Thursday, January 31, 2019

Boat Shopping and Sanibel Island

While we were at Fisheating Creek, we were about as close to the west coast of Florida as we were going to get on this trip. I had seen a boat advertised for sale in Punta Gorda.  I called the broker that was representing the boat to arrange a showing.

As you may know, I have been looking at boats on line for about a year. At the same time I have been studying everything I can find to learn about sailboats. That research has helped me a great deal in narrowing down the boats I may be interested in. The plan for this trip to Florida was not to actually buy a boat, it was to continue the education process of both Kim and I. We are looking for our new home and we need to be comfortable to be happy. The process has been enjoyable for both of us. The trip to Punta Gorda was another step in the process.

We have been interested in the Island Packet brand for a while. They make excellent boats that have all of the characteristics that we want in our boat. They can be very expensive, so we would have to look at older ones. When I first started looking, I had seen this boat. It struck my interest because I was pretty sure I knew a previous owner. The guy I know is an excellent sailor from Minnesota and had moved a different boat down to this area about a decade ago. I knew he also owned a boat named "Wind Dancer" and it was an IP 38.

We arrived in Punta Gorda about a half hour early. We decided to go to the bay and walk along the water. We saw these sailboats anchored out in the bay. Could we really live like that?

When we arrived at the address the broker gave us, the boat was on a pier behind a house along a canal. What an awesome setting. We were talking to the broker when the current owner came out to say hello. I asked him if this was my friends former boat and he confirmed it was. He and his wife had purchased it up in Minnesota and then lived in it for 5 years cruising the Caribbean, Bahamas and Florida. They had begun their journey by sailing through the Great Lakes and down the east coast to Florida. We really want to do that some day.

We really liked the boat, but it is missing one major thing we have decided we want. The process continues.

While we were on the coast, we decided to find a beach. You know the whole Kim/beach thing. We looked at the map and decided to head to Sanibel Island. To take the bridge out to the island was $6 and then parking at the only public beach was another $7.50 for an hour and a half. Oh well, Kim got her beach time. We were there just long enough to see the sun go down.

Kim on a beach. I shot I never get tired of taking.
We started by checking out the lighthouse and then drove over to the beach.

A White Ibis eating in the surf

Snowy Egret
The beach was full of shells 

We then stopped in Fort Meyers for dinner. It was a very enjoyable day. It was soon time to move on. I will write about our next stop in my next entry.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Fisheating Creek WMA

I am writing this entry from South Central Florida. We have just returned from our two week visit to Everglades NP. We really enjoyed our time down there, but I will write about that in future entries.

We left Ortona Lock on Sunday, December 30. We knew we were in a holiday weekend, so we made reservations at a Wildlife Management Area Campground called, "Fisheating Creek". The price was right at $25 per night and it sounded nice, so we made the reservation for a week. It is a very different campground than we normally stay in. I very much liked and disliked this place all at the same time. If you read on, I will try to explain.

The drive was only about 40 miles, so the travel day should have been easy. We arrived at just after noon. The problem is they do not allow you on your site without a charge before 3PM, so we went back to Labelle and did some shopping at Walmart and then had lunch in the parking lot. I ended up having a nice conversation with a local guy that parked next to us. I learned a lot about the area and what to watch out for. I guess we were meant to meet.

We came back to the park and all went well until we tried to back in to our site. I kind of messed up the passenger side back in and Kim was no help because all of the neighbors had to come out to talk and offer advice to us while we were getting set up. This is a clear indication that this place was filled with families camping for the holiday weekend. Experienced RVers know not to bother you while you are getting set up.

For most of the week we were there, the music was playing until the quiet hour (it did shut down on time) and started again at 7AM. There were kids running and playing in our site and then to top it off, our neighbor pulled his truck in to our site and changed the oil. In this type of situation, we just shut the blinds and turn on the AC and stay in our own little world. We really do like seeing the families out enjoying camping, but it would be great if they could do without the loud music.

The crazy thing about this place is that it is built right on a beautiful creek that runs through the WMA. I found that I could walk a hundred yards and be all by myself in the peace and quiet of the WMA. It was like two different worlds.

The water in the creek was clear with a tint of brown. The Cypress trees that lined the banks were very interesting to look at. I really enjoyed the quiet and solitude.

There were lots for birds along the creek and enjoyed trying to get a good picture of one.

Wood Storks flying overhead
I also found some other interesting critters including this lizard.

Once the long weekend was passed, we decided to go for a paddle on the creek. The current was slow enough that a round trip down the creek and back was very doable. I went down to the boat ramp to talk to the outfitter. A family was just returning from a paddle and I asked them if they saw any Alligators. Their response was "Over a hundred". Hmmm...better not tell Kim that.

We got the boat set up and headed out. It was a beautiful day for a paddle.

We had only paddled about 100 yards when we spotted this guy.

I don't think we saw hundreds of Alligators, but we agreed on about 30 on the way downstream, and we saw the same ones on the way back.

This guy looked quite menacing with his mouth open.
As we moved downstream, the creek got more narrow and more shallow. We also quit seeing Gators.

It was a beautiful paddle with lots of wildlife. We will remember this one for a long time.

On the return trip we saw these two large Alligators on the bank of the creek. I guess we got too close, so one made a very quick and loud move into the water in front of us. Kim's question was, "where did he go?" He finally surfaced just a few feet in front of our boat. That was exciting!

I did not capture the splash, but it startled us.

There he is!
A couple more big boys.
We saw lots of Ibis, Blue Heron's and Egrets. I think this is a Night Heron, but I am not sure.
The adventures out into the WMA area made this camping spot all worth it. We were not too far from the west coast of Florida, and we had an appointment to see a boat over in Punta Gorda, so we took a day trip to the coast. I will write about that and where we went from Fisheating Creek in my next entry.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Ortona South Lock Campground

I am making this entry from Everglades NP. We are going to spend two weeks in the park to ensure that we get the whole experience. We also love the warm weather when the rest of the US is experiencing very cold weather. We are truly snow birds. The first week in the park was spent in Flamingo, which has no Verizon cell signal and no WIFI. So, now it is time to get writing in this blog to keep it semi current. So let's go back to late December.

We left Bill Frederick park in Orlando on December 26. That was the same day that Shannon, Brian and Amelia headed for home. We had a great visit and can't thank them enough for coming to Florida. We were very happy to get out of the hustle and bustle of the big city of Orlando. As we drove south on Highway 27 we left the city and started to see sections of farm land. The further we got south the cites became smaller and further apart. After about 160 miles we arrived at Ortona South Lock Campground.

We immediately loved this place. There is no road noise and it seemed to be filled with quiet, respectful campers. We had good cell signal and good OTA TV.  Like many COE parks the sites are large and the facilities are first rate. The only problem is that the cost is a bit high at around $30 per night. We did also have some noise during the day from a near by COE construction project that is being done to provide more water to the Everglades. It is difficult to get a reservation at this park. I made our reservation a couple of months in advance and we could only get 5 days.

Nice size sites
Big Construction site next door for Everglades restoration. 
The Caloosahatchee Canal is right next to the campground. You can walk over the dam and watch the lock in operation. This canal goes from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico. The canal continues on the other side of the lake and goes to the Atlantic Ocean. This canal can be used to "cut off" the trip down through the keys around the tip of Florida reducing the trip by around 200 miles. We did not see any commercial traffic on the canal. It was all pleasure craft.

Here is a shot of the lock door opening.

These two boats ready to rise to the water line you can see on the far wall. 
While we were watching the lock we saw our first manatee. The have learned to use the lock to move up and down the river. That was very cool, but I did not get any good pictures.

The big white blog in the middle of this picture is a manatee.

This beautiful Sport Fishing boat was next coming in from the high side. 
The overall lift in the lock is about 13 feet. I spent a fair amount of time watching the lock in operation while I was there. I was thinking about how I may some day use this canal and may need to know how to do a lock.

We saw only two sailboats and a few nice trawlers coming through. It kept me entertained. Kim, not so much. I guess I just have boat on the brain.

Beautiful trawler just exiting the lock
While I was hanging around the locks, I saw a large alligator swimming around. This was the first one we had seen on this trip.

The black blob in the middle is an about 10 foot  alligator 

There were some beautiful birds hanging around the canal. I did my best to get a few good shots.

Snowy Egret

Bald Eagle
We had another very cool thing happen while we were at Ortona. I was walking through the park and said hi to a gentleman walking the other way, when he looked at me I recognized him. His name is Steve Lowe. I said, "I know who you are". What a brilliant thing to say. We talked for a few minutes and agreed to talk again later in the week. He and his wife Mona Liza write a blog that I have been following for a long time. I follow their blog because they go to great places and Mona Liza takes awesome pictures. Mona Liza was out of town for the holidays, but was kind enough to stop by the trailer when she returned and spent a couple hours with us. They are awesome people and we really enjoyed our time together. Following other blogs can be a great way to get camping information and to meet awesome people. Here is a link to their blog:

Mona Liza, Steve and Kim
We had an outstanding time at Ortona, but it ended too soon. We were heading into the New Years Day weekend and they were full, so it was time to move on. I found a campground about 40 miles away that sounded nice except for the name. Would you stay at a place called "Fisheater"? Well, we did. Come back to see how that worked out.

Friday, January 11, 2019

A Disney Christmas

I am writing this from South Bay, Florida. We have been here almost a week. The park sits right on the southern edge of Lake Okeechobee. We are leaving here on Sunday to head down into  Everglades National Park. It might be difficult to get in touch with us during the next two weeks. We should resurface around the 28th of January. Let's go back a little over 3 weeks...

We left Hart Springs on December 19 and headed south to Orlando. We decided to avoid the toll roads, which saved us the tolls, but cost us about an hour of travel time. No big deal to us. We were only traveling about 160 miles anyway. We did have reservations at Bill Frederick Park in central Orlando. This park is an unbelievable deal. The rate is a little over $20 per night with W/E and is in the middle of a large park with a large lake. We were only about 5 miles to Universal Studios and about 20 miles to Disney. We did make the reservations last July, so keep that in mind.

Our daughter, SIL and youngest granddaughter were joining us on the evening of the 20th. We did have one thing to do before they arrived. We wanted to go see a boat over in Titusville. Of all of the boats I have been looking at on the internet, this one was #1. We liked it, but more on that in later entries. We made it back to the park in time for their arrival.

Kim, Shannon and Amelia spent the next day at Disney touring around on buses and the Monorail checking out the Christmas decorations and the stores at Disney Springs. It was an almost free day, which allowed us to maximize the next day. And "Maximize" it we did!

Life size gingerbread house
Shannon and Amelia on a boat ride to move around the park.
Brian and I spent the day by going to Universal Studios to see the opening of "Aquaman" and then coming back to the park to play Disc Golf. That was the first time that either of us have played and we both enjoyed it a great deal. I will certainly have to do more, now that I have my own set of discs.

Brian playing Disc golf in Bill Frederick Park
Shannon and Kim have never been to Disney World. They are both REALLY in to Disney. The movies, characters, etc. This was a trip of a lifetime for both of them. They have been researching it and reading about it for a long time. This was their BIG day. Brian and I went along with whatever they wanted and tried our best to be agreeable and positive.

We left for Disney about 6:40 AM. We were at the front gate by 7:20. The day was carefully planned. We had fast passes on certain rides at certain times to maximize the riding time for Amelia.

Kim at the front gate with her Disney Christmas ears on. We have a similar picture at Disneyland in California two years ago. To say she was excited would be a huge understatement. 
We are ready for the day. Riding the monorail to the park entrance.
Opening performance welcoming everyone to the park.
We took over 1000 pictures. It is impossible to show everything that we did and I am sure that the audience of this blog does not want to see all of those pictures anyway. Here are a few highlights:

Amelia with Rapunzel
The characters do an amazing job connecting to the kids. And the big kids.

Amelia and Cinderella
We went for the matching shirts, we were all in!
It was all about these three girls on this day
Amelia rode the Dumbo ride with us.
I think you get the idea. The day went on and on. Disney characters and rides and more Disney characters and more rides. There was an amazing fireworks show at 10:30 and then the park cleared out, but we were not done. We rode our last ride just after midnight. 

We left the park at 12:20 AM. I walked over 28,000 steps. To say we were tired would be an understatement. Disney is certainly expensive, but they do an amazing job living up to the fantasy of so many girls and boys of all ages.

We celebrated Christmas in the trailer. A first for Brian and Shannon.

Amelia with her huge lollypop
It was a fun week with the three of them. We are so glad they made the trip to Orlando. It really made it all a very special time.

I was excited to continue our trip south. I was ready to leave the traffic of Orlando. Although the weather was perfect for our day at Disney, we were hoping for some warmer temps. We found them a few miles south. I will write about our continuing travels in Florida in my next entry.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Disney or Bust

I am writing this entry from south Florida. It is warm and beautiful, just like it is supposed to be. High temps in the 70's and lows in the 50's for mid January is as close to perfect as you can get. I am catching up this week, so I am hoping to get a few entries done before we head to the Everglades for two weeks. We will have very limited cell phone and internet during that time. Let's go back about a month to early December...

We stayed at Bear Creek Campground from December 3 to December 9. We had about 450 miles to get to Orlando and we had 11 days. We were looking for a place that was about 1/3rd of the way. We considered a campground called East Bank that we stayed at and enjoyed last year. It is up on lake Seminole at the junction of Alabama, Georgia and Florida. That park was closed due to hurricane damage from Michael that hit the panhandle on October 10. I finally found a county park just west of Tallahassee on Lake Talquin called Coe Landing. I called ahead and they had space for us.

The best route was along I-10. We don't normally drive interstate highways, but there was not a better option. As we drove along, I started noticing wind damage along the highway. At this point I-10 is about 70 miles from the coast. We had heard that Michael was a monster, just a few MPH below Catagory 5 strength when it hit, but nothing could have prepared us for what we saw. The damage was extensive. This area is mostly pine forests. Most of them were mowed down like a giant weedeater had cut the trees off about 6 feet off the ground. I have seen this type of damage in a very limited area from a tornado, but this went on for over 50 miles. It was amazing and scary.

The pictures just don't do justice to the amount of damage this area sustained

The thoughts of living in a sailboat and trying to dodge or survive one of these monsters is certainly something to consider.

We arrived a short time later at Coe Landing. The park is small, but pretty nice. It only has 20 sites, but most of them are along the lake with nice views. There was only one other site occupied. We selected site #7.

The park was very quiet. We did see a bit of storm damage, but not bad. It was only about a 10 mile drive to Tallahassee, so we loaded up the laundry and hit a local laundromat. Not exciting, but just part of our lifestyle.

 It took about 20 minutes to walk around the entire park, but it still had some nice views. There was a dock just below our site that gave us nice views up and down the lake.

The second morning we were there is was dead still and the lake was beautiful. Of course, I was thinking about sitting in a boat, drinking my coffee, looking out over the water.

We only stayed three nights at Coe Landing, but we really liked it. It was a bit over $27 per night with W/E and had good Verizon and OTA TV. Not a bad stopping point at all.

We left Coe Landing on December 11th and drove about 145 miles to Hart Springs County park. This park sits along the Suwannee river. The springs is a recreation area with a swimming area. We had heard the springs were closed and that was confirmed when we arrived. The area had been taking some significant rainfall and many roads were under water.

The park looked nice and we moved into site #6 for the next week. We had a big problem getting set up. One of our landing gear on the front of the trailer had been making a strange noise. It completely failed right after I got the trailer off of the truck. Out came our trusty hydraulic jack and we got set up.

The story of this jack goes back to just after we bought this trailer almost 6 years ago. I have had it fixed once, replaced it once, fixed it myself twice and now was unable to fix it with the parts I had on hand. I really wanted to replace it with a brand new one anyway. I made a bunch of phone calls to find a replacement. Atwood, the maker of the jack no longer sells it, so I finally talked to a guy at Lippert that knew what to do. They sell a direct replacement and had them in stock. I talked to the park manager and was told they allow shipping direct to our site. I ordered the part and  needed two day shipping. The jack was $245 and the shipping was another $135. Now we had to wait with that jack holding up that corner of the trailer. We walked around very carefully for a few days.

Hart Springs park is very nice. These are full hook up sites. The surface is hard sand, which makes it's way inside at astonishing pace, but we really liked the vibe of this place. I went for daily walks and even played a bit of basketball on the very nice basketball court in the park. We did get one solid day of rain while we were there, but the park was not in danger of flooding.

Standing water in our site after the rain. It was gone in hours.

Beautiful tree covered in Spanish moss that was along my walking route.
I did not take many pictures while we were there. We just relaxed and waited for our new jack. It came after dark on the day it was scheduled to arrive. I could not wait, so I installed it that night and it has worked perfectly.  I have known since the last time I repaired that jack it was suspect, so that was always a concern when we arrived or left a site. I am much relieved now that it is good to go.

We had reservations at a county park in Orlando that is just a few miles from Universal Studios and Disney. Our Daughter, SIL and youngest granddaughter were meeting us there for a day at Disney and Christmas. Kim and I were very excited. I will write all about it in my next entry. Be ready for lots of pictures of princesses.