Sometimes trips don’t always go as planned. We started out with news that Tonia’s dad Alan was having health issues and needed to go to Mayo (Rochester) for tests. That was followed up with news that Tonia’s Uncle Gary was losing his fight with cancer. We decided we needed to travel back to be with family.
This led to the decision to put the boat in a marina for a few days and fly back to Iowa. We found a spot at the New Port Cove Marina and a flight up to Des Moines on Sunday, Jan 29. It was an early morning flight and we had to Uber it to the airport at 4am. We arrived in Iowa to the aftermath of a snowstorm and low single-digit temperatures. I had to wear two long-sleeve shirts and a sweatshirt since all our cold weather gear is nicely packed away in Seattle.
The positive side is we were able to spend a good deal of time with Tonia’s Uncle Gary on Sunday. We arrived at his place around two and spent the afternoon into the evening telling stories with Gary, Alan, and the family. Unfortunately, Gary passed away early the next day. We are very happy that we got to spend a few last hours with him and his family.
I first met Gary when Tonia brought me to a Bouska family get-together when we were still dating. Of course, I was a little worried meeting the family. However, there was a hayride to which Gary had provisioned a case a beer. It was all history from there.
We spent the remainder of the trip back traveling to Rochester to accompany Alan at his appointments for tests and a biopsy. It was a low-key trip, but we did get to stop by and see Tonia’s cousin Mark and his wife Irissa and five kids. I don’t know how they do it will all the kids running around!
The final day on the side trip was a lot of driving. We swung by New Hampton again to check in on Aunt Sue and family as we were going to miss the funeral.
The trip summary is Gary will be very missed and it is darn cold in Iowa/Minnesota. Yes, that’s where we’re from but spending time in Seattle and now Florida has made us cold adverse!
Above, snow, snow and more snow, must-have taco pizza when in Iowa, buckets of hickory nuts for Alan, and Al and John Deere.
And we’ll be back to the regularly scheduled program ‘aft’er these messages…
We finished up the voyage to Hell Gate with “The adventures of Boris and Mayli and the sandbar.” Read the whole story on their blog at “When it rains, the diesel will pour.” That night we got pizza from a local place in a roundabout way. Delivery guy to hotel, kayak to our boat, and finally dinghy from our boat to the sandbar and Boris and Mayli. The pizza made it safely! A huge thanks to the HOTEL for the restaurant suggestion and allowing us to deliver there for pick-up.
After Saga was free from the sandbar and safely rafted to Lil Sudden, it was time to plan the next step, which included running into Jupiter to get a part to fix the diesel leak and swap out the pulley on Saga’s alternator. Both were accomplished by a dinghy ride, short walk, and a nice mechanic with the correct tools. With Saga repaired we checked out a close marina and they had space for the night.
The JIB Yacht Club and marina is one the intracoastal but also only a few blocks walk to the beach on the Atlantic side. That required a trip to play in the waves. On the path to and from the beach, they had a couple interesting trees. Not sure what they were.
You read all this way and there is no mention of sharks. Ok, here’s the story. Boris found us a little tour company that specialized in shark diving, and we were set. In fairness, they should have been called shark snorkeling but I’m sure they thought diving sounded much more impressive.
We got up early and dinghied over to Jupiter to meet up with the tour company. We had a great weather window, and the trip out was pretty smooth.
Once out a few miles it was time to get into the water. The current was pretty big, so they put out a line tied to a fender so we can hold on and not float away. The line also kept us mostly horizontal in the water, which is key to watching sharks without them getting too close. The way they attract sharks is by putting out bait in a box. It brings fish and sharks up from the deep. Almost as soon as the bait went in the water, we had sharks swimming around.
We were told to keep horizontal and not put our limbs down. Otherwise, the sharks would think we were trying to feed them or trying to attach them, which could cause them to bite. The other thing we were told is to keep looking at the sharks because the sharks would think they could sneak up on us if they knew we weren’t looking. All in all, these bull sharks eat a diet of fish so as long as we were chill, they just went about their business.
And now the actual sharks!
We swam with the bull sharks for an hour and it was a great experience to see them up close in their personal habitat. We’d recommend if you get the chance!
Ok, Ok… Not that kinda bar. Well, what then? Gilbert’s Bar was named for the nasty pirate Don Pedro Gilbert, ARRR! So, what’s this post about then? Close to Gilbert’s Bar is the last remaining House of Refuge. Back in the day the area of Florida between Miami and Daytona had a population in the range of 300 people. If you had a shipwreck on a reef or got caught in a hurricane, you could probably get to shore…at which point you would find no water and die a horrible death of dehydration and bug bites. If you did find water, it was full of bacteria, and you would get dysentery. This sounds like the outcomes of the Oregon Trail game.
To combat sailors dying, a major commercial issue, the US government built 10 houses of refuge along the Atlantic coast of Florida. If you survived a shipwreck, you would go to shore and find signs that pointed you to nearest house, which should be no further than 10-13 miles. Upon arrival at the refuge house, you would be provided food, water, and basic first aid. That would last you until the next supply ship passed and you could be transported back to civilization. The houses were stocked with enough supplies to last 25 survivors for 10 days. Each house had a keeper, like the lighthouse keepers of old. They led solitary lives with their sole purpose each day to walk the beaches daily looking for shipwrecks.
In 1915, the House of Refuge was converted into a coast guard station and used during WWII for spotting German submarines. The building is the oldest structure in the county and purchased by the city to be maintained as a historical site. One of the mottos of the rescue boat personal was “You have to go out, you don’t have to come back.” Beyond looking for enemy ships during the war, the station also worked on combating rum runners during the time of prohibition. A local area legend was Bill Macoy. The “Real” Macoy as they say around here!
Next to the House of Refuge is Ross Witham Beach. Mr. Witham was known for his work with turtles, and he had hatcheries next to the House of Refuge for many years.
We finished up the tourist outing by walking down to the Bathtub Reef Beach. It was a cool beach area that has shallow water out to a reef. Since we were there around low tide, it allowed us to see more see life and the birdies pecking around.
On the boating side, we anchored in Seminole Shores close to the ritzy neighborhood of Sailfish Point. The anchorage was interesting as it had very strong current. What’s strong? Well, if you jumped in the water, you were 30 feet away before you came above the water. Boris, Michael, and I did a little swimming behind the boat by holding on to dock lines. The current was almost strong enough you could get up on water skies. Almost! The other issue with the anchorage was the wind. It seemed like it was opposite of the current most the time. Therefore, the boat wanted to go multiple ways at once. We ended up putting out drogue anchors behind the boat. That kept us from swinging back and forth in the wind.
The change in plans to skip the Bahamas has removed the immediate time pressure to get somewhere fast. Our anchorage after crossing over Florida was next to Stuart, FL. It was voted the most beautiful city in 2008 and the wiki universe says it’s cited as one of the best small towns to visit. It also claims to be the sailfish capital of the world.
We were all beat after our long trip across Lake Okeechobee, so we opted to dinghy over to Shephard’s Park and got to the first restaurant we came to. That happened to be Lola’s Seafood Eatery. We were a little skeptical when we arrived as it’s an order at the counter restaurant catering more to the fried food varieties. We were pleasantly surprised, and everyone enjoyed their meals from special-of-the-day Seafood Gumbo to the Cod Francaise.
When we arrived the first night it was getting close to the end of the day, and we anchored by the channel near lots of other boats but unfortunately not in a slow zone. The next morning, we received many “wake” up calls from local boaters and by noon we decided it was a good Idea to move a half mile up down where the slow zone started so we didn’t bob around so much.
On Saturday we took a break to work on some projects. That led us to Best Buy, West Marine, Home Depot, and a bunch of cellular stores. One of the purchases was a toilet seat. For some reason the FomoFleet has a track record of breaking toilet seats, this being the 3rd in a year. In our defense, the plastic holding the seat was 20 years old and very brittle.
Did I mention they have cool lizards running around everywhere! At first it looked like leaves blowing around but no, it was lizards running here and there.
After our errands the unanimous vote for dinner was the Basil Garden Thai restaurant that we scoped out across the street. The food was wonderful, and the server was great to chat with. He had been working there for over 24 years so was very knowledgeable when we inquired about dishes.
Stuart has a nice downtown area close to the St Lucie River. It also has a long-running Sunday Green Market that was fun to visit. They have a nice public pier for all sizes of boats for day-only moorage.
The next destination takes us to an anchorage in Seminole Shores and promise of some beach and tourist activities.
Hold up! You can cross through the middle of Florida? Why yes, you can! The Okeechobee Waterway is a man-made channel that stretches across Florida from the Caloosahatchee River at Cape Coral/Fort Myers on the west side to the St. Lucie River ending in Stuart on the east. It was built in 1937 so boat traffic didn’t have to go all the way around the Keys to get across Florida. The channel is 154 miles, has 5 locks, and sports a water depth of 10 feet in most places.
On day two, we traveled from the Franklin Lock to the Moore Haven Lock. We briefly contemplated pushing on to Clewiston on the edge of Lake Okeechobee but decided just to tie up to the dolphins (pilings tied together to create a mooring point) outside of the Moore Haven Locks. That gave us time to do a bit of kayaking and I got in a jog around the lock.
Day 3 had us traversing Lake Okeechobee. Okeechobee is the largest lake in Florida and 10th largest contained fully in the US. The craziness of the lake is the average depth is about 9 feet. But, as we know, 10 feet in Florida is considered deep.
Change of Plans:
Given our start date, our plan was to cut across Florida, bop over to the Bahamas, and do a 2-week side adventure. It seems mother nature doesn’t really approve of that plan as the upcoming wind predictions are not favorable. While there is a weather window to get over to the islands, the wind predictions are forecasted high for the 1-2 weeks after, so we’d be mostly in a port or anchorage waiting it out. We figure the side trip would be about 600 extra miles, which equates to around 400 gallons of fuel and $2000. That’s a large expense of money and time to just hope the weather may be good enough.
This trip will be about going with the flow. After discussing the above issues, we will stick to the eastside of Florida and check out what there is to see in Stuart, Jupiter, West Palm, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami. Surely, we’ll find some cool things to pass the time.
That’s right! We have begun our Great Loop Journey. Exactly two weeks after picking our boat up from Tarpon Springs, we completed the maiden loop voyage on our new boat “Lil Sudden” — a play on name Sudden Inspiration.
It was a short hop from Cape Coral to the Franklin Lock. While the plan all along was to stay around the locks for the night, we didn’t have a choice when we found out they were closed for maintenance. Guess I gotta get back in the habit of reading the notices again. 😊
Two days before going thru the canal we played tourist and went to the Miraflores Visitor Center. It’s a great place to do reconnaissance and see what we were in for. I could have spent hours there watching the container ships going in and out.
Below are a couple videos of a containership being guided into the lower chamber and departing the locks.
Canal Transit Day – October 12, 2022
The day we’ve been planning for finally came! We had originally been scheduled to transit the Panama Canal on October 11 in the morning. However, the advisor had to reschedule, and the next slot was on the night of October 12. We would have preferred the day slot, but you get what they have available.
You are required to have four line handlers. Steve opted to hire two professional line handlers and have Tonia and I fill in the remaining positions. That allowed Barbara to be the chef for the evening and cook us up some tasty food.
Our first lock time was 6:30 PM, but things are in motion many hours before. Our two line handlers, Junior and Santiago, came on board around 3 PM bringing the required lock gear. The required gear consists of eight ball fenders and four 150-foot lines. The gear took up most the cockpit.
As the line handlers were coming on board, we got an afternoon thunderstorm. Luckily, we were told that we didn’t need to be out to pilot waiting area until 4:30 PM so we had just over an hour to wait out the rain.
Steve was antsy, so we got off the dock around 3:30 for our 20-minute ride to buoy 6 where we’d pick up the advisor from a pilot boat. On the trip over, our line handler Santiago tried his luck at fishing.
Once out at the buoy, we floated around waiting for the advisor. They originally told us 4:30 but it was 5:15 before the pilot boat stopped by to drop off. Once onboard, our advisor Freddy told us we were going to lock thru with the Baltic Heather and another nearby pleasure craft. I had expected that we’d be going thru with a lot of pleasure boats. The other good news was that the other (larger) pleasure boat was going to be on the wall, and we’d just raft off them. For everyone that has gone thru the Ballard Locks, you know that it’s great to be the rafted boat since the other boat does all the line work.
Once the Baltic Heather had passed us in the channel, we were instructed to follow them in. It was kind of a race as Baltic Heather was traveling at 12-15 knots on the way in and we were told to keep up (Coda’s typical speed is closer to 8 knots). As we crossed under the Bridge of the Americas, the sun disappeared and we were in full-on night mode.
The area prior to the locks is a bit chaotic as there are container ships coming and going from the canal and a port that has multiple container ships loading and unloading. At one point we thought we were going to be run over by a container ship turning around in the channel.
The boats we were following finally slowed down allowing us to catch up. Upon arriving, Baltic Heather was being hooked up to the mules and getting in position. The mules are electric trains that guide the container ships down the center of the locks to prevent them from hitting the walls. After Baltic Heather was loaded, we got the okay to proceed in and were rafted successfully.
The Miraflores Locks has two chambers. When transiting into the canal you go into the lower chamber, get lifted up, and then they open the next lock section. The container ships use their own propulsion to move them forward. They also have six mules attached to them: three on each side. The mules move with the container ship forward keeping it centered in the chamber. For us smaller boats, we broke up the raft and then we hung to the side as the other boat released, moved up, and reattached. Once set, we joined them again.
One thing I noticed in the locks is the water is very turbulent when the level is raising. At times the gauges were reading a 3-knot current.
Once the second chamber had raised us up, we departed the Miraflores Locks into Miraflores Lake, a small lake between the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks. After a short transit across the lake, we waited for Baltic Heather to get all hooked and we proceeded into the Pedro Miguel Locks. The Pedro Miguel Locks are just one chamber and raise us up to the height of the Chagres River and Lake Gatun beyond it. The process for this lock is the same but we switched sides, relocating all fenders from port to starboard side. We were told by our advisor that you go on the wall that is exterior to that lock system. That way if there is an emergency you are evacuating away from the water and not towards the center or another lock chamber.
Another thing I found interesting is that the lock personal use rowboats to bring the steel cables out to the container ships. I would have thought that they would use small, motorized vessels but guess they opt to stick with the less technical approach.
We were raised up and departed into the Chagres River. We passed the container ship as it slowed to allow for the line handlers to depart. Our advisor told us that each container ship needs 15 to 25 additional line handlers depending on their original crew. The contract handlers are dropped off after the locks, so they don’t have to be paid for the three hours transiting the river and lake. A new set of line handlers will be picked up for the outbound locking.
After the gear was reset, our line handlers said it would be a little over three hours. Barbara had cooked us a wonderful dinner, so we settled in and relaxed. The trip consisted of red and green buoy lights and darkness so wasn’t quite as cool as it would have been in the daylight.
After a bit of a rest for all except Steve and Tonia keeping him company, we arrived at the Gatun Locks around 12:30 AM. The container ship and other pleasure craft had sped off in the night so we were told that we would be in the next locking, which thankfully would be only a short wait. Therefore, we tied up to the waiting wall to one huge knob. After maybe 10 minutes, the lock doors opened, and we made our way in. This time we were on the wall by ourselves at the front of the line with two tugs and then a container ship in the chamber behind us.
The Gatun Lock has three chambers that will lower us down from Lake Gatun to Limon Bay and the Caribbean Sea.
The three chambers were straightforward: give the lines to the lock personal, let them out as we drop, retrieve the lines, and move forward—pretty much the same as Ballard Locks’ big wall. It was even easier with the contract line handlers as they did all the work while we watched the fenders. We repeated the process three times, and then we motored out of the Panama Canal and into Limon Bay
The last item before reaching our destination dock for the rest of the night was to drop the advisor off to a pilot boat. After a few minutes wait, the pilot boat approached, picked up the advisor, and we were away. Entering Shelter Bay was an eye test finding the buoys. Steve navigated us in successfully and we were docked right at 3 AM.
The overall trip was just about 12 hours from dock to dock. Some of the time was waiting but really between 6 PM and 3 AM the boat was moving, or we were in a lock. About 9 full hours of activity.
We had a GoPro running the entire trip. Below are two segments of the trip. The first is going from the pilot waiting area into the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks. The second is going thru the Gatun Locks and arriving at the Shelter Bay Marina. The in-between parts are dark and a bit hard to see. Coming up to the Miraflores Locks, it was a bit rainy so added a glow to the lights.
Steve called an end to our marina life and we cast the lines at 6:00 am. The forecast models conflicted so we didn’t quite know what to expect. In the end, it was not as nice as we’d hoped, and we ended up with the wind in our face as we rounded the Baja Peninsula and headed north. We had already planned for this eventuality of course and quickly decided to call it and anchor off Bahia Los Frailes. We did have a half hour of rough seas that ended in a dish breaking and the beavers being tossed around a bit.
The anchorage was protected, and we had a nice afternoon and sunset. We did have a neighboring boat jaunt over to see if we wanted to join a group to dive the next day, but that was not in the cards as we were going to head up towards La Paz early tomorrow.
Whales! and more whales! On the trip over to Puerto Los Cabos we saw at least 4 whales breaching and many other groups of whales slapping fins and tails. I missed most the breaches as I’m just not quick enough with the camera. I managed to get lucky with a whale that was nearby. It was awesome to see.
Upon approach to Los Cabos Steve got a message that we were on the waiting list. He gave them a call and they said we could come in but had to take a 60-foot slip. That works! The Los Cabos marina is nice and very peaceful compared to Cabo San Lucas. The majority of boats here are expensive, go-fast fishing boats. Coda looked a bit out of place and definitely not as waxed. We found out that it cost about $60 a day to have your own boat guy washing (and waxing). A guy worked on Steve’s boat for two days and what he did was the cleanest and shiniest that Coda has been. He’ll have to find a new guy in La Paz!
After getting settled we a quick check in on the plans. The result was the wind was not going to be in our favor for the next few days. Steve checked in with the office and it was finalized. We’d be here until Saturday, a three-day delay.
The marina is close to the beach area. They have two nice beaches protected by the break water and then miles and miles of beach along the coast. It was a nice place to run for a couple of days.
The marina has a nice restaurant called Hook Up that we frequented over the multiple days. The staff was very friendly, and it was easy to chat with them. And the food, all seafood based, was amazing.
On two of the days, we took a $3 uber ride over to San Jose Del Cabo. On Thursday’s they do an art fair on the sidewalk, so we checked out all the booths and walked around the many shops. For dinner we met up with Karen and Jeff from SV Music as they also checking out the many offerings of San Jose Del Cabo. Steve picked up a new cockpit light. It will be interesting to see how long that will last in rough seas.