Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hooray! North on the ICW (wrong way?)

Hello all-
Well, we have not "closed the Loop" or "crossed our wake," as is said of people completing the Great Loop cruise. Technically, the Winnie W. will cross her wake at St. Augustine, Florida since we bought her there and brought her up the ICW to North Carolina ourselves; however we have to take her home anyway so we will obviously continue! Today we made it to (and past) Mile 0 (zero) of the Okeechobee Waterway; we're now on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, so we're celebrating.

Here is a crane waiting for breakfast on a chilly morning. He is all grumpy and huddled up, trying to keep warm. The waterways of southern Florida are great for bird-watching; you not only get to see a lot of different species but you get to see them act differently.

We're on the home stretch, more than 5/6ths done with the Great Loop. We've transited all the locks on our route. Not only that, but we are in relatively familiar waters for the first time since last May.

However the Winnie W is in the odd position of heading north for the winter. Everybody we meet tells us we're going the Wrong Way! Doug always replies, "Not really, straight down is the only Wrong Way."

Kathie's cousin Andy visited us along the shores of Lake Okeechobee. He lives in the port of Miami, which the Winnie W. will unfortunately skip on our route. It was too windy to cross the Lake but the weather was perfect for an afternoon visit!

Leaving Moore Haven, we exited the canal into Lake Okeechobee itself. This is the central component of a vast water system that once fed the Everglades, and now provides irrigation & drinking water for much of southern Florida. The lake is 30 miles across but very shallow (about 11' at it's deepest part), and after a long drought there have been serious questions about navigation.

This photo is looking down the channel from the lake towards Clewiston. The rock lining the edge of the channel is natural; much of the lake floor is rocky & very unfriendly to boat hulls & propellers. The Army Corps of Engineers makes water level info available so that boaters can judge whether it is safe to pass thru these channels; the Winnie W. made it with about 6 inches to spare (lowest depth4.5 feet). (link to Kathie's report)

After several hours, we reached the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee and re-entered the canal system. The Port Mayaca lock was the 2nd to the last lock that we would encounter on our whole Loop, and the only one (of all) that opened both gates at once for us to drive right thru.

This photo shows the view right thru both sets of gates of the Port Mayaca lock as Winnie W. approaches from the west, coming in from the open lake. Unfortunately we did not get a picture of the large iguana that was sunning himself on the lock fendering.

During our Tuesday run, we saw one iguana and 3 alligators. We never doubted there are alligators present; for one thing, Doug lived in Florida for a few years and has seen many of them before. However it is difficult to pilot the boat safely, spot alligators, and also take pictures!

Here's the one alligator, medium sized, that Kathie was able to catch with the camera.

The folks who live here have told us that they see large alligators.... 10' (3.1m) +... all the time, swimming in the creeks & ponds... one lady said she had a 14' (4.3m) alligator sunning himself on her carport one day!

Here's an alligator tip- NEVER feed an alligator! It seems very obvious, but apparently it's a growing problem. These critters are basically leftovers from the dinosaur age, and they can be very dangerous. In the wild, they are timid of humans, but only one feeding can teach them people = food!

Here's another common problem in Florida- wrecked & derelict boats. They are expensive to dispose of and an environmental hazard.

Despite all the hazards & problems, Hank has a great time. We don't let him swim here, but we can still play fetch in the park.

Here's a photo of Hank protecting his toy from alligators, and Doug keeping Hank away from the canal. Dogs are great for sharing life's simple pleasures... Kathie says that Hank has such a good day, every day, that we can't really do much more to make birthdays & for Christmas more special.

Today we are in Fort Pierce, then heading north up the East Coast Intra-Coastal Waterway... it's warm enough that we've run the air conditioner a few afternoons... it'll get colder! Still, it feels like we are almost home!

Best wishes and Happy Holidays to you all- Doug & Kathie

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