Three weeks left until it’s time to end our commuter cruising season. We sailed yet one more overnight (I promised myself no more overnights after Cuba) but time was running short. We wanted to spend a week at Pelican Bay on Cayo Costa State Park (a barrier island just north of Captiva/Sanibel) and another couple weeks wandering north.
We’d never explored this part of Florida’s West Coast before and both of us were looking forward to it. We were not looking forward to day hopping for a week to get there – Marathon to Little Shark, to Marco Island, to Glovers Bight, to Cayo Costa … so we decided to skip the noseeems and mosquitoes and sail the overnight. If you’d prefer the dayhop route, check out our Florida West Coast to the Keys post here “Sail The Southwest Florida Coast to the Keys 8 Hours at a Time”.
We left Marathon at 0700 – Lat/Long 24 42.417N 82 06.242W. Dolphins played with our bow wake, we spotted a sea turtle and an eagle ray jumped out of the water twice as we approached the 7 Mile Bridge. Bound to be good omens!
Gorgeous sailing … for about 5 hours, watching the baby dolphin pirouette with two larger dolphins (mom & dad?). Then our boat speed dropped to 3 knots and we were forced to turn on our trusty diesel and motorsail the rest of the overnight. 🙁 But just being on the water and looking forward to Cayo Costa after such a long absence was good enough.
141 miles later, we dropped anchor in Pelican Bay, Cayo Costa State Park – a barrier island state park accessible only by boat or ferry. So excited! Had to wait until after lunch to drop the dinghy and go explore Manatee Cove – sure enough, the manatees and alligator were still hanging out after our several year absence!
Sunset welcomed us back! Great to be back, what a luxury to spend an entire week anchored here!
We spent our days exploring in the dinghy – the first day we couldn’t wait to head south along the inside of Cayo Costa to the mid-section just south of the old “Tunnel of Love” dug out by the Calusa tribe, but filled in over time, to see if “our” eagles were still there in their nest. Sadly the eagle nest blew out of the dead tree in February — just a few months before our arrival, but the rangers told us they relocated to an undisclosed location with a new nest. We saw them soaring and dancing in the anchorage, but never found their nest.
We did find an extra alligator that swam up behind the dinghy just as we beached it to walk across the island to the beach. Yikes! What if he decided to crawl up on our dinghy to sun himself? Luckily when we returned several hours later, he wasn’t around. Whew!
Next day was lunch at Cabbage Key – one of many places we’ve visited that claim to be the inspiration for Jimmy Buffett’s Cheeseburger in Paradise. We searched for our dollar bill that we added to their 70,000 collection last time we visited but no avail.
For the rest of our precious week in Pelican Bay, we kibitzed with friends on s/v Florida Buoy and s/v War Dept, explored the north end of the island by dinghy and walked those beaches, walked across the 1 mile path to the “main” beach (i.e. by the park docks where the ferry comes in) and generally enjoyed being in one of our favorite places.
We were very surprised to find that the same storm that washed the eagle nest out of its tree, eroded the beach so badly that it created a cut between the beach and the lagoon. Bottom line – the cut is narrow but deep and the current is very strong. So we can no longer beachcomb as far as we once could wander. But that’s OK, the dinghy gets us most anywhere we want to go.
Walking back along the path, we weren’t paying too much attention, just chatting, when suddenly we looked up and voila – there’s another alligator getting ready to cross the road! I almost stepped on him! What’s with alligators in all these places they didn’t used to be? The ranger told us this young gator frequently crosses the path in this location going from watering hole to his favorite sun spot.
All too soon our idyllic time here was done and we sailed north on jib alone up the ICW … through the Boca Grande Swing Bridge and into an anchorage we’d tried three years before and had to leave after just two hours because my Dad was rushed to the hospital.
This time was charmed and we enjoyed several days at Stump Pass – which may not sound all that romantic, but it was fabulous! We anchored in the “south” anchorage (i.e. NOT where all the day boats and jet skis whiz down the channel behind the state park). Other than one trawler, we had it to ourselves … well, discounting the thousands of fishing boats, day boats and jet skis visiting the Stump Pass State Park beach during the day. After 4 PM it was idyllic!
Lat/Long was 26 53.881N 82 20.061W, STRONG current meant the wind was frequently blowing up the stern. Twice daily when the boat would get crosswise to the current, we would rock a bit. But it was light and not an issue for us. Just make sure the anchor is SECURELY set and put out plenty of scope. A boat that came in after us had to leave after hours and hours of playing the anchoring dance. We were a bit afraid we would have to reanchor farther from them because they were dragging all over the anchorage. Needless to say, when we returned from the beach, we were happy to see them driving down the ICW.
The beach here is crowded by our standards during the day, but thins out considerably when the daytrippers leave. And there are LOTS of sharks teeth, which makes David very happy.
Sunset each night was amazing … what a view as I’m cooking dinner out the galley porthole!
This anchorage has a lot to offer. Just across the ICW is Stump Pass Marina, which means gas and diesel! We refilled on gas since we’d been doing alot of exploring in the dinghy. If you ask at the marina, they may let you leave the dinghy to walk a few blocks up to a Dollar Store (we needed to restock on cereal and milk). There’s also a typical restaurant under thatched roof that’s convenient – we didn’t sample it but the folks on the trawler said they enjoyed it. We dinghied up the channel behind Stump Pass State Park all the way to the Englewood anchorage just to check it out – and found the White Elephant, another restaurant that looked enticing, but we didn’t try.
But the beach beckons … just one more stump photo …
And it’s time to move on …
We were both more than a bit nervous about the next day …. 9 bridges on the ICW going north. Literally in 15 years of cruising, we’ve always sailed outside, never experienced more than a bridge or two, and now we’re doing 9 in one day. Needless to say, we didn’t get alot of sleep that night. 🙂 Watch for next week’s post! “9 Bridges in Seven Hours”!
Cheers! Enjoy! Jan & David