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Tampa Bay Trip

Posted by [email protected] on May 5, 2015 at 3:45 PM

I posted this on TSBB shortly after the Tampa Bay trip. I began this website not too long ago and decided to add some accounts of past sailing experiences. In this category I will post about trips on bigger waters, "the high seas".

 

The trip to Tampa Bay took place October 9-13, 2007. At that time I was sailing Heaven Bound, my 1990 Macgregor 26S. The following is the account as posted with a few minor changes:

 

Let me set the stage here: I've been sailing since 1999. I'm a lake sailor except for one 4 day excursion on the Chesapeake Bay in 2000. That trip was not without incident. In fact, my whole sailing career is loaded with "incidents". These have left my wife less than avid about sailing.

 

With that said, I have longed to take a nice trip to some bigger waters and give my wife a grand time. I have planned this trip for weeks to try and make it really special. So here goes....

 

We packed the boat on Monday and had her ready to pull out at 4:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning. I would be towing with my Grand Marquis which I have always used to tow. I got to bed a little after midnight and was as anxious as a kid on Christmas Eve. As tired as I was, I had a little trouble falling asleep. The alarm went off at 3:45, and we were up and piling into the car. We pulled out about 4:20. It's about 10 miles to the interstate and that went fine.

 

I was careful to put a good amount a weight on the tongue so it would pull well. In fact, I used a bathroom scale and had 300 lbs on the tongue. That's all I could afford since I have a class II hitch and I also had my daughter's luggage that would be going back with her when we dropped her off at the Atlanta airport on the way back. The car was low.

 

After we hit the interstate it was not long until we all realized the car wasn't doing well. The trailer was swaying a bit, and when the big 18-whelers came by it was a bit unnerving. We drove about 10 miles and all agreed it wasn't going to work. None of us was up to 1200 miles of "white knuckles" riding on "pins and needles". We pulled off the road and assessed the situation. I was absolutely numb. All that work and now no trip.

 

We returned home and my wife went back to bed. I laid down on the sofa to clear my head and try to come up with an alternate plan. My daughter, who was so looking forward to the trip, put her mind in gear. She finally called my other daughter and asked if we could borrow their truck. So at 8:30 we exchanged vehicles and by 10:30 (I had to rewire the plug for the trailer lights - the truck did not have a "pig tail") we were "on the road again". And, boy, what a difference with the pickup! This was going to work. It was a beautiful day to travel. Traffic moved well and we had no problems in route.

 

We were getting a 6 hour late start though, and this impacted my planned itinerary. As we traveled, I had to rework my plan. Since I was so familiar with the area after weeks of studying charts and preparing, I was able to come up with a "plan B". I had planned to start at the Seminole boat ramp, motor to Dunedin Marina by dark and spend the first night there. There was no way I was going to make it by dark, so I decided we'd go to St. Pete, put in at their municipal marina and stay right there. No motoring in the dark.

 

We arrived at St. Pete about 8:30 p.m. We parked the truck in the marina and figured, since it was dark already, it wouldn't hurt to go ahead and have some supper first. We walked to "The Pier" and had supper at Cha Cha's on the upper deck in the open air. It was wonderful: a little warm but the breeze was blowing nicely.

 

Here are the girls having a late supper:



 

 We walked back, set up the boat and put her in the water. I went to start the motor and she wouldn't fire! I pulled and pulled and pulled on that thing. We were once again devastated with disappointment! We figured we had no choice but to take the boat out of the water, get a motel, and reevaluate in the morning. It was 3:30 a.m. when we went to bed. We'd been up almost 24 hours. Here's a pic of the frustrated crew:



 

When I woke up, I went straight out to the boat and guess what? It started on the first pull! I had flooded the motor the night before: my bad. But... here's a pic of a still eager first mate outside on the hotel parking lot:



  

After breakfast it was back to the St. Pete marina and setup time - again. We were in the water by lunch time. We decided to motor over to the courtesy docks. I usually check my reverse gear before docking. It's not very reliable; seems to want to kill the motor. Well, it did. More frustration. I decided not to try to dock without reverse.

 

We headed out into the bay. Here's "The Pier" as we're headed out of the marina:



  

I wasn't aware of the mid-day doldrums, but it was perfectly calm - and the day was hot. More frustration. I'd driven 600 miles to bob and bake! I can do that on my own lake. This was the breaking point for my wife. She'd been very patient, but this was about all she could take. She doesn't tolerate heat and she was ready to go back to Georgia! I just sat there like Tuesday morning wondering what in the world to do. While I pondered things, she took a dip in the "shark-infested waters": facing heat stroke or entering the food chain, she chose the later.

 

I decided we were here, and we would make the best of it. I began to motor out to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Within a half hour the wind started to stir. I was encouraged. A few minutes more and I decided it was time to sail. By the time I got the sails deployed the wind was perfect. We had the most beautiful sail out to the bridge. The winds were northerly at about 10mph and we were on a beam reach doing hull speed. I was ecstatic. I was able to sail all the way out to the bridge on one tack at full speed. That just hardly ever happens on a lake. What a great sail!

 

The winds built a little and I furled my headsail in a bit and was again comfortable. Waves were 1-2 feet. Again, a bit of a new experience for a lake sailor, but it was still pleasant for captain, mate, and crew.

 

As we were approaching the bridge, I was doing a bit of filming. Suddenly my daughter shouted, "Did you see that?!" Apparently I had just missed getting footage of a dolphin jumping 6' out of the water silhouetted against the western sun. Tiffany loves dolphins, always has - and she was overjoyed at the spectacle.


 Here's a picture of a slightly happier crew after we had sailed a while:



 

 Here's a pic of the 11-mile long suspension bridge back-lighted by a sun headed for the western horizon:




  We sailed under the bridge filming as we went. It was neat. I had driven over that bridge a few years ago and had looked down on the bay thinking to myself, "That's some big water, but I sure would love to sail on it." Here I was sailing under that very bridge.

 

I had wanted to sail to Egmont Key, but the day was getting on and my wife wanted to stay in the marina. We turned around and headed back. We were able to sail about half way back. When it was time to turn north, the wind was on our nose; so we motored the last half of the return trip. We arrived at dark. Here's a pic of the sunset just before we got back:




  As we approached the harbor and marina I hailed the dockmaster on the VHF (the very first time I ever used it!), and we set up dockage for the night. Bill was so nice. He's a liveaboard right there at the marina.

 

We spent a great night there and had a wonderful supper of salmon steaks, peas and carrots, garlic bread, and Zebra cakes for dessert: compliments of the chef (my wife). The shower facilities were absolutely spotless and it was nice to get cleaned up before retiring. I had asked Bill about mosquitoes. His answer, "What mosquitoes? Don't have any." He was right and the weather was so perfect that I decided to sleep in the cockpit that night. It was absolutely heavenly.


 Here is St. Pete from the marina:




  Thursday dawned as pretty a morning as you could wish. We leisurely ate a breakfast of pop-tarts and then hauled the boat out. I wanted to do Caladesi Island and sail in the Gulf so trailering over to Clearwater was really the only option. Once we trailered over to Clearwater, we launched at the Seminole boat ramp and motored out to the Caledesi eating lunch as we motored. The ICW was beautiful and the homes on the waterfront gorgeous.


 Here is a picture of the channel leading up to the marina as well as a couple of the marina as well:






There were only a few boats at the marina. In fact, only seven overnighted there. We checked in at the park office and were made aware by the large mounted skin on the wall of giant rattlesnakes that inhabit the island. Robin wasn't thrilled to hear that so decided right then and there that there would be no "exploring". We never saw a snake (although just as we arrived a large bull whip snake had been spotted over by the bath house). The only reptile we saw was this guy:



 

 We quickly got ready and went to the beach for the afternoon. Not many people there and after the last tourist boat left we were literally the only people on the beach as far as we could see either direction (probably 3 miles). We headed back before dark and had another great supper of ham steaks, green beans and potatoes, with Zebra cakes again for dessert. When we got our first mosquito bite the netting went up, and we saw maybe one more of the buzzing creatures the rest of the evening.


On Friday morning we did the beach walk shelling as we went. Along the way my daughter was given a tip to walk out into about 2' of water where she began to find some conches. Most of them were live and had to be thrown back, but she did find a few empty shells. My wife also picked up enough shells to give out to her Sunday school kids.


Here are a couple pics we took on the island:





  After our walk, we ate a lunch of PB&J sandwiches under one of the pavilions and set out for some really big water, the GULF!


It wasn't very far to the Gulf; and, after setting the sails with the boat motoring into a 10-15mph breeze, we turned south toward Clearwater Pass, about a six mile sail. I had set the sails with a reef in the main and the headsail partially furled. I quickly let out all the sails, and we were doing nicely with following seas of 2-3'. It was quite lovely.

 

I could have sailed wing & wing and headed straight for the pass; but, since I was in no hurry, we sailed a bit SSW on a broad reach. That put us a little further out into the Gulf, but it was a nice day and little reason for concern. The further we sailed, however, the more the wind picked up. According to the weather buoy, by the time we were ready to gibe back toward the coast, the winds had picked up to 15-16 knots steady with gusts to 18 knots (that's 17-21 mph). I estimated the waves were 4-5 feet. The girls got really nervous, especially after I executed a poor gibe and rolled the boat a bit. I really didn't want to sail through the pass, so I doused the sails and cranked up the Honda 8. She died when I put her in gear the first time; and, for a moment, I was a bit concerned myself - we were being driven by the wind toward the channel marker and beyond that was the rocky shore . She kicked in on the second try, thankfully, and we motored on into the Clearwater Pass. As it turned out, I could have easily sailed through the pass. Since the winds were out of the N, maybe a bit NNW, the pass was in the lee of the island which left the waters pretty calm. I motored under the bridge without incident, but as soon as we were out of the "shadow" of the pass, the stiff winds hit us.


We headed north up the ICW toward the Dunedin marina, stopping at the Seminole ramp on the way for gas. Now my wife would have really killed me had I run out of gas! Truth be told, I had checked my fuel a little earlier and I was dangerously low. Man, was I glad we made it to that fuel dock! If I had run out of gas in that narrow part of the ICW, those winds would have quickly pushed us... well, let's not think about that.

 

After fueling, it was a beautiful short ride to the marina with the sun lighting the eastern shoreline. Here's a shot:




  We arrived at the Dunedin marina and after were promptly assisted by Tom who lives aboard on "B" dock just down from where we had tied up. He pointed out the location of the bathhouse and made suggestions about local eating fare. After cleaning up, we decided to eat on the water at the Best Western Inn's Marina Cafe. It is right on the water and the evening was just perfect. They also have a 4 or 5 star restaurant but we'll save that for another occasion. Here's the view as we walked up to the cafe:




We ate from the light fare portion of the menu to save a few dollars and had a great supper. My daughter and I had seafood antipasto which was a variety of things including tuna, salmon, mussels etc with some special sauces. It was different, but I wanted different. It was a good choice. Robin had southern chicken salad which she loved as well. It filled her up. 

 

Here's a pic taken by the manager:




  After returning to the boat, I walked around the docks for awhile particularly noticing the sailboats.

 

We had a restful night’s sleep, we motored back to Seminole at daybreak. We were treated to one final joy on the way to the ramp when two groups of dolphins swam by about 30 yards off our port. We turned the boat around, motored parallel to them for a bit, and got a little footage while watching them.

 

We had a little wait at the ramp but finally got the boat hauled out. While getting the boat ready, a couple pulled in with a nice Compac 19. I introduced myself and asked if they had ever been on TSBB. He said occasionally, but it had been a while. Hope they had a good sail. We left about 10:00 a.m.  and dropped Tiffany at the Atlanta airport at 6:30 p.m. I felt a little funny driving through the airport towing a sailboat. We were back in Dalton by 8:30.

 

What a trip! What highs and lows! As I said, it really was the best of trips with a few moments of utter frustration thrown in to keep us humble I guess. One thing's for sure: we made some memories!

 

Sail on.

 

 

Categories: Adventures on the High Seas

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