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.