Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Fantasy Island ... who knew it was in Tampa Bay?

Springtime has come early to Florida this year.  Wow, seems like only a yesterday we were shivering in 30 degrees at our marina in Daytona Beach ... oh, no, that was two years ago.  Whatever, there has been no 30 degree weather this January.  On the 4th, I said: "Penelope, let's go to the boat and do a few days of sailing.  We've got five days of beautiful east winds at 8-12 knots every day next week."  We had a full order of organic veggies in the fridge that had just been delivered.  "What will we do with all this food?" she retorted.  A little more discussion, and we figured we could cook up some of it and take the rest with us.  Provisioning for a week turned out to be no problem and little hassle.  At 16:00 on the 7th, we arrived at Alizee, off-loaded our supplies from the car, and at 19:30 were enjoying a wonderful left-over meal of Vitalez (Belgian meatballs and cabbage) and artichokes we'd cooked at home the night before.

Next morning, I was up bright and early at 08:00 to supervise my friend Jeff Grant as his worker, also Jeff, hoisted him up the mast.  He had promised to replace (but perhaps forgotten) the wind directional element of Alizee's Raymarine wind indicator at mast top.  It didn't take long, and while Pen got Alizee ready for sailing, I dashed off to fill a propane jug (turns out it just needed a top-off) and stop at the market for a couple of things we discovered the night before that we need in the galley.  Then after getting the sail cover off, at 11:30 we left the slip.

The wind was a bit lighter than I'd expected this first day, but we nevertheless sailed at 3.5 knots southeast from the marina across Tampa Bay.  At 15:00, we turned up the bay and sailed north east.  As the winds died and we were unable to make our course, we cranked up the engine and motor-sailed to Spoil Island 2D, arriving at 16:45.  Searching through the anchoring sites on Active Captain (if you don't know about it, you'd have to check it out), I'd found an anchorage in a sort of cove on the southeast end of Spoil Island 2D, with a little spoil island on the south side of the cove called Fantasy Island.  It's a little park, with signage, what appears to be a covered event deck, and what seems to be a ferry dock.

Although we visited this anchorage twice on this little mini-cruise, we never put the dinghy down and went ashore ... the first time, because we arrived late, the second because their were people partying on the island and we didn't need that.  Nevertheless, some kind soul posted a video of the spot on U-Tube. 


A little on-line research revealed that around 2000 a restoration project was undertaken by the Florida Aquarium and the Tampa Port Authority and environmental protection agencies to plant native species on the island and make it an educational center.  The St. Petersburg Times reported in 2001 that "About $50,000 [in project funding] is coming from the Gardinier Trust Fund, which was the outcome of a settlement after a 1988 chemical spill in Hillsborough Bay." All this is good in our eyes.

On Wednesday morning we awakened to find that the 10-12 knot wind blowing all night had brought our batteries up nicely to full charge.  We relaxed, read and then cooked blueberry pancakes and eggs before weighing anchor at 10:30.  With the nice east wind, we sailed south toward the Sunshine Skyway Bridge that divides north and south Tampa Bay.  Winds were from 4 or 5 knots up to 12 knots, and not a soul was out on the bay.  Or, so we thought.  We became so relaxed that we missed spotting a little fishing skiff anchored ahead of us and came much too close to it.  "Put, put, put!"  We heard their engine fire up and a voice say, as they appeared on our port side about ten feet away: "We didn't know if you were going to run us over," to which I replied at least twice, "I am so sorry."  But then with a fading comment from one of the fishermen that "it's a big bay, isn't it?", we coasted away from them, leaving them to shake their heads at our inattention, if not our incompetence.  It wasn't as bad as driving one's boat into the rocks and killing everyone aboard, as happened on a race down Baja California's Pacific coast last year, but it was a near collision and not to be taken lightly.  

About an hour north of the bridge the wind died and we motor-sailed to the bridge.  I rolled in the Genoa before going under, then on the south bay, the wind picked up to 10 knots, we rolled out the Genoa and killed the engine.  We had two possible anchorages, one to the southwest and one to the southeast.  Figuring that the winds would still be from the east the next day, we chose the southeast anchorage, one we know well on the Manatee River.  We arrived at 17:00, anchored near an old metal trawler that has been there for a couple of years, and sat down with cocktails on the cockpit to enjoy the evening.  

As we watched the pelicans fishing and other birds swooping and diving, a kayak appeared on our port stern.  The paddler's name was Mo, and he had a definite Danish accent, which he was surprised I recognized.  His 28-foot Cape Dory was anchored about a thousand meters in front of us.  "Where are you from?" we asked.  "The Texas panhandle.  I retired from SMU, where I taught business math, bought an old school house on the panhandle, a place large enough for me to have an art studio as well as live in."  (Southern Methodist University is in northeast Dallas and home to the G. W. Bush Presidential Library, which scheduled to open to the public on May 1st this year.)  Mo continued: "I keep my boat here on the hard during the summers, and come down for four or five months in the winter."  His kayak was a small blow-up one, but he said he has two others on the boat.  As the sun began to set, Mo said he had to get back.  His two cats were probably getting to wonder where he was.  

We watched the sun set, baked a couple of potatoes, made a salad and barbecued two filets for dinner.  That night we watched a couple of episodes on Netflix, using our aircard, of a BBC series we discovered earlier in the month called "Doc Martin."  Then, with my computer battery at bottom, we called it a night.

10 January - Up at 08:30, brew coffee, decide to head out early.  Penelope has a phone consultation with her writing mentor at 16:00, and we figure it would be best to be in the slip at the marina before then.  So, we weight anchor at 09:15 and sail due west out the river channel under the main.  At the channel's end, we set a course for the Skyway bridge (40 degrees magnetic), set the sails for a beam reach, then roll out the stay sail.  Whooey!  A steady 17-18 knot east wind gives us speed over ground of 6.9-7.5 knots.  With virtually no chop on the water, Alizee lifted her skirts and ran.  We were at the bridge 45 minutes later, and once under it with the wind gusting to 21 knots and Alizee reaching speeds up to 8.6 knots with a comfortable heel, we agreed: "Let's just go all the way up the bay and spend another night at Fantasy Island!"  We arrived at 14:00, rolled in the staysail and Genoa, ghosted deep into the anchorage under the main, turned about into the wind, dropped the sail and lowered the hook.  It had taken us six and a half hours the day before to sail the opposite direction; we cut two hours off that time today.  We never tacked, had flat water and steady winds.  "It was the most perfect sail we've ever had ... in a long time, if not ever!" declared Penelope.

On Friday we definitely needed to get back to the marina, for our kitties at home were awaiting us.  We weighed anchor at 08:15 and had a light, comfortable sail across the bay to our Harborage Marina, arriving at 12:00.  A wash down for Alizee, canvas on the sails, and we were on our way home.  We've been talking about going on a three to four-week sail to the Dry Tortugas and Key West with Penelope's sister Pat, and I'd originally said back in November, lets do that in January.  But then, since January risks cold weather, we said maybe in April.  Hah!  Wish we'd known this would be the warmest January ever.  Here it is the 17th and it's the first chance at a little rain as a shallow front moves eastward.  If we'd just left for the Keys on the 7th, we'd be there now.  While the winds seem out of the northeast now, which is not good for the return trip, by the 24th they look to be shifting to the east, which would make for a fine return sail.  Oh well, we're watching the weather.  We'll make the trip sometime this season!


Blogger C4 said...


Sounds like a wonderful time! Thanks for the link to ActiveCaptain. I signed up and found all sorts of interesting information posted there for Puerto Vallarta where we're joining friends for a week on their boat in late February.

1:40 PM  

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