November 2014 – Salty John : The Blog

During our stay in south Florida we took the opportunity to visit Lovers Key. It comprises four barrier islands and was at one time only accessible by boat, attracting lovers to its secluded beach to do what lovers do. Now it’s a state park and you can drive to it – there’s a small entrance fee.

A haven for wildlife, the key is home to manatees, dolphins, roseate spoonbills, marsh rabbits and bald eagles. Kestrels hover, vultures glide on the thermals. There are cormorants, herons and egrets fishing side by side in the shallow bayous.

A beach runs down the ocean side of the key – we watched the sun melt into the horizon like a scoop of ice cream on a sun-baked sidewalk.  Lovely.

Yesterday I went to the Fort Myers Boat Show. Apart from one Island Packet sail boat it was devoted entirely to new and used power boats of all descriptions. There were powered kayaks, pontoon boats, trawlers, sports boats, super yachts and general stinkpots of every stripe. There was also a full range of accessory and service vendors. An impressively large show in a lovely location.

I spotted several Yamaha 350 HP outboard motors, three attached to one boat in fact, which I found extraordinary – the biggest outboard motor I’ve ever owned was 6HP. I wondered if this was the most powerful production outboard available and was astonished to learn from the Yamaha representative that it isn’t. The biggest, unless you know better, is the Seven Marine 557. Yes, 557 horsepower! It’s based on a V8 engine normally found in cars such as the Cadillac CTS-V and weighs in at 500kg. As you can imagine it’s quite pricey, an eye-watering US$ 70,000.

So, if you’ve ever wondered how to get your 45’ heavy displacement sailboat up on the plane, this may be the solution.

The mizzen mast on a ketch is often the place to hang ‘stuff’. On my ketch I had the wind generator, radar and a back-up vhf antenna on the mizzen.

But I think this one I snapped recently takes the prize for busiest mizzen.

It’s carrying a lightning dissipater, vhf antenna, wind generator, tv antenna, loud hailer and radar antenna. Presumably there’s a sail up there once in a while, too.

I see a triatic stay, as well, which means that if the main mast is lost the mizzen is likely to be lost too, along with all that stuff.

A mizzen to hang things off is the only real advantage I’ve ever found for a ketch versus a sloop – but that’s an argument for another day.

Being ‘barbed’ by a stingray’s tail weaponry is a painful experience. There’s the trauma from the cut and then there’s the pain, swelling and muscle cramps caused by the venom – you’ll need to get treatment but you’re unlikely to die.

In Florida there are half a dozen different types of stingray but the most likely to be of concern to humans are the Southern stingray and the Atlantic stingray. The Atlantic stingray is smaller, with a wing span of up to 2’, whilst the Southern can reach 5’. The Roughtail, also seen in these waters, get up to a healthy 7’ or more.

Whilst the stingrays you’re likely to meet off the sandy beaches of the USA, Bahamas and the Caribbean present little danger of fatality, remember that Steve Irwin, an Australian wildlife and crocodile botherer, was killed by a stingray which barbed him in the chest causing massive trauma.

The danger to humans comes from the fact that stingrays seek their prey by burying themselves under a thin layer of sand and, when the stingray’s receptors detect the movement of prey, they dart out and grab the small fish, mollusks and crustaceans on which they feed. They often hunt in shallow water where they will interface with paddling and frolicking humans.

The barbs on the stingray’s long tail are intended only as a defensive weapon and it is the defensive response that the unwitting human triggers when he steps on a stingray. To avoid this you should adopt the shuffle – shuffle your feet to disturb the sand and create vibrations which scare the stingray off before you can step on it. I’ve spooked many a stingray and watched them glide harmlessly away. Better the shuffle than the hop.

The shuffle works fine if you are walking along at the waters edge but for we small boat cruisers the most dangerous time is when you first step from the dinghy into shallow water at the beach, giving a camouflaged stingray no prior notice of your arrival. Take care.

I’ve sailed up and down the USA east coast quite a few times and I’ve also explored the west coast of Florida and a large piece of the Gulf ICW. Every year snowbirds from the north head down the east coast Intracoastal Waterway, sometimes venturing off shore if the weather suits, to anchorages and marinas in the warm southern states, mainly Florida, and then head back again in the late spring. Many of these boats choose to anchor out rather than incur the cost and inconvenience of taking a marina berth every night.

Visiting a favourite haunt from my cruising days, Fort Myers Beach, I notice that one problem that rumbles on is the conflicting rights of boaters and homeowners when it comes to anchoring. Homeowners resent having boats anchored off their properties, invading their privacy and spoiling their view. On the other hand cruising sailors say their right to anchor on publicly owned waterways must not be jeopardised.

In my time here, if a homeowner were offended by the presence of a boat anchored off his land the homeowner would call the police and the police would go and order the boat to move. I experienced this myself a couple of times. I understand that in 2009 a state law was introduced which protected the boater’s right to anchor freely and at the same time proposed mooring fields in the most popular harbours. In this way it was expected that the rights of the boaters to have a safe place to stop temporarily would be preserved and, due to careful location I assume, anchored boats wouldn’t annoy the homeowners. And the problem of derelict, abandoned, boats would be alleviated.

And so, returning to Fort Myers Beach and checking out the anchorage has been interesting. When I anchored here in the 90’s the place to go ashore was Bob Wallace’s dock. Bob allowed cruising sailors to use his dock and fill their water jugs from his tap. All he asked is that you signed his visitor’s book, which I’ve gladly done twice, eight years apart. A man with a wonderful attitude towards cruising sailors was Bob Wallace.

Now Bob is no more and, in fact, anchoring is no more. There is a mooring field where the anchorage was and a dinghy dock and showers at adjacent Matanzas Inn who administer the mooring field on behalf of the local authorities. Many will welcome the introduction of moorings because the angst of anchoring will be relieved, nervous skippers will sleep more soundly. But there’s a price, of course – a mooring fee of around $15 a day. And you can’t help feeling that the freedom to cruise is somehow being further eroded, more control being introduced. Oh well.