Our first week on the high seas…or the Gulf Coast of Florida

leaving PGIFebruary 1st was the day…we were finally leaving our calm, cozy canal in Punta Gorda and heading to our first anchorage, Cayo Costa, at the entrance of Charlotte Harbor. We were cutting it close with the outgoing tide that morning: Salty Tails’ keel would be resting on the bottom of the canal by 9:00. Troy returned the rental car and was back aboard by 8:15. The depth sounder read 4 feet 3 inches…we literally had inches to spare considering she has a four-foot draft. If we were making it out today, now was the time. The dogs and cat were settled down below so we shoved off and headed out to Charlotte Harbor.

Bella 1st day

Our sail was brief, but we enjoyed the light winds and arrived at the Cayo Costa anchorage by early afternoon. Anchoring went smoothly…despite the fact that we had never anchored our floating home before! Our nerves began to calm as our first evening aboard got underway. Thanks to our friends for a bottle of champagne, we celebrated the beginning of our adventure.champagne

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We dropped the dinghy off the davits and headed to explore the park the next morning. From everyone we had spoken to, Cayo Costa was a favorite place to visit; we were excited to check out what it had to offer. We walked a few sandy trails over to the Gulf side with Ginnie leading the way.

After a day of exploring, that night was Taco Night…our at-home taco tradition would continue aboard, even with sustained winds over 20 knots howling outside. Those howling winds, waves splashing against the hull, and the continuous rock of the boat was something we weren’t yet used to (sleep was difficult to come by our second night on the hook). The next night however was incredibly relaxing. We sat topside, drinks in our hand, and marveled at the intensity of the stars. It’s amazing what you can see, away from city lights, without light pollution obstructing the view.

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By Monday it was time to move on; we were heading to Sanibel as a mini stop-over in between Cayo Costa and Marco Island. We anchored on the intercoastal side, so we didn’t get to go shelling like I had originally hoped. Instead we explored the mangroves by dinghy (and didn’t get attacked by mosquitoes!), I got a quick work-out in on the bow and after one night, we moved on to Marco Island.

The morning we left Sanibel en route to Marco, we went through a channel known as the “Miserable Mile” before getting out in the Gulf. I suppose because it was a weekday, and not the weekend full of boat traffic, it wasn’t so miserable. In fact, it was AMAZING. Dolphins escorted us most of the way…I think I’ll rename this channel “Dolphin Alley”. Two, then three, and then five at once played in the wake of the boat, darting back and forth between the port and starboard sides. I’m sure any onlooker wondered why I was bouncing back and forth like a pinball between the sides of the boat! Maybe what drew them to us was the hum of the diesel, maybe it was the splashing of the water…whatever it was, I was in heaven!

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Once out in the Gulf, we sailed briefly and then met headwinds coming straight for the bow. After having some electrical issues, we coaxed the engine to start and motored the rest of the way. We dropped the hook in Marco, in an anchorage that was a bit more crowded than we were used to. The upside however was convenience: we were a short dinghy ride to a marina and within walking distance of a West Marine, Napa, and Publix. Rose Marina was a great find. For only $5, we were able to land the dinghy, fill up our water cans, and throw out our trash. The dockhands were super friendly and even gave Ginnie treats, which she chowed down immediately.

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Speaking of Ginnie, the dinghy is now her version of the car. Whenever she sees the dinghy being lowered off the davits…her tail whips back and forth and she dances around the cockpit. Since beginning our trip, our debit card had been taking a nice long snooze. But, with a Napa and West Marine so close, we were able to fix up the electrical issues…and the Publix allowed me to stock up on fresh veggies.

Our first seven days living aboard were eye opening. We learned so much about our sailboat, what she was capable of, and what we were capable of. Sailing and living aboard is not a walk in the park. Even the simplest tasks can be tricky and time consuming. But the reward is…huge. We are so excited to have our first week as cruisers under our belts. We’ll take what we’ve learned so far from our experiences and continue on…the Everglades and Keys are calling!

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