March 15 – 24, 2020 Entering the Twilight Zone

One of the great things about this journey, is reuniting with boat friends who we may have met weeks or months ago.  First meeting in Brewerton on the Erie Canal, and then reuniting to cruise together in Georgian Bay and the North Channel in Canada, we were happy to again meet up with Nancy and Gary of Summer Lynn.  This time, they were without Summer Lynn.  They had finished their Loop and left the boat for sale in Michigan, but were in Fort Myers with their RV.  We had lots of fun catching up and also making plans to visit them at their home in Alaska.  They have been telling us so much about the beauty and fun of the Alaskan winters.  We’re looking forward to experiencing it for ourselves.

The talk of the Corona Virus was increasing and causing increased concerns.  We weren’t really sure why there was such a big deal about flu.  There have been outbreaks of various kinds of flu and it hasn’t previously warranted the hubbub that was currently going on in the country.  Time will tell.

St. Patrick’s Day usually brings lots of reveling in downtown Fort Myers, but not so much this year.  Some of us Loopers got together for dinner at the Marina.

We had signed up to stay a month at Fort Myers.  So there we sat, with not much to do.  While riding bikes, we came across the Harry Chapin Food Bank, so I signed up to volunteer.  We had seen local news clips about a spike in distribution of food to families and individuals, so I knew there was a need for volunteers.  Many of the retirees who were the usual volunteers were now staying home.  So I went and sorted food and packed bags, and did an assortment of other jobs.  We decided Ed would stay close to the boat.  With a history of heart issues, it wasn’t worth taking any chances.

On the 20th, we were walking downtown in the early afternoon.  It was a beautiful day with sunshine and comfortable temps.  People were shopping and eating out – the sidewalk tables outside of restaurants were filled with people enjoying lunch.  We made plans with Paradise Falls to return for dinner.

When we returned for dinner, the scene was entirely different.  We felt like we had entered an episode of The Twilight Zone.  There wasn’t a single table or chair outside any restaurant.  When we went to the restaurant where we planned to eat, we were told that they were only doing takeout orders.  We asked “What happened?”  The hostess said they got a call at 3:45 that all restaurants were to immediately stop table service and that they could only do takeout and delivery orders.  Totally shocked, we went ahead and ordered.  In a nearby courtyard, there were picnic tables, so we took our food there to eat.  There were a few other people doing the same.  As we ate, some restaurant employees came out and started stacking the unoccupied picnic tables.  

Over the next few days, stores closed, tourist sites closed, and something we never thought – churches closed.  It was understandable; viruses spread from person to person and one way to contain a virus is to limit contact between people. Other countries were already enforcing mandatory “shelter-in-place” orders.  Grocery stores in the area had instituted “senior only” times for shopping in hopes of keeping vulnerable individuals away from the general population. The problem was that the time was 7am to 8 am. It was dark outside at 7 am – not the best circumstances for seniors to be driving.

We checked on the status of marinas, and some were not accepting new boaters.  There was talk that some might be closing.  So many questions going through our minds about what to do.  Would we be able to get the boat back to Beaufort?

March 9 – 14, 2020 Fort Myers-Side Trips

Upon our return to Fort Myers, we caught up on some everyday type tasks.  I worked on paperwork – checking bills, credit card statements, etc – yah, people still have to do stuff like that even if they live on a boat!  Ed got a haircut and we had the boat detailed because it wasn’t up to Ed’s “clean standards.”  Our friends on BackAtcha finally caught up to us and we resumed some Looper get togethers.

There is a lot of sculpture artwork done by Edgardo Carmona in Fort Myers.  As we walked around town, we enjoyed the whimsical nature of the pieces, as well as other types of art – they really add to the interest of the town.

We had kept the rental car for another week because we wanted to go visit some of the places that we were not going to get to by boat.  Our first day trip was to Fort Myers Beach – which is about a 45 minute drive.  It was a hot day and as we neared the bridge, the two lanes narrowed to one, which had traffic backed up and we were at “crawl speed.”  I happened to look at the temp gauge and Whoa – entering RED zone.  We pulled over and spent the next two hours waiting for a pick up from the rental company.  Never happened!  By then, the engine had cooled, so we drove BACK to the rental company to get another car.  It was now late in the day and we didn’t feel like dealing with that slow traffic again.

The next day, with a new rental car, we headed to Naples and Marco Island.  We had friends from Ohio who now lived in Naples and were so glad to see them after many years.  Art and Rosemary have had a VERY active retirement over many years, and have now settled in a beautiful area of Naples.  We enjoyed a wonderful lunch of chicken and dumplings and lots of catch-up conversation.  Their son Doug was visiting from Seattle, and with some kind of flu outbreak back home, he had decided to extend his visit to Florida.

We spent the rest of the day driving around the two towns – really lovely.  The beaches and Gulf waters are SO beautiful and the day couldn’t have been nicer.

On Friday, we headed to Sanibel and Captiva Islands.  My dad had often talked about taking a family vacation there, but he ran out of time before that happened, so it was definitely on my bucket list to get there.  WOW – I am sorry we didn’t get there sooner!  Sanibel is known for the shells on the beach – they get a lot of shells that wash up on shore because of the position of the island in relation to the Gulf current.  We didn’t go shelling (no place to put anything else on boat), but we did enjoy the beach for a short time.  Thinking the water would be warm, we ventured out – not so warm yet!

We found the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel.  What a treasure!  6400 acres – home to over 220 species of birds.  We got there in time to take one of the ranger led nature hikes. We learned a lot about mangroves – common to Florida salt waters – as well as several of the birds we saw and other plants growing there.  The educational center had several interesting exhibits including one about Manatees and another on recycling, which featured several “products” made of recycled materials.

For lunch, we went to Doc Ford’s, which turns out to be a somewhat famous place.  It is named for a fictional character in a series of books written by Randy Wayne White.  Apparently, many of the stories take place in a fictional “Dinkins Bay” – AKA the Sanibel area.  The lobster roll lunch was wonderful as was the live music performed on the patio.

We explored more of the islands in the afternoon.  Found a beautiful island church – Captiva Chapel by the Sea – on the National Register of Historic Places.  Originally built in 1903 as a schoolhouse, it served the purpose of a church whenever a circuit preacher came to the area.  The interdenominational church is still in use today.  There is also a beautiful cemetery nearby.  Cemeteries always seem to have stories to tell, and it’s interesting to stroll thru and imagine the lives of those resting there.

We had one more day trip.  Dave, on Adagio, had recommended Punta Gorda.  They had gone by boat, and really enjoyed Laishley Park there at the marina.  So we drove there with our bikes in the trunk.  When we arrived, we found a wonderful bike path along the water. We also found that a Grand Opening bike ride had been cancelled that morning due to increasing news about the Corona Virus.  We first explored the waterfront path and then found that the path went thru town.  We found several sign boards giving us some history of the town and then we came upon a Farmers’ Market.  Sadly, there were posted signs indicating that it would be the last market until further notice.  Concern about the virus was growing and we were all wondering where this would end.

Feb 28 – March 8, 2020 Key West, Hot Cars & Taxes

We headed to the Keys – first stop Key West.  We hadn’t seen our friends Kate and Bill on Steadfast since Ottawa.  It was a happy reunion on their boat at Stock Island Marina – really nice place to hang out for some winter months!  We talked lots – enjoyed some wonderful meals – played some short Mexican Train games (they only had dominoes up to 6), and spent some time walking around downtown Key West.  We had been there before, so we bypassed most of the previous tourist places we had already seen, and sought out new sites to see.

The Mariana was on display.  This is a “boat” that sailed 111 miles from Cuba to Key West in 2015 with 24 people aboard.  The boat floated on 55 gallon drum cans and ran with a truck engine and oars.  It’s amazing what people will do to reach freedom.

There are lots of sculptures around town as well as the inevitable chickens that run free.

There is a Key West Memorial Sculpture Garden, which recognizes many significant citizens of Key West.  It was interesting to read about the lives of so many people.

On Sunday we went to church at the Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea.  It’s a simple church, yet very elegant at the same time. Doors line the sides of the church, and those were open during the service, which gave the feeling of being in a garden.

The West Martello Park is near the Southern Most Point, and is a real gem.  There are beautiful plantings along the walkways and it has beautiful views of the water.  There was a group of people who had gathered there to knit together – they were enjoying the conversation and goodies that some people had brought.

Before we left the delightful company of Bill and Kate on Monday, we stopped at a neighboring marina, Ocean’s Edge, to visit with Saltaire and Patriot.  Again, these were folks we hadn’t seen for quite a while and it was fun to catch up. While there, we saw a sign on one of the boat slips that caught our eye.

On to Marathon and a visit with Curti-Sea.  We had first met Robin and Ted in Delaware and were fortunate to meet again in Chicago and travel with them down the rivers. They were in a beautiful place – Blue Marlin Bay Resort Marina – and the Gulf view from the boat was fabulous! One day we went to a nearby park that offered Pickleball lessons.  The day we went, it was all Loopers!  Lots of Fun.  We went out to dinner to Keys Fisheries with some Looper friends from other marinas – Valentine and Shoreline Traveller.  We had also traveled the rivers with them.  Lots of good times.

We left on the 4thto drive to Amelia Island.  Steve, a friend from home, had arranged for Ed to join him as his “co-driver” for the Porche Driving Experience.  Ed didn’t quite know what to expect, but he was excited. I dropped him off, and then left the next day to drive back to Augusta.  

Entry from Ed: The first week of March, for the past five years, my brother Chuck and I have been volunteer drivers for RM/Southeby auction at the the Amelia Island Concours.  This “work” consists of driving the vehicles to stage them before and after the auction.  This allows us to drive some rare and expensive cars, albeit only short distances.  I was not sure if Vitamin Sea would be in the area of Amelia Island this year so I passed on the auction volunteering.  A friend of mine from Augusta, Steve, enrolled in the Porsche Driving Experience, scheduled for Friday during the Concours week.  He put me in as his “co-driver.” The day began with a visit to the new Brumos Collection Museum and a private collection of European racing cars in Jacksonville.  The afternoon was spent at the NAS Mayport for speed runs in a Porsche with former race driver, attaining a speed of 174 mph.  The autocross course was next with us driving laps in the Porsche Panamara GTS and 911 Carrera.  It was great for Steve to include me in this experience. On Saturday, Steve and I went to the annual Cars and Coffee and watched the other volunteers stage the cars for the auction.

I went home for a couple of nights to file our taxes and then returned to pick up Ed.  We drove back to Fort Myers on the 8th.  That was a lot of driving, especially considering we hadn’t driven much in a year.  It was nice to get back on the boat and out of the car!

February 21 – 27, 2020 Fort Myers, Part I

We rested after our stressful ride to Fort Myers; then we walked around the marina to check it out. It’s located right in town – great location – but our boat location – not so great.  We were backed up to a city sidewalk, just off of a street. We were planning to leave the boat to go home for a while and we weren’t comfortable with the very unsecured spot. We would have a struggle to get another spot – even tho’ there were several open.  To add to the problem, our only exit off the boat was onto a fixed wall – doesn’t float and depending on the tide level, I was sometimes having to take a “leap of faith” to step off the boat.  It got to be quite a concern for me that I might take a fall.  

Docktails were on our boat that evening.  Adagio came over from the Edison-Ford Marina and joined us as well as Honey Queen and Pura Vida III.  We all talked and talked – catching up on what everyone had been doing and seeing.  

Six of us later headed into town for the Music Walk, an event held every third Friday of a month.  The idea is that various musicians/groups perform and different locations in town, and people can walk around to enjoy (or sometimes not) the music.  The streets are closed off and drinking is permissible.  It’s a great idea, except that this night was freezing cold!!  We were all bundled up with layers and layers. We tried to find a place for dinner, but inside seating was about a 2 hour wait.  We finally settled on sitting outside – in an alley to block some of the wind.  The company and food were wonderful – the table location not so much. Brrrrr.  The restaurant was named Capone’s.  It was at one time a bank, and during renovations, an underground room was discovered that is believed to be the secret vault of Al Capone, notorious gangster.  The room was kept as found in the floor, and a plexiglass cover was made to cover it, so that it would still be visible from above.  No one is really sure of the authenticity, but that’s their story!

The next day it started getting warmer and we walked around town.  Lots of sculptures and artwork to see.  We also caught glimpses of a wedding outside of the Art Gallery.

On Sunday, we walked to church – about a mile away, and enjoyed some more artwork along our walk. That evening we had  “Dockluck” dinner with some Loopers.  

On Monday we headed over to the Edison & Ford Winter Estates.  These were their winter homes and a place where their friendship really grew.  There was much to see here.  There are the two homes and the grounds, and a museum, which showcases many of their inventions. The museum also runs DVD’s which tell of some of their “camping trips,” although I don’t know that you can call it such when you have cooks and servants and Press people, and you wear a coat and tie every day!  Edison’s laboratory is also there.  He ran many experiments in this location, but his primary goal was to discover an alternate source of rubber other than rubber plants.  He felt that America was too dependent on other countries for rubber and especially during war time, he sought to discover an alternate plant.  His most promising plant was goldenrod.  When he died, the research was turned over to the US Dept of Agriculture Office in Savannah, GA.   Nothing came of it, as soon after there were synthetics being developed at a much lower cost.  We returned several times to the Estate while we were in Fort Myers – there was a wealth of things to see there.

The tour of the Estates revealed several personal stories of the two families.  One of my favorites was about the Edisons before they were married.  Mina Miller was a very smart woman and when she saw Edison using Morse Code on his telegraph, she wanted to learn it.  As the story is told, she learned it within a day, and thereafter, whenever they were in a group but wanted to say something privately to each other, they tapped the message in Morse Code on the other’s arm or hand to communicate!

The 25th was Fat Tuesday and we celebrated with a Hot Dog dinner with Adagio on our boat, and of course had King Cake for dessert!  Then we walked into town and enjoyed some of the music and festivities there.  

On Wednesday, we attended Ash Wednesday service, and on Thursday I got a haircut.  This event would have special significance in the not too distant future.  We also picked up a rental car.  We had debated whether or not to take the boat down to Key West.  Winds were an issue as well as some rather pricy marinas.  The best prices are for a month, and we didn’t feel that we really wanted to stay there for so long. We compromised and decided to drive there so that we could visit several boat friends who had decided to go there for a month or longer.  Additionally, Ed needed to go to Amelia Island and I needed to go home to get our taxes filed.  We were finally able to get the boat moved to a more secure spot, although it was still on a wall and not a slip. We must have done something to make that dock master mad at us!

February 19 – 20, 2020 Cheeseburger in Paradise

We unhooked from the mooring ball in Sarasota – reversed the process – and headed South.  Low winds, mostly sunny, and a comfortable 72°.  Throughout the day we traveled thru Siesta Key, Venice, Manasota Key, Boca Grande – all places that had lots of houses on the water which means there were LOTS of No Wake zones.  We have to reduce our speed to about 6-7 mph in those zones, which makes for some long and SLOW stretches of time.  We did see lots of beautiful homes, but after awhile, one “million $ home” looks like all the other “million $+ homes!”

Our destination was Cayo Costa State Park in Pelican Bay.  We heard that it was a fabulous anchorage – we’ll see.  On the way down, we checked on NEBO and found that Adagio was already there. We had traveled with them in Michigan and some down the river.  We love to catch up with boat friends again.  

As we always do, we had read a lot of info about today’s route and the anchorage.  Seems that the entrance to the anchorage has some shallow areas and some comments gave VERY specific info about how to get in without running aground.  Stress level ticked up a few notches.  When we got to the entrance, we made note of various markers and then got lucky.  A sailboat was approaching from the south and going into the anchorage. Sailboats have deeper drafts than our boat.  IDEA – follow that boat!  We did just that, going rather close to the shore of the island and the many people there in the sand.  As long as the sailboat didn’t hit bottom, we felt we’d be OK.  We radioed Adagio to get their location, and headed that way.  We were surprised that there were LOTS of boats here, but there was also LOTS of space, so it didn’t seem crowded.  We anchored and then made plans with Adagio to dinghy to the park.  On the way over, we saw Sequel, Canadian boaters we last saw on the Tennessee River.  Of course we went over to say hello – eh?

There was a path thru the park that led to the Gulf side beach.  It was lovely walking along the path and the beach was beautiful. Didn’t bring our bathing suits, but we did walk along the shore.   It was an “ahhhhhh” type of excursion.

It was so quiet on the water that night and the stars were brilliant.  We took out the bow lounging pads for only the second time on this trip and layed down to look at the stars.  They were beautiful; then the clouds came in.  But it was fun while it lasted.

We had to cut the time there short as there were high winds coming in later in the day – like you’ve not read that in this blog before!  Along with Adagio, we were getting ready to pull up anchor when we were hailed by name on the radio.  Surprise, surprise. Jerry from Whisky Business was on a skiff and motoring towards us. We hadn’t seen him since Michigan and the rivers.  He has a condo at a nearby marina and when he saw our two boats on NEBO, he just had to come say hello.  We chatted for a while; then he went over to Adagio and chatted some more.  What a great start to the day! 

We followed Adagio out of the bay.  This time we got even closer to the shore, but no problems getting back to the ICW.   The plan was to follow them out and when we reached Cabbage Key, they were continuing, and we were going there for lunch.  This is the restaurant that was supposedly the inspiration for Jimmy Buffet’s song “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”  We got there a little early, which was good.  We were the first big boat to be coming in and there aren’t a lot of dock spaces for larger boats, so we got lucky.  

The inside walls and ceiling are COVERED in $1 bills.  It’s a custom to put your name on a bill and tape it to the wall.  It’s estimated that at any given time there is about $70K hanging.  Whatever falls off during the year is gathered and donated to various charities.  Considering the Florida humidity, lots probably falls, but is soon replaced with new bills. The cheeseburger was OK – the shrimp was much better, and the atmosphere was great. A man stood up while everyone was eating and announced that it was his wife’s birthday, and asked us all to sing Happy Birthday!  What a Hoot.  Had a great time. 

After lunch we went to explore the island a bit.  Walked down some pathways and saw some lovely flowers and some turtles along the way.  When we returned, the crowds were waiting to get in and the boats were PACKED into the docking area. We actually had to wait a bit for some other boats to leave before we could exit.  Definitely worth the stop – a Looper Favorite.

On to Fort Myers. The waterway opened up after we left Cabbage Key and the Crazy Boaters came out from everywhere.  No longer in the No Wake zones of the housing areas, the boats were ZOOMING past us – left and right.  At one point, we had two pass us on either side and when they met in front of us, and one of them hit the large wake of the other, the smaller boat went up in the air and we expected it to capsize. Fortunately it didn’t, but the afternoon continued like that.  This was all before we got to what is known as The Miserable Mile just outside of Fort Myers. There are so many boats in a narrowed area that you have to constantly watch for other boats, kayaks, paddleboards, and fishing boats all around you.

As we got near the Yacht Basin Marina, I started to pass around another boat.  Turns out it was As You Wish; boaters we had last met in New York and they were in our group when we took the Statue of Liberty photos.  They told us that the picture we had taken of them at the Statue was so good that they are now featuring it on their new boat cards!

We got to the marina, fueled, and then went to our slip.  It was as far a distance as they could have put us – not a great location.  But that’s a story for another post!

February 14 – 18, 2020 Bradenton & Sarasota

We left the next morning to join Honey Queen over at Twin Dolphin Marina in the Manatee River at Bradenton.  We had to cross Tampa Bay to get there.  It was a fairly easy ride of 25 miles.  As we approached the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, we noticed Coast Guard boats in the vicinity.  We found out that a Navy ship was coming in that morning, and the bridge area would be completely closed off to other traffic when the ship came near.  Good thing we left early enough to go thru the bridge before it was closed. 

On Saturday, we went to a Farmers’ Market for fresh fruits and veggies.  Then we walked to an area of town known as VOTA – Village of the Arts.  We didn’t go into any of the houses/shops – too early to be open – but just seeing the houses and outside artwork was an experience.

Later in the day, Amanda came through with another car she borrowed from fellow Loopers on Southern Cross.  One of the dockhands had told us about a manatee viewing area by a power plant at Apollo Beach about 30 minutes away.  Off we went.  The area has a large boardwalk out to the area and several exhibits inside and outside.  We didn’t see much in the way of manatees; mostly just a few snouts coming up for air, but the exhibits were informative.  Being mammals, the manatees have the same scheme of skeleton and organs than humans have.  An X-Ray of one of their front flippers looks like the bones of a human hand.  Hope we get to see some along the way – more than just snouts!

Ed used to work out of Bradenton when he was with D & S Color. A friend of his who was also with the company came to visit us on the boat. Chris and Ed had a good time catching up with each other. Two photographers on board and do you think either of them thought to mark the occasion by taking a photo? Hence, we don’t have one. 🙂

Saturday evening we had dinner with Honey Queen and Southern Cross at the Pier 22 Restaurant at the marina.  We had met Southern Cross at Port Orillia marina on the Trent-Severn waterway in Canada. Bradenton is their home port. On Sunday we did some pool time at the marina – ahhhh – then I went on the bike to get some things at Walmart and Ed did more boat stuff!

Monday was President’s Day, and it’s usually good to not be on the water on holidays because of crazy boaters, but we chanced a three hour trip to Sarasota.  The marina had a large mooring field – which is a considerable savings over a marina slip – so we decided to try it.  We took a lesson at the University of YouTube, and got ready to do this.  A floating mooring ball is usually attached to a cement block.  A boater ties a boat line to the floating ball, and this acts like an anchor, without having to set an anchor. The problem? – grabbing hold of the mooring ball in order to thread a line thru it.  One way is to hang over the bow and try to bring it up 5-6 ft to grab hold of it.  A second idea we learned is to stand on the swim platform – at water level – and grab hold.   Then you “walk” the secured line forward to cleat it to the bow.  The second option seemed easier.  

So, with Ed at the helm, I stood on the platform in open water – WITH a lifejacket on – and used a boat hook to try to grab the mooring ball.  Ed did a great job of jockeying the boat close enough for me to “do the grab.”  Once I got a line secured to the mooring ball, Ed cut engines and between the two of us we got the line “walked” to the bow of the boat and secured.  HA – nothing to it!!  Actually, we breathed a sigh of relief when it was done.

So when you are on a mooring ball, the only way to reach land is via another boat – ie.  our dinghy.  So we lowered The Pudgy and put-putted over to the dinghy dock, which was only reached by going past some BAB’s  (Big Ass Boats).  Sarasota is a very UPSCALE town, which was first evident by the numerous BAB’s in the marina.  We walked around town to see some of the sights and then headed back to the boat.  

We passed another Looper boat on our way back to our boat and we hollered out for them to join us for docktails.  John and Susan were on Eagle Heart out of British Columbia. Honey Queen came over, too, and suddenly it was a party!

The next day Amanda joined us and we headed to the Ringling Museum.  We expected to spend a couple hours, but were there all day. The first building we entered was the circus museum.  There were lots of things from the circus to see – the rail cars, wagons, posters, and costumes.  There was a lot of info on the 5 Ringling brothers who started the circus, and the eventual merger with Barnum & Bailey.  

A newly opened exhibit was a miniature circus.  We’re not talking table top, we’re talking gigantic sized: 3800 sq ft! It was created by Howard Tibbal – with a great deal of help from his wife.  It has grown over a period of 50 years.  “Detailed” doesn’t begin to describe all the intricacies included in the circus menagerie.  It was fun to watch children going thru the exhibit.  They – as well as we – were utterly fascinated.

The home of John and Mabel Ringling is on the grounds.  Named Ca’ d’Zan, or House of John, the creation of the beautiful home was a labor of love for Mabel.  When completed, they entertained many celebrities and the well-to-do social elite.  Sadly, Mabel died just three years after the completion of the home.   Both are buried on the grounds, along with John’s sister, but due to many legal issues, it was several decades before they were actually laid to rest at their beloved Ca’ d’Zan.  In John’s will, the estate and all the artwork were left to the State of Florida.

John and Mabel acquired quite a collection of artwork.  A separate art gallery and courtyard garden were created with the intent that the art could be shared with the general public.  When the building was designed, many of the galleries were created from rooms in various upscale homes that were being torn down for one reason or another.  For example, when the Collis P Huntington mansion in NY was torn down, John Ringling salvaged the marble frieze, the door surround and the fireplace.  One gallery was designed around these items.

The estate also has formal gardens and beautiful walking paths.  It must have been quite the showplace for the Ringlings.

We met Wes for dinner at the Columbia Restaurant in St Armands Circle – a very high end shopping district. It is a Spanish restaurant and they are known for their Cuban sandwiches and a 1905 Salad.  We ordered both and were not disappointed.

Unbeknown to Amanda, Wes had been out shopping that day for some earrings to replace a pair she had lost. We think he gave them to her that evening – the next time we saw her she was wearing them!

February 11 – 13, 2020 St. Petersburg, FL

We left Clearwater on a sunny morning with wispy clouds and moderate winds.  We weren’t quite as concerned about winds as we were traveling in the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GICW), which would have land on both sides of us to give us a wind buffer.  We headed towards St. Petersburg, FL.  We traveled the 36 miles in about 4.5 hours and settled into the St Petersburg City Marina.  We were adjacent to town, so off we went.  We wove our way around the construction, in progress on the street coming out of the marina, and found “town,” which was very nice and very busy. Again, some great architecture, lots of palm trees, and lots of shops and restaurants.  At the Visitors’ Center we got some info on places to see and got the map for a local free trolley which we got on just to get the “lay of the land” and see what we could see!

We got off the trolley at the Vinoy Hotel, built in 1925, in the Mediterranean Revival architectural style.  It was built as a seasonal hotel for the wealthy northern visitors, as well as Presidents and celebrities, who came south during the cold northern winters.  The townspeople knew that “the season” had opened when they could see the Vinoy Tower lit at night.  In 1942, during WWII, the hotel was used as an Army Air Force training center.  It was sold and reopened as a hotel in 1944.  It continued to prosper until the late 1960’s when it fell into disrepair due to neglect.  It closed in 1974.  In 1990, it was restored and expanded at a cost of $93 million.  It’s beautiful today and is now a Renaissance Property.  We enjoyed walking around the interior, which transports you to a different era of time.  We also viewed a large photographic display of the history of the hotel.  Outside, the grounds are lovely.

On the 12thwe hopped on the bicycles and rode over to the St. Petersburg Sunken Gardens, one of the oldest roadside tourists sites in the US.  In 1903, George Turner, Sr purchased a few acres of land. Included was a small lake, which he drained; hence the “sunken” garden.  Being an avid gardener, he began planting various types of plants and the “garden” grew and grew.  So many people wanted to see it, that he started charging 5¢to walk through it.  By 1935, he had walled in the garden and was charging 25¢. Additionally, he sold plants and fruits from the garden.  In the 50’s and 60’s, it was one of Florida’s top tourist attractions. The Gardens were passed down to his sons and grandsons.  The Gardens were sold to the City in 1999 for over $2 million.  Included in the sale was a building known as the Sanitary Public Market.  It has since been renovated and houses a children’s science museum and a gift store.

The Gardens are SO beautiful and so well kept by the City.  Not only are there lush plantings, there are also tropical birds, fish, flamingos, and butterflies.  What a delightful way to spend a morning.

In the afternoon, we headed to the Chihuly Collection Museum.  We were familiar with Dale Chihuly glass from an exhibit we had visited at the Biltmore in NC.  This museum had some films about the making of the glass, the design of the pieces, and an incredible display of some of his artworks.  Most of the rooms had very dark wall colors, which made the colored glass really POP – so to speak!  What a treat!

Included in our ticket was a visit to the Morean Glass studio.  There we saw a glass blowing demonstration by two of the local artists.  We watched a hot “blob” turn into a beautiful glass plate over the course of about an hour. Fascinating!

The next day we headed to the Florida Holocaust Museum.  For those of you who have never been thru a Holocaust Museum, it is an emotional experience.  There were many exhibits of what happened to people during the Nazi takeover; many stories told.  At the end of the walk-thru of the museum is box car #113 069-5, an actual railroad box car from Poland which transported victims to the concentration camps.  It sits upon original rail track from Treblinka.

A special exhibit was on display while we were there:  Let Me Be Myself: The Life Story of Anne Frank.  The display included photographs, models of the building where Anne and her family hid, and many excerpts from her writings.  There was also available a Virtual Tour of the “Secret Annex” hiding place. As we experienced the “tour,” it could not have been more real to us.  I’m sure that we were able to see much more detail of each of the rooms than most tourists are able to see when they tour the actual building.

February 5 – 10, 2020 Clearwater, FL

All rested from The Crossing and ready to go.  We caught up with Patty and Todd on Alcyone.  We had been in communication with them, and Todd has quite the Looper story to tell.  After extreme headaches for a few weeks, it was finally determined that he had a hematoma on his brain and required surgery.  Not too many people can tell of brain surgery while on the Loop.  Without going into details, we can say that he recovered well from the surgery, done just before Christmas, and continues to do well.  But their Looper trip is on temporary hold. Our objective while in Clearwater was to find fun things to do with them and enjoy the company of good friends.

First on the list was to go to Tarpon Springs, which we had bypassed in favor of docking at Clearwater.  We hopped on the Jolley Trolley, which took us the 14 miles for a cost of $2.50 – for both of us! Honey Queen went with us and Alcyone was to join us a little later.  First stop was the Tarpon Heritage Museum to learn the history of this town.  It was settled by Greek immigrants and they brought with them their skills for sponge diving, turning Tarpon Springs into the Sponge Capital of the World.  These are natural sponges that are harvested in the Gulf of Mexico.  The town is still very Greek, as evidenced by the wonderful Greek restaurants and bakeries.  This history was shown in various exhibits in the museum.  Also shown were some beautiful murals by Florida native Christopher Still.  They depict life in Florida and explanations of the paintings told us of so many intricate details in the paintings that are not at first obvious.  

Included in our admission was a visit to The Safford House.  The story of the house began in the 19thcentury when Florida was on the brink of bankruptcy.  The governor sold 4 million acres of land to Hamilton Disston, a land developer.  He paid all of 25 CENTS per acre.  In 1882, he deeded several thousand acres to the Lake Butler Villa Company, of which Safford was president.  Safford moved to Florida with his family and bought a modest home.  He worked at developing the land, but was also very community minded, building the first school and donating land for several churches.  His family outgrew the modest home and several additions were made, making it a rather grand home for the time.  His sister Mary Jane moved in with his family, of significance, because she was one of the first female doctors in Florida. 

Of course, lunch had to be at a Greek restaurant.  We went to Hellas, which was not only a wonderful place for lunch, but had an attached bakery with LOTS of Greek pastries that were fabulous.  Not a time to be watching calories.

After lunch, Ed and I made a side trip to St. Michael’s Shrine.  The small shrine was built as a result of a mother’s promise to St. Michael to build the shrine if her son could be cured.  The son was cured and the shrine was built.  It has reportedly been the site of many miracles.  It’s a beautiful story, and I encourage you to google it to get all the details.

That evening we watched the Pirate Ship come into port as we enjoyed docktails at sunset.  Life is good.

The next day we walked around Clearwater to just see what was there.  For our evening entertainment, we invited friends over for a little “guitar pickin’” and a bowling tournament on our boat. You read that correctly!  It was actually Wii bowling, and it was great fun.  Not too many Loopers can boast of holding bowling tournaments on their boat! 

On Friday we visited Clearwater Marine Aquarium.  This is a rescue aquarium for injured marine animals.  It is home to Winter the Dolphin, star of the movies Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2. When the animals can be rehabilitated, they are released back into the water, but if they can’t be rehabbed to be self sufficient, they have a permanent home at this aquarium, or a similar type facility.  It was such a joy to see dolphins, penguins, turtles, seals and other water animals as their trainers worked with them to show off their skills.  The Aquarium has lots of visits from children who have lost limbs and they get special “audiences” with the animals  – up close and personal.  What an incredible experience it must be for them.

On Saturday we were reunited with some former neighbors from Augusta – Bernie and Vicki.  They retired to Dunedin, a charming town just north of Clearwater – just a short bike ride away.  SO fun to catch up with them.  They drove us out to the Tampa Riverwalk area, a beautiful area, bustling with activity.  We started at the Armature Works, a restored warehouse that is now a “foodie hotspot.”  We had lunch there and then started walking the 2.6 mile Riverwalk.  Along the way we had views of the University of Tampa, created out of the Tampa Bay Hotel, which had ornate Victorian gingerbread and Moorish designs of minarets, domes and cupolas.  There were some park areas, including one that was hosting some kind of Fair for 4-legged friends – hence the reason that we saw SO many dogs while walking.  The views were lovely and when we reached a marina at the far end, we even found some Loopers, who knew someone that we knew– imagine that!  It was a wonderful afternoon, spent in the company of long missed friends.

We went to church the next morning at St Cecelia’s.  It is a uniquely designed church in the shape of a V, with the altar at the point and seating on each side.  People seated on one side of the church, can’t see people on the other side.  I asked a long time parishioner if there had been an addition to the church, but he told us that this was the original design.  

Later in the day, we took our bikes to Dunedin and we rode the Pinellas Trail with Bernie and Vicki to Wall Springs Park.  At one time, the park area was a commercial recreational facility. People would come to swim in the springs, but there were also sports fields, picnic areas and lots of hiking trails.  It is now a public park.  There is an observation tower, which we climbed to see the views.  The original tower burned down, but an artist took the charred and twisted metal remains and created some very unique seating for the park. We returned to Vicki and Bernie’s home for Aperol Spritzers and then were treated to dinner in town.  What a great day!

On our last day in Clearwater, we headed to the beach – just so we could say we had seen it and to put our toes in the sand.  Alcyone gave us the tour of the beach area – they had been here many times.  The sand was lovely and the light green waters of the Gulf were so beautiful to see.   We all had dinner on the deck of the Bait House at the beach marina and celebrated the 3rd Anniversary of Patty and Todd’s first date with cake on board Vitamin Sea.  We’re going to miss our friends on Alcyone, but it’s time for us to continue on our Loop.

February 2 – 4, 2020 The Gulf Crossing

Perhaps the part of the Loop that causes the most anxiety for boaters is the Gulf Crossing. As boaters go across the Florida panhandle, it becomes too shallow in the curved part of Florida for most boats to continue.  There are two choices. Boaters can do a three day scalloped travel pattern going into Steinhatchee, Crystal River and then Tarpon Springs (in and out of the Gulf), or they can do a diagonal run of about 180 miles from somewhere around Carabelle to Tarpon Springs or Clearwater.  Many Looper boats only travel about 8-10 miles per hour, which means the 180 miles has to be done overnight – in the dark – no lights!  Yeah, it produces a little anxiety. 

“Go fast” boats can sometimes cross during daylight hours, but such speed requires a lot of fuel. We can be a “go fast” boat, but Ed was not quite sure if we had the fuel capacity to make it 180 miles at a fast speed.  We had decided to cross with Honey Queen as our buddy boat.  Three other boats were also going that night, but after looking at wind & waves, we decided on a slightly different route that was recommended in one of our resource books.  This route was showing lower winds and only 1 ft waves and swells.  You can’t always believe the “Predictions.”

It is critical that the weather and winds be good for an overnight crossing.  You don’t want to be 60 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico and have four foot waves and 20 knot winds!  There aren’t a lot of days this time of year that are good for crossing.  You have to have at least 2 days in a row.  That can be hard to get, and many boaters have to wait several days for the right conditions. Harbor Host Jack had given us a contact in Carabelle to call regarding the weather.  Her name was Kim.  Jack said if she told us it was good, then we could go.  If she said it was “doable,” then we should wait; otherwise, it might be a very uncomfortable ride.

Amanda (Honey Queen) was appointed to be our contact with Kim. Many calls were made back and forth over a few days.  Finally got word that the night of the 3rd looked good.  On the afternoon of the 2nd, we left Apalachicola and headed to an anchorage at Dog Island. It’s a good jumping off point and saves about an hour of travel on the crossing day.  It was a beautiful place to anchor but the winds were up a bit and we were experiencing rolling waves while anchored.  Predictions were for wind to decrease overnight.

The next day Amanda called Kim again in the late morning.  She said it was still a GO, but we needed to get going – NOW. Generally it’s best to leave about 3 in the afternoon.  This puts you close to the end of the trip after sunrise so that you can SEE and maneuver around the CRABPOTS that are close to the endpoint.  Kim saw something in the weather that she didn’t like, but we never found out what.  We left about 11:30 am on the 3rd.  It was a pleasant day, but the swells were a little more than we would have liked.  And they kept changing direction – coming from the front, then the side, then somewhere else. 

We took the coordinates indicated in our resource book and plotted them in our navigation program. We were to go SE to a flashing red buoy, turn S to another buoy, then slightly E to our final destination. Sunset came, then nightfall. There was a half moon, which gave us a little light to see the horizon.  We could also see the navigation lights of Honey Queen, about half a mile to our starboard bow. That was IT.  Nothing else to see.  I hadn’t been seasick during this entire trip, but those swells were really doing a number on my stomach.  I finally got some food down, which actually made me feel better, but it was really hard to eat.  

To be sure we were on the correct route, we marked our longitude and latitude location on our paper charts every hour.  For a period of time, fog set in and we could only see Honey Queen’s lights – no horizon.  It’s a rather disorienting feeling.  That lasted about an hour.  We rode out of it, and could see the moon again.  At about 1 am, we were approaching the coordinates for our turn, but could not see a flashing red buoy that was supposed to be there.  We saw some other buoys north of us, but not what we were looking for.  When we reached the exact coordinate, we decided to make the turn and head to the next point.  

About 2 am, we got a radio call from Honey Queen – “I think I see a crabpot.”  We were in 34 feet of water; crabpots shouldn’t be here.  Looking at the charts, we saw that there could be fish hatcheries in this area, which are usually marked with floats on either end.  Maybe that was what he was seeing.  A few minutes later, Wes radioed “I see another crabpot.” Ed didn’t hesitate, he radioed back “I’m cutting engines and dropping anchor.”  So that is what both boats did.  The danger of the crabpots is that the floats are attached to the lines that go down to the cages.  If those lines get tangled in boat props, it can cause the props to get jammed and quit working.  

So there we sat, the swells rocking our boat something awful, and no hope of moving until sunrise, sometime after 7 am.  We tried sleeping, but my stomach would not cooperate.  Ed did fall asleep for a couple of hours.  I just kept praying for sunrise.  When it finally came, we looked around, and sure enough – crabpots.  We restarted engines and maneuvered our way around them.  The water had settled, and it was actually a beautiful morning and a good day on the water.  We recalculated some route info.  Talking it over with Honey Queen, it was just an hour more to get down to Clearwater, and from there, we could ride a trolley to go back to see Tarpon Springs.  Another reason to go to Clearwater was that our friends on Alcyone were already there and we really wanted to see them (explanation in next entry). So both boats agreed and we made a slight course adjustment.

When we finally docked in Clearwater, it had been 26 hours since we had left Dog Island and we had traveled 181.5 miles.  It had tested our nerves and our Faith, but we got through it with no harm done.  Would we want to do it again?  Not on my top ten list.  Some people told us of calm night crossings with a full moon that made the Gulf waters glisten.  Yeah, if we could get one of those nights, I’d be game to do it again, but for now we were just glad to have it behind us.  We were exhausted and a nap and a shower topped the To Do List for the day.  

Jan 25 – Feb 1, 2020 Baby Steps

On the 25th we headed out of Orange Beach, determined to go as far as reasonable that day.  We passed thru Pensacola Bay and headed thru Santa Rosa Sound.  The day was sunny and warm enough in our protected helm area, and we were enjoying the moving water under our boat.  We traveled 60 miles that day – almost 7 hours.  We landed at Fort Walton City dock – a freebie that had electric, but no water hookup.  That’s OK – only staying one night.  We walked thru a park and around town.  Found a church for Mass that evening.  Nice area.  

The next morning we were on our way a little after 8 am.  We got all of two miles when the starboard engine temp gauge registered in the RED zone.  Ed gave me the wheel and ran down to the engine room.  The next thing I hear from him is “Cut the starboard engine!”  Not the words the Admiral likes to hear from the Captain.  He came up and said there was antifreeze sprayed all over the engine and we needed to turn around and return to the dock using only our port engine. 

We returned to the City Dock and down he went into the engine room.  He determined that it was the alternator.  The fan had broken into 3-4 pieces.  It was Sunday morning; fat chance of getting anything repaired.  His phone dinged – it was a message from the Harbor Host in the area wanting to know if we were going to stop at the marina where he lives on his boat.  I replied that we weren’t going anywhere, as our alternator was out of commission.  He replied “Want some help?”  That was magic! He and Ed talked.  Jack made some calls.  Called us back and said no one could come today, but they would be at the boat at 8 am on Monday.  And by the way, would we like him to pick us up for docktails? Didn’t have to ask us twice. Ed worked that day at removing the alternator and cleaning up the mess.  That evening we enjoyed the company of several Loopers.  We met Amanda and Wes from Savannah, GA who were on the boat Honey Queen.  Destiny had brought us together here – we would be friends in no time at all.

Next morning, at 8, someone came to get the alternator and said if all went well, he’d be back in a few hours.  Not all went well – needed to order a part – so we enjoyed the day sightseeing.  There was a Heritage Park and Cultural Center, which gave us a great historical view of Fort Walton.  Also included in the Park were Camp Walton Schoolhouse Museum – an original one room school house, The Garnier Post Office Museum, The Fort Walton Temple Mound – the original temple mound built by Prehistoric People living there between 700 AD and 1500 AD, and a Civil War Exhibit Building. Fun facts from the Post Office Museum: 1)There was once an undersea PO for a scientific facility on the seabed off the coast of the Bahamas.  2)in 1959, a submarine fired a guided missile, filled with letter, to the Air Station at Mayport, FL 3) There is a mule train delivery route to an Indian Reservation located below the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. That was a lot to see in such a small town!  

While walking in town we came across Suds-n-Cinema.  It’s a movie theater that also sells beer and dinner food.  Great idea for Monday night entertainment, so we went.  The theater had been renovated to have tables, chairs and booths.  We ordered and started talking about The Loop with a Canadian couple sitting next to us.  Who should come sit at a table behind us?  There were Amanda and Wes along with another couple who are Looper Harbor Hosts.  Been in town 2 days and we’re already running into familiar faces.  By the way, the movie was “Knives Out” – a murder mystery – and great fun.

The next day we window shopped along the street and took some photos near our boat.  In the afternoon, the alternator was re-installed.  The only original part to it was the casing – everything else had to be replaced.  We were very grateful to have it done so quickly. Harbor Hosts have a wealth of contacts and are such a great help to Loopers.  Rainy weather predicted tomorrow.  No go.  Wednesday night we went out for Mexican – interesting restaurant décor.

Left on Thursday, Jan 30, for Pearl Bayou Anchorage.  At 12:30, we entered what is known as “The Grand Canyon of Florida.” People from Colorado would laugh themselves silly to see it.

While motoring along, we kept hearing a Slap – Slap sound from the back of the boat.  Thinking that maybe we hadn’t properly fastened something, I went back to look.  Couldn’t find anything, but when I heard the sound again, I looked out the back door opening.  Next to the boat were three dolphins having a great time traveling in our wake.  One would jump into the air – land on its side – and that was the slapping sound we heard.  I watched for several minutes and then took over the wheel so that Ed could come to see.  What GREAT traveling companions.

The anchorage was beautiful and located next to Tyndall military air base.  We heard Retreat sound at 5 PM.  Brought back memories of when each of us lived on military bases while growing up.  The sound is even more beautiful over the water.  Spent a calm night at anchor and left the next morning.

We were traveling through some winding waterways the next day.  About midday it started raining hard enough that we pulled over in Searcy Oxbow to wait it out and have some lunch.  While we were anchored, we saw a big barge go by.  Kind of glad we weren’t on the rather narrow channel when that Big Boy passed!  After the rain, we headed out again and ended the day at Scipio Marina in Apalachicola, FL.  Honey Queen was already there. NOTE: we cruised back into Eastern Time Zone today. SO glad. Seeing dark at 4:30 pm was no fun!

We discovered that Amanda has a real knack for meeting people with cars.  They offer to driver her or loan her the car! She had already made friends with one such couple who drove us to dinner that evening.  Apalachicola is yet another quaint town on our Loop – and we never tire of seeing them.  Each is unique in their own way.  The next day we walked around town and then later Amanda made another “car friend” and we went out grocery shopping.  For the evening entertainment, we went to a Jim Croce Tribute performance.  Jim Reno was the performer.  The great thing about the performance was the background info he shared about each of the songs and all the photos he showed on screen.  He had gotten to know Ingrid Croce, Jim’s widow, and she shared many of her family photos and stories with him.  Fun night!  I do remember looking around the theater and thinking there were a lot of old people there.  Wonder what they thought when they looked at us?? Maybe the same thing!