Below is our report on our April sailing trip in South Florida. My
apologies for the length, but you can always hit "delete."
Sheila & Bob's Excellent Gulf Coast Adventure
After taking possession of our 1995 Rhodes 22, "Yankee Clipper" in December,
fixing the pesky leak in the CB area, and getting her outfitted with the
latest gadgetry, we decided to take her to Florida. We had sailed it on
Lake Hartwell several times, and Rummy helped me to properly break in the
bar, stereo and stern seats just two weeks earlier.
With close to 8 hours of sailing on our home waters, it was time to take our
portable, trailerable cruiser elsewhere. If I didn't want a trailerable
cruiser, I would've bought that Catalina 27 with the 4 foot fixed keel that
would now be embedded into the bottom of Lake Hartwell. Just to be sure, we
had the drop axle replaced on the trailer, new bearings, and had the bow
stop moved forward a foot. We did everything except have the trailer
blessed by a Cardinal before the trip (they're very busy these days).
Pulled it out and it trailered well, but fishtailed when the
tractor-trailers went by at 80 mph. So, I moved the rudder into the V berth
and got back on the highway and it trailered perfectly. Top speed was 64
mph, and occasionally I went faster, but was only comfortable at 62-64 mph.
My Toyota 4Runner did well, but it has a max of 5,000 LB and I estimated the
total weight in my rear-view mirror to be around 4,400 lb. With a single
axle trailer and no brakes, I left a lot of room between the next vehicle
Initially we were going to take the YC from Atlanta to the Florida Keys over
spring break, stopping in Fort Myers to drop the kids off with family. As I
read about cruising in S. Florida, I learned that, right off the coast of
Ft. Myers on the gulf coast is one of the best sailboat cruising grounds and
one of the top chartering destinations in the world! Duh. So, for four
months, I planned a one-way, 4-5 day trip through Pine Island Sound (PIS),
ending in Charlotte Harbor at Punta Gorda. PIS is the sound between the
mainland (Pine Island, really) and the barrier islands of Sanibel, Captiva,
North Captiva and Cayo Costa. Charlotte Harbor is a huge body of water that
begins at Boca Grande Pass near Gasparilla Island and Cayo Costa and runs
20+ miles northeast to the towns of Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte. This
harbor is 10 miles wide in some parts-a very impressive body of water.
There are many options as to where to launch the boat. I considered Ft.
Myers beach, Sanibel Island, Punta Rassa, Ft. Myers and Cape Coral. It
turned out that the most convenient location was in Cape Coral, and I was
able to find a place that had a boat ramp and transient slips to rent: Cape
Coral Yacht Club, a public facility. This gave us about a 5 mile run on
the Caloosahatchie River to get to Pine Island Sound. Ft. Myers would have
been more like 10-15 miles-way too long. Our ultimate destination was
going to be Punta Gorda where we had two marina choices: Burnt Store Marina,
or 15 miles further north was Fisherman's Village Yacht Club. Both had boat
ramps and are great marinas, but FV was the only one that would let us keep
the trailer on site for a week, so FV it was.
The route that I originally selected was:
- Day 1 - Cape Coral to Tween Waters Marina, Captiva Island
- Day 2 - Tween Waters to Cabbage Key
- Day 3 - Cabbage Key
- Day 4 - Cabbage Key to Boca Grande
- Day 5 - Boca Grande to Fisherman's Village, Punta Gorda
The drive from Atlanta to Cape Coral is long. Slightly over 600 miles, and
at 64 mph with a 4,000 LB load in the rearview mirror, we decided to split
the trip into two days. Left on Friday, April 5 at noon and made it almost
to Tampa the first day and then on Saturday showed up at Cape Coral Yacht
Club at noon (not a great idea). Decided to launch the boat first and raise
the mast when it was at the dock since the boat ramp was so crowded. Worked
very well. Raising the mast was a breeze-the quick-release pins that I use
for the rigging are worth the ridiculous prices that they charge for them.
As I raised the mast, I had a couple of people stop to watch and they were
quite impressed. The boat drew a lot of curiosity wherever we went. People
just seemed to always do a double take and stare at the boat. Probably have
never seen stern seats like that before (except on a bass boat). Some old
timers at Cape Coral commented that they never saw in-mast furling on a boat
that size before. The harbormaster was a real nice guy and was asking about
the Rhodes motor lift. Next thing I knew, I had him on the R-22 website and
he said he was going to call Stan and try to buy a motor lift.
We left the next morning and the trip to 'Tween Waters was fairly exciting,
with winds 15-20 knots and seas 1-3 feet. The big boats were everywhere; we
felt like we were in a dinghy at times. We did not see another sailboat
smaller than 30 feet the whole trip. The powerboats were huge, but cutting
through their wakes was nothing at all with the Rhodes. The only
uncomfortable part was the seas that came at us from the stern and the beam.
With three footers coming across the beam, the boat was rocking and
rolling quite a bit, but let me save that story for the next day...
Arriving at Tween Waters, they let us dock up right alongside the main dock,
which was good since I only had two dock lines on board (another brilliant
move). The pilings on the dock were at least a foot in diameter and my
little lake fenders four inches wide were absolutely useless. (First thing
I did when I got home was to buy large fenders). Since they did not sell
any fenders at the ship store at Tween Waters, we spent the night on the
boat listening to the rub rail grind against the piling as 25 knot winds
blew us into the dock all night long. Otherwise, we had a restful night's
sleep. Tween Waters has a great location with the sound on one side and the
gulf beach right across the street. Great beach, but the facility is just
average. Next time, I will probably choose South Seas Plantation, which is
fancier and much easier to reach by water. The markers leading to Tween
Waters were very confusing.
The next morning on the boat was great with coffee and bagels in the galley
and cockpit before shoving off (literally) for Cabbage Key. As we motored
out the channel to the ICW, the winds were at 15 knots and building. They
hit 23 knots and then leveled off to 17-20 knots with a pretty serious 1-3
foot chop. The chop wasn't bad until we turned north and the seas were
coming across our beam, the same direction as the wind. We were able to
sail with part of the jib alone and keep the boat pretty flat, make good
speed (4-4.5 knots) and put up with the rocking from the waves. The boat is
in its element when sailing regardless of the conditions. Much better to
sail her than to motor in those conditions and we never even got wet! One
bad wave really tossed us over and Sheila went flying from windward to
leeward in the cockpit, with her leg going under the cockpit seat and her
shin stopping her fall when it banged into the seat. The open seats serve
another great function! Just before the wave hit us I had inexplicably
decided to move to the other side of the boat to turn the motor up, without
saying anything, of course. Sheila received an impressive bruise, the best
of the nine different bruises she earned during the week (no others caused
directly by me).
Once we got the hang of it, had a great four-hour cruise to Cabbage Key,
arriving at 1PM. After we arrived, we found out that there was a small
craft advisory out that day because of the wind and severe chop in the
Sound. Only then did I realize that the weather band on the VHF works much
better if you press the WX button!
Checked in to a cottage with a private dock and spent the day sipping
cocktails on our dock watching, waving and talking with the harbor traffic
coming and going. Amazing place-we called it the "Home for wayward men and
women." Reminds me of the Florida Keys in that regard. If you ever want to
cash in your chips and disappear for a while, there are jobs available to
live and work on Cabbage Key. Great destination to visit, and is close to
the beaches of Cayo Costa, which are spectacular. We stayed at the cottage
on the island for two days of relaxing, exploring and mixing with the locals
who work on the island. It is a popular lunch destination for boatloads of
people from the mainland, and supposedly, Jimmy Buffett wrote his
"Cheeseburger in Paradise" masterpiece based upon this spot. I will say
that the cheeseburgers are great, and the place is a paradise... The second
day we went for a day sail and ended up at nearby Pelican Cove where there
is a boat dock associated with the state park that is Cayo Costa. You can
dock overnight (with no services except rest rooms) for $10, which we will
definitely do next time. This is also one of the best anchorages in all of
Pine Island Sound, and there were a half dozen sailboats anchored there. It
is the widest part of Cayo Costa and there is a tram to take tourists across
to the beach on the gulf side. Since it was 4PM, everyone was gone, except
for one Pearson 30 that was docked and we chatted with the owners who just
sailed down from Punta Gorda for an over-nighter. Sheila and I walked
across the island and it was probably about a mile across and took us 15-20
minutes. Amazing, uninhabited, beautiful, peaceful island. Spent some time
on the beach, saw a porpoise and a bald eagle. Come to think of it, we saw
at least one porpoise every day we were in PIS.
It was supposed to be on to Boca Grande, but Sheila was a little spooked
from the rough ride to Cabbage Key and we decided to head up Charlotte
Harbor to Punta Gorda one day early just in case the weather did not
cooperate. We were advised that Charlotte Harbor can be particularly nasty
when the wind blows hard because, despite the fact that it is a large body
of water, it only averages about 20-30 feet deep. It's deeper than that in
our cove at Lake Hartwell. Our day sail from Cabbage Key up through
Charlotte Harbor was a full day; it took us seven hours. The weather was
perfect, sunny, mid 80's, with 15 knots of wind. The first half of the
trip, in the lower part of the harbor was the best sailing we had all week.
This was what I had read about Charlotte Harbor- it is great for sailors,
and that day it was the best. Wide open, no shoals and very few other boats.
Although it is well marked, the markers in the lower Harbor are as much as
five miles apart, so we had to use the small compass that we had
accidentally brought along. It worked and we did not miss the mark (by
much). As we sailed northeast up the Harbor, there were more boats and the
wind started to die. Still, it was 5-8 knots and we didn't resort to
motoring until we were close to the marina. Long day, but a great day
sailing Charlotte Harbor.
Fisherman's Village Yacht Basin in Punta Gorda is a first class marina with
a nice, upscale shopping center attached (or is it the other way around?)
This was the best marina we visited all week-it is first class all the way.
Nice restaurants and facilities, plus tennis, and swimming pools. And, most
important, my trailer was still there! They actually don't have a boat
launch, but there is a very nice, free, municipal boat launch very close-by
that we used.
It was a great four-day trip that I highly recommend. Fortunately, we left
something good for the next trip: a visit to Boca Grande. Next time we will
use Burnt Store Marina in Punta Gorda as the starting and ending point. It
is in lower Charlotte Harbor and all the places we would visit would be
within a half day sail of this marina: Boca Grande, Cabbage Key, Cayo Costa
& Pelican Cove. Plenty to do and see in a compact area.
The Rhodes 22 drew a lot of attention, from stares to people asking what
kind of boat and several people asking about the stern seats. It really is
a great boat to trailer, rig, launch, sleep and most important, to sail.
The area around Pine Island Sound seems to be perfect for it because of the
protected, shallow water and the strong winds we had all week. Not to
mention the beautiful scenery and great weather. We will definitely repeat
this trip, or something similar again.
Bob & Sheila Keller
s/v Yankee Clipper
i25 Jun 2002