It was time to say goodbye to the Bahamas and get on our way back to the states. Over the next 11 days, we traveled 411 nautical miles from Devil’s Cay in the Berry Islands all the way back to Punta Gorda, on the west coast of Florida. We flew back, especially considering this included a five day stop in Miami where we spent time trying to figure out what we wanted to do for the summer…go home to the west coast? Travel up the east coast of the United States? Haul out in Jacksonville? We really weren’t sure, but as we left the Berry Islands, we said we’d figure it out along the way. That was kind of a strange feeling: not knowing where we’d spend the next several months. Before cruising, we had every day planned, a predictable routine…work, weekends, etc. Before cruising, I would have freaked out if I didn’t know where I’d be living in a few days…it’s strange how our mindsets have changed. I’ve definitely got a Type A personality…planning is my thing. But with this new lifestyle, it’s easier, and more exciting, to just go with it; we were going to figure it out along the way. Don’t get me wrong, I still love to make lists and I’d still consider myself a planner; I’ve just loosened the reins, a little.
The first leg…
On our way to Great Harbor, we noticed immediately that the winds were basically nonexistent: the water was like glass and it was H-O-T. Because the water was flat, not even a ripple on the surface, we could see straight to the bottom as we motored around the northern end of the Berries. I spent a lot of time perched on the bow rail, watching ocean triggerfish swim slowly out of our way as we passed.
We were making good time and once we cleared the cruise ships anchored off Great Stirrup Cay, we made the decision to make an overnight passage back to Miami. This would entail skipping the stop at Great Harbor (still in the Berries), bypassing Bimini (rather than stopping at Brown’s Marina) and crossing the Gulf Stream in the dead of night. We would be underway for just shy of thirty hours and almost 130 more miles, but since the weather was so calm, we decided to cover as much ground as possible.
Our passage was uneventful. We motored the entire way. It began to get dark and we enjoyed a great sunset as we grilled burgers in the cockpit. There is always a worry that the weather could change overnight…would we continue to make way over flat seas or would winds pick up? Thankfully, everything stayed calm, but we were able to at least put out the headsail for a bit and gained some speed. Overnight, we took turns between the helm and napping below deck. Whoever the helmsman was, kept a keen eye out for other vessels. Without radar, whenever we spotted lights of another boat, as quickly as possible, we’d determine their direction, coming or going based on their running lights. We saw a handful of other boats off in the distance as we made our way west. Troy was at the helm as we crossed the Gulf Stream…we moved along very well until after daybreak, when we slowed to about three knots. We fought the current a bit since we needed to head a tad south to Miami. But, soon enough the city’s skyline started to just barely come into view. By this time, we were back to just motoring, still about 20 miles offshore. We passed a group of about a dozen jet skis who we presumed were en route to Bimini.
We rounded the lighthouse at Key Biscayne and made our way to Crandon Park Marina to pick up a mooring ball for a few days. The Key Biscayne area on a Sunday was busy! Boats everywhere. We made our way into the marina’s mooring field and checked in with Customs and Border Patrol, using the CBP App. Using the app was so easy! We had a Facetime with an agent (well, she could see us, we couldn’t see her) after waiting just a few minutes. She confirmed we were who we said we were by comparing our faces to our passports photos we had previously submitted and were checked back into the country and napping in no time.
Over the next five days, we contemplated where we’d like to be for hurricane season. We knew we had projects to tackle, but also wanted to have some fun. Finally, we settled on coming back to the west coast of Florida, and settled on Punta Gorda, where we’d purchased the boat. Here, we’d be a couple of hours from family and friends and be able to hammer away at our list of projects. We took an Uber to Winn-Dixie…our first American grocery store in four months…so many choices! We couldn’t say no to a 6-pack of Kalik, the Bahamian beer we had come to love.
We left Key Biscayne and traveled South via the Hawk Channel towards Rodriguez Key. We stayed just one night at Rodriguez Kay, eager to move on.
The next day was a long haul, beginning promptly at 8:00 am. Initially, we planned to continue south, pass under the Channel Five bridge at Islamorada, and anchor for the night at Matecumbe Bight (essentially retracing our steps from our trip back in February). Again though, the weather was so calm, we pushed on…and on and on.
We made our way all the way from Rodriguez Key on the east coast to Little Shark River on the west coast…a total of 70 miles and 12 hours underway. By the time we entered the river, my eyes were burning from staring in the water in search of crab traps to avoid for so many consecutive hours…I may have also been keeping my eyes peeled for dolphins.
Little Shark River in February was an oasis. Little Shark River in June was…mosquito, horse fly, and no-see-ums GALORE. Arriving at 8:00pm, we barely had time to unroll the cockpit enclosure and zip up. We were eaten alive! With that said, instead of staying a few days (which we had considered), we hightailed it out of there as soon as the sun came up! Bugs trailed us for several miles.
Marco Island was our next stop. 57 miles and 9 hours later, we were being chased into the anchorage by a thunderstorm. Capri Pass was busy coming into Marco Island. Tons of boats coming and going make this inlet incredibly crowded. Thankfully, we were able to get settled before the rain came.
Since Marco Island had a West Marine and Napa within walking distance, we went ahead and did an oil change on the diesel. After a few chores and two nights, we departed Marco Island.
The water wasn’t as inviting as last time. This is where we began seeing signs of the red tide. Sludge and dead fish littered the area.
Our final leg of our trip home was from Marco Island to Punta Gorda via the intercoastal waterway through Fort Myers. We made the trip in two days. The first day we traveled 61 miles from Marco Island to Cayo Costa. The second day brought us from Cayo Costa to our marina in Punta Gorda, just 20 miles away.
The trip to Cayo Costa was without crab traps…Yay! And, it was with lots and lots of dolphins, especially once we entered the intercoastal at Fort Myers. We had done so much motoring since we left the Berry Islands, we were excited to get the sails up. We kept the diesel fired up since we were traveling through the channel, but in neutral. We made excellent progress towards Cayo Costa. Ginnie had the time of her life. Dolphins seemed to ride with us most of the way from Fort Myers to Cayo Costa… maybe they like the hum of the diesel? When Ginnie first spotted the dolphin, the surprise on her face was hysterical; she was dumbfounded. From that point forward, she wouldn’t leave her seat in the cockpit, paws up on the combing, searching for the next sighting.
We dropped anchor at Cayo Costa in the late afternoon. We knew right away, it wasn’t the same place that we had fell in love with back in February. Dead fish were everywhere. When we took the dogs to play on the sandbar, we were dodging dead fish left and right. We stayed for only a few minutes before we decided to give our marina a call. We were hoping our slip was available a few days early. The impact of the red tide was becoming obvious. We wondered if the red tide had reached our marina.
After a single stunning sunset, we got the all clear from the dockmaster and headed twenty miles into Charlotte Harbor to our marina. Winds began picking up as we entered the marina’s channel…this seems to have become a theme for us…being chased by thunderstorms. Well, I guess that’s summer for you. We docked in our slip without issue. After over 400 miles, it was time to settle in to our summer home…and plug in to shore power for the first time for some ice-cold AC!