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Starting the Great Loop – First Adventure: Punta Gorda, FL to Fort Myers, FL

We’ve finally worked through making all of the detailed posts about why we picked the boat that we did, and shopping for and buying it – and we can finally get to the REASON we bought a boat:

Cruising The Great Loop!

A final sunset viewed from Burnt Store Marina – it’s been a fine first marina!

We honestly didn’t think we’d be ready to start cruising so soon – after just six weeks of living aboard.

But our training was coming along nicely, we had already done several trips on our own, we were getting quite comfortable with docking – and we were growing crazy bored and isolated at Burnt Store Marina.

Burnt Store Marina was a perfect first marina for us. They had availability at the end of peak season, they were easy in/out, with super helpful staff, and great access to Charlotte Harbor for practice cruising and anchoring.

But they are pretty out there in nowheresville – 10 miles from anything resembling groceries or dining.

We were getting darn tired of having to do the drive for supply runs, and really not having much around. We’re much more the type of folks who enjoy having things walking distance out our front door.

But we can fix this – we have the power to move!

At the end of our prepaid month we decided to leave and find something more suitable up ahead on the Loop.

We were ready to get this adventure started!

Our first leg of the Great Loop – Burnt Store Marina to Fort Myers. (Screen capture from Navionics – the charting app we’re using.)

Below is our very first ‘travelogue video’ we’ve attempted – which we hope captures the experience of our first leg of the Great Loop!

Throwing Off the Lines – We’re Loopers!

Our two route possibilities – south to the Keys, or east across the Okeechobee Waterway.

There are two options for us as we start off on the Loop:

  • Crossing the Okeechobee Waterway to get to the east coast of Florida. But Lake Okeechobee water levels were quickly dropping to a point of being uncrossable.
  • Heading down around the Keys. But we’d really prefer to do the Keys at a slower pace, anchoring out a lot. Which means having a dinghy would be essential, and we don’t have one yet.

Since neither was really a great option at this point, we decided instead to just inch a bit further around the Loop.

We selected a marina in the heart of the urban mecca (in comparison to Burnt Store anyway) of Fort Myers, which would at least get us closer to stuff.

Only 12 miles away as the crow flies, 25 minutes by vehicle, and 49 nautical miles by boat.

But decided to make an adventure out of it – taking several days anchoring out along the way.

Since we’d be making our first miles along our Loop adventure, we decided it was time to fly our AGLCA Burgee and consider this our official start.

Burnt Store Marina will always be close to our hearts. It is where we started our journey, and where’s we’ll cross our wake some years from now.

On the calm morning of April 28, 2017 – we decided to throw off the lines (well, technically speaking, we brought the lines onboard?) and putter on out into the waters of Charlotte Harbor.

We looked back at our wake, waving until next time to Burnt Store Marina.

Wow, we were really doing this!!

Stop 1: Pelican Bay – Cayo Costa State Park

Our first destination was a familiar one, where we had already done several days overnight anchoring on a trial run a couple weeks back. Pelican Bay is a lovely and very popular anchorage just 12.3 nautical miles away.

And we were itching to return to the tranquility.

Now being repeat visitors at this location, we decided to make more effort in picking out our spot – somewhere that would feel a bit more private and give us easier kayaking access to the hiking trails onshore.

I gotta say, it felt AWESOME returning and having the confidence to do this.

Our anchorage at Pelican Bay – close to the kayak entrance to the park. (Drone shot – did I mention we just got a DJI Mavic Pro just before leaving?)   You might also  notice that since our last post, we had our ‘rope’ decals removed, and the boat washed, compounded and waxed.

We dropped our anchor closer to shore than last time – on the outer perimeter of where other boaters where (paying attention of course to water depths all around us).

Instead of just tying a make-shift snubber this time, we had researched setting up a more proper bridle on the anchor line which made the swinging even more pleasant (these are essentially just sections of rope between the anchor chain and boat that absorb the shock of pulling on the anchor.)

We inflated our Sea Eagle kayak (which will eventually go back to the bus once we have a dinghy) and felt blissfully at home on the water.

We enjoyed three wonderful nights gently swinging on the hook. We kayaked, went ashore, hiked the island and just enjoyed life.

This is exactly what we signed up for!

Tracking the storms approaching.

And then the fourth night, we got to experience what it’s like to be in the middle of a bit of a storm at anchor. We had been tracking the weather and knew to be prepared.

There were pop up storms all night long and wind gusts into the 30s and 40s (we don’t have an anemometer on board yet, so we don’t know for sure.)

We took turns on watch, paying extra close attention to our anchor alarm. We ran through drills of what we’d do in the event we started to drag – after all we have to keep in mind not only our own safety, but that of other boats around us.

Daybreak after a stormy night… what a sight!

And we did start to drag a bit.

We started our engines, just in case, as the winds continued to pound us.

Thankfully, the anchor dug in deep and held tightly for the rest of the night – but we were ready to weigh anchor, hold station, or try again if needed.

The storms subsided, we kept an eye on radar and finally went to bed at day break.

It was a scary night for sure, but we both woke up feeling accomplished for having successfully weathered our first storm. Check.

Stop 2: Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Yours truly taking the helm!

While we could have happily stayed a few more days in Pelican Bay (after all, we have no schedule!) – looking ahead in the forecast extended storms were predicted for the area starting in 2 days and lasting for several.

We decided we’d really rather get into our marina while it was still calm.

So, we reluctantly weighed anchor and headed on to our next stop – an anchorage we had picked out along the eastern shore of Sanibel Island.

It was a 18.6 nautical mile cruise, where we got to experience our very first major ‘waking’ – a go-fast boat that passed us with little regard for their impact on others. There was no time to avert the wake by turning into it, and Y-Not rocked about. But thankfully only the flybridge fridge opened, causing some beers to roll about.

So check, another first off the list.

We should apparently just get used to this behavior according to the many boaters we’ve talked with.

Dolphins!!! (Check the video out above for bunches more!)

Along the way, we were also joined by a pod of dolphins playing in our wake – which was a delightful experience!

We arrived to Ding Darling, set the anchor and kayaked along their paddling trail for a bit. We enjoyed sunset and got a good night’s rest.

It was just an overnight stop, but a lovely one.

Stop 3: Legacy Harbour Marina – Fort Myers, FL

Our destination of this leg was a marina we had picked out in advance – Legacy Harbour Marina.

Located right in downtown Fort Myers, they start their off-season monthly rates on May 1st – just $14/foot (plus $130/month live aboard fee) for a gated marina with concrete floating docks, a gym, a pool and walking distance to shopping, dining and groceries.

We were looking forward to trying out urban marina life for a month while we waited out Lake Okeechobee and tackle some boat projects.

We had 17.9 nautical miles to cruise up the Caloosahatchee River, which would cross the dreaded ‘Miserable Mile’. It’s an area where the river narrows and is a no-wake zone. It turned out to be quite pleasant for these slow pokes to putter along without worry of being waked.

It was a pretty uneventful cruise in which we also checked off ‘first bridge’ before arriving to our slip at Legacy Harbour, where we were greeted by our new neighbor and harbormaster to help with the lines.

It was a bit of a tight squeeze to maneuver into our sweet open panoramic view slip, but Chris nailed the docking.

I however seriously pulled a calf muscle trying to step around the cat to set the lines & fenders.

Sunsets from our new home!

We quickly got settled in, and just an hour later the storms started and didn’t let up for several days. We were most thankful to be safely in and getting acclimated to city life, and not trying to arrive and dock in the wind!

Our neighbor so kindly offered to drive us back up to Burnt Store Marina to retrieve our Mini Cooper, giving us ground transportation. (Boaters rock!)

Great Loop Log (5/3/2017):

  • Total Distance: 48.8 nm
  • Stops: 3
  • Marina Nights: 0
  • Anchor Nights: 5
  • Bridges (Under): 2
  • Bridges  (Draw): 0
  • Locks: 0

What’s Up Next:

Our month in Fort Myers went way too quickly, especially since we took 9 days to head across the state in the RV to get it and the Mini into longer term storage.

(Which means we are now car free!)

Lake Okeechobee continued on a downward trend all of May and is just now starting to come back up.

This morning the main navigation channel was only at 5.14′.

It’ll probably be several more weeks before it’s a comfortable depth for us to attempt. We’d ideally like at least 6′ of depth for our close to 4′ of draft.

We’re enjoying life so much here in Fort Myers that it was an easy decision to just extend into early July. After all, for us, switching to cruising was all about slowing down our pace.

We’re tackling maintenance, boat projects (maybe even a dinghy setup??), overnight cruising adventures, exploring around the local area, and just enjoying life.

It. Feels. GOOD!

We’ll be following up later on our RV trip, our first urban marina experience, and some of the projects we’re up to.

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39 Comments - Still Plenty of Room for Yours!

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  1. Hi there again, it sounds like you guys have really done your homework and have things in great shape. All it is now as we say on the TowBoat, time to ride and glide. Soak in the adventure. Safe boating folks and may God always ride with you.

  2. Hi from another Bayliner 4788 owner. I think you will love your trip. We are planning to do the loop in 2019. We made our long trip October 2015 to April 2016 from Virginia down the ICW to Florida and accross to the West Coast for 3 months and then returned. Get some good references for anchorages along the East Coast and use Active Captain as a great resource for marina’s, anchorages and the latest shoaling conditions along your route. When you get into the Chesapeake Bay, if you decide to head up the Potomac, give us a shout and maybe we can link up. We don’t see many 4788’s or Meridian 490’s around here.

    Safe boating.

    Dan Farrell
    Idyll Time III

  3. Also, just realized that there is a chance you guys might be in/around the Keys in August? We will be there the first week in August (taking our RV to Bluewater Key for my 40th birthday)! Would love to meet up if the stars align and you guys are in that area that week.

    • Thanks for coming aboard! This travel vlogging thing is weird, but definitely a fun new angle for us if we can manage the footage.

      There’s a possibility we’ll route via the Keys. But way too soon to plan that out. If we’re around then, it would be great to meet up!

  4. Excellent blog post and for people who keep saying they don’t travel vlog, you guys ROCK at making travel vlogs! 😀 The dolphin footage was excellent! I tease my husband whenever he tries to get dolphin footage with his drone that he should advertise his droning ability as “100% guaranteed dolphin-free videos”. Also, I love Cherie’s hat. I am super stoked to follow along with your great loop journey!

  5. Hi fellow Bayliner owner! We stumbled on your utube video about buying your Bayliner to do the loop. Ironically we own a Bayliner 4788, but it’s in California! We are planing to do the loop next year. After a lot of careful thought, online shopping and some actual boat looking we have decided to ship her to Florida! We just LOVE how comfortable and roomy she is! We also have traveled the states in motor homes and the Bayliner has a very motorhomie feel. PLUS, having owned her for 10 years now, we know the ins and outs, maintanance records, how she handles, etc. We have done a ton of work to her and she has very low hours! Half the time in California we spend time on her in the slip as a weekend home! Trips to the islands and Catalina are great but not very often.
    We planned a trip to florida to check out some boats and marinas before making this official. We thought about saying Hi to you guys until I read your blog about not stopping in. Darn. But I totally get it! So I’m saying Hi this way. My husband thought it would be a chance for you to pick HIS brain about the boat. Not that you need any help but we do have a good deal of experience with this boat. We drove past the harbor in Fort Meyers and we waved!
    Have a wonderful time and if you run into questions about your new boat feel free to drop us a line. We are excited to see these on the east coast. We actually fell in love with this model boat after years of searching and stumbled on one in Vancouver. She fit us perfectly!! I really wated a new boat for this trip but it looks like my husband has convinced me she’s the perfect one!

    Happy Boating.
    Cindy and ANDY Scheer

    • How cool.. we’re loving our Bayliner 4788 so far! Hope shipping it across country works out well for you. And you’re right, the Bayliner had the most homey feel for us.. perhaps from our years of RVing too.

      And thanks for respecting our wishes of not just dropping by unannounced.. but we do LOVE pre-arranged meetups so we have a chance to actually be dressed and stuff. 😉 So if you’re in the area, just drop a line first and give us a heads up.

  6. Wow! What an amazing adventure your life is, was, and continues to be. I love it that you’re up to all the learning curve challenges. Kiki seems to be adapting well. But she made me nervous lying out so close to water. What if a “wake” happened and she slipped right off that short extension? Eeks. But I’m a bit paranoid. About my cats anyway. I took them RVing and they were not terribly happy about it. They are nowhere near as adventurous as Kiki! I love following your adventures and lifestyle. Thanks for letting us all “watch”

    • Kiki does make me nervous sometimes… but, I much prefer she pushes her boundaries and comfort zone. That’s how we all learn and adapt – she’ll never know how to handle wake (or dolphins, or pelicans, or other boats) if she doesn’t experience them. That’s one thing that really attracted us to her personality as a kitten, she’s cautious but curious. And, we don’t let her stay out on the edge like that on her own.

      • It’s great that KiKi has the purrfect catonality for her adventurous humans! Blessings on your journeys on water and land.

  7. we love following your adventures! looks like you guys got the hang of it. I love your necklace. do you remember where you got it? I’m into natural things and gemstones!

  8. I have been reading your blog for a few years, following your RV adventures out west. We live in the Midwest, have never had a boat, and know very little about the subject. So… it has been very interesting and educational to read your blogs about the process of finding a boat and learning everything about it. It looks like a very neat boat. We will never be able to do this ourselves so we are having fun following along on your adventures. Your videos are wonderful. Keep up the good work. Thanks for blogging.

  9. Enjoyed watching your repositioning! So fun!! I love the Sanibel island area and there are a lot of dolphins there. (Back in the 50’s my dad talked about being chased by one when swimming and thinking it was a shark since all he could see when swimming was the dorsal fin. LOL!) I also noticed the swim ladder down. Been there done that back when we had a 21′ boat. 🙂

    Just curious, what software do you use for keeping track of the weather? Is it built into the boat’s nav system or do you use smart phones or tables to keep track of it. We’ve used the normal apps on our phones but not overtly happy with them, especially when sleeping. Our old motorhome had a weather radio built in to the dash radio as a added feature but our new 43′ Monaco we purchased this past January didn’t have one included. Been trying to see if I can find something reliable which would not only work on the spur of the moment but also come “alive” (sounds like a line from “Young Frankenstein”) if we were asleep and something blew in in the middle of the night.

  10. Sounds good so far. Glad the storm was not too bad, but you got your feet wet as to what to expect during storms. Perhaps on your journey, they won’t be as bad as they would be in open sea???? Sounds as if you have all of the experience that you need now to feel safe and secure on your travels.

  11. It’s been an interesting story so far,
    I wondered if you’d thought about bikes (folding maybe) as a way to get around when you are docked or otherwise doing things on shore?

  12. Looks like you’re off to a great start, and you’re right to set your own pace.
    I put my sailboat “on the hard” for hurricane season, will spend the summer RV’ing Colorado and be back to sail the Bahamas in the fall.
    PS: your boat is looking very good with that new wax job

  13. This is fun. A couple things…your drone shots are so beautiful. So nice and clear. Second, how long do you think you are going to keep that pretty long hair? Or is it easier to just pull it back. I would trim mine down to almost nothing! Lol..

    • Good question, and one I’ve been contemplating. I’ve found going short requires more maintenance, but going long I can easily pull it back and only trim it once or twice a year. But we’ll see.

  14. Hi guys… We did all of our boating with dogs, (sounds like a Zen thing– Boats With Dogs,) and they were not allowed out of the cabin during docking, or locking. They weren’t happy about it, but it was much easier to get around the deck and do line tending with our “kids” safe inside. YMMV!

    Vicki, fka “Blue Moon” GB42-1009

  15. I am enjoying reading about your new adventure very much! While I don’t feel called to try out boating, I know it is going to be fun going along vicariously. You folks are good teachers and I am learning a lot. You have quickly adopted so much navigation and boating lingo! I will soon be leaving Lady Lake/ the Villages in Florida for my first ever long RV trek to New England, where I am from, and hopefully onward to Nova Scotia! As I have said before, you folks gave me the incentive to make the leap to RV adventures, for which I remain grateful! Bon Voyage! –Dennis

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