Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Crossing Lake Okeechobee and MERRY CHRISTMAS From Indiantown Marina

It's been several days since our last post - left Franklin Lock RV Park and Marina, been to Moore Haven, crossed Lake Okeechobee, and are spending Christmas at Indiantown Marina.  We're about 20 miles from the Atlantic coast now.  But let's get you caught up on all of the above.

The Okeechobee Waterway (OWW) is beautiful (seems like I use that term a lot on this blog but it's true.  Plus, we've had really nice weather ever since we left Galveston 7 weeks ago, only 2 days of rain).  Leaving Franklin, we passed the city of LaBelle, then had a swing railroad bridge followed by the Ortona Lock.

The locks on the OWW only raise/lower you a few feet.  They also function differently than most we are familiar with.  These do not have the floating bollards to tie to.  Instead, you hold on to ropes hanging from the sides. Also, the water empties and fills by opening the gates rather than filling/emptying water from underneath the lock.  Initially, they just "crack" the doors so you are not overwhelmed with too much water at one time and they gradually open completely as the water level reaches the new pool level.  We did have one lock that raised us eight feet so it's an "interesting" sight to see an 8-foot wall of water looking at you through the small part of the gate that is open.  We should have gotten a picture but hanging on to those ropes while the water is swirling around prevents much else from happening.

The stretch to LaBelle is probably the prettiest - beautiful homes nestled in the palm and live oak trees, with lots of moss and other lush vegetation.  After LaBelle, the homes thin out and the landscape opens up sort of like some of the terrain in TX.  There is also a gradual increase in the terrain height with a few "hills" in places.  OK, here's Rhonda's favorite cow picture with a couple of calves in this one.  Lots of grazing pastures in this stretch.

She said I should also post this one cooling off and she's informed me that after this trip she's getting a cow.  I guess we'll keep it on the back deck at our condo and just buy a bale of hay every now and then.  I'll let Rhonda figure out and deal with the bathroom impact of owning a cow in a condo.  I think she has not fully recovered from the rough trip we had from Carrabelle to Tarpon Springs.  Give her time.

Other cruisers had told us not to expect much at our next stop, Moore Haven, but our initial impression was positive - very nice city docks, playgrounds, walking trails, outdoor racquetball court, tennis courts, gazebos, etc., etc. 

The town is pretty small, was apparently wiped out by a hurricane once, is positioned right in the middle of sugar cane country, and the majority of the town is schools and government buildings (it is apparently the county seat).  We were impressed also by their interest in displaying a nativity scene right on the lawn in front of City Hall.  Good job Moore Haven.

Rhonda spotted another one at the Methodist Church.

We missed church last Sunday while we were at Cabbage Key ('cause there are no churches there) so we were glad to be back worshiping with fellow Christians at the FBC of Moore Haven.  We got there early and struck up a conversation with another early couple that spends the winter in Moore Haven every year.  They said "you better be careful here, these folks will hug on you!"  Sure enough, they do.  The service was mostly singing and special music.  I wish we could have heard a full sermon by the pastor.  He sounded like he could deliver a great message.  A couple of things stuck in my mind from his brief comments.  After reading the Christmas story from the book of Luke, he said, "notice that Jesus did not arrive as a prince or something less than a King. He was born a King."  And then this - "We welcomed this King into the world with a stable and sent Him out of this world with a sword in His side, crucified on a cross."  

The waterfront is very nice.  Beyond this dock area, there are walking/riding paths along the river for a couple of miles with covered picnic tables and small docks periodically for small boats to access the land.  We had the main dock to ourselves the first night but were joined by two others the second night - a couple on a Grand Banks from Maine and  4 guys on a Hatteras from Sattellite Beach, FL, all heading westbound.

And Rhonda found this historic home, The Pieter Westergaard Home (yes, I spelled that correctly).  It's historic because it was built in 1920 and the sign in front of it says it's historic! And that's all we could find out about it.

So, Moore Haven was nothing spectacular, but certainly a very nice place.  We got some groceries, rode bikes a couple of times, and enjoyed the simple life again.  But once again, time to move on.  We have great weather for crossing Lake Okeechobee.  When you leave Moore Haven, you have a lock to transit and then you join the rim canal, which runs around the lower half of the lake.  The mainland is to the right and the lake is to the left.

The water was so calm that the reflections of the sky and surrounding terrain on the water almost made steering the boat a little confusing at times.

You can follow the rim canal all the way around to the other side but it's 15 miles longer and then you don't get to see the rest of the lake.  So, we decided to depart the canal at Clewiston.  The Clewiston lock was open when we passed it.  

After leaving the rim canal, there's a channel for about 7 or 8 miles toward the open water, with markers along the way.  You definitely do not want to get outside of the channel here.

And the last leg across is wide open water for about 22 miles.  We may have had a rough crossing from Carrabelle to Tarpon Springs, but crossing Lake Okeechobee was perfect.  BTW, Lake Okeechobee is the second largest freshwater lake wholly contained in the US.  It is normally only about 8 to 9 feet deep.  We had a couple of extra feet than this underneath us but it has been known to get very low, low enough to prevent boats like ours or those with deeper drafts from crossing.  The water can also get very rough.  This is due north, about a 30+ mile stretch.

We had seagulls following us all the way across, taking advantage of us stirring up the water and providing them better feeding grounds.  It's funny though, our speed is a little slower than they like to fly I guess, so they get closer and closer individually, and then peel off close to the boat and go to the back of the pack - over and over and over again.

You exit Lake Okeechobee eastbound via Port Mayaca Lock.  This one lowered us only one foot into the St. Lucie Canal.

The St. Lucie canal is very narrow, lined with trees and other vegetation.  Rhonda thought it was very pretty but I felt like we were in a bathtub, very small.

She also loved these trees that had some branches that were "silver."

Unfortunately, I had to break the news to her that the silver was bird ....!

We finally arrived at the Indiantown Marina, a really nice little spot also.  It has about 40 wet slips but most of their income is from boats being hauled and serviced on land.  Just out of curiosity, I counted the ones on land from a Googe Earth shot - 250.  When we made our reservation last Friday, the lady on the phone asked us how many were on board (not normally asked by a marina) and I said two.  She said, "OK, I'm adding you to our Christmas Eve dinner list." So, how nice was that?  Also, I needed oil filters for an oil change and the local NAPA store delivered them to the marina since they would be closing for Christmas before we arrived.  Really nice folks here.  Here's a shot of the dinner, about 50 to 60 people there.  There's a bunch more to the right of this pic.

The food was great and the company even better - turns out most of the boaters here are Canadians.  I don't know about you but I've never been around Canadians before.  They are very social and extremely pleasant to be around.  We sat with three of them, from Ottawa and Montreal.  We got lots of good information from them for the portion of our trip next summer that takes us through a section of Canada.  They said also that they were not hit hard from the economic problems that the USA has had and most of them are still making their trips south for the winter.  They said the Bahamas are about 80% Canadians now for the winter - the folks at our table were headed to The Abacos. 

So, while we were not able to enjoy Christmas with any of our family this year, we picked a nice marina with nice people and another new experience - meeting Canadians.  Here are some more shots of the marina.  Notice they brought in a little sand to create some beach atmosphere also.

Christmas tree of the day from Indiantown Marina, the last one for this Christmas season, and a vast improvement over the one at Franklin Lock!

We'll probably stay here another day and then continue eastbound to Stuart, then down the coast toward our old home in Boca Raton, and an unexpected but certainly welcome visit in Miami from our younger son, Scott, and maybe his girlfriend Rachel also.  And we'll close with a local warning.


Rick said...

Hi, I love the photos. When did you pass the swing bridge at Ortona? I thought it was gone.

Wayne and Rhonda said...

If my memory serves me correctly, I'm referring to the Ft. Denaud railroad bridge. Definitely still in service.
The tender drives out to the bridge, then walks out on the swing portion to operate it - you can see him in the picture! I know a lot of Ricks, do I know you or you just surfing blogs?