It was 8:30pm and we had just hauled anchor and relieved Rode Trip from a muddy shoal beneath her keel. Now we had two choices: anchor in the channel and keep anchor watch through the night or motor onward approximately 10 miles to the next anchorage. The conditions on the water were calm and clear. The chart informed us that ahead we would have a straight, canal type stretch of the Intracoastal Waterway through Palm Valley, Flordia and the Cabbage Swamp. This straightaway was followed by a shorter stretch of the Tolomato River, complete with lighted navigational buoys. We decided, rather than keep watch from a ditch, to motor onward. (Disclaimer: I would not generally recommend motoring the ICW at night, but given the circumstances it worked for this situation.)
Brian set both the chart and the depth sounder on night vision modes and I flipped on Rode Trip’s running lights. We assumed our positions in the cockpit; Brian at the helm and I seated beside him with spotlight in hand. I was highly entertained by the depth sounder’s green and black night mode which reminded me of the arcade game Space Invaders. Each time there was a blip on the screen or a dip in the contour of the bottom I envisioned the Space Invaders chipping away at my protective barriers. To Brian’s astonishment, I added sound effects to the depth sounder’s night mode; “Blip! Blip! Blip!” I had to assure him that this alarm meant no harm to Rode Trip, however imminent doom for the human race was being narrowly avoided by the pixelated green defenders.
The canal was a clean cut and we had no need for the radar to paint us a picture of the shorelines. To our port, Palm Valley was lined with grand homes and accompanying docks. Several homes had prominent Christmas lights decorating their shoreside lawns and palms. Rooftops were outlined with white lights, palms were candy cane striped with red and white lights wrapped along their trunks, docks were dazzling with white lights swaying in the breeze, and inside behind picture windows Christmas trees were twinkling (as were several large screen LED televisions with images of the Thursday night football game). To our starboard side, the banks of the Cabbage Swamp were dimly outlined. It was calm, and there was no chatter on the VHF. Motoring at night was somewhat relaxing!
We passed underneath the Palm Valley Bridge, thus exiting the canal. The Tolomato River opened widely ahead. We’d spotted the first flashing green navigational buoy and aligned our course with the buoy and chart. Here is where my Space Invader tactics started to shine! I had my trigger finger ready on the spotlight, and walked forward on deck to avoid illuminating the entire boat. I pulled the spotlight trigger and up ahead reflective green and red navigational buoys were instantly ablaze. Gotcha! I scanned the shoreline with my light beam in hope of spotting nocturnal creatures. Brian repeated for the third time, “Alright, I see it,” to let me know he saw the navigational buoys and I let off the trigger to enable us both to restore our night vision. We continued this play of light and dark; sometimes startling herons that were perched atop buoys. Once, I startled myself when the spotlight’s beam lit a boat set back in the marsh. It is still unclear whether this was a wreck or derelict; both are nearly the same thing. Soon, in what seemed like no time but was actually three hours, we’d spotted Pine Island and G “25”. As we neared the marker anchor lights appeared all in a row; one…two…three, four, five…There was ample room just ’round the navigational buoy and between the two nearest anchored boats. We selected our space and dropped the hook, which easily set into the muddy bottom. At last we could both get some sleep with no worries of ships passing in the night.