21 February, 2015
OMG! What a shock. When we walk over to the beach, instead of miles of unspoiled sand, we’re greeted by wall to wall bodies, lots of competing music and small boats anchored just yards off the shore. I’m thinkin’ that the scenery will be better in a few weeks when college Spring break season starts-just sayin’. No matter, we still got three miles or so in. Back at the Inn, we opt for an early dinner and are pleasantly surprised. The conch chowder, ceviche, and crab stuffed grouper is excellent. Bonus is that we ordered at 1625. Dinner prices (around 80% more) for the same items started at 1630. Hey-fixed income.
Monday morning, and we’re off the dock at 0750. As we exit Estero Bay, we find that the channel marker that we noticed was off station on our way in was still not in its’ proper position, but we saw the buoy tender getting under way as we passed the station. We had called it in to the Coast Guard the previous day. A cloudy, cool five hours later we were entering Gordon Pass, the inlet leading to Naples. Online reports had shoaling in the channel, but we saw deep water all the way in. Naples Bay was lined with house after beautiful house. Many looked like small hotels. After we docked, we were chattin’ it up with the Harbormaster, Frank, who informed us that most of these homes were relatively new, being built on the sites of knocked down older places. He told us of a home that was purchased a few years back for $8.5M, and was knocked down in order to build a new place for $13M-go figure. The marina is directly below the flight path to Naples airport, and there is a constant parade of private aircraft (most of them jets) flying in and out. While I’m referencing LOTS of people with LOTS of money, let me say a few words about the cars here. The Audis, Landrovers, Jags, and Benzs are the Chevrolets of Naples. Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bentleys are evident in full force. Restaurants are fully booked every night of the week. Based on appearances here, you would think that the economy was booming-hope this is an omen of things to come.
We had planned on staying in Naples for a week, but for several reasons, this ballooned into two. We visited with four different sets of friends, and did some heavy provisioning and repairs.
That was the short Naples story. Here’s the longer one. The day that we arrived, we rode our bikes the 4 miles to Gulf Shores Marine Supply to pick up a spare water pump for our generator that we had ordered a couple of weeks previously. True to his word, Ken had the pump ready and waiting when the Admiral and I arrived. The ride up and back on Tamiami Trail, a 4 lane highway, was quite exciting and fraught with danger (translation-lots of REALLY old drivers). The week in Naples called for several more trips down this “corridor of death” with no undue results. The following day, we met up with our dear friends Dick and Jan (see horrendous automobile accident-Captains log May 2014) who winter here. We spent the afternoon and evening with them at their home in Bonita Springs, planning to return for a few more days. Unfortunately, that never happened, as they were having some family issues which extended through the week. Your kids may grow up, but they’re always your kids. We did get to see them towards the end of the week, when they came in to eat with us. During the week, we had a chance to catch up with 3 other couples, friends that live in Naples, catch up, and have some pretty good meals. Bleau Provence is an elegant spot for an evening of French cuisine. The Dock provided a waterside venue with a funky atmosphere and pretty good bar food. Avenue 5 featured nouveau cuisine in a modern setting in the heart of town. Yabba, although downtown, had an airy porch and a nice, semi elegant lunch menu. Campiello, also in town, had both indoor and outdoor tables, and featured a more traditional menu with an emphasis on red meats. The bar there is also a great place to sit and people watch in the afternoon. The only eatery that I would have to give a mediocre endorsement to was LaMoorege, a Peruvian-themed restaurant in the “suburbs”. We took care of our provisioning by renting a car for a day (no good Samaritans on the dock here) and running to Publix, ABC Liquor, West Marine, Lowe’s, Staples, Bed, Bath and Beyond, and Sears following an early morning stop at Skillet’s (one of my favorite breakfast joints). The repair of the week was the air conditioning unit in our stateroom. After taking apart the closet where the air handler is located, and multiple calls for tech support, the diagnosis fell to a faulty circuit board. Cruise Cool, a local repair company, had one in stock-bonus. Fred, the owner, brought one out first thing in the morning, and offered to install it. Even though I had replaced one in another unit a few months earlier without any difficulty, we figured that boosting the local economy couldn’t hurt. Voila! Cool air.
February 21st, Saturday morning. Farmer’s market day. This time, we grabbed our bikes AND backpacks to hit the farmers’ market. It was departure day, so our provisioning list was pretty flush with fresh fruits and veggies. Our mission a success, the packs were brimming within the hour. The Admiral has been freshening up her herb garden, so I had a parsley plant sticking out of the top of my pack, drawing some interesting looks. Jeff and Susie aboard “Idle Time” had left Cape Coral earlier in the morning, and were passing Naples around noon, at which time we would join them for a short cruise to Marco Island where we would spend the night on the hook. We have been looking for some small rugs for the Galley, and earlier in the week, I had spotted a nice Oriental in town, so we decided to grab it on consignment and try it on for size. The color and design were right, the 8’ length was perfect, but the 23” width was a smidge large. Oh well, half the fun is in the hunt. By 1242, the tide was up, and we were no longer sitting on the bottom-time to go. Once out in the Gulf, and clear of the weekend boat follies, we found “I. T.” to be 3.8 miles astern. Cruising over a 1 foot chop, the 2 ½ hour run to Marco was a joy. Our anchorage, Smokehouse Bay”, was anything but wilderness, but the beautiful homes on the way in and around the bay made for some nice sightseeing. After the hooks were down, plans were made for sundowners at our place. Soon after, a Krogen Manatee rolled in, and dropped their anchor right behind us. After we introduced ourselves, Wally and Darcy joined us for conversation and sips after Jeff & Susie picked them up on their way over. W & D had purchased their previously enjoyed boat in 2014, and had cruised a thousand miles or so on the Intracoastal Waterway, but their day on the Gulf travelling to Marco was their first time on “big water”. They were pretty geeked. Always fun to make new friends.
Since there were some pretty skinny spots on the way in, an 0705 departure played the tide to give us a comfortable margin between the bottom and our keels during our departure. Cloudy, 65 degree temperature and minimal seas made for an enjoyable 35 mile trip to the Thousand Islands in Everglades National Park. Boy, it was just like old times to be buddy boating with J & S again. Old pals are a lot like cousins that you seldom see-a few minutes, and it’s like you were never away from each other. By 1252, we had shot down the hooks in Russell Pass, the kayaks were in the water, and we were exploring the labarynthine Mangrove swamps, just as the sun made its’ appearance. After sips, Suzanne and Susie fattened Jeff and I up with a gourmet meal of crabcakes, stuffed Portobello mushrooms, Asian slaw, and a citrus salad. Peanut M&M’s for desert?-died and gone to heaven. The next morning, we took the tenders on a 5 mile expedition up the river to Everglades City, home of the “historical Rod and Gun Club”. This little piece of an era gone by sits on the river, with a screened porch overlooking the waterway. Built in the 1800, the Club is now public, but boasts guests including past presidents, movie stars, and Earnest Hemmingway (where didn’t he hunt or fish?). The dark, mahogany walls are adorned with trophies from past hunts and fishing trips, as well as antique guns and fishing paraphernalia. Lunch is at Triad seafood, which has a porch overlooking some pretty rough commercial fishing boats, and trash-strewn docks-sounds good, huh? The 4 Collier County Sheriff’s cruisers parked out front gave us a clue that this might be the place for chow, and we didn’t go wrong. Seafood, fresh, fresh, fresh and tasty. On our way back to the Girls, our decision to take the dinghies up was validated by a cruiser running aground in the middle of the channel. We had seen him go on while we were at the ranger’s station, and fortunately he was off by the time that we passed him 20 minutes later after plowing through a hundred feet of mud, exhaust smoking to beat the band. Even though Suz and I had seen Manatees up at the Rod and Gun Club on previous trips, we were still “no joy” on them this voyage. (Them’s that know say that the water’s just too cold yet). We’ll keep hoping and looking.
Today, the 24th, is a foggy 65 degrees when we up anchors at 0654 to take advantage of the tide. During our 36 mile trek to Little Shark River, our last stop before Marathon Key, we see little wild life on the surface, or our fish finder. We traversed sandy flats that were pretty much devoid of anything but crab pots. I’m wondering what in the heck they do for food. The fog lifted and the sun came out, allowing Suz and I to sit on the bow with the autopilot remote in hand, while catching some rays. The fog was all around us, as evidenced by other boats’ conversations on the VHF, but we stayed in a little hole of sunshine all the way to Little Shark. 20 minutes later, the fog rolled in, and here we sit (fog in Florida-Really?) Even with the fog, it’s quite bright, ‘cause the clouds are probably only a hundred feet or so thick, but there is a 10 knot breeze, so it’s cool. Good time to hunker down and get some chores done. The infamous clutch on the generator started making some clickety clack yesterday, so I’ll need to take a lookee before we run it again. It’s a boat, right? The Admiral’s doing her Betsy Ross thing, hand sewing some Textilene with a sail needle and some whipping twine to make a bag for our dinghy “White Star’s” anchor. It still tickles us when dirt dwellers ask us “What do you do all day”?