Saturday, January 22, 2011

Getting ready to sail to Tampa Bay ...

We took a quick trip over to St. Petersburg and Tampa this weekend and had quite an adventure!

Our first stop was the Harborage Marina in St. Pete, located in a deep harbor from which one can be sailing on Tampa Bay within minutes.  We first discovered the marina when at the St. Pete "Strictly Sail" show the first weekend in December.  After we decided we'd like to take Alizee around the Keys to the gulf coast, the next step was to see where we might find a marina.  We'd looked a couple of marinas in December, but the Harborage had a great introductory offer (three months free plus 5% off with a year lease), so we decided it was worth a quick visit.

Well, we were almost sold on arrival.  It's a great facility for boaters, floating docks, really clean and well maintained, two nearby restaurants, three or four top-rate boat yards within a stone's throw ... exactly the thing we'd been longing for.  Kirby, the harbor master, and his staff is wonderfully hospitable, and after we had a great lunch at Fish Tales on with a $25 gift certificate from the marina, we decided to go for it and take out a year's lease.  And, talk about accommodating ... since we won't arrive until about the first of April, we got the slip we wanted effective that date.  Ya think the recession has something to do with that?  Hmmm.

After finishing up at the Harborage, we drove to the Courtyard Marriott in Tampa, where we napped for a couple of hours before heading out to have drinks and dinner at Tampa's Davis Island Yacht Club.

We were met by Hank, on the club's membership committee, with whom I had been in email correspondence and talked once with on the phone.  He couldn't have been more cordial, taking us on a tour of their docks and other facilities, introducing us to a number of club members and joining us for dinner.  DIYC (sometimes referred to, said Hank, as the "do it yourself yacht club") is pretty good size with over 400 members.  Their clubhouse is only three or four years old with a nice swimming pool and they have a very active racing program, a cruising program, a woman's dinghy racing group and a large summer youth sailing program.  I was greatly reminded of the Encinal Yacht Club in Alameda, which, by the way, I do miss a lot.

After a great evening we found our way back to the Marriott and a good nights sleep.   Next morning our plan was to meet up with a realtor in Dunedin, a quaint coastal town we'd been through back in December.  We just wanted to look at three or four houses ... the market's really good there, now ... to get a sense of what's available.  Alas, as we were on our way following the GPS route, the car seemed a bit noisy.  I wondered if the starter pinion had properly disengaged, and suddenly I saw smoke pouring out behind the car.  I pulled off at the first driveway, into a small strip-mall, stopped, got out and was struggling to get the hood up when two fellows came running out from a tiny little used-car dealership at the other end of the mall.  Quickly one of them got a tool box, and with a screw driver we got the hood latch undone and looked around.  We agreed it was probably the starter, and when the smoke had dissipated, I tried to turn over the engine and we knew the starter was gone.  It is about 10:00.

Talk about nice!  They took us into their office, sat us down on their couch, got us coffee, recommended a couple of mechanics and got in touch with one who said he could probably have it fixed in an afternoon (unless the wiring harness was damaged).  I called AAA for a tow, and another one of the nicest guys we could have ever met arrived with the truck within 30 minutes.  Bidding farewell to Jayson and Ryan at "Florida's Best Car Deals," we rode with Greg in the flatbed two truck to T&W Auto Repair, perhaps 15-20 miles away.  Tony and William were expecting us, directed us to the nearby Cuban Sandwich Shop, a little place that was packed with locals, so we could have something to eat while they checked out the starter problem.

What a great restaurant!  Family owned since 1975, they had the best bean soup and Cuban sandwiches.  We couldn't have found a better meal on our own, I'm sure.  And, when we got back, Tony and William said it was the starter, not wiring, and they'd have it for us soon.  So, we settled down to do a couple of crosswords and some reading, and at a little after 13:00, they pulled the car up to the office entry way.  They had checked it out and installed a new starter in under two hours, gave a life-time guarantee on the starter, and charged only $400.  We were on the road home by 13:30, and arrived in Deland at 15:30.

What could have been a terrible, lousy experience turned out to be an uplifting and actually enjoyable one.  Literally everyone we met in the course of our visit to St. Pete and Tampa put smiles on our faces.  It was a trip we'll long remember!


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