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We visited friends Dick and Kathy Oberle in Punta Gorda.  Experienced sailors, they regaled with their experiences and shared their knowledge.  We rafted our  boat to theirs and stayed in their lovely home.  They took us shopping and relieved the stress of all our new experiences.

After a few days, we left Punta Gorda and headed across Charlotte Harbor to the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW).  We arrived at our anchorage early afternoon and re-acclimated ourselves to being on the boat after having spent several nights ashore.  Our anchorage was behind Useppa Island, across from a quaint little island called Cabbage Key.  Bob pumped air into our dinghy and did other chores on the boat.  Dolphins swam around us, usually in groups of three to seven.  They would surface, blow air, arch gracefully, and dive back into the water.  We motored in the dinghy across the water to Cabbage Key shortly before dusk and began to walk the nature trail.  We didn't go far because of the mosquitoes.  We returned to the boat for a night from hell--zillions of mosquitoes, thunderstorm, rain, and weird noises in the water around the boat's hull. We later learned that it was phosphorus in the water making crackling sounds like a wood or electrical fire burning. 

Bob standing on the back deck driving the boat with the autopilot control on the ICW

Monday morning, we lifted anchor and began our first full day on the ICW.  This is an "inside" route on protected water rather than "outside" in the Gulf.  The ICW channel is quite narrow in some places, shallow in other places, sometimes both narrow and shallow.  There may also be a strong current.  If you get outside the markers, you can get into serious difficulty.  Bob was navigating and Joan was at the helm steering to his direction.  At one particular marker, we were to swing wide and make a ninety degree turn to port (left). Joan followed directions perfectly, but about a minute later, said the depth below the keel was less than a foot; and a second later, we were aground. Bob asked Joan to check the chart while he got us off the sand bar.  Joan quickly saw Bob had missed a marker on the chart and we had turned one marker too soon.  If Bob had checked the number on the marker before we turned, he would have caught the error (but then, Bob says, I wouldn't have any thing to write about!). 

One area in particular is called the "Miserable Mile."  We successfully navigated it and came to our first bridge.  Some of the bridges open on demand, others on a schedule.  We arrived about ten minutes before the next opening for the Sanibel Bridge.  After passing under the bridge, we anchored behind Sanibel Island (across from Ft. Myers) and dropped the hook a considerable distance from shore to be less accessible to the mosquitoes.  While  we were on the boat waiting for the anchor to set, I saw what appeared to be a large blond-headed man coming to the surface with his arms in front of his head.  It was a huge sea turtle!  Bob went ashore to visit the lighthouse and explore.  The night was quiet and the boat rode easily at anchor in the current .

Joan, in the shade, navigating with chart , magnifying glass and binoculars to locate the ICW channel markers

ICW markers, green  squares and red triangles

Tuesday, we left and headed into the Gulf for a trip "on the outside" to Marco Island.  The day was hot and sunny.  We had not yet sailed, only motored.  Either there has been no wind or it has been on our nose.  We arrived at Coconut Island, a tiny little island with one coconut tree.  It was more like a sand bar with nice water behind it for anchoring.  We arrived about 1:00 p.m. and attempted to rest, but couldn't, anticipating the night departure.  About 10:30 p.m., in bright moonlight, we went out the narrow channel and headed into the Gulf for our first night at sea.  Hurricane Earl was festering to the southwest but fortunately headed north rather than in our direction.  The water was extremely choppy and the boat pounded all night as we motored.  The sky was beautiful with moon and stars.  Bob did most of the work. 

As day dawned, we were looking for certain markers to make a change in course; it was disconcerting to see only water.  We finally located a "marker" that said "17" when it was supposed to say something else.  Fortunately, we saw a small fishing boat and, when Bob waived a VHF radio at him, he answered and confirmed that we were at Bullard's Bank.  We proceeded to
Marathon where we saw our first 65-foot bridge.  Our mast and equipment total 61 feet.  I couldn't bear to look as Bob navigated the boat under it to the Atlantic side of the Keys. 

After the 97-mile overnight passage, we went into Faro Blanco Oceanside Marina, formerly Boot Bay Marina.  We were in Jimmy Buffet Land, just another day in paradise.  Bright sun, blue skies and constant boat projects. 

With a house, you get around to painting it or planting flowers or fixing something.  With a boat, so many things are mandatory for movement or safety issues that it's constant repairs and projects.

We bought a Caribe dinghy in Marathon.  The dealer gave a price comparable to the discount catalogues and delivered it for free.  His wife let us take her van so we wouldn't have to walk back to the marina.  People are genuinely nice.  Now we're in search of an outboard.  The one that came with Viking Rose was only 2 horsepower and doesn't run most of the time

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