Everglades Detour

6/1/2012

By James Favors

After leaving Moss Marina, the site of the Ranger Tug, 2012 Southern Rendezvous, we took our boat out of the water at the Punta Rassa boat ramp, not far from the marina in Fort Myers Beach, we then negotiated our trailered rig onto I-75 heading south. It was a short 54 miles before we relaunched in Goodland, (gateway to the Everglades). We had our sights on taking a little cruise to Everglades City to visit the famous Rod and Gun Club before we continued our road trip further south to the Keys. We were excited about going to Goodland, only three miles southeast, as the crow flies, from Marco Island, mainland Florida’s southwestern-most city. Lisa and I had cruised by Goodland before, but never had the pleasure stopping there.

At anchor shortly after launching from Calusa Island Yacht Club we have yet to hoist the mast and get the boat back into ship shape.

This night on the hook was so calm it felt like sleeping on a waterbed.

Coming into a small village for the first time while towing 35 feet of trailer and boat can be a little nerve-wracking, so we pulled to the side of the street in order to check the GPS and ramp info on our iPad. My research showed a Municipal boat ramp, but I wasn’t exactly sure where it was located in the small village. I had concerns that I might turn down the wrong street and get boxed in, so I thought it was better to pull over and collect my thoughts before venturing any farther. We’ve found that this is often necessary when trailering a large boat, sometimes you need to double check routes before you head into something that may be difficult to get out of.

Here we’re heading into Russell Pass and our anchorage in Everglades National Park.

When we finally did arrive at the boat ramp we were a little puzzled. It was early afternoon on a weekday, and nobody was in the office. No one answered the phone, and while we could easily use the boat ramp, I couldn’t tell from the signage whether we could leave our truck and trailer in the parking lot for a few days while we cruised to Everglades City. As luck would have it, some locals were cruising through the parking lot in their golf cart and they were kind enough to set us in the right direction. They suggested we call Calusa Island Yacht Club with our questions and concerns. We found out through the Yacht Club that there is indeed no overnight parking permitted at the public ramp site. But we also soon found out Calusa Island Yacht Club had a boat ramp and for $10 per night we could leave our rig in their secure, gated environment. A ticket at the public ramp site would cost scads more than the $30 we finally did pay. Even though we had gotten an early start to the day, by the time we had Kismet floating again we noticed the day had kind of slipped right by us. To recap the process, we had trailered the boat, driven 54 miles, stopped for lunch, spent time investigating our launch site, relaunched, secured our truck and trailer, got a pump-out, and refueled. We were pooped.

When at anchor, we like to shower on the back deck, extending the shower head through the porthole for a quick rinse, as Jim is demonstrating, instead of getting the whole head area wet.

The nice thing about putting in at Goodland is that there are many anchoring opportunities. Instead of making a longer day of it, we decided to cruise less then a quarter mile to a well-protected and scenic anchorage in Blue Hill Creek. This gave us time to finally relax and enjoy the evening. We wanted to be prepared for an early start the next morning for the two days we had scheduled to explore the Everglades and the surrounding Ten Thousand Islands.

One of the many benefits of the trailerable boating lifestyle is the ability to plop a boat into the water at will, explore, trailer the boat again and move on to a new destination, while cutting out miles of unnecessary water travel. I mention this because we had been through this area before in our Fathom 40, enjoying several anchorages and unique scenery as we made our way to the Keys, but we never had time to really explore deeper into the Everglades. Our time had been enjoyable in the Everglades/Ten Thousand Islands area before, but for us it had been more a means to an end.

On our way to Everglades City, where the calm water next to the mangroves is dangerously shallow.

Don’t get me wrong, two days is a minuscule drop in the bucket when it comes to exploring the 734 square mile area we were heading into. With two days allotted, our mission was not to cover a lot of territory, but to cruise back into the mangrove-covered islands as far back as the swampland had water to navigate in order to get a better taste of what it meant to be in the Everglades. With Kismet’s 2.5-foot draft, we can get a lot farther into places big boats cannot – yet another advantage to a trailerable boat.

Through the door is a small bar, just off the lobby of the Rod and Gun Club.

Here you see the well-preserved front desk of the Rod and Gun Club, notice the mounted guns and fish on the wall.

We pulled anchor in the early morning, sipping our coffee as we slowly made our way out of Coon Key Pass and into Gullivan Bay. We were not in any hurry, especially as we were greeted by calm waters, clear blue skies and, we were happy to note, a water route devoid of traffic except for an occasional small fishing boat. With no clear-cut itinerary, we acted on a whim. The chart showed a promising path of mostly 6-foot depths with an occasional four feet just to the east of Turtle Key. We ventured in, passed a few fishermen, then through Dismal Key, followed by Santina Bay, and into the beginning of Pumpkin Bay, three miles later. Not knowing what we would see is the part of the adventure we thrive on — we yearn for that unexpected surprise. Although we didn’t see alligators, eagles, or dolphin we did see an unspoiled paradise with crystal clear waters, and we were able to experience Mother Nature at her finest. It's a place more people should take time to see, but there’s just one catch – you can only get there by boat.

I always like to maximize my experiences, so on our return trip we exited into Florida Bay via an alternate route to the southeast of Dismal Key, where we slid between White Horse and Hog Key. At this point we are still in the Ten Thousand Islands, in sight of Fakahatchee Pass and another scenic exploration opportunity – into Fakahatchee Bay and back out.

This is how you first see the Rod and Gun Club as you approach by boat from the Barron River.

When we exited Fakahatchee Pass, we were within a mile of Everglades National Park and only 4 miles from Indian Key Pass. Indian Key Pass leads back to Everglades City, only 5 miles from the Gulf. Its many side channels, coves, and islands make the area a popular anchoring spot. As we worked our way past Indian Key, to our anchorage destination inside Russell Pass, we saw that the beach area was covered with hundreds of white pelicans wading in the water, looking for fish or crayfish. They were lined up on the beach as if they were welcoming us to the Everglades. We're always on the lookout for the other birds that make a home on the Everglades — the Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Spoonbill, and Great Egret.

After spending another peaceful night at anchor listening to the unique sounds of Mother Nature, we cruised 5 miles to Everglades City, our final destination, for an early lunch. We’ve known about the historic Everglades Rod and Gun Club for many years but for one reason or another we were just getting around to a visit, wanting to scratch it off of our boating bucket list. The club, dating back to 1864 and private until 1972, represents a piece of history that has maintained its rustic charm. Whether you spend the night or dine on the porch overlooking the Barron River, you somehow feel connected to the past history of this area. Walking through the dark paneled lobby, dripping with mounted animal heads, grouper, and tarpon, I couldn’t help but wonder how it might have been to arrive by boat over a hundred years ago? To read and see more of the Rod and Gun club visit http://www.evergladesrodandgun.com.

Back to Goodland for our last night on this side-trip and we’re not disappointed; we’re treated to another glorious night on the hook.

After a relaxing lunch and a quick walk around town, we lazily cruised out of the Barron River, through the Everglades, Ten Thousand Islands and to our anchorage at Blue Hill Creek, all the while absorbing our final day of cruising in southwest Florida. It felt good to know we’d be taking the boat out at Goodland the next morning and heading east shortly after at 60 MPH while trailering our boat onto the Overseas Highway, island hopping as we head further south to the Keys.