Tag Archives: Charlotte Harbor

A Day in the Life of a Pumpout Boat Operator

While we’ve been hanging out in Laishley Park Marina in Punta Gorda, I’ve been working part-time as a pumpout boat operator. The S. S. Clearhead was commissioned in October. When it arrived they had no one to run it, so I volunteered. Think it’s a crappy job? Well think again. Here’s my sweet ride:

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  On Mondays and Thursdays I take her out for a spin around Charlotte Harbor. I leave the marina at 10 a.m. looking for boats that may want a pumpout. Some call the dockmaster ahead of time to arrange a rendevous. Others contact me on VHF channel 16.

Leaving the marina:

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  As you can see it was glassy calm this morning. We had a new arrival on our mooring field so I floated on over to see if he needed my services. What did I find? The dude was naked. What is it with boaters and nudity?! I politely granted his request to come back later. 

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  I crossed under the route 41 bridges and found dolphins playing in the Gilchrest Park anchorage.

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I then proceeded to slow troll along the Punta Gorda waterfront. Here’s Fishermen’s Village:

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  You never know what you might see in or on the water around here. Here’s a spotted ray.

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It was a trawler kind of day:

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  I arrive outside the markers to Ponce Inlet at 11 a.m. I’ve got some regulars that come out of this inlet, but no one showed today.

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I did watch an impatient and discourteous power boater pass a sail boat in the very narrow channel. He then decided to throw a large wake as he passed close by while I was drifting.

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Which resulted in this:

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Okay, no takers at Ponce so I got her up on plane to make the run down to Alligator Creek. I arrive there at 11:30 a.m.

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These two sail boats were anchored up, but did not require my services:

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Next I completely cross the harbor and enter the Myakka River. Sometimes deeper draft vessels will stage outside the entrance to the lock at South Gulf Cove, waiting for high tide to navigate the shallow channel. I get there around noon. No one home. Here’s the El Jobean bridge:

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  Exiting the Myakka I head back north, around Hog Island and into the mouth of Alligator Bay. Sometimes boats will come out of the canals in Port Charlotte for a pumpout. Not today. Port Charlotte Beach complex:

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  I slow troll from there up the Port Charlotte waterfront and check outside of Edgewater Lake and the Port Charlotte Yacht Club until 12:30. As I start to head back to the Punta Gorda side, I see my friend Rodney out for a sail:Image

  Then it was time to head back towards the marina and take care of whoever had arranged for a pumpout with the dockmaster. I stopped off and rendered my services to the guy on the mooring field, who was now fully clothed. Crossing under the bridge:

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  So today was not typical. Normally I have several pumpouts on the harbor and as many as a dozen within the marina. The snow bird season is apparently over. Less boats on the harbor. Less boats in the marina. Overall I ran 25 miles on calm seas under clear blue skies. I got paid for that. Not such a crappy job afterall. 

  If you make your way to Charlotte Harbor, keep in mind that this service is free. Hail Clearhead on VHF channel 16, Mondays and Thursday after 10 a.m. Give the pumpout boat operator something to do besides admire the scenery.

 

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Cruising Southwest Florida

  Even though we have no home other than our boat, we consider Punta Gorda our home base. That may change in the future as we stretch our sea legs, but for now the areas closest to Charlotte Harbor is where we consider “home”. Punta Gorda is widely recognized on various “Best Of” lists for quality of life, best places to retire, low crime, town beauty, etc. We didn’t quit our jobs and live on a boat just to live in a town though. The boating and anchoring opportunities nearby abound. 

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Perusing the chart above, you can see that we are a short distance from several awesome destinations. Boca Grande sits on the southern end of Gasparilla Island. Cayo Costa offers pristine white beaches and the best anchorage in all of Florida. Captiva and Sanibel are just to the south. The Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on the Intercoastal side of Sanibel Island also has a beautiful anchorage. Across San Carlos Bay lies St. James City on the southern tip of Pine Island. Just across the Caloosahatchee River is Ft. Myers Beach. A great stop for re-provisioning. 

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Ft. Myers Beach Mooring Field

 

Heading north from The Boca Grande Pass up the Intercoastal presents dozens of neat little hideaways to anchor in. Englewood Beach is home to more than a dozen full-time liveaboards, but there’s always room for a few more boats. Stump Pass anchorage is a bit tricky to get into with a draft of 4 feet or more, but once inside it’s well protected and the views are stunning. 

Further north once can explore Sarasota, Venice, Longboat Key, Anna Maria Island and on to the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. Don’t forget a side trip up the Manatee River towards Bradenton. Happy cruisers can spend months, even years hopping from anchorage to anchorage along the west coast of Florida from Tarpon Springs all the way to the Keys. Key West and even the Dry Tortugas are within range from the mouth of Charlotte Harbor. 

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Pelican Bay, formed by the islands of Cayo Costa and Punta Blanca.

 

The Florida Keys get all the credit for scenery, but I’m here to tell you that SW Florida rivals the Keys in every way. The beaches are far superior. The anchorages offer much better holding and protection, and the sunsets are every bit as awesome. 

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If you’re thinking of buying that cruising boat and sailing off to the Keys, I urge you to reconsider. Southwest Florida is far less crowded, much safer, and dare I say, even more beautiful than the Keys. 

 

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The beach at Cayo Costa. Where are all the tourists?!

 

As I stated in my first book Leap of Faith; Quit Your Job and Live on a Boat, when you get your boat and make your way to Florida, look us up. I’ve got a cold beer waiting for you. 

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Gasparilla Island

According to Florida folklore, Gasparilla Island gets its name from the legendary pirate captain José Gaspar (“Gasparilla“, c. 1756–1821), who had his base on the island and purportedly hid his fabulous treasure there.

Situated above the Boca Grande Pass, just north of Cayo Costa, this island is famous for two things; The town of Boca Grande and the world’s best tarpon fishery. It’s the playground of presidents and Fortune 500 CEOs. You can visit too, as long as you’re willing to pay the 6 dollar toll to cross the old swing bridge from Placida. You’ll pay again to park at one of the public beaches, or you can visit The Southbeach Bar & Grill and skip the parking fee, (if you can find a parking spot).

Having the reputation for hosting society’s elite and for charging to visit, keeps the beaches uncrowded. The wide expanse of white sand leading down to the clear, blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico are a sight to behold. 

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The Boca Grande Pass is known worldwide for it’s awesome tarpon fishing, and is also the entrance to beautiful Charlotte Harbor.

The old lighthouse on the southern point of Gasparilla has been converted into a museum, and is worth a visit.

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Although I could never afford the real estate there, it’s nice to visit once in a while. The anchoring possibilities are either inside Boca Grande Bayou, or just outside behind the golf course. I have taken the dinghy into the bayou from Cayo Costa when the winds are light. It’s a short walk into town from there. Note: there is a public dock available, but dockage is limited to 15 minutes during tarpon season (mid-april thru June). Anchoring inside the bayou means dropping a hook, then backing into the shore and using a stern hook or tying off directly to the mangroves. There is zero swing room. I wouldn’t try it in my boat, but I see boats less than 30 feet do it all the time.

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