[photo: there were many pretty scenes but none of the pics captured the reality, so this was a mural on one shop wall]
I admit I was fooled. After an early bedtime and a sound sleep, I awoke to see a yellowish light coming in one of the ports facing east. I figured it was sunrise and got up. Then I realized it was only 0430 and it was the yellow light from the shore power pedestal. It was even too early for Clyde to come up on deck and enjoy the cool air, so I went back to bed for another hour or so.
The coffee was great this morning, and it was very nice not to be worrying about bugs. Clyde was now very interested in his surroundings and looked like he was methodically checking for a way off the boat. A younger and more nimble cat could easily have jumped the 4 feet to the seawall, but at least Clyde is too wary for that.
By 0815, we had the bikes off the boat and headed to the adjacent park to use our special code for the marina bath/showers co-located with the public restrooms. They were old, but functional and clean enough. It is a bit of a distance from our slip so you can't let the coffee kick in too long before you start walking.
The downtown is a block away and very nicely done. The street lamps, signage, bike racks, walkways, etc. are all attractive, as are most of the storefronts and eateries. After checking out Main Street with practically no one else there at that hour, we circled back and took the Pinellas Trail north a few miles. The trail is for bikes and pedestrians and runs fairly straight N and S at this point. When we had cycled enough N, we meandered back to the S and E trying to find the grocery and liquor stores. We did a good job, and got to see some of the different neighborhoods and nice parks along the way.
Leaving the stores, we rode directly back along Main Street and back through the downtown checking out place for a possible meal out, and then back to Diva Di. There was little time for rest, as next we walked back to the park and then the marina office where we paid for 2 nights. Back through the downtown on foot, we decided to have lunch at Flanagan's Irish Pub. Diane went with a craving and got a Philly Cheesesteak; I had the lamb stew and it was incredibly savory and delicious. We each had a pint, of course, as it is the proper thing to do. The walk back to the boat seemed longer for some reason, yet we stopped and bought a steak of fresh-caught wahoo at the fish market right at the marina for a meal in the near future.
Back aboard, the naps that we have foregone for quite a few days needed attention. With that chore done, I set about planning for tomorrow's journey. We hope to enter an anchorage near Treasure Island and see if dinghy access ashore is available.
Our last bike ride for this stop was N along the water on a crushed shell road with pretty homes and private docks. After a few miles we turned E for a block and got back on the Pinellas Trail to head back. We have quite a practiced system for folding the bikes and then getting them aboard and stowed below. We are so glad we have them and bring them whenever we feel there is need. We have seen so much more by using them, than just relying on our pedestrian power.
It was 1730 and cocktail time, so we had one aboard and then cleaned up to stroll over to Bon Appetit, the adjacent restaurant, where we sat at the bar and had one drink and shared an appetizer. We had some interesting chats with a few patrons and walked back happy and feeling fortunate to be enjoying as we are.
Clyde was not the same as the first night. He was apparently frustrated with not being able to get ashore this time and decided he wanted no part of his time topside. We could have put him in his harness and lead, but there were so many distractions that we feared he would balk and possibly slip out and escape.
A fishing charter came in late from 40 miles offshore with a good catch. During the long cleaning process, we were kibitzing. I mentioned that I got some wahoo and only had to walk 200 feet to the fish market. We all laughed, but for most fishermen that legally keep what they catch, the cost per pound is mighty high.
The evening temperature and light N breeze was, again, delightful. We got below around 2100 and plan to leave tomorrow near 0830.
[photo: a sunrise viewed from Anclote Key]
Our hunger sent us below last night before the no-seeums came out in deadly numbers, apparently, but trying to go topside just before dawn, they swarmed like I have never experienced. Clyde wasn't bothered but as I grabbed him to go below after just letting him out 30 seconds before, he looked at me as if to say, "What the hell, we just got up here!" After securing the hatch boards, we had a good 20 minutes of swatting them below as they bit us. I remarked to Diane how soft and spoiled we are and couldn't imagine having to put up with that in the days before screens and good shelter.
Trapped below, we thought a hearty pancake breakfast would be nice, but someone had to go back up to turn on the gas at the tank. We decided to wait a full hour after sunrise for the bugs to vanish, and even then they seemed to still be at half strength to their earlier attack. Since our underwhelming visit to Anclote Key coincided with moderately strong N winds, we would have been better off coming here on Wed night; the wind tends to make it impossible for those tiny insects to fly and it is pretty calm today so far. At least the banana nut pancakes tasted good.
I don't have to remind boaters, but weather and environmental conditions really influence the enjoyment of a place. In this case, the weather is fine, but the bugs (probably from 1900 to 1000 the next morning) are horrible right now. Near 1000, we decided to try to go to the beach and found the bugs to be barely tolerable on the way. Once there and close to the water, they were not so bad. We walked and shelled with minimal results and then rented a pair of chairs and a nice umbrella. There was a slight N breeze that seemed to help with the bugs, but by 1145 the breeze had died and the bugs were bad again.
We went back to the boat to have an early lunch and then tried again an hour later. The chair rental guy had said they sold effective bug repellant in the concession, so we stood in line just after a ferry-load of day trippers arrived and got some. As we walked back to the beach, we met Bob from the boat next to us (a really great couple) who said the see breeze had kicked in and chased the bugs away. The rest of the afternoon was fairly idyllic in terms of air and water temperatures, breeze, scenery, and shade from the blazing sun. We had some couples near us who liked to converse in loud voices, but other than that, it was simply great.
When 1530 came, we started back to Diva Di to prepare for a 1600 departure when the tide should have been up enough to allow us to get back to the main waterway. The weird part was that the first 98% of that trip was fine, with no depth issues (meaning we never touched the bottom), but as we got within 100 feet of the main channel, we hit those 2 sandbars where we had bumped on the way in. This time we did not bump and go; we bumped and stopped. Since we had hit bottom on the way in, I tried a slightly different place to cross the sandbars (only 50 feet farther E) where I saw several other boats come across. Apparently that decision was flawed.
It took about 15 minutes of wiggling the boat on its flat wing keel with the rudder and prop wash, plus the benefit of a few larger wakes (waves that boats make) to free us. I wasted a little fuel and scraped a bit of paint off the tip of the rudder, but no big deal. The rest of the short trip was uneventful until we approached the designated slip at the marina. It was not apparent that there was a slip there, but finally we saw it and nosed in. Thankfully, there was a deckhand washing down the adjacent boat and he volunteered to help. The wooden fixed docks are old and the facilities appear to be minimal, so we will say more tomorrow. After thanking our helper with an ice-cold soda, we went below to recover from the drama of the late afternoon, had a drink, and then got to making dinner.
We both agreed that finishing dinner at 1930, we were going to get comfortable in the cockpit with Clyde and people watch until bedtime. Being Fri night, the restaurant adjacent to us was doing a booming business and had live entertainment that was just the right volume for us. Clyde was quite the chick magnet as diners walked to and from the restaurant along the seawall where we are berthed. He was very interested in all the activity, but showed no eagerness to attempt getting off the boat, which is difficult even for us.
The early evening air was a perfect temperature with low humidity. There is a lot of artificial light here, but considering our setting, it was pleasant. Bedtime came early after the drama of the day.
[photo: the beach at Caladesi State Park]
We had not been at anchor with any significant wave action in a while, mainly because we typically choose anchorages with protection. Last night was not uncomfortable, really, but it was not the peaceful situation we normally enjoy. The fetch, or distance that wind waves can develop and grow, was almost 100 miles for the wind direction we had, but that makes no difference if the wind is light. Since it was much stronger than forecast, it meant we had 1-2 foot waves all night, diminishing to less than a foot by morning as the wind moderated and switched from N to ENE, reducing the fetch considerably.
I checked our bearings to some lighted towers once in the middle of the night and we were holding fine. More accurate would have been to turn on the GPS, but I like to go 'old school' once in a while to keep those skills sharp. Owing to the wave action, Diane joined me in my usual spot - the center cabin - where the motion is minimized. I had cracked the main hatch open for a little breeze and actually got up in the wee hours to close it as I was chilly. I am not complaining.
The wind was still above forecast this morning, but under 10 knots. We got the dink down, readied our shelling bags, camera, and handheld VHF radio and set off to find a place to land the dink on the inside and still have a path to the beach (Gulf) side. We found a place that looked promising just SW of the big dock that is for (we presume) the authorities that manage the park.
We anchored the dinghy in 1 foot of water and securely set the anchor. I assumed she would be resting lightly on the bottom when we returned. We had to navigate a long stretch of water a few inches deep and then a long stretch that had just uncovered. Beyond that was about 200 feet of very small dunes with vegetation, much of which turned out to be sand spurs. There have very sharp and tenacious burrs that hurt when they stick to your skin and are difficult to get out (thoroughly wetting your fingers with spit is the key). After getting through those with our flip-flops, we used sea shells to scrape the dozens of burrs off the bottoms and sides of those flimsy sandals before continuing.
The beach was very wide and flat with hard sand that barely left footprints. The shelling was not what we expected, but after at least 1.5 miles along the beach in both directions, we had a decent collection of smaller shells, mostly sunray Venus. We had hoped to meet up with a marked trail back to the lighthouse and small buildings we could see from our position, and which was not too far from our dinghy, but that never happened. We wound up retracing our steps through the sand spur minefield and were happy to get to clean sand.
Once on the sandy inter-tidal area, though, we saw what looked like random mats of reddish brown seaweed up ahead. As we approached, the mats started moving in large clumps away from us. They were many hundreds of one-inch wide fiddler crabs and quite neat to see in such large groups. The dink was indeed resting lightly on the bottom and we had to nudge her a bit to float again. I rowed out about 100 feet or so and was able to put the engine down again. Despite the difficulty in getting there and the so-so shelling results, it was a glorious, sunny day with perfect temperatures to be strolling the beach. The water has cooled a little bit but is still around 80F.
Back aboard, I called the Caladesi State Park ranger station to inquire about our arrival later. The ranger said it was mostly empty (weekday in Oct - not surprising) and understood we would be coming in later with the rising tide. We took our time heading S, and while the wind was out of the N, it was so light that it was ineffective to help us along our way.
We finally got through the Dunedin Causeway bridge and followed the channel to the park. At one point a sign directs you to follow a certain heading to the park's entrance channel. As soon as we turned off the main channel, I was able to see two narrow sand bars perpendicular to our course. Sure enough, we bumped the bottom on both, but kept going at a sedate 4 knots. We never saw more than 6 feet of depth across the small bay, and after a mile entered the channel.
We had a whopping 5.5 feet in the channel most of the way until we neared the marina and then plowed through soft mud several times. We were supposedly at 1.6 feet above chart datum (mean low water), and this particular tide was not predicted to get too much higher. We took a slip near the outside to have the deepest water and despite the warning from our Internet sources, the narrowness of the slip and shortness of the finger piers made it a challenge. There were only about 6 boats there, but we had to take one with a boat in an adjacent slip, and the captain was very helpful.
It cost $1 per foot per night and that includes one 30A power hook-up. If you need 50A or more than one 30A, you are out of luck. I got the A/C going and then walked to the ranger station to pay. The floating docks are great, but the entire marina is designed for smaller, shallow draft boats, to be sure.
After a brief rest, we got or shelling bags and headed for the beach. The shelling wasn't great, but I collected a sizable number of shells I think are called egg cups, or something. I also spent time in the water conversing with a honeymoon couple while Diane continued her hunt. Before heading back, we sat in the rental beach chairs that they apparently leave out all night after the concession closes at 1700.
Once back aboard, the nice dock mates came over with their own beverages and we had a great chat in the cockpit for almost an hour. I knew Diane was starving, so I politely sent them off to make their own meal while I dashed below to make ours. We enjoyed boiled fresh-caught shrimp with cocktail sauce, and the conch chowder we purchased in Tarpon Springs. The shrimp were excellent and the chowder was pretty decent.
Clyde got little time topside, because as the ranger warned, the no-seeums came out in force once the sun set. I closed up and we played some Mah Jhongg below with Diane kicking my butt. We can't leave tomorrow until very late in the day due to the tide, and then we plan to stay in the Dunedin City marina, for 2 nights.
[photo: yet another tribute to the sponge divers of the early years]
Wow, what a difference a day makes! We woke up before dawn, opened the hatches to the cockpit, and were greeted by a delightfully cool breeze from the ENE. It was probably 65F and it felt great. Clyde enjoyed it a lot, too, and decided that he would take some unauthorized shore leave by leaping off the boat to the floating dock, bounding on top of a large dock box, and then making another short bound to the mainland. He was content to walk slowly, sniffing all the way, and not trying to truly escape, but it gave Diane great pause. She handled it deftly by shouting, "Duane, go get Clyde." I casually approached him and we walked around together for a while, but when he started nosing around spots where he could disappear into a tight space, I picked him up and back to the boat we went.
We got coffee going and enjoyed the morning in the cockpit with Diane sheltered from the cool breeze and me enjoying every minute of it. Clyde enjoyed it, too, but we kept a close eye on him. We chatted with many of the workers coming on shift and were happy to learn that the plan is for baths and showers right on the island with the transient slips, so that solves the most annoying problem we have faced. With that done, this will be a great location in just about all respects. I was talking with one dock hand as he prepped a 32 foot twin-outboard offshore fishing boat for hauling out to the covered storage. He mentioned that he had just filled the tanks to only ¾ full and it took $900 worth of gas. And, by the way, he had just filled it the day before for the guy to go out fishing.
Since we had no need of the A/C for a while, I moved the power cord to the other connection that services the "house" circuits, then turned on the water heater and battery charger. I was pleased to see my new charger go immediately to its rated current (45A) and within an hour we were almost fully charged. We went for several years with an inoperative charger (hardly ever needed due to the solar panels), but it feels good to have that extra security.
Before we left the boat to bike to the historic downtown area, we switched the power back over to the A/C, but the overcast sky might mean we won't really need it. We took a more scenic route past a beautiful park and the bayou, and then got to Tarpon Ave where we locked the bikes and strolled. We figured most places would be open by 1000, but over half did not open until 1100 or 1200, and many were closed Sun-Tue.
On the way back, we biked the length of Dodecanese again and then stopped at the large bazaar called the Sponge Exchange where we again strolled lazily past the many dozens of shops and eateries. The place is like a rabbit warren in that there were so many little turns and nooks that held new places to discover. One Greek market caught our attention for some olives and olive paste.
We had thought that all the real sea sponges came from the Pacific these days, but were told that several sponge boats still go out for weeks at a time to harvest sea sponges locally (although how far they have to travel, I didn't find out). That was surprising to learn. On the way back to the boat we stopped at the local seafood market where they have their own boat. It all looked good (except for the Jacks! Who eats those?), but we stayed with fresh caught local shrimp and conch chowder.
We have been here almost 4 days and have eaten one meal out each day, which is very surprising for us. Frankly, we just couldn't pass up all the good food they have to offer. Lunch was at Rusty Bellies for the second time where Diane's thin-sliced prime rib on a special roll with caramelized onion and melted provolone was outstanding. My mussels (at least 30) in garlic butter wine sauce were good to the last bit of broth-soaked bread.
As we neared the marina gate, we watched the yard service employee blow dust and grass clippings all over the boats, including ours. Since I had washed her down just hours ago, she was still damp and the stuff really stuck. It only took 5 minutes with the hose to get her clean again, and frankly it is just like home since our boat is only 8 feet from the grass in our backyard. Back aboard, we stowed the bikes below, did a few last minute chores, and then cast off at 1500.
Rather than kill time until 1630 or so, I was willing to fight the last of the tidal current to get where we were going and it wasn't too bad. It took us almost exactly an hour to pick a spot off the S end of Anclote Key and set the anchor for the NW to NE forecast winds. The sun is bright but the 8 knot breeze is nice and we should be very comfortable tonight.
As of just before 2100, the wind is at 12-14 knots, which is almost 2.5 times the force of 8 knots, so the wave action is a little more than expected, but our anchor is secure and we are comfortable. Tomorrow, we plan to go ashore and do some shelling at low tide, then move to Caladesi State Park, just 2 hours away on a mid-tide and rising in mid-afternoon.
[photo: Another tourist attraction here- The Spongeorama]
We slept in until almost 0700 and had Clyde topside before it became too light for his eyes. There was hardly a breath of air and it felt good to duck back into the cool boat interior. At 0900 I made a trip to the office to pay for the final night and get a bag of ice. While there, I explained about our need to have an emergency contact number and how it was not on our particular piece of paper, but was on our neighbor's. I also described how the police tried to help, but all the emergency contact numbers they had were for the former owners. They seemed grateful that I pointed it all out to them.
As I was walking back with the ice, the marina manager informed me that the electricians had to shut off power to the transient docks for 6-8 hours. I said that is fine, but in this hot weather we would need to move to where we could run the A/C. We moved the boat adjacent to the Tiki Bar (closed, which is good) and bathroom (open - very good). We are now half the distance to the showers and pool and away from the construction noise, which has not been too bad, really.
After all that and a quick clean of the boat, we walked to the docks again. First stop was the Aquarium, family owned and operated, and a really neat place to visit. The wife, Jenni, was a humorous and informative guide. They constructed the place a few decades ago and their meager revenues don't support a lot of non-critical maintenance. It nevertheless has a lot of great species of fish and reptiles. For an extra dollar, you can take a small bit of shrimp and feed both the sharks (by stick) and barbless stingrays (by hand). I had never felt a stingray's mouth suck food off my hand before and it is a ticklish experience.
Leaving there we went all the way to the City marina on the other end of Dodecanese Blvd. The small building looks nice enough, but the finger piers on the docks are old, small, and short (no jokes please). It would not likely have been as comfortable there and our marina is only a few blocks away from the sponge docks on the opposite side. Diane found some neat water shoes that are extremely comfortable and can be worn on the street, too. We each got a pair.
We were approached by several polite folks advertising their restaurants, but we had our hearts set on trying Hella's. The décor is over-the-top "interesting", some would say gaudy, but our Gyros on pita bread were amazingly good. Diane got the veggie and I got the beef/lamb mix and we were stuffed. Every bite was terrific. They have a huge bakery there, too, and one look makes you want to sample, but we resisted.
After a brief rest aboard, we got our pool gear and headed over to find the place empty, not surprising, and the pool filled with bamboo leaves. Their beautiful landscaping comes at a big price. It didn't stop us from enjoying the gorgeous day. I did forget my reading glasses, however, so after vainly attempting to read without them for a chapter or two, I offered to go back to the boat and get us some cold beverages while I got the glasses.
When 1700 rolled around, we went back to the boat and I got to work making dinner for tonight and tomorrow. With the A/C available, it is better to use the stove now while we can still cool down the boat. Tomorrow at anchor, that might not be the case.
We are all alone on this side of the marina, and adjacent is a fenced-in kiddie play area. When the sun was almost set, we brought Clyde in to enjoy a little romp. Lest anyone get the wrong idea, no, he did not be make any deposits in there.
Right after that, we got our evening beverages, bathing suits, and a towel and walked the now considerably shorter distance to the pool area where I had 20 minutes earlier turned on the hot tub. To our surprise and enjoyment, the Alabama couple had just arrived and we had a nice long conversation for the next hour or so. One of our discussions was about how nice this place is in so many ways, yet how flawed it was for transient boaters in a few critical ways. We headed back to Diva Di at 2100 and enjoyed the now cool breeze.
Ideally, we want to leave tomorrow at high tide to navigate the shallows around the marina, and take advantage of the fair current downriver. That means departing at 1600, which is late. The marina has no problem with us doing that, and the plan is to go only as far as Anclote Key, about an hour away, and anchor there for the night. The forecast and overall weather pattern should allow us to do that in safety and comfort, and then go shelling on the beach at low tide around 1100 Thu. From there, it will be a short trip S to Dunedin and another marina stay.
[photo: One of the touristy scenes at the Sponge Dock]
We awoke in the wee hours to gentle rain and went back to sleep. When it was time to actually get up, the rain was still falling so we used the time to read about this area and plan our day. I discovered that the marina has free Wi-Fi, but it is only available in two locations. Having to tote your electronic device of choice over to a hotspot in the rain would be less than convenient. I am very glad I have the Verizon plan on my smartphone which gives me 4G connections where available and very fast internet speeds. Diane's kindle connects wirelessly to the hotspot from my phone simultaneously, which has proved handy.
I mention all that because I activated the hotspot after waking to check the weather radar (now that I think of it, I have an app on the phone for that) and saw that we should have a lot clearer weather for a good part of the day. Since I was the first one to have to use the shoreside facilities, I got to carry the laundry the 600 steps to the clubhouse. Diane went next with the second load and while she was gone the dock hand came early to pump out our holding tank and fix a fresh water leak at the dock fitting.
We got out the bikes and headed E on Dodecanese Street (named after the 12 large - plus many small - Greek islands in the Aegean Sea) to intercept the Pinellas Trail. The trail is a converted railway bed that cyclists and pedestrians can use to travel long distances in this part of FL. The sun quickly turned the recent rain into a mild sauna - mild meaning that Diane was fine and I was a sweaty mess - bit we rode and enjoyed the scenery towards the Nature Park. The pathways were either mulch or crushed shell, and the recent rain made either choice tough with our bikes' small wheels, so we abandoned that and rode S along Route 19 to the Wal-Mart for supplies.
It turns out they didn't have what we specifically came for, and since they had no fresh deli, Diane purchased pre-packaged meats and cheeses. On the way back along Tarpon and then Pinellas Avenues, we passed a great looking authentic Greek deli, so we were disappointed at that. Our route took us past the old historic downtown. That must have been where the action was before they made the sponge docks into a touristy area.
Economizing on trips, we stopped at the clubhouse to pick up the last of the laundry and toted it all back through the construction area to the boat. At least the A/C had the interior cool and relatively low in humidity. For lunch I made that batch of apple fritters, which cooked in a pan were really just thick pancakes with copious amounts of the cooked apple inside, but tasty nonetheless.
After a little rest aboard, we got our pool and shower gear and hiked to the clubhouse. There was no one there but us, and then we found out that the bar there is also closed, as was the Tiki Bar. Not saying we needed a drink, but I guess we're still figuring out how they run things around here. It sure seems like it is a Fri-Sun operation for the most part.
We still enjoyed the pool until the narrow squall line sneaked up on us and caught us in a downpour. Fortunately, there is great shelter just steps away. After our showers, we hiked back to Diva Di to get ready for our company, Don and Sue from St. Petersburg. They restored a 1980 Bristol 40 named Song over an 8 year period and finally got off cruising 4 years ago.
They arrived a bit late due to traffic and we had a great time catching up on things over a drink on Diva Di. We then walked down to the Sponge Docks and dined at Mykonos. The interior is nothing to speak of, but all the food we had was good. My lamb shank was probably the best I ever had, and Diane raved about her Moussaka. The only thing that placed a damper on the reunion was that I mistakenly suggested they could park where they did inside the gate. Getting them out after hours turned out not to be problem, but we thought it was until the solution was found.
After that drama, we retired to the boat, chatted with the nice Alabama couple a few slips over, had a drink to wind down in the cockpit and then to bed after a tiring, but enjoyable, day. We will stay a third night to get to see the remainder of the nearby attractions.