Taking a Break

I’m in Panama Beach getting ready to take a break. Escapade is safe and secure at a private dock offered by a Trawler Forum member, Rich. That’s him in the nice looking Pilot 30 escorting me in earlier today. Had a nice dinner out this evening with him and his wife Mary.

Tomorrow morning I pick up a rental car and head for Ontario, with a stop in Atlanta for a rapid COVID test.

Nice quiet cruising here. It’s been cool, with night time temps close to freezing, but not unpleasant. Most of the trip here from Apachicola was in a cut canal, and I anchored here last night.


I’m anchored here in Carrabelle. Good stop. I was here in Escapade and convoyed south with a few Loopers from here almost exactly 3 years ago.

To catch up, I did see manatees up close. These pics from Eric prove it! I got the dinghy motor working properly, and took Eric, Rosalie and Vicky in to the springs to see them. Dozens were hanging out in one spot.

I spent three nights at anchor as a front came through. As expected there was some carnage among the permanently moored boats, but I had stayed clear of them and had no issues.

I had originally been keen on going up the Suwanhee River, but couldn’t find any charts or evidence of any aids to navigation in the river and started thinking about the consequences of getting hung up there. Plus I’m more interested in having a visit home than spending more time alone on the boat. So I headed for Steinhatchee when I left Crystal River at dawn on Tuesday.

Steinhatchee was an easy stop. I anchored above the bridge and got takeout pizza from Hungry Howie’s. Left early the next morning for St Mark’s.

I was remembering a great seafood restaurant that I stopped at in 2018, and was sure it was in Steinhatchee. When I got there I realized that I had misremembered the place! Maybe it’s still ahead of me…

St Mark’s was new to me, and I had made some tentative plans to try to leave Escapade for a couple of weeks. But there was no room at the only marina in town. It’s a very small community. I went upriver for a few miles beyond town and had a pleasant evening anchored in the river.

Today I got away late morning, and got in here at dusk. Rainy and grey this afternoon, but not unpleasant.

I’ll likely hang around here tomorrow. There are stores, restaurants and marinas very close by. Still trying to organize some time ashore.

I was struck again coming in past Dog Island of how beautiful it is around here. Lots of beaches, and all empty this time of year. I don’t think I’ve seen any bigger recreational boats underway since I left Crystal River.

Crystal River

I saw a manatee up close. No pics yet. One swam right up to the dinghy as I was trying to fix the outboard. We were face to face for a few seconds.

Last night I anchored here just east of Anclote Key, sheltered from the west. This morning was calm and nice for the trip here.

I’m now anchored here in King’s Bay. Interesting trip in. I was 5-10 miles offshore coming up to stay in deep (10 ft) water, then in through a marked channel and into the river, then up here. Pictures below were taken coming in.

It’s going to be windy and rainy, with coastal flooding for the next day or so, but this is a good spot, as long as the long term anchored boats don’t come crashing into me. Tuesday looks like good weather to head north from here.

I thought new gas helped with the dinghy motor, but it’s gotten worse. I had the carburetor off this afternoon to check the float valve, but it looked ok. Now not running at all. Hopefully I’ll get it sorted tomorrow.

A New Subplan

A visitor!

I’ve been listlessly moving north. I stopped here in Sarasota yesterday and didn’t move today. Tomorrow I’ll head up to Tampa Bay. There is a dinghy dock next to a grocery store here, so I stocked up yesterday and got Chinese takeout for dinner. Got a few boat maintenance chores done today. Monday night I anchored near Englewood and didn’t get off the boat.

Mostly I’m moving slow because I’m waiting for a weather window to go to Crystal River. I haven’t been there before. One pledge that I made to myself was that I wouldn’t leave Florida until I’d seen a manatee up close. I caught glimpses of them on the St John’s River on Escapade, but that’s it. Apparently there are lots there this time of year.

Things are now falling into place, as they inevitably do. So here’s the plan for the next month or so, all of which I’m excited about.

Saturday looks like a good day to head for Crystal River. I’ll get underway early from Dunedin. I’m planning to be there for a few days while some wind goes through. Eric and Rosalie are visiting me there on Sunday. Maybe we’ll go looking for manatees.

From Crystal River I go to the Suwanee River, about 50 miles up the coast. This requires daylight for the entire trip, calm seas approaching the river, and ideally a high tide. The entrance is shallow and the bottom hard. But once into the river, I’m planning to do a return upstream trip of about 35 miles each way. It’s mostly remote wilderness. I’m pumped. Need to get the lyrics for the Stephen Foster song.

From there it’s a hop further up to Steinhatchee. I went in there with Escapade and was quite taken by the place.

The last hop is to St Mark’s, about 20 miles south of Tallahassee. Another small place I’ve never been.

This whole area is quite different from the rest of Florida. These are the only four ports along the entire section of coastline that I can get in to, and entering without mishap requires favourable conditions and maybe some good fortune. It’s all pretty shallow and exposed. The alternative route is a ~150 mile straight line cutting the bend, but there’s not much adventure in that.

At St Mark’s I hope to find dockage for a couple of weeks and fly home to Ontario. There are convenient flights out of nearby Tallahassee. I’m ready for some family time, and a break from the boat is always good. And my schedule has sufficient slack it it. I was a bit concerned about heading north too early. When I get back in February I can travel with purpose.

All good! Will try to take some pictures as I go along.

Sanibel Island

At anchor

I’m anchored here adjacent to a wildlife preserve. Nice quiet spot.

Friday I left the anchorage in the Everglades and came up the west coast to Marco Island, staying a couple of miles offshore. There are some remote deep water channels along that stretch that I could have explored, like Shark River. I’d like to come back to that area some time and poke around. Maybe with a canoe or kayak.

Saturday was a non-travel day. I got groceries and dinghy fuel, and explored a bit by dinghy. My dinghy motor hadn’t been running well, and I was thinking of cleaning the carburetor, but with fresh fuel it’s running much better. I was using gas I’d bought in NS last summer.

Today I had a lovely inside cruise up to Naples, then followed the shore line up to here.

Weather has been great, but is going to be a bit unsettled for a few days this week. I’m not in any mad rush to push north, but I spent lots of time exploring the area between here and Tarpon Springs in Escapade, and don’t have any specific destinations or plans until I get north of there. I’ll be loafing north on the ICW for the next couple of days, and watching for good weather to head up around the Big Bend area.

The Everglades

Anchored in Ingraham Lake

I’m anchored here in the heart of Everglades National Park. The tip of Florida. No sign or people. I found about ten feet of water in the stream after bumping on a bar near the entrance. There is a strong inbound current that I assume will change with the tide.

Unfortunately I’m low on gas for the dinghy, otherwise I’d be exploring some of the channels. But there is stuff to see from the mothership. Pelicans and dolphins, and I’ll be watching for alligators. I meant to get gas before leaving Marathon, then forgot.

The only road around here goes to Flamingo, maybe 30 km east of here. I tried to get in there earlier with hopes for gas and lunch, but ran out of water well short of the harbour and turned around. Next place with any road access is Everglades City, NW of here. I’ll head that way tomorrow.

Not much else to report. Yesterday I came up the Atlantic side, and anchored next to the Channel Five Bridge. Weather is benign and pleasant.

When I’m in places like this I wish for a smaller boat. I think there is a boat route directly between Flamingo and Everglades City, but Escapade is too big and too deep to go poking around there. It would be fun to do some time.

2022 Travel Plans

Regular readers will recognize that I like to lay out big routes with minimal milestones, and fill in the details as I go along.

I just had a look back at my 2021 travel plans and I’m going to give myself a near perfect score.  A few bumps and turns, but that’s part of the fun.  In a challenging year I followed the plan exactly.

My basic game plan hasn’t changed.  I’d like to spend the summer close to Lake Ontario, and we have to get Tin Lizzie up and running again this spring.  So I’m shooting to be in Chicago some time in May.  I haven’t ruled out leaving Escapade in the rivers somewhere for the summer, but that’s more of a contingency than a plan.  Most likely I’ll head for Toronto by boat.

I was chatting with Greg this evening about routing and timing for the next few months.  River travel in the spring can get challenging, and I’m heading north into winter, but here’s my optimistic route for the next four months.  Get your map out!

From here I’m heading up the west coast of Florida, then west across the top of the Gulf of Mexico to Mobile AL.  I’ve covered most of this area before, but there are a few new diversions and stops on my list.  The Gulf ICW is remote and empty this time of year.

At Mobile I head north on the rivers, then through the Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway to get to the Tennessee River just above Pickwick Dam.  470 miles upstream.

At that point the direct route to Chicago is down the Tennessee, but my plan is to head upstream and go as far as I can, which is a bit beyond Knoxville.  It’s about 435 miles upstream.  Then we’ll turn around and run downstream about 600 miles to where the Cumberland River runs into the Tennessee, around the Kentucky Lakes.

My plan is to explore the Cumberland as well.  This is an up-and back trip, 385 miles each way.  Nashville is a planned stop.  I’m hoping to have guests.

Once back in Kentucky Lake, it’s a short jaunt downstream to the Ohio River, then another short jaunt down the Ohio to get to the Mississippi at Cairo, IL.

From Cairo it’s upstream on the Mississippi to St Louis.  That’s a 200 mile upstream slog, probably the most challenging segment.

Above St Louis the worst is over.  It’s about 350 miles upstream on the Illinois River to Chicago, a mostly pleasant trip.

I’m pretty pumped to hit the rivers.  When I went south on Mazurka I went the western route down the Lower Mississippi and into Louisiana.  So I’ve done the stretch between Chicago and Cairo, but none of the other areas.  

The Ohio River is another big one, of course, running east to Pittsburgh.  I think it’s too ambitious to plan to include that this year.  Another time perhaps. 

Side note: I have an enduring memory of a lecture in a Geography class I took, where we looked at early Colonial American travel and trade routes.  One case was of the early fur trappers.  They would hike across the Appalachian Mountains, traveling very light by neccessity.  Camp in the Ohio River Valley and harvest pelts.  Build a raft, load it up, and pole down to New Orleans, sell the raft, and travel by sailing ship back to Baltimore or Philadelphia to sell the harvest.  Amazing.  Life sure got easier and more productive with coal, and then oil.

Big risks for this segment are mostly weather related.  High water is a persistent risk, especially during spring runoffs.  That could cause major delays.  Local violent weather is common.  And it will likely be cold at times, but that doesn’t concern me too much.

Off we go! 

COVID strikes again

I’ve been hanging out in the Keys in anticipation of Miles’s visit. He was due to fly in Thursday.

Today he tested positive for COVID. So much for that plan. Disappointing, but not surprising.

I’m ready to move. Not that interested in snorkelling and such on my own, and COVID cases are up by 800% in this area over the past 14 days, so there is little attraction for meeting and mingling ashore right now.

Tomorrow I’ll get underway and head for the Florida Panhandle. There are some remote (and shallow!) spots in the Everglades that I want to pop into, and I’d like to explore the Big Bend area a bit more. Steinhatchee and maybe St Mark’s. Weather looks good for the next couple of days to get across Florida Bay.

2021 Year in Review

What a strange year.  Shaped in many ways by COVID and the accompanying restrictions and barriers to travel.  I feel in many ways fortunate to have carried out my basic plans for the year. 

The time on the boat has been great.  I’ve covered a lot of ground.  From Toronto to Ottawa via the Rideau Canal and Thousand Islands, then Montreal and a side trip to Lake Champlain.  Out the St Lawrence, around Cape Breton, lots of time in Nova Scotia, then a dash down the US east coast to south Florida.  Whew! 

No major breakdowns occurred.  I had two relatively minor incidents.  Got swept into the dock at a seaway lock in Montreal when they opened the fill gates, and put two small scars in the topsides.  Their small boat dock is not friendly.  I also hit the propeller on something hard – I suspect a mooring block – when I was poking around in shallow water in Mahone Bay.  Both could have been avoided with a bit more diligence on my part. 

Escapade has been a good boat for me.  There’s little that I want to change. I had a new shaft installed in Nova Scotia, and all systems are in good order. I had contemplated adding to the fuel tankage before heading for the rivers, but I think what I have is adequate.

What could have been better? I’ve spent too much time by myself. I’m generally happy to be solo when underway, but part of my rationale for a bigger boat was having friends and family join me from time to time in my travels. Also in the past I’ve been able to get off the boat and travel home or elsewhere. My ideal is a mix of time on board and on shore.

It hasn’t been a great year from that perspective. Travel and socialization has been constrained, and some visits canceled.

I’m also disappointed that I couldn’t get into the US sooner. The trip from Nova Scotia south was more rushed than I would have liked. Ideally I would have been in Maine two months earlier than I was. But given that cruisers from Ontario and Quebec weren’t able to make it south at all I’m not complaining too much about that.

Some basic numbers for the year, starting when I left Toronto in May:

Distance traveled: 5,075 nautical miles (9,400 km)

Fuel used: 5,140 l (1,360 us gallons) including 330 l for furnace/hot water

Hours underway: 954

My Spot track from November – Dec