'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch

Punta Gorda

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There are many ways to cruise. 

Local is one, where you pick a location, say – Rockland Maine – to use as a home base, and make short jaunts from there to explore the local area.

Then there’s what’s called “Coastal” cruising, which involves more travel and more new locations. Start from point “A” and, like a snail with her shell, take your house and belongings on a tour along the shore, stopping when it looks interesting, moving on to explore somewhere else when the mood strikes. That’s what we’ve been doing the last year or so, of course, with the added dimension of being Commuter Cruisers. That’s a concept popularized by a friend of ours on her blog, (thanks Jan!) and we’ve made it our own. Take (or leave) the boat someplace warm and cruiser-friendly during part of the year while you do something else (like work), then return to the boat for your cruising fix when it suits you.

Now after that it get’s a little nebulous. “Long Distance” cruising? “World” cruising? Nicki and I would like to go a bit farther afield one day, perhaps back to the Caribbean, where we spent our honeymoon, or perhaps Mexico or Belize (we’re studying Spanish!), but we’ve no interest in sailing around the world or anything. Perhaps we’ll call it “Caribbean” cruising, if we ever get that far…

So for now we’re coastal cruising, and our most recent stop in Punta Gorda Florida turned into a fun, relaxed sojourn of the sort we hope for.  

True, Nicki and our friend Jaye (you’ll hear more about our friends Dan & Jaye later) did end up in jail for a brief period, but hey, it’s all in the name of a good time, right?

One of the things Nicki and I were looking forward to with this year’s cruising was the chance to see Florida in a different season.  We northerners come here to be warm when it’s cold up north, which means we only see it in the winter.  Yes, things still grow and bloom in the winter, but we wondered if it would be different in late-summer and early fall?

The answer is “Yes”, it’s different. And beautiful.  More flowers, more wildlife, more color.  I used to say I didn’t like Florida (I went to college here in the early ‘80’s) because it just changed from one shade of brown to another with the changing seasons.  I can now report that either my vision is better, or else Daytona Beach was the problem, because there’s no lack of color here these days!


Punta Gorda – where we just spent a week – has a couple of things going for it as a destination from our point of view. 

One, it has a rather nice Municipal marina. We’ve found that City facilities tend to be less expensive than private ones, because the City has a vested interest in attracting Cruising boats whose occupants will – it is assumed – patronize local businesses and therefore help the local economy.  (Well come to think about it, PRIVATE businesses have the same vested interest, but they tend to forget it in their rush to make today’s buck…)

Two, it has moorings. Moorings are everywhere in Maine, practically every decent anchorage has a couple private ones, and most towns have many in their harbors, but here most marinas don’t have them, and the few that do are usually City-run. The cynical part of me says that’s because moorings are for poor cruisers (like us), and they don’t have moorings because they’re trying to force us to pay a ridiculous fee for a marina slip or else go someplace else. The more charitable part of me, unfortunately, agrees that’s probably the case.

But there’s a down side to this pretty city too – it has bridges.  LOW bridges. 

TWO of them…

Back in Maine when we were getting the boat ready, I very carefully measured our hull’s height from waterline to mast step, measured the mast itself from step to head, and then added on the length of our VHF antenna (which resides atop the mast), and determined that our air-draft is a true 40.6 feet. 
So in theory, Sionna can fit under any bridge that has more than 41 feet of clearance. The Route 41 bridges on the Peace River have 45’ clearance at high tide…

Let’s talk about theory for a minute. In theory if your Aunt had testicals, she’d be your Uncle. 

Your gut doesn’t know squat about “theory”, and driving 14,000 pounds of home and goods under an immovable object with that spear standing straight up on top creates more than just a touch of what we in the business call “Pucker Factor” – theory not withstanding.

Why did the City Fathers & Mother’s of Punta Gorda choose to put the Municipal Marina behind a bridge that keeps 90% of cruising sailboats out of it? It’s one of life’s little mysteries.  I’d love to know the answer, though…

So what does Punta Gorda have? Easy access to services, very reasonable rates (our mooring was $72 for a week!), cheap ($2/load) laundry, clean showers, free loaner bikes and Wi-Fi at the marina, and a friendly, helpful staff. There’s a West Marine store, Ace Hardware, T-Mobile store, Publix Supermarcado AND an ABC Liquer store, all within less than 2 miles!  


Oh, and it also has mail (thank you Al & Mary, for the delivery!), and boat parts. (Our water pump developed a leak, so…)
And there are restaurants, and historical sites, (that’s where Nicki got into jail), and an extensive trail system that lets you walk or bike in comfort through most of the city without having to spend all your time dodging traffic. 


An interesting bit of history: Punta Gorda was badly damaged in Hurricane Charley, back in 2004 – actually it was virtually destroyed. Which means that – thought there is a historic district – the city has been basically built in the last two decades, and the pride and fortitude of the residents is obvious. There’s a neat vibe, great food, open spaces, parks, the trail system, free loaner bikes available all over town (not just the marina)… 

They’ve done good (Except for those pesky bridges. I’d REALLY like to know what they were thinking…) 

Oh, and about Dan & Jaye: We met them and their boat Cinderella last year in Marathon. They spend their winters aboard, and the last few summers sailing a little (500-ton) boat called El Galeon, a replica of a 1600’s Spanish merchant vessel.  And they play pirate. Really, they’re that cool.

And THAT’S how Nicki ended up in jail. Go visit Punta Gorda and see for yourself.

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Author: s/v sionna

Living the dream in 32'. We left Maine on August 18th, 2016, and have gradually worked our way south until we felt warm enough. We've paused in Boot Key Harbor, and are now exploring the Keys until we leave the boat and return to Maine for a summer of employment. Follow our blog here, and follow our progress in map form by joining www.Farkwar.com!

3 thoughts on “Punta Gorda

  1. Okay, Brad and I are laughing at your bridge dilemma. I wondered why we didn’t know about the city marina – it’s because we don’t even look beyond something that low – or less than 65’ for that matter. The only explanation for the bridge/marina issue is that it was built by and run by the government. No other explanation necessary. I do wish more cities would make it possible to get to shore and help their economy. Have you tried to go ashore at Marco Island yet? They are NOT cruiser friendly if you anchor. Hope to see you guys this winter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Government. Yes, that would explain it!
      We’ve been to Marco Island just once, an overnight stop on the way to the Keys. We didn’t go in past the first Anchorage, just enough to be out of the channel for the night. Our ability to anchor in 5′ of water really helps sometimes!

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  2. The color of that flower! Wow!! Our clearance is 63 feet, and the pucker factor is considerable for anything with a clearance under 70 feet. We had to go under a bridge that had about a 68 foot clearance. It was all I could do to breathe. Even after it was over.

    Like

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