We hope you had a wonderful Christmas holiday and that 2016 is starting off well for you. We spent some time at home enjoying family and friends, and are now back on the boat continuing our travels south down the west coast of Florida.
First an update from before the Christmas break:
Wednesday, (12/16) – Dunedin, FL – While Mark was away, Denise got to play. Well, not really. The day started with a nice out and back run along the Dunedin Causeway to Honeymoon Island State Park. It was a beautiful day and the sun stayed behind clouds just long enough for Denise to finish her run.
The day was spent doing boat chores and cataloging pictures, as well as starting a blog post – which didn’t get very far due to interruptions.
In the evening Denise met up with a grade and high school friend (Joan Nickerson Wessel) who now lives in Hudson, FL – just north of Tarpon Springs. Joan’s mother was a bus driver for Good Shepard and Bishop Moore Catholic schools where Denise attended. She and her husband Albert came by the boat for drinks and then we went to dinner at Casa Tina; a very good Mexican restaurant in downtown Dunedin. We walked around a bit in the downtown area to see some of the shops, and then they returned Denise to the boat and headed home. It was great to see them and reconnect after so much time and hopefully we will get together again in the Orlando area – this time with Mark.
Thursday, (12/17) – Dunedin, FL – Denise spent the day cataloging pictures, visiting with the few Loopers still in the marina who had not yet gone home for Christmas, and taking advantage of the free laundry at Marker 1 Marina. She was anxious for Mark to return from his Ohio business trip, and for them to move the boat down to Sarasota and eventually Palm Island Marina in Englewood before heading home for Christmas.
In the afternoon and evening the winds started to pick up and the weather was not very pleasant. Denise stayed close to the boat doing emails and reading, while keeping abreast of Mark’s eventual arrival on the boat.
Friday, (12/17) – Dunedin, FL – Today we were planning to leave Dunedin and head south but again woke up to very strong winds that were not going to die down anytime soon. We put off the decision to leave until mid-morning and felt that although the winds were strong, we could certainly handle the majority of the trip down to Sarasota because most of the ICW through Clearwater and St. Pete would be in narrow and protected areas. However, crossing Tampa Bay and the Sarasota Bay would have been another story and we would have to stop short of crossing those bays and put into another unplanned marina (if available). And despite having Looper slip neighbors willing to help, exiting our boat slip would have resulted in a bad case of “bumper boats”. We were so close to leaving with cable, water and power unplugged from the dock when we decided to reconsider leaving.
Given the weather conditions and the fact that we would not make it to Sarasota, we felt there was no reason to stay on the boat either. Mark suggested we just leave the boat at Marker 1 Marina and go home a few days early for Christmas. Also a contributing factor in the decision was that we would now be pushed past the threshold for daily/weekly rates for dockage and into the monthly (and cheaper) rate. A quick call to the marina office to confirm they could keep our boat through the holidays and this became a “no-brainer”. Denise was thrilled to be going home for Christmas a few days early!
Then came the task of getting a one-way rental car and getting picked up by Enterprise, which they could do, but not before 3:00 pm. In the meantime we packed and identified things to take off the boat that we had not used or were no longer needed. It was after 4 pm when we finally left the marina with the car packed to the hilt.
It being the Friday before Christmas, traffic in the Tampa Bay area was awful with all the major freeways congested and accidents everywhere. So we took the backroads to I-75 and eventually took SR 50 all the way across FL until in the Central FL area, stopping along the way for a quick dinner. We were home by 8:00 pm and very happy to be able to sleep in our own bed!
The rest of the holiday week we enjoyed time with our families and several friends we had not seen in months. Denise was delighted to have several good runs with her running buddies, as well as a Christmas dinner that included spouses as well. It was all quite fun and it was great to see everyone. Of course we both got to participate in Christmas mass at our home church and see many parishioners who have missed us as much as we missed them.
Here are some other sights from Marker 1 Marina:
And then we returned to our adventure:
Sunday, (12/27) – Dunedin, FL – We left Winter Park right after mass and got a ride thanks to Susan & Steve (Denise’s sister and brother-in-law) who were going to see their daughter in Tampa. So we did not have to worry about getting another rental car and we didn’t have to fight too much traffic as we left early enough in the day. We stopped along the way for lunch and by 2:00 we were back on our Island Office and they were on their way. We really appreciated their taking us and it was good to be able to spend time with them as well.
In the evening we planned for the next day’s departure and ate some of the great leftovers of home-made cooking for dinner. We also caught up with a few other Loopers who were now back in the marina, including Tom & Jane (“Elizabear”) who have the friendliest dog (“Gus”) who loves people. We spoke with them for a while about our mutual plans and then said good-bye, hoping to connect again further south.
Monday, (12/28) – Sarasota, FL – Yes, today we did finally untie the dock lines and leave Marker 1 Marian in Dunedin. It was bitter sweet as we really liked this marina. The people who live and work there are terrific; it a first class joint and the area of Dunedin has much to offer anyone on a boat. It was a great place and we strongly suggest all other Loopers spend time in this place.
Our cruise to Sarasota was mostly uneventful. It was very slow going through the no-wake zones of Clearwater, Ana Maria Island and Venice, but the rest of the time we were able to make faster progress. That is when we were not having to slow down for the millions of pleasure craft on the water. Of course the highlight of the day was going by the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa Bay:
It was also thrilling to go past “Cortez” which is where we took delivery of our old sailboat (“High Flight”) in 1995. From here on south it is old cruising ground for us and we are thrilled to be doing it again.
Here are some sights from today along the ICW:
Unfortunately, while in route we encountered our second mechanical issues on the trip; this time with the generator. It was really hot and we wanted to run the air conditioner while under way, but we could not get the generator to stay on. Mark had confirmed the filter was clean, but it was not pushing water through the system which meant either a clog in the line, or a bad impeller. Since generators like to be used and ours had not been in over 4 weeks, it most likely was the impeller.
We arrived into Sarasota just after 3:00 to some very blustery conditions. The wind had picked up quite a bit making docking a bit of a challenge. Fortunately, Mark knew enough to request a slip on any other dock except A- dock (the outside dock) and they assigned us one on C-dock, offering much better protection. Denise was grateful and the boat did fine.
We were able to connect with our Looper buddy-boat friends Ginny & Bruce (“Snug Tug”) who had left their boat in Michigan and will finish the Loop next summer. That evening they joined us on the boat for drinks first, then we went to dinner at a Mexican Restaurant (“Two Senoritas”) in downtown Sarasota. We had so much catching up to do and so many stories to share that time flew by. At dinner they presented us with two high quality pictures they had taken of our boat this summer in Canada, and they had enlarged them for framing. They are terrific and we were so touched by their generosity. We shared so many great moments with them that it really was a very special gift, in addition to the gift of their life-long friendship. Of course we were having so much fun, we forgot to take a picture with them!
Tuesday, (12/29) – Sarasota, FL – Denise got to start the day with a nice run in the morning around Lido Key and St. Armands Circle – but it was HOT! After arriving back at the marina, she was able to take advantage of the fabulous gym on site and really work the arms, which had gotten a little weaker while home over Christmas.
In the morning, Mark contacted Cummins about the generator and was able to schedule a service technician to come first thing on Wednesday. We were hoping it was a quick enough repair as to not delay our departure.
In the evening, we had dinner at the Sarasota Yacht Club. The food was excellent and the service was terrific. We liked that they offered a casual dining atmosphere, while still serving some of the best food. No stuffy yacht club here! The ambiance and wonderful amenities this place has to offer was a great find and was truly one of the nicest places we had stayed on the Loop.
Even though we do not belong to another yacht club (with reciprocity) it was through our MTOA (Marine Trawler Owners Group) membership that we were able to stay here. We joined MTOA in the last month as a result of discussion with other Loopers. The yearly membership ($60) offers us the opportunity to stay at other Yacht Clubs not open to AGLCA or Boat US members. So, now we (like many other Loopers) are members of 3 separate organizations which each offer unique enough benefits that warrant the yearly dues. Ah the boating life!
Wednesday, (12/30) – Palm Island Marina – Cape Haze, FL –We had barely finished breakfast when the Cummins generator repair guy showed up. Fortunately, it was a simple impeller replacement that was required and he was done within 90 minutes. Mark was able to watch what he did and now know how to repair it ourselves in the future. Additionally, a spare part has been put on hold and will be waiting for us when we arrive in Key West.
Once we got the generator repair done, we headed south down the ICW, dodging pleasure craft the entire way, and even getting buzzed by low flying airplanes in Venice.
Even though it was not a weekend, it is still the winter holiday and there was lots of boat traffic around. Plus it was very sunny and hot, so we cranked up the generator and the AC units and cruised in comfort for the 33 miles to Palm Island Marina in Cape Haze, FL. Normally this should have taken only 2.5 hours, but it took us 4 hours. This was due mostly to the crazy boat traffic, and also because we had a short wait for a bridge that had an on-the-hour-only opening. It was almost like traveling the I-4 corridor from Tampa to Orlando on a Friday night.
But we didn’t care that we were on the water this long as this is very familiar cruising ground for us. We pulled into the Palm Island Marina and tied up to the slip without incident, even though it was a narrow entrance. Mark is a master at maneuvering our Island Office into tight places.
It had been 15 years since we had last stayed at this marina when we were here on Claire’s sailboat (“Aurora”). At that time we were celebrating Denise’s 40th birthday, so it is only quite fitting that we stay here for another celebratory event – New Year’s Eve. In all actuality, it is very close to two separate friends who we had plans to connect with, and the marina is still a great place to stay. There is a good restaurant on the premises (Leverock’s) and we were considering eating NYE dinner there.
Our first meeting was over to Glenda & Alex’s condo for drinks and a wonderful dinner. They are long-time friends of the Gillespie’s from Miami and we visit them every year during our Boca Grande visits. Glenda is a fabulous cook and Alex makes a terrific smoked salmon spread that we indulged in during fishing stories, political discussions, and college football. Unfortunately, this is a Gator household and we are Seminoles, but we all enjoyed each other’s company and they were gracious hosts. We love our time with them and hope to connect with them again soon.
Thursday, (12/31) – Palm Island Marina – Cape Haze, FL– Before anyone else was up in the marina, Denise was out the door to try and get a run in. Because the marina is located on a two-lane highway with little or no sidewalk paths, this was a bit of a challenge. She did manage to find an older condo complex and do several loops before heading back to the marina and logging only 3 miles. UGH! Hard to train for a half marathon under these conditions.
One of the benefits of this marina was the free washer and dryer. So shortly after the run Denise got one load in before the line formed by other boaters. We opted to let the second load wait until there was a less busy time. There are several full-time live aboard boats in the marina as well as a few seasonal transients so this is a nice perk and they all seemed to have wanted to do their laundry at the same time.
We were able to connect with our other friends Chele & Dave who used to be our neighbors in Winter Park. They moved to Englewood several years ago to take over a family business. They live less than a half mile up the road, so Chele came by the boat with daughter Tailor and two of her friends. We made plans to spend the evening together at their place and they took Denise to Publix (where they were also headed) so she could get a few things.
After lunch we took the dinghy out and cruised all around Palm Island and the mangroves that are just west of the marina. We saw many a pieces of real estate we would love to own, but would never be able to afford the insurance or taxes.
We cruised north to Rum Cay restaurant (on Pine Island) where we were going to go for a drink, but realized that neither of us had a wallet, money or credit card. So, we left the area and cruised back across the ICW to Cape Haze Marina. We wanted to check it out to see if there were any Loopers present. We didn’t find any, however there were several large boats in slips and one very big Hatteras yacht on an end tie. We had a chance to speak with the woman who owns the boat and she told us they live aboard full time and now cruise all over Florida. Ah what a life!
Here are some more pictures from our dinghy ride:
It was getting late so we had to head back to the boat to get cleaned up and ready for our NYE celebrations at Chele & Dave’s. Since they live so close to the marina and the temperature was not too hot, we walked to their place. They live on the 3rd (top) floor of the condo building and we were hoping for a spectacular sunset view. Unfortunately, it was so cloudy and overcast that we saw nothing and abandoned all hope of seeing one.
We enjoyed our time with them and meeting other friends they also had over – Dan & Agnieszka Delong with daughters Nika and Kenzie. Knowing we would not be able to stay up until midnight, Chele was kind enough to drive us back to the marina around 9:30. It was fairly quiet in the marina and we went right to sleep. At midnight the celebrating and fireworks by locals in the marina and around Palm Island woke us up, but it didn’t last long and we fell back asleep quickly.
Here are some other pictures of this marina:
Friday, (1/1/2016) – Boca Grande, FL – It was a new year and the best way to start things off right was heading to one of our favorite places in Florida; Boca Grande. But not before Denise got that second load of laundry done; easy to do since she was up before it was even light out.
While waiting on the laundry Denise talked with Jim, one of the dockhands that work at this marina. He was from the Orlando area (actually Casselberry) originally, spending 70 years there, so they had quite a bit to share. He had recently retired to Rotunda – a community not far from Cape Haze – and told her about how he had paid off his house after winning $90,000 in a FL Lottery scratch off game. What a lucky guy!
We left Palm Island marina shortly after 10 and cruised 10 miles to Boca Grande, encountering a few dolphins who rode in our bow for a while. Denise was able to take a few pictures of them and really looked them in their eyes to her delight.
As we approached the entrance into Boca Grande, a float plane landed right behind us and followed us into the Boca Grande Bayou where we set an anchor.
This is right near the docks for the famous “Pink Elephant” restaurant, commonly known as “The Pink”.
Because this anchorage is very tight quarters and it is an active waterway to and from the inlet to the “Outlet” – a local hotel and eatery, we had to tie our stern off to the adjacent mangrove bushes (called “med mooring”). It took us no time to set the anchor, then Mark took off in the dinghy to go tie us off. It took a couple of tries to find the right one with the right angle for our boat so we would not swing into the constant boat traffic. While it was busy during the day, it settled down and night and we found a great protective anchorage for our boat.
Shortly after lunch we left the boat and went exploring on our dinghy. We had been in these waters before on a rental boat, but now we had our dinghy and went all around the place; in and out of coves and around some of the most beautiful homes (aka mansions) we have ever seen. There is big money here and the yachts are plentiful in the back of people’s homes. We have also seen a plethora of Back Coves and Sabre Yachts here – probably more than in any single location to date. We knew we were in good company.
We arrived back at the boat sweaty and hot. Fortunately, we had left the generator going and the AC cranked so we could get showers and feel refreshed after the fun dinghy ride. We had tried to get reservations for the upper dining room at “The Pink”, but they were sold old as this is high season here. Fortunately, they have a downstairs where casual dining is first-come first serve, and we arrived at 5:30 in time to get a great seat inside. Within 15 minutes the place was packed and by the time we left there was a long line waiting to get inside.
After dinner we walked around parts of the village (of BG) and took in the sights. We noticed that they had built new cottages that are part of the Gasparilla Inn across the street from the Neil Bush house (yes of GW and W Bush fame) that had previously been a vacant lot. We also noticed how crowded the streets and restaurants all were, and how many people were milling about. It is so different here in January (busy time of year) compared to May when we usually come. We think we like May better when it is mostly locals.
When we got back to the boat we turned off the generator so that we could remain good citizens with the other boats in the anchorage (generators are loud and disturb the peace). Outside it had cooled down since sunset, but it still made for an uncomfortable evening sleeping. This has been one hot Florida December.
Saturday, (1/2/2016) – Boca Grande, FL – We were eating breakfast at the anchorage when we heard this loud rushing noise that sounded like water coming from a huge drain pipe. When we looked out the window of the boat to see its source we were treated to an amazing display of small fish jumping in the water, being chased by bigger fish who were being chased by birds. It was an amazing display of nature and the food chain in action, and the kind of sight you don’t get to see when in a marina.
We had intended to stay a second night anchored in the Bayou as the price was right (free) and it is well protected. But because it was so hot and we didn’t want to run the generator all night for the AC, we made the decision to see if we could get into the Boca Grande Marina for Saturday. We toyed with the idea of just heading south, but we really wanted to stay here one more night so we could go to mass at our favorite little church; “Our Lady of Mercy” either Saturday night or Sunday morning.
Mark called the (BG) marina and they were able to take us as most all the holiday boats had left and there was plenty of room available. This was a splurge as they are ridiculously expensive ($3.25 night), but the service is unprecedented and it afforded us the ability to walk to everything in BG without launching the dinghy. So we moved the boat to the same marina that 20 years ago provided fuel and ice to us on High Flight (our old sailboat) before we headed through Boca Grande pass to Ft Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas. Ah the circle of life!
We spent a good bit of the day working on plans for future ports in the FL Keys. Mark was able to secure a stay at the Marathon Yacht Club in February and we tentatively planned our stops along the FL west coast after Ft. Myers. In the meantime the wind began to pick up significantly and many boats came into the marina either to eat lunch at the onsite restaurant Docksides, or to stay for the night. One boat that came it was “Holiday” – a 65’ Marlow Yacht that Denise recognized as they approached. Sure enough it was Chuck and Sandy from Aspen, CO whom we met in Annapolis, MD and who live on their boat 8 months of the year. They spent all summer up in New England and were making their way to Naples for the rest of the winter.
We decided to go to mass on Saturday, leaving Sunday morning for Denise to get a run in before we shoved off and headed south. So we made our way to “Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church” for the 4:00 mass, only to discover that the two Saturday vigil masses (4 pm & 5pm) they have in winter – instead of just one – was not starting until next Saturday. This misfortune turned into a wonderful encounter with a family from Alpharetta, Georgia.
We met Sylvia and Dan Duarte and their 5 children (Peter, Andrew, Matthew, Teresa, Nathan & Catherine) and Sylvia’s parents Luis & Isabella who are originally from Portugal. They too thought mass would be at 4:00 and therefore were early for the 5:00 mass. We got to spend a delightful 45 minutes getting to know them and talking about our shared Catholic faith and their lives in Alpharetta (an Atlanta suburb we know quite well). We learned that Isabella’s father and Grandfather were present in Fatima, Portugal for the “Miracle of the Sun” that took place there in 1917. You can learn more about this phenomenal world event here. We then sat behind them in mass and watched as all 5 children were on their best behavior. They were a delightful family and we so enjoyed meeting them.
We also felt especially privileged to attend mass at this church as it is designated as one of the “Doors of Mercy” churches by the diocese of Venice, FL. This is a distinction afforded certain Catholic churches in response to Pope Francis’s declaration of the “Year of Mercy”. You can learn more about this here.
After church we walked to “Sisters” an Italian restaurant that has great food and is the most affordable place on the entire island. Mark got his usual Chicken Parmesan and Denise got Eggplant Parmesan, both portions sufficient enough to take back to the boat for another meal.
We returned to the marina after dark and found the north wind had kicked up quite a fetch. All the boats were rocking and ours was no exception. There were only two boats that were not moving, one was our friends on “Holiday” (65’ Marlow), and the other was the 137’ custom yacht “Hilarium” that was in the private slip area. This place is definitely a playground for the very wealthy.
Sunday, (1/3/2016) – Pelican Bay, FL – Taking advantage of the marina and a known town, Denise began the day with a 6.5 mile run. It is so hard to run this distance without running buddies to help make the miles go by in conversation, but she was able to do get it done by knowing the path down to the lighthouse, state park and through the village.
Once back on the boat and with breakfast completed, we checked out and pulled away from the dock. With no other boats near us, Denise was able to get some practice in such windy conditions and not have to worry about crashing our Island Office. While Mark cleaned up the lines and the fenders, Denise made progress out of the marina and back into Charlotte Harbor. It was a short 5 mile run across Charlotte Harbor to Pelican Bay and the anchorage across from Cayo Costa State Park.
We had been looking forward to putting the boat in this anchorage and then using the dinghy to go to Cabbage Cay for hamburgers. With overcast skies we made plans to head out for lunch, but not soon enough as the rains started and thwarted our efforts. It rained all afternoon and the wind blew strong which kept us from taking out the paddle board or the dinghy. It was just too wet and windy.
Mark made use of the afternoon by reading the Waterway Guide and trying to determine more specifics about our tentative itinerary, while Denise worked on this blog post. It was around 4:00 when we heard the bilge pump kick in and discovered water was flowing into the bilge from a hose connected to our water tanks. We quickly turned off the water pump which stopped the water flow, and Mark preceded to investigate further. It didn’t take long to discover that there was a crack in our new fitting put on by the folks at Dog River Marina in Mobile. We attempted to patch the hard plastic fitting with “safety tape”, but it just wouldn’t hold up to the pressure of the pump without leaking. We now had our 3rd mechanical boat problem on the Loop.
We considered our options including pulling the anchor and going into a marina where we could use the inline water system. However, it was too late to make it to a marina before dark, even to Captiva which was the closest place. So, we opted for staying in the anchorage and living without any running water on the boat. Since we have bottled water we could use for brushing teeth and drinking, this was not critical. It just meant it would be tomorrow before we could shower, and we would have to use bottled water to flush the head (toilet) if required. Of course Mark had one other option that Denise did not have!
This did mean that we would have to leave at first light, and that we would not get to spend time in this beautiful area we love. We had hopes of “playing” here one more day before heading to Ft. Myers, but with more bad weather approaching and now this problem, we must go where this can get fixed.
The anchorage here is beautiful and there were less than 10 boats in an area that could easily handle many more. We felt very comfortable and didn’t rock near as much as in the marina in BG the night before. Usually we would be able to see a million stars in this place, but with the overcast skies we didn’t even see the sun today. No sunset, no stars and no moon made for a dark night.
The good news is that with the generator fixed we were able to use it to power our lights, computers, cell phones and the microwave. Dinner was leftover pasta from “Sisters” and we got in a little reading before turning in for the night.
Monday, (1/4/2016) – Ft Myers, FL – As soon as it was daylight we left the Pelican Bay anchorage. The weather outlook was not good and it wasn’t worth wasting time, plus with our water pipe issue we needed to get to a marina to get it fixed. Dining at Cabbage Cay, exploring Cayo Costa and “SUPping” around the anchorage would have to wait for another time.
We headed back into the ICW where the wind was really blowing already, but fortunately we were going in the same direction and the cruise wasn’t bad. We pulled into South Seas Resort on Captiva to fill up with fuel, and then fought an awful headwind going back out into the ICW for a short run.
After that it was a direct cruise down the ICW then a left turn up the Caloosahatchee River into Ft. Myers, passing along the towns of St. James and Cape Coral, FL
We had made the decision to stay downtown versus Ft. Myers Beach as the Legacy Marina is an ALGCA sponsor, they offer good discounts, and our friends Tim & Karen (“TiKa”) keep their boat here.
We arrived to greetings from Pete (“Endoxi”) and pulled into a very nice slip not far from the marina office. Shortly after checking in we met up with him and Pam, as well as Sharri & Rodney (“Sassified”) – all of whom we traveled with down the Tennessee and Tombigbee waterways. Since they are leaving tomorrow we made plans to go to dinner together later. We then went back to the boat to give the outside a good scrubbing as it was covered in salt. We also made a temporary repair to the waterline fitting until we were able to get a replacement part, or someone to help us fix it. Once this was done we were able to use the inline water system on the boat and get our showers.
We joined Pete, Pam, Sharri, and Rodney for dinner at Ford’s Garage in downtown Ft. Myers. It is a 10 minute walk from the marina and in an area where there are several restaurants and shops.
The place is totally decorated in everything Ford cars, including the sink fixtures and the door handle in the bathrooms.
Although this restaurant is an expanding SW FL chain, this is the site of the original, and it comes equipped with an old “Model A” car hanging from the ceiling in the bar. The food was really good with all types of burgers being their specialty. However, there was a lot of other good menu choices including items for those who prefer vegan or gluten free. You can learn more about this place here.
We had a lot of fun and discussed our plans to meet up again further down the coast, and for our extended stays in the Keys.
Stay tuned for more of our adventure!