Drove over to St. Pete on May 24th to spend a week on Alizee
while Penelope flew off to Colorado to spend the time with her daughter Erin. Initially we'd thought she might join me for a couple of days on the boat, so she flew out of Tampa International, but logistically that didn't work out. She still road over with me to the airport, and after I saw her off, I headed down to the boat. Wouldn't you know it, I arrived to find the electric power had been joggled lose at the dock and that batteries were critically low (since the refrigerator was on). I got it going again, defrosted the refrigerator/freezer, and settled in for the evening.
Next morning I was up at 0700 and discovered that I couldn't get my Aircard to work on my new Mac notebook. After futzing with it for an hour, I decided to head off to an AT&T store nearby and then provision the boat for the week. Our friend Jon Amsden was coming over from Daytona Beach to spend five or six days sailing with me while Pen was gone, and he appeared as I walked to the car, about three hours earlier than I'd expected him. He was up for a vacation! He joined me for the ride to AT&T where I got zip help; they just passed me off to Apple, but I didn't have time for that trek across town, so we provisioned instead.
At 1400 we had everything stowed and left the slip. First stop, the pump out station, and by 1445 we were sailing to Picnic Island (locally called Beer Can Island) at the beginning of Big Bend Channel in north Tampa Bay. A nice sail got us there by 1730, and we anchored, the only boat there except for some day-trippers in small power boats ashore. Jon did some casting off the boat while I cooked us up a dinner of lamb chops, zucchini and salad. A nice night, not too hot because of an evening breeze, but unfortunately a breeze from the west that brought bugs from the island right on to the boat. I got pretty eaten, despite putting on repellant, and the next morning Jon had what he called a "DEET" hangover.
Thursday, May 26th, we weighed anchor at 0800 and departed Picnic Island for the Manatee River off south Tampa Bay. We had a nice sail with an 8-9 knot east wind on the beam down to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which died out for only about an hour or so. Along the way we caught a Spanish Mackerel on the trolling line, which I filleted and put on ice to use for sushi in the evening. By 1530 we had reached the Manatee River and anchored south of Emerson Point. No bugs this night, and a nice evening breeze until about 2200. Jon did a little more fishing off the boat, without any success, while I made up the sushi rice and put together a roll. I was amazed at how sweet the Mackerel was for sushi and sashimi, which we followed with some barbecued chicken thighs and salad. When we finally called it a night and went to bed the wind died and it became stifling, smothering hot ... at least for me. Jon lives on his boat in Daytona Beach and has no air conditioning, so he's a lot more acclimatized than I am.
Friday, the start of Memorial Day Weekend, and I am figuring on a hoard of boats out over the holiday stretch. Alizee's
batteries did not get fully charged on shore power before we left, and we'd only run the engine for 4.4 hours the first two days, so I'm thinking we should motor. Since the wind was light and predicted to be that way all day, I rigged the spinnaker and once out of the Manatee River channel raised it. We sailed on a pretty close reach for using just the spinnaker, heading northwest-west across south Tampa Bay, across the main shipping channel, up to the Boca Ciega inlet, thence inland and up to the ICW. I finally turned the motor on to go through the Structure C bascule bridge, but only as a precaution, for as soon as we were through I shut it down and sailed the rest of the way to the anchorage off Gulfport on Boca Ciega Bay. With Jon at the helm we dropped the spinnaker and motored the final few hundred feet to drop the anchor.
Jon is less experienced than I though he was, based on his telling of his sailing exploits up and down the coast of Florida. Turns out he really is a novice, which I really discovered a couple of days later when I was down below filleting another fish we'd caught, leaving him at the helm. Alizee
was on autopilot and we were flying the main and the spinnaker on a beam reach in 12 knots of wind. Then the wind picked up to 14 to 18 knots and Jon yelled down to me that we were getting "big seas." I replied I'd be up very soon, so he should deal with it. Alas, when I stepped into the cockpit, he hadn't taken it off autopilot, we were rounding up and he was reeling in a fishing hand line. I quickly took the helm, let out the main and straightened us out, soon to discover he hadn't been aware that dumping wind from the main was the first thing he should have done. Ah well, he learned a lot on the course of the trip.
After we anchored off Gulfport, I rigged up the wind catcher for the forward hatch ... I was not going to suffer the heat again as I had the night before ... and took a short dip in what turned out to be 80+ degree water. It hardly cooled me down. But with fresh clothing I felt better and we decided to dinghy into shore and get drinks and dinner at O'Maddy's. Later, I ran our Honda generator for a couple of hours to charge the batteries and we sat on the foredeck and enjoyed the night sky and evening breeze.
Next morning, at 0800, we decided to motor up the ICW to Dunedin. There was little wind, although I raised the spinnaker after going through the first of four or five bridges (two had 20 minute opening schedules, while the rest opened on request). We arrived and anchored at low tide in barely five feet of water (Alizee
draws five feet) outside the Dunedin municipal marina. This evening Jon bathed off the boat, and once he'd cleaned up we dinghied into the transient dock, tied off and went to the outdoor Bon Appetite cafe for appetizers: tuna tataki and French Onion soup. Later I barbecued two nice steaks and made a salad for dinner.
Since Pen is in Colorado, we've got a two-hour time difference, so we didn't get much phone time in. Seems like she would call me just as I was going through a bridge or handling sail trim or such, and I would call her when she was out of phone range while driving to some adventurous spot with Erin. Anyhow, this night she called around 2230, and even though I had just drifted off to sleep I insisted we talk for a while. Turns out she was up in the Rockies at a park rollicking in the snow, while I was sweating profusely in over 90 degree heat. Damn, spit! But, it was wonderful to hear her voice ... I miss her!
Sunday, May 29th, I was up early, made coffee and read. Around 0900, after Jon had had a cup of coffee, I said we should push off, expecting a long day sailing back down to Boca Ciega Bay. We raised the main, tot the spinnaker lines laid out for a quick raise later, and set off for Clearwater Inlet to the south. The motor-sail down to and out the inlet was nice, and once we got out and turned southwest, we got the spinnaker up and a light breeze propelled us at 2-4 knots on a very comfortable sea. I got out my iPod and played a few sets of songs and then pulled out my battery-powered Yamaha keyboard and played for another hour or so. About that time the wind shifted a bit and Jon got us on a better course. Eventually, the wind picked up to 9 knots and we averaged about 4 knots.
About 1600 we turned in toward John's Pass, lost a Blue Runner just as I was about to bring him over the rail and then caught another one. It was while filleting this one that the wind came up and we had our round-up experience. ... We pulled down the spinnaker, leaving just the main up, and motor-sailed into and through John's Pass (which has an on request bascule bridge right at the inlet). It took perhaps another hour to get down to Gulfport on Boca Ciega Bay, where we anchored in a strong east wind of 15 knots with 20 knot gusts. Too windy to barbecue the baby back ribs I'd thawed out, I cooked them in the broiler and the wind kept the boat cool.
Monday we took the ICW over to Tampa Bay and up to the marina, arriving around 1330. We had to pump out, and then I maneuvered up Salt Creek to the fuel dock, which was incredibly cramped, before putting Alizee
in her slip. We dinghied back over to Fish Tales on Salt Creek (near the fuel dock) for lunch, then washed down Alizee.
Jon said his good byes around 1700 and I fixed a strong drink! We'd had a good time, but I was ready for some alone time, and I had a lot of cleaning to do on board before picking up Penelope at Tampa International on Tuesday. ... Then it's back home where I've got some writing to catch up on.