we stayed pretty close to the boat, but by Thursday afternoon we were ready to venture out again. We walked down Main Street about a mile to check out Salty Sam's Marina and the Parrot Key Caribbean Grill and then came back and walked across the bridge to check out a few more of the local hot spots.

On Friday morning, we walked across the bridge again to the Farmer's Market to buy some fresh local produce and ran into Greg on the way back. He had been to a Flea Market in a nearby neighborhood and was bringing his "new" bicycle back to the boat. He told us the Flea Market was a mile or so down San Carlos Boulevard, so we decided to drop our produce off at the boat and walk down to check it out. The "mile" ended up being at least two miles, but we finally made it and spent an hour or so browsing through the merchandise. They were also serving food as part of the fund-raiser, so we grabbed a bite of lunch (chili and hot dogs) while we were there.

Since we had already walked most of the way, we decided to walk the remaining distance to the grocery store in Summerlin Square to stock up on a few items before returning to the boat. Having done that, we rode the trolley back to the bridge and walked the rest of the way back to the boat. Our legs and feet had had more than enough walking for one day, so we spent a quiet afternoon and evening on the boat.

Saturday was Artfest at the Ft. Myers River District (downtown), so we rode the trolley to Summerlin Square to catch the first of the two local buses that we needed to ride to get there. Two hours and one bus transfer later, we arrived at Artfest and began touring the 200 booths that had been set up while munching on a big bag of "Florda's Best" kettle corn - one of my personal favorites!

We saw a wide variety of original art work that included various types of paintings, sculpture, jewelry, ceramics, photography, woodwork, metal, glass and much more. I was especially excited by one artist's collection of beautiful glass blowfish, so the Captain sneaked back to buy one for me while I was using the restroom. What a guy!

Below are some of the pictures we took at Artfest. Cool stuff!

Super Bowl Sunday arrived and we walked over to Bonita Bill's around 4:00 p.m. to see what they had going on. After hanging out there for a while, we decided to walk across the bridge in search of a big screen on which to watch the game. We stopped in at the Gulfshore Grill initially and then made our way to the nearby Surf Club where we enjoyed free pizza and wings at half-time.  Having consumed all the food and drink we could handle, we walked back to the boat to watch the rest of the game before calling it a night.

Monday was a "stay on the boat" day as it was cloudy, cool, breezy and rainy. The weather was a little better on Tuesday, so we ventured out long enough to take care of some business and get the laundry done. The laundromat is also in Summerlin Square, so we packed everything up, walked to the trolley stop and rode to Summerlin Square. We returned by mid-afternoon and spent the rest of the day lounging around on the boat.

After enduring several days of clouds, wind and cool temperatures, the weather is finally improving and we are looking forward to seeing the sun again. Bob and Linda Eckels (friends from Springfield) had to postpone their visit last week and are scheduled to fly into Tampa/St. Petersburg this evening where they will spend the night and drive down to Ft. Myers tomorrow (Thursday) afternoon. They will return to Springfield Sunday, and we will leave at 9:00 a.m. Monday morning for Key West aboard the Key West Express, a local passenger ferry service that utilizes hi-tech jet powered vessels to make daily runs back and forth to Key West (140 miles) in about 3-1/2 hours (http://www.seakeywestexpress.com).

This is the Key West Express that goes by our boat each day at 9:00 a.m. on its way to Key West and again at 9:30 p.m. on the return trip.

A college friend of Todd's (Paz) rented a house near Key West and when he found out we were going to be in Ft. Myers, he insisted we come down and spend a few days. We haven't seen Paz in 10 years, so we are excited to be able to hook up with him and see Key West at the same time! We will return from Key West next Thursday evening (February 15th) and should have lots of fun and exciting things to report in our next blog update.