We did it. Our (just short of) week-long shakedown cruise from Indiantown to Charlotte Harbor Boat Storage is now completed. We managed 5 locks (well, 4… the Port Mayaca lock into Lake Okeechobee was left wide open for us due to the high water level of the Lake), 3 docks (LaBelle’s docking wasn’t pretty, nor was coming into the CHBS dock in gusty cross winds, but kind souls helped us and we didn’t break anything), and 2 wilderness anchorages.
Lake Okeechobee is Florida’s largest fresh-water lake (and the 7th largest freshwater lake in the United States), about 25 miles across, and shallow. Its average depth is just 9 feet. Rather than a long drive across (winds were forecast to build and become gusty in the afternoon which can create rough conditions), we chose to do the “rim route” which takes one along the southern edge of the Lake, is scenic, and well protected. It’s 10 miles longer than going straight across so we took two days to “do the Lake” and anchored for the night in a very protected “bay” along the rim.
Because the mast on Thyme Hyssop & Wry is too tall to make it under the Indiantown railroad bridge, we had never done the Okeechobee Waterway west of Indiantown. Once locking down out of the Lake at Moore Haven, we were traveling along the Caloosahatchee River (still called the Okeechobee Waterway), the water turning more “river-like”–brown and thick!
Friends have said many good things about LaBelle: friendly town, scenic, great BBQ restaurant, and best of all, free docks complete with water and power. We had help getting into one of the last Mediterranean-style slips available (there are a total of 8 slips), and we needed it. Winds were gusty and we are experiencing a learning curve with this trawler stuff. We have a lot more “windage” now, and steering is done more with our engines than rudders and wheel. The folks who helped us were all sailors. Hopefully we convinced them that we still are sailors at heart!
LaBelle is a lovely southern town. Walking the tree-shaded roads (such a relief in the 90º heat), I was amazed by the flora in this area. Spanish moss hangs from the huge live oaks, which are covered in what I’ve always known as “air plants” and they were blooming! Plants I’ve always known as houseplants were growing in yards and were mammoth… so beautiful!
LaBelle was so lovely and the sun so hot and unrelenting, and because we had power we could run the AC in our aft cabin (so we slept comfortably at night), we decided to stay a second day. It allowed Ron a second meal at the BBQ restaurant and it allowed me the opportunity to do LaBelle’s Nature Walk in the cooler morning hours.
Boat traffic began picking up along the Calootsahatchie as we approached Fort Myers. The last time we ventured on this river, it was on a Friday. We learned quickly to avoid any travel along these congested waterways on a weekend or holiday. Boaters are generally a good group, but there are crazies who come out once the work week is over. Even though we were traveling during the week, we still had one powerboater who knocked us silly with his wake. Oh my.
We took a slip at Fort Myers Yacht Basin, deciding weather looked favorable for the trip up Pine Island Sound the next morning. It was ridiculously hot at Fort Myers, but it’s a lovely town and the people working at the marina are helpful and knowledgeable.
Our final anchorage before heading to the boatyard was at Cayo Costa, my favorite (so far) in southern Florida. I’ve kept “tracks” of previous entrance and exits, and we followed one in. It’s less intimidating with the trawler: from the fly bridge, we have a much better view of the shoals we’re avoiding. We also draw at least a foot less than our sailboat. Oh, and the fly bridge gives us a perfect vantage point for seeing the manatees and dolphins. Perhaps it’s the time of year, but we’ve seen many this trip.
Our “new” boat handled well and she’s a very comfortable liveaboard. We like her! The only issue we’ve had–and this has nothing to do with the boat–is the Florida heat. These 90º+ days with relentless sun beating down have us calling “Uncle!” As Michiganders, we’re not accustomed to this kind of heat day after day after day. Enough already!