Dick and Gayl's Cruising Adventures

East Across Florida

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This page tracks our progress east across Florida as we cruise the Okeechobee Waterway.  We followed this route west across Florida roughly a month ago.  If you want to learn more about any of the destinations on this page, you can click on the link at the bottom of the page, which will take you to the West Across Florida page. 

March 11, 2005  Fort Myers to LaBelle  (33 miles)
We were up at 6 and off the dock by 7:45, armed with coffee, donuts and the New York Times from the nearby Seven Eleven. Our strategy was to be at the free city dock at LaBelle after other boats staying there overnight left for the day, but before most other boats would be stopping for the night. Our plan worked -- when we arrived at the dock at a bit after noon, only two sailboats were there, and we had plenty of room to maneuver our way in.
When we stayed here on our way west, we got in so late that we didn't really have time to see the town.  This time, we had all afternoon to explore. 

Starsong Med-moored at LaBelle City Dock

We hopped on our bikes, and headed off in search of a spot for lunch.  Just a couple blocks from the boat we found a little coffee and tea shop cafe that had just opened two weeks ago.  Our clue was the wilting flower arrangements with deflating mylar balloons offering congratulations and good luck wishes. The sandwiches were good, and the service attentive, since we were the only customers dining in.  A few other customers wandered in for espresso drinks to go. 
This is apparently the only espresso and chai purveyer in town. Our read is that until recently, the town was mostly made up of retirees, cattle ranchers, and citrus pickers and processors.  None of these demograpahic groups are hot prospects for designer coffee drinks.  Now, thanks to the real estate boom, there are enough affluent people moving in that have become addicted to Starbucks to support an establishment such as this one.  Or, at least, that's what the woman who owns the coffee shop thinks.
Sustained by our sandwiches and a massive raspberry chocolate chip cooke we shared for dessert, we rode off in search of geocaches.  Our quest took us to a peaceful nature park with pine needle paths and to the front yard of a house that boasted the largest live oak in the county.

Along the way, we passed a sign directing us to the LaBelle Heritage Museum.  The museum has very limited hours--it is only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons. We can't resist a museum, and we were there at a time when it was open, so we stopped by.  The only other visitors we saw were just leaving as we arrived. 
A friendly elderly volunteer gave us a personal tour of this eclectic museum in an old house.  We don't think the house itself had particular significance, except that it was old and available for the historical society's use. The collection included anything anyone in town was willing to donate to fill the museum space.  Boondoggle done with palm fronds, old medical instruments, a stamp collection, the engine from a steamboat that is sinking in an oxbow outside of town, furniture, clothing, and photographs all have their place, although the organizing priciples are not immediately apparent.  There are many wooden models of buildings done by a man who is clearly a pillar of the town.  A business card on display with the models proclaims him and his wife "Professional volunteers for over 50 years."
We saw picutures of the town flooded, as people strolled waist deep past the storefronts on its main street.  Evidently flooding of this sort was common before the Army Corps of Engineers built the locks and straightened the river.
As we rode back to the boat, by way of the grocery store, we noticed quite a few oranges in the gutter, fallen from overfilled citrus trucks,  This is just the sort of opportunity Dick can't pass up.  He carefully inspected all oranges that we passed, rejected the ones that showed signs of being bruised by their fall or run over afterwards, and tucked four oranges that passed his inspection into his bike bag.  He might have picked up more, but we needed to save room for the stuff we had to buy at the grocery store and couldn't just find lying at the curb.
March 12, 2005 La Belle to Clewiston
(38 miles)
This was a short and easy day.  Our first lock only opened on the even hours to accommodate repairs, and because of our overcautious timing of our arrival to the lock, we were left circling for 45 minutes. Other than that, we just had a relaxing float through the ditch, with a little excitement provided by a beautiful sighting of a bald eagle high in a treetop lit by the sun, and an alligator within about a dozen yards of the boat.
When we radioed our arrival to Roland Martin Marina, the dockmaster informed us that the best band in South Florida was playing that night, and he asked if we wanted a spot right in front of the Tiki Hut.  Fortunately, we had past experience near the Tiki Hut on a weeknight, and we figured a Saturday night could only be more lively.  So we got a spot up the dock from the band.  The music was outstanding, and just the right volume from a distance.  We were ready for bed before the band was ready to stop playing, and with our heater on and the boat closed up they were softly muffled enough for us to fall asleep.  We had the best of all live rock music worlds.
We had a very busy day in Clewiston, America's Sweetest City, last time we visited. This visit, we just hung out around the marina and relaxed.  If you are interested in information about Clewiston or its history gathered during our last visit, just click the link at the bottom of this page and scroll down to Clewiston. 
March 13, 2005   From Clewiston to Indiantown
Across Lake Okeechobee  (36.4 miles)
Freaked out by stories of difficult crossings we had heard from more seasoned cruisers, we were determined to get an early start across Lake Okeechobee, before the winds started building throughout the day.  We were off the dock at 7:20, long after the first boat left the dock at 6:30.  Although 7:20 is pretty early for us, we were the fourth boat to leave the marina this morning (not counting the little bass boats of fishing fanatics who will rise at any hour to catch a fish).
Our crossing turned out to be an easy one, with a light wind and a following sea for most of the passage. How different the mood of the lake was from our eerie crossing on still waters a month ago. A month ago the smooth brown water and the smoke-filled sky blended into one, erasing the horizon and creating a feeling of being lost in space.  Today, the chocolate water was alive with ripples and waves reflecting the crisp blue of the sky, and the horizon was clear, as were the plumes of smoke rising from the cane fields and the stacks of the processing plants.
Our early start paid off when we got to Indiantown, and realized the historic Seminole Inn serves a dynamite brunch until 2 p.m. on Sundays. Since we were on the dock at noon, we had plenty of time to ride our bikes over to the Inn and relax over a big long feast of Southern breakfast and lunch foods.
(During our last visit, on Valentine's Day, we learned about the Seminole Inn's tenuous, but legitimate, connection to the love story of Wallis Simpson and Prince Edward.  If you missed it, you might want to click the link at the bottom of this page to read the story.)
After brunch, as we emerged into the lobby, stuffed, we ran into our new boating friends, the Laphams.  They invited us to dinner, and we happily accepted. The fact that we could even think of eating again at that moment is a testament to just how charismatic the Laphams are.
We spent the rest of the afternoon provisioning at the local grocery store, relaxing (Gayl), and varnishing (Dick).  Then we had a great dinner aboard Change-O-Pace III, while sharing so many stories that Dick and I almost wondered if  we were finally growing out of our life-long introvert phases.
Monday, March 14   Indiantown to Manatee Pocket (30.5 miles)
When we woke up at about 6:30 on Monday morning, fog covered the land and water with an inpenetrable wet grey blanket.  It seemed like tenacious stuff, so we just rolled over for a bit more sleep, knowing we had a short day of cruising ahead. 
By 8:30 the fog had lifted, leaving just a slight haze in its wake, and we were off the dock on our way to Manatee Pocket. 
We had missed our daily dolphin sightings during the long time we were out of salt water, so we greeted our first dolphin of the day, at 12:20, with more than our usual excitement.  We hope we never lose the feeling of joy and awe we have each time we see a dolphin near our boat.  When we see them, we also think of Granddaughter Kate, who is very interested in dolphins, and hopes to someday swim with them.
We got to the Manatee Pocket anchorage (where we stayed on our way west across Florida) at about 1 pm.  There were five boats in the anchorage already, including one boat in the spot where we had anchored before.  We felt our way around, watching our depth sounder carefully, and couldn't find a spot where we thought we'd be safe from going aground at low tide.  We were searching at high tide, and the depths seemed to be consistently about a foot below the high tide readings during our last visit.  We think that last time strong north winds had blown more water into the pocket, but now the waters have subsided.
Whatever the reason, we couldn't find the water we needed to anchor, so we headed to Pirate's Cove Marina, right next to the anchorage, and tied up to the dock.
As we sat on our flybridge eating lunch, we watched a sailboat sound its way around the anchorage, circling round and round for over half and hour before giving up and moving on. 
After lunch we relaxed at the pool, then took a walk to West Marine.  On our way, we found our easiest off-the-boat geocache yet, in a park next to the marina, only about 800 feet from the boat!  We have now found 39 geocaches on our cruise, more than a tenth of our lifetime total of 350 caches.
As we returned from our walk, we passed several unobtrusive docks we hadn't even noticed on our way out.  Now they were bustling with activity as small fishing boats pulled up and unloaded their catch.  The fishermen haggled while the fish were weighed.  After the fisher and the weigher reached an agreement, they loaded the fish on a conveyor belt that dropped them into a big cooler, while a grizzled guy with a gut shoveled heaping piles of ice onto them.
When we got back to our boat, we watched a parade of fishing boats go by, and they kept passing long after dark.  Then, at about 9 pm, it became so quiet that we could hear the fish jumping far out in the bay.

Click here to see the West Across Florida page.