This is update #20 as we cover Fred and Sidonia St. Germaine's trip along The Great Loop in their Nimbus 405 Coupe. Links to the other updates are below.
We left Sidonia and Fred as they left Alabama on their way to Florida waters. Sticking to their original plan, they were going to complete their Loop adventure when they arrived in Tarpon Springs.
Despite the unexpected delays of the bent prop and strut, they were still on track to complete the Great Loop in time to celebrate Christmas with family at home.
Most cruisers “cross their wake” after completing the Great Loop at one time. However, Sidonia and Fred had previously cruised along the U.S. East Coast on their large trawler, so did not need to come all the way back around to Annapolis to complete their Loop.
We pick up their story on November 16th, as they enter Florida waters. Repairs to their prop and bent strut were finally successful and the Nimbus was back in tip-top shape.
“We passed into Florida with no robotic voice saying, ‘Welcome to Florida.’ Several dolphins swam and jumped beside us, playing in our bow wave. That was about it.
“Once out of the narrow canal, the GICW opened to a wide expanse. Because of the windy conditions, the water was also quite choppy. We had no idea that portions of the GICW were so open, unlike the East Coast ICW. We passed beautiful, white sand dunes and then lots and lots of houses packed tightly together.
“We were quite surprised when we approached Destin Harbor. The docks were crammed with fishing charter boats, jet skis, and motorized tiki huts for rent and more. It must be a zoo during the season. We covered 68 miles today and anchored in the harbor for the night.
“The next morning, we left Destin Harbor, and ran for about three hours before stopping in Panama City for fuel. The fuel dock at St. Andrews Marina was on the rustic side and self-service to boot. After Fred filled the port-side tank, he found he couldn’t get diesel to come out of the nozzle when he tried to fill the starboard tank. An attendant came out of the building to look. He determined the nozzle was broken.
“Thank goodness there was another diesel pump on the fuel dock where they could drag a hose over to the boat, or we would have been leaning heavily to one side until we could find another fuel stop. And there didn’t seem to be an abundance of marinas in the bay.
“The scenery along the GICW from Panama City to Apalachicola changed pretty dramatically. The number of houses along the banks dwindled until there weren’t any and the land took on the appearance of a swamp. There were lots of dead trees and marsh grasses as well as trees that had fallen into the water. Still no alligators, though. I’m sure they don’t like the cold any more than we do.
“When we arrived at Apalachicola Marina we were more than a bit surprised. There was room for only three boats our size (40 to 45 feet) but there was power available. But there was no office, dock attendant, fuel pumps, bathrooms, or anything else. Just the remains of the old city icehouse. We checked in and paid by phone, and never saw a soul.
“By the time we were checked in and tied up, it was too cold and windy to venture into town, so we stayed on the boat.
“By mid-morning the next day the sun came out. So, we hauled our bikes up onto the dock and rode into town, which was really only two or three blocks away. We found many nice shops and we wandered in and out of several of them. We then had a nice lunch at The Owl.
“After lunch, we went to the John Gorrie Museum State Park. Dr. Gorrie moved to Apalachicola in 1833 and, in addition to his medical practice, he served as postmaster, council member, bank president, and more.
He also researched tropical diseases, particularly yellow fever. During a yellow fever outbreak in 1841, in order to help cool feverish patients, he devised a cooling system for a room in the clinic that moved air through a bucket of ice hanging from the ceiling over the patient. The air then flowed through a hole in the floor.
“In those days, ice came from the frozen northern lakes and stored in ice houses. Dr. Gorrie attempted to make an artificial ice machine (below).
By 1850, his machine was able to produce blocks of ice the size of bricks. Unfortunately, he was never able to raise enough money to manufacture his ice-making machine. But Dr. Gorrie is still considered by some to be the ‘Father of Refrigeration and Air Conditioning.’
“We next rode over to the Raney House Museum. The Greek Revival style house was built in 1836 by David Raney, a wealthy cotton broker. A charming docent gave us a guided tour of the house, which exhibits 19th century furniture and artifacts.”
(Below: A Fish net Christmas tree in Apalachicola.)
On Saturday, November 19, the couple left Apalachicola on their way south. Passing Carrabelle, they found the Gulf of Mexico was not as calm as predicted. They had to slow down as the boat charged into increasingly larger waves. After beating into it for almost an hour, they made the wise decision to turn around and retrace their steps back to Carrabelle to wait for better conditions.
They got a slip at the Moorings of Carrabelle, where they would stay for several days, until conditions improved. Sometimes it pays to be a prudent mariner.
“One feels a little wimpish having to turn back, knowing the boat could handle it. But we would have been in those nasty seas for at least three more hours, and we didn’t want to.
“Our friends, who live in Gainesville, were planning to meet us in Steinhatchee. I was able to text them when we turned around to let them know we weren’t going to make it. They said they would drive to Carrabelle to meet us, which was awfully nice of them since it’s a three-and-a-half-hour drive.
“Doug and Leslie arrived around 4:00. We had a very enjoyable visit on the boat for over an hour and then went up the street to The Fisherman’s Wife restaurant for a pretty good fried seafood dinner.
Since Doug and Leslie had opted not to spend the night, they headed home to Gainesville after dinner. We were quite overwhelmed that they would make such a long drive to visit with us for such a short time.
“The next morning, we waited until it warmed a bit and then went back to the Fisherman’s Wife for a burger. Shortly after lunch, though, my stomach began to act up. We didn’t do anything the rest of the day and I barely slept all night.
“By Monday, I was still not feeling well and so I stayed in bed most of the day. Fred took a walk and tried a Korean food stand for lunch. He wasn’t thrilled but said it was okay.
“Where in the world is the Florida we visited previously? I was still not feeling very well and still no appetite. It’s been more than two days since I’ve had more than a nibble of food. At first, I thought it was the burger I had for lunch the other day but am more inclined to think it was a stomach bug.
“Fred took a walk down to the hardware store and bought a new coffee pot. Our Keurig is being very temperamental and we’re afraid it’s going to give up the ghost. We can’t do without our morning coffee.”
There were other Looper couples waiting in Carrabelle, so they got together that evening for drinks at Harry’s Bar. Some had the latest information regarding conditions for the Gulf crossing. With what they knew at the time, Sidonia and Fred decided to leave the next day, while others chose to hold off for another day, and plan Thursday for their departure.
“On Wednesday, the weather and wind forecast still looked passable, with two-foot seas or less. That was about the best we could hope for, so off we went at 7:30 in the morning.
“Once again, the first hour was fine but then it got a little rougher. Ozzie meowed just once and then hid under my seat. This time, however, it didn’t seem as bad, and we were able to do 22 knots. We went pretty close to straight east until we got within about five miles of the other side of the Gulf. We were about 20 miles north of Steinhatchee before we turned south. The seas calmed down to a little chop and Fred pushed the throttles up to 25 knots.
“Being in the boatyard for three weeks really put us behind in our plans. While we did not have a firm schedule (which we never do), we still wanted to be home around the first of December. So, although we originally planned to visit Steinhatchee, we kept going.
“We began to see crab trap buoys everywhere. The little buoy markers used in this area are so small they are hard to see in the chop, especially when they are black. It seemed like a slalom course as we threaded around these buoys at 25 knots. But we kept going until we reached Crystal River.
“The entrance to Crystal River starts a little over two miles out and we navigated between many markers before we entered the river. Then it is another five or more miles to King’s Bay where there are several anchorages, fuel dock, a town, and lots of pontoon boats for manatee tours.
“The area is very pretty with stretches of marsh with tall palms but also many houses. There are little bays and inlets and abundant bird life with white ibis, anhingas, great egrets, brown pelicans, ospreys, fish crows, bald eagles, and great flocks of coots.
“In winter, some 800 manatees gather here to enjoy the warmer water of King’s Bay’s 70 natural hot springs. It is one of the few places that one can swim among them and throngs of people come to do just that.
‘We topped off our fuel tanks and then anchored out. It had been a long day, running 141 miles over the course of seven hours. I finally felt well enough to eat some dinner but was still a bit wobbly.
“On Thanksgiving morning, we spent the morning calling family and friends and wishing all a happy Thanksgiving. After lunch, we launched the dinghy and went on a manatee hunt. We first went down into the area where the Plantation Resort is located and looked around for almost an hour with no luck.
“We then came back out through the anchorage and entered an inlet leading to Three Sisters Spring. We went very slowly, scanning the water not only to keep from hitting one but, of course, wanting to see one. We spent some time with manatees in southwest Florida about 14 years ago. They came right up to our boat in the marina and hung around for a couple of days. I got in the water and touched them. It seems that most people that come here use wetsuits to swim where the manatees usually gather, but we just wanted to look at them from the dinghy.
“After motoring in some distance, we saw signs posted that said ‘Quiet Zone’, so we turned off our outboard and Fred rowed. We had still not seen any manatees. We eventually came to a place where lots of kayaks were tied to the bank and people were either putting on or taking off wetsuits. They were coming and going into a little channel that led to a small lagoon of beautiful, clear green water. No watercraft were allowed to enter.
“Through the trees on the bank, we could see a nice boardwalk that followed the edge of the basin, so we tied to the bank, scrambled up and walked over to the boardwalk.
“Just as we were climbing up to the walk, a female park ranger appeared and asked, “How did you get in here?” We told her and she said that we were not allowed to access this area from the water today and would have to leave. She offered no explanation but was pretty adamant that we go now.
“I started rowing us back and before long, Fred spotted a manatee. Actually, it was two of them but one was much closer to the surface, way larger than the other and covered in barnacles. They hovered near our dinghy a minute or so and then with a slight flap of their large, rounded mermaid-like tails, they slowly glided off toward the lagoon. We moved on in the opposite direction and saw more of them coming toward us. They appeared in pairs, threesomes, and foursomes, and we counted 13 of them before we were out of the little channel.
“For our Thanksgiving dinner, we had baked beans with hot dogs. We’ve missed many Thanksgivings during our travels over the years, so it wasn’t at all depressing. We’ll make up for it at Christmas.”
The next day the couple continued south and found dense fog would be with them most of the way down the coast to Tarpon Springs. Tarpon Springs had special meaning for them. First, Sidonia was keen to have one of the gyro sandwiches that are famous in the area.
But more important, it was their official end of their Great Loop.
“We had been to Tarpon Springs on our boat several years ago, and then cruised all the way up to Maine. One does not have to do The Loop in one continuous trip.
“After leaving Tarpon Springs, we were back in the ICW, with all its speed zones. It was also very crowded with all the holiday vacationers taking boat rides. Even when we could speed up, we would be tossed around from the other speeding boats.
“Eventually, we reached an opening and went back into the Gulf where we continued to Bradenton. It was another long day of 108 miles and eight hours.
“It is clear Christmas is coming, with all the Christmas lights strung along the waterfront surrounding the marina. If we hadn’t been so tired when we got in, we would have enjoyed taking a walk and seeing what there was to see.
“The fog this morning was thicker than yesterday, so we waited until about 10:30, when visibility was much improved. We cruised for a couple of hours and then stopped at Cabbage Key for lunch. We knew it had been in the path of Hurricane Ian but that it had reopened. Except for the dock being torn up, with broken power stands and trees with missing branches, the inn looked the same as it had in 2008.
It was tricky docking as the long pier was destroyed and we had to squeeze into a tiny slip.
“Cabbage Key was first developed in 1936 by the Rinehart family who paid $2,000 for the property. The inn and several cottages opened in 1944 and has since changed hands a few more times. The inn is renowned for its ‘dollar bill’ room. Patrons tape dollar bills to the walls and there are layers of bills from floor to ceiling. Some bills are signed, and others have little notes written on them. About once a year, all the bills are taken down and the money given to charities. Last year, over $20,000 was collected.
“After lunch we continued on our way and anchored for the night in a residential area near Naples. We were surrounded by multi-million-dollar houses and boats. We traveled 118 miles today.
“On Sunday, November 27, we hoped to stop for lunch at the Rod and Gun Club in Everglades City, another spot we had enjoyed before. We were very disappointed, however, to find that even with a draft of only 3-1/2 feet, we couldn’t get in the channel at low tide. As we didn’t want to wait until high tide, we continued on our way.”
The couple expected to continue down the Florida Bay side of Florida from the Everglades, approaching the Florida Keys later in the day. There are several places where one can pass under Route 1 (Overseas Highway) that connects the islands, which brings you out to the Atlantic side of the Keys. They chose to spend what would be their last night on the Great Loop on Duck Key, at the Hawks Cay Resort in Marathon.
If the weather looks good, from there it makes sense to stay out in the ocean and run at speed up the east side of the Keys, passing Key Largo and Coral Gables on the way to Miami and points north. Their eventual destination was Bradford Marine in Fort Lauderdale.
“We stopped for the night at Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys.
Not too much had changed since we were here last, and one can still swim with dolphins. The last big hurricane that hit here destroyed the resort’s store and a new one is now under construction. After the storm, they found a 40-foot boat in the lagoon, and no one knows where it came from. In order to get into the lagoon, the boat had to have gone over two breakwaters. We’d like to know how they got it out of there.
“Traveling 100 or more miles each day is tiring so we had planned to take a break and spend two nights here. But after checking the weather forecast, we reconsidered and decided one night would have to do. Tuesday’s weather did not look good at all. Winds of 20+ knots from the northeast were predicted, which would rough up the Atlantic, our preferred route rather than staying in the ICW.
“By Monday, November 28, we felt like a horse headed to the barn. The closer we got to the end of our trip, the faster we wanted to get there. If we hadn’t spent time here in the past, I’m sure we would be taking our time and doing some exploring. We fueled up for the last time and made our way out the long, narrow channel of Duck Key into the Atlantic. The seas were about as calm as they could be. There are still lobster trap buoys everywhere even in depths of 200 or more feet.
“About the time we slowed down to eat lunch, the tall, white buildings of Miami came into view. Not more than an hour later, we entered the Port of Everglades at Fort Lauderdale. We made a very slow trip up the New River as we followed a huge yacht with a towboat at either end. It gave us time to enjoy the river again and see the many mansions and yachts along the banks.
“We ended our 5,000-mile Great Loop at Bradford Marine Boatyard. There was no fanfare upon our arrival except for what we could muster up ourselves.”
Their plans were to get their truck back from storage, pack up their possessions and clean out the Nimbus Coupe, as they prepared for the trip home to the West Coast. They wanted to be home with family during the holidays and losing several weeks for repairs made their time in Florida necessarily short.
“We flew back to Annapolis to get our truck and drove back to Fort Lauderdale. The next day, we were both flat in bed with Covid and stayed there for several days. Fred recovered soon enough to start packing up and moving things off the boat.
“While I recuperated, I had plenty of time to think about our Great Loop trip. As hard as I analyzed it, I couldn’t think of anything I would have wanted to do differently.
“The Nimbus was the perfect boat for us. Not only did it have the comfort and equipment we needed/wanted but the speed that allowed us to do our Loop in six-and-a-half months without feeling rushed.
“We thoroughly enjoyed every section of the route, but our favorite areas were the Hudson River/Erie Canal, Trent-Severn Canal, Georgian Bay, and the Door Peninsula/Wisconsin coastline.
“We had mixed feelings when we left ‘Last Item’ with a ‘For Sale’ sign hanging on her bow. We were looking forward to being home again, but sad to seeing the end of such a wonderful experience.
“This had been (at the time) the Last Item on my bucket list and Fred said he was determined to make it happen. And he did.”
We so enjoyed following Sidonia and Fred on their travels around the popular Great Loop. The speed of the boat allowed them to accomplish what others spend a year or more doing, and their lack of drama with the boat allowed them to fully enjoy the experience.
For so many would-be travelers, taking a boat on an adventure such as this makes for memories of a lifetime. It is not difficult yet is still a learning experience for all those who choose to explore our great country by boat.
Congratulations, Sidonia and Fred! Until next time…
Here are links to the LAST ITEM's previous Great Loop updates:
Update #1: Let's Go On The Great Loop!
Update #2: "Last Item" Begins The Great Loop
Update #3: Up The Hudson To Waterford
Update #4: Last Item Heads To Rome
Update #5: Big Water Ahead As LAST ITEM Heads to Oswego
Update #6: A Taste Of The Thousand Islands
Update #7: Into The Trent-Severn Waterway
Update #8: Deeper Into The Trent-Severn
Update #9: Georgian Bay
Update #10: The North Channel
Update #11: Into Lake Michigan
Update #12: Gunkholing Down The Wisconsin Coast
Update #13: Visiting Kenosha
Update #14: Great Loop Trip Continues Into Illinois
Update #15: Exploring The Heartland
Update #16: Heading Into Tennessee
Update #17: Cruising Into The Tenn-Tomm
Update #18: On To The Gulf Of Mexico
Update #19: Waiting On Parts
Update #20: This post.