Camping and Adventure at Clearwater Lake Recreation Area

With a forecast of cooler weekend weather, we decided to book a campsite at Clearwater Lake Recreation Area in Ocala National Forest and get away for a couple of days of relaxation and adventure.

As it typically turns out, the week leading up to our adventure was jammed-packed with work and other volunteer commitments, and the usual meticulous camping preparation turned into a grab anything that looks like camping gear and throw it into the car a couple of hours before our scheduled departure.

After an excruciating slow roll through Orlando Friday afternoon traffic, followed by a mad dash through the aisles of the last grocery store before entering Ocala National Forest territory, we found ourselves within the peaceful confines of the Clearwater Lake Recreation Area campsite.

After setting up our new tent and the rest of our usual camp necessities, we ate a quick dinner than walked down to the lake to see the last bit of the sunset.

Sunset on Clearwater Lake.

We were pretty tired from the week, and things get dark quickly in the forest, so we retired to our tents early in hopes for a good night’s sleep.

One thing I like about this campground is that it’s fairly quiet.  Since there is no electricity you typically have little or no RVs, and generally the only sounds you here are other tent campers and the occasional vehicle on C.R. 42.

The morning started with cooler temps and  a cup or two of coffee while exploring the lake shore, watching the mist rise off the warm water into the cooler air.

Wading in the clear waters of Clearwater Lake on a cool, fall morning.

Once the sun rose above the trees I hopped onto the paddle board to venture out into the lake in hopes of snapping a sunrise photo or two.

The sun rises over Clearwater Lake.

Photography was followed by short fishing expedition to see if the bass were biting.

Ready for a morning of fishing at Clearwater Lake Recreation Area.

With the bass not cooperating, it was time to setup paddle board lessons for the family.

Paddleboarding on Clearwater Lake.

Everyone had the opportunity to take a turn, and all of us were amazed at the clarity of the water.  The water is clear enough to allow you to see the bottom all around the lake.

After a full day of swimming, fishing and paddleboarding, we returned to the campsite to rest and get ready for dinner.  I also took the opportunity to wander around the campsite and practice some photography.

A golden orbweaver highlighted by the afternoon sun.
Ripe beautyberries.
Abstract view of the grass growing along the lake shore.
Paddleboards at rest at Clearwater Lake Recreation Area.
A wildflower along the shores of Clearwater Lake.

Dinner consisted of grilled BBQ chicken, corn on the cob and of course, beans!  There’s just something about food cooked in the woods that always tastes better.

Chicken and corn for dinner while camping at Clearwater Lake Recreation Area.

After dinner we decided to head back down to the lake for some more paddling before the sunset.

Paddleboarding at Sunset on Clearwater Lake.
Paddleboarding at Sunset on Clearwater Lake.
Paddleboarding at Sunset on Clearwater Lake.

Paddleboarding was followed by the traditional roasting of marshmallows and campfire songs.

Playing the ukulele around the campfire.
Coleman lantern illuminates the campsite.
Playing the ukulele around the campfire.

After a good night’s sleep, we woke up, enjoyed one more campfire, coffee and view of the lake before breaking down camp and returning to civilization with refreshed souls.

Calm winds and reflections on the lake.

A Walk Through Kraft Azalea Garden

It’s been a little while since I set some time aside to do some photography, and with a fresh breeze I thought it would be a good idea to drive over to Kraft Azalea Garden on my lunch break to spend a few minutes walking through the trees and snapping a picture or two.

One of the things I like to challenge myself with from time to time is to put on an older, manual focus, prime lens and force myself to go into full manual mode.  I’ve found this will often cause me to slow down and think about what it was I was wanting to do.

While mid-day is typically the worst time of the day for photos, there were plenty of clouds moving through to help soften the light now and then.

– Click on the thumbnail above to view a larger version –

It’s Just a Filter

I woke up Saturday morning with the goal of changing out the fuel filters, checking the fuel for water and then with a little luck taking the boat out for a sunset cruise.

I picked up a new fuel/water separator and oil filter wrench, then headed home to do a simple filter change and see if that helped with my coughing and sputtering issue from yesterday.  I was fairly convinced that there was probably a bit of water that had settled due to the boat sitting for awhile, and this should be the last barrier to a smooth running engine.

As has been typical for this whole project, the fuel/water separator is difficult to get to.  It would probably be easier if a remove a few more hoses and things, but I wasn’t in the mood for that.  I just want to change the filter.

I wrestled on the filter wrench, and quickly realized I would have much room to turn.  A few first tries didn’t budge the filter at all.  I tried a graphite wrench that goes on the bottom of the filter, this gave me a little more clearance and allowed me to put a longer breaker bar on it.  The filter did not turn.

I grunted.  I stomped my feet.  I tried again.  I looked up at the sky.  I tried one more time. The filter wrench stripped.  I gave up.  I’m going to have to remove all the lines and filter holder to get it loose.  Probably not a bad idea anyways, it’s just demoralizing.

The sunset cruise will have to wait.


We Have Ignition

After last night’s successful turnover of the engine, I knew I wanted to fully assemble and actually hear the motor run today so I ran out on my lunch break to West Marine to pick up a new set of spark plugs to replace the well-aged and worn spark plugs I removed yesterday.

As an added bonus, I received a call from Boatwrench that my exhaust riser hose had come in.  The stars were aligning.

I came home, ate a delicious grilled fish dinner prepared by my Salty Monkey eldest son, and then proceeded to carefully insert and hook-up each spark plug.  Once all of the plugs were in place and the wires were snapped back on, I walked to the ignition switch, put my fingers on the switch and turned it over with one eye closed.

Vrmp, Vrmp, Vrmp, pop!, pop! and Vroom!

The engine roared to life.

I let the engine purr for a joyous 30 seconds, then shut everything down so I could tighten down the new hose and make sure all of the cooling systems were working properly.

The new hose fit perfectly, much better than the precariously bent and modified hose that was previously installed, and with a few twists of the hose clamps and a quick hook-up of the muffs on the lower unit I had the water flowing and was ready to start the engine once again with some proper cooling.

The engine roared to life again, an purred.  A quick inspection around the motor indicated a small leak in the input for the exhaust riser.  No problem, I will just tighten the bolts down a bit.  Wrench and turn, wrench and turn a little more.  The leak slowed.  Wrench and turn and pop!  Broken bolt.  Let’s tighten the other one now.  Wrench and turn and slip!  Head bolt now a bit rounded.  The slow leak can wait for now.

The engine continued to warm up and purr. The temperature gauge settled right around 160 degrees.  Perfect.  The engine purred with a bit more frequency now.  Let’s put the boat in gear and add a little load.

Brap, putt, putt, purr, cough, weeze.

I think the fuel may be stale.  We will figure that out tomorrow.

Biking from Clearwater Lake to Alexander Springs

It had been a long, long time since I had last ridden the Paisley Woods trail from Clearwater Lake to Alexander Springs, so I took advantage of a rare weekday off to ride the east trail.  The weather was absolutely miserable by Florida standards, with drizzling rain and high temperature in the low 50s.

There were a few sections of soft sand that made the 17 mile round-trip ride a bit more strenuous, but the views at Alexander Springs were as pretty as ever as the steam from the warmer water drifted up off the surface.

It Clicked Instead of Vroomed

We had a day of boating planned with some friends, and wanting to make sure everything was in good working order, I went out to the boat, put the ear muffs on the motor, turned on the water and went to start the boat to let it run for a bit.

Upon turning the key, I heard a click, and then nothing.  Turned it again, click, then nothing.  Maybe the battery had drained during the week, so I put the battery on the charger and let it charge a bit.  Before long it was indicating the battery was at full charge.  Again, click.

I looked around and smelled a burnt electrical smell near where the starter motor is.  I had no idea as to how long that particular starter had been installed, so it was entirely possible the starter had gone bad.

Some initial investigation made it immediately apparent that the starter on a 5.7 Mercruiser engine is probably in the worst possible place to work on, and would not be a job I would be looking forward to.

Rainy Day at Silver Glen

We were looking for places to test out Clarity, our new to us 1997 Pro-line 211 Walkaround, and decided to take advantage of the lower boat traffic typically found on weekdays, and take a trip down the St. Johns River to Silver Glen for a day of relaxation and snorkeling.

As had been the case for the majority of the week, we were met with dreary, rainy conditions, however that didn’t stop us from loading up the boat and driving to the Astor boat ramp.

After launching, and a short run down some beautiful Old Florida scenery along the St. Johns, we found ourselves in wonder as we entered the crystal clear waters of Silver Glen run.

We anchored between the channels, and setup for some resting and snorkeling.

Clarity, anchored in Silver Glen.

In a matter of minutes we had our snorkels on, and were ready to plunge in to the 72 degree water and look at whatever critters we could discover below.

Ready to take the plunge into the clear, cool waters of Silver Glen.

We snorkeled along, frequently encountering largemouth bass, sunfish, bluegill and other denizens of the springs.

Snorkeling in the clear, cool waters of Silver Glen.
A largemouth bass poses for the camera in Silver Glen.

It wasn’t long before our lips were starting to match the blue of the water, so we climbed back aboard the boat and hopped into some floats in hopes the sun, still hiding behind the clouds, would warm us up.

Taking a break and warming up in Silver Glen.

With a storm fast approaching, we decided to pack it up and call it a day.

A thunderstorm approaches the calm, tranquil waters of Silver Glen.

As we were heading out, a bald eagle stopped to say goodbye, adding an exclamation point to a great day on the water.

Bald eagle resting on a branch in Silver Glen.

1997 Pro-line 211 Walkaround – Our Newest Member to the Fleet

We are proud to announce the acquisition of our newest member to the water fleet, a 1997 Pro-line 211 Walkaround.

We had been in the market for a “new to us” boat for a little while, having missed the adventures we used to enjoy on our beloved Scout 175, and this particular boat checked off many of the things we were looking for in the next family cruising, fishing, camping and adventure boat.

As with all older boats, there are some things that we will want to change, upgrade or customize, however we are excited about the adventures we will be able to enjoy.

Fishing for Panfish in the Wekiva River

Yesterday afternoon I found myself with a few hours to kill, and wanted to get out and do a little fishing. Given that it would be in the heat of the day I thought it might be a nice change of pace to head over to the Wekiva River to find a bit of shade, some cooler water and possibly a few fish along the way.

After loading up the canoe and making the short drive to Wilson’s Landing, I was in the water and paddling up-current with the idea that I would get as far up river as possible (or that I could endure), then drift back while casting along the shoreline. To say it was a bit warm and humid would be an understatement. I would paddle until my eyes filled with sweat and I couldn’t see anymore, then find a nice big tree to sit under and drink some water.

Taking a break from fishing in the Wekiva River.

Once I felt like I was comfortably far enough upstream, I grabbed an ultralight spinning combo and tied on a small roostertail spinner bait. I love throwing these little roostertails, as they seem to attract many different species and allow me to cover a lot of water.

Small spinner bait.

I used to fish the Wekiva River with my grandfather when I was a kid. I recall that he wouldn’t let me go fishing with him until I could cast a lure and land it on a trash can lid. While it certainly did improve my casting skills, I’m fairly convinced he primarily didn’t want to spend the day retrieving lures out of trees. The scenery was just how I remembered it.

Scenery along the Wekiva River.

It wasn’t long before I had my first fish, a scrappy redbreast sunfish, come along the side of the canoe.

Redbreast Sunfish and Lily Pad.

This sunfish was followed by many more, as I continued cruising down the river. Unfortunately, given that it was the weekend, there was a lot of boat traffic at times that would disrupt the peaceful setting. Fortunately, it wouldn’t take long for things to get quiet and settle back down, and the bite would resume.

Fishing for panfish in the Wekiva River.

Some of the scenery is spectacular, and I often found myself just sitting under a tree or along a shoreline and taking everything in. It definitely had me wondering what kind of Florida my ancestors experienced back in their day.

Scenery along the Wekiva River.

There was plenty of fishing action mixed in with the scenic views, and I lost count of the number of redbellies I caught along the way. There were a few small bass mixed in as well to mix things up a bit, and I saw a number of large gar that would have really made things interesting on the ultralight tackle.

For the majority of the time the water was clear, which made for some great sightfishing. I had an absolute blast watching the fish rush out of the eelgrass and take a swipe at the little roostertail flashing along in the clear water. Even though all the fish were small, they did put a spirited fight on the light tackle and the swift current added a little to the challenge as well. I was amazed at the colors of the fish every time I brought another one up.

Vivid colors of the redbreast sunfish.
A redbreast sunfish comes to the surface.
Close-up of the vivid colors of a redbreast sunfish.

After a few hours of fishing, relaxing and reminiscing of days spent with my grandfather, some building clouds in the west accompanied by some rumbling thunder provided a cue that it was a good time to pack things up and paddle back. Even though I brought along a couple of other rods and lures, I ended up using the same rod and roostertail the entire day. I can’t remember the last time I did that. I guess that garbage can lid exercise paid off.