132 Everglades to Vero Beach, FL

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 Crocodile at Flamingo

Crocodile at Flamingo

We blinked. The crocodile stared back easily winning the stare down. Checking on the crocs sunning themselves next to the dam (its called a plug) became part of our afternoon routine. A dam in the flat Everglades only made sense once we learned it closes off the canal dug years ago. The plug stopped the saltwater invasion that was destroying the freshwater portion of the Everglades. We’d watch the crocs and the other tourists who wandered over to check them out. Then we’d head for the mini market to pick up the morning paper that normally arrived around 1 PM in this tiny outpost far from civilization.

Our view from our slip in the Flamingo Marina

Our view from our slip in the Flamingo Marina

Flamingo, with its marina, motel, restaurant, campground, and mini market shows up as a tiny oasis of a town on the edge of Florida Bay in the heart of the Everglades National Park. By road it’s 40 miles by a single access road to Homestead, FL. We love it for its quiet beauty and wildlife variety. Not many people visit this remote outpost. We found the campground to be three quarters empty.
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The National Park ranger’s comments were disappointing. Funding cuts had reduced maintenance. Many of the trails we’d enjoyed three years earlier are now impassable. With logic only the government understands, the volunteer program had been eliminated with the budget cutbacks. Gone were the frequent morning and evening tours by expert birders whose only compensation was a free campsite in the almost empty campground. The tour boat was still operating and boaters that we are, we took a ride up the canal deep into the Everglades, enjoying the profusion of birds and alligators.

 Florida Keys and Everglades we explored

Florida Keys and Everglades we explored

With just a hint of morning visibility we threaded our way out the silting-in entrance channel on a falling tide. The depth sounder registered two feet of water below Odyssey’s hull. Even that disappeared and clearance shrank to less than a foot before we found Florida Bay’s deep water registering all of six and seven feet as we headed due south to Marathon.

The open-air restaurant kitchen was amidships. We were tied off– well sort of tied off–at Dockside Restaurant in Marathon. Our lines held the front half of Odyssey secure to dock. The cockpit and stern extended out past the end of the dock as they had a 50 footer ahead of us. From Odyssey’s helm we could watch the cook prepare food and in the evening our helm seats provided a great view of the evening’s entertainment. The music was delightful and ended at nine so we didn’t mind living in what felt like the front of a restaurant.

Marathon’s Boot Key Harbor is a winter over destination for many cruising boaters. We poked around finding the convenient Publix and a variety of restaurants strung along US 1 the island-hopping highway to Key West. In many places the highway overpowers the island especially with its road noise. We enjoyed Marathon, but it didn’t draw us in to spend the remainder of the winter.

Yet another front from the north with high winds inspired a last minute change of plans as we left Marathon. We turned west and ran on the lee side of the Keys to Key West. Two foot waves in the anchorage with the prospect of a wet dinghy ride to shore convinced us to find a marina even though it was a five mile bike ride to the heart of Key West.

Eighteen years earlier we’d visited Key West and explored extensively. It was fun to see changes that had improved many of the historic homes and areas. Extensive tourist growth colored our reaction. Key West to us felt more like a visit to a theme park for adults. Sunset at Mallory Square was still fun, and we got a kick watching various acts and listening to a group of tumblers’ humorous spiel as they performed. The bus ride back to the marina became interesting when what we thought was a street person on a bike boarded after putting his bike on the front bike rack. A close up view revealed a new, clean outfit. There was even a crease in the plus fours he wore. Maybe this is Disney World south, and we were seeing one of the paid performers going off stage.

The VHF came alive with a familiar sounding voice calling us. Looking around as we answered we realized one of the boats sailing was Sea Jay. Ruth worried about our exposed Atlantic anchorage as we tucked up to Long Key. We got as close as we could while leaving a bit of depth for Sea Jay’s keel when she arrived to raft off. Forward there was the island. Behind us was open water. If we dragged, the next stop would be England. Ruth prefers cozy anchorages surrounded by shore. Ralph and Steph showed up, and we swapped experiences since our last meeting on the Little Shark River in the Everglades. They had gone on to Everglades City before deciding the west coast was uncomfortably shallow for them and headed east. A few days later we met up again Tarpon Basin and helped celebrate Steph’s birthday.

Tiny Indian Key, a very small island just off Islamorada, has a fascinating history. We were poking around with Dean and Linda having ridden over in their new toy, a high-speed catamaran runabout. The island once had a small town populated by ‘wreckers–people making their living salvaging stuff from shipwrecks. At one time this speck of an island had so much influence it became the county seat for Dade County. Miami is in Dade County. Now all that’s left on this State Park Island are a few ruins and paths that once were the streets.

 This guy keeps Dean and Linda company

This guy keeps Dean and Linda company

Dean and Linda are not only Velcroed to the dock but close to being rooted to the bottom with just inches of low tide clearance to the bottom at Islamorada which is understandable as it is a lovely spot. Amid much laughter Ruth and Linda worked on their book: “But Our Husbands Love Us Anyway”. Their creative efforts are at their best as we walked along US 1sampling the islands offerings. Of course writing things down were difficult when walking and since one of the chapters is titled: “I remember that I was supposed to remember something…,” well you get the picture, the book could take awhile.

An instant blur of motion transformed a 6’ long, lethargic looking snake into a compact mass of Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake with a buzzing tail, flicking tongue, and raised head carefully tracking our movement. Ranger Dave had lit it up when he attempted to divert our tour of the Windley Key Quarry around the snake stretched across the path. We stood guard as Dave went for a camera and tape to close the trail. Our hike with Dean and Linda to Windley Key had been a long one. Our unique encounter with our buzzing friend warning us not to get too close, made our day.

A desire to be in Vero Beach, relaxing on a mooring became a driving force. We’d thought about exploring Miami, but blew it off since it was early; and we wanted to make distance. A late stop at Delray Beach let us get some exercise, dinner and breakfast out, and do a bit of exploring. We added Delray Beach to our list of places to come back and visit longer. Just to keep things interesting we bumped a sandbar as we slowly picked our way into Peck Lake for an overnight anchorage.

A dinghy ride took us to Vero’s dinghy dock and from there we walked the quiet live oak shaded streets to the beach and lunch overlooking the ocean. Ruth started a list of the various restaurants we’d need to visit before leaving. We wandered back via a different route.

We continued our habit of taking a three to six mile walk each day. Of course, we tended to include a stop for breakfast or lunch along the way and that negated any healthful benefit. One route took us past the Vero power plant where we could see manatee. Time evaporated as we enjoyed life living on a mooring and becoming townie people. The free bus took us to the Mall and an impromptu early movie. We saw the Master and Commander and loved it as we decided we didn’t need to sail around Cape Horn.

Our Wi-Fi card got a good connection with the marina’s antenna as we swung on a mooring. We signed up for unlimited service and surfed the Web and did e-mail at cable Internet speeds. It’s sure a leap from our start 7 years earlier when we begged with marinas to let us use their phone line to connect at extremely slow speeds to do e-mail.

It was time for a rental car road trip. We headed over to St Petersburg to pick up some parts from Endeavour and checked out their next generation of catamaran. A quick stop let us catch up with Bill on Double Pleasure and Tim and Michelle on Shell y T.

The real purpose of the trip was RV research. We linked up with Laurent and Judy and checked out their beatiful class A motorhome before going to the over whelming Lazydays RV Supercenter. The four of us had a ball looking at all the varieties of RV’s available at the 150 acre facility. Laurent and Judy, now on their second motorhome, were a tremendous help in helping us evaluate alternatives. However, after looking we’ve again decided we’re not ready for an RV. Maybe in a few years we’ll look again.

Bill and Birute came aboard for a days. They had just looked at a sistership for sale and had many questions. They are on a quest to buy a Trawlercat. We had a fun time talking boats and introducing first time Florida visitors to the quiet streets of Vero. They headed south to check out Ammy Boo, which is on the market since Ralph and Bonnie Jean are going to move up to a 44. Days earlier they’d rafted off for visit and we provided first hand knowledge as to Ammy Boo’s outstanding condition. We’ve since learned that Bill and Birute are going to purchase Ammy Boo.

Vero weather began to creep into the 80’s, a bit warm for us. We did a last get together with Jim and Doreen and Greg on a day when Ruth’s cousin John and wife Jan stopped by. Jim has recovered nicely from his triple by-pass. A few days later we cast off our mooring line and started north. We were again itchy to be on the move.

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