10,000 Islands - Western Front - 2006/07

by Terry Poling

We've had many exciting trips to the everglades and this year's trip was no exception. It never fails to amaze me how much work goes into the trips. It takes months of planning (for us anyway), gathering, arranging, and packing for the trip. 

Day #1 (12-28-06)

We left Havana at 6AM and made our first fuel stop at the Flying J on I-75 just above Tampa at about 10AM. I think it was around 3PM when we arrived at  Collier Seminole State Park. To our surprise, the other two boats were already busy setting up camp. There was Mary & Dave Forrester from Ontario, with their Mac 26D. Dave & Mary have been on the 10K trips for the past three Years. Also setting up, was Brenda & Ken Williams from Kentucky. This was to be their first trip to the islands with their Mac 26X. After we got camp in order it was time to think about dinner. Our plan was to check out the Rod and Gun Club at Everglades City. Ken & Brenda decided to stay at camp while the rest of us made the 20 mile trip in. The Rod and Gun Club dates back to the 1920's when it was run as a private club by a banker and a railroad man, Barron G. Collier. This rustic restaurant and motel is a 'must see' if you ever get the chance to visit the area. Some of its past guests include Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Hoover, and Nixon, Ernest Hemingway, Burl Ives, John Wayne, Mick Jagger, Chuck Conners, and Burt Reynolds. The Menu is somewhat limited and is dominated by fresh seafood, service was a bit slow, but the food was good and they don't take credit cards. On our way back to camp we stopped at all the little convience stores that we passed hoping to find block ice, but we didn't have any luck.

Day #2 (12-29-06)

The long awaited launch day had finally arrived. After having coffee and bagels provided by the volunteers of Collier Seminole SP we headed south on hwy. 41 for the five mile trip to Port Of the Isles. It was 9AM when we pulled up at the marina. We were the first of our group to arrive. I wanted to get a head start rigging the boat as I new it would take us longer then the others to get on the water. After 3 hrs. of rigging and packing we launched our Telstar "Breakin' Wind'. Dave and Mary were next to launch followed by Ken And Brenda. It seems like for some reason my tide chart wasn't matching up as my list had high tide around 11AM. It was now noon and the tide still had a ways to go to high tide. My rudder did drag bottom in quite a few places when motoring out the four mile channel. I had planned to duck in behind panther key and take the short cut over to Whitehorse, but changed my mind because of the low tide. The wind was out of the East so we raised the sails and enjoyed a nice sail over to Whitehorse on the outside. On our approach we noticed that the spit on the back side of Whitehorse where we usually anchor was pretty full with tents. So we decided to go to Gullivan Key which is the next island on the other side of Dismal Key Pass, just across from Whitehorse. I dropped my trusty fortress and Dave rafted up on our starboard and Ken rafted up on the port. We enjoyed a few beverages for happy hour and then Ken decided to untie and move over a bit and drop his anchor. Dave decided to stay rafted up, but after trying to retie the lines to stop the bumping, it was obvious that it just wasn't going to work. He finally decided to follow Ken's move by moving over and dropping his hook. Our anchorage turned out to be a bit rough due to the rollers coming in off the gulf. Dave moved sometime during the night and Ken and I stuck it out. But, next time I'll move to a quieter anchorage back behind Whitehorse.

Day #3 (12-30-06)

We awoke to a beautiful morning. Dawn put on a pot of coffee and I paddled molly (our boxer) over to the beach on Gullivan for her morning break. After having our coffee I decided it was a good time to install the main sail. Dave and Mary were busy making changes to their bimini. It was an impressive site, Dave had his trusty hacksaw and Mary was busy hand sewing the sunbrella. After I had the main installed and Dave and Mary finished the modifications to their bimini it was time to get underway. We had a long sail ahead of us. We also made a quick stop at Camp Lulu just to say hi to our old friends. The crowd at Lulu gets smaller each year. It's just not the the same since the passing of the last hermit of the everglades, Mike Ward. We didn't stay long as our plan was to make it to Rabbit Key before dark. The wind had shifted to SE and was 15Kts and gusty. After sailing and tacking for a few hrs. we had only made it to Indian Key. I guess somewhere around Jack Daniel's I made the decision to turn around and head for Picnic Key instead of continue trying to beat all the way to Rabbit. We all pulled up on the beach just in time for "happy Hour" and It wasn't long before the noseeums found us. Fortunately, someone had left us a nice pile of firewood, so we took advantage of it and got a fire going. The girls were busy cooking brats and hot-dogs on the grill, the sun was just going down and dinner was being served when we heard a power boat heading our way. Then we saw the blue flashing light and right away we knew this couldn't be good! It was the park ranger and he informed us that park rules required us to be off the island by sundown. He said that we needed to put out our fire and leave ASAP. Then he asked who owned the dog? I said that I was her owner and he asked to see my drivers license. He also asked if I had any weapons and was there any outstanding warrants on my head!  I went to my boat to get my license, but couldn't find them. Dawn went to look and finally came back with them. The ranger took my license to his boat and I could hear him talking to someone on his radio. He finally returned and stated that "you got lucky" I got away with a verbal warning for having molly on the island because he had to go find some lost campers. Needless to say we rushed to put out the fire, pack up the grill and picnic gear and left the island. We all motored up behind the island and dropped the anchors for the night.

Day #4 (12-31-06 New Years Eve)

This morning we awoke to a low tide and I noticed that a lot of Dave's hull out of the water. He had apparently went in a little too far from the channel in the darkness. He was also having trouble with his depth finder. The NOAA weather report was calling for another day with SE winds at 10 to 15 knots. That was not what I wanted to hear. It would mean we would have a hard time getting to Mormon Key before dark. Also, if we did make it to Mormon, I was still worried how I was going to take Molly to shore for her breaks. We had already been warned and I'm sure I'd get a ticket if the ranger showed up again. So, I decided the best thing for us to do would be to stay out of the park. By this time Molly had her legs crossed, so I started up the Honda and snuck her  ashore for a quick break. We quickly returned, re-anchored, and had some breakfast. Dawn tried calling Roger and Kaye who were already on their way by kayak to Mormon Key. We wanted to let them know that we had changed our plans and wouldn't be meeting up with them as planned. She wasn't able to get them by cell, but did leave a message. By now "Part Two" was floating, so I informed the group of our plans to stay around the Panther Key area instead of trying to sail to Mormon Key. We had another great day just sailing off the coast of Gomez Pt. and not getting too far away off our planned anchorage for New Year's Eve on the beach at Panther Key. There were just two tents on the back side of Panther, so we anchor between them. It was a good distance away from either group. I new that it being New Year's Eve, it was likely that they would be shooting off fireworks and I didn't want to be "too close for comfort." Ken also had a few rockets and we didn't want the sparks falling on their tents. We set out collecting firewood and getting ready to ring in the New Year. As I suspected we didn't have long to wait for the fireworks to start. In fact it started just after dark. First on one side of us then the other. Not to be outdone, Ken went to his boat and came back with his arsenal. He only had five rockets, but they were "BIG" ones. The writing on the side said they were for "commercial use only". He had a piece of 4" PVC tube that was to be used as his launcher. Ken went down the beach a good ways from us and soon set off the first pyrotechnics, and it was spectacular. It went three times higher and was three times larger then anything our neighbor had set off. The second one was just as spectacular. Then it happened, on his third attempt I saw him light it but it just set there. Then there was a large explosion with sparks going in every direction. It got real dark and quiet. It seemed like a long time had past when Ken came out of the darkness holding pieces of what was left of his PVC pipe, at which time he announced, "That's it... no more fireworks" as his launcher had been destroyed by the explosion. We were all just relieved to see that Ken wasn't injured by the misfire. After the fireworks episode we all settled down around the campfire for the rest of the evening. The rest of the evening was pretty laid back for everyone except Molly who was expecting more fireworks at any given moment. I blew my conch horn at minight and we all turned in.

Day # 5 ( 01-01-07 New Year's Day)

Well, after staying up late and enjoying the fireworks and a great campfire, we were all moving a bit slow. After we had our coffee and breakfast, Dawn and I decided to sail over to Whitehorse and see if the campers had left. We had a nice leisurely sail over with just the genoa up. When we arrived we found Whitehorse abandoned. So I called the rest of group on the VHF to let them know that I had Whitehorse reserved. They all acknowledged, and eventually showed up. I tried fishing but didn't have much luck, just a couple ladyfish. The rest of the day we just hung out and enjoyed doing nothing. That evening we had a fire and enjoyed a bottle of champagne that didn't get opened on New Year's Eve, just didn't want it to go to waste! After the bubbly was gone we all retired to our boats. We were all anchored with two anchors, one off the bow and one off the stern on the beach. There was to be low tide early in the morning so we all pull out on the bow line a few feet and retired for the night.

Day #6 ( 01-02-07)

Dawn and I both awoke at the same time to a strange bumping sound. I looked out my port window and to my amazement, the beach was gone! All I could see was water with a mangrove in the far distance. My first though was that we had broken loose and was afloat somewhere in the everglades. Dawn jumped up and looked out her starboard window and said we're not floating...we're aground!  I looked out the cabin door and saw our starboard ama and half of the main hull setting on the beach. The moon tide got us, again!  The same thing had happened to us a few years ago when we had anchored our P-23 at Lulu. Ken had pulled out farther and was still floating but Dave and Mary were high and dry with the closest water some 20' away. This was the day we had planned to make an ice run to Everglades City. After a long wait for the tide to return, we finally got underway. Winds were SE as usual and we made quite a few tacks before getting to Indian Key, where we ended up motoring the rest of the way into E-City. We tied up at the Rod and Gun Club's dock and after securing the boats we hurriedly walked the three blocks to a little store and bought ice. It was getting late and we wanted to return to our favorite anchorage at Whitehorse for the night, but by the time we rounded Indian Key, It was obvious that it would be after sundown before we could make it back to Whitehorse and it was threatening rain so we set sail for Picnic. The tide was coming in and the current was really strong when we came through the cut between Tiger and Picnic Keys. Everyone picked their spot and the hooks were dropped. Just as we were settling in and enjoying the evening we heard a power boat coming our way through the cut without running lights. Then we saw the dreaded blue flashing light. You guessed it, it was the park rangers again! They pulled along side of Dave and Mary and chatted for a while. After they left I tried letting some anchor line out, so we could drift back closer to 'Part Two' and find out what the rangers had to say, but, when I let out the anchor rope Breakin' Wind just went around in circles. After drifting around for awhile it was obvious something was wrong. I pulled the anchor and found the problem, the rope was wrapped around the anchor. We started the motor and moved to the other side of the pass, out of the current and dropped the hook again.  It wasn't until the next morning that I found out from Dave that the rangers were just checking us out. The rest of the night was uneventful and we enjoyed cocktails in the cockpit with a beautiful full moon over the bay. 

Day #7 (01-03-07)

After having our morning coffee we motored over to the little beach and gave Molly a quick break. I didn't hang around long because I was becoming paranoid about the rangers showing up unannounced. The tide was coming in and it seemed like a good time to try fishing. First I tried wading around the island without any luck. Next I tried fishing from Breakin" Wind by letting her just drift in the channel with the current. That didn't work either so I finally gave up. I dropped the anchor within sight of the other boats and Dawn fixed us some lunch, after which it was time to get underway. We motored out the channel into the gulf and hoisted the sails. The winds were light and out of the SE. We sailed off shore quite a distance going no where in particular. After sailing for hrs. I set a course for Dismal key Pass and our last night's anchorage. My hope was that the spit on the backside of Whitehorse was vacant. If it wasn't my backup plan was to anchor in the channel going to Dismal Key. When we pulled up at Whitehorse there was a couple campers with there gear all packed up and appeared to be waiting for someone to pick them up. It took some time before everyone arrived and got anchored. In the mean time a canoe with two young guys showed up to join the other campers on the beach. I went over to meet the group that turn out to be from Wisconsin, down for a week of camping. They picked up their gear and moved around to the front beach to set up camp. Our pile of firewood from two days ago was still right there and waiting. We got a fire going and got ready to watch the sunset. That's when I noticed a large catamaran entering Dismal Pass in our direction. I hailed them on the VHF. The Captain answered back as the cat "Cool Bean". I asked him if he was looking for an anchorage and he said yes. So I asked him what his boat drafted and he came back with 18". I said "no problem" we have 8' ft. He indicated that he would be right in. I got a spectacular picture of the cat as he passed through the setting sun. As they got closer I recognized the boat as being a Gemini 105mc a 33' cat made by Performance Cruising. That's the same manufacture that built my Telstar. They anchored and came ashore and meet everyone, then went back aboard made a few phone calls and took off again. I guess they didn't like our looks, or maybe we were just too rowdy! We couldn't understand why they went to all the trouble of anchoring, if they were not planning on staying. The boat was brand new and they were out  of Goodland. In any case we enjoyed the campfire. And later Ken brought out his guitar and surprised us all with his picking and grinning. Mary even picked out a few tunes, too. This was our last night and it couldn't have turned out better. It was getting late so we all retired to our boats for the evening.

Day #8 (01-04-07)

Well, our last day in paradise had arrived. We only had 8 miles to Port Of The Isles and we didn't want to get there too soon as high tide wasn't until late afternoon. The Faka Union Canal is shallow and the boat ramp is very slippery at low tide. It's a good thing we didn't need to leave too early as Dave and Mary were aground, again!  We waited until they were floating and leisurely made our exit. The winds were light maybe 6 to 8 kts. out of the SE. Just about perfect for our last sail. Breakin' wind was out first, sailing with just the 150 Genoa and the rest of the fleet wasn't far behind. We sailed a long port tack offshore and eventually come about and sailed right up to Gomez Point without tacking again. After getting in the pass I reefed the genny and just drifted in with the tide. It was obvious we were well ahead of the tide and we had pulled well ahead of the rest. Dawn and I had a dinner date with all my kids in Ft. Myers at 7PM. It was now afternoon and I knew it was going to take us at least 2hrs. to get the boat on the trailer and DE-rigged for the road. I called the rest and told them we were heading in. So I started the Honda and got underway. With tide running the way it was I found it easy to make 7kts. with only 1/4 throttle. My rudder found the bottom a few times going up the canal because we were way ahead of the tide. The wind was blowing right at the ramp, as usual, but we made it in with a little help from the dockmaster. I thought we were well ahead of the rest of the group, but I looked out in the harbor and there was Ken! Boy, that 26X can fly with that Honda 50 on the back!  All the boats went on the trailers without any problems. Dawn and I had reservations at Koreshan State Park along with Dave and Mary and it was getting late. We knew  we wouldn't make it to the park before dark so we called ahead and they said  they would be open until 8PM. Ken tried getting a spot at Koreshan, but they were full. So he called Collier Seminole SP and they had a couple of sites left, but it was closing soon so he left in a cloud of dust and we didn't get to say our good-byes. We were tired but relieved that the boat was safely on the trailer. It was a great trip and we're looking forward to doing it again next year. Both Dave & Mary and Ken & Brenda had plans of re-suppling and heading for Cayo Costa for another week of sailing. They called me when we got back to Havana. They needed infomation on where they could park at Bokeelia.  While I was talking to Ken, Paul Waggoner rode up on his bike. He said that his neighbor had an empty lot next door and they could probably park there.  It must have worked out, because I didn't hear from them again.