I spent a wonderful night at anchor in Lemon Bay before picking up the hook and heading toward Charlotte Harbor. As I was raising the anchor, dolphins began circling the chain as the windlass pulled it in. The ICW through this stretch was much more interesting than the previous day’s journey. There were dolphins, manatees, and an assortment of birds perched above channel markers. I also had to travel through a large swing bridge followed by an abandoned railroad bridge. There were also two ferry boats hauling cars and cargo across a very small gap in the ICW; such traffic in tight spaces always makes things interesting.
Finally I was able to break free of the ICW and turned east into Charlotte Harbor. With the sails up and the autopilot steering I was finally able to stretch and move about the boat. This allowed me to tidy up the boat and eat before stopping in Punta Gorda. Fortunately, good friends Dave and DeDe, live in Punta Gorda, and it just so happens they had an open slip behind their house right alongside their beautiful Catalina 350 “ Kai Lani”. Considering the thunderstorm barreling down on me the following day, I was very appreciative of their offer; it is much more enjoyable riding out a storm on a dock than it is on an anchor somewhere.
Dave and DeDe also showed me all around Punta Gorda. We checked out a few really good restaurants, went to a few happy hours, and even made homemade wine. We also checked out the local musicians who play in the park every Tuesday and Thursday. The bay is large enough to sail on and also gives access to the Gulf of Mexico, the ICW and the many small islands that run from Venice to Ft.Myers. Dave and DeDe eventually led me through the channel into Pelican Bay and gave me a tour of the Cayo Costa state park. One of my favorite spots there, tucked into the mangroves, is a place called Manatee Hole. It is a very common place to find many manatees feasting on the mangroves. Unfortunately I only saw one compared to the 20 or so that can commonly be found there. I did however find an awesome osprey nest with newborns. That evening I spent one last sundowner with Dave,DeDe and their friends who were also taking advantage of the anchorage before heading south towards their meeting point. We had an awesome time, awesome food, and of course, a few drinks.
The next morning Kai Lani and her crew departed and I stayed behind to get a few projects done. I never finished the fuel transfer system and really wanted to have that ready before I made the jump to the Keys. Before leaving home, Emily and I installed a secondary fuel tank and racor filter that allowed me to keep an extra 12 gallons down below the deck and with the flip of a switch pump that fuel into my “day tank” which is really just my normal tank the engine feeds off. After finalizing that project, I also spent the next day cleaning and organizing. Living on a 31-foot sailboat and keeping everything clean, neat and organized is not an easy task (especially when your beautiful wife isn’t with you to clean up after you) :(.
One interesting part of my first night alone at Pelican Bay occurred when I was folding up the swim platform and felt like I was being watched. Looking about 10 feet aft I saw a set of slurred eyes staring at me. About 6 feet back from the eyes was the end of a tail. The curious crocagator hung around for a while and then slowly drifted off through the bay; it’s a good thing Em wasn’t there: she’s terrified of those guys. The same evening I heard dolphins chasing fish around the boat. I could hear their clicking echolocating sounds bouncing off the hull. I would get a glimpse of one periodically when rising to the surface for air. At one point a real joker dolphin sent a splash that put a decent amount of water into the dinghy. Thanks dude.
The next day, I ventured off the boat and went to shore to visit the park. Cayo Costa state park has a tram that takes you from the dock to the beach. It is a 3/4 mile distance to the beach and I was fortunate enough to make the last tram. The park also has small cabins you can rent by the beach. Or if you have your own gear you can take advantage of their campsites. I walked a decent distance on the beach and planted my butt in the sand. It felt good to sit and relax after working on the boat . However, pretty soon the sun was falling and I had to head back toward the boat. After watching the sunset back aboard, I charted my route for the next day to Ft.Myers and fell asleep with an amazing star display through the hatch.