Friday, December 22, 2017

A lovely week in St. Pete

I am typing under way in Sarasota Bay. We are southbound, after a nice week in St. Petersburg with friends. With a packed schedule I found no time to blog, so I am catching up now. When last I posted here, we were still in Lake Okeechobee, on the rim canal, headed for Moore Haven.

I had figured to possibly stop in Moore Haven for the night, which has an inexpensive town dock and a decent Mexican restaurant an easy walk away. It was Sunday, however, and everything was closed, so we elected to press on downstream after locking down through the Moore Haven lock.

Sunset over Ortona Dam, from our anchorage.

We ended up pushing all the way to the next lock, where we anchored just upstream of the Ortona Dam on the Caloosahatchee Canal (map). We were a stone's throw from the Corps of Engineers campground and a few campers watched us drop the hook. It was a long day, anchoring just before sunset, but we had a quiet night.

We could have thrown a ball as far as these RVs.

I woke to dense fog in the morning, and was quite alarmed to see an enormous barge heading right for us on the AIS. It was over a hundred feet long and seemingly only a few feet away. I was just about to fire up the radar when I realized it was a pleasure boat with an incorrectly programmed transponder. I'm sorry I didn't get a screen shot of the AIS display.

Locking down at Ortona, with the CoE campground in the background.

Monday we got an early start through the dam in the morning as soon as the fog lifted, and made our way through the lower portions of the Caloosahatchee canal, locking down at the Franklin lock into the Caloosahatchee River. Retracing our steps from our first pass through the lake, we cruised downriver into Fort Myers, where we were hailed on the radio by blog reader and fellow cruiser Kevin aboard Take a Breath. We last saw Kevin at the Megadock in Charleston.

With plenty of outflow and a favorable tide, we had a good push downriver and we made it all the way through Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and the "Miserable Mile."  We anchored for the night just off St. James City at the southern tip of Pine Island (map), where we tendered in to the Waterfront Restaurant for a casual dinner.

Sunset over Sanibel Island, from our anchorage off St. James City.

Tuesday was another long day, cruising up the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW). We steamed right past an old favorite, Cabbage Key, vowing to stop at the quaint Inn on the return trip, when we were less pressed for time. Instead we stopped for the night at another old standby, off Manasota Key at Englewood (map). While it is easy to tender ashore here for dinner at a handful of restaurants, the weather was unpleasant, and we had leftovers we needed to finish before arriving in St. Pete.

In our final big push on Wednesday, we slogged through Venice, with some of the shallowest water on the GIWW, and a no-wake zone the entire length of the city. By getting an early start from Englewood we were able to arrive in Venice at high tide and we had a foot under the keel in the shallow spots. At low tide it is impassable.

Bradenton Beach.

We ended Wednesday anchored just north of the Cortez bridge (map), which connects the community of that name to Bradenton Beach. This is a new stop for us, and we tendered ashore to Bradenton Beach's free dinghy dock and strolled the tidy little town before having dinner at the Amelia Island Oyster Bar on the pier. It was an enjoyable evening and I am glad we stopped here, although next time we'll try a different restaurant. The food was good but the place was charmless.

That left us a short three-hour cruise across Tampa Bay to St. Pete on Thursday morning. At one point I had to negotiate with a Coast Guard cutter who looked as if he was going to steam over us. He wicked it up to planing speed, which got him out of our way but also gave us an enormous wake to cross. Then he basically did donuts in the bay at full speed; I try not to think about how many tax dollars were coming out the exhausts.

Vector moored in the Vinoy basin.

We had booked a mooring ball at the Vinoy Basin, also called the North Yacht Basin, but we first proceeded directly to the fuel dock in the Central Yacht Basin to take on water and offload the scooters. While the water was filling, Louise started a load of laundry. Having enough water to do laundry during long periods of anchoring out can be a challenge.

Even though they are right next to each other, getting from one basin to the other is a long trip. After leaving the fuel dock and the central basin, it's necessary to travel out a quarter mile to clear the St. Petersburg Pier, then travel back the same quarter mile to the other basin. The pier that was here on our last visit, constructed in 1973 to replace the "Million Dollar Pier" that preceded it, has been demolished, and numerous crane barges are constructing a new pier.

This enormous but ugly 4-decker dinner boat came in to dock at the Vinoy one day.

The basin was mostly quiet and pleasant. We had some pile-driving noise on occasion, and the party music from the Vinoy hotel was loud one evening. We had a great view of the elaborate lighted decorations, including a color-changing tree, in North Straub Park (I could not capture a photo). And only a short dinghy ride ashore to easy access to all the restaurants along Beach.

While in town, we reconnected with long-time RVing friends Karen and Ben, who have just moved into their newly completed 1963 Flxible bus restoration/conversion. The bus is absolutely gorgeous, and we enjoyed getting the tour and spending some time over wine and cheese before enjoying some delicious home-made pizza. My paltry skills and so-so cellphone camera are no match for the photos that Ben and Karen, both professional photographers, have posted on the bus's very own Facebook page, so I didn't take any photos.

While we were visiting, the RV park hosted its lighted golf cart parade.

The bus is at an RV park in Clearwater, as Karen has considerable connection there, and it seems this was my week for long scooter rides to Clearwater. In addition to our visit to see the bus, we also met them in the area to take in the new Star Wars flick, ending up at Indian Rocks Beach for dinner. And I had to run an old pump up to Depco Pump in Clearwater, just a few blocks from where they are parked.

The pump has been sitting around in the parts bin since we bought the boat; it was the very last thing that broke on the last owner's watch, just before he handed us the keys, and I asked him to leave us the old one. This is the pump that moves seawater through all four heat pump heat exchangers.

I was pretty sure I could fix it, but nothing I did could persuade the end cover to come off. It turned out that some previous repairman had epoxied the cover on (in addition to the six screws) after replacing the impeller. Depco had to use a torch to worry it off. Once inside, we collectively decided the pump volute was in too poor condition to warrant repair, and I simply left it with them for disposal.

Approaching Sarasota on the northbound trip. Southbound we heard a sailboat hit the fenders while trying to pass through this bridge under sail.

We also connected with long-time California friends Stephanie and Martin. Or I should say, ex-California friends, as they recently moved from Redwood City in our old stomping grounds to the Old North East neighborhood, a short walk from downtown St. Petersburg. Long time readers may remember we cruised to the Bahamas alongside their boat, Blossom.

Since moving to town, they've joined the St. Petersburg Yacht club and were able to provide us with a guest pass during our stay. They've also joined the Mahaffey Theater, and we all took in a performance there, Cirque Dreams Holidaze, a holiday-themed cross between circus and musical that we enjoyed very much. Stephanie's mom arrived in town during our visit, and joined us for the performance.

Christmas tree at the Vinoy hotel.

Between the non-stop visits and the never-ending boat maintenance, I had very little spare time. I did find myself with a couple of hours ashore after taking Louise to meet Steph for a girls-only lunch. I spent most of that time in the Vinoy hotel, the grand dame of St. Pete that was rescued from oblivion in the 90s. For half a century it was the winter playground of the well-to-do in the northeast, who came to Florida every year by train. "Snowbird" is by no means a recent construct.

We had quite a number of packages sent to Martin's post box, including the replacement water pump for the generator and the rebuild kit for the failing pump. I also had a fan belt delivered as a replacement for the spare I used when the belt broke. I found a better deal on the belt from Perkins than from anyone else, but they sent it in an enormous box. I spent our first morning on the ball replacing the generator pump.

Yes, this fan belt was the only item in the box, save for crumpled paper.

Our very last full day we borrowed Steph's car to make a provisioning run. I needed a dozen gallons of motor oil, as the main is overdue and the genny is due soon, and as long as we were out we stocked up on a number of items we typically only get at Walmart. We quite literally filled the dinghy, with barely a place for our feet.

What 13 gallons of oil and $200 of groceries looks like in a dinghy.

It was a full week, and we could easily have stayed another. For that matter, we'd enjoy cruising back to Tampa, or exploring some new places like Old Tampa Bay. But we've committed to a haulout date of January 8 in Fort Lauderdale, so when our week was up we dropped lines, headed to the fuel dock to re-load the scooters, pump out, and top up the water, and then steamed south across Tampa Bay.

Update: We are now on yet another mooring ball, at Marina Jack's in Sarasota (map), another familiar stop. I couldn't finish the post yesterday before we arrived, and after a couple of beers with dinner I lost my writing mojo. This morning I had to change the main engine oil, and also tighten the main engine fan belts. In a short while we will head ashore to explore a bit more of downtown Sarasota before dinner. We took the mooring for two nights.

Tomorrow we will continue south. If there's room, we might stop in Venice. We have Christmas Eve reservations at Cabbage Key, and tentative reservations in Fort Myers for Christmas dinner. It's a relaxed pace, and we'll likley spend two nights in Fort Myers before heading back across the lake.

1 comment:

  1. need to be careful due to depths (and I think they are no longer maintaining the channel), but I can't say enough good things about the burgers at the new pass bait shop in sarasota (city island).

    also, a trip to Yoders amish restaurant in town is worth the trip.

    always love when you happen to cruise through my home town...merry christmas to you too!


    long time random anon reader ;)


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