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.
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!