We made it across the Gulf and got a special visitor!
273 Days Looping
4,240.5 Nautical Miles Total (4,879.9 Statute Miles)
166.7 Nautical Miles This Week
12.0 Hours Underway This Week
8.6 NMph Average Speed
0 Locks This Week, 154 Total Locks
Monday – Jan 6th – 149.0 NM – To: Tarpon Springs, FL
Beep! Beep! Beep! 4:00 AM came very early! We got up and got ready to cast off. The area around the marina was well lit, and we could see down the harbor. By 4:30 we had the boat untied and were pulling out of the slip into the dark.
Leaving the harbor was fairly easy as there were lights along the shore and we could see the markers easily. Once we got out of the harbor, however, it was pitch black. We used the GPS map, and radar to make our way very slowly down the harbor entrance channel, picking out the markers with our spotlight. The water was flat calm, and we easily made it out of the harbor, then across the bay making our turn southeast around Dog Island and into the open Gulf of Mexico.
We could see some lights onshore behind us and the flashing lights of a few tall radio antennas, but aside from that, the moon had already set, so our only light was from the stars. It was a clear morning and it was a spectacular view! It’s rare that you are in a place dark enough to really get a good view of the sky. One bright red spot directly in front of us was Mars, and we used that as a navigation reference.
We could feel the swells of the waves once we got into the Gulf but they were gentle and rolling, hardly noticeable. As we cleared the outer marker for the channel entrance, we increased speed to 16 knots which is about 70% of our engine speed and were quickly swallowed up by the dark. Our next stop was 150 miles away across open water.
At 6:35 we noticed subtle lightning of the sky to our port side. It was like someone turned on a switch, one moment it was pitch dark, and the next there was a glow. It continued getting lighter and at 7:30 the sun first peeked above the horizon, and by 7:35 it was fully up! You could see it moving as it came up. Very cool!
I got plenty of time to play with my electronics as there was really not much to do. We were on a fixed course and the autopilot took care of driving the boat, there was no traffic, and except for a marker or two, nothing to look at but open water. We turned on our satellite TV system and Brenda watched Good Morning America as we cruised across the gulf. I guess a boring crossing is better than an exhilarating one!
We did see a few other boats on the radar and got a glimpse of them in the distance. One was “Sea Dog” who had left the night before, and we saw two larger “Mega Yachts” headed the other way. As the day went on, we started seeing slightly higher winds, but never over 15 knots, and the waves built to 2 feet but were nice rolling waves with a long period between them so it was still hardly noticeable.
At 12:15 our first indication that we were nearing land was the appearance of a large antenna and smokestack on the horizon. Then at 12:30, we were able to say “Land Ho!” Our chosen route was to the main entrance to Tarpon Springs, which brings you in on the south side of Anclote Key. There is another channel that comes in from the north of the key that the overnighter boats typically use as it’s a bit shorter and gives them a place to run if the waves are an issue. As we turned north on the ICW to go to Tarpon Springs, we saw two boats heading south in the channel. They were “Lee Loo” and “Dancing Bear” who had headed out the prior afternoon.
We pulled into Tarpon Springs harbor and were greeted by no fewer than 12 Sheriff’s office and Coast Guard boats as well as a Sheriff’s Office helicopter! January 6th is Epiphany which is a major Greek holiday. Tarpon Springs is the sponge capital of the world and has a large Greek population. The prime minister of Greece was visiting for the Epiphany celebrations in town. We had made a reservation at the town marina, but because of the holiday, the marina was closed so we tied up at a marina on the other side of the river for the night. We re-filled our fuel tanks, we used 176 gallons for our 150 nautical miles (172 statute mile) crossing. Not bad given that we ran at 16 knots for most of the way!
After settling in, we chatted with R-Pad who were coming down the coast from Steinhatchee Florida, they had taken the “rim route” which is a 3 point crossing that allows for shorter legs, over 3 days and keeps you closer to land. At 3:00 they cruised by heading to another marina for the night until we could both move to the city marina in the morning.
That night we had dinner at the marina restaurant and turned in early to catch up on our sleep. We were both relieved to have the Gulf Crossing behind us and happy to have had such beautiful weather!
Tuesday – Jan 7th – 0 NM – In: Tarpon Springs, FL
We slept in a bit on Tuesday morning. At 8:00 we checked in with the Tarpon City Marina where we were moving to and they asked that we arrive around 10:00. The marina is only about 10 minutes away, so we had plenty of time and went to the marina restaurant for breakfast.
After breakfast, we hung around for a bit, then untied and took a slow cruise up the river to the marina. We backed into our slip, and had the opportunity to see “No Way Home” who we had not seen since Paducah Kentucky! They were just leaving the marina so it was a quick visit.
The marina is right on the main street at the Sponge Docks, which puts it right in the middle of the tourist district. We walked to the other end of the waterfront checking out the menus at the Greek restaurants, drooling over the greek pastries, checking out the sponge boats and the multitude of gift shops.
As we were walking around we ran into, Tom from R-Pad who was having a beer at one of the restaurants. We chatted with him for a bit and then walked back to the marina. R-Pad had moved while we were out and were docked one slip over from us. It was another beautiful and hot day, so I went to the little tiki bar next to the dock and had a beer while watching the boats come and go. Very relaxing!
In the evening we walked up to Hella’s Greek Restaurant and had a nice greek dinner of Lamb Kabob for Brenda and Pork Kabob for me.
Wednesday – Jan 8th – 0 NM – In: Tarpon Springs, FL
We had pretty much seen most of what there was to see in Tarpon Springs, so we took the “Jolly Trolley” to Dunedin Florida. The Jolly Trolley is a trolley service that covers the coastal communities from Tarpon Springs to Clearwater Beach. It’s a great deal at $5.00 per person, and you can get on and off pretty much anywhere along the route as many times as you like.
We had heard that Dunedin Florida was a good stop. Initially, we were going to take the boat there, but we had plans to be in Clearwater for the weekend so we would not be able to stop in Dunedin. Taking the trolley there let us spend the day in town and explore.
The trolley left Tarpon Springs at noon so we walked down to one of the bakeries and had a mid-morning snack and bought some pastries for later, then caught the Trolley (right in front of the marina) and we were in Dunedin by 12:30. Dunedin is a nice walking town with a revitalized downtown. We walked down the main street stopping into some of the shops and made our way down to the marina. The marina was small and very full so we were glad that we had not planned a stop there.
From the marina, we walked back up toward the main street, stopping to do a cache in a park along the way. We then went to the old Dunedin Train Station which has been converted into a museum of Dunedin history. By the time we finished at the museum, it was 3:00 by this time, and we had dinner plans with R-Pad at 5:00, so we started to head for one of the trolley stops. The next trolley was at 4:00 so we stopped for a snack (and a beer) at the Dunedin Brewery. We had some pretzel bites and then walked the rest of the way to the Jolley Trolley stop.
There is a neat phone app that lets you track where the trolleys are and displays the ETA to your stop. Each time we checked, we saw that the Trolley was still in Clearwater, and had barely moved. The ETA kept climbing, and when it reached 5:00, we decided to call a Lyft car. (Lyft is like Uber) The car showed up within a few minutes and the driver told us that there was a major accident on the beach road between Clearwater and Tarpon Springs. He suggested an alternate route that would bypass the traffic jam from the accident, and we said fine! The ride back to Tarpon Springs took about 30 minutes, but we made it back just in time for our 5:00 dinner date.
Connie and Tom were waiting, and we walked just off the main street to a Greek Restaurant that was recommended by the Harbor Master. It’s a restaurant that’s off the tourist route and where many of the Greek locals go. As it happened, Connie and Tom had been there about a year before when they came through on their first loop!
We had a very good dinner, Tom(R Pad) tried the Octopus, Brenda had the Pastitsio and I had the mixed grill (which was so large, we ate the leftovers for the next two days)
Thursday – Jan 9th – 17.2 NM – To: Clearwater, FL
We only had a short run to Clearwater so we took our time in the morning and had one more walk around Tarpon Springs before we headed out.
At 10:00 we cast off from Tarpon Springs and headed for Clearwater. It was a short trip, only about 2 hours and we took our time. We backtracked about 10 miles to where we came into the ICW from the Gulf, then continued south to Clearwater. The marina was excellent! New floating concrete docks, easy to access, and shielded from the waves from the traffic on the channel.
There were a couple of other looper boats already there, sadly two of them were stuck there for medical reasons. Our dock neighbor was Alcyone with Todd and Patty. Todd had emergency surgery for an aneurysm a week or so ago and was still in rehabilitation at a local hospital. Patty was staying on the boat but had an issue where there she had no water. Once we were settled, she asked if I would take a look at it, so I climbed down into the bilge and figured out that there was a blockage in the filters because the water tanks had run dry and sucked up a bunch of junk from the bottom of the tanks. I was able to clean the filters, flush out the water pump and get the water running again. We also met Larry & Jeannette on Mississippi Girl, who are not official loopers but are traveling with their new to them 50+ ft Chris Craft. Also at the marina was Neverland with Dawn and Kay, another couple who are stuck for 3-4 months due to health issues.
We just hung around the boat for the rest of the day and had leftovers for dinner. In the evening as it cooled down from our 83° day, the birds came out. There were all sorts of birds hanging around the docks and pooping on the boats. There were regular city pigeons, blackbirds (grackles), seagulls, osprey, pelicans, herons, and an odd brown bird with a short tail that we’d never seen before a Least Bittern!
Friday – Jan 10th – 0 NM – In: Clearwater, FL
Friday was a workday. Brenda did laundry and I washed the salt spray and bird poop off of the boat. The salt spray was easy, I use a product called “Salt-Away” which is a mild soap that helps to dissolve the salt off. You spray it on, let it sit for a few minutes, and then rinse it off. The bird poop was another story. There are crows and grackles that hang around the marina and sit on the boats. They are eating some sort of red berry, that stains the fiberglass. Stain remover will get most of it off, but I’ll have to get the boat buffed to get the final stains out! I spent half of the day yelling at the birds to “GET OFF MY BOAT!”
In the evening, we decided to walk up to town which is about 1/4 mile away up a small hill. The main street (actually called Cleveland Street) has a small grass median that separates the lanes and has the feel of a pedestrian mall. The center of the street has lots of interesting sculptures. At the marina end of the street is the Capitol Theatre, a beautifully restored art deco-style theatre. When we walked past, we saw that they were having a “Meat Loaf (the singer)” tribute singer that evening. The singer was Caleb Johnson who won America’s Got Talent, and the band was Meat Loaf’s original stage band.
We wandered up and down the main street trying to decide on a restaurant and finally decided on a pizza place for dinner. As we were eating, we decided to see if we could get tickets to the show. Brenda went online and there were only a couple of seats left, but they looked pretty good so we decided to go.
After dinner we went over to the Theatre and picked up our tickets, then went in to wait for the show. The theatre has a bar on the roof, so we went up for some neat shots of the Clearwater Skyline and the full moon.
The show started at 8:00 and lasted 2 hours with no intermission! It was excellent! It had been a long time since Brenda and I had been to a concert!
Saturday – Jan 11th – 0 NM – In: Clearwater, FL
On Saturday, Bethanny and Max came to visit! They arrived around noon. Bethanny was very glad to see us, Max was confused by all of these new people and a floor that moved! Once she and Max were settled in, we went across the causeway to Clearwater Beach for lunch and to walk around on the beach.
In the evening we went to Clear Sky, a restaurant in downtown Clearwater. We’d heard that it was very good and it didn’t disappoint. We had the Just Ducky Brussel sprouts for an appetizer, then Bethanny had Not Your Roommates Ramon, Brenda had the Korean Style Back Ribs, and I had the Cheshire Heritage Grilled Pork Tenderloin.
Sunday – Jan 12th – 0 NM – In: Clearwater, FL
On Sunday morning, we had our belated Christmas. Sylvia (my FAVORITE sister) had sent a package down to Bethanny to deliver to us, so we did FaceTime with her and opened our Christmas presents. After that, we cashed in some of our favors with our kid and had her take us shopping. We visited Publix, had lunch at Panera, and went to Bed Bath & Beyond. When we got back to the boat around 2:00, we packed her up and said our goodbyes as she had a 2-hour ride home and a 7:00 am start time at work on Monday. We plan to see her in a couple of weeks when we reach the other side of Florida.
For the rest of the day, we just puttered around the boat. I spent most of my time trying in vain to keep the birds off my nice clean boat. In the evening we had dinner on the boat and turned in early as we had promised the couple on Mississippi Girl that we would let them follow us across Tampa Bay.
NEXT WEEK: Taking our time moving toward Fort Myers.
Tom & Brenda