79 St Petersburg to Vero Beach

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Mornings have a deliciously pleasant routine. Around sunrise we settle into the cockpit command chairs. Changing colors of sunrise, the marina waking up as various people began moving about, and construction starting on the high rise condos provide entertainment as we enjoy our morning coffee and ice tea. A thud announces the morning paper hitting the deck delivered by the Vinoy Resort Marina staff. We enjoy the paper, savoring the morning. Then work of the day starts. We strip one or both berths and remove the mattresses in preparation for the arrival of mechanics to work on our engine and transmission problems. That competed, we were off to explore, or run down items we needed for Odyssey.

St Petersburg provided a pleasant backdrop for our sea trials. The sleepy feeling of Palmetto is replaced by the quiet elegance of St Petersburg. Something is always going on within walking distance of our dock. Endeavour provided a free slip for the duration of our sea trails. One Saturday afternoon we sampled a variety of extreme sports, watching ambitious kids climb a portable fiberglass ‘rock’ wall at one site while at another skateboard daredevils try to outdo one another with skateboard tricks jumping ramps, steps and railings. Ah, the indestructibility of youth.

A night parade past the marina entrance gave us ringside seats. Not content to watch from Odyssey, we joined the crowd curbside and got caught up in the excitement of the parade. We stretched and scrambled to catch crewe beads and candies tossed by marchers. Following the parade fireworks lit the sky directly over the marina.

A mall stop for new towels resulted in our lingering at the mall’s ice rink. We stopped to watch the Zamboni clean the ice and then watched fascinated as little girls took the ice to practice their spins, jumps and other skills under the watchful eye of a coach. We may have had our first glimpse of a future Olympic champion.

For all of St Petersburg’s attractions and the comforts of the marina, we were eager to leave. Late Friday afternoon we set off on our first distance shake down trip. Heading north, we covered 40 miles in an afternoon and picked our way into the shallow channel leading into Caladesi Island State Park. As a way of introducing Odyssey to our lifestyle, we unintentionally managed to find a shallow spot and touch bottom. Even with 3 feet less draft, we can still find the bottom, but then we were exploring an area we couldn’t even have considered before.

Caladesi Island was just what we needed. In the soft glow of evening we were one of only six boats docked at the marina. We set off exploring and found a raccoon and armadillo poking their way through the picnic tables looking for scraps. We had the beach to ourselves as we watched the sun set over the Gulf. Saturday we explored the nature trails and walked the beach, marveling at all the stuff day-trippers had dragged over on the ferry. Sunday morning found us on the beach at sunrise. A front had gone through and it was cold. We had the beach to ourselves as we found new shells to add to our collection. Wind and rain had erased all people-traces giving the illusion of an isolated wilderness beach. High rise condos visible in the distance broke the illusion. We provided entertainment for two oyster catchers. Watching us intently until we got close, they’d fly down the beach, their distinctive orange curved beaks flashing in the sun. Landing in our path, they watched again until we were close and then flew off to repeat the cycle.

Monday afternoon after 17 long days everything our fix list was completed. Now we had a dilemma. Ruth had a doctor’s appointment in Vero Beach on Thursday. Trying to reschedule the best they could do was a 6-week postponement. By then we’d be far north. We debated about delaying leaving until Friday and renting a car for the drive over. Instead we decided to push hard, find out what Odyssey was capable of, and see how close we could get to Vero Beach before having to rent a car. Late in the afternoon we were off-on the water again traveling. South of Sarasota we anchored Odyssey for the first time. Then early Tuesday morning we began moving to see what we could do in a day.

Route across Florida

At Fort Myers we turned left and headed up the Caloosahatchee River toward Lake Okeechobee. No time for stopping to see sights, we pushed hard slowing only for “No Wake” zones, passing boats, and areas along the shore our wake would disturb. Late in the afternoon we were in our first lock and back in fresh water.

The entrance gate closed slowly. As soon as it closed we were surprised to see the exit gate begin to open and even more surprised to see the wall of water behind it begin to pour into the chamber. The gate was open about a foot so turbulence wasn’t bad. Still it was unsettling to be looking at a 4-foot wall of water. With the small opening it took a long time to fill the lock. All the other locks we’d been in had openings in the lock floor that let a lot of water in a short period of time. Finally the water wall disappeared and the gates slowly swung fully open letting us continue on our way.

Instead of the wilderness we’d expected along the river, we found it was quite built up with homes. Very civilized for an area that was supposed to be the headwaters of the Everglades. We pushed on until dusk and finally after 120 miles we dropped anchor in a little lagoon off the river near LaBelle. It had been a long day.

At first light the next morning we were off again. As we reached Lake Okeechobee we found winds of 20 knots on the nose and a 2-3 foot chop on the lake. We powered up and were pleased to find we came up on plane. Running at 15 mph we skimmed along the tops of the waves. The sound of waves hitting the hull and spray hitting the windshield were the only distractions to our otherwise relatively smooth ride. Giving sailboats and trawlers slowly pounding into the choppy conditions a wide pass so our wake would not bother them, we crossed and headed into the sheltered confines of the St Lucie Canal. Here we found more of a wilderness type of shore we’d thought we’d find.

The canal joined the ICW at Stuart. We confirmed a late arrival at Vero Beach and started north riding comfortably in the smooth water. At the Fort Pierce inlet we crossed our starting path a year earlier and completed the Great Loop. We’ve already started planning to the Great Loop again in a few years. At dusk, we pulled into Vero Beach having completed a 135-mile run for the day.

Vero Beach is our local neighborhood. There’s always someone we know around. As we grabbed a mooring in the last light of evening there was Patriot on the next mooring. Dick and Sheila came over and we exchanged hugs happy to be back together again. The next day Laurent and Judy on Blitzen welcomed us back. Then as we were dinghied through the moorings we saw Jazz. We’d last seen Jim and Cheri in the Exumas.

Ashore, Ruth made her doctors appointment on time. We celebrated mom’s 87th birthday, visited with Jim and Doreen and enjoyed being with family again. However after all our time sitting still this winter, we were itchy to begin a new adventure. After a week, we said our good-byes and began heading north on the ICW.

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