Monday, March 16, 2009

On the road again (or is that water?)

We certainly enjoyed our 'week off' but were ready to get back on the water. Norm's engine is running fine so we left the park where we were hanging out bright and early on Saturday. We continued East on the Caloosahatcheee River. We had to go through 2 locks and a 7 foot swing bridge that had to open for us. We spent the night at a small marina in the very small town of Clewiston on the rim of Lake Okeechobee. Rick had a chit for 2 free nights at this marina that he got from the last DeFever rendezvous. Unfortunately, it expired the end of 2007 and we didn't know if they would still honor it. But they did, so Tidehiker and Rickshaw each stayed for one night for free! It is nice when that happens.

Sugar Cane is the big crop in this part of Florida. They burn off the sugar cane at the end of the season (we are not sure why), but all along the way we could see the fires burning and smell the sweet smell of sugar burning.

It is a pretty interesting process of 'locking through' a lock. We drive the boat into the lock, which is basically a large rectangular shaped basin with side walls made of concrete and 'doors' on the front and back of the lock. As we go in, the lockmaster throws a line which is attached to the lock wall to Lynnie on the front of the boat. Then Rick puts the boat in neutral and runs to the back of the boat and catches the line on the back of the boat. When all the boats that are locking through are secured to the lock lines the lockmaster closes the gate behind the boats and starts opening the gate in front of the boats.That lets the water either in or out, depending if you are locking up or down. We locked up about 12 feet on the west side of Lake Okeechobee and then down about 12 feet on the east side. The water fills the lock and as the boat rises or falls we cinch the lines that we are holding. When the level of the water in the lock is the same as the level of river you are going into, they open the gates completely, we drop the lines and continue on our way through. We learned along the way where we should put the fenders to keep the boat off the wall and how much we needed to cinch the lines. It was actually sort of fun since we had not done much of this 'locking thing' before! Here is Rick going into the lock.

Here is Vicki piloting Tidehiker coming out of a lock. After the lock we went under a train bridge that was open as no trains were coming through at the moment.
This train lift bridge is rather notorious for sailboaters, as it is just 50 feet; lower if the lake level is up. Sailboaters with a mast height greater than 50 feet either can't go this way, or they hire a local team which brings out large containers, fills them with water, and then uses this extra weight to "heel" the sailboat over to one side so the mast is lowered enough to transit the bridge. There are always unique niches for marine services.

The way along the river was rather eerie. We thought that this desolate scene was because of the wild fires that had plagued Florida in the past few years because of the drought. It turns out that the fires were man made because of an Australian tree that had been brought into Florida to solve some problem but it turns out that the tree was worse than the original problem so the state of Florida has been burning them off. Still, a strange site to see for miles and miles. The pictures below are of the Clewiston canal which runs out into the lake.

We started seeing alligators in the river on Saturday. There were just a few and most were about 4 feet in length. Some people swim in this river, which is something we don't understand!! We have been trying to get a picture but they must be camera shy because as soon as the camera comes out they go to the bottom!

We left the marina in Clewiston on Sunday morning and started making our way across Lake Okeechobee. It is about 30 miles across with a lock on the east rim. Once across we found that the lock on the east side is usually open, as the depth controllig lock on the east side is about 12 miles east of the lake edge, so we were able to go straight through and continue to the St. Lucie lock where we locked down the 12 feet to the level of the St Lucie River which runs into Stuart on the east coast.
Last night we stayed in another small marina on the St. Lucie Canal. The coolest thing is that the space shuttle took off around 7:45 pm and we got to see it. That was a truly amazing sight. It went up so fast! We could see the capsule disengage from the rocket boosters and it was out of sight in just a few seconds.

We are now making our way to Stuart, FL, officially back on the east coast! We'll spend a few days doing probably our last provisioning run before heading off to the Bahamas. Our friends Patty and Jim again found us free dockage at the Finz Restaurant! We had stayed there on our way south. Patty and Jim are loaning us their car, once again, to get everything done and we surely do appreciate that. What great hosts they are.