A Ship of Fools lost in the Everglades

When I was but a young lad the Commander and I spent many a pleasant afternoon on his big screened in front porch gaining knowledge on a myriad of subjects. Somehow he had come across a book written perhaps in the 20’s or 30’s called “Boy Scouts in Florida” about a group of Boy Scouts who became lost in the Everglades.It told how they survived using the skills they had acquired in scouting and living the Boy Scout motto “be prepared”. Little did I realize that I would be traversing some of the same area. If they survived down here they had to be pretty tough. I would no more go ashore here than swim with these gators(and I don’t mean University of Florida fans either).

We departed Rose Marina on Marco island at 0925 and headed out into the Gulf once again. The water was relatively calm though not as smooth as two days ago. Winds are expected to pick up and shift during the day so we want to move along. We are going about 60 miles to the Little Shark River which is located on the lower west coast of the state just south of Ponce de Leon Bay. You come in from the ocean and head upriver against a strong current to find a sheltered spot. We arrived around 1530 and already the first spots were taken by a variety of boats. We saw two sailboats and a small cruiser and at least two other boats were behind us in the Gulf. But we had secret information. Docked next to us at Rose Marine was a Nordic Tug skippered by Captain Linda who is retired from the Merchant Marine where she was a captain of supply ships for the military. Let me tell you this lady could drive a boat. We watched her dock that tug in tight conditions, stern in on a single screw boat with a 19 foot skiff tied to her bow as she towed it backwards! Never even brushed the dock.

Linda travels with her Labrador and both the boat and the dog are named Mercy. The dog is a service dog as Linda is an insulin dependent diabetic and travels mostly alone. This dog can smell if her blood sugar drops below a certain level (around 60) and warn her that she needs to take some action.

Linda has just spent time exploring the Evergades. She takes the tug in and anchors. Then she uses the skiff, that is in tow, to explore various rivers and channels taking photos and depth readings. Once she determines where it is safe to move the tug she re-stages and sets out again. Because of this she has records of depths that no-one else has any idea about unless they lived there. So she shared her charts with me and showed us how to get into a place where you just would not normally go. And that is why we are totally alone in this channel and anyone approaching would think we had lost our minds.

Speaking of losing one’s mind, I am hesitant to share how foolish we were today but I try to be open with our readers and might as well confess. As best we can figure this all started around noon today and for those of you who check the SPOT you may be able to pinpoint where it started from our rather erratic track.

The boat suddenly became difficult to steer and would not hold a line even in calm seas. We left a track that looked like a drunken sailor trying to walk a narrow pier except that is doing a disservice to drunken sailors everywhere.

We changed drivers to see if it was just fatigue but no help. I tried to run up speed to see if that helped but the port engine would not spool up past 1800rpm and we were baffled. I thought restricted fuel flow from a clogged filter, some trouble with the port prop that had been repaired, a fishing line wrapped around the prop and a dozen other possibilities. Jan drove and I put on earplugs and went into the engine room. It is very loud and everything is red hot. Everything looked normal except the port engine seemed to be turning the shaft much faster than the starboard. We had no choice but to continue to run at low speed and fight the wheel. This did not bode well for going up a strange river after dark with no-see-ums in the millions. Those are bugs you cannot see but which inflict terrible bites and screens do not keep them out.

This was going to be tough, until around 2pm when I happened to notice an oddity. The starboard gearshift was in neutral. We had been running on one engine for the last two hours while the other one was at high idle. This caused all our trouble. Just plain stupid and neither of us saw it while we drove mile after tortured mile. What a relief! We engaged the engine and immediately our steering improved, our speed increased and we were able to jump up on plane and burn some fuel. At no time did anything overheat thank goodness.

Now we were making up for lost time and dodging hundred of crab pots that dot these waters. Soon we reached the waypoint for Little Shark River by running 24 mph for 90 minutes. It cost more fuel than we had planned but it was still daylight. Made it to our anchorage, fired up the generator and closed ourselves in from the bugs. 

The stars were spectacular but could not get a picture. Have not seen a single alligator.