The Team started the new year with an excellent adventure. We loaded up Excitable Boy’s Jeep and hooked up the trusty Sea Pearl, Allez after work on Friday night, January 4. Destination, Everglades City and eventually Chokoloskee Island and CP2. We rolled into Everglades City about 6:30 pm and checked in to the Everglades City Motel. It seemed like we were the only Americans there. Most of the guests were Europeans seeking a eco tour of the 10,000 islands area and the everglades. We wished them a good time and thanked them for bringing pockets full of money to spend in Florida. After settling in we took the recommendation of the owner of the motel and headed down the road about 3 miles to Chokoloskee Island and the Havana Cafe.
We passed the CP2 location and 300 yards later we were at a building housing the Chokoloskee post office and the Havana Cafe. This restaurant is a gem of a place. We saw a nice mix of locals, snowbirds and tourists enjoying dinner and drinks. The owners found their way there from Cuba and the food and service are excellent. We joked that depending on the timing, you could beach at CP2 and walk over and have a great meal about as quick as you could prepare a sandwich or freeze dried gunk over a camp stove. We may just do that! After dinner, we went down to CP2 and checked it out. We stood on the beach area and imagined what could be the scenario a couple of months from now. It was blowing about 12 from the NE. A good wind direction for coming and going quickly in a sailboat. We tested one of RWB’s secret weapons about this time (sorry can’t divulge the secret). It worked perfectly and will make getting to the CP much easier in the dead of night. Then it was back to Everglades City and a nightcap at the famous Rod and Gun Club. We could write an entire post for this blog on the Rod and Gun Club. For the sake of brevity a few sentences will have to suffice. First of all, if you haven’t ever been there, go quick. Something tells us this old building and business won’t be around for long based on what we saw. The place has been operating for over a hundred years but has fallen on hard times. Not to say it isn’t an amazing experience. We wandered around the lodge’s lower floors and were taken back in time. We imagined what it would have been like at the turn of the century or the wild years of the late 60′s and early 70′s when the entire town of Everglades City was in the pot smuggling business. What kind of deals were made in the corner table of the bar? If those walls could talk, or better yet if the stuffed animals on the walls could talk, they’d have to be indicted by a Grand Jury. The old hunting and fishing lodge reeks of intrigue and mystery. Everything there has patina and a feel of the past. We sat in the almost empty bar and soaked it all in. The 3 juke boxes in the bars and pool room stopped working at various times over the last 40 years and you can tell when by the songs on the play lists.
Kind of a Twilight Zone feeling. This is our kind of place and we decided right then to launch at their very basic boat ramp the next day. If you’re interested in a genuine living piece of Florida history, do some research and we think you’ll figure out a way to get down here for a visit. Bring cash and spend it at the Rod and Gun Club (they don’t take credit cards). Now back to the mission.
Early the next morning, we had a fisherman’s breakfast with most of the guides in the area and then headed a few blocks away for the Rod and Gun Club ramp. I payed the $20 (overpriced but they are trying to survive) price for launching and parking and we dumped the boat in. We had to step the masts in the water due to overhanging trees at the ramp. The wind was light but building and just north of east. Perfect! We ran wing and wing down the channel and turned the corner a mile later. Our course took us along the eastern shore and the causeway leading to Chokoloskee Island and CP2. We reached down the bay and enjoyed the wildlife. A couple of miles later we nosed into CP2, checked our way point and then headed out our plotted course to Chokoloskee Pass. We chose this pass as it looked the easiest and deepest. We also saw all the morning fishing parties headed out this pass and we learned long ago to follow the fishing guides. We did lose some concentration and promptly ran up on an oyster bed. After Runs jumped out and saved the day we continued on without incident. We used our individual skills as planned. EB drove the boat and RWB navigated like a man possessed. He had our run down on the GPS and Ipad and it was perfect. When RWB tells you to change course 2 degrees, you do it; pretty simple strategy. 45 minutes later we were out in the open gulf and it was blowing the best we’d seen all day at about 12 to 14. That made our decision for the next leg easy. We headed north to Panther Key to meet up with Ron Hoddinott and some others from the WCTSS (West Coast Trailer Sailor Squadron). They were gathered on the west side of Panther Key for a couple of days of sailing, exploring and relaxing. It took a couple of hours to get up there. We checked out the other boats on the beach and had a pleasant lunch and chat with the group. We wished we could have stayed but the our self imposed schedule was tight as we’ll see next.
About 2:00 pm we headed back for our run into Indian Key Pass. Again, we had it pretty easy. We found the pass which is well marked but started to run out of time. We had a tight schedule and planned to be back in St. Pete that night. So, we reluctantly fired up the little 2 hp Honda and motored down the channel. We were OK with this tactic as this was a business trip and the goal was navigational and situational planning and awareness. In other words, we wanted to lay down the perfect track in this channel for when we need it in the race. We cracked open a couple of beers and enjoyed the cruise. For sure, we’ll have contrary wind or current coming in here during the race. We know how to handle that. Our mission was to visually check the place out and come up with a plan and alternatives for navigation and tactics. Our little Honda helped us accomplish that mission.
We cruised into the Rod and Gun Club at about 4:30 and ran out of gas 400 yards from the ramp. Now RWB got to practice some rowing. We hate rowing. We’re not bad at it but rowing isn’t our favorite thing to do. Yeah, yeah, yeah we hear all of the EC chatter from the purists and experts. Rowing will win you the race and good rowing technique is essential and you have to have $400 oars and you have to feather them perfectly. We’ve been told to practice rowing for days and install a second rowing station. Bullshit. For us, rowing sucks. It is work and no matter how good you are at it, the Sea Pearl is heavy and slow under oars. We aren’t going to win this race by rowing. Rowing long distances will fatigue us, force us to make bad decisions and not get us very far down the course. We’re going to row when needed to get in and out of the passes and we’re not dumb enough to think we can row a loaded Sea Pearl against a 3 knot current. We’ll anchor and sleep until the tide changes or the wind comes back in the right direction. It could cost us places in the race. So be it. Well, enough of a rant on rowing. I think I made our point. Some, if not most, will argue the point and may be right. It’s a weak part of our program and we recognize that. We’re doing this for fun and we enjoy sailing.
We got packed up by 5:30 and back on the road. It was a nice ride back and we discussed strategy and what we had learned. We both decided that the preparation for the EC has become an enjoyable and rewarding adventure. We hope the race is as much fun as the prep. We made plans for the next recon mission to CP3 and the finish. That will be our next blog entry. See you on the beach!