Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Creative Cruising

We are underway southbound in the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW), headed for St. Pete, with Clearwater in our wake. We had a very nice week in Clearwater, spending a good part of it with longtime close friends Karen and Ben, who now have a nice home here in addition to their awesome vintage Flxible bus, the Creative Cruiser.

This "pirate" tour from Clearwater Beach passed us twice a day in our cozy anchorage.

The week got off to an inauspicious start, arriving, as we did, through the Clearwater inlet on Wednesday morning at dead low tide. After clearing under the inlet bridge, we made the left toward our planned anchorage in Clearwater Beach, and promptly ran aground on a growing sandbar. While the sounder said we had touched bottom, and I could feel the boat slow, we never stopped, and almost as quickly as it happened, we were again fully afloat.

Moonset on my watch in the Gulf. Best my cell could do.

We continued another few hundred feet en route to the anchorage, furiously studying charts to try to guess if we might run out of water again further along. While soundings with the tender later in the week revealed we would have been fine, we ultimately decided the wiser choice was to turn around and take our chances with the bar we'd already touched once. We altered our line with a little guesswork, and made it back out without touching.

These dolphins played in our bow wave before dinner on our passage. The clear Gulf water makes for good viewing.

We proceeded instead all the way to the GIWW at Clearwater, where we dropped the hook in an uncharted anchorage just south of the causeway bridge (map), just inside the No Wake zone. It was a little exposed, and many skippers took liberties with the No Wake signs, but it made for a short dinghy ride to the day dock at the Clearwater Municipal Marina, where we had docked Vector a couple years ago.

Approaching Clearwater from sea on a perfect morning.

By late afternoon we were both recovered just enough from the passage to splash the tender and head ashore for dinner. We walked to downtown eatery Clear Sky, one of perhaps a dozen eateries along the main drag, Cleveland Street. Tasteful, understated holiday decorations adorned the street, and we saw brightly painted fiberglass dolphins throughout town.

Sunset over Clearwater inlet from our anchorage.

By Thursday evening we were pretty much fully recovered, and Ben and Karen picked us up at the dock for cocktails and a quick tour of their beautiful, very modern house just a few minutes away. Afterward we had dinner at one of their nearby favorites, Rumba, a casual tiki joint. We enjoyed catching up after too long an absence.

When not dealing with pirates, we instead had sharks in the anchorage.

We got together each evening over the next four days, and a couple of days I also spent most of the afternoon at their house helping Ben with the Creative Cruiser. We replaced the three hard-to-reach Group 31 start batteries under the master berth, and diagnosed a misbehaving door-opening solenoid.

Vector anchored in Clearwater. The aground sailboat was our only neighbor; they were very quiet.

We ended up celebrating their anniversary at another old favorite, Slyce in Indian Rock Beach, and one evening we walked into town and met them at the oddly-named Sicilian place, Soul. The other two evenings Karen cooked in their commercial-quality kitchen; she's quite the chef, and our final evening yesterday she served a scallop over gnocchi dish that could easily rival any of the top restaurants in the state.

Best place in town.

I got a few projects done around the boat, and spent way too much time working on getting new insurance when our current policy expires in less than two weeks. Sunday morning we took the tender over to the Clearwater Beach side for a wonderful brunch at the Clearwater Yacht Club, where we have reciprocity. They might just be the best dining deal in all of Clearwater; sadly, it's too shallow there for us to dock Vector.

I passed this cone guarding protruding bolts from a lamp post. Apparently it's been there long enough to have become an art installation.

We also rode out quite the storm in the anchorage, with winds steady at 30 and gusting to 45, but we had a good set and we were not uncomfortable. The dinghy acquired quite the crust of salt, however. We managed to dodge getting wet or plowing through too much slop in all our visits ashore. I had a nice walk through town on my way to get tender fuel; every other building (or more) appears to be owned by the Church of Scientology.

A flock of feral parakeets settling in a tree at a Scientology retreat center.

Today is the last good transit weather on Tampa Bay for a while, and so this morning we weighed anchor while the going is good. We got an early start, because we are facing something of a question mark on arrival: the mooring basin where we normally stay, as well as the transient berths at the municipal marina, where we have stayed on occasion, are both closed. The moorings will not reopen until March, and the transient docks in February.

There is a small anchorage behind the marina breakwater, and if we can squeeze in among the other boats already there, we can get ashore at the municipal courtesy docks. If not, we'll be hunting around for alternative anchorages.

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