March 29 – April 5, 2020 The Last Left Turn

From Stuart, we made the last Left Turn of our great adventure.  We started heading up the east coast to close our Loop.  Listening to some radio chatter along the way, our ears perked up when we recognized a voice. It was Renee from Shoreline Traveller. We had traveled with them down the rivers and visited them in Marathon. Now they were just a short distance ahead of us. We snapped a photo as we went passed them – never know WHEN you’ll see Looper friends again.

First stop was an anchorage in Faber Cover in the Fort Pierce area.  This was a unique anchorage.  When we entered, it was like parking the boat in a cul de sac.  There were homes entirely around the shore of the cove.  Several boats were anchored in the cove, which turned out to be a nice anchorage.

Next morning we headed out EARLY to Melbourne Harbor Marina and once again caught up with BackAtcha – our long time neighbors in Orange Beach.  They had been in Melbourne for so long, that Chris had taken a job.  The restaurant at the marina was taking advantage of the down time to renovate the interior.  Chris is an engineer and building contractor, so he started working on the project.  We stayed to visit with them – and their dog Winston.  Serenity Blue and Spinning Dreams III came into the marina after us.  It got to be quite the Looper Village!

When we started the journey in March 2019, we followed Wild Goose out of Beaufort.  Steve and Jeri were our first Travel Buddies who were so kind to sort of take us under their wing and get us initiated on The Loop.  I found out they were very close to Melbourne and gave them a call.  They had finished their Loop and were acclimating themselves to land again.  They came over to the boat for lunch and we had quite the reunion – but forgot to take any pictures!

We went into town to see what we could see – only from the outside. 

On Thursday, we borrowed kayaks from BackAtcha and paddled up the creek where the marina is located.  It was a beautiful day and we heard that manatees were frequently in the creek.  We did see a manatee and were so excited, even though it was a brief sighting.  On our return trip, we came across a young couple and told them about the manatee.  They told us that up the alternate branch of the creek, there were SEVERAL manatees.  So off we went, and sure enough, we came across them.  What a treat to see them munching on green plants in the water.  Our only regret – no phone and no camera!  Concerned about maybe getting them wet, we had left them on the boat. 🙁 

We discussed our options from this point – no one had answers for what the future would hold.  We decided to go up to Fernandina Beach where Ed’s brother Chuck lives.  We figured if he got sick, we would be there to help take care of him, and he could help us if one of us got sick.  So, our next stop was New Smyrna Beach.  We had info that there was a free wall there in town.  We headed out, and as we approached, we kept trying to figure out where this “wall” was.  We did see a sailboat tied to a “wall” adjacent to the park.  We pulled in front of it, but we had a big challenge.  This wasn’t a straight wall.  This was a half circle that extended from the park sidewalk out into the water.  Who in their right mind would design a curved wall to serve as dock space?!  We didn’t like it, but we found a way to make do and tied there for the night.  We got off the boat to walk around town, and found that there was one floating dock about a 100 yards ahead of us.  It would hold 1, maybe 2 boats, but it was already occupied.  We did inform boats back at Melbourne so that they would know what to expect.

Next day we headed to St. Augustine.  We had been there many years ago, and were sad to think about nothing being open when we got there.  We approached the town, passed under the Bridge of Lions, and tied to a mooring ball in the north mooring field of the city marina.  We were moored adjacent to the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the continental US. 

We took the dinghy across some choppy water and went ashore to explore the town.  It was SO empty.  We walked the streets, went to the college campus, saw the outside of the Cathedral of St Augustine.  Then we found a small restaurant that did gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. We got our takeout meal and went back to the boat to enjoy it.

While eating, we noticed a boat slowly motoring through the mooring field.  After years of being wedding photographers, we knew a wedding when we saw one!  There was a couple with an official, a photographer, a daughter and a couple other people on the boat.  They were having a sunset wedding on the water.  We watched for as long as they were in view – never know what we’ll see on this trip!

We headed out early the next morning; this would be the last of three long days of travel – about 70 miles to go.  We worked our way thru the ICW, passed Nassau Sound and then the final leg towards Fernandina.  At that point we got a phone call from Chuck.  He said to look on the A1A bridge.  He was up there to see us go thru – holding a flashing light so that we could locate him.  Then he went to the Amelia River Golf Course on the river, and then to the overwatch of the newly reopened Fernandina Beach Marina.  Nice to have a welcoming committee when coming into a port.

March 25 – 28, 2020 Same Trip, Yet It’s Not

Over the last week, we have contemplated when to leave Fort Myers.  Our growing concerns were about the future availability of marinas/fuel, and also the water level in Lake Okeechobee.  We had been experiencing beautiful weather – sunny skies, warm temps, and breezes, but NO rain.  That’s great, except that the water in Lake O was evaporating.  The lake isn’t usually very deep, so as water levels decline, it poses possible problems.  We decided it was time to move.  Paradise Falls concurred, so we planned to leave the 25th for a 3 day trip to cross to the Atlantic coast.

We left early on the 25th.  Unfortunately, there were two slower boats that were already in the channel as we departed.  There was a bridge and a lock to open a short distance ahead, and we knew that there was no use of trying to pass the boats, as we would just have to wait for them at the lock.  So we settled into a slow cruise to enjoy the day.  The four of us were in a line.  I happened to glance back and saw a large Sport Fishing boat coming up fast behind us.  I radioed to the other boats to make them aware, as I anticipated the boat was going to pass;  and pass he did.  SO fast that he created a deep wake that rocked and shook everything in our boat.  I glanced at Paradise Falls, a small 29 ft low tug — the wake swamped the front of their boat as they took a nose dive down and back up.  As the boat passed the others in our line, I heard some choice words over the radio.  The boat had no name or other identifying info on the boat – probably on purpose.  He went on his way, but deeds have a way of catching up with you.  When the four of us approached the bridge that had to be opened, there was the big, bad boat!  We figured the bridge tender had heard the chatter on the radio and decided the guy could just cool his jets for awhile. After we went thru the bridge, it wasn’t too much farther that he turned off to go wherever — good riddance!

We went thru two more locks that day – Franklin Lock (#203) and  Ortona Lock (#204).  We tied to a wall in Moore Haven along with Paradise Falls. The wall was adjacent to a city park; it was a nice setting.  We headed out for a walk, and again experienced the eeriness of so many businesses closed.  Even the City Hall where we paid our overnight fee was locked – a doorbell brought an employee and she gave directions to get one of the provided envelopes, insert our money, and put the envelope through a slot.  We DID manage to find an ice cream store that was open!  We figured someone recognized the medicinal value of ice cream!

We proceeded on the next day and went thru Moore Haven Lock (#205) and into a narrow channel that led us to Clewiston.  Made a left turn there – and we were IN Lake Okeechobee!  We had been warned about low spots in the lake and the necessity of staying IN the channel.  We followed the channel markings and our electronic charts diligently and we still had low water warnings go off three times.  There were small white caps in the lake, but an OK kind of day.  Three hours later we were exiting the lake and going through the Port Mayaca Lock (#206) and on to the St. Lucie Canal.  Our destination was the tie up on the west side of the St Lucie Lock.  There was a park in the area with boat slips, but the park had been closed and boats told to leave the slips.  We read that there were dolphins to which we could tie.

A “dolphin” is a cluster of pilings (think telephone poles).  To tie to dolphins, you need to tie the bow of the boat to one dolphin, and the stern of the boat to another.  Ed drove the boat as close to the front dolphin as possible, where I tried to tie a line to a cleat on the dolphin,  The cleat was rather low for our boat, and it was quite a challenge to get it without running the boat into the dolphin.  Once I did get it,  I had to tie it loosely so that we could get the boat far enough back to the dolphin behind us.  I took over the driving, and Ed went to the stern to catch the cleat there.  We did a lot of maneuvering back and forth trying to get tight between the two dolphins.  We were exhausted by the time we were done.

Meanwhile, Paradise Falls was watching us and waiting to come in and get tied.  We knew there would be some difficulties, so Ed got in our dinghy to try and help them.  Between the three of them, they finally got their boat tied also.  We spent a quiet night there – beautiful and calm.  Since the lock was closed for the day, there wasn’t any traffic in the area.  

UNtieing from dolphins is easier than getting tied.  Once the boats were untied, we went thru the St. Lucie Lock (#207) and headed to Stuart on the Atlantic side of Florida.  We had hoped to stay at Sunset Bay Marina, in downtown Stuart, but they were no longer taking boaters due to the virus.  Instead, our friends Kate and Bill on Steadfast recommended coming to The Harborage, their home port.  So there we went.  We radioed to the marina when we arrived and they gave us directions to our slip.  We were making our way there when the boat stopped – stuck in mud!  We were able to rock out, but we suspected there might have been some damage.  Would it have been so difficult for the dock master to say “Stay close to the boats because the outside is shallow?”  One sentence would have saved us grief.  We got docked and were glad to see Kate and Bill’s boat just across the dock from ours.  They weren’t aboard.  They were moving back into their condo there on the premises.

Fortunately there was a diver at the marina doing work on another boat.  We asked him to check under ours to see if there was any damage.  We were glad to hear that there wasn’t any physical damage to the props, but he said we had “polished off” the protective coating on the props.  The coating is what helps to keep barnacles from growing on the surface.  Good news/bad news kind of result.

The Harborage is a beautiful marina, but all the amenities were closed.  No access to pool, club room, fitness room or restaurant; all closed because of the virus.  But we made note that they didn’t reduced the price for staying at the marina!  

We rode our bikes into town – a lovely town, that was mostly closed.  There is a beautiful waterfront walkway and amphitheater in town.  Known as the “Sailfish Capitol of the World,” Stuart was a favorite fishing spot for President Grover Cleveland.  He bought waterfront property ($225) there to build a home, but died before that happened.  His widow eventually sold the property to the city – at a whopping $25 profit — and it is now the site of City Hall.

We enjoyed biking to one of the parks and then just up and down the streets.  I saw more doctors’ offices than I have ever seen in a town.  You can have your choice of specialists here!

We enjoyed catching up with Kate and Bill.  They were moving back into their “dirt home.”  We got a tour of the condo and that night, along with Paradise Falls, we all ordered take out for dinner and enjoyed a delightful evening with a view from the condo.  We sadly said goodbye the next morning.  We’re nearing the end of our journey, so not sure when we might see Bill and Kate again, but in Looper tradition, we expect we will see them someday, somewhere!

So the journey continues, but not the same kind of journey we started.  For the past year, we have enjoyed exploring cities, towns, and parks – doing all the touristy things that tourists do.  Not possible now.  We’re still traveling the waterways, but not able to tour, and not able to do all the Looper gatherings that have made this trip so special.  Boaters are probably more isolated from the general population than most people, but there is still some wariness about getting on boats, or having large gatherings.  We’ll adapt, but the journey has changed.

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.