Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Our Final Days in Fort Myers Beach, the 10,000 Islands Area and back to St. Petersburg

After spending a quiet Saturday evening on the boat (March 17th), we began making preparations to leave the dock Tuesday morning. Several of our dock-mates decided to get together Sunday evening for a cookout, so Todd and I borrowed Ken's car (the shrimp boat captain) and went to the store to reprovision and to pick up some steaks, courtesy of Heath & Tyra, to grill that evening. Everyone pitched in and we enjoyed a great meal of steak, pork loin, baked potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, salads, fresh bread and Abner's signature eggplant dip.

Abner, the grillmaster!

Todd made arrangements for the Coast Guard Auxiliary to come by on Monday to conduct a Vessel Safety Check. Our last one was done in Mobile in June of 2006, so we were due for an update. The process went smoothly and we now have our 2007 sticker in place. When I returned from doing a little last-minute laundry, Todd informed me that he had volunteered us to help out at Bonita Bill's that evening when The Yard Dogs were playing so that was how we spent our last evening at the dock. Actually, I just sat at the bar and provided moral support while Todd worked but I figured that was fair since he was the one who volunteered us!

Bonita Bill's with bartenders Kirby and Kendra and, of course, Captain Todd.

Captain Bruce stopped by Tuesday morning to do our final electric meter reading and we said our good-byes before pulling away from the dock and heading out into the Gulf for the trip to Marco Island. We arrived at Mike & Mary's anchorage near Keewaydin Island about 2:00 Tuesday afternoon, rafted up to them and enjoyed a nice afternoon sitting on the bow of our boats with a beautiful view of the Gulf. John, a local friend of Mike & Mary's, boated out to visit for a few hours and then Todd and I went with Mike in the dinghy to take the dogs (M.E. and HID) over to the beach.

On Wednesday we boated over to John's house where Mike & Mary topped off with water, got some ice, dropped off trash and went to the store for a few provisions while Todd and I anchored nearby. After leaving John's at 3:00 p.m., we spent about three hours making our way to an anchorage in the Ten Thousand Islands area between Picnic and Tiger Keys. We again rafted to Mike & Mary and enjoyed a quiet evening on the boat.

Thursday was cloudy and drizzly so we weren't able to get out and explore in the dinghies, although we did take one short ride to the beach on the other side of Tiger Key and then by Camp Lulu Key before returning to the boats. Todd went fishing Friday morning and managed to catch a sea trout. He actually caught several fish but none of the others were good eating. He was pretty certain he had a big Snook (supposedly very good to eat) on the hook yesterday but he wasn't able to get it to the boat before it broke/cut the line (many of the saltwater fish have very sharp teeth and they aren't afraid to use them!).

Friday evening we went over to the beach intending to build a campfire but ended up chatting with some other campers and then just enjoying a nice evening watching the stars and searching for satellites. While fishing Saturday morning, Todd was approached by an Everglades National Park Service Ranger who informed him that we weren't allowed to anchor within a quarter mile of the beach without a permit so we moved the boats to the next key north, Panther Key, which is not part of the Everglades National Park. We spent the next three days at Panther Key sunning on the beach, exploring in the dinghies, eating fresh sea trout which Todd had developed a knack for catching, and we built a very nice campfire on the beach one evening using some wood that a former camper had graciously left behind.

On Tuesday morning we decided to move north again to White Horse Key where Todd and Mike spent some time scraping barnacles off the bottom of "Life's2Short" and looking at our bow thruster which isn't working very well, probably due to barnacle growth. However, as they were snorkeling under the boat they encountered thousands of worm-like critters in the water and decided the barnacle maintenance would have to wait for another day (and location!). On Wednesday we dinghied over to Gullivan Key (north of White Horse) and spent a wonderful afternoon enjoying the beautiful beach there.

These photos will give you a taste of the 10,000 Islands area - very nice!

Todd and I left the 10,000 Islands area Thursday morning to head back to our "home" dock at Fort Myers Beach for the evening. About seven hours later we arrived at the dock only to learn that Heath & Tyra (the couple mentioned above who took us to meet the Cruise Connection bus and who bought steaks for our dock cookout) had been arrested by the FBI on March 20th, the day we left Fort Myers Beach for Marco Island. The FBI had also confiscated their recently purchased sailboat.  Apparently Heath, whose name is actually Keith, was wanted for grand larceny in Idaho and also for questioning in the disappearance of a known acquaintance/associate of his; Tyra was wanted for a parole violation from Montana. At any rate, we were stunned to say the least!

After cleaning up we went to Bonita Bill's for a burger and retired fairly early that evening. We borrowed Kirby's (one of the bartenders pictured above) car and made a quick grocery run late Friday morning and left Fort Myers Beach about 1:00 p.m., headed for Pelican Bay in Charlotte Harbor, about three hours north, where we spent a quiet evening with about thirty other boats anchored there.

We exited Charlotte Harbor Saturday morning and traveled in the Gulf about eight hours to Longboat Pass where we returned inland and anchored at Longbeach for the evening. The Captain graciously offered to treat me to dinner at Moore's Stone Crab Restaurant, which was located just a few hundred yards from the boat, but we decided to clean up some leftovers and spent a peaceful evening on the boat enjoying the almost-full moon and beautiful weather.

While traveling in the Gulf between Charlotte Harbor and Longboat Pass, we were entertained by dozens of performance boats racing past us with several helicopters tracking their progress.

On Sunday, April 1st, we made the final trek to Cathy's house in St. Petersburg, getting tossed around the last couple of hours of the journey by the turbulent water in Tampa Bay and the enormous wakes of big powerboats passing by. But we arrived safely, got secured at the dock and spent the rest of the day visiting and catching up. Then Cathy and I made a two-hour run to Wal-Mart about 8:00 that evening and stayed up until 1:00 a.m. chatting and watching TV.  Todd got up Monday morning and gave the exterior of the boat a good cleaning while I put away the Wal-Mart goods from the previous evening and got the cabin in order.

While in Tampa Bay, we crossed the path of this colorful sailboat race.

Roger & Dixie Olsen came by in their 37-foot Nordic Tug Monday afternoon with their daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters (all from Colorado) who were spending a few days with them in the Clearwater area. Roger & Dixie are long-time Lanning family friends who we spent some time with this past fall when we were heading south from Columbus, MS on the Tenn-Tom. Their boat has been in Panama City since December and they recently made the Gulf crossing to Crystal River and then came as far south as Clearwater where they had arranged to meet their daughter and her family during the girls' Spring Break.  Roger & Dixie are planning to take their boat to North Carolina before returning to Colorado for the summer, so Todd and Roger spent a few hours discussing routes and anchorages while the rest of us chatted and relaxed pool side on Cathy's patio.

Tuesday was spent doing laundry and other chores in preparation for our return to Missouri on Wednesday. We will be in Missouri through April 18th and anticipate reconnecting with Mike & Mary at Cathy's house when we return. They are currently in the Marco Island area and will gradually make their way north to St. Petersburg.

We will likely leave St. Petersburg together sometime the week of April 23rd and continue north to Tarpon Springs and Crystal River before making the Gulf crossing in late April/early May, depending on the weather. We will try to be more timely with our next blog update but I suspect it will be near the end of April since we will be in Missouri a good portion of the month. Until then, we always love hearing from those of you who are keeping up with the blog so please feel free to drop us a line any time!
Fort Myers Beach with Mike & Mary and Cruising the Caribbean

We realize it has been an inordinately long time since our last blog update and we apologize to our faithful readers, but we weren't able to get it done before we left Fort Myers Beach (after returning from the cruise - Todd's mom's 75th birthday surprise) and we didn't have Internet access once we reached the Ten Thousand Islands area.  Our last update was the morning of March 5th so that's where this update begins. We should also note that this update is split into two posts due to its length and the number of photos we want to post.

Mike & Mary ("What Daze It?") arrived at Bonita Bill's Monday afternoon and stayed until Thursday morning when they headed south to Marco Island to meet up with some friends who drove from Alabama to spend a few days with them on their boat. We had a good time while they were there, beginning with an evening of entertainment featuring The Yard Dogs, a local Cajun band that is playing at Bonita Bill's every Monday night in March. Our "evening" of entertainment lasted well into Tuesday morning, so Tuesday was a mellow day for all of us, although we did venture across the bridge to check out the many "Spring Breakers" hanging out on the beach.

On Wednesday we dinghied over to Matanza's Inn for lunch and then spent Wednesday evening visiting with Mike & Mary on their boat. We also took a dinghy ride late Wednesday afternoon and got pulled over by the Coast Guard on the way back to the boat. They were just checking to make sure we had enough life jackets on board for the four of us, but we told them we did and they went on their way.

Mike & Mary left late Thursday morning to head south and we made preparations to leave for the cruise early Saturday morning. Heath & Tyra, a couple who recently purchased a small sailboat in a slip on our dock, graciously offered to drive us to meet the Cruise Connection bus that took us to the Port of Miami.  We arrived at the Port of Miami late Saturday morning and met up with the rest of the group - Jennifer & Mark from Orlando, along with Jennifer's two daughters Shannon and Sara, a friend of Sara's (Natalie), and Mark's son Chris; Todd's parents, Bill & Marilyn; and the Dewey's (Marc, Kim and Garrett) who had joined us at the Lanning gathering in May of 2006.

Mark's daughter Rachel rode with us on the Cruise Connection bus from Fort Myers, so there were fourteen of us in our "little" group. Mark's youngest daughter, Jessica, wasn't able to come so Sara's friend Natalie took her place. After about two hours we made it through the boarding process and were allowed to board the ship. Our luggage arrived a few hours later so we spent the afternoon unpacking and getting settled in.

We left the Port of Miami around 6:00 p.m. and arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico late Monday afternoon, March 12th. In the interim, we read, relaxed and became acquainted with the layout of the ship. There were 2,200+ passengers on board and a good percentage of them were college kids on Spring Break making the most of their time away from class!

These photos were taken from the ship as we left the Port of Miami.

This is Miami's South Beach.

As we entered the port at San Juan, we were able to see the remnants of a neat old fort that had been carved out of stone on one end of the island; however, it was nearly dark by the time we left the ship to go into San Juan for the evening so we didn't really get to see much else of interest. Our group was too large to keep together on the steep, narrow (and crowded) streets, so we split up and spent a few hours walking around the downtown area with Todd's parents who treated us to some upscale appetizers at a quiet little restaurant along the way.

Downtown San Juan with Todd's parents.

By Tuesday morning we had arrived at the port in St. Thomas and were treated to a wonderful view from the balcony in our room. There were several boats anchored in the bay, from sailboats to multi-million dollar mega yachts, and even one boat very much like "Life's2Short!" Todd's dad arranged the services of a local driver who took our group on an exhilarating open-air bus ride around the island on incredibly steep, narrow, winding roads. Our tour included some shopping in the downtown area, stops at some of the island's most scenic overlooks, and a few hours on the beach. Our driver, Hamlet, was great and we all enjoyed a fun day on St. Thomas.

The view from the balcony of our room.

The "little" boat in the lower right corner is much like "Life's2Short."

A group photo taken from a scenic overlook in the hills of St. Thomas. You can barely see the cruise ships in the background.

Another beautiful shot overlooking Megan's Bay on St. Thomas.

On Wednesday morning we woke up in St. Maarten and left early for a snorkeling excursion on Pinel Island which included a 20-minute bus ride to the other side of St. Maarten and then a short boat ride over to Pinel Island. Half of St. Maarten is Dutch and the other half is French, so there are two separate governments, each with its own governing law. Our port was on the Dutch side and Pinel Island was on the French side. The island's economy is solely tourist-based as they do not grow, produce or manufacture anything. There is also no fresh water on the island so all water, food, etc., has to be brought in by ship.

Kim Dewey, Natalie, Sarah and Jennifer prepare to snorkel.

After leaving St. Maarten, the remainder of the cruise was spent at sea, returning to Miami. On Thursday afternoon, some of us decided to go to the ship's version of "The Newlywed Game" where Todd's parents were selected to participate as the couple who had been married the longest (53 years). Of the other two couples, one had been married less than a week and the other had been married 46 years. At any rate, it was fun to watch as Bill & Marilyn compared answers to some rather personal questions! In the end, the true "newlyweds" matched the most answers but all three couples were given a bottle of champagne for participating.

The "Not So Newlywed" Game featuring Bill & Marilyn Lanning.

Friday was our last day on board and it was a beautiful, sunny day, so Todd got up early and grabbed a few lounge chairs so we could hang out on the deck. The weather during much of the week had been partly to mostly cloudy and windy with a little rain off and on and we hadn't spent much time just lounging on the deck, so we made the most of Friday.

By Saturday morning we were back in Miami and it was time to leave the ship, board the bus and make the trip back to Fort Myers. Rachel was kind enough to take us from the bus drop-off to Summerlin Square where we caught the trolley to Main Street and then walked the rest of the way back to "Life's2Short." This brings us up to Saturday, March 17th.