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