Thursday, December 13, 2012

Exploring Tampa Bay & Manatee River

After eight nights tied up at the St. Pete Yacht Club the flotilla of two (Sea Shell and Zephyrina) got underway on a calm Tampa Bay and motored to Davis Island (several miles beyond Alafia River) where we anchored near the DIYC in the nicely protected former seaplane basin.  This lagoon off the bay is home to a few dozen boats on mooring balls, some with live-a boards and others looking more like derelicts.  We rafted up with Sea Shell, who did the honors and dropped their anchor in the muck. 

Just 2 miles away along the SW edge of North Tampa Bay is the Tampa Yacht & Country Club.  We sailed over the following mid morning.  Longtime Dock Master, Marshall helped us parallel park our boats between 2 larger ones, a few feet to spare, on the south side of the pier.  It’s always great to meet up with acquaintances from past cruises and so it was that we enjoyed reconnecting with Don Sink.  He and Virginia now have an O’Day sailer, having sold their express cruiser.  We were additionally pleased to meet up another sailor, Larry Jackson on his Mistral 33, Restless.  Larry has made over 12 trips to the Bahamas, so he gave us lots of insights and recommendations, for we hope to make a crossing to Exumas later this spring.

To provide exercise and fun the Sheehans and Caffreys took over one of the Clubs 12 clay courts for an hour rivalry.  Much to our surprise afterward was the per person cost of $8 for the pleasure.  Our winter indoor court costs in Pennsylvania were less!
Not wanting to be slackers in the exercise department, we unfolded our boat bikes and rode for 2 hours almost to downtown Tampa.  The bike trail runs along the bay giving us a view of the clear shallow water with Loons, Scaups, Limpkins, Black Skimmers and other shore birds.  On the other side there were a variety of mansions in architectural styles ranging from Northeastern Colonials to ornate Romanesque; vintage 1920s through the 50’s.  Venturing a few blocks up a side street through the older neighborhoods we saw a many mid-western styled 1920-1930s bungalows.

Taking a break from the galley and boat grill dinners the 4 sailors ( we are sailors even though the wind has been elusive for the past week), were joined by Gary & Jan from the cruiser “Happy Hatters” whom we had met at their home port of SPYC.  The wine selection was good and reasonable, but the draft beer gets no stars with the closest thing to a craft brew being Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in a bottle.  The cuisine was excellent, tender Lamb Shanks and perfectly done Filet.   

Thick fog settled over Tampa Bay as we prepared to depart TYCC, but an 8kt breeze cleared it off by 9:30 AM and we started our 30-mile trip down to the Manatee River, near Palmetto and Bradenton.  The Sky Way Bridge shined in the overhead sunshine as we passed.  This is always a wonderful sight and we got under the bridge barely 10 minutes ahead of a giant incoming freighter.  A few miles later  we reached our anchorage on Manatee River.

Zephyrina got to anchor this time, in nice clean sandy river bottom.  Sea Shell rafted up and we dined on homemade spaghetti sauce (in our freezer since Gulf Breeze) on angel hair pasta, along with a Kay Sheehan’s tasty salad. 
Sea Shell has to make Key Biscayne before Christmas, so as soon as Saturday’s (12/8) fog lifted at 9:30, they were underway to Venice.  Zephyrina continued to enjoy this anchor off Emerson Point.  Being just 200 yards to the Nature Preserve we were able to dingy to the headquarters’ dink dock and the clean modern facilities.  While there we also climbed the Portavant Temple Mound and walked the trails by the Gumbo Limbo trees, live oaks, strangler figs, wild coffee and mangrove trees.  After dark we were treated to a lovely Christmas Boat Parade- sport fishers with out riggers flashing white lights and animated reindeer prancing on the bows, sailboats with the hulls, masts and spars flashing red, green and blues and trawlers of various sizes outlined in multi-colored lights.  Then at 8:30 , hearing popping noises, we went out in the cockpit to watch a spectacular fireworks display above the Bradenton Yacht Club a mile away! 

Sunday’s fog was even heavier and didn’t break until noon.  We ventured ashore but didn’t stay long as the fog rolled back in, forcing some boats that were leaving the BYC to slowly motor over near us and anchor.  At 2 PM, we finally saw the shore line and clearing began in earnest.  Helen read aboard while John went on a dinghy fishing trip along the coastal shallows.  The yield was only one undersized fish.  Apparently, the morning in the fog was good for flounder, trout and redfish according to the fisherman cleaning the catch at the Bradenton YC. 

Monday morning, no fog.  The wind was picking up as we hoisted anchor at 9 and headed into the tie up along the BYC sea wall.  We were anticipating two to three days of scattered T-storms and gusting winds as the south winds fed the cold front coming in from the northwest.  By late afternoon and into the evening we had 15-20 kt winds from the south and heavy rainsqualls for several hours.  This is the first rain the area has had since early October.  We’d washed Zephyrina before the rains so now we were squeaky-clean. 

This safe haven with excellent food and Dogfish Head Draft on Tap[5 Stars], will give us a chance to visit the Laundromat and the Publix grocery store before we head out Friday to Longboat Key and a popular anchorage near two restaurants, a dinghy beach and the charming “old Florida” village of Long Beach.    

Monday, December 3, 2012

A New Sailing Adventure P'cola to St. Pete

After much preparation @ home and aboard, Zephyrina and her crew, Captain John, 1st mate Helen and crew member of many talents, daughter Keri left Bayou Grande, NAS Pensacola for a winter and spring adventure, on November 20th. 

Since the chart plotter hard drive crashed and had been sent to Raymarine in Nashua, NH for repair, we navigated the Gulf of Mexico crossing in two segments using our IPAD with GPS.  The Pensacola to Port Joe leg was 22 hours and the continuing leg to Clearwater was 30 hours.  During our 24-hour respite between legs we enjoyed a pre Thanksgiving Dinner @ Joe Momma’s.  Both segments on the Gulf were motor sails with a 10-hour sail only during the night.  When we left the Pensacola Channel the dolphins gave us a farewell salute.  The sunsets and clear night stars (using IPAD application Star Walk) were entertaining for the night watch standers.  Speaking of night watch, having three aboard for this crossing and with Keri’s willingness to take the middle watch, both John & Helen got 8 hours of sleep, a first.  In the past five crossings sleep came in 4 hours spurts.

Arriving in Clearwater in the early afternoon of Friday, November 23rd our welcoming committee included John & Key Sheehan, Jim St. Pierre (The CYC dock master) and our “like new C-80 Chart plotter”.  On Saturday, Keri’s good friend, Lisa came down from Orlando with “Thanksgiving Turkey Feast” left overs and two bikes in Keri’s van.  So, Keri & Lisa rode the Pinellas Trail from Clearwater Beach to Tarpon Springs and we drove her car up to Tarpon Springs so the four of us could enjoy a great Greek dinner.  We were driven back to Zephyrina and Keri & Lisa headed back home to Orlando.

The November 26th wind forecast was better than the next day, so both the Sheehan’s Sea Shell and Zephyrina headed back into the Gulf to sail/motor sail south to Pass-A-Grille (18 NM) then inside using the ICW to motor up to St. Petersburg.  SPYC is the perfect spot to enjoy the St. Pete Boat Show, dine at fun restaurants, ride our boat bikes on the Pinellas Trail and address emergency part replacement. 

Prior to departing on this 6-month winter/spring sail we had our shaft seal replaced and our engine’s heat exchanger removed, pressure tested and reconnected.  Well, twice on the high seas we noticed low coolant even though the engine temperature was normal.  With a motor sail we were only doing 2000 – 2200 RPMs.  When we arrive at St. Pete we drained the cooling system and found very little coolant and mostly seawater.  So much for the pressure test!  To our rescue came Bob Fleege, a fellow PYC member and down in the Clearwater/St. Pete area for a family visit and the Boat Show.  He knew about Lenco Coolers, in New York, who had a replacement and sent one down, next day air.  Then he kindly did the hands on work of installing it, with John assisting.  Our humble thanks, Bob! 

With this done, we were able to truly enjoy all the Boat Show’s seminars, new boat tours and seeing and partying with lots of our friends.  We were especially happy to be with Steven Parry and Sharron Randy.  They came down from Canada to exhibit their company, Poseidon Charters, with whom we’ve sailed in Greece and Croatia. 

Tonight, the Sheehans and the Caffreys are off to one of our favorite restaurants, Moon Under Water, for fish and Chips, to say goodbye to St. Pete.  Tomorrow, we’re off to an anchorage near Alafia River before visiting Tampa for a few days.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

 Homeward Bound

The Navy’s Blue Angels swooped down and saluted us as we entered the Pensacola Channel Tuesday morning, on the final legs of our GC3 Panhandle Cruise.  We were truly in the premier seats, center of the Bay with a 360-degree view of their 45-minute practice session as we proceeded to our slip at NAS Bayou Grande.   Arkeoo, several miles ahead of us, hopefully got part of the show, too, as they headed to Orange Beach Alabama.

We spent a few extra days in Panama City, awaiting a good weather window to go back out into the Gulf for the 90 NM trip.  All was not wasted as we had access to excellent restaurants in the historic St. Andrews neighborhood.  Ate oysters for lunch and then oyster for dinner and then again more oysters, yes at all four eateries.   The lovely Oaks Park is on the land that archeologists have determined was a seasonal early Indian encampment with its access to the bay and its bounty.  Our entertainment varied from watching the commercial fishing boats come and go and off load their catch, shrimp, grouper, vermillion snapper, scamp and tuna.  On Saturday’s there is a farmer’s market at the marina parking lot. The St. Andrews marina served both the recreational tenant boats, transient boats (along a floating lay along dock) and the commercial boats.  The facilities, including laundry, were appreciated. 

Camaraderie is one of the benefits of the GC3 cruising concept and we certainly enjoyed sharing meals (Fresh Bay Shrimp & Grits, Mississippi style, farmer’s market offerings in  basil, garlic, zucchini, tomato, eggplant, hot sausage casserole, and goat cheese sundried tomato fettuccini).  Maybe we need to have a subtitle to our GC3 cruise, the gourmet’s delight!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Month without an “R”

It took a series of rain squalls – we’ve had such perfect weather, interesting towns to explore, beaches to walk and winds for sailing, that we’ve haven’t sat down, until now - to write a new post.  We have lots to share.

As northerners, we always heard that raw oysters shouldn’t be consumed in a month without an “R”.  Floridians seem to have no such limit.  To most of us who enjoy raw oysters on the half shell, Apalachicola oysters are the “gold standard”.  Nearby St. George Sound has the largest beds in Florida; they have a sweet mild flavor that can be slightly enhanced by a little cocktail sauce laced with horseradish sauce.  They were as perfect on May 2nd, 6th, 7th and 9th as in any month with an “R”.  The industry is larger than we imagined.  Oysters processing houses line a quarter mile of Scipio Creek; tons (10% of the US market) are shipped whole and live in bags as well as shucked and shipped in various size fresh cold containers.  We discovered the enormity of the volume on our biking excursion around Apalachicola.  We saw 30-foot mountains of shells being fronted loaded aboard 100 foot a flat deck barge.  The shells are taken out to help form new oyster beds by giving the spawn a place to attach and grow. 

Apalachicola is usually a one-night stop on our way to the southwest Florida Peninsula of Florida (Clearwater).  This trip we toured the community on our “boat bikes” visiting museums, old homes, seafood shops and an ice cream soda fountain. 

Did you know that the first patent in 1851 for inventing an air conditioning machine was granted to Dr. John Gorrie?  His discovery occurred when he wanted to cool the air in the of the Apalachicola Yellow Fever patients’ sick rooms.  Apalachicola and Port St. Joe both experience epidemics in the 1840’s.  In Port St. Joe 80% of the population was wiped out.  The State Park Service has an exhibit in his former home featuring the operational machine invented, along with an excellent historical panorama.

The Orman House located on as high a hill as exists along the Apalachicola River is now operated as a State Park/Museum.  Our Ranger guide gave us one of the best historical overviews of the evolution of the area.  “When Cotton was King” the river provided the transportation for the Georgia grown cotton to the harbor and Orman’s many cotton warehouses.  From there they were loaded on to ships in St. George’s Sound for transshipment to Savannah.   The prosperity connected with the cotton trade ended after the Civil War as railroads were built and provided quicker more efficient transport to southern textile mills and Atlantic Sea ports.  Logs from the impenetrable forest were sent down the river for milling and shipment.  That industry and the canning and freezing of Seafood packaging allowing distribution eventually sustained the area, which is often called the “Forgotten Coast”.

Our three-boat flotilla enjoyed spotting the oystermen as we headed east through St. George’s Sound/Bay to the eastern end of the Gulf Coast barrier islands-Dog Island.  Rafting up in a well protected bay surrounded by grass beds make it possible for only one anchor down and thus only one anchor, when weighted, was muddy and mucky.  Clean up was a two-stage chore, 1st aboard with the wash down pump and 2nd when we hauled 160 feet of chain out of the anchor locker later and rewashed at the marina.  The Rustic homes along the beach are built on high stilts and sit tucked behind the sand dunes.  Clusters of shorebirds included Sanderlings, Willets, Ruddy Turnstones and 3 kinds of terns, Royal, Sandwich and Least occupied the beach.  The surrounding shallow depth, grass beds were the perfect spots for John to take the dingy and fish.  The fishing turned into catching – two nice spotted trout- making a terrific dinner for the Zephyrina crew.

From Dog Island we began our return journey.  A night in Apalachicola gave us the opportunity to enjoy an oyster and shrimp dinner at “Up the Creek”. 

Though we are retracing our coastal route we have deviated to check out Crooked Island, an excellent anchorage via a narrow channel on property near the Tyndall Air Force Range.  Sailing close to the wind we raced west to the Panama City’s Harbor Channel.  After bucking the out going current we ducked behind the barrier island, Shell Island, to anchor/raft up.  An early morning beach walk on crystal white sands was another reminder of why we love sailing – the lovely natural places we can enjoy.  Sea Shell and its crew, John & Kay Sheehan had left after morning coffee, to take the ICW route back home.  Sea Shell’s shorter mast allows passage under the less than 50’ bridges.

Given a forecast of afternoon thunderstorms the St. Andrews Municipal Marina was our next stop.  After tie up on the lay along dock, we found Ernie’s Oyster Bar and Brew House for sustenance and libation.

The rain has washed off the salt from Zephyrina’s hull.  Now Arkeoo’s crew, Connie & Wally, will join us analysis the wind forecast and plan our over night sail to Pensacola.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Exploring the Florida Panhandle

A new adventure – Spring 2012!  Yes, it’s been 10 months since we posted in our sailing blog. 

Three Catalina sailboats, members of G3CCC who are also members of the Pensacola Yacht Club embarked on a 2 week cruise to explore the bays, anchorages and interesting waterfront towns along the Gulf Coast of the eastern Florida panhandle.  We met at Ft. McRee, just instead the P’cola Channel and headed out into the Gulf for a 21-hour afternoon-night sail.   We sighted the entrance buoy into St. Joseph Bay about 7:15 AM.  Eagle Harbor anchorage is inside the San Blas State Park, where Arkeoo (Connie & Wally Conway) and Sea Shell (Kay & John Sheehan) rafted up to Zephyrina (Helen & John Caffrey).  The seabed at this spot is rather muddy, murky and sticky; so one anchor down gives the two other sailboats a reprieve from the slow weighing of the anchor with a wash down spray from the bow when departing the otherwise great anchorage.

The beach sands here collect a different variety of shells than at our Pensacola Beach.  This is due to the configuration of Cape San Blas.  She has an elbow out into the Gulf with her forearm stretching 15 miles NNW.  This cape creates the inside of St. Joseph Bay whose shallows provide excellent scalloping and fishing.  What glorious spot for exploring, holding a potluck dinner aboard and a much needed long night’s sleep.  While relaxing we hosted a fellow sailor from a Panama City on his sailboat for a sun downer and learned of a great anchorage at Crooked Island, which we’d like to visit on our westerly sail home. 

Across the bay is an excellent marina in the town of Port St. Joe.  It has been a convenient and favorite stopping spot for us as we make a crossing of the Gulf to south Florida.  Our folding bikes were assembled easily on the dock and the six of us toured the PSJ Nature Bike Way, stopped at the local museum to learn about the PJS and Apalachicola town rivalry of the 1830s and the subsequent yellow fever outbreak that devastated town’s population and it’s “up market” resort attractions for the wealthy from New England and Europe.   We highly recommend the Sisters CafĂ©, the No Name Bookstore and “of course” Joe Momma’s Pizza. 

The Plen Air Artists are in both Port St. Joe and Apalachicola this week, May 3 – 13.  We saw their terrific Art Show last year, when we were returning from 6-month cruise to south Florida and the Keys.   Yes, that was the trip on which we stopped posting in the blog at Venice.  We were so busy enjoying the activities and visits with friends we made but a few brief entries directly on Facebook.

This post was written as we motored on the cross county canal and ICW using Lake Wimico and the Apalachicola River a waterway cut in the Impenetrable Swamp to Sipico Creek at St. George’s Bay.  The Spanish explorer, Desoto is said to have lead his troops through this swamp.  Just think of the snakes, bugs, 8’ tall saw grass, razor sharp palmetto bushes, Yaupon Holly, slash pine among the soggy underbrush.  It’s amazing he made it to the Mississippi!

We expect to visit the Gorrie and Raney Museums, check out a butterfly garden and explore the old maritime antique warehouse.   We never pass through the area; on even a one-night stop with out have the gourmet delight of Apalachicola Oysters accompanied by a glass or two of Sauvignon Blanc.