Cumberland Sound Anchorage

As we weighed anchor in Robinson’s Creek you could feel the power of the wind. The airport wind speed last showed a 30 MPH gust.

30 mph Wind Gusts at NE FL Regional Airport
25 MPH Winds with 30 MPH Gusts as we passed NE Florida Regional Airport

 

Even with the strong winds a pair of US Custom agent boats zoomed by, unaffected.

Our route would look something like this:

Route 4 - Robinson Creek - Cumberland Sound
Our Route from an anchorage in St Augustine to Cumberland Island Anchorage

We would avoid many shoals:

South Sapelo River
Shoal near South Sapelo River.

We would cross over the St. John River in Jacksonville, FL and see sights such as this Navy ship in dry dock. What a narrow beam and sharp bow these attack vessels have.

St Johns River Battleship
Navy Ship in Dry Dock

I had always wondered what a trawler would look like with a wind generator mounted on the fly deck and I just have to say I can’t imagine ever doing this..

Trawler 3 Wind Generators
A trawler with 3 Wind Generators on the Flydeck

The free overnight dock in Jacksonville had a spot open but we were determined to use what we had left of the light and cover more ground. Our plan was to cross over the Savannah River and into GA.

Once in the Savannah River we saw that many of the river banks had been built up possibly for storm surge.

Savannah River Tree
Lone Tree standing proud on the banks of the Savannah River

As you approach Cumberland Island there is a heavy Navy presence in the area. We passed these two big Navy ships in port.

Cumberland Island Navy
Navy Ships near Cumberland Island

We read the writeup on the Cumberland Island Anchorage.

Cumberland Sound
AC Cumberland Sound Anchorage writeup

We chose this anchorage because it offered a lee in the face of strong winds.

Cumberland Sound Anchorage
Our Anchor spot in Cumberland Sound

The anchorage was quite busy and the only spot we found was one tucked between two other anchored boats. I had to anchor in an area that had oyster shells and mud. Not a strong seabed for anchoring. The anchored dragged a bit as we set it at 700 RPM. I backed off a little on the throttle and this would have to do for the night. I was tired and needed sleep.

I set the anchor alarm app on my phone and drifted off to sleep.

Anchor Alarm
Anchor Alarm App plays warning sounds if you drag outside of the red circle

 

 

Robinson Creek Anchorage

Making our way North our next anchorage, a little creek called Robinson Creek. This spot lies just North of Comanche Cove Marina in St. Augustine, FL. We stopped at Camanchee Cove for a few days on the way down.

Robinson Creek
Robinson Creek Anchorage

Our route would look something like this.

Route 3 Oak Hill - Robinson Creek
Route from Oak Hill to Robinson Creek

On our way there we passed through Daytona Beach and the airport had lots of planes flying overhead.

 

There were other hazards to watch for like this sunken sailboat. Just look for the mast 😉

Sunken Sailboat Daytona
Sunken Sailboat near Daytona Beach

As we traveled I trawled a fishing line from outside the pilothouse door. I heard the drag on my reel start zzz-zing and reeled in a what I would later identify as a “Ladyfish”. I quick fish app check and this is an unregulated species with poor edibility.

in New Smyrna Beach we had to pass under a few low bridges.  Our 22’ air draft it made for a tight squeeze. Luckily the bridge is a bit taller in the middle than what is reflected by the height board.

New Smyrna N Causeway Bridge_7968
New Smyrna North Causeway Bridge on the ICW

 

As we approached a bend in the ICW we saw two boats blocking our path to the North. One looks like they have thrown out an anchor to stop from getting pushed further ashore or a possible kedging off attempt. The other was in the process of being pulled off by TowBoatUS. We contacted the Towboat Captain on VHF and treaded water for about 20 minutes until the first boat was pulled clear and we could continue. The trick needed to pass was to hug the reds as close as 10′ abeam. Seems odd that the deeper water would be on the inside of the bend but was where you needed to be. This is location is right near Fort Matanzas South of St. Augustine, FL

The song playing in the pilothouse is “Devil’s Dance Floor” by Flogging Molly. A great Celtic band out of LA.

 

Every captain knows when you traverse the ICW, the shallow channel depths mean that you could run aground if you drift out of the channel. For this reason oncoming boats must stay “Right of Center”. This fellow captain seemed oblivious to that rule judging by the wave he gave after forcing us out of the channel. We were riding the right edge of the channel and had no choice but to either hold our ground and use sound signals (1 short blast for a 1-whistle pass – port to port) or simply move over. If you don’t know to stay right of center you wont know your sound signals either 😉

As we approached St. Augustine we saw a large trawler aground.

Trawler Aground_8030
Large trawler aground just South of St Augustine, FL

We passed the magnificent schooner Freedom

Freedom

The night ended with a warm orange-pink sunset.

Robinson Creek_Sunset
Sunset at anchor in Robinson Creek

Mosquito Lagoon Anchorage

Up early, we weighed anchor at Bluefish Point anchorage and headed North.

Our route would take us something like this..

Route 2 Bluefish - Oak Hill

As we were transiting Haulover Canal I had to laugh as I was flashed by a bird.

Haulover Canal Flasher Bird

We decided on an anchorage called Mosquito Lagoon (I know, not a inviting name).

Mosquito Lagoon

This lagoon is near Oak Hill, FL and has many fish camps where local fishermen have camps along the shore.

Oak Hill Camp.JPG

While listening to the VHF the USCG was warning about restricted areas around Cape Canaveral to the South of us. There was a SpaceX launch or their Titan 9 rocket and we wanted to be on anchor with a view for when it started.

Seeing a rocket fly over your head is both impressive and a bit unnerving.

Shortly after the launch we saw what may have been a re-entry from the reusable parts of the rocket? Something SpaceX pioneered.

Oak Hill reentry_7934

No sooner had the rocket passed overhead and we were treated to a beautiful sunset and a present moon.

Bluefish Point Anchorage

After getting a late morning start leaving Vero Beach, we decided on a short route that ended in an AC anchorage called “Bluefish Point”.

Bluefish Point 2

We use a app called Charts&Tides on both our iPhones and iPad that has integration with ActiveCaptain.com. AC is a website where boaters enter their favorite local anchorages, marinas, local knowledge (where the closest Westmarine.com store is) and hazards they are aware of or hit may have hit in their travels. This information is loaded into a small text database and iPad navigation apps can use your AC login to download for offline integration into the charting and plotting app.

The pic below is an example of the kind of AC information that can be pulled up by clicking on a AC green square icon in the app.

Bluefish Point

If you click on reviews you’ll find notes from AC Captains like ourselves about how best to approach, depths, currents, seabed type, onshore restaurants, etc.

Our route looked something like this:

Route 1 Vero - Bluefish

It was a short run but along the way we were passed by several boats and this is one example of the type of VHF communications you can expect.

When passing a boat on the ICW: The overtaking boat should hail the stand-on vessel by name or description. MV Simple Life transmits our name on AIS as well as large letters on our stern. As the stand on vessel you should lower your speed to idle or the slowest speed that you can still maintain control at. The stand-on vessel should maintain a straight course and the overtaking vessel should reduce speed till their wake will not rock the boat being passed excessively.  If the boat being overtaken does not slow down then the passing boat has no option but to increase speed and wake the boat as they pass. Large boats on the ICW can really rock you if they refuse to slow down. As a captain your learn that you are responsible for your own wake and any damage or injury that it causes to the boats you pass.

As we passed Sebastian, FL just North of Vero Beach and saw many great restaurants with live music and while tempted to drop anchor and go for some beer & live music, we pushed on.  We need to cover as much ground in the next few days that we can.

We passed an interesting small island that looks like it would be fun to setup a beach chair and few hours relaxing on.

Sebastian 1

Vero Beach Heading North

After coming out of the Okeechobee Waterway we anchored just off Hutchinson’s Island. This anchorage is just inside the St. Lucie Inlet and while it’s not an official anchorage, it worked for us.

Anchorage Marriott

Our crew was was looking a little banged up. Kelly with a broken toe (again)

Kelly Toe

Chief Martin Brody with a sore paw after ripping a claw off one of his toes.

Thankfully the captain survived to patch the crew back up.

As departed Hutchinson’s Island and made our way North towards Vero Beach I did some quick math on our speed and expected time of arrival. We had told the Suntex Marina in Vero Beach that we would be there before 5PM. With the late start that meant that we were going to have to burn a little fuel and step up our speed from a leisurely 6 kts to something North of 8 kts.

Having dolphins on your bow is something that happens daily in Southern Florida.

Soon we were docked in Vero Beach and it was time to go out to dinner with Lori & Jim @ the Bonefish grille. The food was great and we always have a blast hanging with Lori & Jim.

Back at the marina I found another North Pacific 43. This couple is from Canada and they have some interesting modifications to their NP43. For one they added backup mirrors to the outside of the life rails (I wonder if you can actually use these backing in from the pilothouse?).

I also found a fellow boater from Duxbury, MA here in the Marina.

While we were in the marina the weather turned stormy. Sitting in the pilothouse you could see the wind blowing hard over the water’s surface.

From our aft cockpit you could stay dry as the rain poured down.

We even got some hail hitting the boat and landing in the cockpit.

We had lots of fun in Vero Beach but alas we must keep making our way North to get home and see more family and friends. As we headed out onto the ICW we past many beautiful homes that reminded us how nice Vero Beach is to visit.

FMB

Coming into Fort Meyers Beach you see the same white sand found at Marco Island. Just amazing beaches. We entered using the Northern entrance channel.

It’s all a no wake zone so about 5 knots of headway for us. We ducked under the 65’ Matanzas Pass Bridge and grabbed a mooring ball from Mantanzas Harbor Mooring Field. It’s a town mooring field but administered by Mantanzas Inn. Running a mooring field requires not just the divers to inspect the mooring anchors, chains, balls and pennant lines…

…but also someone to answer the phone, VHF, fill out the paper work and collect the money as well as enforce the rules. Sometimes you have boats that run gas-powered gensets on deck late into the night. When in the Key West mooring field a boat finally shut off their loud generator around 10PM and another boat yelled “THANK YOU” across the mooring field. I spontaneously laughed aloud but the boater with the generator had some sharp words back. Funny but not.

matanzas-bayside-inn-marina

Upon arrival I couple, Dave & Megan & Athena (the dog) passed by in a dinghy and offered to thread my lines though the mooring ball which just like Boot Key Harbor or Key West cannot easily be pulled up to reach MV Simple Life’s foredeck. D & M announced they were on their way to a cruiser’s raft-up and extended an invite to us. I was glad they did and I had a blast meeting the FMB cruisers within minutes of arrival. They were full great stories and laughs.

Raft Up

Yes, that is a Macaw parrot on Doug’s shoulder. see top-left corner.

The next morning we had to go into the Mooring field office and register using our boat registration paperwork. This is something that you don’t have to do when getting on a ball up North. Up North a the mooring field or launch boat pulls alongside your boat and they ask the name of the boat and collect the money. In Florida most the moorings we rented required not just the registration of the big boat but also the dinghy as well as insurance paperwork. I now carry digital copies of all on my iPhone.

We wasted no time in finding lunch at Matanzas Inn Restaurant.

Kelly Chair 1

Also spent some time in the upstairs at night listening to the local singers perform.

I also spent a little time at Bonita Bills.

I would  have posted the video instead but the karaoke singing would have made your ears bleed.

Bonita Bills 1

While there I took a dinghy ride around San Carlos Island.

Approaching Hurricane Bridge you’ll pass a few cruisers who look like they have been anchored there for a bit.

Then duck under the Hurricane Pass Bridge and into Hurricane Bay.

Once under the bridge you are in Hurricane Bay and I stopped to snap a few photos of a derelict house boat aground.

The No Wake Zone ends and it was time to open the dinghy up and capture some sunset photos from Hurricane Bay.

While we were here in FMB a close family friend, Capt Mike Spinney came down on his boat and offered to give me a tour of FMB.

Mike and his friend Dave took me for a high-speed run all around FMB.

Mike Dave 1

What fun to go from our normal 6kts to 35kts!

Capt Spin was quick to see that the dolphins were trailing us and mentioned that if you boost your wake a bit you can get them to do some jumps. As if right on cue..

We took a trip down to Lovers Key where there is a great white sand beach that all the boaters pull up right onto the beach and enjoy the day.

Then it was on to the Lani Kai Beach Resort a hot spot for Spring Breakers here in FMB.

Marty Mike 3

Back at the boat I said goodbye to Mike and Dave and they gave us a wave as they departed through the mooring field.

Mike Dave 3

Next stop, Captiva Island and the Okeechobee Waterway.

Marco Island

Marco Island is wonderful. The trip here from the Everglades was a 10 hour slow trip through a hazy Gulf of Mexico.

Looking out the cockpit windows at times it seemed that the horizon simply faded into the pale green water.

 

At one point in the journey we noticed something floating on the water and thought we should investigate. From a distance I could not tell what it was..

Box Far Away
Something floating from afar

As we got closer it appeared to be a floating box of sorts. Maybe it was some kind of hatch cover off a boat?

Box Close
Piece of a boat?

As we entered the Marco Island entrance channel you could see the large buildings with the white sandy beaches. I believe hurricane Irma hit Marco island pretty hard but read that they were able to recover quickly and reopen their beaches for tourists.

There was a moment from that I could not figure out what the bright white lining the shore was. I’m not used to seeing beaches so white?

As we made our way in Capri Pass we passed people having fun on tubes as well as the Key West Express. For folks on the West coast of Florida Marco Island would seem a great jumping off point to get to Key West.

Soon we found a great anchor spot just outside the channel North West of Green Daymark #15. The current was strong but the holding great.

IMG_2162
Our Anchor spot in Marco Island. Follow the orange route line to the outlined boat with heading line projected off bow.

Anchoring here puts you right in front of the “World Famous Snook Inn”. It  was time to drop the dink and go for some drinks.

Bar
At the Snook Inn bar

Looking out from the Snook Inn you could see MV Simple Life on anchor.

Snook Inn View 1
You can see MV Simple Life from our table at the Snook Inn in Marco Island.

You can also watch the many boats who sail on by. They have a custom of doing a close sail by the front windows of the Snook Inn and blowing their horn followed by waving at the folks in the restaurant. It was fun to watch the boats go by.

 

On our way back  we tried to get a selfie of us in the dink in front of our boat. We could not stop spinning in the current and the shade from our camera just seemed like an eclipse shadow that we could not shake.

 

While we were on anchor in Cudjoe Key a stray line became fouled in our propeller. MV Simple Life has a “pot cutter” on our propeller shaft and it did the job of cutting the line. However, we now had a slight vibration in the running gear at higher RPMs. I decided I should dive on the propeller and attempt to untangle any line from the propeller. While my heart may be on the water, I’m not very comfortable being “in the water”. Diving on a boat propeller while on anchor with current and sharp instruments in your hand turned out to be more difficult than expected. However after several attempts and even cutting my head after being banged into the hull, I managed to cut the offending line free.

Propeller Line
I don’t like diving to untangle lines from our prop. Time for a beer!

The spot we picked to anchor is in a “no wake” zone and passing traffic was super polite about passing us super slow.

After seeing the local sheriff pull over this pair of wave runners I get the feeling the sheriff enforces this no-wake zone.

Sherrif
The Sheriff enforces the no-wake zone here

The calm anchorage made for some beautiful sunsets.

Sunset
Every night was a beautiful sunset

Everglades

Fear No-See-Ums not Alligators!

These little buggers will rip the flesh from your bones.

We weighed anchor and pulled away from Crane Key in the Florida Keys. The route out of Cudjoe Key was shallow but easy to avoid the shoals if you pay attention.

The crossing from the FL Keys to the Everglades was pretty uneventful as there was plenty of water, no wind and no boats in sight.

Once we entered Shark River you could see mangrove trees and muddy tributaries everywhere. The shores were alive with all sorts of birds and other critters. I get the feeling that nobody walks ashore here. I saw a pack of what appeared to be coyotes running along the shore at sunrise.

I read up on ActiveCaptain.com about “Little Shark River Bay Anchorage” and I can say that where other captains said they found 7’ of water I found 4’ and had to back out of the soft mud that caused us to select a new anchor location alongside a catamaran that was already anchored. The catamaran was lined up with the wind, but we lined up with the current. MV Simple Life has a full keel that the current likes to push on. The catamaran’s mini-keels (I did not see daggerboards) did not overcome the wind effect.

We quickly picked up the anchor and moved up the river to find a new anchoring spot. I found a spot just behind a single line of sailboats who had anchored in the river.

The winds soon died and the No-See-Ums came and they ate us alive. One minute we were enjoying cocktails on the stern and the next minute the whole boat was overtaken by these miniature monsters.

They came in unabated by our screens and proceeded to rip the flesh from our bones. We should have worn our foul weather gear to bed because when we awoke we were itchy and bumpy.

We have No-See-Um screens on our 2 overhead hatches but our port-lights and salon screens are only mosquito screens. Who knew these little buggers would pass right through our screens like the Fast-Lane at a toll booth?

I think Kelly needs to sew us up some screens like this other boating couple.

Kelly & I took turns at scratching each other in the early AM. The sun had not even risen and we were already preparing to weigh anchor and motor our home out of the Everglades.

We plotted a course to Marco Island. Hoping for a cell phone tower and a more enjoyable anchorage.

Crane Key

Crane Key

Key West is so much fun that if you are not careful you wont ever leave. That said we made impromptu plans not to return the way we came and instead take a route east up the inside of the keys and cross over to the West coast of Florida. Our float plan for the next few days includes anchoring at these locations: Crane Key, Shark River in the Everglades National Park, Big Marco River, Sanibel Island, Fort Myers Beach. Once at FMB, our plan is to cruise down the Caloosahatchee River, crossing lake Okeechobee and East out the St. Lucie River to Stuart, FL where we will rejoin the Atlantic ICW. We are excited to traverse the Okeechobee Waterway.

The Okeechobee Waterway is just a small segment of the Great loop. The Great Loop is route Kelly & I plan to traverse possibly this Fall or next year. The Great Loop takes you down through the middle of America via the river system. It’s an opportunity to see the heartland from the banks of the rivers.

We understood that many of the anchorages we would spend time at would be off the grid, ie. no cell phone reception or places to get fuel, water, ice, groceries, etc. Step one was to re-provision the boat. Kelly keeps lists of what the boat needs for food and supplies so we took the dinghy in, grabbed an Uber and it was off to Winn Dixie for some groceries. It was particularly windy and the ride back with a dinghy full of groceries was a wet one with sea spray blowing over the bow, which was weighted down with beer and food.

We let go of our mooring line in Garrison Bight Mooring field around noontime and navigated our way out a narrow channel on the North side of Key West called Calda Channel.

The “color of the water” is a phrase I keep saying here in Key West. I’m just not used to seeing such bright greens and blues.

We followed a route that kept us in the deeper water for ease of navigation until we passed Cudjoe Key where we turned into Cudjoe Channel to navigate over the 5-6 foot depths to Crane Key. The Cudjoe Channel entrance daymark and buoys were missing, forcing us to keep an eye on our location to the shallows.

Crane Key turned out to be just a small key with scrubby, low vegetation. As the sun went down it was time for refreshments on the bow.

As the sun set, the 98% full moon rose. It seemed so bright in this remote location you might mistake this picture taken at 8PM as the sun.

Very early the next morning I snuck out on the back swim platform to do some night fishing under the moon streak. Luck had it and I caught a few fish!

We tossed this beast back into the sea and then began the “What kind of fish was that?” research. Thankfully, the internet is full of webpages as well as smartphone apps that help with this.

Identifying the species is just the first step. Next you need to figure out the fishing regulations for the state you are in. Size restrictions, open/closed seasons, etc.

I search the Apple App Store and found a great app called “Fish Rules App”.

Dry Tortugas

Dry Tortugas

We’ve piloted MV Simple Life from Warwick, RI all the way to Key West, FL. We might as well make the 70 mile trek to the last seven tiny islands referred to as Dry Tortugas. US Highway 1 ends in Key West but the FL Keys continue West into the Gulf of Mexico. The last stop, Dry Tortugas, is a national park and is home to Fort Jefferson.

We awoke at sunrise, had breakfast and let go of our mooring. The winds were picking up but the predicted sea state was something we were OK with. We put Mallory Square in Key West to our stern and began motoring South. Very quickly into the journey you realize that there is no cellphone service outside of Key West

The first clump of low-lying keys that you pass of to starboard are part of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge.

What is very cool is that there are half-dozen or so homes on Ballast Key.

You could clearly see one of the homes as we passed.

The next set of islands are the Marquesas Keys.

We had planned to use an anchorage just along the western shore of Tin Tin Key. However, in-route we decided to go the whole 75 mile distance in one shot.

You can see the Marquesas Keys in this video.

On our journey, we passed many sea turtles flippering their way against the waves.

The water color in this area is just amazing greens and blues.

When the cloud shadows move over the top of the water you’ll see distinct shades of blue.

Along with sea turtles we saw manta rays on the surface. I attempted to catch it on video but alas it dove as we passed.

The wave heights were beginning to pick up and you can see MV Simple Life is surfing at times in this following sea. When a wave would lift our stern our speed would increase about 1.5 knots we compared to our speed when we would slide down the back of a wave.

We had to keep our speed up to try to keep up with the following sea and at times our speed hit 10.5 knots. Keeping the speed up also meant a shorted duration in a following sea. After about 9 hours we could see Fort Jefferson off to starboard. Also noteworthy is Loggerhead Light on Loggerhead Key

We quickly raced around the narrow channel and found a spot to anchor in the small harbor. Shortly after anchoring many small commercial fishing boats appeared and two anchored alongside us. I found it interesting that with the anchorage full, the fishermen decided to tie one boat off the back of the other anchored fishing boat.

This allowed the two boats to fit where only one could have using the traditional every boat rides on it’s own anchor.

There is a sea plane that takes visitors to the island and we watched as it raced over the surface prior to takeoff.

It had been a long day but I brought the dogs ashore as I checked out the small island. On my way back in the dinghy I noticed the sun was going down so I raced the dinghy out to where I could get a good video of it.

If watching the camera view bob up and down as I bounce in the waves makes you dizzy,…here is a static picture.

At night, sitting in the aft cockpit and looking up at the most amazing starry night. I must have seen twice as many stars in that black sky than ever before. As they wind howls over the boat and the stars rock in the sky you sip your beer and feel very small in the universe. It really is moments like this that will stick in my mind.

Before retiring to my cabin, I decided to put the underwater lights on and to my surprise there we big fish, maybe 2 footers, swimming just a foot below the surface.

The morning came and unfortunately things were pulling us back to Key West. I rounded out of the entrance channel and we took the waves head on for our return trip

Just as we were arriving back in Key West we passed this sport fisher towing a small commercial fishing boat. It’s a long way home at tow speed.

I leave y’all with a reminder to never go too long before staring up at the stars.