Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Bears Oh My!

Well I have got to tell you all it has been some cold down here in the sunshine state. This morning we awoke to a brisk wind and temperatures in the low thirties. I think I can see a line of Floridians forming a cue on the top of the Tampa Bay Bridge, jumping seems to be the only option for this warm blooded breed. I myself feel quite happy with this brisk morning, it finally feels like Christmas is upon us. In a few days Anna and I will journey home to see the families, it should be a great trip. For the past two weeks Anna and I have been bouncing around in the St. Petersburg and Sarasota area. Our first stop was at the Treasure Island Yacht Club about 30 miles south of Clearwater. We had read a review of the club on the Great Loop Cruisers Forum and decided to stop in and check out how the Jones's live.  Upon our arrival we knew we had found cruisers gold. The Treasure Island Yacht Club has just reopened under new ownership, and is offering unbelievable discounts in an attempt to drum up business. Les the dock master gave us a tour of the grounds and let us know that while we stay at the club, we are given access to all the clubs amenities, this included a heated Olympic size swimming pool, steam room, full state of the art fitness center, health spa, pool bar, free arcade, dinning room, jet skies, tennis, and evening entertainment such as the lead singer from Foreigner, Joe Piscapo, KC and The Sunshine Band and other acts.  They should rename this place Fantasy Island and have a short Hawaiian Man in white suit yell, "the plane the plane" as you pull in. With a few days of luxury under our belts Anna and I put together a travel plan that would take us down to our departure home for Christmas. Leaving Treasure Island we made way for the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina in downtown St. Pete's. We had heard of an art museum there that features the artwork of Salvador Dali, a famous Spanish painter who's works found fame in the mid 20th century. I enjoyed the museum but am now fully confident that Salvador Dali was clinically insane. His works of art ranging from paintings, sculpture, and performing arts were truly amazing and completely not my thing. I guess that is the best part of doing the loop, I now know I have no interest in owning a priceless piece of art from this unbelievably gifted and wacky artist. Our evenings in St. Petersburg were enjoyed on Blue looking out from the salon at the backdrop of downtown, it is always an exhilarating feeling. Next stop for us was the beautiful area of Sarasota. Our main objective for this stop was to visit the Ringling Museum. When I was a kid I remember my Mother taking my brother and I to see, "The Greatest Show On Earth" the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Just writing the words brings back a wave of senses as I can smell the cotton candy, popcorn and candy apples. I remember looking in awe as a man drove a motorcycle upside down in a steal cage and the famous Gunter cracked a whip in his lion cage. Our visit to the museum was not what I expected. Yes, the exhibits of the old circus cars and clown outfits where amazing, but the true show was found in the history of the founding circus families and their personal art collections. In the golden era of the American circus, it would have employed over 2000 people all of whom traveled daily from city to city, setting up, performing and breaking down all in one day. The Circus resembled a traveling army. In a time without tv and video games it must have been truly amazing to see this circus pull into town and transform an open field into a city filled with mystical animals and seemingly inhuman feets of acrobatics. Having thoroughly enjoyed our time in Sarasota, Anna and I made way back to Treasure Island. Our Friends Craig and Danielle Parrent along with their three children Morgan, Ryann and Jaxon had made it across the gulf and were planning to stay at Treasure Island for the month of December. At $9.50 a foot for the month, with access to all the clubs amenities this is the deal of deals. We had a wonderful time biking and exploring the area, Morgan Ryann and Jaxon are great kids and tons of fun. Taking part in family drawing night where we were given a blank piece of paper and five minutes to draw a dream boat and what we would look like as a super hero is now a highlight of our trip. We also met a wonderful Family the Metro's whom are also cruising with her kids in a custom 56' Matthews named Lady Enna. They invited us over for a great dinner and fun conversation at their home on land. We are always surprised by the openness and willingness of fellow cruisers to open their doors and welcome others to their communities and waters. When you travel far from home there is nothing better than getting off the boat and having a home cooked meal at a real table filled with new friends. I think anyone that has cruised for an extended period of time truly understands this and is all to willing to give back some of the great hospitality they may have received during their travels. From Treasure Island we have pushed on to Englewood Florida just north of Captiva Island and met up with Jim, Gloria, Bill and Laura. Bill and Laura whom we have traveled with on and off since Canada are about 60 miles from crossing their wake and completing their loop. It has been a true pleasure to have enjoyed so much of our trip with them, Bill has said many times how great it is to have so many people weave in and out of their lives as they make way through their trip. I truly hope that we continue to weave in and out of theirs. Hearing Bill's humorous comments broad casted across the airways on a long days run and our evening filled with laughter on the top deck of Monkey Girl will be truly missed. Now with Christmas right around the corner, Anna and I have pushed south, we plan to leave Blue at a small Marina on the Lake Okeechobee Waterway. Tampa Bay here we come!

Hello Paradise!

Pinch me I may be dreaming.

Good old Blue sure likes her new digs.

You have got to love the city at night.

At dock in downtown St. Pete's

I have always wanted to see one of these ships.  It sinks and they float other boats onto it.  When it is loaded, it rises back up and brings the yachts to ports like the Caribbean and Europe. Think they would notice Blue?

This organ wagon would be pulled by a team of horses through the town in front of a procession of Animals and performers as they made their way from the train area to the circus tent.

We learned that all the woodwork on the circus cars was hand carved by a traveling army of carpenters that traveled with the circus.

This Pullman train car was home to the Ringling Family while they traveled with the circus.  If you look carefully you can see the gold plated ceiling tiles lining the roof of the train car.  I have never seen that on MTV's Cribs.

Remember the crazy guy that would get shot out of the cannon?  I would really like to borrow this for our next beach party.

This miniature Circus has 40 thousand hand carved pieces all made by one man.  He started it when he was seven, he is now in his early seventies.  The detail was just unbelievable.

The miniature Circus takes up almost the whole building it is displayed in.  It is truly something you have to see to believe.

Anna loved the rose gardens on the Ringling estate grounds.

Do you think they will miss one or two?

The detail in the construction of the Ringling mansion shows the unbelievable wealth of the family.

Their are hundreds of pieces of art just like this in the Ringling collection.  This one was about 15 feet tall.

Every day I see something that tells me Florida is truly screwed up.  Why is the fine $112.50?  Than 50 cents makes or brakes the budget I guess.

We passed this floating chapel on our way down the ICW.  Believe it or not they were holding mass inside.

I don't know, this could be better than Vegas.

You have got to love Florida.

We have to pay homage to the Captain.

This shirt cracked me up.

I don't care what your politics are, this is just funny stuff.



Morgan, Ryann and Jaxon

We all got a chance to hold a live Alligator.

How can you pass that up.

What is better than sitting on the beach?

Things kids do that Adults can't.

You have got to love looking for shells on the beach.

It might be cold, but the sunsets are still unbelievable.

Back on the water, we were shown the way by the USCG.  It sure is nice to know these guys are out here ready to help.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

To Cross or Not to Cross

In our travels Anna and I have experienced so many wonderful things, we have made great friends and seen some wonderful towns, but what we cherish most is our increased knowledge and experience at sea.  With the departure of Ed, Anna and I found ourselves focusing on one thing and one thing only, our need to get ourselves across the gulf.  Over the past seven months we have broken our trip down into hurdles.  Our first hurdle were the locks on the Erie Canal, next came the rocks of Georgians Bay, the high seas of Lake Michigan, the challenges of the currents and barge traffic on the rivers and now, the crossing.  Ever since Anna and I started researching the Great Loop, we have been keeping our ear tuned to any advice regarding strategies for crossing the gulf.  For those of you not familiar big bend of Florida let me fill you in.  The Gulf Coast Intracoastal Water Way stops in Carrabelle, Florida and resumes in Tarpon Springs.  The expanse between these two points is referred to as the Big Bend.  The waters in this area are shallow and in most cases unnavigable by a boat drawing more than three feet. Blue like most looper boats draws 3.5 feet sitting still and tends to draw about four when under way due to the squatting effect of the stern. This fact rules out a possibility of making small jumps from inlet to inlet around the Bend.  Once this fact is acknowledged one quickly realizes that the only option is a long open span of water that must be crossed in order to continue down the west coast of Florida. Having boated on Nantucket, the concept of being out of sight of land is not foreign to us, every time we traveled to the mainland or vineyard by boat there would be portions of the trip where we could not see land.  To others that have never been off shore this can be a very intimidating factor and rightfully so.  Crossing 180 miles of open water is nothing to take lightly and Anna and I were taking no chances.  In my mind, I looked at the crossing as having two outcomes, either we would love it or it would be a stain in our memories.  I was going to do everything in my power to make it a good experience.  So let the research begin. There are many options to consider, how fast can we travel, how many hours of light is there in a day and what will the winds and tides be.  Right off the bat Anna and I decided that it was not economically feasible to run Blue at more than 8 knots across the gulf.  Sure we can run her at 12, but our our fuel curve would leave us arriving with less than a third reserve and an even lighter wallet, we both agreed this was not a good idea.  So traveling at an economic 7.5 knots we now know we have two options, the shortest distance across the gulf is from Carrabelle to the Stienhatchee River.  This can be done in a daylight, but it leaves you in an area where you have no choice but to travel back out in the gulf in order to make it to Tarpon Springs.  With weather windows seeming to get less and less frequent as the winter closes in we ruled this out.  We had no desire to be stuck for 10 or so days in a small town with no facilities waiting to make our way down the rest of the gulf, so we would go with option two.  Option two has it's own problems, the distance from Carrabelle to Clearwater just south of Tarpon Springs is about 180 miles. Due to the crab pots blanketing the west coast of Florida like a mine field we know that we must arrive 15 miles off shore of Clearwater in daylight.    With a estimated travel time of 22 hours from dock to dock we decided to leave at noon run through the night and arrive at the crab pot line shortly after 8 in the morning.  With our plan and course plotted all Anna and I needed was 36 hours of good weather.  The wait was awful, every morning I would get up and check the wind and gulf wave model reports.  We constantly told ourselves not to get impatient, the weather will open up if we just wait.  With the window on the horizon Anna and I made our jump from the beautiful town of Apalachicola to our staging point at C-Quarters Marine in Carrabelle.  Once in Carrabelle we readied the boat for high seas did our engine checks, safety gear checks and forwarded our sail plan to our parents.  Looking back, I feel we went a bit overboard on our preparations, but both of us agreed if we over prepare we would not be surprised.  On the morning of our departure it looked as if the gulf was still going to be much rougher than we had hoped.  A long discussion was had between Anna and I and it was decided that we would both put on our seasick patches and go for it.  The wind was forcasted to die that night, and if we waited, we might miss the window.  So with our friends on Monkey Girl and Crawdad right behind us we pushed off.  As expected the first five hours were a bit rocky, with 5 foot swells on our beam we made way across the gulf, but like clockwork the wind died as forcasted and the sea became as flat as a board.  With the sun setting on the gulf and a beautiful full moon rising on opposite horizon we thanked the gods of the sea for letting us cross on such a beautiful night. Anna and I took shifts at the helm and enjoyed listening to the radio communications of about 13 other looper boats all crossing the gulf that night.  Not a one of us neglected to give thanks for such a wonderful night.  Anna and I saw more stars than we had ever seen before in the crystal clear night sky.  When the sun crested on the eastern horizon in the morning we pulled into Clearwater tied up and crashed in our bunk.  Crossing the gulf is an experience Anna and I will never forget.  A year ago who would have thought that the two of us could work together so well.  From plotting our course to piloting Blue across the gulf, Anna and I worked as a team and shared the helm, it was without question the best boating we have ever done in our lives. After a good sleep Anna and I awoke to a beautiful Thanksgiving Day.  We gathered for a pot luck thanksgiving dinner by the pool at the marina with Bill, Laura of Monkey Girl and Jim and Gloria of Crawdad we, truly gave thanks. 

A beautiful sunrise in Apalachicola

These Pelicans are everywhere and they are very intense as they dive like bombers into the water.

This sign was our dock greeting in Apalachicola.  Are they kidding?

Good old Blue getting ready for her crossing.

Water Street Inn all decorated for Christmas.  Before Thanksgiving?? 

Um guys, what the heck is going on?

Buzzards were all around us in Carrabelle.  Is this a bad sign for our travels ahead?

First buzzards and now we and the other boats are stuck in the mud.  This one was kind enough to have his low water alarm on all night.

On Crawdad little BooBoo is ready for the crossing

Not a place to be cuffed and stuffed for the night.  I wonder what the Nantucket Police think of this station.

One of the last markers we saw as we headed out for our Gulf crossing.  Please let the wind die as forcasted.

I have to admit I am a bit on edge.

Sunset on the Gulf.  What will the darkness bring?

Anna wonders, Is he studying the chart or sleeping? 

Thank you!!  The moon finally rose up and brought us some light.  In the middle of the night I was just exhausted and staring out off the bow when a dolphin jumped 15 feet in front of the bow.  It scared the crap out of me and had the effect of ten cups of coffee.  I think it did it on purpose.

Land HOOOOO.  Nothing better than the sign of Clearwater on the horizon.

A Looper Thanksgiving

Just think.  All this delicious food was produced in three boat galleys

We took the free trolley to Tarpon Springs

This one is for you Lou!

Sponges after they have been brought to shore

This spongeman had just brought his catch to shore

We are still dreaming of the delicious Greek food we got in this restaurant!  Yummy spinach pie

We hooked up with our friends Dan and Natalie in St Petersberg.  It was great to reconnect with high school friends.  Thank you for a delicious meal Dan and Natalie.  It was great seeing you.

Charlotte is an incredible kid.  We really enjoyed spending the time with her.  She can't wait till her baby sister arrives.  We got a real kick out of watching her play with Mobey on Blue. 

What goes on at the grill.  Stays at the grill.  I think that's a law right?