Friday, November 15 – Indiantown. At first light, we departed Fort Myers thinking we could transit the 5 locks (yes more locks), cross Lake Okeechobee and make Stuart about 120 miles away. The forecast was for rain most the day but that’s okay. Lightning and wind not so much. We have travelled across the Caloosahatchee / Okeechobee waterway before so we pretty much knew what to expect. Most of the waterway is very rural with sightings of cows, alligators, ospreys, and manatees. In fact the last time we crossed, we had manatees in at least a couple of the locks with us. Got off to a good start and able to run at about 20 mph. No problems with the Franklin lock; got right in. Slight wait at the Ortona lock but it turned out to be the most challenging lock of any we have transited. It was about a 9’ lift and as the water was pouring in from the other side, we couldn’t hold on to the lines and finally had to start our engines and control the boat with the engines. We later remembered that in the Florida locks, you are supposed to wrap the lock lines around your cleats (not tie it off) and adjust as you go up or down. Since we were used to just holding the lines from the previous 145 locks so had trouble controlling the boat. Anyway, figured it out and all good for the moment including the low swing bridge that we had to call via VHF and have opened.

When we were approaching the Moore Haven lock, there is a railroad bridge that is usually open unless a train is coming. Sure enough, the bridge was closed and our Garmin information said that you might have to wait for 30 minutes. Just about this time, we look behind us and here comes a wall of rain. Heavy, monsoon type rain so we quickly scooted over to the Moore Haven town dock and tied off just as the rain came down. Bob called the lock and asked about status of train bridge since a train had passed minutes before and yet the bridge was stilled closed. Lockmaster said there maybe another train in area but he would call if not open in 10 minutes. About 10 minutes later, lockmaster called us via VHF and told us the bridge would open soon so we untied from the dock and headed to the bridge. After a westbound boat left the lock and passed through the narrow opening of the bridge, we proceeded into the lock and locked through without incident.

After Moore Haven, you are almost to Clewiston and Lake Okeechobee. We decided to check the middle bilge pump and it wasn’t working. Decision time as to whether we head into Roland’s Marina in Clewiston or head across Lake Okeechobee which is 25 miles across with some wind and rain. Chose to continue but halfway across, Bob jumped into the engine room to see if he could get the mid bilge pump to work. We didn’t want to sink out in the middle of the lake. Finally got it pumping but with the several delays we knew that we would not make Stuart. We finally figured out was what causing the water leaking into the bilge. It appears our shaft seals are leaking which is aggravated by running fast. Tried calling a couple of marinas in the area thinking we would have them haul us out, replace the shaft seals and we would rent a car and go home. No go. The marinas were are full and too booked up for us. Getting concerned now as with the delays in crossing, we weren’t going to get to the last lock by 4:30 which is their last locking time. Finally, called Indiantown Marina and they squeezed us in to the last space they had on their wall. Told us we would stick out but we were happy to have a place to tie up and try and fix our bilge pumps and pump out any new water. The term Marina is a bit of a stretch for this place. It really is a working boatyard where boaters store their boats for the summer during hurricane season and it is in the middle of nowhere, about 20 miles west of Stuart and in between two locks. Came in around 4:00, tied up, made dinner and went to bed. Confirmed we weren’t sinking. The only thing in our favor for the day was that the Port Mayaca lock was open and we passed through. Didn’t have to stop and tie off the tender, just passed through at idle speed as the lake was level with the waterway.

Saturday, November 16 – HOME! Crossing our wake! First light headed out again with destination Pompano Beach (100 miles) and home. 15 miles to the St. Lucie lock which was a short wait but easy then 15 miles to the ICW and southbound. Fairly uneventful day but just long. Some pretty homes along the Okeechobee waterway (photo) and of course once into the Palm Beach / Jupiter area. We know we are on the home stretch and just want to be home but so many slow speed or idle speed zones. Finally got home and officially crossed our wake at 6pm. Yay! Another 11 hour travel day. But we had texted our friends / neighbors Scott & Gayle that we would be home and asked them to join us for a drink in celebration. They were so sweet meeting us at our dock just as it was getting dark and had brought lots of fine wine for the celebration. Tied up the boat and sat on our dock with Gayle and Scott to enjoy the moment.

And so ends our Great Loop adventure and we can now fly the “Gold” AGLCA burgee, signfying that we have completed the Great Loop.  Wow!!!

Bittersweet, really. We are glad to be home for sure but just now realizing our accomplishment. Two countries, 18 states, about 150 locks, approximately 5,200  miles, 11 months on the boat (split up 6 months in 2018 & 5 months in 2019), met at least 100 other loopers along the way, made some new life long friends, got to see and explore so many new towns and cities, lots of beautiful vistas, anchorages, and wildlife. It’s an adventure that not many people will ever experience. In fact, more people climb Mount Everest then do the Great Loop each year. While we were both experienced boaters before setting out, we certainly learned a lot more and perfected the term “team work”. Bob likes to tell people that inquire about the fact that we tow our tender that we are like a Nascar pit crew. When approaching a lock or marina, we can pull in the tender or let it out in a minute or less. Fast and efficient.

Lots of people have asked us “what was your favorite spot” or “what next”. The answer to the first question is its really hard to point to one favorite or best parts. There were certainly highlights of the adventure that were more memorable; Belhaven (NC), Annapolis, the Hudson river, Lake Ontario, Thousand Islands (NY), most if not all of Canada, Georgian Bay/ North Channel, Harbor Springs (MI). But seeing the beauty that each area had to offer and all the loons, bald eagles, dolphins and other wildlife was amazing.

The answer to the second question as to what’s next is a few things. We look forward to spending more time in the Keys and the Bahamas as we continue to enjoy our semi-retired lives. We have also planned a trip to Europe next September. We will fly to Copenhagen, visit our friends Mari & Tommy in Sweden, then make our way south (via cars & trains) to Barcelona visiting several countries (Denmark, Germany, France, Switzerland,) on the way then board a Celebrity cruise ship back to Fort Lauderdale. This is a repositioning cruise and is 15 days (8 days at sea) while crossing the Atlantic Ocean. So that is what’s next.

At this writing, we have been home almost a week and it truly is nice to be home. We retired our white looper burgee (badly needed to retire) and hoisted up our new gold burgee. So friends, farewell for now. Thanks for travelling along with us on our Great Loop adventure. Stay well and keep in touch!

Bob & Gigi
Island Time – Gold Loopers