Cayo Costa, FL

As we headed south from Venice on the ICW on a Saturday we were rocked, rolled and waked by all of the boat traffic. We try not to travel on weekends but after waiting so long we had to go when the weather was good. Our poor little dinghy went airborne a few times with the huge wakes.

We got settled anchored between Useppa Island and Cabbage Key in the same place we anchored a couple of years ago. Our draft is too deep to get into Pelican Bay so we went where we knew we’d be just fine. There were quite a few boats there already but plenty of space. We took the dinghy over to Cabbage Key to explore. Last time we were here we just ate quickly and got back out to the boat. We wanted to walk around the island a bit this time. We got docked and immediately made friends with the gopher tortoises. There were five of them, named after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The girls had no clue who that was.

Then we took a quick hike to the top of the old water tower and took in the view of the islands around. I’m terrified of heights and even this not very high water tower was enough for me. Next up we took one of the trails around the island to find the shell tree. We spotted a couple more tortoises on the way and stopped to watch them for a bit. After finding the shell tree on our second lap around we headed back to the main lawn and got some drinks and cooled off for a minute!

We headed back to the boat for the night with plans to be at Cabbage Key right when the restaurant opened the next day for lunch. We got there around 10:50 AM and got our name on the list. Perfect timing as we got there just before the tour boat flooded in! We ordered our very over priced burgers and at a quick early lunch and then headed back to the boat.

We were so excited to go find the Tunnel of Love and Cayo Costa beach! Last time we were here we went into Pelican Bay via dinghy and took the shuttle to the other side of the island to the beach. This time I found Tunnel of Love on our charts so off we went to explore. We are so limited by depth in the big boat that we all love just zipping around and not caring what happens to the dinghy (for the most part). We hit bottom? Ok. We get stuck in a mangrove? Ok. It’s kind of relaxing to be able to motor around and deal with whatever comes our way in an inflatable boat.

The Tunnel of Love was great. What a neat experience. We were pretty sure we may not make it through some spots. Molly navigated a lot of mangrove branches and we all played some limbo with the branches. We had to push ourselves off a few times but we kept following the little GPS dot and finally found where we could tie up and hop out on land!

Not 50 steps away the grasses opened into breathtaking beach. And we had it almost all to ourselves. It was so amazing to be here instead of where the shuttle lets off with all the people. I can’t get over how beautiful it was.

Shells everywhere. Shell jackpot. We walked and walked and walked. Shells. Crabs. You name it we picked it up.

We chatted with a few scattered people and then went back to where we came into the beach and let Maddy play in the sand for a bit. She loves to imagine and create. She was busy building a horse jump out of shells and sticks.

Eventually we were hot and it was time to head back through the grasses to the dinghy (which was thankfully still there!).

By the time we got back to the boat we were hot and the kids were ready to jump right in. They had a great time swimming off the back of the boat and were thrilled to discover an adult favorite….the life vest diaper. They thought they were so clever wearing their vest upside down with legs through the arm holes. Little did they know that adults have been doing that for ages!

Ben and I enjoyed sitting out back and watching them and just relaxing. It was Sunday afternoon at this point and all the boat traffic had calmed. What a lovely way to spend an evening!

Venice, FL

It was time to say goodbye for now to Gulfport. It was a fantastic 2.5 months and really felt like home. One final sunrise over the gorgeous pool and a final picture of our slip.

Our dinghy was in the water and needed to be hoisted so I stayed on the dock while Ben pulled the boat around to the t-head so I could catch lines and tie the boat up there. Low and behold the drama of moving the boat started right then and there. Ben went to hoist the dinghy and the crane wouldn’t lower at all. Seems that while it sat still doing nothing the cable bound up on itself. The first option was to stay put…but we had done that for so long already. I was really not interested in that option. Second was to try to fix it. Ben tackled it right away but to no avail. It wouldn’t budge. Third option was to tow the dinghy. Feeling somewhat frustrated and discouraged, Ben hooked up our tow line and off we went.

Have Another Day at Sunrise

It was a beautiful day to cross Tampa Bay and the dinghy did just fine being towed. Once across the bay we pulled up to a restaurant dock and met a fuel truck there. It was a ton cheaper to get fuel that way. The guy just dragged the hose down the dock and fueled us up and we were on our way.

Sunshine Bridge – it was my dad’s favorite

We took the ICW to Venice and stopped at a marina right on the inlet. Not ideal for a calm night but we wanted to be right by the beach and the inlet if we decided to run outside the next day. As soon as we got tied up and settled the girls and I hit the beach. It was a wild day on the Gulf. Huge surf and crazy winds. I was on a hunt for shark’s teeth. This beach is known for them. I searched and searched but didn’t find a single one. The girls took turns running and jumping down the sand ridge and then Molly got right in the waves. Maddy was more tentative. I asked Molly how strong the current was since they were not in life vests and I was not in the water with them. Too chilly for me. The water was super shallow except when a wave came in so I held my breath and kept a close eye on them. They had a blast jumping the waves and watching the surfers.

After getting back to the boat we took the dinghy over to this little island right across from the marina. Molly was chilled from the wind and water so we took a quick walk around and headed back to the boat for dinner. The next morning before heading out I walked into town to stop by the post office and stumbled upon a fabulous farmer’s market. Downtown Venice is adorable and I wished we had a day to spend there but we had our sites set on Cayo Costa and anchoring for a couple of nights so I took a quick walk around town, stocked up on lots of goodies at the farmer’s market and walked back to the marina lugging everything I bought. After enjoying croissants and cinnamon rolls we took the dinghy on a brief run out into the Gulf. It was smooth and calm but had big swells so we decided the ICW with all it’s weekend boaters throwing huge wakes was likely better for those of us who hate swells! We untied lines and headed up the ICW to Cayo Costa. I’m glad we had a quick stopover in Venice and look forward to spending more time there at some point.

Gulfport, FL – Part VI

Ben headed to Chicago at the end of February to deal with some things there. The girls and I were dreading the cold so we spent an extra week in FL before we had to fly home. It was a jam packed visit spending time with both families and our good friends. We squeezed in a couple of dinners with Ben’s family, a last minute road trip to Detroit for a couple of nights, a visit with my cousin and his wife and their precious new baby, and a 70th/40th birthday party for my uncle and sister. Ben and I even managed to see a play we had tickets for. Amazing the tickets fell when we happened to be home. And the girls made it to their cooking class. Maddy’s orthodontist appointment was canceled a half hour before she was scheduled to be there and it was on the day we flew out so that was the one frustrating part of the trip home. Phew! It was time to head back to the warmth and sunshine.

We made it back to the boat mid March and started watching weather to move south. It was finally time to leave Gulfport and head down to Ft. Myers. Our friend Ron from Chicago came down to visit and join us for the travel days. As fate would have it the wind didn’t cooperate and we didn’t move a bit. When the wind was decent in Gulfport, it was going to be kicked up further south before we would get to Ft. Myers. We had stops planned that we didn’t want to rush through so we decided to just wait it out until we had a stretch of good days. But we felt awful that we didn’t travel as planned with Ron!

Instead we continued to enjoy the pool, played in the dinghy and at the island and just enjoyed hanging out.

First up was taking on the task of cleaning the dinghy. We had to leave it in the water in Gulfport and with Ben gone for two weeks it didn’t get moved at all. And we forgot to lift the motor….oops. Big oops! When we got back we found it completely covered in barnacles and mess. It would hardly move. We made it out to the island with lots of tools, beached it there and went to work. We all pitched in, Ron complained a lot about how we told him to come visit and then put him to work (all our evil plan, and yes, he was mostly joking) and Ben did the lion’s share of the work when we all got tired.

Once the dinghy was cleaned enough to actually move we took it and headed to John’s Pass. We tied up at John and Gabi’s marina and all walked over to the pier for lunch. After having lunch there we promised the girls we could head out to the sandbar right there. John and Gabi joined us in their dinghy. We tossed out the anchor and hopped out in 2 feet of water. We spent the afternoon hanging out, playing in the water and visiting with other boaters. Once we were finished there we took a long cruise back wandering through back canals and under low bridges just to see what we could see.

Sunday was a gorgeous day. Just beautiful. We were so frustrated not to be at Cayo Costa anchored as was planned. But we knew that night the winds were kicking up and we would have been miserable at anchor. I suggested we take the big boat out! We hadn’t moved since arriving over two months prior. And with a third set of hands we figured why not. We just headed out for about an hour but it was good to be on the water. We headed towards the inlet and got out on the Gulf for a bit. It was a quick cruise so we didn’t spin the stabilizer and Maddy was unhappy when fishing boats started whipping past us tossing us around so we turned around and headed back in.

When Ron arrived he casually mentioned his 50th birthday was Tuesday! Say what?!?!?! We maybe needed a bit of time to prepare for that news! Molly baked him some scones (he said no cake), we got cards, and hung the Happy Birthday banner and lit candles and sang at breakfast. It was a rainy, cool, kind of crummy weather morning. It cleared up a tad and we headed out for a nice dinner that evening.

It was time for Ron to head home the next morning since the wind was howling and we still weren’t moving. As he was leaving, Ben spotted a mom and baby manatee in the harbor. We gave hugs and said our goodbyes and then the girls and I watched the manatees for ages.

We kept watching the weather and made a plan to finally head south in about three days. Stay tuned…we might actually move!

Gulfport, FL – Part V

Time for our next visitors! But first, I completely forgot about the amazing eclipse we witnessed back in January. So, a little out of order but wanted to mention it here. Ben and I stayed up and waited to see it around 11:30 PM. We promised the girls we’d get them up. It was incredible. Around midnight we got them out of bed and all went outside in the cockpit of the boat. The clouds had cleared and we had a perfect view. Melissa on Livin’ the Dream had texted and said to use our binoculars for a better view. They had a telescope as well. We settled for Ben’s good stabilized binoculars. This sounds kind of ridiculous but through the binoculars you could see the spherical shape of the moon. We all know that’s the moon’s shape, but to actually see it was really really neat. The girls each took turns as well, wrapped in blankets but enjoying the view. Ben tried for awhile to take a better picture with his good camera but we settled on these as the best we could get. Very cool experience.

Back to our next guests! My friend Debbie and her two kids, Laurel (Molly’s age) and Nate (Maddy’s age) were supposed to fly down on a Wednesday morning in February. It was snowing in Chicago and I was up watching her flight status. As they arrived at the airport the status flipped to canceled. They couldn’t get rebooked until Saturday! So, we anxiously awaited Saturday afternoon. We have a lot of visitors and the girls love them all, but it’s always special when kids their age come!

They arrived and we got swim suits on as quickly as we could (ours were probably already on) and headed to the pool for a late lunch and swim. Then spent the rest of the day just hanging out and relaxing.

Sunday we awoke to clouds and fog but no rain. Just sort of gloomy. We piled into the dinghy and took them out to the island. Fog never stopped anyone from playing in the sand.

Another boat showed up with kids and a paddle board and the kids all played together and took turns swimming and paddle boarding. This led us to head back to the boat after the fog burned off and grab our paddle boards. The kids did 2 and 2 on the paddle boards switching up who was on which board for the next couple of hours. They had so much fun. Laurel wins the contest for most times in the water….although many of her “falls” were self inflicted. They all had a blast.

We headed into town to O’Maddy’s for dinner that night. And who can resist a big chair? They’re everywhere and require a picture.

Monday was cool in the morning so we headed to the library and then the playground for a bit and then drove over to St. Pete Beach when the sun warmed us up. We took a windy walk on the beach to see the Gulf and collect some shells. And see dolphins!!! They were right there in the swimming area. Always fun to watch. The kids did some rock climbing and posed for some cute photos and we headed back for an afternoon at the pool.

No one ever tires of the pool. Debbie and I had a great time sitting poolside and visiting while the kids took turns between swimming and poolside giant Jenga.

Goodbyes are always tough but we are so thankful that people want to come visit us and make the effort. It means a lot! Right after Debbie, Laurel and Nate left for the airport it started storming. It rained the entire rest of the day and night. When it finally stopped the next day we got some beautiful post rain pictures. We were guest free for a bit as we had to head back to Chicago again. So I will end with a collage of sunset and sunrise pictures from this beautiful location. They just never ever get old.

Gulfport, FL – Part IV

In between guests and the quick Chicago trip we had a couple of weeks on our own in Gulfport. The girls and I have been working through a long Marine Biology unit. Way back at the beginning of the unit we studied all the various levels and pelagic zones in the ocean. The girls built their own tidal pool up on the fly bridge. They collected some sand and built a tide pool and the various levels of the ocean. They demonstrated what happens when the tide comes in and goes out. And then we let it bake in the sun for a few days and watched how much water evaporated!

Ben headed to Miami for the boat show during our downtime. He had a busy week and my mom was sweet enough to come hang on the boat with me and the girls! We caught some beautiful sunsets, I caught some beautiful sunrises, and we checked out the fabulous St. Pete Beach Community Pool. The pool at our marina still wasn’t open and this one had mushroom fountains and water slides!

We had a little excitement…one of Maddy’s not even week old brackets came loose while at the pool. I found an amazing orthodontist in St. Petersburg who fixed her right up. I am so grateful to have stumbled upon her. She got Maddy in immediately and was so sweet to her.

We continued to pass the days with school in the mornings, walks, bike rides, roller blading and swimming in the afternoons. It was fun to have grandma staying with us. One night for dinner we got to share the fish Jim caught that day. Yum. She also spent Valentine’s Day with us and Jim brought us all treats to celebrate!

After Ben was back we had a few extra days before our next visitors arrived. Their flight was canceled because of stupid winter weather in Chicago so we had a few extra days to kill before they could get rescheduled. We had a fun dinner on the boat with Gabi and John. We really enjoy having friends local. We introduced them to Little Beers! It’s a “looper” drink that someone first gave us in Niceville. Gabi and John liked them as much as we did.

Countdown is on for our next visitors: my friend Debbie and her kids, Laurel and Nate, from Chicago!

Gulfport, FL – Part III

The afternoon we got back to the boat from Captiva, Ben’s parents arrived. Gulfport was still chilly and didn’t feel much like FL but there was a huge polar vortex happening in Chicago so we all put on our thin packable down coats and dealt with the stiff FL breeze and on and off rain. They arrived on a Monday afternoon just in time for the Tuesday farmer’s market in downtown Gulfport.

As soon as the girls finished up school work we headed over to the market. Stocked up on some goodies, ate lunch at the crepe cart and then headed to the playground to burn off some energy since it was too chilly for any swimming or dinghy rides.

Never too old for a push on the swings!

The girls had just finished up their Cuba unit for school and we were interested in taking a day trip to Ybor City. Ybor City is a neighborhood in Tampa where many Cubans settled years ago. During the Cuban Revolution many Cubans fled first to Key West and then to Tampa when they realized Key West still didn’t have basic necessities. Ybor City turned into a melting pot and built an amazing community. The Cubans brought cigar making to Ybor City.

Ben’s parents and the girls and I headed that way to check it out. We parked in the historic town square. The girls loved all the roosters running around. They commented it felt like Key West. Fitting since many of the Cuban settlers first started in Key West before moving here.

We toured the Ybor City Museum and learned all about the history and culture and what each set of immigrants brought to the table. The museum is set in a 1932-era bakery. We started with an informational video about the settling of Ybor City. We learned that the Ybor City flags represent the first settlers to the area – American, Spanish, Cuban and Italian.

After touring the museum including the bakery exhibits and the cigar making exhibits, we walked around town a bit. We loved the old streetcars that are still running. And we spotted a number of the old buildings we learned about at the museum. We found the Stein building! The Jewish immigrants were merchants – providing clothing more upscale goods to Ybor City citizens.

Ben was able to meet us after finishing work for the day. We decided on Cuban food for dinner. We hesitated on going to the typical touristy place, The Columbia Restaurant, but Nikki’s second cousin was with us and assured us it was the right choice. We had a fantastic meal! The restaurant is huge, but we were lucky to be seated in the original dining room. We had incredibly good mojitos and really great Cuban sandwiches. Topped it all off with perfect flan. We loved our little side trip exploring Ybor City!

Next up with the grandparents was heading into downtown St. Petersburg and going to the Dali Museum. We went two years ago and the girls still remember the self guided tour that is led by Dali’s mustache! So we did it again and enjoyed a new exhibit with Magritte and Dali.

And then….it was finally WARM! The girls and I hopped in the dinghy with Fred and headed to the island. Molly and Madelyn were excited to show him the tree houses and play in the sand with him. It stayed warm and we were able to inflate the paddle boards. We hadn’t used them in months and the girls had so much fun getting back out on them.

I caught a gorgeous sunrise the next morning and then anxiously awaited my college roommate Denise and her husband John to arrive. They have a condo in Tampa and it’s often simpler to get together in Florida than Chicago! We wanted to take them out in the sunshine for a bit so we went to none other then the island yet again. They brought their adorable dog Champ with them so the girls played with Champ and we had a chance to visit for a bit.

Sunday was Super Bowl Sunday. My mom joined us and we had a mini watch party with my mom, Fred and Nikki and the four of us. We made lots of goodies and Molly, Nikki and my mom baked a Key Lime Pie for dessert.

Monday morning brought another round of good byes. Fred and Nikki began their drive north. Tuesday Maddy and I flew to Chicago and actually arrived by air just before Fred and Nikki arrived by car. We had a quick 28 hours on the ground – ice storm, cold, and a mini set of braces put on and we high tailed it back to Florida!

Cape Coral & Captiva, FL

We took a quick detour from Gulfport by car to Cape Coral. We were heading to Looperpalooza in Ft. Myers and my mom and Jim rent a condo each year in Cape Coral. So we packed up the car and drove down to stay with them and run back and forth to the conference. It is absurd how full our car was for 5 quick days (school work, swim bag, snorkel gear had to come, luggage, etc). We’ve been coming here for as long as they’ve been renting and the girls know their way around. They were in the pool as quickly as they could get changed!

The next morning we all headed to the conference in Ft. Myers. Ben was speaking on marine electronics and the four of us did a quick presentation on the story of our Loop. As usual, people had quite a few questions for the girls! We love having them involved and getting comfortable with speaking to adults (and a room full of them at that!). After the presentations it was great to walk around the marina and catch up with so many people we hadn’t seen in awhile. We ran the girls back to stay with my mom and drove back to enjoy dinner and the evening with fellow Loopers.

Sunset on the Caloosahatchee River

After the conference wrapped up my mom and Jim kept the girls and Ben and I headed to Captiva Island for the weekend. It was great to get away and have a little adult time as we are used to being with the kids 24/7. The weather didn’t cooperate too well however! It was cold, damp and blustery! But in between rain we were able to dart in and out of the car and walk around a bit. We even managed to get a couple of quick walks from our hotel in.

What we couldn’t do outside we made up for with meals. We had a number of good meals, some more interesting than others! We went to this place called The Bubble Room. Unique was one way to describe it. But it had great food, fun drinks and amazing desserts!

On a rainy Sunday we checked out the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. What a great find. We ducked into the visitor’s center and learned so much. Immediately I knew I wanted to bring the girls there when we moved the boat down to Ft. Myers. We sat through a talk with one of the volunteers and learned about the animals living in the estuary. We took the driving tour around the grounds and again decided we wanted to come back….when it was sunny! We darted through a quick path down to the water to look at the mangroves. And we climbed up to one of the lookouts. I can imagine how pretty it must be when not raining. So we look forward to taking the girls and learning new things all over again.

A big thank you to my mom and Jim for keeping the girls so we could have a couple of days away. We picked the girls up Monday around lunchtime and headed north to Gulfport. Ben’s parents were our next guests arriving that afternoon!

Gulfport, FL – Part II

The next couple of weeks brought more visitors. First up was a visit from Ben’s uncle Geff. Geff plays oboe in a traveling band that performs twice a year. The group he was performing with played in conjunction with the Sailor Circus in Sarasota.

We learned all about the Sailor Circus history and the Circus Arts Conservatory in Sarasota. In 1927 the Ringling Brothers moved their winter headquarters to Sarasota. The Circus Arts Conservatory pays homage to the circus history. It provides a number of classes and outreach programs to students in the area. The concert was all circus themed music and we all greatly enjoyed it. A different member of the band comes up and directs each song. There were a number of styles of circus music including many well recognized upbeat marches.

Once the concert was finished Geff joined us in the stands while the center ring was reset for the circus performers. We had so much fun watching the gymnasts. Bikes, unicycles, tightropes, gymnastics, hoops, giant swings, etc. I had to hold my breath and close my eyes quite a few times. The girls absolutely loved it. They would beg to take classes there if we lived here!

After the performance we headed back to the boat and cooked dinner for Geff and Barbara. They rented an Airbnb in Gulfport so we got to spend more time with them the next day. We took them to the Cuban restaurant in Gulfport for lunch. The girls had just finished their unit on Cuba and made travel brochures for a final project. They brought them along to show Geff and Barbara as they went to Cuba with Ben’s parents a couple of years ago.

Random picture of a homeschool project. The girls had to design a water filter. They chose to use a double layer of coffee filters, twine and some rubber bands. They gathered up sand, dirt, rocks and some grass to test it out. It was VERY slow but worked really well! The water it filtered through was quite clear. And yet none of us was brave enough to try drinking it. The girls have learned plenty about water filtration over the last couple of years. When we went to the Bahamas they took an active role in testing all of our water when we used the water maker. That water was the cleanest water we’ve ever had. We like to grab the tester here and there and test the water in various cities we are in. Our friends the Zeeffs have our tester right now so we weren’t able to test out the girls’ water!

Next visitors….the Wilsons! They moved from Clearwater to Gulfport for a few days. We were all too happy to meet them at the Gulfport farmer’s market and then take them to….the island! They’d certainly heard us talk about it long enough.

We all gathered at our boat and took two dinghy trips out to the island to drop everyone off. Nina and the first load of girls found a dead pig on the other side of the beach! What?! After my shock wore off I realized likely someone had a pig roast and then left all the remains. Nina gave the girls a science lesson while the other half of us were on our way out. Head. Spine. Pelvis. It was pretty gross and yet cool.

Poor pig’s head

Next up was showing them the tree houses. The girls went from tree house climbing to spending a long time chopping coconuts open. Someone left an axe by one of the tree houses. We were a tad nervous letting them use it but no one lost any fingers. Nina, Wendy and I hung on the beach with Mia while the girls worked away. They were so excited when they broke it open. We all nibbled a tad but none of us actually like coconut that much!

We watched a beautiful sunset on the two dinghy trips back to the marina. While we were at the island Bobby and Ben were working on replacing Bobby and Wendy’s fresh water pump. We got the better end of the deal. Nina kept all of the girls that evening and Bobby, Wendy, Ben and I got to have a date night out for dinner! It was then time for another goodbye. Ben and the girls and I were heading to Cape Coral/Ft. Myers for Looperpalooza and to visit my mom and Jim and the Wilsons planned to leave Gulfport before our return. I was skeptical because of the wind forecast! Turns out I was right…they were still there when we returned and we got one more dinner together before they did indeed have to head south while we were staying put for a couple of months. But we’ll see them again in April when they head north!

Gulfport, FL – Part I

We just spent 2.5 months in Gulfport, FL on Boca Ciega Bay. It was our second time there by boat and fourth time visiting. We’ve been lucky enough to stay at Mike and Leann Rowe’s house in St. Pete Beach on Boca Ciega Bay the two times we were not on our boat. And at their marina the two times we had the boat. We settled into boat life there. We love downtown Gulfport. It’s funky feel, it’s fantastic farmer’s market and great restaurants. It’s a less than 10 minute bike ride with the girls to the library where all three of us were able to get library cards. We opened a PO Box so we could easily get shipments of products for Ben for work and some mail. It really felt like home. And since we were stationary we had a lot of visitors! In an effort to keep my blogging from carrying on and on I think I’ll group blogs from the last couple of months by visitors.

The first thing we did after we arrived (and school work was done) was head to the island! Anyone who has come through Guflport has either been told about the island by us or taken there by us. My girls first played there in 2016. They discovered an awesome tree house and had such fun exploring. This year they discovered three tree houses! They were excited to sign their name like so many others. Not a clue why my image is upside down.

Molly is part monkey with her climbing skills and she clambered right to the top. Maddy is a little more cautious and not as agile so I encourage her to just hang with me and only climb as high as she is comfortable. Thankfully she doesn’t try to keep up if she doesn’t think she can. I even let Molly scramble up with my phone and take a selfie. She didn’t drop it…

After some playtime in the sand we called it a day. The pool at the marina was closed the first 5 weeks we were there so having the island to zip out to was wonderful. It was also cold most days the first 5 weeks we were there so it was again great to have somewhere to run and climb and play in the sand when it wasn’t warm enough to swim.

Our first visitors were the Zeeffs! We managed to jam our water maker in our car when we drove back to the boat in December. They borrowed it to take to the Bahamas (we’re glad the water maker could make the trip…we’re sorry we didn’t get to go too this year!). The Zeeffs were docked in Ft. Myers so they drove up to see us the Saturday after we arrived. They brought some warmth from further south with them and we had a great time trekking out to the island with them, hanging out on the boat and taking them into town to O’Maddy’s for lunch.

We were super sad to say goodbye to them as we knew they were heading across Lake Okeechobee as soon as they got decent weather (and the water maker) to make their way south for a Bahamas crossing. So, on a whim a couple of days later the girls and I hopped in the car when we were done with school work and drove down to Ft. Myers to spend the day with them. They were docked on Ft. Myers Beach so we went across to the beach and played in the powdery sand and flew kites.

After some hang out time on their boat we checked out their pool and then headed to dinner before we really did have to say goodbye. Our plan is make our way across Lake Okeechobee and meet up with them on the east coast of FL after they are back from the Bahamas!

When we weren’t driving to Ft. Myers to see the Zeeffs or Clearwater to see the Wilsons we got to see Gabi and John right there in Madeira Beach. We kept super busy our first week in town. Gabi and John have a lovely heated pool so when the sun was shining on Sunday we headed over. Gabi took the girls for a swim and then we took a walk on the beach.

The girls and I also got the bikes out and zipped around the neighborhood and Molly was welcomed into the Grades 6-12 craft night at the library. I was proud of her that she wanted to go. Our girls are the best of friends but they are both often nervous to do anything alone. Molly was excited and didn’t let herself get worked up over it. We had to leave our visit with the Wilsons to make it in time and she was determined. In she went and she had a blast. They made adorable key chains out of clay. They even used a toaster oven at the library to bake them and applied glaze.

Clearwater, FL

We spent two nights in Clearwater so that we could have a day to check out Clearwater Beach.  The girls and I headed that way right after school work was done the next day.   It was windy but we wanted to give it a try. We settled on one side of the boardwalk and the kids got busy playing in the powdered sugar sand.

Pretty soon a family showed up, walking back from lunch. One of their boys was holding a bag of chips. Immediately the seagulls descended. It was awful. Maddy was terrified. They went away for a few minutes and Maddy went back to playing. We brought a cooler of food as well but made sure not to open it on the beach after that craziness. Maddy had one more close call with one chasing her. She threw her sand toys and dove into the sand hysterical. I felt so badly for her. Molly and I got to her as quickly as we could. We then packed up our stuff and moved up to the playground area away from the beach. The girls had their lunch there and then we tried the beach again on the other side. The beach is supposed to be fun! They went back to playing until more seagulls appeared on that side too. One lady was under attack. She was on a beach chair. She had an umbrella up blocking the front of her and towels wrapped all around her. It is a beautiful beach but we had had enough. We packed up and headed back to the boat.

That was it for us and Clearwater, but we promised we’d come back when the Wilsons arrived. Molly and I took a long walk early the next morning and spotted the boat from the causeway.

Beautiful morning (except again windy!) to move the boat to Gulfport. Mike met us at the slip to help us get settled. Gabi came by next and drove me back to Clearwater to pick up the car. We had a great reunion dinner that night with Tim, Mike and Leann and Gabi and John. All friends from our first Loop. It was great to catch up with everyone! And since we planned to spend at least a month at Mike and Leann’s marina in Gulfport we knew we’d get to spend plenty of time together.

As promised, when the Wilsons got to Clearwater we came back to visit! Twice! The first time the girls and I drove up for the afternoon for a playdate. We took the girls to the beach and spent a lot of time at the playground. We finished off the afternoon with ice cream before we had to head back to the boat.

We were able to make one more trip over that weekend so Ben and Bobby could hang out as well. We headed to the beach for an hour or so and then took a long walk around and ended up at a great restaurant further down on the beach. After walking back to their boat it was time for goodbyes again. But….we knew they’d be coming to Gulfport and we’d get to show them our island and hang out a bit more before too long!