Passing Key West
Our sail to Tampa was uneventful. We were sad to pass the Florida Keys without a stop but alas the schedule forces us to move on. We also found out that there are few places that we can visit in the Florida Keys due to our draft. Although we have only five feet of keel, many of the places in the Keys are shallower than that! We thought there would be much more opportunity for lots of stops along the way. We were also surprised that there were so few places to anchor along the way also. Florida appears to have many more marinas than anchorages.
Along the way, Mark's ongoing love affair with flying fish continued. He was sleeping down below and suddenly we both heard a noise. He asked if everything was okay above while I thought something happened down below. Mark quickly realized that a flying fish had hit the hatch above him, fell onto the screen, popped opened the screen and then landed with him in bed. At this point, he no longer screams with these close encounters. He grabbed a paper towel and quickly realized that the flying fish was quite big. His head and tail peeked out at either end of the paper towel. Mark threw it overboard and we were hopeful that he survived. Mark wiped some fish scales off his bed, shook out his blanket and then went back to sleep.
That was not our only encounter with nature during the sail to Tampa. We also picked up a medium sized white bird in Key West. He stayed with us until we arrived in Tampa. He looked a bit sick and would not eat anything I attempted to feed him. He stayed at amidships for the trip and buried his head under a wing. I became quickly concerned about his health and decided to name him Bob. I instructed Mark to look out for Bob and we began the Bob watch. When a change of shift occurred we updated each other on Bob's status. To tell you the truth it didn't change much. He stayed in the same position for two entire days. Bob left us, without saying goodbye, the morning after we arrived in Tampa. He did leave us quite a mess on the deck, having also used our boat as his personal bathroom for two days. Mark would have appreciated an alternative form of payment for the ride.
We arrived in Tampa close to midnight. We ended up picking up a mooring ball in the dark at St. Petersburg Municipal Marina. Not ideal but we were anxious to get settled and the area was well lit and well-marked. We were a little bit familiar with the area because we were there a mere ten years ago. That was when we took a live aboard learn to sail course with Colgate Sailing School. We let that thought sink in for the next couple of days. Ten years ago - learn to sail course. Today - a completed circumnavigation.
Chris (Mark's brother) and Mark moved the boat to the lovely town of Dunedin Florida right after we arrived in St. Petersburg. I was happy to spend the day with Chris's wife, Sharon, relaxing at their home. Dunedin is a wonderful town which made us homesick for Wickford, RI. Lots of restaurants, shops and people walking around. Many of those people stopped by our boat after they heard we had just completed our circumnavigation from Tom and Matt the very nice staff at the marina.
While we were in Tampa, Chris gave us a wonderful gift of a painting to commemorate our adventure. For those of you who do not know, our spinnaker has the letters "AL" on them. Not for Al but rather At Last, although we do affectionately call our spinnaker Big Al. The signs on the side of the painting are many of the places which we visited along the way, including the restaurant in Bora Bora called Bloody Mary's. We cannot imagine a more perfect and thoughtful gift. We have hung it prominently on the boat on the wall across from the stairs leading down into the main salon. No one will miss this incredible work of art.
While in Tampa, we flew to Austin, TX to visit Mark's mother. We were given the suggestion of visiting Franklin's BBQ while in Austin which has been given the title of the best BBQ in the country. The BBQ has been featured on Anthony Bourdain's show on the Food Network and written up in Bon Appetite magazine. Mark called them before going because he heard that there was often a line and they would sell out every day. They are only open for lunch and it was recommended that he get there early. Mark arrived at Franklin's at 8:45 am and was the 45th person in line. A very entrepreneurial gentleman was renting lawn chairs for $5. Mark finally had his BBQ at 11:30 am and brought it back for the rest of us. It was the best BBQ I ever had and Mark will acknowledge that it was worth the wait in line.
We enjoyed both of our visits with family in Austin and Tampa. Seeing everyone again was just what we needed. It is amazing how quickly you settle back in with everyone and soon forget you were gone that long at all. We are grateful to be home and we understand that our family is very grateful that we are home safely. Mark has promised his mother who is almost 87 that we will not be doing this again as long as she is living. Apparently, she missed her little boy too much!
After almost two weeks in Tampa, I am happy to say that we had done relatively little on the boat. It was good to have a break. I did need to cook a bunch of meals and freeze them for the passage home. As I was cooking the meals, I felt relieved that this would be the last time I would be cooking these meals for passages. Then I had the thought that at some point in the future, I will probably be wishing that I needed to make these meals again. Yes, I will miss these passages. Not as much for the passages themselves, but for the journey to another new and exciting location. As Mark says, everyone has a love hate relationship with passages.
We had decided to stop in St. Augustine on our way back home. We are trying to get home by the beginning of June but don't want to spend too much time at sea. It turned out to be a four day trip. There was absolutely no wind and it was unbearably hot. For the first time, Mark decided to keep all the hatches and portholes open because done below had to be about 100 degrees. It became impossible to sleep down below when the sun was out. Not a good thing when you are desperately trying to get some sleep. Well, Mark was down below sleeping and I was at the helm in flat, calm seas. I then encountered a huge rogue way and suddenly the bow was underwater scooping up a ton of water and depositing it through several of the open hatches and portholes. I had no time to react and it was over as quickly as it began. Cleaning everything up and drying everything out was unfortunately not resolved as quickly!
We also got stuck in a thunderstorm that was so big we could not out maneuver it. We had thunder and lightning all around us. It was almost 4 am and the start of Mark's shift, so I woke him up a bit early. I had gotten the boat buttoned down for the storm and was beginning to be hit by 35 knot winds. I had forgotten to put the IPad and the laptop in the stove which apparently will protect these devices if we were to be hit by lightning. Now that is something I cannot begin to understand. We said a prayer that we wouldn't get hit by any of the lightning that was hitting all around us. We do have a static dissipator at the top of the mast which is supposed to help reduce the chances of being hit by lightning. Again, I cannot begin to understand that. Well, either it worked or we were just incredibly lucky because we survived the lightning storm which Mark says lasted several hours. I had gone to bed and slept through it.
Lastly, as we were passing Cape Canaveral we heard from the Coast Guard that a rocket was to be launched by NASA that evening. They said that if you entered the security zone willfully you would incur a $200,000 fine, go to prison for ten years, and your boat would be confiscated. If you negligently entered the security zone there were lesser penalties. We were outside of the security zone, but only by about ten miles. We were anxious to see the rocket fired but despite a close lookout we saw nothing. It did provide a bit of excitement, particularly as we heard the coast guard contact boats and tell them that they were going to enter the security zone and needed to change their coarse.
All of these conditions left us with a rather unfavorable view of our passage from Tampa to St. Augustine. One good thing was riding the Gulf Stream current which kept us going over 9 knots for the better part of a day. We also were close enough to shore to get cell phone and internet access (on the IPad through cellular service) for a good part of the trip. After a year and an half of having difficulty getting internet while on shore having it at sea seems like a miracle. At the end of an already difficult trip, the wind clocked around coming from the north against the current so we were beating to windward in 20+ knots of wind and pounded into steep waves for a few hours before we entered the harbor to St. Augustine. We were thrilled to land at St. Augustine Municipal Mariana; a lovely marina in a very interesting town.