“It’s been too long between visits!”
Our very good friends Jeff & Jen agreed as they arrived for a week long stay with us in Cedar Key during the 4th of July festivities.
The first few days were nothing short of a hysterical laugh-fest while we caught up on things we’ve missed between one another in the past few years. We shared new stories, rekindled old ones and I’m sure we scared away multiple people who were visiting the Tiki Bar as they scurried out the door wondering who this crazy foursome was that was laughing way too hard at themselves.
Jeff & Jen are true Floridians and they love the water just as much as Cindy and I do. So there were daily boat rides on various types of boats. Airboats, Run-Abouts, Houseboats, Stand Up Paddle Boards….and just using our own blubber as flotation devices. As long as we’re on, in or around the water, we seem to be happy.
Once the 4th Weekend was over, we had a few days to break away from the Low-Key Hideaway and tow the Houseboat up to Fowlers Bluff Boat Ramp where we set her afloat on the dark waters of the Suwannee River.
Upon arriving at the boat ramp, we had an issue with our batteries not wanting to start the motor? Weird as the houseboat has a 85watt solar panel on the roof to keep the batteries topped off. Luckily I carry a Honda generator on the boat, so I hooked up the battery cables to the generator and we sat at the ramp for a few minutes to charge up the batteries (Mental note to check the solar panel when we get back to Cedar Key as to why the batteries are dead?)
A few minutes with the generator running and the motor started right up. While this was happening, the girls had went into the Treasure Camp General Store and stocked us up on munchies. I should also note that when we left Cedar Key, it was a beautifully sunny day. When we got to Fowlers Bluff, it was pouring rain. But who cares, we have a boat with a comfy living room, a bathroom and beds to wait out the rain. And it was about 90 degrees outside, so the rain was actually sort of nice as it cooled it off a bit.
As we floated down the river, we realized we were basically following a big rain cloud at the same rate of speed. If you looked up the river, it was blue skies and sunny. If you looked down the river, it was blue skies and sunny….so we turned around, drove back up the river and out of the rain, then turned back around and let the rain cloud stay just in front of us.
The rest of the afternoon was a perfect lazy day of floating down the river, jumping off the roof to cool off, spotting gators along the shoreline and munching on tasty vittles the girls had packed in the coolers. Of course Cindy refused to jump off the roof, refused to even get in the water due to the amount of alligators we had seen….PUSSY! She’s always such a wimp when it comes to the “Glass Half Empty” way of thinking. In Cindy’s mind, if something can go wrong, it will. She has zero issues with floating on a sandbar while Bonnet Head Sharks swim all around us, but see an alligator along the banks of the river and she refuses to put her foot in the water?
The Suwannee River flows pretty steady so we were making very good time. Not wanting to get out into the Gulf of Mexico during the typical afternoon storms that kick up this time of year, we explored many of the creeks and canals that feed into the Suwannee. A few times the canal would narrow up so tight, we’d have to have people on all 4 corners of the Houseboat to turn us around by grabbing onto branches along the banks.
Everyone took turns at the helm so the others could take in views from the roof-top deck. This boat does not run fast, heck, it doesn’t even run moderately fast. I think I could swim alongside it, so there is really zero skill in operating it which is perfect for me since I have very little skill.
You simply point it in the direction you want it to go, hit the throttle and can walk away from the helm to use the bathroom, check out the view off the back deck or grab something to eat. You’re moving at a turtles pace and the river is hundreds of yards wide with almost zero boat traffic. It’s not like there is a chance to hit ANYTHING! Not that I would recommend this down in Crystal River or along the Intercoastal Waterway where you’re dodging hundreds of other boats, but here in the Suwannee, it made for a very non-stressful day without much concern for boat traffic.
In the entire day of floating down the river, we might have seen 5 other boats. It probably did help that it was mid-week, right after a major holiday. I’m sure if we would have attempted this same trip over the holiday weekend, we’d have lost count of the amount of boats we’d have seen at this point.
Arriving at the mouth of the Suwannee where it meets the Gulf of Mexico, some 12 miles below Fowlers Bluff Boat Ramp, it was late in the afternoon. We did not want to risk the 15 mile trek during the afternoon or early evening as the winds tend to pick up, heavy storms blow through and the water usually becomes pretty rough. Instead, we found a protected anchorage behind the tall sawgrass that makes up this area and threw out an anchor. Little did we know that we’d almost sink the boat later that night.
The day had been long and the winds were starting to pick up really strong which is the norm for the Gulf of Mexico during the summer months. The strong breeze blowing was like A/C blowing over me and after a long hot day, I was exhausted. I laid down and fell fast asleep on the couch while the others were up on the roof celebrating our day on the water.
A few hours later, I awoke from my nap noticing the boat was listing over to the side. This is not the norm!? I rubbed my eyes trying to figure out why the boat was leaning so strongly to one side. I wondered if they were on the roof and all sitting on one side with their feet hanging over?
I walked out front to see what was going on, and noticed we had shifted 180 degrees with the change of the tide and while I was sleeping, they had decided it would be a good idea to throw out a second anchor due to how strong the winds were blowing. Rather than throw them both out from the bow or the stern, they had thrown the new one off the stern where I had thrown the original off the bow. This is normally what you would do on the Atlantic side of Florida where you do not have a current flowing in and out of a river.
With the tide having shifted, the anchor lines had now crossed, and both lines were on the starboard side which resulted with the boat acting as a plow against the current. This was the reason for us listing to hard to one side.
Of course the 3 boat mates had continued to party thinking there was zero issues to worry about now that we were safely anchored for the night. When I walked up onto the top deck to ask if they noticed we were leaning so hard to one side, they all laughed and blew it off like it was no big deal.
The next half hour was spent with Jeff and I trying to pull a 10,000lb boat against the strong current ripping out of the Suwannee River. I swear those lines were so tight, you could strum them like guitar strings. At one point I asked Cindy to start the motor to try and assist us, and the motor wouldn’t start again!?!
I was asking her to try and get the generator started to hook up the cables like we did back at the boat ramp and the girls couldn’t figure out how to do all of this while I was trying to pull in a line screaming from the other end of the boat.
The commotion lasted long enough to get us all frothed up till we could get the motor started, pull up the lines and reset the anchors.
Once free of the anchors hold, we left both out from the bow of the boat, which would allow us to swing with the change of the tides. All of this commotion happened during the sunset, so I have zero photos to show of the big red ball dipping below the surface from the rooftop 🙁 Jeff wanted to see what was wrong with out batteries and when he popped the hatch, he checked the fluids and laughed saying “They’re empty!”
Light bulb goes up over my head! My batteries on my camper, my truck and on my other boat are AGM’s. This means they’re maintenance free and I have never checked them for fluids. Both of the batteries on the Houseboat are just standard Deep Cell Marine batteries. The type that need to be maintained and topped off regularly. How dumb could I be? Jeff grabbed some bottled waters out of the cooler and filled up both batteries. We then left the generator running for awhile to charge them up and what do you know…..the outboard started right up!
NOTE TO SELF: swap out these batteries with AGM’s ASAP
Jeff had cooked us up an amazing meal on the BBQ Grill while I had been napping and that night we ate like Kings and Queens laughing off our earlier issues we had had with the anchors and the batteries. We danced on the rooftop, howled at the moon along with the coyotes we could hear off in the distance and watched one of the most amazing lightning storms I’ve ever witnessed.
At one point we were right on the edge of the storm that was sitting over Cedar Key to the South of us. If we looked up into the sky, we could see millions of stars above us, but just a few miles South, Cedar Key was probably taking a serious beating. The winds were whipping so crazy, that in order for us to talk to one another, we were literally screaming at the top of our lungs. And then just as fast as the storm blew in, it blew out.
We all went to bed with nothing but the sounds of crickets chirping, frogs croaking and splashes all around us from the fish jumping while the occasional alligator dropped off the bank to chase their dinner. Off in the distance we’d hear the thunder boom as it echoed over the marsh with nothing to break up the sound.
Morning came quickly! This boat is not meant for 4 full sized adults to sleep comfortably. When it’s just Cindy and I, we both slept great, but 4 people in one small room….not so much. This would probably be considered luxurious if I was 20 years old, but these days I’m used to being able to get up and out of bed, without having to crawl over Cindy, use the restroom without having to worry about waking anyone else up, and having A/C if it gets too warm.
Oh, did I forget to mention that when we tried to turn the Honda generator on to run the A/C once the wind died down, the A/C wouldn’t work!?! The A/C would kick on, blow the fuse in the generator and then shut down. I’ve run it before off of this generator, so the only thing I can think is that when we killed the batteries, now when we plug the house cord into the generator, its trying to run both the A/C and charge the batteries?? Another item to check out when the boat is back on the trailer!
So that next morning, we’re all awake before the sun hits the horizon. We wanted to be up and at it early so we could make the 15 mile trek across the Gulf of Mexico during those early morning hours when the water is usually glass-like calm and the winds are low. Once back into the protected bays of the surrounding islands around Cedar Key, even if a storm was to kick up, I know those waters so well, we can hide out even in the worst of storms.
Moving across the Gulf, we were watching a huge storm cloud build up and come our way, but it never once dumped any rain on us, we just moved along at a steady turtles pace and kept an eye on it. Jeff had gotten a bushel of Cedar Key Oysters from Cedar Key Seafarms, and as we motored across the Gulf, he sat on the front porch of the boat shucking oysters and slobbering them up for breakfast. It cant get much more fresh than that.
We made it back into Cedar Key just as the little village was starting to wake up. We pulled up to the outside docks to top off our fresh water tank, only to learn that although there is a water spigot out on the new dock the city installed, it is not hooked up? So there would be no showers for the 4 of us today. We’ll just have to swim in the ocean to clean up.
While Jeff and I talked with the Coast Guard boys and girls that were in town doing Channel Marker Maintenance, which we ended up scoring a few of the old marker signs they replaced, the girls walked up to a store and grabbed some more ice and some more drinking water.
Once back and loaded up on the boat, we headed out in search of a sandbar to waste the day away.
Pulling up to Seahorse Key, we basically motored the boat onto the eastern shore that empties itself of water at a lowtide. When the boat hit ground in the soft white sand, we knew we were stuck and would have no worries till the tide came back around to lift us up some 6 hours from now. This houseboat draws about 2′ of water, so we basically just ran it aground a few hundred yards from the shoreline.
The rest of the day was spent with us walking/wading through the shallows in about shin-deep water picking up and inspecting various forms of sealife and other creatures we found. If I had money, I’d probably send myself back to school to get a Marine Biology Degree so I would know what half this stuff is. I have a total fascination with the ocean and to think we still know so little about what’s in it and why it works the way it does. Why are we wasting billions of dollars sending people and shuttles to other planets when we still haven’t explored all of this one?
Royce came pulling up in his airboat at one point and spent much of day wandering around with us. We shared funny stories, ate a tasty lunch grilled up on the boat, and swam around in the 90 degree water. At one point, we found two Marine Biology Students were doing some studies from the UF Marine Biology Lab and asked them a few dozen questions about the various things we had found. They were kind enough to answer all our questions and even explained a few other things in great detail.
Late in the day, the tide had rolled back in and when the boat started floating again, we decided that we’d rather head back into the dock rather than spend another night out in this heat without A/C.
By the time we had the boat loaded on the trailer, washed down and unloaded, the sun had set and we were all exhausted. We closed down the Tiki Bar back at the Low-Key Hideaway and went to bed. None of us had any issues sleeping after the past few days of solid fun.
Oh, in case you’re wondering how the trailer was back here in Cedar Key when we got here? We had arranged for two friends from Cedar Key to drive up and pick up my truck and trailer from Fowlers Bluff Boat Ramp where we had launched from. He then brought it back to Cedar Key Boat Ramp. This way, when ever we would get back to Cedar Key, we’d have the truck and trailer waiting for us.
Here are a few more images to enjoy from our time on the houseboat. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did taking them