Wilderness cruising in southern Florida…

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Our trip into the Gulf has been delightful. We sailed the entire way to Little Shark River on Friday. It was an amazing place… the only real wilderness we’ve found in southern Florida. One would have thought we were out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico: the land is so low in this area that it didn’t take long for us to lose all sight of land, even though we never saw more than 12 feet of water under our keel!

We miss the crystalline turquoise waters of the Keys. The water in the Gulf is more grey-green than the gorgeous blues you find in the Keys (or, at least it has been the last couple of days). However, so far Gulf sailing has been kinder to us than Atlantic coastal sailing. I really don’t like those easterly swells we found much too often, sailing the southeastern Florida coast.

While sailing in the Gulf, we had dolphins join us and swim alongside us several times through the day. These dolphins were quite a bit larger than the dolphins we had in Boot Key Harbor. I tried to get some pictures of them (see previous posting), but they swim so fast. We would sometimes see them swimming toward us, these dark shapes swimming just below the surface of the water. And then once they reached the boat, they would line up next to us on one side, break the surface and swim to our bow, then swim around to join us on the other side. Sometimes they’d swim under our bow to circle back behind us to come back up on us again. I think they were playing with us! We also saw flying fish, a first for us.

Our plan was to anchor in the Little Shark River on Friday evening (44 nm), and then make the 55 nm trip to one of the Marco Island anchorages on Saturday, to ride out the high winds forecast for later on Sunday through the beginning of the week.

As soon as we anchored in the river, our hull resounded with “clicks.” Loud clicks. They were coming from every part of our hull. We went to bed hearing “clicks” and we woke to them in the morning. The “clicks” did not cease until we left the river. After doing a bit of internet research, turns out they were snapping shrimp. Who knew? We also saw huge (and I mean huge) turtles… the head alone was the size of our 7-pound cat, and their shells were massive and prehistoric-looking, encrusted with barnacles. I also saw what I think must have been a huge manatee, though it moved in a way I had not seen a manatee move before. Perhaps it was a sea monster…

The anchorage at the Little Shark River is the only place we’ve found in southern Florida that felt a bit more like what we’ve grown accustomed to in our “sweet” cruising life, in the North Channel or northern Lake Superior. The wildlife was much different than anything we’ve seen in our northern cruising, and the clicking under our hull was certainly all new. But the Little Shark River is remote, there is no cell signal (no phones, no internet), there are no roads, no lights… it is wilderness. It’s part of the Everglades National Park, but it’s not grassy. It’s cypress trees, pines and mangroves. The river is brown and it has quite the current. There were herons and storks everywhere. And at dusk the mosquitoes came out in force; at dawn, we experienced noseeums (worse than the mosquitoes). Overnight we lay in bed, listening to all the strange wildlife noises around us (is it true that the yipping we heard might have been alligators?) and light from the stars raining in on us.

We couldn’t stay to explore this area as heavy winds were forecast for the next several days and we had 55 nm (a very long day) to our next port. But perhaps next year? I would love to spend a few more days in this place. It’s nothing like the southern Florida I’ve come to know. — jes

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