Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ten days on the water...

We launched the beginning of a new cruising season with a ten-day jaunt with some members of the Dolphins Cruising Club of Tampa Bay.  While we've done some exploring of the Tampa Bay area, this was a chance to get the viewpoint of sailors who've sailed the area for a long time as well as do some nautical socializing.

We arrived at Alizee in the early afternoon Friday (28 Oct), transferred our bags of clothing, computers, books and miscellaneous provisions we brought from home to the boat.  Then we set out to finish our provisioning at the local Publix supermarket.  Turns out that the work of provisioning for a short cruise is almost as hard as doing it for one of two or three months, and we weren't done stowing everything until sunset.  And what a sunset it was.  They don't call this part of Florida the "sun coast" without good reason.  After a chicken stir-fry dinner, we sat back and enjoyed a night of rain in Alizee's cozy quarters.

At 1300 the next day, we left the slip and headed for an anchorage on the Manatee River at the south end of Tampa Bay.  For three hours we had a comfortable 4 knot downwind sail with just the Genoa, but at 1600 we rolled in the sail and motored into the anchorage on the north side of the river.  We were anchored by 1715, and no sooner than we had settled in fellow Dolphin Guillermo Cintron swam over from his boat Un Bel Di to say how nice Alizee looked and introduce himself.  Turns out he and his wife MaryAnn would be on the same cruise we were taking.

We also discovered that our anchoring spot was probably not the most favorable choice we could have made.  Free Spirit, a large motor sailboat, cranked up its generator, which was mounted above deck just under the boom and forward of their cockpit.  They left the hatch cover open to vent the diesel generator's exhaust and along with it the non-muffled sound of the infernal machine.  For the next two hours, right through the nicest part of the evening, we tolerated the racket, trying to remind ourselves that charging batteries was something every cruiser had to do at some point.  We barbecued a couple of rib-eyes, baked a couple of potatoes and made a nice salad, but around 2030, no sooner than we had finished eating, they started up the damned thing for another hour and a half.  I suppose we could have weighed anchor and moved further down the anchorage, but in the end we must have enjoyed bitching more about the inconsideration of these sailors than anything else.  Certainly they could have picked another time of the day to run their generator!

Sunday morning we weighed anchor at 1015, rolled out the Genoa in a northeast wind of 15 knots and followed Un Bel Di across a short stretch of south Tampa Bay to the ICW above Anna Maria Island.  We caught up to Un Bel Di at the Anna Maria Bridge, pulled in the Genoa, let out the stay sail and twenty minutes later also went through the Cortez Bridge.  By 1230 we were anchored to the starboard of our cruise leader Bill Cullen's Catalina 350 Triumph, who soon dinghied over and joined us for a beer.  We fixed some lunch, relaxed for a couple of hours and while Penelope napped, I changed the element on our floor-pumped Seagull IV water filter system.  It was long overdue for a change, and the change in water flow was incredible. 

Cruises with groups always result in a lot of happy hours, and we joined in our first Dolphins happy hour at 1600 on Gene and Jo Weatherup's 47-foot Herreshoff Golden Ball Shenandoah.  A classic Herreshoff boat, she's a three-foot-draft centerboard ketch, and Gene and Jo keep her in wonderful condition.  Here we got to meet others on the cruise, including Joe and Kathy Mansir, MaryAnn Cintron, Bruce and Kris Holtman and Bill Cullen's wife Elaine.  By 1730 we were back on Alizee, but only for a short time since everyone reassembled on Triumph for a spaghetti dinner courtesy of the Tampa Sailing Squadron of which Bill is a member.

Next morning we had another heavy rain from 0630-0730, but my check of our Sirius weather radar made clear it would be gone by 1000 ... in fact, the last of the rain was gone by 0800, leaving behind the promise of good winds.  Around 0900 we saw Shenandoah and Halcyon, Joe and Kathy's 37-foot Island Packet, sail out of the anchorage and turn south on the ICW toward Sarasota.  A half-hour later, we followed Triumph to the Longboat Inlet, where a bascule bridge opened on demand to let us out on the gulf.  Then we turned south to head for Venice.  The winds started out at 15 knots but built as we moved south along the coast finally reaching a steady 20 knots with gusts to 28 knots.  Although the seas were flat, as the wind came from the land side of the gulf, it still was a rollicking sail on a broad reach.  Our top speed-over-ground (SOG) reaching at least 7.2 knots.  We average hull speed of 6.85 for the entire four-and-a-half hour sail.  Penelope took the helm most of the way, which is probably her favorite thing about sailing and we arrived at the Crow's Nest Marina just inside the Venice Inlet at 1400.

We had showers, napped and did some reading, but when 1600 rolled around, we decided to beg off the happy hour, which was being held at the Venice Yacht Club on Shenandoah.  We just weren't eager to walk from our marina to the yacht club a few blocks away, and we figured we'd see everyone at our group dinner at the Crow's Nest restaurant later that evening.  Unfortunately, the Weatherups and Mansirs, who took their boats to the yacht club, begged off dinner, and we were sorry to not have seen them since family matters led them to cut short their cruise with us and turn back to Tampa.

Tuesday (1 Nov) we left the marina at 0900 and headed off shore again.  We had a beautiful sail.  The wind settled in at 17 knots with gusts to 22 and came across our port beam.  We hit 7.6 knots SOG and simply had the best sail ever.  When we neared the Boca Grande Inlet, we followed a waypoint Bill had given us to lead us through the Swash Channel, which takes one very close to shore and into the inlet rather than going out three miles to the marked channel.  We found about seven feet of water at low tide, which was not a problem at all.  Then once in the inlet which opens on to Charlotte Harbor (really a large bay), we turned south down the ICW and had a lovely sail to a wonderful anchorage off Useppa Island and across from Cabbage Key.

Now our little fleet comprised just four boats.  We were first to arrive at the anchorage, followed by In the Groove, a Hunter 54, and then Triumph and Un Bel Di, a Canadian Sailcraft 33.  Soon we were on In the Groove, starting happy hour a bit early but knowing it was five o'clock somewhere.  Perhaps around 1800 we all finally decided that we would return to our boats for the evening, and Penelope and I charged up our barbecue and cooked up some lamb chops for dinner. 

Wednesday we spent at anchor.  Some of our friends went into the restaurant at Cabbage Key for breakfast, while we ate on Alizee.  Shortly after noon we went into Cabbage Key, had fresh shrimp at the restaurant and then walked the nature trail and climbed up the water tower for a view.  It was great fun, and we especially enjoyed watching the turtles around the little marina and restaurant.  There are several rental cottages there, and we're already thinking about suggesting it to a friend or two who might want to come visit.

We returned to Alizee to make her presentable for  happy hour ... it was our turn.  It was also a bit of a farewell party for Guillermo and MaryAnn, for they were heading a bit further south for a couple of more days at Tween the Waters, while the rest of us were returning to Venice and then Tampa Bay.

We weighed anchor on Thursday (3 Nov) at 0920 and had a wonderful close-reach sail up the ICW to the inlet and Swash Channel.  Once through the channel, again without a problem, we sailed a couple of more hours until the wind died and shifted from the northeast to northwest.  We motor-sailed the rest of the way to Venice and docked for the night.  We had called ahead to the restaurant and booked a table for 1930, not knowing if the Cullens or Holtmans were coming to Venice.  Turns out they did stay at the marina as well, but our dinner plans didn't fit with their plans to spend the evening on In the Groove.  We had a wonderful dinner and celebrated our two-year wedding anniversary which was coming up just a couple of days later.

The next morning we bid farewell to the Holtmans who decided to sail off-shore back to St. Petersburg.  We worried about them all day, for the wind was west-northwest and rising, which meant the gulf sea would be roiling ... we talked to them later that evening by phone, and Kris confirmed that it was a horrific sail.  Meanwhile, the wind was pushing us hard on the marina's long dock, where we were side-tied.  They had booked all their slips for that day with another club, so we had no choice but to leave.  We managed to get off, but not easily, and at 1015 we motored up the ICW.  Triumph caught up with us just below Sarasota, and Bill told us he was continuing across Sarasota Bay to Longboat Key.  We decided we didn't want to motor into headwinds, so we peeled off and anchored for the day and enjoyed a wonderful sunset just off O'Leary's Tiki Bar near Marina Jacks' in west Sarasota Bay.

On Saturday we awakened to check the weather and to our sadness we discovered that Andy Rooney had died.  We both loved him and his years of commentaries on 60 Minutes.  Bummer. ... But the day looked good, and after adding a quart of oil to the engine, we weighed anchor and had a beautiful sail at 6.0+ knots in 12-14 knot NNE winds across Sarasota Bay and on up to Longboat Key.   From there we motored a couple of more miles to an anchorage on the SE side of Cortez Bridge, where we spent a comfortable afternoon and evening and cooked up a great mushroom spaghetti dinner.

The next morning we put a reef in the main and went north through the Cortez and Anna Maria bridges with the idea of sailing up to St. Pete, but when we got out of the ICW and into south Tampa Bay the winds were hitting 24 + knots and the bay waters were roiling up.  Since we didn't have to get back and because the weather looked like it would be much better on Monday, we diverted back to the Manatee River and anchored there again, this time a far piece from Free Spirit ... looks like they just live there.  Since we had the hook down by 1100 hours, we made ourselves a couple of Bloody Marys and spend the afternoon reading and relaxing.  Penelope made a great chili for brunch, and later that evening I cooked pork picatta for dinner.

November 7th ... HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!! ... we are very grateful for our happiness! 

We weighed anchor at 0800, sailed out into the bay in 12 knots, and then as the wind built to 17 to 20 knots (with no gusts), we closed hauled our way across the south bay and tacked back and right through the Sky Bridge.  In Tampa Bay proper the winds lightened to between 11 and 15 knots, and we made three long tacks across the bay to reach the channel into Harborage Marina.  On our arrival, after dousing sails, we went to the pump-out station only to discover that both pump out machines were not working.  Damn, spit!!  Alizee went back to her berth with a full holding tank, which we'll have to empty on our next cruise in a couple of weeks.  This left laundry, boat cleaning and a clam linguini dinner.  Our cruise was done.

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