Fall Cruise 2020 – Cocoa To Fort Myers Beach For Thanksgiving

Gulf Shrimo Dinner

After we saw the last of the Queens Harbour fleet leave Cocoa Village Marina we untied Sonas and headed off southbound. The wind was still blowing a steady 34 knots but the run through Eau Gallie, Melbourne and Sebastian is one that we have done many many times before and it was very uneventful. We pulled into Vero around 2:00 and backed into our slip.

The first thing we did after tying up was put a hose and muffler on the dinghy outboard to run it. We hadn’t run it for over four months. It cranked but would not start. A guy on the dock heard us trying to start it and said he was a Yamaha tech, We decided, since the engine hadn’t been run for a length of time, the carburetor probably needed cleaning or rebuilt. At this point we had not decided if we would stay in marinas all the way or mix in some anchoring out. With our dog on board we needed the dinghy to get her ashore. Easy decision, no dinghy, marinas it is! We’ll get the problem resolved when we get back to Jacksonville.

Next up was to take Bella for a nice long walk. We saw that there was a dog park right by the marina. Since we rescued Bella we were always very cautious with her around other dogs, never quite sure if she just wanted to play or was being overly aggressive. So we took her into the park but kept her on the leash. She seemed to be very interested in playing.

During the afternoon we had a visit from Eric and Lyn, folks that Paul had met on Trawler Forum. We had a pleasant chat with them and after they left we decided to try Bella at the dog park again.

This time we let her off her leash and, to our amazement she ran and played and raced the other dogs, clearly very happy and content, with no aggression whatsoever. The owner of the biggest dog, Bandit, even asked us if she was a herding breed after he saw how she behaved with his dog!The next morning, Saturday the 22nd we again took Bella to the dog park where she again behaved impeccably.

We left the marina and headed for our next stop at Indiantown, on the St Lucie River, just to the East of Lake Okeechobee.We passed Fort Pierce, and down to Stuart. You have to run about 5 miles past Stuart and make a 180 degree turn back up the St Lucie River to begin the transit to Lake Okeechobee.

We continued up the St Lucie River, having to wait fifteen minutes for the Florida East Coast Railway bridge to open as it opens every twenty minutes not on request. We then passed American Custom Yacht, the marina and yard where Sonas was based and where we surveyed and bought her.

Next we passed a dock where there were about a dozen Flemings tied up. It could be that is where they are built?

Fleet of Flemings

We went through the first lock on this trip, the St Lucie Lock, part of the system that manages the water level in Lake Okeechobee.

We soon passed what seemed to be a large port project, but it seemed to be suspened. The equipment was abandoned and overgrown with grass.

Major project along the St Lucie River
Abandoned equipment

We arrived at Indiantown Marina mid afternoon. This marina and yard is where hundreds of boats are hauled to wait out hurricane season. We chatted to another couple in a downeaster called Jenny Rose who tied up next to us and who were also heading to Fort Myers.

Indiantown Marina

The plan for the next day, Sunday 23rd, was to run across the Lake and tie up at Roland Martin Marina immediately on the other side. We headed west again and through Mayaca Lock and into the massive body of water.

Port Mayaca Lock
Entering Lake Okeechobee

There are two routes across the lake. The shorter Route One across the middle, and Route Two along the south rim of the lake. We chose Route One as there is more water and less twisting and turning. The rim route may be of interest another time. There isn’t the usual series of markers showing the way but one eight miles away away on the horizon. The route is well marked on our chart plotters though, so it was an easy transit across a very placid lake. There were at least a half dozen controlled burns going on along the south bank as we crossed.

Controlled burns

As we neared our exit point at Clewiston we saw an unusual concrete structure just sitting on its own in the water. We did some Googling and discovered that it used to be the fresh water source for the town of Clewiston.

Old fresh water supply

There is a lock at Clewiston that protects the town from high lake water, and you need to pass through it to get to Roland Martin Marina. Most of the time it is open. Today it was closed. Since it was only 12:15 we decided that we could go on and make tomorrow’s run to Fort Myers shorter. So we called Roland Martin Marina to cancel our resevation, aiming for the town dock at Moore Haven about 15 miles further on.

We ran along the canal at he western edge of the lake, with large pieces of equipment working on raising the Herbert Hoover Dyke and got into the Moore Haven Town Dock before three and tied up. This is an unmanned dock which is on a first come basis, no reservations. There was only one other boat there so we had plenty of room to tie up. We walked Bella though the small town and we have never been barked at by as many yard dogs as we did in Moore Haven!! Around six pm a guy turned up in a city truck and asked us the length of our boat was, and we handed over our dock fee of one dollar a foot, water and electric included!

Herbert Hoover Dyke project
Canal west of Lake Okeechobee

The next day, Monday the 24th we were off as soon as Bella got her morning walk – with plenty of town dogs yet again barking at her! We started off in a morning fog, which caused enough wet mist that we ran from the pilot house.

Foggy morning

We met very few other boats going east or west on the river. We transited the Ortona Lock and the W.P Franklin Lock, and made Fort Myers Yacht Basin by three pm. We bunkered fuel before backing into slip East 44. An elderly gentleman on a interesting looking yacht in the next slip came out to greet us. He introduced himself as Captain Harding of HMS Turtle, meaning His Metal Ship Turtle, a small steel tug.

We got everything tidied away and took Bella for a walk to the large Centennial Park just south of the marina. We were disappointed to find that the entire park was closed off for redevelopment. There was another large park just north of the marina, but that too was fenced off. All in all we did not find downtown Fort Myers very “green,” which was surprising given the large number of dog owners and joggers we saw during our two day stay.

We did take the time at the marina to relax, do some boat chores and ate at Izzy’s seafood restaurant (just OK) and at Firestone which was excellent.

Paul needed a part from West Marine, which was seven miles away. We were chatting to Captain Harding and telling him we were going to get an Uber down to get the part. He told us that he was going to lunch with a friend and was quite happy to go pick it up. Paul called West Marine, paid for the part, and Captain Harding duly delivered it to the boat that afternoon. You meet many kind people while cruising!

We had identified Pink Shell Resort on Fort Myers Beach (Estero Island) as somewhere we wanted spend Thanksgiving weekend. It had a marina that by all accounts was top class and well run. In fact they state on their website that it has been recognized as one of the top 25 marinas to visit in North America. We had been trying to book it but the marina was full, Paul kept trying, hoping for a cancellation, but with no luck.

So we booked into small marina at the south end of Estero Island called Fish Tale for the day before Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving Day. On Wednesday we ran slowly from Fort Myers to the south end of Estero Island where we had to enter though Big Carlos Pass and the low drawbridge there. When Paul looked at the charts of the area and the chart plotter, even though there is a marked channel, the depths showed nothing but one to four feet. Paul is a member of Trawler Forum and they have a new function where people identify themselves as Port Captains of the areas that they know. Paul contacted Larry who was a Port Captain for the Fort Myers area. With the feedback he got we felt more confident going through the pass. In fact we saw nothing less that 10 feet all the way through and the bridge tender was very accommodating when opening the draw.

Chart into big Carlos Pass
Big Carlos drawbridge

Fish Tale is a very tight marina, the approach and the marina itself. Plus they had tucked us into the back of the marina. But we took it slow and got into the slip with no issues.

In our slip at Fish Tale

We were only a block from the beach so took Bella over for a walk and went later for the sunset with drinks at Pinchers! That evening we had a very nice pavement dining meal at South Beach Grille. We would recommend both the food and the service.

Beach sunset

The next day was Thanksgiving. We walked the beach and had early afternoon drinks and shrimp at the Fish Tale restaurant. In fact for a couple who love Mayport shrimp, the gulf shrimp that we were served were large, moist and delicious!

Gulf shrimp

After watching another glorious sunset and back on Sonas, Sian cooked up a wonderful Thanksgiving meal of Turkey, roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, swede and carrot mash, and gravy! This cruising life ain’t so bad afterall!

We had a nice couple of days over Thanksgiving walking the beach. Next it will be off to Pink Shell Resort for a few days and then making the turn back east and home.

Walking Fort Myers Beach
Fort Myers Beach

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