Key West at Last! (Feb 11-12)

We left the Everglades early excited that we were finally headed to Key West!  The waters changed from beautiful green to a gorgeous blue.  Allen and Ron enjoyed seeing how well Kara Mia handled in the Gulf in 3-4 foot waves while dodging “minefields” of crab pots.

    

    

For the next few days in Key West we morphed into typical tourists…..

We walked for miles and miles up and down the famous Duval Street and the surrounding historical area.  Duval Street is home to a vibrant collection of hole-in-the-wall bars (we tried to hit them all), historic haunts, funky shops, art galleries, outdoor cafes (we tried to hit them all as well), and plenty of places to people watch.  We reached the southernmost point in the Continental United States – only 90 miles from Cuba.

    

    

Key West was busy preparing for the upcoming Valentines Day…….

    

Traditionally, live poultry has free reign of the streets of Key West………..

    

Some of the more prominent tourist stops are of course the home of Ernest Hemingway, the famous Key West Lighthouse, the Kapok trees, and art galleries and museums.

        

    

Key West is quiet the artsy-craftsy community!

In our effort hit all the spots, nourishment and libation were required.  We were able to patronize at least some of them – Turtle Kralls, The Salty Anglers,  Half Shell Raw Bar, Schooner Wharf Bar, Key West Hard Rock Cafe – to name a few………

       

…..and of course, a toast in Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville…..

….Here is Allen’s new boat……and as he would later say, “That’s when the fight started”…………………………..

    

During our travels we occasionally bundle up trinkets and tourist items to send back home to the kids and grandkids……

This was a funny little floating Tiki bar and you can see live mussels attached to the crab pots……

    

Our most beautiful sunset yet was in Key West.  Watching the sun set is a Key West “thing” – there is something magical and mellow about the boats cruising through the harbor towards the setting sun…………Sunset Pier is located at the end of Duval Street on West Harbor and is a place to see it all.  Tourist and locals alike gather each evening to celebrate and see nature’s colorful phenomenon from one of the best seats in town.

    

At dinner that night, we overlooked our marina (Key West Bight) and their dinghy dock.  The first photo shows all the dinghies from boats anchored out in the harbor and in port for dinner.

    

 ……………tomorrow is off to Marathon Key!

Rod & Gun Club at Everglade City , oh yeah – “Seafood Festival” (Feb 9-10)

Our friends Allen and Sharon from Nashville joined us for the next leg of our journey – crossing to the Florida Keys.  Upon arrival, they offloaded copious amounts of supplies (wine, food and drink).  Later that evening, Sharon and Karen explored in the dinghy while Allen did some fishing.

        

We had dinner on the veranda at the Rod and Gun Club and later shared a box of Norman Love chocolate confections. – an early Valentines gift from Allen and Sharon.

    

For the past 48 years, Everglade City has been host to an annual Seafood Festival.  Although the population of Everglade City is only 411, over 50,000 people attend the Seafood Festival over the weekend.  There was live music and dancing and a bit of shopping to be done.  We were overwhelmed at the massive quantities of fresh seafood booths and how many different ways it was prepared.

    

Interesting to us was, even with all of the featured fresh seafood, one of the
most popular items (and the longest line) was for the Indian Burgers, 
prepared by a local Everglades Indian Tribe.  Ground beef is stuffed into a
specially seasoned raw dough and deep-fried.  The results were remarkably
delicious.
  
After a bit of shopping and dancing on the midway, we retired to the boat
with our seafood platters of lobster, coconut shrimp, fried oysters, crab cakes, 
paella, some kind of fish fillets (?), corn, boiled potatoes
        ...............and as always - french fries!
    
Our last day in Everglade City was spent grocery shopping, visiting the 
seafood festival again, sampling more seafood, and docktails and visiting
around the porch with our other looper boat friends.  Carter was kind enough
to be our designated photographer!
    
    

Naples to Marco Island to Everglade City (Feb 8)

Clear skies and glassy seas allowed Karen to enjoy her new seat on the bow of the boat.

   

We stopped at Marco Island for fuel.  At Marco it was fun watching a ship full of tourist being invaded by a pirate in a dinghy – really?    

   

After slow travels through the Ten Thousand Islands and with much changing scenery, we arrived in Everglade City.

            

To our surprise, there were several other looper boats here!  Lee and Maddie on Dixie Belle, the boat Cha Cha with Craig and Sherry  and Bill and Bobbie on First Forty whom we had met at other stops along our way……we enjoyed reconnecting with fellow loopers and sharing stories and docktails.

        

Karen went crabbing for blue crab for our dinner but she only caught one before she saw the large alligator across the way, therefore we opted for plan B – the dining room.

    

The Gun and Rod Club is a new experience for us…..no fuel, a serious tide exchange, no  potable (drinking) water, no pump out……..how long can we stay here  before we run out of fresh water and room for “not so fresh” water?  I’m thinking one shower and two pots of coffee and we’re outta here!

On the other hand, the  Rod & Gun Club was like going back in time about a hundred years.   The billiard and smoking rooms were a flash from the past as well as the multitude of mounted trophies on the walls.  The lobby and front desk had welcomed many a distinguished guest over the past hundred years.

                

    

We look forward to tomorrow when our friends from Nashville will join us…………………….

Naples (Feb 7)

With a beautiful sunrise at the Naples Boat Club Marina we got busy with an exploration of all that the wealthy Naples community had to offer.

    

…..the homes and yachts just got bigger!  We did look at a home for sale (one block off the beach) for $7.4 million dollars!  And it was in the mid-price range.

    

The downtown shops and businesses represented it’s clientele well…..lots of Italian and seafood restaurants with a strangely European influence.

        

We seemed to be the only Loopers in Naples so we had a quiet lobster dinner at the Wharf Tavern and Clam Bar and called it a night.

Final day in Ft. Myers – Naples here we come!!!!! (Feb 5-6)

The big thing for today is ——-  Karen got her long over-due hair cut.  When you travel by boat, it is not always convenient for routine personal maintenance.  We have been underway since October and it was time!  A 15 minute walk through downtown Ft. Myers found Karen at “Rumours” (a floating salon), where Cindy gave Karen a different look and was rejuvenating…….the long awaited pedicure will be next!  Can’t wait!

    

Being all gussied up, we joined John and Kay for our last dinner in Ft. Myers at Pinchers overlooking the river……

    

and we enjoyed our last night at Legacy Marina……in Ft. Myers…….

   

On Kay’s recommendation, we could not leave Ft. Myers without having experienced the bacon and maple donuts at Bennett’s (another local favorite)…….  Also the best coffee in town!  They actually put bacon on the donuts – stuck in a slather of maple icing……sounds crazy but yes, they were good!

    

and now on to Naples…….

We are now moving out of the protected Intracoastal waters……

We made a fast run from Ft. Myers to Naples…….30-40 mph across the Gulf of Mexico and through San Carlos Bay.  We were now outside the protected Intracoastal waterways.

We traveled outside of the “three nautical mile line”, with beautiful skys, open seas, no land in sight….

So – a little history about the “three nautical mile line”…..

The three-mile Limit refers to a traditional and now largely obsolete conception of the international law of the seas which defined a country’s territorial waters, for the purposes of trade regulation and exclusivity, and extending as far as the reach of cannons fired from land.  Improvements in cannons eventually allowed them to be able to fire a shell more than three miles, but Earth’s curvature made this moot. From a height of a few meters above sea level – say, atop the wall of a coastal fort – the horizon is only about 3 nautical miles – thus there was no need to be able to shoot farther, since more distant targets would not be visible.

TMI

In route to Naples we passed the beautiful beaches of Sanibel Island where there were 100+ foot yachts docked at the resort and jet skies and pleasure craft played in the crystal blue waters.

    

We finally pulled into the Gordon River at Old Naples Port and were greeted by cruise ships, water taxis, recreational boaters, fishing boats, charters – and everything in between!

    

   

Busy Day in Ft. Myers (Art Festival, Looper Docktails, and Super Bowl) (Feb 4)

It seems that everywhere we go in South Florida each city is having a festival  – and Ft. Myers is no exception……artisans from all over the southeast were here and because Kara Mia has NO extra room we freely walked the strip with no compunction to purchase!

        

…………..although we were attracted to Humpty Dumpty and his friends!

    

Ft. Myers is an integral part of the Looper lifestyle because it is the gateway to the Okeechobee waterway.  From here you have access to  the coast of both east and west Florida.  After the loop, many return to Ft. Myers to winter and cruise South Florida at will.  With two marinas in downtown Ft. Myers it is a popular area and we were invited to a “pre-super-bowl docktail party” at the adjoining marina.  So much food and so many new friends to enjoy.  This is just one of special blessings of this voyage.

        

Back at Legacy Marina and the “Chiki Hut” we watched the commercials of Super Bowl LII……………oh yeah, the Patriots got BEAT!  YEA!

        

Visitation Day (Feb 3)

At Legacy Harbor in Ft. Myers, we caught up with friends and friends caught up with us.  Ron’s other roommate in college was Bill and his wife,Virginia, was from Ron’s hometown of Columbia, TN.  Bill and Virginia had just sold their winter home in Naples and drove up to join us for lunch on Kara Mia.

    

Robert is a fellow Looper of exalted status.  He leads forums at Looper Rendezvous and speaks at numerous opportunities to promote the Looper lifestyle.  We enjoyed his presentation this past fall at Joe Wheeler.  Robert and his wife Kay are from Southport, North Carolina and they winter on their 43 foot Jefferson, “C-Life”, in South Florida.

Other friends from The Braxton (Ashland City, Tennessee), and whom we consider our Looper mentors, are John and Kay.  John and Kay also winter in Ft. Myers and traverse the South Florida waterways from the Keys north.  They picked us up for dinner and took us to the exclusive “Lighthouse Waterfront Restaurant”.  Later we were treated to an after dinner drink in their beautiful home.  Their hospitality in Ft. Myers was greatly appreciated!

    

Cheeseburger in Paradise! (Feb 2)

As we pulled out of Boca Grande, heading to Cabbage Key, Ron was really enjoying his AUTO PILOT feature.  Auto Pilot allows him to pilot hands free!  The boat follows a predetermined route – but we never leave the helm – gotta watch out for those crab pots!  Notice on the map, the yellow line “in” is our track (from where we came) and the blue line is our route to the next destination.

    

Welcome to Cabbage Key Inn & Restaurant!  Since the 1940’s it has been a popular stop for boaters (no roads in or out).  Food, drinks and supplies have been delivered to Cabbage Key Island daily by boat for over 70 years.

   

Tour boats arrive here hourly for a  Cheeseburger in Paradise!   Our little bird friend – the eternal optimist – was in hopes of a french fry or two……..

    

The reason Ron and Karen (Parrot Heads by heart) wanted to make a stop at Cabbage Key where Jimmy Buffett was inspired to write his famous song – Cheesburger in Paradise………was to have a CHEESEBURGER IN PARADISE!  And the stone crab claws weren’t bad either!

    

We promised our favorite waitress, Miss Katie B, that we would include her in our blog.  She was great!

    

Within the restaurant is the famous DOLLAR BILL BAR.  Story goes – that to guarantee a cold beer on their return, tarpon fishermen started the tradition of posting signed dollar bills on the old house bar walls.  The accumulated currency has piled up over the years adding up to more than $50,000………

    

We pulled out of Cabbage Key after lunch and continued our journey on to Ft. Myers…..

Upon entering the Caloosahatchee River, we encountered more recreational boating than we have seen since leaving Tennessee!

    

After a safe journey and getting tucked in behind the high rise condos  (which really did block us from the wind and waves) and secure at The Legacy Marina in Ft. Myers, once again we enjoyed another Florida sunset……

   

Golf cart touring on Gasparilla Island (Feb 1)

Buzzing with golf carts rather than motorized vehicles, we joined in by getting our own.  Our marina offers golf carts to allow transient boaters to get around town – to play tourists.  We carted to breakfast at the Outlet Restaurant (on the inlet waterway).  Locals call it “The Inlet Outlet”.

   

We finally feel like we are in Florida with the warmer weather!  We toured Gasparilla Island on our golf cart,  seeing historic lighthouses, beaches, quaint shops and little bars.  It was nice not to see high rise condos or hotels due to the strict architectural control.

    

    

    

Some of the upscale private communities had some rather interesting street names………..

    

This evening the marina was setting up for a Grady White boat show.  These one-two and three engine center console boats can fly in the water!  They are great bay boats yet are large enough to go 80 miles offshore and they are virtually unsinkable.  They boast to be “The best all around, do everything, go anywhere boat ever built”.

   

Ron was taking care of business while we watched the sun set over the Gulf and later we made a stop at the infamous PINK ELEPHANT, a favorite dining and watering hole for locals….

    

Venice to Boca Grande (Jan 31)

As the moon was setting and the sun was rising we got a brief glimpse of the partial eclipse of the moon…….

    

We said goodbye to the Venice and headed to Boca Grande Marina on Gasparilla Island.

    

Karen enjoys photographing the dolphins as they frolic in our wake.  It is said that dolphins are attracted to symphony music.  Looks like they enjoyed Michael McDonald as well!  We have discovered that our wake at 10 mph is the perfect speed for them to follow.  Today we had dozens traveling with us for miles.

        

The Gasparilla Island Inn and Club is a popular golfing destination for the Bush family.  Off from the marina you see hole 7 at the entrance of the harbor.

        

After we settled in we were greeted by Debbie and Chester.  They noticed on the back of our boat – “Nashville” – our home port.  Debbie and Chester are from Mt. Juliet, Tennessee and have a condo at Burnt Store Marina across the bay (just over for lunch).  Later we met John on “Indulgence”, a 58′ Viking Sportfish.  He was entertaining his son and daughter-in-law on vacation.  John is originally from Canada but now lives in Ft. Myers.

    

We dined on seared tuna at the marina’s Eagle Grille and called it another day in paradise………