Cruising The Great Loop!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.