Last Few Dots:
Since we only had to travel about 3 miles to go from Caladesi Island State Park to Marker One Marina in Dunedin, we could afford to take our time. After one last walk on the beach, we made ready to depart. Surprisingly the wind was up inside the protected basin and with short finger piers in a much larger slip, Jr got pinned on the outer piling before Cathy could get the engine to do what she wanted and get us off. As we made our way out of the shallow channel for Caladesi, we were at a lower tide and saw depths dip below 4ft before we cleared into the main channel. Thankfully, pulling into the slip at Dunedin was much less dramatic and we had lots of offers of assistance. Several "Looper" boats had recently pulled in and were on the dock to help us. "Looper" is the way cruisers doing the Great Loop describe themselves. Most of this group had just made the jump across Florida's "Big Bend", doing an overnight from Carabelle.
As we explored beyond the marina, we discovered that we were a little further (i.e. 2 miles) from town than we thought. With that discovery we waited for a day that would give us the time and the weather to make the trek. We were rewarded with a charming, historic town, some delicious Mexican food at Casa Tina's and, of course, some homemade ice cream at Strachan's. All of the businesses along the main street were working hard at their Christmas decorations. They each had responsibility for decorating the lamp post nearest their shops for the Old Christmas celebration and they were busy with preparations.
On our return trip, we stopped in a canvas shop to look for something and found another small trailerable boat fan. His boat was sitting just outside his back door. Even more intriguing was his work as founder of Threads of Hope, an organization that teaches sewing and provides machines to individuals around the world that are struggling. On his wall were pictures of a school his organization had recently built.
We pulled out of the marina at first light on Friday, December 5th in calm winds and partly cloudy skies that unfortunately obsured our view of the distant rocket launch at Cape Canaveral. By the time we reached Hurricane Pass (so named because a hurricane created it), the sun was high enough that we could begin to read the water. We were a couple of hours up from an extremely low tide. The prior day a local couple from the marina had run aground re-entering the inlet in their MacGregor sailboat. We were understandably ready to watch carefully. Cathy went to the bow to make out where the deepest water was. We navigated the bends in the passage successfully and shortly after had our sails up. The wind was good for most of the day, although we had enough distance to cover that we had the engine off for only about 3 of the 8 hours of our passage.
DeSoto Point is named after Hernan DeSoto and a National Memorial that interprets his exploration of North America sits on the point that bears his name. We happened to time our arrival to coincide with the start-up of the living history interpreters arrival at the park. We watched the blacksmith make bullets and weapons, and learned about the Cracker horses, which are Florida's strain of horse that descends from those the Spanish left behind. We walked all the trails again through the mangrove hammock, enjoying the beauty of the park.
We made our way back into Tampa Bay on a cold, rainy Monday morning, headed for St Petersburg, which sits on the western shore of the Bay. This route took us under the Skyway bridge, a massive structure that carries I275 4 miles across Tampa Bay. As we approached the bridge, it only seemed to get bigger, not closer. We had to keep checking the chartplotter to see how far we were from it. By noon, we had rounded the iconic St. Petersburg pier and picked up our mooring in the north basin in downtown St. Petersburg. The mooring field was mostly empty, but we knew why. Our trip up the channel from the bridge had taken us past dozens of boats leaving town after the just-ended St Petersburg boat show.
With the boat parade behind us, we were about ready to leave. Our focus was beginning to return to the haul-out process. So, on Monday morning, we headed out of the north basin for the Clearwater area. We joined up briefly with the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway before heading out North Channel inlet to the Gulf for an outside run up to Clearwater. Since we were a day early for our haul-out and the weather was calm, we anchored behind one of many spoil islands that line the waterway and were formed by its creation. The next day, we had some time to kill, so we rowed over to the island to explore. They are state-owned, but "adopted" by a local family or organization, who cared for them. There were places cleared for camping, a small beach, and a couple of fire pits. It looked like a neat place to spend a night or two.
By Wednesday morning, Dec. 16, it was time to start prepping the boat for haul-out. We pulled anchor and 45 minutes later were in the same slip at Clearwater Basin Marina that had started this adventure. Dots connected. Time to move on.
Although we're getting better at stowing everything and lowering the mast, it still takes us a good day plus a little to get Jr ready to be hauled. And this is a long, hard day. We had looked at several different boat ramps during our travels as possible alternatives for hauling out onto the trailer, but finally decided we liked the space and depth of the Seminole Boat Ramp in Clearwater where we'd started out. We were enough ahead of schedule that by Thursday morning high tide (around 10:30am), we were motoring over to the boat ramp to haul out. Dave backed the truck into the water and we floated Orion Jr easily onto the trailer. Dave winched her in and made her snug and then – we were done. It seemed too simple.
And it was. As we prepared to wash her off at the nearby spigot, we noticed the bow was about a foot back from the bow roller. This was not a safe way to travel. And she's too heavy to winch in tighter as she sits dry on the trailer. So, we had to head back to the water and get her floating enough to try again. Dave winched her in tight and began to pull out. Nope. She still wasn't snug. The third time was the charm. Now that we know what to aim for we should get it right the first time. The good news was that nobody was waiting for us to finish, since the boat ramps were pretty quiet on Thursday morning.