Friday, January 18, 2008

Sarasota, FL, to Marco Island, FL

January 18 - Sarasota was beautiful and we loved spending time with Bob and Shirley.

We left at about 8 AM with an anchorage about 30 miles south in mind for the night. As often happens, we changed our mind en route. Checking the weather forecast for the next few days we realized that some blustery weather was coming in the next evening. One of our dock mates at Sarasota had strongly recommended an anchorage at Pelican Bay which was about 25 miles beyond the anchorage we originally had in mind. We decided to keep going on to Pelican Bay so we'd have a shorter run the next day to Ft. Myers and a mooring ball.

We arrived at Pelican Bay in the early afternoon and tiptoed into the area around shallow water. (Skipper Bob's description of how to get into the Bay is right on!) There were probably 20 boats anchored in the area but plenty of room for everyone. The Bay is situated between a small island and the Cayo Costa State Park. We got the dinghy down for the first time this trip and took Lucy in for a visit to the park.

The next morning we saw this group of day-trippers being ferried into the park.

January 19 - Saturday morning found us surrounded by fog. We waited until about 9:30 to take Lucy ashore...and left the Bay around 10:00. We were headed for Ft. Myers Beach and a few days tied to a mooring ball.

We really took to the mooring idea! We dinghy-ed in a couple of times a day for Lucy or to explore the city. We had some rough winds while in Ft. Myers Beach, but the mooring ball made it OK to be "on the hook." Here we are in the harbor.

Both Wayne and I agree that we could seriously spend some time down in Ft. Myers Beach. One day we walked across the bridge and all the way to Winn Dixie and West Marine for a few supplies. (It was a pretty long walk...we took the trolley back to the bridge.)

One evening we swapped boat tours with a 1976 Californian, Divine, that was moored next to us. Vivienne and Brian Fellows are from Belleville, Ontario, Canada, and have spent a lot of time on the water. We're hoping to see them later this year when we're up in Canada.
Brian and Vivienne are doing a lot of refurbishing on their boat. One thing they did was remove the carpet from the inside stairs. We really like that idea...and so have removed the carpet from the stairs going down into our galley. We got all the staples and carpet tacks out. Now we just need to sand and re-stain. Just what we needed...a project!

Here's a picture of Divine anchored in the Ft. Myers mooring field.

You might wonder about the process of getting Lucy to shore for a walk twice daily when we're anchored out or mooring. (Yes...we had intended to use the litter box. And Lucy seemed likely to comply. We just didn't like it sitting out on the back deck. It does tend to accumulate an odor.) We have a life jacket for her with a handle on the back to make lifting her into and out of the dinghy easier. Usually we both go on the trip to shore with Lucy since she really likes to sit in someones lap. (Yes, we accommodate the dog in a lot of matters.) Anyway, we all get in the dinghy...with plastic pick-up-the-poop bags, her leash...and head for shore. Usually with a mooring field there's a dock nearby for the dinghies. When anchored out, you just have to go up on shore most times and tie the dinghy off best you can. Weather is the dinghy's enemy, of course. If it's raining, foggy or really windy we're probably going to wear our waterproof gear to and fro. Here's Lucy in her life vest...and the dinghy dock at Ft. Myers Beach.

I finally got some great shots of dolphins on the trip down from Sarasota!

January 24 - We stayed at Ft. Myers Beach until the morning of January 24. The local boating hang-out, Bonita Bill's, was having a big party on that Friday night in honor of "Bobby Burns' birthday." We hated to miss it, but felt the need to move on. Are you getting the idea that these boaters are very gregarious people??

A fog had moved in that Thursday morning, but every weather forecast we could find said it would clear up around nine o'clock. We were headed down to the Naples City Dock about 30 miles down the coast and planned to run "outside" in the Gulf. We left the mooring ball and made our way over to Ballard's Oil in the harbor to top off with fuel at $3.19/gallon...a real deal down here. The guy at Ballard's said, yes, the fog would lift. It was 10 o'clock when we left his dock and the fog was still there. The fog stayed with us until late that afternoon. We did run the fog...with the radar running...and visibility of about a mile (deja vu of the crossing, all over again.)

We got to Naples with no problems, though, and stopped at the fuel dock to do a pump out before going to our slip. I practiced my skills in docking by pulling into the slip. It took a few tries, but I did it...and without harm to us or the boat. Have I told you what a patient man Wayne is??? With all this anchoring out, it's hard to get the docking practice in!

Naples was beautiful, simply put. Blue skies, warm weather, and a cool breeze. We took care of our "life chores," as Cheryl Travis calls them, on Friday: grocery shopping and laundry. Saturday I took Lucy-fur in for a grooming while Wayne washed the boat and we ate lunch out. Sunday we vegged. I painted, Wayne tinkered on the boat and read some. Jim Hemphill, our crossing companion, called to say he and Pam were in Tampa looking at boats. They found one they really liked and it sounded as though they were ready to have a survey done and make an offer. Jim said he was observing our boat from a webcam at the Naples City Dock. He had Wayne step out on deck to make sure it was us...and it was! Jim sent this image by email.

January 28 - We loved Ft. Myers...but we also loved Naples. I see a trend here. We could have stayed much longer...but there's a 4-day limit at the dock. You can go out a night and then come back for 4 days (up to 8 total in a month's time), but we decided to just go on down to Marco Island, about 12 miles down the coast, to start our leg of the trip down to the Keys. We would anchor one or two nights in Factory Bay at Marco then run outside to Little Shark River. Marco Island was OK, but not exceptional, in our opinion. Lots of screened in areas on the houses that bordered the bay. I'm thinking there might be a bug problem here during certain months. Shopping was convenient, though, after a short walk from the Marco River Marina.

January 29 - The weather forecast looked good...a small threat of some winds going from 5-10 to 10-15 in the afternoon. We got up at 7 AM with the idea of leaving today for Little Shark. We took Lucy in for her morning walk and talked with the people at the marina about the weather predictions. They had heard it was a little "iffy" for that afternoon...a possibility of some wind. We decided to kick back for the day and wait until Wednesday to leave. We took Lucy back to the boat and came back to shore for a walk into the shopping area and lunch. Tomorrow we'll likely head out for Little Shark River.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Panama City, FL, to Sarasota, FL

January 4, 2008 – Segue pulled out from the Panama City Marina early on the 4th and headed for Apalachicola, FL, about 60 miles away.

The trip to Apalachicola was a chilly one! We were driving from the bridge because we had some long passages across bays and could spot the channel markers easier from above. At one point, though, we had an electric blanket wrapped around our legs…and a down comforter…and a polartec blanket. Warm weather, here we come!

Apalachicola is a neat little town. We walked from the marina to the grocery store for a few items. The town is playing up to tourists now…but it’s cute.

We pulled into Apalachicola behind a boat from New Orleans dubbed “My Missy.” We’d gotten to know the crew in Panama City because they were docked with us on the transient dock there. They highly recommended the oysters, as did the guidebooks, so Wayne indulged in a couple of dozen while I dined on peel and eat shrimp. De-lish!

January 5 - Wayne's Birthday!! - As we left Apalachicola that morning I caught this sign advertising Scipio Creek Marina where we had stayed the night before. “Transients welcome” may sound like we were there among hobos…but “transient” is the term used for boats, like ours, that are “passing through” and not staying for a long time at the marina. Hobo: “One who wanders from place to place without a permanent home or a means of livelihood.” Hmmmmm. No, wait…we have a permanent home. For now.

The trip to the Moorings Marina at Carrabelle was brief, by our standards…25 miles. We had originally planned to spend two nights at Scipio and go to Carrabelle on Sunday. Looking at Weather Underground (, however, we decided there might be a window for leaving Carrabelle on Sunday afternoon for Clearwater and arriving Monday morning. Read: winds of 10mph or less and seas of 1-2 ft. Weather Underground has a marine forecast for each coastal area and will show a chart with predicted wave activity in feet. The 0-1 and 1-2 feet wave heights are a shade of pink. It looked like large areas of "pink waves" coming up for our travel path Sunday through Sunday night. We called our boating friend in Knoxville, Jim Hemphill, as we were cruising to Apalachicola to see if he could join us a day early for the crossing. Jim and his wife Pam are planning their trip on the Loop and Jim was glad to experience this crossing with us. Jim was able to alter his schedule and he agreed to join us in Carrabelle Saturday evening. (Jim had checked out the options for getting to Carrabelle earlier in the week. Flying was out because of the iffy schedule we had. Instead, he rented a car in Knoxville and drove to Tallahassee, FL. From Tallahassee he hired a cab to take him the remainder of the way to Carrabelle. You gotta want to get there!)

Before Jim arrived, Wayne and I talked with Buddy, the Moorings’ weather expert to see what he thought about a Sunday departure. Buddy saw a window, too, but strongly advised that we leave Sunday morning to take advantage of the weather. He suggested we leave at sun-up…provided the wind was calm. “If the flag at our office is flying out straight…just forget it.” Buddy also advised us to go closer into the coastline for our crossing. While it would mean a few more hours (19 instead of 17…but who’s counting at that point!) it would offer us the opportunity to duck into land should the weather become threatening. In winter months there are more chances for weather to change quickly down here, Buddy said, and we would have more peace of mind following the new route. We could anchor out at Ancelot Key and wait for daybreak to navigate the Clearwater Harbor. Armed with this advice we decided to leave first thing Sunday morning, January 6, and make our way to Clearwater.

When Jim came in that afternoon we told him of our new schedule and he was all for it. We all went out to dinner that evening to Pirates…transportation courtesy of Moorings staff…and went to bed for a good night’s rest.

January 6 - Why do a crossing? Why not continue as we were, hopping from one place to the next in 50-60 mile spurts? The Intracoastal Waterway, which we started in Mobile Bay, ends in Carrabelle and picks up again near Tarpon Springs, Fl, just above Clearwater. There’s an option to hop around the “Big Bend” in Florida by going out in the Gulf and coming back in to stops like Steinhatchee or Crystal River…but with few weather windows in December it could take days to find the right travel time. FYI, the Intracoastal Waterway is defined by the Columbia Encyclopedia as,
“3,000 mi (4,827 km) long, partly natural, partly artificial, providing sheltered passage for commercial and leisure boats along the U.S. Atlantic coast from Boston, Mass. to Key West, S Fla., and along the Gulf of Mexico coast from Apalachee Bay, NW Fla., to Brownsville, Tex., on the Rio Grande. The toll-free waterway, authorized by Congress in 1919, is maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers at a minimum depth of 12 ft (4 m) for most of its length; some parts have 7-ft (2.1-m) and 9-ft (2.7-m) minimum depths. Among some of the waterway's most often used canals along the Atlantic route are the Chesapeake & Delaware and the Chesapeake & Albemarle; along the Gulf route the most used are the New Orleans–Rigolets Cut, the Port Arthur–Corpus Christi Channel, and the Inner Harbor Navigational Canal at New Orleans. The separate Okeechobee Waterway, S Fla., crosses the Florida peninsula. Plans to build a canal across N Florida to link the Atlantic and Gulf sections were blocked in 1971 by a presidential order to prevent potential environmental damage. Many miles of navigable waterways connect with the coastal system, including the Hudson River–New York State Canal System, the Chesapeake Bay, the sounds of North Carolina, the Savannah River, the Apalachicola River, and the entire Mississippi River system. The Intracoastal Waterway has a good deal of commercial activity; barges haul petroleum, petroleum products, foodstuffs, building materials, and manufactured goods.”

We woke up early on Sunday, January 6, determined to be ready with engines running when the sun rose. The first thing we checked was the office flag. As you can see by the picture, the flag wasn't moving. We’re off!!!

We left Carrabelle and headed out the East Pass. At that point, the water looked harmless...and this shrimp boat was one of the few signs of life we spotted.

As we went through the pass and entered the Gulf of Mexico the waves picked up. We estimated they were about 2-4 feet. We had moved everything off of the surfaces downstairs in preparation for this…and had covered the glassware with athletic socks to protect it from breakage. Good thing! By our estimation we had a few 5-footers thrown at us as we made our way on an easterly path to get closer to shore. Jim, Wayne, and I took hourly shifts at the helm…and for the first 3-4 hours we were dealing with pretty rough waters, by our standards. As Jim said, “This will be a confidence builder.” How right he was! The boat held up superbly. Oh, it creaked and groaned…but there was no damage. Now we humans…well, we were OK, too, as long as we held onto something when moving around. Lucy had a dose of Dramamine that morning and planted herself on the floor for this part of the trip.

When we got to the waypoint indicating our turn to the south, the seas calmed. We’re talking glassy smooth seas. Calm. Then fog set in. Visibility went down to about 1 mile, but we had the radar on, of course, and the water was still benign. The fog stuck with us for about 4 hours and when it lifted we were greeted with a beautiful sea. These are some of the views we took in that afternoon and evening…

Night came... on and we settled into a routine of having one on the helm, one at the radar screen…and the other person could either stay up (usually the case) or head down for a short rest.

We had no cell phone coverage in the Gulf after we got out about 10 miles. When we saw our first light (“oh, there’s Clearwater!”) we were sure we’d be able to pick up some coverage, but no. We were still probably 20 miles from land. We could have used the VHF radio to call for assistance if needed, but it would have been nice to check in with our friends and family while on this endurance run. “Hi, Mom. Guess what I’m doing right now!!”

As we moved closer to Clearwater and the anchorage we’d selected for the night (Ancelot Key) we made the decision to push on through to Clearwater Marina. The water was SO calm…and who knew what tomorrow would bring.

The entrance into Clearwater Harbor was tricky. Crab pots everywhere. We hit one, but avoided 50 others. We made it under the bridge at the harbor entrance, but missed the immediate turn that would have taken us to the marina. We realized our mistake and doubled back…but ran aground on the edge of the channel as we made the correct turn. By this time it was about 3:30 AM on January 7. We just threw out the anchor, turned on all the lights in the boat, and went to bed for a few hours…knowing that the tide would be coming in later that morning and we could probably work our way off easier.

And we did just that. We pulled into Clearwater Municipal Marina at around 9:30 AM and were greeted by our newly made friends on My Missy. We re-fueled and Jim made plans for a rental car. We had a cup of coffee and reviewed our exciting 19-hour, 190-mile trek. Jim took this parting shot of Wayne and I as he set off for home. We are so glad Jim came along. We could have done it alone, but it was awfully nice to be able to rotate around and offer the opportunity for an occasional rest. Thank you, Jim!

January 8 – Clearwater was beautiful! And WARM!

But our sights were set on Sarasota and a nice extended visit with our friend Bob Sicignano.

January 8 - We left early on the 8th and pulled into Marina Jack’s in Sarasota that afternoon. Sarasota is gorgeous this time of year. The marina is right downtown and within easy walking distance of a couple of grocery stores, post office, restaurants, library, etc. We both admit we could live here for several months a year. Here's a picture of Segue docked in the marina, bow out, with the Sarasota skyline in the background.
We’ve had coffee with Bob and his regular coffee crew…celebrated Shirley’s birthday with a dinner at Bob’s house…and entertained our Sarasota friends, Shirley, Bob, and Julie, with a dinner on the boat.
And shortly after we arrived in Sarasota our “sister ship” My Missy pulled in next door. We’re getting to know Bruce, Missy, and family…including three little poodles that compete with Lucy for attention as folks walk by.

A front started through on Sunday, January 13, and this was the view of the fog moving in that afternoon towards the marina...
Being around the water offers so many photo ops!

We’re here until Friday the 18th. Knowing that, I was able to enroll in a watercolor class at the Art Center Sarasota January 14-17 with Linda Kemp, an artist I’ve admired. The classes are within walking distance of the marina…how convenient! We also had a chance to schedule a visit from Captain Patti Moore of Sea Sense Boating ( on Sunday the 13th. Patti worked with us (me at the helm and Wayne doing the lines) to help me gain experience in maneuvering the boat into a slip or along side a dock...and to help us develop a method of communicating during the process. We worked at it from about 9-2:30 (with a lunch break) and both learned a lot from the experience.

Wayne has been busy with the boat. We found a diver to cut the crab pot line from our prop. (By "found" I mean that Wayne was sitting on the back deck when a diver emerged from the water in the slip opposite ours. He agreed to take a look and was able to wrap up the job in no time!) It's time for an oil change so that will happen this week. We'll head out again on Friday, January 18.

Next stop: ports south….

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Fairhope, AL, to Panama City, FL

December 29 - The weather was still a little rainy and blustery the Saturday morning we left Fairhope. Wayne had put waypoints in our GPS system for the course down the east side of Mobile Bay to the point where we would enter the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway). We made our way into the "ditch," as the ICW is sometimes referred to, and proceeded to pass by some beautiful areas of the Gulf Island National Seashore. On a prettier day we might have stopped in for a stroll on the beach...

We had planned to travel about 50 miles that day, but with an early start that morning we decided later to add a few more miles. We called Bob Riggs and ask him about any recommendations. He put us on to the Palafox Marina in Pensacola and that's where we went. Really nice, new marina...right downtown in historical area of Pensacola. While we had talked to the marina office to arrange the night's stay, there was no one physically stationed at the marina that night. The regular dockmaster was off on funeral leave. We had no trouble getting in and secured for the evening.

December 30 - We woke up Sunday morning to thunder storms early. They cleared out by sunrise, but the skies were still cloudy and a little threatening. Checking the weather we saw that the stormy weather seemed on it's way north, so we took a little walk up through downtown Pensacola and set out again at about 10 AM. Here we are in the marina, bow out, facing the camera, second from the left end.
As we headed out of the Pensacola harbor, looking south towards the ICW, the sky clearly showed the stormy weather to our west and clearing skies to the east. At least that's what we we counting on...

The afternoon found us near Ft. Walton Beach, FL, and we decided to tie up for the night at the City Dock. The dock runs parallel to the waterway, but traffic was light that day and we knew we could get out and away quickly the next morning if we stayed closer to the ICW. The dock doesn't have an electrical hook up, but it does provide water and pump out facilities. And did I's free? Bob and Laura DeFever were docked there with their sailboat, Deja Vu. Bob helped us tie up and we chatted with him for a while about their trip from Ft. Pierce, FL, to Mobile, AL, where they planned to live and work for the year. The Dock is right next to a city park and within easy walking distance of a Publix supermarket so everyone (Lucy included) was pleased with the arrangement. Lucy discovered pigeons...and how they can be just slow enough on take-off to nearly allow her to get up close and personal.

We spent a cozy evening there, Wayne and I catching
up on reading and communications...
Lucy content to hang out.

December 31, New Year's Eve, brought the prettiest day of travel we've had in weeks. (Considering short time we've been gone, that's saying a lot!) The skies cleared up, the sun came out, the temperature THIS is what we're here for! We left Ft. Walton Beach early. Going through areas like the "Grand Canyon" and Choctawhatchee Bay we saw beautiful sky, water, and wildlife. We rolled up the bridge curtains and took off the coats!

Got some great closeups of birds....I used the red eye reduction on this one, it was so close.

And...this "bird" did a close fly by as well....

We had just gone under the West Bay Creek Bridge when Wayne said, "You know, it looks like that plane is coming right for us!" We watched this little sea plane come right in front of the bridge windows and make a hard turn coming abeam our port side. By then I'd grabbed the camera and got this parting shot as he went on down to land near the bridge. Wayne said there were two people in the plane. Wayne waved at them and they waved back.

OK, the one that got away: We were sitting on the bridge, enjoying the ride, when we hear a slapping sound. We heard it 5 or more times and Wayne kept saying it was the back windows on the bridge flapping in the breeze. I kept looking for that action to accompany the sound and it never happened. I decided I'd better check things down on the back deck to make sure we weren't about to lose something. When I stepped onto the deck I was met with the view of a porpoise...about 5 or 6 feet away from our port side and completely up in the air! On entering the water, I heard the slapping sound. That porpoise had been with us for some time, and we were oblivious! I ran back up to the bridge and grabbed the camera, but it was gone. Darn! I've been assured we'll see more.

The weather on New Year's Day was supposed to turn bad for travel: high winds and rough water. We made reservations at the Panama City Marina with plans to arrive Tuesday morning so we'd be tied up fast for the winds. The marina would be "closed" for the holiday, but they gave us instructions on where to tie up and were leaving a packet for us to pick up. But New Year's Eve was so pretty we really wanted to anchor out that night. We had chosen a place (very near the marina) called Smack Bayou. Both of our water guides highly recommended this anchorage for it's beauty and security in winds. When we got to the bayou it was filled with boats. Many may have just been there for the day, but there wasn't room for our boat to get in among them and wait them out. We went, instead, to a nearby anchorage called Watson Bayou and anchored among a scattering of sailboats tied to mooring balls. We settled in for the evening and made some Happy New Year calls....

January 1, 2008 - The next morning at about 4:30 we both woke up to the sounds of wind whipping around the boat. The tide had gone out...and with all the swirling around going on in that little pocket of water we decided to pick up anchor and get away from the nearby sailboats. Following our course in...we slowly made our way out and back onto the bay. The marina was only a short distance away, but when we got there we couldn't quite make out how to get into the area behind a we just circled around a while in the bay until the sun came up and we could see our way in. We fought the winds to get tied up, then came back in and crashed for the day. We plan to spend several days here until the winds die down.

Wayne called a contact from the Trawlering discussion group, Rich Gano, who had been very helpful when we were going through the replacement of fuel tank. Rich is coming over on Wednesday to see the tanks and, after we go to lunch, to take us to a grocery store for provisions.

Panama City Marina is very nice. It's within walking distance of downtown, including the public library. I'll have to make a visit there before we leave. The area around the marina has a park which makes Lucy happy. Here's a shot of the sun setting on New Year's Day from our position on Pier 6. Happy New Year!!