Fort Myers turned out to be one of the most interesting stops on the trip. Not because of the town itself (though it was nice and we enjoyed it). Rather because we stayed in two different places, had two different experiences and realized that our trip is changing.

Part 1: Mooring field.

Start: Pelican Bay, just off Cayo Costa, 0931
End: Fort Myers mooring field, FL, 1455
Total Distance: 30.0 nm
Time: 5:23
Average Speed: 5.6 kts

Our original plan was to stay in Fort Myers for a night and then head on down to Marco Island. Plans change. We couldn’t find anyplace to stay in Marco Island until Thursday and anchorages weren’t looking good. We knew it would be the last provisioning stop until the keys and wanted to make sure we had time to service the engines, so we decided that if one day was good enough, three days was better! Plus, the weekend was shaping up to be a bad weekend weather wise, so staying someplace seemed to be a good idea. We booked our marina in Marco Island for Thursday, then found a mooring ball in Fort Myers at which to stay until Thursday, and we were off.

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Three wide coming down the canal!

The trip down was our favorite type of trip. Uneventful. We had a very helpful wind for the first hour or so, making over 7 knots most of the time. But then it died down and we made our way slowly to Fort Myers. The jerks in the go fast boats were out in force; so much so that we remarked every time someone DIDN’T wake us (and there weren’t many).

As we drew close to Fort Myers, I called the mooring field to get our assignment. Now understand, I have never been to Fort Myers. Nor have I looked at the waterways around Fort Myers EXCEPT for the route we will take to get in and out. And I have no idea what the local landmarks are. This is true of everywhere we go. Which lead to some funny conversations. Like the one I had with the LOLITS (little old lady in tennis shoes) working the desk on this particular afternoon. And yes–I sound this ridiculous each and every time we come to a new place!

Mooring field conversation with Marco Island:

LOLITS: “Yes sir, where are you coming from today? Are you coming from Indecipherable reference to a landmark or from another indescribable reference to another unknown landmark.

Me: “Um…we are coming from the Gulf of Mexico?”

LOLITS: (In her ‘Outloud voice’): “Aren’t you just the cutest thing.”

LOLITS (In her ‘Inside voice’): “No shit Sherlock. Only way to get here is from the Gulf unless you are already in our mooring field or in one of the other marinas or restaurants in town. And I can assume you aren’t there! So which way you coming? From the north or from the south?”

LOLITS: (Outside voice to coworker) (while I am placed on mute): “Holy Jeezus, how do people survive and make their way from point A to point B? I got this dude on the phone who, when asked from which way was he coming, said ‘The gulf!’”

Much laughter ensues.

LOLITS: “Sir, I’m back. Do you see a really big bridge.”

Me: “YES! I SEE A REALLY BIG BRIDGE! WOOHOOO! You have found me!!”

And she proceeds to give me very clear directions to the mooring field and our choice of two balls, 30 or 36.

We make our way through the West mooring field and find our spot just as described. Jan sticks the landing again which is fortunate because there are a bunch of people watching us…both seen and unseen.

We drop our dinghy, load Lucky into the boat and head into shore to check in for the next three days. We meet the LOLITS who is fantastic. Gives us the run down of the place, recommends a place for pizza, and gives us the key to the bathroom so we can shower. Which apparently we need. On our way back to the dinghy (to drop Lucky off), we run into Mike and Philomena. They are on a trawler just behind us, saw us arrive and wanted to say hi. They gave us the rundown of the island (sunset on the pier, Times Square for good happy hour places, where to shop) and the mooring field. They have been spending their winters all over Florida anchorages/mooring fields for years and so provided us a lot of good information.

Back to the boat, drop Lucky (who voiced his unhappiness very loudly), back to shore for shower and for dinner at the place with good pizza. And it was fantastic. Thumbs up from everyone. Back to the boat to run the generator, charge the batteries and watch “The Voice.”

Tuesday morning was school for AJ and errands for Jan and I. First stop was S/V Midori , a PDQ32 sailboat nearby in the mooring field, where we met Brian and Lynn, a live aboard couple from Canada. Same company that built our boat–but a couple of feet smaller. Brian gave us a ton of good advice on weather, sailing, getting to the keys and the PDQ in general. We talked to him about our unhappiness with running our generator every day and he told us they upgraded their solar system and gave us the name of the guy in Marathon, FL. We may have some work done when we get south. We went to the farmer’s market and it was one of the best we have been to yet. After blowing our budget there, we took our goodies back to the boat and then dinghied to the grocery store, which had a dock just for people like us to use. It was at the end of a long canal behind peoples homes and had a greeting committee of two gentlemen who were passing a brown paper of goodness between each other.

Groceries secured, we headed back to the boat for some lunch. At which point I turned on the generator, the impeller blew into six little pieces and you can read the blog post on maintenance matters. As a result of the impeller, we made the decision to move to a marina so we could plug in to shore power and keep our house batteries charged. And we moved to Pink Shell Resort and Marina. Which is part two of the trip.

Part 2: Pink Shell Resort and Marina.

Note the order of the name: Pink Shell Resort and Marina. This place is swanky. When we arrive, we are met by the captain of Donna Mae, fellow looper, who catches our lines. The docks are fantastic. Floating docks that look brand new. When we plug into the power pedestals, they are squeaky clean–no spiders waiting to lunge at our fingers. When we check in at the marina office we are given three wrist bands (think Disney) that allow us into the resort and allow us to charge drinks, food, whatever easily. There are three restaurants, a private beach, a couple of pools. All for a price that made me throw up a bit in my mouth. But it was the only place that could take us given our beam, so we were stuck. If ’stuck’ could be the right word for being at a ‘resort.’ We spent the rest of Tuesday fixing up the boat and that night we had dinner at one of the restaurants and AJ’s comment was ‘there are more drinks on the menu than food!’ He was correct. A full page and a half of very expensive drinks, half a page of food. Which was not as good as what we had the night before.

We made the decision that we should make Wednesday a relax day. After all, we had ended up at a resort! How can we not take advantage of this? So we did. We trundled off to the beach, looked at the sand and decided to go to the pool. Where we sat the rest of the afternoon. Reading, sleeping, swimming. Nice lady came by every so often to see if we needed anything. Sun was shining. All was well with the world.

At the end of the afternoon we decided to walk the mile back into town to go to the first restaurant we went to for some more of the pizza! On the way back into town we run into Mike and Philomena who wondered where we went. We talked to them about our maintenance challenges1 and they filled us in on the news from the mooring field2 and gave us information on Marathon. Dinner, walk back and we are done.

Our loop is a changin’

We had two very different experiences in the space of three days in Fort Myers. The most obvious was the physical environment. We went from a mooring ball (at $18/day) that required a dinghy to get back/forth to shore to a small upscale marina (at $3.00 a foot, or $100/day) that is part of a resort. The mooring ball was right downtown, the resort a mile walk away. The mooring ball provided some privacy, but at the price of having to use a dinghy; the marina we were right along the main walkway of the dock. The facilities were much better at the marina.

But.

Without a doubt we enjoyed the mooring field. And when we sat down to figure out why, it comes down to the people; we like the people. And we realized that our Great Loop experience is changing.

Up to Mobile, Alabama our trip was really on a ‘schedule.’ Not a day to day schedule, more a seasonal schedule. Like Canada in summer, waterways in fall, Florida in winter. And the places we stayed were (in a lot of cases) preordained. For example, coming down the rivers, there aren’t that many places to stop; same for heading down Lake Michigan. We did make some choices that took us off the beaten trail, but we are on the loop and so we eventually got back together with the looper pack.

But now the pack has stopped or diverged. A bunch of loopers have parked for weeks to enjoy scenic Florida weather. More are finishing up, having started in Florida. And others are turning left at Ft. Myers for the Okeechobee waterway to cut across central Florida instead of heading around to the keys. When we stopped earlier, the locations had multiple great loop flags and instant companions. Now there are few, if any. So we end up talking/interacting with other cruisers who are on the same type of boat, or who are going to or have been where we are going, or are just fantastic people!

And our mode has changed as well. Since Mobile we have really been picking our destinations based on what we want to see rather than where we ‘have’ to go. And this is driving us to places where people are living aboard their boats for the winter (or permanently) in the anchorages, mooring fields and the marinas here in Florida. And we have found a different community which is pretty exciting. We have no idea what we are gong to do after our loop is complete, but at some point, I’m pretty sure it is going to look a whole lot like the cruisers we see around here in Florida (though not necessity here IN Florida).

And in the short term we are changing it up as well. We had a family discussion and came to the conclusion that we were moving a bit too fast and not taking time smelling the roses. So we are spending more time in each place or at least going fast for a couple of days, then stopping to see what is around. Our original plan was to burn around Florida and hit the Bahamas as soon as we could. Now we are slowing our roll just a bit.

Next Stop: Marco Island!

1: When I mentioned that our impeller blew, Mike said he could tell by the sound of our generator. Because he has had it happen to him three times and so now knows very well the sound of a diesel engine without cooling water. And now, so do we!

2 Little karma story. The mooring field bubbas keep an eye on who comes/goes. Our arrival/departure was noted. As was the arrival of another sailboat just after sunset. She tied up to a mooring ball and then bright and early in the morning, the boat attempted to leave. Something happened, the current (which is quite strong) caught the boat when it came off the mooring and pushed it into another ball where the boat’s prop fouled on the tether securing the mooring ball to the bottom of the bay. Prop was damaged. Mooring ball damaged. Cost to fix mooring ball? $8,000. Cost to pay for one night at morning ball and not have to leave at dawn (to get out of paying the cost)? $18. Ouch.

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Lucky looking for scraps from dinner!