Boat People

Bonita Springs, FL – October to November, 2017 Sorry about the month long hiatus from blogging. Pretty sure that is the longest I’ve gone without posting since I began early in 2015. We’ve been busy, ill, and just didn’t have anything to say.

We arrived at the same park we spent last winter, Bonita Lakes RV Park, around the middle of October. We were in a new site, a premium site on D row, which was a concrete pad and a little roomier than last year. They raised their rates this season and we chose a premium site, so the monthly rate is $835 plus electric. But we found last year that when we were parked in the same place for months on end, we saved enough on gas to compensate for the higher lot rent and still keep our budget in balance.

We settled into a routine of sorts for a short while. The ankle I sprained in September was still giving me grief but I was able to avail myself of the recumbent bike in the park’s workout room and started getting some regular exercise. Jim would walk the park then meet me in the pool after. We love that we never have to share that pool with anyone before 9 am.

The park came through Irma better than expected but still suffered plenty of damage. Almost everyone we spoke to said they thought they would lose everything they had there and were pleasantly surprised when they didn’t. But the half dozen or so that did lose their trailers to high winds probably won’t be down this season, or possibly ever, so we didn’t hear their side of things. Most of the total losses were park models.

Our daughter had left her trailer behind when I flew down to evacuate with her from Hurricane Irma. We were pleased to find no serious damage. A limb had fallen on the roof from a pine tree above and an approximately 1 inch branch had penetrated her ceiling. However it had stayed put and kept the hole plugged so very little water got in.

The people we had sold our Alpenlite to were in the park through the storm and they sent us the above picture of her rig the next day. They rode out part of the hurricane in the park’s rec hall with many other residents. But when the roof was damaged they moved to their rig for the remainder of the storm. It didn’t suffer any damage at all.

We spent about a week getting her trailer ready to sell. It was priced right and sold very quickly for $4,800. Thankfully we got close to what we had invested in it.

The employees of the park had been working their butts off since the storm to get everything ready for their seasonal residents. We asked what we could do to help and they said that their storage building needed rebuilt. They had some unskilled residents that were willing to volunteer but they needed someone qualified to oversee them and get the job completed.

Jim was capable and willing to complete the job alone but he told them if anyone wanted to lend a hand they could show up and he would put them to work. He had a crew of about a half dozen the first day. Luckily this was the day they were most needed, mostly to move all the things which were stored on, in, and around the building out of the way.

Jim had one to three volunteers the rest of the week it took to complete the job which was sufficient. That included myself as I got a nasty cold/flu starting the second day and fought it for more than a week. Despite my best efforts Jim then caught the plague and battled it for another week or so.

Since we arrived in Florida Jim had started looking at boats. There is so much to do here that is only accessible by water, that we started thinking last season that a boat might be a good idea. We went to some boat yards but they didn’t seem to have anything under $20,000. So he perused many Craigslist ads.

Jim and I have avoided boat ownership during our matrimony. We agreed early on that we would be better off forking over the dough to rent a boat a couple times a year rather than buying one. But we were reconsidering our hard stand on the matter and looking at our options.

Other than a few boat yards, we hadn’t been to see a single boat when Jim showed me a Craigslist ad for one nearby. I honestly said “that looks too good to be true, is it a scam?” He said he had seen some similarly priced and thought it was worth checking out.

I contacted the seller and it seemed to be a legitimate person. We made arrangements to see it on a Thursday afternoon. We met a very nice man at his home in Fort Myers Beach and were introduced to the newest member of our family, Bella Vita. The name means beautiful life in Italian. We thought that was perfect for us and see no reason to change it.

Bella is a 24 foot Stingray. She has a cutty cabin. It includes a relatively comfortable salon.

There is also a surprisingly roomy head. And a kitchen with a fridge, stove, sink and very little storage.

She is designed to have a full bed under the deck but it has such a low clearance that I can’t imagine Jim or I crawling in there, even with an air mattress. It makes great storage though. The table in the salon drops down to make a small bed. Jim and I could probably squeeze in there or one of us could choose to sleep on the deck.

The captain’s seat lays out flat and I could probably fit on it. We have canvas walls that zip to the bimini tops to create an enclosure like this boat which is the same model as ours.

We wanted a boat for day trips and fishing. But we hoped that we’d find something we could spend a night or two on now and then. We know it won’t be terribly comfortable but we equate it to tent camping. Of course, we could also use her to get to secluded beaches and bring our camping gear for a night on the sand.

We paid six grand for her and are confident we would have lost the opportunity had we hesitated, hemmed and hawed, or waited for an inspection. We did expect she would need some work. We were hoping we would end up with no more than around ten grand invested.

The next day we made arrangements for Bella to be stored in a wet slip at the Hickory Bay Boathouse just 4 miles from our RV park. We made the first of many trips to the boat supply store for a chart, ropes, life vests, etc. And we got her titled and insured.

Then we studied the chart and planned to drive her home on Saturday morning. The seller was kind enough to pick us up at our boat house so we could leave our truck there and make our first boat trip together. We hopped aboard with high hopes and a little trepidation and were soon off on our first open sea adventure.

It was a few miles from the seller’s dock to the open water and our biggest concern was where is the channel and where is the bottom. We kept a close eye on the GPS but the depth gauge didn’t seem quite right. It did accurately show our location and where the channel markers were which was helpful.

We finally reached the gulf and went a couple miles straight out from shore. The charts showed clear sailing that distance from shore so Jim turned her south and we breathed a sigh of relief. Even though it was Saturday, we didn’t see many other boats. It was early, overcast, and storms were forecast for later in the day.

It was fun seeing the shore from this perspective and trying to figure out where we were based on the landmarks we saw. But everything looked so different from that side. The most useful thing was google maps on our phones. We were grateful to have phone reception out there and to know we could phone for help if needed.

We reached Delnor-Wiggins Pass and entered the inland waterway. Then we had 4 miles of shallow water to navigate. We had timed our arrival for high tide so we weren’t terribly concerned. We paid close attention to those channel markers and made it safely to our slip.

We’ve been boat people for more than a month now. We’ve had some fun and learned what they mean when we hear how much work a boat can be. We are still very happy with our purchase and hope to have lots of boat adventures to share over the coming months.

Lovers Key State Park

April, 2017 – Fort Myers Beach, FL We were nearing the end of our time in Florida, for this season at least, and there were so many things we hadn’t gotten around to seeing and doing. For one reason or another we had not gone kayaking with our daughter since she arrived, something we expected to do a lot of. And we had not explored a nearby gem of a state park, Lover’s Key. We decided to remedy both those items at the same time one weekday afternoon.

There is a 2.5 mile marked kayak trail through the park’s mangroves. It doesn’t look much different than the area’s rivers.

Even on a weekday it was relatively busy. We set off about the same time as a rowdy group of German twenty-somethings on a variety of water craft; one canoe, a couple paddleboards, and several kayaks. We dawdled a bit until they got out ahead of us.

I discovered this guy drying his wings. I love these creepy looking birds and but I hadn’t gotten a picture of one until now.

Manatee, dolphins, and alligators are wildlife you might spot here. Birds were the only things we saw but we did hear another couple at the launch say they had seen manatee. You’d probably have better luck seeing wildlife earlier in the day.

We later saw this beautiful guy.

If you look at the map of the park it looks like you could just put in and paddle straight to the backside of the beach and walk over to it. Unfortunately that is not the reality here. The put-in drops you into the maze at the middle of this picture.

You could kayak from the mangroves, out into Estero Bay, and eventually out to the ocean and beach. But that would be a very long haul and we had gotten way too late a start to go that far. If your goal is to kayak to a beach you are much better off launching at nearby Big Hickory than here.

We did make it a ways out into Estero Bay. Most of the floats in Florida have a very limited number of places to land so when you find a tiny beach it’s time to stretch your legs. We stopped for a bit then headed back.

Here’s Jim in our new inflatable kayak. When we went kayaking with the kayak club from our RV park, most of those people had this type of kayak. We were impressed with how they handled so we looked into them.

We wanted to try one out for ourselves and see if it might be an alternative to hauling our big kayaks all over the country. This one easily fits in our basement. We also thought it would be great to have 3 kayaks all winter in Florida so we wouldn’t have to rent one when we took our daughter with us.

We found a gently used Sea Eagle 370 on Craigslist and picked it up for only $150. It included deluxe seats which are a must. You can get the same thing on Amazon for about $325 right now. Here’s the view of it from the top.

This Sea Eagle is made for two. In fact, Jim says it handles better when both of us are in it. It carries up to 650 pounds and weighs only 32 pounds.

We are pleased with it so far and plan to keep it. It was perfect for most conditions in Florida and should be great on any lake in the country. We’ll likely use our regular kayaks in Missouri and possibly leave them there for our summer visits.

As for Lover’s Key State Park, it was a great park with a lot more to offer than just the kayak trail. There were hiking and biking trails and you could walk or take a tram to what we are told is an incredible beach. We didn’t have time to visit again before we left Florida but it will be high on out priority list if we return.

Bonita and Barefoot Beaches

Bonita Springs, FL – October, 2016-February, 2017  We are loving our winter home here in Bonita Springs, Florida. It is a lovely community and the weather has been pretty spectacular. I don’t want to brag about the weather too much just yet. Winter is not yet over!

We haven’t spent as much time at the beach as we originally thought we would but we still try to get to a beach about once a week. The water got as cold as the mid 60’s in January but on hotter days we still enjoy a dip. It has started climbing and is almost 70 now.

The closest beach to our home is Bonita Beach just 6 miles from our door. There is a large parking lot there which charges $2 per hour. This lot is often full by noon.

You can drive past the lot and there are a dozen or so beach accesses with a few free parking spaces each scattered along the two mile length of the beach. They actually have some spaces large enough for our truck. We can usually find free parking on weekday mornings.

The first day we visited this beach was the day after our arrival in town and the day of the hurricane. There were a lot of dead fish washed up on the beach and not yet knowing much about local conditions my first impression was that the seas were so rough they had beached all these fish where they then died.

I later realized the red tide had killed them and the rough seas may have washed a larger number than usual up on the beach. It was sad but also really cool to be able to see so many different kinds of fish, like this ocean catfish…

and this needlefish.

But the coolest was a baby bonnethead shark.

We came back a few days later for another walk. The smell was so bad we only stayed a short while. We returned to our truck by way of the sidewalk where the smell wasn’t as strong. We enjoyed the greenery in front of the fancy beach houses.


And the many quirky mailboxes.

I imagine it would have smelled on our first visit except there was such a strong wind. We were grateful that there was no sign of the red tide when we visited Vanderbuilt Beach during our time in Naples. When we returned to Bonita Beach at the end of October the red tide had moved north and the beaches were again pleasant.

The beach we visit most often is only a couple miles further drive. The Barefoot Beach State Park Preserve is really an extension of Bonita Beach. But the name changes as you travel south and enter a different county and eventually, the protected lands of the preserve.

The primary reason we prefer Barefoot is the ample parking. It costs $8 per car to enter the park or I believe non-residents can buy a parking sticker that is good all over Collier County for around $60. We were lucky enough to have someone lend us their parking pass for the season. They had bought one for a week-long vacation in September and weren’t visiting again until spring.

Barefoot Beach is generally a little less crowded than Bonita Beach. If you are willing to traipse a little ways down the beach from the parking access point you can usually snag a good chunk of beach for yourself. And once you get away from the crowds it’s a nice fishing spot as well.

The preserve is home to the Gopher Tortoise and they are plentiful. We usually see them near the parking lot or from the boardwalk.

Collecting shells is very popular on both these beaches.

I prefer to collect pictures of shells.

And other interesting things we encounter on our beach walks. Like this jellyfish. Am I the only one that sees a tiny alien trapped inside?

Big Hickory

Big Hickory Island, FL – November, 2016 Just 10 miles from our RV resort is a put-in that offers just about everything a kayaker could hope for. We were introduced to Big Hickory when we joined our campground’s kayak club for their first outing of the year. There were two other couples in inflatable tandem kayaks.

It took a few minutes for them to inflate their kayaks on the beach so I threw my boat in the water and met the locals.

Both couples had been here before so once they got in the water we just followed their lead. We paddled along the edge of the mangroves and then over to a beach only accessible from the water.

Just before we landed between the boats we noticed a lot of dolphin activity in the bay so we paddled back out. These dolphins were more active than any I’ve encountered before. I assume there was more than playing going on but I’m not one to speculate on the romantic interactions of others. This pair came up almost under Jim and he got a great shot with his GoPro which tends to give it that fish eye perspective.

The tide was going out so we landed on the bay side of the beach and walked around the point to the beach. I forgot to take my camera on this walk but the beach looked pretty much looked like every other area beach except it was practically deserted. Our new friends said that it will be much more crowded in season (January-March).

There is a large picnic pavilion and a roped off swimming area courtesy of a local community called Pelican Landing. They ferry their residents over for the day as one of the amenities they offer. About half the beach showed signs of improvement and appeared to belong to them although we walked the length of it without being bothered.

After our walk we returned to our boats on the bay side and ate our lunches while watching the dolphins play. Quite a strong wind was now blowing across the bay and out to sea. So we headed back to the take-out. It wasn’t too hard a paddle and we were impressed with how well our friends’ inflatables handled it.

Jim and I returned for a second visit by ourselves a few weeks later to further explore the area. This time Jim brought his fishing gear and we headed under the bridge to explore Estero Bay.

Just on the other side of the bridge we saw dolphins swimming. Jim fished while I tried to get a good shot of them. They never did get very close so this is the best I came up with. If you zoom in there’s one right in the middle.

We then turned right into the mangroves. I puttered along the edges looking for wildlife. None here but I love the trees.

I finally found this beauty.

And this one.

Then we were almost overrun by a flock of pelicans. They are fun to watch.

I love how big a splash they make every time they land.

Big Hickory Island is between Bonita Beach and Lover’s Key State Park. There is a put-in just across the bridge from Dog Beach west of the road. There is plenty of free parking and a short walk to the water. The blue arrow on this map represents the put in. The orange line represents our path on our first outing there and the red was the course we took on our second trip.

We hope to go again soon and plan to spend a full day on that lovely beach.

Dog Beach

Fort Myers Beach, FL – December, 2016 Our youngest daughter has moved to Florida. We are very excited to have her here and have been enjoying spending time with her and our grand-doggy, Sasha.

Our daughter loves the beach and she adores her dog, so we couldn’t wait to take them to Dog Beach.  It’s a beach just for our four legged friends and the people who love them. It is located 10 miles from our campsite. It has a Fort Myers Beach address but it is just as close to Bonita Springs. It is on Lovers Key right between the two towns.

We have now visited twice and had an absolute ball both times. We met some very nice people and some downright adorable dogs. This old girl was used for breeding and gave birth to 54 puppies before her current owner adopted her.

Sasha has shown absolutely no love for the water up until now.  She has been to beaches before and she enjoyed the sand but hated the waves.  She has shown an equal aversion to rivers and lakes.  But she has had very positive experiences at Dog Beach.

For one thing there are no waves. The beach is in an inlet so it is protected. It is also very shallow water, one to two feet depending on the tide. The dogs are so much fun to watch!

The pure joy they exude is infectious!

Dog Beach is all about making friends.

And getting to know them better.

When one throws a toy at Dog Beach it is understood that it may not be your dog that retrieves it.

A young fellow showed up with an old dog and a wake board and I was very curious if the dog would be riding it. They went all the way to the other end of the beach so I got out my camera to spy on them. I couldn’t believe when I actually got some pics of a dog riding the wake board.

It was only upon closer inspection of the pictures after I got home that I realized it wasn’t his dog on the wakeboard. His dog is the black one watching while a random dog hopped on his owner’s wakeboard! He rode it like a pro though! The young man rode it the rest of the time.

We will be making many more trips to Dog Beach. If you are a dog lover you should definitely check it out if you visit the area whether you have a dog along or not.

Imperial River

Bonita Springs, FL – November, 2016 Just a mile from our winter campground is Riverside Park, the highlight of which is the Imperial River. It’s a great place to wander or ride a bike. I can’t believe it took us almost 2 months to get around to kayaking this river. We chose to float it on Black Friday, preferring the solitude of the water to the craziness of the retail scene.

The put-in is in the far left in this photo. It is right beside a pedestrian bridge to a large island.

We had visited the park a half dozen times and hadn’t noticed much of a current, so our plan was to paddle up river and float or paddle back. But once on the river we realized that at this particular time at least, there was no discernable current, so we chose to paddle toward the gulf and take our chances that the paddle upstream wouldn’t be too difficult.

After you leave the borders of the city park the banks of the river are all privately owned and often lined with houses and docks. But there is still plenty of nature to witness, like this amazing tree with an intricate pattern of roots around its trunk.

We saw plenty of birds.

And here everyone seems to want to get in the pic, from the bird statues in the upper right to the turtle poking his head up above the log.

I saw one duck and when I went to investigate I found the whole family patiently waiting for their photo op.

It was the lizards that really stole the show. Jim noticed this monster on a dock. He was HUGE, at least 5 feet from tip to tail and he was incredibly colorful.

I managed to get a few shots of him before he moseyed to the other end of the dock and out of sight.

Directly across the river was this little (in comparison) bright green fellow.

The only downside to floating through neighborhoods is the complete lack of places to stop and take a break. After about an hour and a mile and a half of paddling we decided to turn around. It was a good decision as the wind was picking up and could have made it harder to paddle back later in the afternoon.

We talked to a resident working on his boat and he told us the tides do affect the water level in this area. He said the only time you see much of a current though is when strong winds blow the water out of the bay at the end and the water empties from the river to fill it or when the wind blows water into the bay and it backs up into the river.

On the way back Jim passed within a few feet of this lizard without noticing him.

And we only saw this one because we heard the rustle of palm fronds and looked up. He was way up there and really moving.

There were kids jumping off the docks just upstream of the take out. You wouldn’t catch me swimming in this water. There are way too many alligators in these parts! Of course, the boys were fearless and daring each other to do more complicated flips into the water.

We are looking forward to floating this river again and again.

Winter Digs

Bonita Springs, FL – October, 2016 We are excited to be settled in Florida for the entire winter. Bonita Springs is a lovely area with tons going for it. It is about 30 miles north of the most southern point you can inhabit on the gulf side. This is the entrance to our park.

We have planned for some time to spend this winter in Florida. We started looking at campgrounds early last year and were a little concerned about the price and availability of sites, especially during December, January, and February. Our initial searches led us to believe we might not be able to afford this dream.

As early as last July RV sites in every state park we looked at in southern Florida were already booked solid through April 2017. We hadn’t found any campgrounds anywhere near where we wanted to be with a January rate below $1,200 and many were more than double that amount. We had hoped to tour the state spending about a month in each location.

We realized we better get serious about making reservations around July. We had made plans to meet some friends during their vacation to Naples, Florida at the end of October so we started by looking for a place to stay for a couple weeks around their visit where we felt safe leaving the camper while we hung out at their vacation home rental.

While researching all the local options Jim discovered Bonita Lakes RV Resort. Their monthly rate in October and November is just $568 plus metered electric. We inquired and they said they’d have no trouble accommodating us from October 15th to November 15th.

With that decision made we started looking for our second stop. We quickly felt overwhelmed and gave up for a while. In the meantime we read every bit of information we could find on Bonita Lakes and were looking forward to our visit.

While perusing their website we noticed that although their high season rates are $1,285 per month, if you commit to a 6 month rental it is only $676 per month plus electric. While that was a ways over our monthly budget for lot rent it was close enough that we could make some adjustments and pull it off.

We were not optimistic about them having sites still available during their peak season. We crossed our fingers and gave them a call. As luck would have it they had a cancellation just before we reached them and they were happy to give us that site.

As you know we arrived a little early, just ahead of the hurricane so we have been here exactly 30 days as of this posting. We have been incredibly happy with our choice. The park has exceeded our expectations in every regard.

I didn’t expect a fitness area but they have several nice machines and all of my favorites: an elliptical, a treadmill, and a recumbent bike. More often than not, I’ve been starting my days off in this room with a 30-50 minute workout.

The pool is our favorite spot. We can use it 24 hours a day and it’s heated to 85 degrees. Swimming and stretching in the pool is an amazing way to kick start your day. We have watched the sun come up from this spot on several occasions.

We have yet to share the pool with another soul before noon. I also haven’t seen anyone else use the fitness equipment so far. The park will get more crowded over the coming months and I’m sure that will change but it’s been just awesome so far.

There have been so many pleasant surprises since our arrival. They have pretty decent Wi-Fi throughout the park. They have easy, single stream recycling so all recyclables go in one dumpster. The park staff even picks up your trash and recyclables at your curb every morning. We don’t always use that service but it is really nice to know we can.

They also have two full kitchens at our disposal. They have several full size refrigerators we can use in a pinch. And the residents are welcome to take all the ice they make.

The park is a very nice size, just under 200 sites. A lot of people leave their trailers on their sites year round and just drive down for the winter. So it’s sometimes hard to tell if a site is occupied or not but I’m guessing at least half the sites are currently occupied and more people are arriving daily.

The park is a mix of travel trailers, park models, single wides, and even one double wide. But despite the close quarters everyone works hard at keeping it as neat and tidy as possible. Here is one of the older, more colorful residences with some newer rigs making up the rest of the row.

There is a nice lake at the back of the park with an island in the middle. They say there is normally an alligator or two roaming the lake and the canal that runs down one side of the park. Apparently no-one has sighted them yet this fall and they are generally very shy.

The management and staff here are just amazing. They are the nicest, most accommodating people we have ever met. We asked them for advice on where to find a certain tool to buy and they took us to their toolshed and loaned us what we needed.

They don’t have any activities during the summer but Halloween was the kickoff of their season and the beginning of their activities. They hosted a big Halloween BBQ potluck. We ate dinner at 4 and they had a live band from 5-7. These are our kind of hours!

The November activity calendar is packed. We’ve already joined the kayak club for their first weekly outing. We found a domino game on Wednesday nights. And we are looking forward to learning some new games. Apparently a bean bag toss league is one of the most popular events in the park.

We are looking forward to exploring the state from our new digs. There is plenty to keep us busy all winter within an hour of our door. But we plan to make several trips to other areas of the state. We can get to almost every place we hope to visit in 4 hours or less.

We probably won’t be taking the 5th wheel. It was a tight squeeze getting it into its current spot and it’s only going to get more snug as the park fills up. So we will have to get creative with our travel plans and budget. But we’ll figure it out and we’ll fill you in on it when we do.