Farewell to the Exumas

We are often asked which places and events from our travels stand out as ‘the best’. This is difficult to answer, as we can honestly say that most have either been beautiful, inspiring, exciting, or at the very least, interesting.

In June we had the opportunity to cruise with our son, Ryan, his wife, Joanne, and our daughter, Vanessa, during their first times aboard His Idea.  Spending time with our children, who now have their own busy lives, is always a big deal for us. With memories of long-past family boating vacations in our minds, exploring the Exumas together was a special event, and now holds first place status on our list of cruising highlights.

Beginning in Georgetown, terminus of their flights to the Bahamas, we were fortunate that the weather permitted two separate trips as far north Staniel Cay, in the middle of the Exumas island chain. Staniel Cay offers much to do in a relatively small area, i.e. snorkeling in Thunderball Grotto, visiting with  both the swimming pigs of Big Majors Spot and the iguanas of Bitter Guana Cay, and enjoying the laid back ambiance and very good Bahamian dinners of the Staniel Cay Yacht Club. New anchorages we explored on the way there and back included Emerald Bay, Lee Stocking Island and Rudder Cut Cay.

All good things must come to an end, and by June 23rd we were on our own again. The weather gods smiled on us, and we were able to take advantage of calm seas to travel the 235 miles to Freeport, Grand Bahama in three days (from Staniel Cay to Nassau to Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands to Freeport). While moored at Ocean Reef Resort in Lucaya, over the next few days we prepared His Idea for haul out at Bradford Marine, located in Freeport Harbour. This is our chosen location to store His Idea ‘on the hard’ for hurricane season, until we return to the Bahamas next spring.

End of Season Statistics and Other Items of Interest 

  • Statute miles traveled (Grand Rivers, KY to Freeport, Grand Bahama) – 2532; total miles travelled is now 7940
  • Hours of motoring – 227
  • Diesel fuel used (not including generator) – 3015 litres (663 imperial gallons)
  • Average MPG – 3.82
  • Average fuel cost – $1.22/litre
  • Average fuel cost per mile – $1.45
  • Average daily moorage cost – $33.96 (over 121 days)
  • States & Countries visited – Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Bahamas

We have been told that only about 100 boats completed the Great Loop in 2013, and assume the number will be similar for 2014.  As major recreational feats go, this makes our completion of the Loop this year a fairly unique event.

Here’s the final pictures for 2014, starting with a map of the Exumas…..

Our travels took us from the top to the bottom of the Exumas and back again, with two additional trips from Georgetown to Staniel Cay; Providence Island (Nassau) and Grand Bahama (Freeport) are to the northwest.

Our travels took us from the top to the bottom of the Exumas and back again, with two additional trips from Georgetown to Staniel Cay; Providence Island (Nassau) and Grand Bahama (Freeport) are to the northwest.

Our son Ryan and his wife Joanne, who joined us for 10 days in the Exumas.

Our son Ryan and his wife Joanne, who joined us for 10 days in the Exumas.

Early morning departure from Gaviota Bay, our primary anchorage for the few weeks we spent in Georgetown; hurray for calm seas!

Early morning departure from Gaviota Bay, our primary anchorage for the few weeks we spent in Georgetown; hurrah for calm seas!

Our son (a commercial pilot) teaching the old man new tricks with the navigation system.

Our son (a commercial pilot) teaching the old man new tricks with the navigation system.

Ryan has an very good camera, which allowed us to capture excellent images of underwater visitors to His Idea.

Ryan and Joanne brought a good underwater camera, which allowed us to capture excellent images of marine visitors to His Idea…..

.....and the sea life we encountered while snorkeling Thunderball Grotto.

…..and the sea life we encountered while snorkeling Thunderball Grotto.

This is the front entrance to the grotto at high tide; it takes a bit of courage to swim through it, but the coral and fish to be seen on the outside wall....

This is the front entrance to the grotto at high tide; it takes a bit of courage to swim through it, but the coral and fish to be seen on the outside wall….

.....are worth it.

…..are well worth it.

Feeding the fish; there are many different species that inhabit this spectacular site.

Feeding the fish; there are many different species that inhabit this spectacular site.

Natural light fills the grotto from overhead.

Natural light fills the grotto from overhead.

A beautiful sunset over our anchorage at Big Majors Spot, a very poular

A beautiful sunset over our anchorage at Big Majors Spot, a very popular stop for cruisers to the Exumas.

Picturesque Staniel Cay Yacht Club from the water......

Picturesque Staniel Cay Yacht Club from the water……

.....where we had a fine traditional Bahamian meal of mahi-mahi, tuna, ribs, beans with rice, and mac & cheese.

…..where we had a fine traditional Bahamian meal, including mahi-mahi, tuna, ribs, beans with rice, and mac & cheese.

A Bahamian starfish, common to these waters, and found on the Bahamian penny.

A Bahamian starfish, common to these waters, and commemorated on the Bahamian penny.

Here are a couple of pictures of some of the small, delicate fish we saw amongt the smaller coal heads we snorkelled: iridescent blue.....

Here are a few pictures of some of the small, delicate fish we saw among the smaller coal heads we snorkeled: iridescent blue…..

.....striped.....

…..striped…..

.....and two toned.

…..and two toned.

The view from Perry Peak, on Lee Stocking Island, and highest point in the Exumas.....all of 123 feet.

The view from Perry Peak, on Lee Stocking Island, and highest point in the Exumas…..all of 123 feet!

Back in Georgtown; Ryan & Joanne head out to explore Elizabeth Harbour.

Back in Georgetown, Ryan & Joanne head out to explore Elizabeth Harbour.

Our daughter Vanessa has now arrived in Georgetown.....

Our daughter Vanessa enjoying the sun and heat shortly after her arrival in Georgetown…..

.....so it was time to add her name to the family monument at Capricorn Beach.

…..so it was time to add her name to the family monument at Tropic of Cancer Beach.

Just like old times - father and daughter enjoying a swim together, this time off the back of His Idea in Gaviota Bay.

Just like old times – father and daughter enjoying a swim together, this time off the back of His Idea in Gaviota Bay.

This was an interesting 'mini grotto' we discovered near our anchorage at Rudder Cut Key.....

This was an interesting ‘mini grotto’ we discovered near our anchorage at Rudder Cut Key…..

......complete with tentacles.

……complete with tentacles.

Snorkeling over the remains of a sunken plane; there are many to be found in the Exumas, perhaps a legacy from the 80's, when the Exumas were very popular with drug smugglers, and their flyboys sampled too much of the product.

Snorkeling over the remains of a sunken plane; there are many to be found throughout the Exumas, something of a legacy from the 1980’s, when the Exumas were very popular with drug smugglers, and perhaps their flyboys sampled too much of their cargo.

More fun with the piggies at Big Majors Spot......

More fun with the piggies at Big Majors Spot…..

......and another great round of snorkeling at Thunderball Grotto.

……and another great round of snorkeling at Thunderball Grotto.

Vanessa cavorting with the (supposedly harmless) nurse sharks at Staniel Cay.....

Vanessa cavorting with the nurse sharks at Staniel Cay….. 

.....where we learned that their 'harmless' reputation was not really true (at least, not when you're feeding them conch scraps).

…..where we learned that their ‘harmless’ reputation was not really true (at least, not when you’re feeding them conch scraps).

Vanessa's favourite place, visiting with the iguanas at Bitter Guyana Cay.....

Vanessa’s favourite place, visiting with the iguanas at Bitter Guyana Cay…..

......where they love to greet guests.

……where they love to come out and greet guests.

Because we would next be heading north to Nassau, t was easier to charter a flight from Staniel Cay back to Geogetown for Vanessa's flight home.

Because we would next be heading north to Nassau, for Vanessa’s trip home it was easier to charter a flight from Staniel Cay back to Georgetown…..

......where the Admiral was able to take some great low level shots of the cays.....

……where the Admiral was able to take some great low level shots of the cays…..

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Although not the prettiest of settings, the Bradford Marine yard in Freeport Harbour is well suited for safe and secure storage; note the size of the travel lift, the biggest we've used so far.

Although not the prettiest of settings, the Bradford Marine yard in Freeport Harbour is well suited for safe and secure storage; note the size of the travel lift, the biggest we’ve used so far.

 

His Idea blocked and almost ready for hurricane season; tie down straps anchored to the ground are yet to be installed.

His Idea blocked and almost ready for hurricane season; tie down straps anchored to the ground are yet to be installed.

Plans for Next Year

Our plan for cruising in 2015 includes a return to the Bahamas in the early spring to explore the Abacos for awhile, then back to Florida to cruise the Florida Keys and potentially the west coast of Florida again.

After that we have a big decision to make, i.e. spend another season or two cruising the east coast, ship His Idea home to B.C., or….???

If you have been visiting our blog and wish to be notified when we start publishing again next year, please drop us a line at jaevans100@gmail.com. We’ll then send you a short email in advance of our first post.

Till next year……

John & Ria

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More From the Exumas…..

We made it to Elizabeth Harbour, Georgetown, the southern terminus of our Exumas cruise, on May 17th. This section of the trip included stops at Great Guyana Cay and Cave Cay, before making a run of about 35 miles down the deep – and somewhat rough – waters of Exuma Sound.

Most of the PDQ fleet has now turned around and headed back, so we’ve had plenty of time to explore this area on our own before our son and daughter-in-law join us in early June for a cruising vacation.

The time also provides an opportunity to catch up on our blog, and reflect on our Exumas experience so far. Our strongest impressions include…..the clarity and colours of the water….the countless pristine beaches, from tiny to many miles long…..the diversity of sea life (tropical fish and coral of course, but also sharks, barracuda, rays, turtles, and dolphins)…..and the remoteness of the region.

While very beautiful, the Exumas are sparsely populated, and less developed than we expected. Even Great Exuma, the business and administrative centre, has limited services, and one must be patient if there is a need for certain supplies (e.g. we had mechanical difficulties with our outboard and had to wait days for parts to arrive from Nassau on the ‘mail boat’). Fortunately, the helpfulness of both the local and cruiser communities goes a long way to compensate for this.

We also continue to adjust to the differences in the marine environment – wind, sea states and sometimes intricate passages – as it is not the same as the coastal cruising with which we are familiar. However, for us, this is all part of the excitement and attraction of cruising.

The captain snorkeling in Thunderball Grotto.....

The captain snorkeling in Thunderball Grotto…..

.....as seen through this small opening in the grotto's roof.

…..as seen through this small opening in the Grotto’s roof.

Celebrating John's 60th birthday with friends aboard Tar City Star; thanks Maureen, Ed, Carole, Bill & Ria for a great party!

Celebrating John’s 60th birthday with friends aboard Tar City Star; thanks Maureen, Ed, Carole, Bill & Ria for a great party!

A beach scene from the small, remote and traditional Bahamian community of Black Point, Great Guana Cay.

A beach scene from the small, remote and traditional Bahamian community of Black Point, Great Guana Cay…..

.....where woven handicrafts are an important source of income for the community.

…..where woven handicrafts are an important source of income for the community.

The view from the hill at White Point, Great Guana Cay.

The view from atop the hill at White Point, Great Guana Cay.

The fleet at rest at Cave Cay; this cay is owned and was developed by a Texas oil millionaire, who we met while there.

The fleet at rest at Cave Cay; this cay is owned and was developed by a Texas oil millionaire, who we met while there.

This is Musha Cay, owned by illusionist David Copperfield; other celebrity cay owners in the area include Johnny Depp, and Faith Hill & Tim McGraw.

This is Musha Cay, owned by illusionist David Copperfield; other celebrity cay owners in the area include Johnny Depp, Nicholas Cage, and Faith Hill & Tim McGraw.

Meeting up with the 'mail boat' as we enter Elizabeth Harbour, Georgetown.

Meeting up with the ‘mail boat’ as we enter Elizabeth Harbour, Georgetown.

Hanging out with other PDQ cruisers at the 'Chat & Chill' beach bar at Gaviota Bay.

Hanging out with other PDQ cruisers at the ‘Chat & Chill’ beach bar at Gaviota Bay…..

.....where we signed and hung one of our Exuma Expedition tshirts for posterity.

…..where we signed and hung one of our Exumas Expedition tshirts for posterity.

The directional sign at the Chat & Chill beach; the distance to Port Coquitlam is posted at the very bottom.

The directional sign at the Chat & Chill beach; the distance to Port Coquitlam is on the shiny green sign near the bottom.

On a beautiful day we hiked the windswept eastern shore of Stocking Island.....

On a beautiful day we hiked the windswept eastern shore of Stocking Island…..

.....and through the jungle....

…..and through the jungle…..

......to get to the top of Monument Hill.....

……to get to the top of Monument Hill…..

......for a view of the harbour.

……for a view of the harbour.

The Chat & Chill attracts all kinds of visitors, by various modes of transportation.

The Chat & Chill attracts all kinds of visitors, by all kinds of transportation.

one of the resident rays who stops by to get fed scraps of conch from the Chat & Chill.

This is one of the resident rays who stops by to get fed scraps of conch from the Chat & Chill.

We toured both Great and Little Exuma islands by car, where we visited Tropic of Cancer Beach.

We toured both Great and Little Exuma islands by car, where we visited Tropic of Cancer Beach.

Nearby salt ponds, where 200 yeears ago slaves and others worked in horrendous conditions to produce salt for export.

Nearby salt ponds, where 200 years ago slaves and others worked in horrendous conditions to produce salt for export.

This column was erected to mark the location for shps to anchor offshore to collect the salt.

This column was erected to mark the location for ships to anchor offshore to collect the salt.

Conch fisherman harvesting their catch; conch is very plentiful in the Bahamas, and served in many tasty ways.

Conch fisherman harvesting their catch; conch is very plentiful in the Bahamas, and served in many tasty ways.

Perhaps a fitting final picture, as we have had quite a few thunderstorms and squalls the lst few days; we're hoping this situation will improve before our guests arrive.

Perhaps a fitting final picture, as we have had quite a few thunderstorms and squalls with heavy rains the last few days; we’re hoping this situation will improve before our guests arrive.

Thee’s still lots more to come from the Bahamas, although the next post will likely have to wait until our return home to Vancouver,  around the end of June.

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On to the Exumas!

After 450 miles of cruising from Stuart we have roughly reached the midway point of the Exuma Cays. The trip so far has been exciting, interesting, entertaining and a visual feast for the eyes. The nature of the cruising is quite different from anything we have experienced so far – very long open water passages, shallow ‘visual piloting rules’ (VPR)  routes around and between large and small cays, swift currents, and ever present wind. We are very fortunate to be part of the PDQ flotilla, which is comprised of cruisers with a wide range of experience, from novice to expert. The group’s diversity and camaraderie has definitely made our introduction to the Bahamas that much more relaxing and fun.

Because good wifi access is rare and relatively costly in the Bahamas (not to mention there are so many other great things to do!) the text portion of this post will be short, and we’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Enjoy!

Here we go again, this time with friends; buddy boat Tiger leads the way.

Here we go again, this time with friends; buddy boat Tiger leads the way.

A neighbouring yacht  at our New River moorage right in downtown Fort Lauderdale; there are megayachts galore along this stretch of the iCW to Miami.

A neighbouring yacht at our New River moorage located  right in downtown Fort Lauderdale; there are mega-yachts galore along this stretch of the iCW to Miami.

We spent a few days in Ft. Lauderdale, enjoying the spectacular beaches and the lively nightlife of Los Olas Drive, a short walk away.

We spent a few days in Ft. Lauderdale, enjoying the spectacular beaches and lively nightlife of Los Olas Drive (respectively only a short cycle and short walk away from our moorage).

Entering downtown Miami harbour.

Entering downtown Miami harbour.

For the 200 mile crossing from Miami to Nassau (via Bimini) we were joined by good friends Doug and Roslyn Pringle.

For the 200 mile crossing from Miami to Nassau (via Bimini) we were joined by good friends Doug and Roslyn Pringle.

The 50 mile stretch of the Gulf Stream from Miami to Bimini can often be very rough, but ours was glass smooth; the flags are the quarantine (yellow, and flown until we clear customs) and Bahamas courtesy (flown while visiting the country).

The 50 mile stretch of the Gulf Stream from Miami to Bimini can often be very rough, but ours was glass smooth; the flags are the quarantine (yellow – flown until we clear customs) and Bahamas courtesy (flown while visiting the Bahamas).

Our first gathering of the PDQ gang, in Bimini; eventually a total of 19 boats will participate in the Exumas trip.

Our first gathering of the PDQ gang, in Bimini; eventually a total of 19 boats will participate in the Exumas trip.

Crossing the Bahamas Bank from Bimini to Nassau; because the weather window was forecast to close, we made the 140 mile run in one day, fortunately with only the last hour or so in choppy seas.

Crossing the Bahamas Bank from Bimini to Nassau; because the weather window was forecast to close, we made the 140 mile run in one day.

Nassau Harbour was a welcome sight, as we encountered some fairly rough seas for the final 40 miles.

Nassau Harbour was a welcome sight, as we encountered some fairly rough seas for the final 40 miles.

The breezy weather continued for a week, so we had plenty of time to explore the Bahamian capital, including a visit to the impressive aquarium at the Atlantis resort (that's a live conch)....

The breezy weather continued for a week, so we had plenty of time to explore the Bahamian capital, including a visit to the impressive Atlantis aquarium (that’s a live conch, plentiful in the islands)….

.....and a bike ride to spend the afternoon at beautiful Cabbage Beach on Paradise Island.

…..and a bike ride to spend the afternoon at beautiful Cabbage Beach on Paradise Island.

Finally the winds abated enough for the fleet to make the 40 mile trip from Nassau to the north end of the Exumas chain; this is our first anchorage at Allens Cay, where we encountered.....

Finally the winds abated enough for the fleet to make the 40 mile trip from Nassau to the north end of the Exumas chain; this is our first anchorage at Allans Cay, where we encountered…..

.....iguanas! They inhabit only a few of the cays in the Exumas, are protected, but not shy of human visitors.

…..iguanas! They inhabit only a few of the cays in the Exumas, are protected, but not shy of human visitors.

This is the view from the top of the hill from our next stop, Highborne Cay.

This is the view from the top of the hill from our next stop, Highborne Cay.

Some of the ladies out for a morning walk on the beach at Highborne Cay.

Some of the ladies out for a morning walk on the beach at Highborne.

At Compass Cay, the Captain got to swim with the sharks (fortunately, harmless nurse sharks).

At Compass Cay, the Captain got to swim with the sharks (fortunately, harmless nurse sharks).

The PDQ fleet anchored at Warderick Wells Cay (His Idea is top right); the picture was taken from the top of Boo Boo Hill....

The PDQ fleet anchored at Warderick Wells Cay (His Idea is top right); the picture was taken from the top of Boo Boo Hill….

.....where it is tradition for passing cruisers to leave a driftwood sign recording their visit.

…..where it is tradition for passing cruisers to leave a driftwood sign recording their visit.

The Admiral loved her 'private beach' which was just a short swim beyond His Idea's stern: it appeared each morning with the outgoing tide.

The Admiral loved her ‘private beach’, which was just a short swim beyond His Idea’s stern: it appeared each morning with the outgoing tide.

While on a hike of Warderick Wells Cay we encountered a Laughing Gull's nest, chicks and all.

While on a hike around Warderick Wells Cay we encountered a Laughing Gull’s nest, chicks and all.

At Big Majors Spot we visit visited and fed the gang of (not very) wild piggies.....

At Big Majors Spot we visited and fed the gang of (not very) wild piggies…..

.....who had us all in stitches with their antics.

…..who had us all in stitches with their antics.

We've now arrived at Staniel Cay in the Central Exumas and home to the Thuinderball Grotto; this is the view from the top of the grotto and hopefully for the next post we'll have more from this very neat place (cue Bond music).....

We’ve now arrived at Staniel Cay in the Central Exumas, home to the Thunderball Grotto; this is the view from the top of the grotto and for the next post we’ll have more from this very neat place (cue Bond music)…..

We hope to provide the next post from Georgetown, our southern terminus in the Exumas chain.

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The End of the Beginning – Tarpon Springs to Caloosahatchee River to Lake Okeechobee to Stuart

As you can see from the title of this post, this was a stretch of travel with a host of hard to pronounce names. Many come from the Seminole Indians who inhabited this region when the Europeans arrived.

Tarpon Springs, the start of this leg of our journey, was founded in the late 1800’s as a centre for the harvest of the natural sponges that were found in abundance in the local waters. Because they had excellent experience as sponge divers,  many Greeks immigrated here, and the town retains a strong Greek flavour (we heard Greek spoken frequently while strolling the waterfront district).  Although natural sponges were largely replaced by synthetics by the mid-20th century, natural sponges are still harvested today, largely for the tourist trade.

Other stops along this portion of the ICW included Gulfport, which also celebrates its fishing port heritage, and Fort Myers, home to the summer residences of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Edison and Ford were good friends (along with Harvey Firestone), who collaborated extensively to find a source of natural rubber that could be harvested economically in North America. We took the time to visit the museum and rubber research laboratory located on their nearby joint estate. Needless to say it was fascinating, particularly the portion dedicated to Edison. A prolific inventor, he had 1093 patents during his lifetime (at least one per year for 65 years).

Although large portions of the west coast of Florida have well developed beach-side communities such as Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Sarasota, our marina stops were interspersed with pleasant anchorages too, usually tucked away at one of the small keys that form the outer barrier of the ICW. We definitely plan to return in another season to more fully explore what this area has to offer.

From Fort Myers we crossed central Florida via the Caloosahatchee River to Lake Okeechobee (the second largest body of fresh water in the U.S. after lake Michigan), then down the St. Lucie Canal to return to Stuart. We passed through five locks during this section, the final ones we will see on the Great Loop. We’ve lost count of the number of locks we’ve traversed (the Captain will have to dig up this factoid some time), and suffice to say the Admiral was quite happy to see the last one recede from our stern.

Which brings us back to Stuart, the place where it all began. After 6902 miles, on Monday, April 14 we ‘crossed our wake’, almost two years to the day from when we began (on Monday, April 16, 2012).  ‘Doing The Loop’ has been fantastic, and we feel very lucky to have had this experience.

Tarpon Springs waterfront district.

Tarpon Springs waterfront district.

Tarpon Springs became very prosperous during its sponge harvesting days; well-to-do retirees boost the local economy today.

Tarpon Springs became very prosperous during its sponge harvesting days; well-to-do retirees boost the local economy today.

Colourful bikes, part of a large outdoor art festival we visited while in Tarpon Springs.

Colourful bikes, part of a large outdoor art festival we visited while in Tarpon Springs.

The Admiral enjoying the excellent pool at our marina.

The Admiral enjoying the excellent pool at our marina.

There are portions of extensive development along the barrier islands of the ICW; this is near Clearwater.

There are portions of extensive development along the barrier islands of the ICW; this is near Clearwater.

Our anchorage at Lido Key, a mix of high end homes and mangrove packed islets (dolphins included), vs. ......

Our anchorage at Lido Key, a mix of high end homes and mangrove packed islets, vs……

.....our more private anchorage at Punta Blanca Island.

…..our more private anchorage at Punta Blanca Island.

Sometimes driving a boat is just like driving a car, only without the stop signs.

Sometimes driving a boat is just like driving a car, only without the stop signs.

Fort Myers is a popular wintering stop for Loopers and Canadian and American snowbirds; Edison's influence can be found everywhere (alas, this wonderful art deco theatre is now houses a lawyer's office).

Fort Myers is a popular wintering stop for Loopers and Canadian and American snowbirds; inventor and industrialist Thomas Edison’s influence can be found everywhere (alas, this wonderful artdeco theatre now houses a lawyer’s office).

Edison was famous for inventing the phonograph.....

Among many other things, Edison was famous for inventing the phonograph, and…..

.....the discovery of the carbon filament, which led to commercially viable light bulbs.....

…..discovering the carbon filament, which led to commercially viable light bulbs, and…..

.....and goldenrod as the best source for North American grown rubber; by the time it was ready for market, the development of synthetic rubber had superceded it).

…..identifying goldenrod as the best source for North American grown rubber; after many years of research, by the time it was ready for market,the development of synthetic rubber had superseded it.

This is the preserved rubber research laboratory on the Edison/Ford estate.

This is the preserved rubber research laboratory on the Edison/Ford estate.

A large gator at our anchorage at Moore Haven, on the west side of Lake Okeechobee.

A large gator at our anchorage at Moore Haven, on the west side of Lake Okeechobee; we took a pass on swimming here!

Entering Lake Okeechobee; although it covers a very large area, depths for our crossing were 10 feet or less.

Entering Lake Okeechobee; although it covers a very large area, depths for our crossing were 10 feet or less.

Celebrating 'crossing our wake' in Stuart, Florida; the Great Loop is finished!

Celebrating ‘crossing our wake’ in Stuart, Florida; the Great Loop is finished!

As hard as it is for us to comprehend that this portion of our travels is now complete, we’re ready for our next set of adventures. Bahamas here we come!

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The Emerald Coast and the Big Bend

This portion of our journey was bookended by two delightful towns, Fairhope, Alabama and Tarpon Springs, Florida. In between were the broad bays, bayous, rivers and barrier islands of the Emerald Coast, followed by a series of ‘open water’ (i.e. mostly no land in sight) hops along the more remote regions of Florida’s Big Bend.

The Emerald Coast is renowned for its tropical weather and spectacular barrier island beaches. This has attracted a great deal of beach home and condo development, and the typical vacation accoutrements that go along with them. While we enjoy such attractions and comforts too, our focus while cruising is usually on smaller towns and quieter anchorages. Fortunately we were able to find these in abundance, with interesting stops in places like Apalachicola, Carrabelle, Smack Bayou and Dog Island.

For most cruisers doing the Loop, the open water crossing of the Gulf of Mexico from the protected ICW ending at Carrabelle and beginning again near Tarpon Springs is a big one. Many choose a one-step overnight trip (about 180 miles). For us, however, because of our relative speed and ability to handle the fairly shallow depths of the river entrances at selected interim stops (Steinhatchee and Crystal River) we chose the longer, more scenic route. This worked out very well for us, with sunny weather and relatively calm seas the entire way. It also allowed us to have experiences that other cruisers miss, such as the opportunity to swim with the manatees in the incredibly clear waters of the Three Sisters freshwater springs in Crystal River.

We’re not sure our pictures do complete justice to this lesser known area of Florida, but we’ll let them speak for themselves.

We enjoyed exploring Fairhope's leafy residential streets on our bikes.

We enjoyed exploring Fairhope’s leafy residential streets on our bikes.

The National Naval Aviation Museum in nearby Pensacola is home to the Blue Angels; the yellow biplane in the lower left was flown by George Bush Sr. during WWII.

The National Naval Aviation Museum in nearby Pensacola is home to the Blue Angels; the yellow biplane in the lower left was flown by George Bush Sr. during WWII.

Almost all the aircraft at the museum are original; many of the WWII vintage planes were recovered from the bottom of Lake Michigan near Chicago, where navy pilots were trained how to take off and land from aircraft carriers.- sometimes not successfully.

Almost all the aircraft at the museum are original; many of the WWII vintage planes were recovered from the bottom of Lake Michigan near Chicago, where navy pilots were trained how to take off and land – sometimes not successfully – from aircraft carriers.

The Admiral wants to take one of these with us on His Idea.

The Admiral wants to take one of these with us on His Idea: the Captain says he’ll mutiny.

Our departure across Mobile Bay was sunny and serene.

Departure day across Mobile Bay was sunny and serene.

Our anchorage at Ingram Bayou.....

Our anchorage at Ingram Bayou…..

.....where we were entertained by dolphins feeding in the shallow waters for mullet.

…..where we were entertained by dolphins feeding in the shallow waters for mullet.

Unexpected things happen when boating - a faulty switch for the anchor windlass led us to a 'character' marina inhabited by an unexpected menagerie of exotic birds.

Sometimes unexpected things happen when boating – a faulty switch for the anchor windlass led us to a ‘character’ marina in Fort Walton Beach that was inhabited by an unusual menagerie of exotic birds.

Osprey nests on all manner of trees, posts, poles and the like have been frequent sights, however this was the most unusual location we have seen so far!

We have seen osprey nests at the pinnacle of all manner of trees, posts, poles and the like, however this was the most unusual location we have observed so far!

One of the interesting small towns we visited was Appalachicola, where shrimping and other harvests from the sea are important mainstays of the local economy (along with tourism).

One of the interesting small towns we visited was Apalachicola, where shrimping and other harvests from the sea are important mainstays of the local economy (along with tourism).

A wide variety of waterfowl are evident in the rivers, bayous.....

A wide variety of waterfowl are evident in the rivers, bayous…..

.....and shallow bays of this area; in the distance is a barrier island that is crucial to the creation of this rich marine ecosystem.

…..and shallow bays of this area; in the distance is a barrier island that is crucial to the creation of this rich marine ecosystem.

This is a portion of the  Carrabelle River estuary.

This is a portion of the Carrabelle River estuary.

On the beach of Dog Island, at the end of the Gulf Intra-coastal Waterway; the Captain is in the distance contemplating the next day's open water journey across the Gulf of Mexico.

On the beach at Dog Island (where the shell collecting was outstanding) at the end of the Gulf Intra-coastal Waterway; the Captain is in the distance contemplating the next day’s open water journey to the east, across the Gulf of Mexico.

A blast of pink among Dog Island's hot, white sand dunes.

A blast of pink among Dog Island’s hot, white sand dunes.

Fortunately, red sky at night.....

Fortunately, a red sky at night…..

......foretold of very good weather for our three day journey around Florida's Big Bend (over 200 miles in all),

……foretold of very good weather for our three day journey around Florida’s Big Bend (over 200 miles in all).

Feeding time fro the resident pelicans at the adjacent slip at Sea Hag Marina in Steinhatchee; this is a major recreational fishing centre and the remains foe the days catch are dumped in the river for these fellas to feast on.

Feeding time for the resident pelicans at the adjacent slip at Sea Hag Marina in Steinhatchee; this is a major recreational fishing centre and the remains of the days catch are dumped in the river for these fellas to feast on.

We are always delighted when we have a chance to get up close and personal  with the local wildlife, from manatees......

We are always delighted when we have a chance to get up close and personal with the local wildlife, from manatees……

.....to gators.

…..to gators.

The next installment will cover our time spent in the delightful town of Tarpon Springs, our journey south to Fort Myers, then east across central Florida via the Okeechobee Canal to Stuart, and south to Miami, our departure point for the Bahamas.

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