Sunday, February 5, 2023

Three weeks at anchor

We are under way southbound in the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, after a three-week stay in Clearwater, Florida, where we anchored in two different spots, south (map) and north (map) of the causeway bridge. Regular readers may recall we spent a week in one of these spots a couple of years ago.

Sunset over Clearwater Beach. Vector is showing her festoon lights.

We were in Clearwater mostly on account of our friends who live in town, Karen and Ben, so we could get in a few visits. Keeping us fixed firmly in place was the fact that they lent us their Mini Cooper shortly after we arrived, and there is a free all-day dinghy dock just a short walk from free parking for the car. We got lots of car-facilitated errands done while we were in town.

Free day docking. How civilized.

I neglected to mention in my last post that we made it through the Treasure Island Causeway bridge on its very last day before a three-week closure for maintenance. The bridge did not re-open to marine traffic again until yesterday. Had we wanted to head back south, we would have needed a nice outside window to make the transit in the gulf, or to put the mast down. That tipped the scales in favor of just staying in Clearwater through most of our errands.

Vector anchored south of the causeway, with the inlet and its bridge in the background.

Getting from the dock to downtown involved something of a detour, as the waterfront Coachman Park is all torn up and fenced off while it is re-imagined with new amenities, the largest of which is a new outdoor amphitheater that looks as if it is made from roller coaster track. It should be impressive when complete, but for now it has turned a one-block walk into three.

New amphitheater going up. I'm standing where we parked the car, in front of one of Scientology's retreats. We had to watch out for the fast-moving Flag Org shuttle buses driven by indentured servants on billion-year contracts.

That made for some confusion when Ben picked us up after we first got anchored, and we barely made it back to the house in time for the Falcon Heavy launch. I expected to see the bright glow of the engines from 120 miles away, but I was surprised to see the smoke plume rising into the sky just above the tree line.

Best shot I could grab of the Falcon Heavy. You can see the rocket trail, but if you look below, rising above the houses, you can also see the smoke plume from the launch complex, some 120 miles away.

Karen, who is quite the gourmet chef, had prepared a wonderful meal and copious hors d'oeuvres, and we spent several hours catching up over wine and dinner. Afterwards we would have just driven the Mini home, but it was not starting, so Ben brought us back to the dock.

Portable winch set up for mast lowering/raising, just after we tested the operation. This compact unit is less scary than the jury-rig vehicle winch we had been using.

The next day I loaded up my tool bag and headed back to get the Mini going. Opening the hood we discovered that some varmint had gotten in and eaten the hood liner, the wheel well insulation, and parts of the wiring harness. I suspected this latter item was part of the reason the car would not start.

Ben using the shop vac to remove the remains of the hood liner, which had got into every nook and cranny atop the engine.

A new battery from Costco got things going, and we had wheels, albeit with several complaints from the computer about inoperative ABS brakes, inoperative anti-rollback, and lighting problems. I won't bore you with all the details, but suffice it to say I've spent a good deal of time working on the Mini over the past three weeks, and after buying an OBD code reader and replacing one wheel speed sensor I cleared most of the computer complaints. I repaired the wiring to several lights and now everything is working except the left rear turn signal, which has defied all my efforts to cure.

Just three days after the Falcon Heavy launch, I caught this Falcon-9 launch from our boat deck.

We've put several hundred miles on the car, back and forth to St Petersburg for the weekly lunch with friends at the yacht club, a trip to the boat show, several shopping excursions, lunch downtown with friend Alex, and five doctor visits. We even made a four-hour round trip out to Wildwood to visit our good friends Kathleen and Tom, a trip that was almost waylaid by a sidewall blowout on one of the fancy run-flat tires -- the Mini has no room for a spare. I was able to source a replacement the same day and drive to the shop on the flat.

Just a small section of the good-size St. Pete Boat Show. All these docks are temporary, installed just for the show.

We've been over to Ben and Karen's for dinner several times, and down to Martin and Steph's place in St. Pete one night. We've had a couple of evenings aboard, but the rest we've been sampling the local Clearwater restaurants, including Clear Sky, Tequilas, Soul Sicilian Fusion, and Hispania, all in walking distance downtown. On one particularly cold evening I picked up Thai take-out from Chiang Mai in town. The city has closed off two blocks of Cleveland Street, the main drag, and the restaurants have expanded their outdoor seating into this pedestrian mall.

These poor folks had an engine failure crossing the gulf from Carabelle. They bounced around in heavy seas waiting on these two tow boats to bring them in.

Having the car meant we could also dine a bit further afield, and we enjoyed some of our friends' local favorites including Hacienda Corrallejo, Rumba, and the Brew Garden Taphouse. We found local Italian favorite Cristino's a short distance from the docks. On my birthday I really wanted prime rib, but we still wanted to sit outdoors, and I found local casual steakhouse Harold Seltzer's could meet both needs. It was an indulgent day, as we started with brunch downtown at Clear Sky.

The city of Clearwater decided to start cutting down healthy trees in our friends' neighborhood. Two of our friends' trees are tagged for removal. The devastating effect of removing two massive trees on this property got neighbors up in arms and the city is contemplating what to do next. ("Before" photo in this article.)

We had a few days of downtime after Louise got some kind of crud, and then gave it to me. We went through three boxes of COVID tests, but it turned out to just be a garden-variety cold. We were being overly cautious because we did not want to give our friends COVID just before they are scheduled to board a cruise ship, where Ben will be teaching for a couple of weeks.

This unoccupied sailboat dragged all the way across the channel and mostly docked itself at the marina before staff tied it up (note anchor still deployed). It ended up back at anchor just a short distance from us.

In addition to all the work on the Mini, I did manage to get a few things done around the boat. That included installing a voltage spike suppressor on the pilothouse electronics, as our battery charger can't back off fast enough when the lithiums are full. I also repaired the DC voltmeter on the generator instrument panel and fabricated LED backlighting for the panel to replace the troublesome incandescents. I started on a project to improve our man-overboard alarm, which I will write up when I finish. Louise helped me test the new winch for mast lowering operations.

Vector at anchor as seen from the spacious third floor of the main library, where I spent some time working on my laptop.

Karen and Ben leave Wednesday for their big cruise adventure, and so our time in Clearwater was drawing to a close. Nevertheless I had one final appointment, at the dentist's, scheduled for this Friday. With that appointment keeping us here until the weekend, and with a car in hand, we decided to take a few days and drive up to Disney. It's been five years since our last visit, in which time a whole new Star Wars attraction has opened. Karen was more than happy to let us hang on to the car even after their departure.

Louise was craving good pizza so we drove to Indian Rocks Beach to eat at one of our favs, Slyce.

We leave for the Mouse tomorrow, and Vector will need to be at a dock for the duration. We could have stayed right there in Clearwater, but our home yacht club in downtown St. Pete is a third the price (with staff to keep an eye on things), and thus today finds us working our way back there. We'll get a ride up to Ben and Karen's for a final dinner tonight, and swing back downtown to pick up the Mini from the free parking. No such thing in St Pete, and we'll have to pay to park tonight.

Stiff seas in the ICW kept us on the boat during some of the worst winds. You can see waves crashing over the fishing pier at the marina.

It was a lovely three weeks in Clearwater. Between the two anchorages we were quite comfortable, even riding out a couple of storms with 35mph winds. Last Wednesday we had a visit from the Clearwater PD, who were just "checking up"; their FWC ride-along asked to see our pumpout log, which she claimed was required by some kind of law but really it's not. It's the first time in a decade anyone has asked. We did use the free and very effective self-service pumpout at the city marina twice during our stay.

Vector at the pumpout. We drove with the dinghy hip-tied just to get back and forth from the anchorage.

Update: we are anchored in our now usual spot off Spa Beach in Downtown St. Petersburg (map). I've scoped out parking for the car tonight, and in the morning we'll move over to the docks and get squared away before heading off to Orlando.

Sunset over Clearwater Inlet from our anchorage.

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