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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Stuart - Sunset Bay Municipal Marina - don't miss it!

The trip to Stuart was interesting as the scenery changed between Palm Beach and Stuart. Lots of extravagant homes, but along this stretch, modest homes on the ICW as well. The ICW travels along the Indian River and the River is wide and long (153 miles). Water is brackish (salt and fresh water mix). Islands with vegetative growth abound as do shoals. We watched the chartplotter carefully. The ipad with Navionics is a great backup. Navionics is a program that uses the GPS to follow where we are and shows on a chart where the boat is located. Quite amazing and the software is easy to view on the ipad even in the bright light on the bridge.

Stuart is located about 10 miles west of the ICW as the Okeechobee Waterway begins. The Waterway extends from Stuart on the East to Ft. Myers on the west coast. The Okeechobee Waterway was built in 1937 to provide a water route across Florida rather than traveling the long route around southern Florida. Lake Okeechobee is located in the middle of the state, along the Waterway and is the 7th largest fresh water lake in the US.

Travel to Stuart began on a good note. We knew we would enjoy the "lack" of bridges. We had waited for 7 bridges one day and 10 the next. Really slowed us down, but as we say "always interesting"!

Two bridges are located just before the Sunset Bay Marina in Stuart. The first bridge, a low train bridge, is controlled in Tallahassee. 8 minutes before the bridge is to close, an alarm begins to warn boaters of the impending closure. Most train bridges are manned and the bridge tender can be called when it is necessary to request "a lift".

Both bridges were closed when we arrived and we waited uncomfortably in the wind and current for both bridges to open. Located almost immediately after the train bridge, is a bascule bridge (drawbridge) that we needed to open as well. Bridges in Florida can be reached on the VHF radio on channel 9. Often the bridge tender does not answer. We wonder what the bridge tender is doing in the tower. Playing solitaire perhaps?

Sunset Bay (Stuart Municipal Marina) construction was completed November, 2009 and what a pleasure! The Marina building is a two story building with a store, office, laundry and restrooms on the first floor. Also a wide porch with rocking chairs and bikes available to borrow for free! The second floor has a gathering room with TV, books to trade and cushy chairs. The Harbormaster lives upstairs as well. Very clean and beautiful.

The mooring balls are new and easy to use. Sometimes mooring balls have a fabric "ring" to use for the lines tied to the boat. This type of ring chafes on the line and the noise is....annoying. Others have a metal ring or plastic ring. Works much better. Our least favorite have a scummy line to be picked up out of the water and secured through the hawse pipe on the cleat on the bow.

Here's how we pick up the mooring ball. Captain drives the boat as close to the mooring ball as possible. Meanwhile "other captain" is ready with the boat hook and line to be secured to the mooring ball. As the boat passes the mooring ball, I grab the line with the boat hook and run our line (secured on the bow cleat) through the "ring" and secure it back on the bow. Doesn't always happen on the first pass. Sometimes the boat is too far away, being blown by the wind or affected by the current. Other times I just miss the line.

We prefer the mooring ball to an anchor as we know we are secured to the sea bottom. With an anchor you "hope" you are secured to the bottom and hope for a nice calm night.

Stuart has a beautiful, historic downtown. We borrowed one speed cruising bikes from the Marina to ride into town and investigate old downtown. The ride was short and we rode through the busy downtown. Good to see lots of shops and people walking through town. Residents were friendly and home prices modest.

We ran into fellow loopers from Ontario and chatted. Part of the pleasure of the Loop is running into our friends as we travel. Love exchanging stories!

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