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.    

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