Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cooling Our Heels in Sarasota

We like Sarasota. We feel comfortable here. We know our way around. It’s a pretty cool place. Actually it’s been a pretty warm place with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid eighties. That certainly works for us!

We've been pretty busy, too.  There is surprisingly a lot to do when one leaves their boat for any length of time. There is a lot of cleaning to be done and when you look at some object your mind instantly runs its image through an internal filter that categorizes something as to whether it stays on the boat or makes the trip home.

We have also spent a lot of time thinking about work that needs to be done on the boat during our absence. We have decided that we are going to have the exterior of the boat detailed. The marina has highly recommended a guy that does a lot of work in the marina. He came by the boat and gave us a quote that is that kind of dollar amount that drives you crazy – it’s not so high as to immediately dismiss it as unreasonable but you would like it to be less and you don’t really know if it’s too high, just right or an incredible bargain. It was never in our budget but we both think that it’s a good idea. The exterior of the boat is not shabby looking by any means but it needs treatment now so that it will not become a problem later on.  So we’re going ahead with it.  This does mean though that some other projects of the would-like-to variety (in contrast to the must-do variety) will be deferred. These include new carpeting in the salon and aft-cabin, new linoleum flooring in the galley, new custom bench cushions also in the galley and new canvas on the sun deck and fly bridge canopies.

The other area that we are looking at is our dinghy situation. We would like to anchor out more the next time around the loop and do more exploring but our dinghy makes that a bit difficult. Our dinghy, a Walker Bay poly resin rigid dinghy, is best described as an eight foot long rowboat. It’s not terribly heavy but it is very awkward to handle when deploying it or stowing back on the boat. This is because we do not have a davit (wench, crane) to help us. We have to literally pick it up out of the water and heave it up over the rail and onto the deck. The thought of having to do this has been a de-motivator to us. So we have become determined to find a solution.

The dinghy itself tends to be a bit unstable in the water. It’s very roll-y and that is unpleasant at best and unsafe at worst. We don’t want to buy an inflatable dinghy as we already own this one and we never have been convinced that an inflatable dinghy is that much better. Our dinghy does have its virtues though. It does hold a ton of stuff and it’s a good boat underway with a bit of a keel that keeps it steady on the direction it gets pointed into. The solution we are going with is a retrofit inflatable collar that Walker Bay sells. By all accounts this adds a great deal of stability to the boat. We like that. And it is at a price point that makes it doable. The other challenge is making it so we can deploy and retrieve it off the back of Why Knot more easily. We don’t want to add davits to the boat – they’re very expensive and would likely mean we would have to add a swim platform to Why Knot upping the price tag of the project a whole bunch. I found an interesting product that looks like it could do the trick. It is basically a big net that attaches to the transom of the boat on the rails that wraps around the bottom of the dinghy, lifts it up and secures it to the transom. Not bad. The reviews of the products have generally been positive. This then got me to thinking of how I might be able to accomplish the same thing with some strapping and pulleys without buying the net product. I am still rolling that through my mind, but I think we are well on our way to making our dinghy more user-friendly which will add to our enjoyment of anchoring out.

Of course there is shopping to be done. Our dvd player crapped out so we had to buy a replacement for that. Lisa has put together lists of things to get so we have been spending at least three to four hours every day running up and down Hwy. 41, which is a major north/south thoroughfare, stopping at a variety of stores picking up everything from crochet hooks to area rugs.

Our rental car for here around town is a Ford Escape crossover. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I don’t have to high opinion about it. It drives fine and all that but it the most damned uncomfortable car to sit in that I have experienced in a long time. I’m just saying.

So Wednesday is upon us. I am going to do the routine maintenance on the engine this morning. Lisa always has something to do. And I am sure there is some kind of shopping on the agenda. Ross and Laura on the Zone are going to make their way down here sometime today if the weather allows. It’s supposed to be clear but very windy as a cold front approaches. (Good-bye 80 degree temperatures) The seas, of greatest importance being the open waters of Tampa Bay, are predicted to be choppy. I would think going across Tampa Bay today is going to be a bit rough.

Postscript – It has turned out to be a very windy day indeed! I measured the wind on our bow and it is sustained at around 15 knots with gusts to 25 knots…and the NWS says the winds will increase as the day progresses. The Manatee River is very choppy and we can easily imagine Tampa Bay being very rough. Ross and Laura decided to stay put for another day – a very good idea. I am putting off doing engine maintenance until tomorrow as the boat is rocking pretty good. Lisa and I have started packing our stuff for the trip home. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Palmetto and Charlie

Saturday had arrived. It was time for us to go-boat.

The weather conditions were ideal. The wind was to be no greater than five knots and the water was calm to a light chop. The sun was bright in the sky with a high temperature in the low 70s. Perfect.

Our broker buddy Charlie Pendergrass was able to get up there to be our guest for the day’s cruise. (Call him if you want to buy or sell a boat, or if you need a Captain. American Marine – 941-412-6808. He’s a good man.) Gordon Burgess, the president of American Marine, and his son Anthony, drove him up rather early. We of course welcomed them on board for the five cent tour. This was the first time Gordon had seen the boat as the transaction for us the buy her was all done on the east coast of the state. Charlie had been following our adventure via the blog and some phone calls and had posted some of our entries around the office. Gordon said that they were all interested in what we were doing. As far as they knew we were the first loopers that they provided a boat for.

Laura, Ross and Charlie Pendergrass

As the time for our departure approached (9:30 ish) it was fun to see many of our looper buddies come by the boat to wish us well and to help us cast off. We even ended up with more able dockhands than lines to handle. It was a rising tide but the channel behind all the boats in the transient area was still a little skinny so the extra help was welcome. Why Knot behaved exactly like I hoped and we were able to drive out without a hitch or hiccup.

Leaving Tarpon Springs the cruising conditions were indeed ideal with only the slightest chop. As soon as we found our way on the marked ICW route, heading south was pretty much a straight forward affair cruising between the mainland and the shelter islands. There was other boat traffic out but not too much. There were ports on Lake Michigan much more congested. (Like, the Holland Turnpike!)

The towns lining the channel passed by: Dunedin, Clearwater, Madeira Beach, and St. Petersburg. The course alternated between wider open bays, lagoons and lakes, to narrow little channels where the mainland and islands almost meet, one such appropriately called “The Narrows”. No matter what stretch of water we were in though the rule for the day was to STAY IN THE MARKED CHANNEL! Inside the channel = good depths. Outside the channel = veeeery shallow. There was one stretch where a SeaTow boat was at anchor waiting for some unfortunate captain to miss a mark and end up on a shoal. But we piloted through it all without incidence. Charlie, of course, took the helm whenever he could, which was fine with me. I don’t get to be a passenger too often. There were several drawbridges along the way but none were so low that we had to call or wait for an opening.

Charlie with the best seat in the house.


Heading towards the bridge

That's a good looking bridge

The crew of Why Knot

Crossing Tampa Bay was interesting by uneventful. The conditions were good but knowing that there are marked channels for a reason is a must, at least on the north side of the main channel entering Tampa Bay. Coming out of the aforementioned south bound ICW channel out of St. Petersburg you have to make a turn to the east (left) to a point not far from the cross-bay causeway that eventually goes across the bay over the beautiful Sunshine Skyview Bridge. Just before the cause way you come to a four way intersection of channels, kind of like a road intersection. At this point we made a right turn which parallels the causeway on down to the main channel of the bay. But like before STAY IN THE MARKED CHANNEL. No kidding! Just a short distance out of the channel on either side the water disappears into just a facade of water that covers shoal after shoal. At the end of this channel, not too far above the main in-out channel there is one little surprise – the marked channel ends at a place that at least on our chart plotter charts showed three feet of water, and even a bump of zero. You kind of want to steer around that. At this point we saw 4.9 feet under our keel in the channel. Fortunately after that the depths of the bay open up nicely so we could cut a diagonal course southwest to the entrance of Manatee River. Regatta Point Marina, our stopping point, is just a couple of miles into the river. (Navigation Note: For the first half of navigating the river pay close attention to the markers on the water and obey, especially the greens. On our chart plotter the marker placement is not accurate. After the last green marker G15 the water opens up for the rest of the way to the marina – aim for the two high rise condo buildings above the left end of the causeway bridge (which you do not need to go through) and you’ll go straight into the marina’s channel where you need to pay attention to the private red-right markets which keep you close to the marina.)

We backed into our slip and having an extra hand on deck was very helpful. These are typical high fixed docks, most likely stern in only. The finger docks are kind of short and are a little down closer to water level. All in all, a good place to tie up. The marina itself is great place to be. The clubhouse at the end of the dock is very large with a very nice restaurant and clean modern facilities. There is a shore-side strip center with some offices and a more casual restaurant. If you’re going to be here a while you will probably going to want to rent a car as we will. Everything you need is south of the marina in Bradenton and points south on towards Sarasota. For us, personally, this is kind of a homecoming as we have been to this marina a lot as this is where Charlie’s office is. (One more note: Charlie says that getting a dockhand to help you get into your slip is hit or miss. Call ahead to get your slip assignment and be ready to do it yourself.)

Early Sunday morning the dew settled heavily on the roof and decks of Why Knot. The sun has risen with the promise of a great day.  We’re looking forward to spending a week here before we travel to St. Louis for our shore leave. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

And Now For Something Completely Different

So you're bored with your life. Your boss doesn't like you. Life is feeling a bit like drudgery.
You say that you need something fun and interesting to sharpen your sense of self-awareness.
You say that you just need a change.

Is that what's bothering you, bunky?

Scroll down.


Keep going.

Just a little bit further.

There ya' go.

And then, POOF, There Were More

Blue Heron and Jackets II did make the crossing on Sunday and pulled into the marina. They have a bit of speed in their guts and made a successful daytime crossing. Craig and Barb and Steve and Charlotte were naturally happy to be on dry ground and they invited us to join them for margaritas by the boats. (highlight phrase - "Its a nate gration! No, wait. I said that wrong. I meant to say "its a nate gration.") But like all crossing crews they passed out on their boats for a well deserved night’s sleep.

Got to add a side note here – On Sunday we boarded one of the trolley busses that run around the area on the weekends and made our way down to Clearwater. They're called a Jolley Trolley. It was a lovely tour except for one thing. The trolley broke down along the way. I think the transmission imploded. We were sitting pretty much on top of it and it made a god-awful racket. They sent a replacement trolley in short order and the rest of the trip was otherwise pleasant, except the benches on the darn things were uncommonly uncomfortable.
There's nothing jolly about a broken down Jolley Trolley
 The next day (That would be Monday, I guess) around noon we heard some more engines approaching the docks. It was El Sea V with Larry and Linda after pulling an all-nighter to make the crossing. They aren’t loopers but they are such a nice couple of folks we have bestowed the privileges of said title upon them as well. And one of those privileges was to join us for dinner at, where else, Hellas Greek restaurant. OPAAs for all.

On Wednesday Ross and Laura, now fully matrimonialized, returned and we all headed over to Mama’s Restaurant for even more Greek food. (I have to admit I am getting tired of Greek food.) But it was fun to celebrate with Ross and Laura.

(Side note: Remember how we've complained about most restaurant food? Ross, Bill and I had to go to West Marine earlier in the week using Ross's rent-a-car. We ate at Wendy's. Omigod, did that taste GOOD!)

The Zone with a few add ons

Steve and Charlotte Jensen of Jackets II and the new Laura Perone
Ross and Laura back on board
Ok, I’m trying to keep everything in order here.

Jackets II and Blue Herron both pulled out about 10 am on Thursday. Around 4:00 Lisa and I were sitting on the dock talking to Ross and Laura where we spied the bow of a boat coming into the marina. It was Bob and Ivy of Karma followed by Krazy Kru. They both had just come from one of the small ports along the bend. They did not do a straight crossing but hop-scotched along the coast line. Krazy Kru are not loopers either but have been a part of this bunch of loopers that we consider them part of the club.

So let’s take a tally of all of the boats we have been travelling with since Mobile, Ala.

Memsahib and Catmandu – did the crossing near our central flotilla. They came to Tarpon Springs and left for some unknown points south.

Sea Dog – did the crossing with the flotilla but peeled away before entering Tarpon Springs to go to Dunedin, Fla. And presumably on further south.

Proud Lady, Sea N Red, Limelight, Sareanna, Next to Me , The Zone and us came into Turtle Cove Marina as the remainder of the main flotilla and have all departed for points south, except for The Zone which is still here, and us.

Jackets II and Blue Heron did the crossing together, arrived at Turtle Cove and have departed.

El Sea V did an overnight crossing and is tied up next to us here at Turtle Cove.

Karma and Krazy Kru arrived together after doing a daytime leg from the bend and are still here.

The Zone is tied up a larger dock on the other side of the marina.

And we, that is, Why Knot are still at our slip unmoved since our crossing two weeks ago.
"So wadaya lookn' at? I'm a seabird: what the hell you expect?!"
That's fifteen boats in a pod of boats that are all kind of travelling around the same places around the same time. Its a fun group too. Everyone is pleasant and everyone gets along. And everyone likes the idea that we will all probably be running into each other along the way in the future.

But for us things are going to change tomorrow, Saturday. Our time on this particular leg is short as we must head home for a while - seven to eight weeks. We will be pulling out around 9 am and head on down to Regatta Point Marina in Palmetto, Fla. on the Manatee River which is right on the south side of the opening of Tampa Bay. Its about 51 nautical miles away. This is where we will be leaving Why Knot. Our boat broker buddy Charlie Pendergrass is going to make a way to get up here and do the cruise with us. Charlie holds a special place in our hearts as he was the very first person we shared this experience with. He helped us to buy Why Knot. We are looking forward to the reunion. 

One thing about this shore leave that kind of sucks is that we are such a short distance from completing our loop - two weeks max. It would have been fun to go back to St. Louis with our gold looper burgee in hand. But it ain't working out that way. It is said that the one thing that you cannot have on a long range cruise like this is a schedule and delays along the way down the rivers and in Carrabelle have sabotaged the best of intentions. 

But I'll tell you this. When the end of March comes around we will be ready and raring to go!!!!!! We'll be back in Florida with much warmer and sunnier weather. We will be putting away the fleece and jackets in favor of shorts and tee shirts.

We'll be ready. Just try to stop us. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

And Then There Was One



For the last week we have been fortunate to be part of a great group of fellow loopers. Catmandu, Next To Me, Sea N Red, Proud Lady, The Zone and us. It has been a lot of fun. But everyone has to move on sometime and Saturday, January 19 was that day. Catmandu, Next To Me, Sea N Red and Proud Lady all cast off their lines and made their way to other locations to the south of Tarpon Springs. (Ross and Laura left on Sunday by car for the east coast of Florida.) But we didn’t let our last night together be a bore. Oh no. Not while Lisa and I have an opportunity to add some excitement to things. What we needed was a great big last blast. And nothing says that like a barbecue…and a trivia contest.

What are the ingredients for a barbecue? Meat? Check. Side dishes? Check. Lots of fun people? Check. Barbecue grill?..........I said Barbecue Grill? Uh oh. A couple of the boats had little gas grills but we needed something a bit more robust.

Turtle Cove marina rocks! I called the office to see if there was a barbecue grill anywhere on the grounds. The young lady at the office said that she would have to check with the management to see what was available. No problem with that. A few minutes later she called back and said that there was not BUT THEY WOULD GO OUT AND BUY ONE FOR US TO USE! And a few hours later there it was, a brand new Weber Kettle barbecue pit already filled with Kingston charcoal and a bottle of lighter fluid on the ground next to it. Barbecue On!

Bill from Catmandu and grandson Dominic

We all gathered on the grounds near our boats. The grill was already white hot. The meat was sizzling. Side dishes and desserts appeared on picnic tables. We were on! The food was great with a lot of laughing. And then the climax of the whole thing – a Looper Trivia contest.

Lisa and I had been working on it for several days and it was a whopper. There were four categories with five regular question and a sixth bonus question. Then there were three super bonus questions. The questions ranged from locations on the loop to the Coast Guard to products we all use on board. It was fun. In the end Bob and Cathryn of Next To Me were victorious. Their prize were two spiffy Turtle Cove Marina caps compliments of the good folks here at the marina. It was quite the shenanigans.

So here we are alone at the marina. Jackets 2 and Blue Heron who are up in Carrabelle possibly making a daytime crossing on Sunday and will join us here at Turtle Cove.

We did wander into town today though. There was a craft fair and as the weather was exactly what the local Chamber of Commerce would hope for so the streets were crowded with people. We then had dinner with Ross and Laura at a Japanese hibachi restaurant – nothing like a dinner with fire.

An onion volcano on the grill

Laura and Ross drinking from a volcano

In closing take a look at this picture. It is of one of the typical tourist gift shops in Tarpon Springs. Check out the sign.

At least they're honest.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tarpon Springs

We are still in Tarpon Springs and it is a great place to be. The weather is darn near sublime and the marina, Turtle Cove Marina, is terrific! It is new-ish with all of the amenities including a swimming pool and hot tub, and the staff is incredibly friendly and helpful. The marina is located scant minutes from the old sea port, so to speak, of Tarpon Springs which is now touristy but has a long history as an area where sponges are harvested from the Gulf of Mexico. There are several sponge businesses still going and you can walk to them very easily amongst the shops and restaurants on the main drag.

Interestingly, this area is very Greek. Greek sponge-fishing immigrants populated the area decades ago so there are lots of places with names that end in “-aki” and “-opolis”. A few evenings ago all twenty of us loopers went to a really fascinating Greek restaurant named Hella's. (See previous post for pictures) It was quite the place with lots of flaming cheese and people yelling “Opah” (Yes, I know my spelling of “Opah” is up for debate.) The restaurant is large with light blue neon and incandescent lights all around the ceiling that casts a somewhat haunting hew over everything – kind of like blacklights but not as intense. Hella's also has a pastry and desert store that is just outrageous.

During the days we go about working on some minor chores such as cleaning the boat, tying up loose ends in the engine compartment and getting to that list of little nagging repair needs that all boaters have. It’s that list of small non-critical things that all boaters have that deserve attention but fall victim to being always able to be put off. For instance on Why Knot one of these items was to fix a challenge with our fresh water pressure. Back in Pickwick, MS we had to replace our fresh water pump. Without getting into minutia the new pump was a bit more powerful than the old pump. This caused the cold water pressure to fluctuate out of the galley and head faucets between cold and hot water. The shower pressure worked fine. I mean we still had running water and it was manageable but not correct. I figured out that something in the plumbing was backing up the water pressure that caused the new water pump to cycle on and off during water flow. We picked up a couple of new faucet aerators that were not as restrictive and that did the trick. I also had to replace the VHF radio at the lower helm.

Some boat chores were not so mundane. Remember Proud Lady having engine problems during the crossing? Bill dug into that heavily and was able to fix it. He basically rebuilt the fuel injection system on his starboard engine. Nice job! (I wish I was handy with mechanical things like that.)

The people in our Crossing flotilla are great. Everyone is friendly and a lot of fun to be with. But we all need to move on sometime. Sareanna was the first boat to leave on Tuesday. On Wednesday Lime Light and Memsahib took off. We’re sorry to see them go but we all have our cruise plans to follow and over the next several days other boats will start peeling away as well for locations further south. Soon it will be just Why Knot and The Zone left here. Ross and Laura are heading off to the east coast of Florida by rent-a-car for a short side trip. We must head back to St. Louis for February and March and have decided to leave Why Knot during this time in Palmetto (Sarasota) Florida which is only a long-ish one day cruise away. So we have decided to remain here in Tarpon Springs for a while longer until we have head out. We are hoping that the Zone will cruise with us so we can show them a bit of what we know of the area as we will be someplace where we have actually been before, which in itself is an odd feeling.

Life is good.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Some Pics and Victory Par-tay!

Here is a selection of pictures from Tarpon Springs.
BTW, loopers...if you want these pics for yourself, click it and take it.

All the good little looper boats all in a row.

Next To Me


Proud Lady

Red N Sea


The Zone


And of course, Why Knot
Victory Party and Hellas Greek Restaurant in Tarpon Springs

Doctails before hand

At Hellas

I've never taken a picture of a bottle of beer before. I ordered this
Greek beer because I had a senior moment and couldn't remember the word "Corona".