Friday, April 29, 2011

From Florida's West Coast to the Panhandle

Cathy helped us untie from her dock in St. Petersburg at 11:30 Wednesday morning, April 20th, and we were anchored at Anclote Key five hours later.  It was a beautiful, sunny day so we put the dinghy down and went over to the beach to do a little shelling but mostly we just enjoyed the sand and scenery.

This osprey wasn’t about to share his hard-won meal with a seagull!



We had planned to stay at Anclote for a couple of days, but when we saw that Thursday was Bob’s birthday we decided to make tracks for Crystal River to celebrate the 29th anniversary of his 44th birthday (Bob’s reply when we asked how old he was!).  So, eight hours later we were anchored in Kings Bay.

Passing through Crystal River on the way to Kings Bay.



That evening we dinghied over to Bob & Phillis’ house to join them and friend Joe for Bob’s birthday dinner at Neon Leon’s Zydeco Steakhouse in Homosassa.

The canal leading to Bob & Phillis’ house.


Our venue for Bob’s birthday dinner.


Nice bikes!  I want the hot pink one!!!



As you can see, we had front row seats for the band.


Friday morning Todd went over to help Bob move some storage boxes to Joe’s garage and we made plans to get together at Bob and Phillis’ that evening for dinner and games.  Army and Marion, who recently bought a house in Crystal River, were also invited.  Their boat is still in Trinidad but they are in the process of making Crystal River their permanent home.

After everyone had their fill of my enchilada lasagna, we taught the group to play Left Center Right and Drink While You Think before moving on to Mexican Train, a dominoes game, which we only got three rounds into before calling it a night.

Everyone is intently arranging their dominoes, trying to make a workable train.


Bob came by in his Bayliner about 12:30 Saturday afternoon and took Todd for a boat tour of the bay, including a stop at a local gathering spot called The Shallows.  That evening we went back to Bob & Phillis’ for a wonderful smoked pork loin dinner (Bob truly is the grill master!), complete with my homemade scalloped potatoes and Marion’s Caprese salad.  Simply marvelous!  And then we finished our dominoes game, which Bob won by a wide margin – no surprise there!

Todd went back over to help Bob with a few things Easter morning before hauling anchor at noon and heading to Cedar Keys.  The first couple of hours were pretty nice but then the waves started hitting us on the port beam, making for a long final three hours.  Fortunately, the waves were only about two-footers so it was only mildly nauseating!

We anchored south of the channel about three miles east of the Northwest Channel marker/light to make for easier access to the Gulf of Mexico in the dark hours of the early morning and then settled in for a quiet (and early to bed) evening.

A nice sunset from our anchorage at Cedar Keys.


Around midnight a storm rolled through so our sleep was not quite as restful after that, and 4:00 a.m. came very early.  But we got up and were underway an hour later for the 110-mile crossing.  Waves were supposed to be two- to four-footers from the southeast, calming to two in the afternoon.  We briefly debated going on up to Steinhatchee and crossing from there on Tuesday but decided to bite the bullet and go for it.

Well, the waves were probably more like three- to five-footers with the all-too-frequent appearance of six-footers.  The swells were hitting us on the rear quarter, pushing under us and leaving a big trough for us to rock and roll in!  Neither of us got sick but we both felt queasy and took turns lying down in brief intervals throughout the day.

Todd originally laid down on the port side bench seat next to the Captain’s chair but the side-to-side rocking motion following a big swell soon rolled him off, so he moved the bench seat cushion to the flybridge floor and that was our “sick pad” for the day.

The seas did calm slightly in the afternoon, but only slightly.  We were still being pushed through East Pass by swells at 5:00 Monday afternoon on our way to the anchorage at Gap Point on St. George Island.  But we made it across safely and without incident and were very happy to have it behind us.  Needless to say, it was another early-to-bed night!

Our good friend Everett from Springfield, who has actually made the Gulf crossing with Todd twice now, sent us the following e-mail after our last blog update:

As you make the crossing think how different it is from the first one you made and lets see if you can get past Demopolis before the end of the summer.  Reflect and enjoy, think what started the voyage and how all our lives have changed since September 05.  Buddy retired in Florida and spends his time under a palm tree like so many other retiree's.  You are preparing to reenter the work force and Nila is preparing to leave it.  You have seen and done things that most people only dream about, you have friends in places you had never heard of 10 years ago and still have a big chunk of life to be lived.

Travel safely, travel happily.

What a GREAT note, Everett!  Thanks for the wonderful thoughts and memories.

After a leisurely and restful Tuesday morning, we made our way to Apalachicola Marine (formerly Miller Marine) to take on some fuel at the bargain price of $4.23 per gallon and ended up spending the night on the fuel dock.

Tonging for oysters in Apalachicola Bay.



That evening we walked through charming downtown Apalachicola for the first time to meet Hank & Nancy on “Last Laugh,” a very nice 52-foot Defever.  As it turns out, they were at the Defever rendezvous in Sarasota when we were there visiting our many Defever friends but apparently our paths didn’t cross.


This sign was stuck on a piling near Hank & Nancy’s boat.


Todd originally spoke with Hank & Nancy on the VHF last Thursday when they passed by our anchorage at Anclote Key on their way to Cedar Keys to do the crossing.  And he spoke with them again from our anchorage at Gap Point on St. George Island as they were heading to a marina in Scipio Creek.  When we decided to spend the night at Apalachicola Marine, Todd called Hank to make plans to get together for dinner at Papa Joe’s for some authentic Apalachicola oysters.


Apalachicola oysters fresh from the bay.


The Captain managed to consume two dozen of them all by himself!


We left the fuel dock at 9:00 Wednesday morning to anchor in Saul Creek, about five miles north.  Early that afternoon, “Last Laugh” made a pass through Saul Creek on its way to White City for the evening.


Around 4:30 we went for a long dinghy ride and saw some interesting and beautiful scenery.  Having never stayed in Saul Creek before, we are both impressed and highly recommend it, both for its protection and natural beauty.  And as an added bonus, it is a freshwater creek within sight of the Intracoastal!

I think we saw four sunken boats and an abandoned sailboat on our dinghy trip.


These exotic-looking flowers were found in numerous shady locations along the bank.  Aren’t they lovely?



Gorgeous and serene.


We expected some potentially strong storms to pass through overnight but they either dissipated or went north of us.  Thursday morning we had some light rain that passed quickly followed by pleasant temperatures and cloud cover.  While it was cool, the Captain worked his way around the side of the boat in the dinghy cleaning the hull before taking off to go fishing for a while.  When he returned, we took another dinghy ride, this time around the Saul Creek Cut-off and a short distance up the Apalachicola River.

This old ship was on the Saul Creek Cut-off, just off the Intracoastal.


There is a donation box affixed to the side and the web address on the sign is:  Guess someone is hoping to save the “Arabella Nickole” with donations!


We found this little hole in the shoreline near where we were anchored.  The photo looks out on Saul Creek and there is actually a small lake behind us.


Today is Friday, April 29th, and we left Saul Creek about 9:30 a.m. to make our way to Crooked Island, a wonderful barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico southeast of Panama City.  We stopped just outside the Port St. Joe Marina around 12:30, dropped the anchor and dinghied over to the marina to get a few supplies and were back underway by 2:00 p.m.  Three hours later we were anchored at Crooked Island and are looking forward to spending the next several days here.  Thankfully, the Gulf was much calmer today than it was for our crossing!

Passing by White City.


Entering Crooked Island from the Gulf.


With all the rain the Midwest has experienced recently, not to mention the severe storms that passed through Tennessee and Alabama two days ago, the Tenn-Tom is raging.  In fact, our friends Mo & Gale on “Blue Heron” are holed up at Three Rivers Lake (Mile 64 on the Tenn-Tom) waiting for it to settle down so they can continue their trip north.  In the meantime, we will leisurely make our way along the Gulf coast between Panama City and Mobile and hope that the spring storms have blown and rained themselves out!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Time to Head North

On Sunday, April 3rd, Todd & I flew back to Missouri to spend some time with my niece, Jennifer, who was tragically paralyzed from the chest down in a diving accident last July.  We arrived in Springfield Sunday afternoon and were met at the airport by our good friend Everett.  Nila & Everett were on their way to Phoenix for a week so they essentially turned their home over to us and even gave us a car to use for the week.  What great and generous friends!

After taking care of some business on the campus of Missouri State University on Monday, we headed to Jennifer’s place in Bucyrus late Tuesday morning.  Our plan was to get Jennifer out and about doing things she enjoys since her opportunities for that are limited.  Unfortunately, she had a bad episode with autonomic dysreflexia coming back from some medical appointments in Columbia Wednesday evening and ended up spending the night in the Emergency Room.  She was also totally wiped out on Thursday, but we managed to get in a trip to Springfield on Friday.

We had a nice lunch at Macaroni Grill.


On Sunday Todd flew to Colorado to spend some time with his parents.  Todd’s dad, Bill, celebrated his 80th birthday on Tuesday, April 12th, and was scheduled for breast cancer surgery the following day.  Bill discovered a small lump on his right breast several weeks ago and when it was biopsied, he learned it was malignant.  Most men probably don’t realize that they are susceptible to breast cancer but they are, especially men who have had testicular cancer.  So please check yourself, men.  None of us are immune!

Happy 80th, Bill!


Does anyone recognize Todd with no hair?  He is no longer allowed to get his hair cut without supervision!


While Todd was in Colorado, it actually snowed!


After taking Jennifer around to some of her favorite shopping haunts early the next week, I returned to Florida Thursday, April 14th, and Cathy picked me up at the airport.  Todd’s father was doing very well after his surgery so Todd returned to Florida Saturday afternoon.  That evening we took Cathy out for a yummy seafood dinner at P J’s Oyster Bar on St. Pete Beach.


Today is Tuesday, April 19th, and we are gearing up to head north.  First stop will be Anclote Key (outside Tarpon Springs), followed by Easter weekend in Crystal River with Bob & Phillis.  The weekend of April 30th should find us in the Destin area (or somewhere along the Gulf coast), the weekend of May 7th in the Mobile area and the weekend of May 14th in Demopolis, Alabama, where we will spend a week or two in our "home port" on the rivers.

Toward the end of May we will continue heading north on the Tenn-Tom, spending time on beautiful Bay Springs Lake before hitting Pickwick Lake around the first weekend of June.  But, as always, our plans are in Jell-O and are subject to change.  Hopefully, Mother Nature will cooperate and we will have a nice weather window for the Gulf crossing in late April.  As unbelievable as it seems, this will be my first Gulf crossing since December of 2007!  And who knows, it may be my last if “Life’s2Short” has new owners by this fall.  Pass the word:

In closing I want to note that Thursday, April 21st, is the five year anniversary of the day we took ownership of “Life’s2Short” right here at Cathy’s dock in St. Petersburg.  What an adventure it’s been and it isn’t over yet!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

More Fun in Ft. Myers Beach

We arrived at Bonita Bill’s about 3:30 on Wednesday, March 23rd, after taking on 310 gallons of fuel at Ballard Oil for $3.85 per gallon, including tax.  Mark, Jim and Bob were all on the dock ready to catch a line and Jim had a pitcher of beer ready to share.  In fact, he was pouring us a drink before we even got all our lines situated!


Thursday was a quiet day.  We met Kerby at the bar when he got off work and had a few drinks there before going to Doc Ford’s for a few more.  Then it was back to the boat for an early evening.


Friday morning we had to move the boat to free up space at the dinghy dock for the weekend.  Anyone who knows me very well knows how much I hate docking!  But other than one engine crapping out on us just as we got out in the bay next to “Miss Cher,” it went fine.  Todd had changed the fuel filter on the port engine the previous day and forgot to turn the fuel valve back on.  Thankfully it was a calm morning at slack tide!  And, once again, we had Jim and Bob and even Kerby on the dock to assist.

Later that morning we met up with Tom & Colletta who were visiting family in the area.  Tom & Colletta live in Chicago and Tom has been following our blog for several years.  They recently purchased an Ocean Alexander and are in the process of moving it to their home waters on Lake Michigan.  After chatting aboard “Life’s2Short” for a while, they graciously treated us to lunch at Bonita Bill’s.

It was nice to finally meet you guys.  Thanks for lunch!


Later that afternoon we joined Jim on the patio for a while and then Mo & Gale stopped by in their dinghy.  Their boat, “Blue Heron” is currently at Snook Bight Marina awaiting a new transmission.  When they left we joined Steve & Diane (“Aurora”) and their group at Bonita Bill’s for a crazy evening of karaoke.  If you saw the last blog update, you will recognize Steve & Diane from our many fun evenings in Sarasota.


Diane and the girls singing Girls Just Want to Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper.



Then Brenda and The Rockettes took the stage.  My first (and hopefully last) live karaoke attempt!  Thanks for backing me up, girls!



Getting geared up for the Blues Brothers!



And here they are, complete with backup dancers!




Looks like the girls are having fun!


Dancing with the Captain.


Winding down the evening with a final song by Kerby.


Todd got industrious Saturday morning and washed the boat.  But other than that, we spent a quiet day aboard.  Sunday was also quiet until about 4:00 when we joined Kerby, Shelly and Tony at the bar and then meandered next door to Doc Ford’s for a few drinks.  Todd & I decided to walk over the bridge and ended up at The Lighthouse Tiki Bar where we found Jim sitting at a table with several people.  We joined him for a while, grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed back to “Life’s2Short.”

The “Sea Trek” fishing charter always draws a crowd when it returns from a trip.


We awoke Monday to thunderstorms with strong, gusty winds and pelting rain.  A good time to be tied to the dock!  Other than going to the bar to have Kerby’s locally renowned meatloaf for lunch, we spent a quiet day on board putting together our blog site advertising “Life’s2Short”  for sale:  We then went up to the bar about 6:00 p.m. to help Tony and Shelly who were swamped and short-handed.  After the crowds died down we stayed for a while and visited with Jim and a few of the other patrons before calling it a night.
There is always always a lot of bird life on the docks at Bonita Bill’s.

Great Blue Heron


Great American Egret


Snowy Egret, note the yellow feet


And then there’s Splash, who has a history.  Splash was thrown off the Matanzas Pass bridge (65’) as a kitten, was rescued by Bonita Bill’s and has been a “family member” ever since!


Tuesday morning Jim gave Todd a ride to the store to pick up a few things.  We planned to pull out Wednesday morning, so about 4:30 Tuesday afternoon we went up to the bar to say goodbye to Shelly when she got off work.  Then we had Kenny (off the shrimp boat “Miss Cher”) and Jim over for a nice dinner.  Kenny reciprocated by bringing us a two-pound bag of beautiful, fresh jumbo shrimp.  What a deal!  Then it was back to the bar to say our goodbyes to Kerby since Wednesday is his day off.

An evening view of Bonita Bill’s from "Life’s2Short."


It got very windy Wednesday morning and there was a huge line of storms with tornado watches and warnings to the north, so we decided not to leave.  Greg & Sandy off “Latitude Dancer” stopped by late that morning and invited us to join them at the Moose Lodge for dinner and dancing, but we ended up running into Larry & Sheryl later that evening at Bonita Bill’s and didn’t make it.  We originally met Larry & Sheryl at Bonita Bill’s on St. Patrick’s Day in 2008 and saw them again last March when we were here.  What a sweet couple!

This photo is from 2010 but it’s worth posting again.


Thursday remained very windy and the storms were still raging to the north, very slowly working their way south, so we spent another day tied to the dock.  As the Captain likes to say:  “Cruisers don’t have plans, just intentions!”  We then joined the gang at the Bonita Bill’s Tiki Bar for a final evening of fun and camaraderie.

Hanging at the Tiki Bar with “the gang.”



Shelly and Aaron, who both work at Bonita Bill’s.


Tony being silly in the kitchen.


A final hug for Shelly.  Thanks for the good times, girl!


What remained of the storm front (which wasn’t much) finally moved through in the wee hours of Friday morning so we untied the dock lines and were underway before 8:00 a.m. April 1st.  Our faithful dock hands, Jim and Bob, helped us get off the dock without any major incidents and we proceeded to cover about 85 miles – a very long day for us!  Eleven-and-a-half hours later we dropped anchor at the northwest end of Sarasota Bay near Whale Key.  The northwest wind was still blowing pretty hard and the Gulf was a mess, so we weren’t able to run offshore.

Leaving Ft. Myers Beach with a shrimp boat in front of us.


Saturday morning we continued north the final four hours to Cathy’s house in St. Petersburg where Cathy and neighbors Ted & Linda were waiting at the dock to help us tie up.  On our way through Tampa Bay, however, we ran into all sorts of activity, dodging sailboats and steering clear of several huge cigarette boats!

A busy morning in Tampa Bay!


Friday evening another one of Cathy’s neighbors, Bob, dropped by when he was walking the dogs so Cathy invited him to stay for a while, called his wife Marilyn and asked her to come up, then she invited the neighbors on either side of her (Ted & Linda and Joe & Jackie) to join us as well.  So the nine of us spent the next few hours sitting around the table on the lanai playing the dice game Left Center Right.  If you’ve never tried it, it’s very simple and a lot of fun.  And if you’re lucky you might even win a few bucks!

Today is Sunday, April 3rd, and we are busy making preparations to fly back to Missouri to spend some time with my niece, Jennifer, and the rest of the family.  We should arrive back in St. Petersburg on April 14th and will continue the trek north on or about the 18th with plans to stop at Anclote Key (outside Tarpon Springs) and Crystal River.  While in Crystal River we will visit Bob & Phillis, old-time boaters from way back, who have made Crystal River their permanent home.  Looking forward to seeing you again, guys!