Canal Boat - - Always On The Move - -

Nar­row boaters Ian and Jane Ainsworth con­tin­ued their US trip by search­ing for mana­tees, avoid­ing ‘gators, danc­ing the night away and cop­ing with the swells and capri­cious weather

Sani­bel was the most southerly point of our jour­ney down Florida’s Gulf Coast. By now we were feel­ing quite at home on Ca­rina, more fa­mil­iar with the Amer­i­can way of do­ing things, and more con­fi­dent about our boat han­dling skills.

We turned north-east up the Caloosa­hatchee River which would take us east­wards to Lake Okee­chobee, then into the Saint Lu­cie Canal and on to the At­lantic In­tra­coastal Wa­ter­way (ICW), the end-point of this first trip be­ing Jack­sonville, where we would store the boat over the sum­mer.

Our first stop was Fort My­ers, now a sprawl­ing com­mer­cial cen­tre but, in 1885 when it was in­cor­po­rated, it had just 349 res­i­dents. Shortly af­ter­wards, Thomas A. Edi­son bought 13 acres of land over­look­ing the river and built a house, Semi­noleLodge, and a lab­o­ra­tory, and used the house as a win­ter re­treat. A few years later, his great friend Henry Ford pur­chased the neigh­bour­ing lot and built his win­ter re­treat, TheMan­goes. The two houses are now known as the Edis­onFord Win­ter Es­tates, and the au­dio tour of both houses, the Botan­i­cal and Or­na­men­tal Gar­dens, Ford au­to­mo­bile ex­hibits, the mu­seum and Edi­son’s lab­o­ra­tory was great value at $20 per head.

Edi­son and Ford both had very lit­tle for­mal education and their achieve­ments, ded­i­ca­tion and en­ter­prise were all brought out in the ex­hi­bi­tion. Edi­son’s imag­i­na­tion and fore­sight were re­flected in a com­ment he made in 1931. The mag­a­zine Sci­en­tifi­cAmer­i­can had al­ready pre­dicted in grave tones the pos­si­ble ex­haus­tion of the world’s oil sup­plies. Edi­son told Ford and their friend Har­vey Fire­stone: “I’ll put my money on the sun and so­lar en­ergy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait till oil and gas run out be­fore we tackle this.” He was 81 years old and still work­ing ev­ery day in his lab­o­ra­tory.

We hired a car in Fort My­ers to do some ex­plor­ing. De­spite signs ev­ery­where ad­vis­ing us of their pres­ence, and ex­hort­ing us not to run over them with the boat pro­pel­ler, we had still not seen any of Florida’s fa­mous mana­tees, aquatic mam­mals which are most closely re­lated to ele­phants. So we set off for Lee County Mana­tee Park. But, for some rea­son, the route to the Park de­fied the com­bined strengths of my pow­ers of nav­i­ga­tion, the Tom-tom, and Google maps on my iPhone.

As we passed through neigh­bour­hoods that were clearly not the sort of place that vis­i­tors usu­ally fre­quented, and found our­selves for the fourth time head­ing the wrong way out of Fort My­ers, ex­as­per­a­tion lev­els in the driver’s seat reached an un­prece­dented high. “The bloody mana­tees had bet­ter be sit­ting up do­ing tricks af­ter this.”

Un­for­tu­nately, they weren’t, and al­though some swirling wa­ter sug­gested their pres­ence, only one of them deigned to ex­pose a few inches of his back.

Up­stream from Fort My­ers, the land­scape be­gan to change, be­com­ing less trop­i­cal and more open grass­land. There were locks, too, a great deal larger than those we were ac­cus­tomed to on the Trent & Mersey, and we were wor­ried that there might be a big surge of wa­ter as the lock filled, or that our un­fa­mil­iar­ity with lock eti­quette and pro­ce­dure might be all too ap­par­ent. But the lock­mas­ters were all very help­ful.

Our last stop be­fore cross­ing Lake

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