Greek Festival in Tarpon Springs, Florida (Jan 14)

After a hearty breakfast at Allen and Sharon’s they brought us back to the boat.  John and Jill from Tierra Verde (former dock mates from Black Jack Cove Marina in Nashville) drove up to join us for the Greek Festival in Tarpon Springs.  After a short visit on Kara Mia, we walked the few short blocks to the Sponge Docks in Tarpon.  Tarpon Springs is a Greek settlement that was built on the sponge industry.

    

Strolling through the Greek Festival was fun with music and dancing, food and shopping, art and crafts – to name a few.  Notice in the third picture, they offer husband sitting services, lured in by free beer tastings.  The girls took advantage of the opportunity (Ron said “so did the guys”) to do a little unhurried shopping.

        

We danced to a local violinist playing the theme to The Titanic in a small quaint Greek square.

    

……..later we were joined by our friends, Herb the Harbor Host, and fellow loopers (from Blue Ayes) for an authentic Greek dinner at Costa’s – complete with octopus, eggplant, and a plate of flaming cheese!     

Homosassa, Florida (Jan 13)

Our longtime friends Allen and Sharon from Tennessee picked us up from the marina and took us to their Florida home on the Homosassa River to spend our first night on land in 75 days!  A big warm bed, a fireplace burning, a shower so large that Karen could run around in it (and lots of hot running water- a treat in itself for any boater).  We visited on their dock a while and to warm us up for our boat ride to dinner, Allen shared a goat skin bota bag with Ron (brought back from their recent trip to Spain), which of course they had to try out immediately.  For medicinal purposes on a cold Florida evening.

    

    

Homosassa River is a small fishing village that is home to a wide variety of wildlife such as birds, manatees and monkeys – yes, we said monkeys!  A special trust was set up for Monkey Island which is just across the river from their home.  The white bird in the first picture is a stork.  This is the first stork in the wild that any of the four of us had ever seen!  The second picture shows a colorful blue heron.

       

After a short visit on the dock and meeting Allen and Sharon’s Florida neighbors, we took a chilly boat ride on their boat to dinner at “The Freezer”.  The Freezer used to be a processing center for fresh fish and is now a popular local hang out – with a bit of character – to say the least.

    

    

It was another chilly boat ride back to Allen and Sharon’s to watch the Titans play the Patriots in their playoff game.  Before the game we all shared a 30 year old bottle of French vintage wine.  The wine was great – the Titans – not so much…….

    

The Engine Issue…….(Jan 12)

Having had a decent night’s rest, it was time to address the engine issue.  Why did the engine alarm go off?  Speculation was that we had hit a crab pot line and it might be wrapped around a propeller.  Meet Lee and Maddie aboard Dixie Belle.  Maddie had recently purchased her GoPro Camcorder and she was looking for opportunities to try it out.  And here we are – needing a look at our props.  Maddie was able to capture a good video of what was going on underneath our boat and we saw no crab pot lines!  Not sure if that is good news as we still need to  find the cause of the engine alarm.

        

A little bit about Lee and Maddie………….Lee is from Guntersville, Alabama.  Lee is doing the Great Loop and his eighth grade grand-daughter Maddie is going with him!  Just the two of them on a beautiful trawler named “Dixie Belle”.  Maddie is home-schooling herself and “is” going to be a marine biologist (not “wants to be”, but “is going to be”).

Ron did a thorough investigation (fluids, filters, strainers, raycors, pod drives) and found all okay.  After finally getting up the nerve, Ron started the engines.  With little fan-fair, both engines ran fine.  We did schedule a Volvo technician to bless Ron’s findings.

After that bit of relief, we joined our buddy boat Captains and First Mates, and Herb the Harbor Host for some fresh Florida wild caught seafood at Rusty Bellies.  You see Mr. Rusty in the picture below.

    

In front are Jim & Regina from “Blue Ayes”, next you see Ron and Herb, then Karen, and far right are Chris & Janice from “Sweet Relief”.  Rusty Bellies is a popular waterfront grill named after gulf grouper fishing.  A “Rusty Bellie” is the nickname given to the large male gag grouper.  A “Rusty Bellie” generally ranges between twenty and sixty pounds, and is typically caught by the true at heart fisher-person!

THE ANTICIPATED “CROSSING”……..(Jan 11)

The crossing is one of the more anticipated events of doing the loop.  Because there is no intracoastal waterway made up of barrier islands or canals between Carrabelle down to Tarpon Springs (the Florida Big Bend), you are in open unprotected waters.  Therefore, you are “crossing” the Gulf of Mexico rather than hugging the coastline around.

Terms come to mind such as – “scary”, “adventurous”, “exciting”, “crazy”……….and will change as to whether you are on glassy seas with no wind – as opposed to choppy seas with dense fog………you get the picture.  We were “anxious” but not “scared”.

Most looper boats travel at around 8-10 miles per hour so it takes two days to cross the gulf, which includes traveling overnight.  So – you are out in the gulf, no land in sight, pitch black dark, chugging along in your boat – all night long…..scary?

We are on what some people call a “go fast” boat.  Go fast boats are sometimes snubbed, but it allows us to make our crossing in daylight hours and therefore removing much of the scary factor.  We can travel anywhere between 10 to 30 miles per hour so we can cross in daylight “if” all goes well – which it seldom ever does when you’re looking at so many changing conditions – tides, wind, current, rain, fog, obstructions (crab pots) etc.

Our anchor held all night – always a good thing…..and we were ready to start our gulf crossing.  Second picture is us, taken by Jim on Blue Ayes, anchored not too far away.

    

…….We awoke to our worst fears – pure fog, choppy waters and 2 foot swells.  “Gulp” , no turning back – we were committed!  If we don’t make the crossing today, it could be another week before we get another weather window to cross…..we get restless to travel after a few days in port.  It was a slow start for the first few hours but as we moved on the chop and swells subsided.

    

This was our view of the Gulf for eight hours.  After about the first six hours of intense lookout, our eyes started playing tricks on us.  We were seeing things that were not really out there.  If you look closely you can see two of our buddy boats.  We could follow them on radar when they were not visible.

   

Navigationally, we basically followed a straight line from buoy #2 to buoy #4 (170 miles).

    

Once again, the pure moister in the air produced what we call “a cloud rainbow”….an appreciated change of scenery!

    

While nearing our destination and dodging crab pots, one of our engine alarms went off.  We shut it down and slowly made our way into port (between the reds and greens – as you see in the fog) on ONE ENGINE.

    

Santa was not the only one exhausted after that trip!  Upon arrival at Turtle Cove Marina (on the Anclote River in Tarpon Springs, Florida), we were greeted by Herb the Harbor Host.  Herb completed the loop last year and enjoys meeting fellow loopers who pass his way.  He also greeted us with cinnamon streusel cakes for tomorrow’s breakfast!  More about Herb later!

    

We will worry about the engine issue tomorrow……………

Prep Day (Jan 10)

We got up early and had a hearty breakfast at “The Fisherman’s Wife” – yes – she is really a fisherman’s wife!  Karen enjoyed a few hours of sunshine while feeding the little friends at the dock.

    

Ron, with Rick and XO Susan, aboard “Ginger Lee”, consulted with Captain Kim (yes, she is a certified Captain and dockmaster) about the weather window for our crossing.  James, the marina’s caretaker for over 20 years, also had valuable knowledge to share.  “DON’T GO!”    “DON’T GO!”

    

Later in the afternoon, we broke lines and headed out to anchor in the harbor off of Dog Island.  Here we could get an early start and avoid some morning fog (we thought!).  This gave us a six mile lead on the crossing.

    

Along with four other “buddy boats” (Wine Speed, Sweet Relief, Ginger Lee and Blue Ayes), we dropped anchors at Dog Island for a restless night on the hook (anchored).

    

Despite a cloudy sky, we still got glimpses of the multitude of stars at night in St. George Bay.  Our anchor held…..and all was good……

    

Carrabelle Extended (Jan 9)

While waiting on a weather window to travel, we walked the little town of Carrabelle, Florida.  Carrabelle (considered the gateway to the gulf) is the best jumping off spot in the Florida Panhandle before crossing the gulf to more southern ports.  Carrabelle is a naturalist’s paradise and a walkable community.  It felt like a walk back in time.

    

Carrabelle also boasts having the world’s smallest police station situated on Highway 98.  On March 10, 1963, Carrabelle’s police phone rang in the outside highway booth so that Chief Albin Westberg could answer calls and watch for speeders.  It has also been featured on a variety of television shows.

   

We stopped by the visitor’s center and visited the history museum as well.  Carrabelle, a once bustling port, was incorporated in 1893 but technology and a more modern culture has left Carrabelle in it’s wake.

    

And FINALLY, Karen was able to capture a photo of dolphins “out” of the water. (Yes, this is a joke)….and we also saw sea turtles!!!

    

So far on our trip we have seen lots of pelicans – that fly as soon as we think about getting close enough to photograph them.  We found “Jack the Attack Pelican”.  Instead of flying – he was aggressive toward us and even snapped at Karen a time or two as she got too close taking pictures.

        

We had been told not to miss the bottle house and light house!  A local artist, a retired Professor of Art at the University of Tennessee, built the bottle house in 2012.  It is made up of over 6,000 glass bottles.

    

The refraction of the light coming through the colored bottles made for an interesting array of lighting.  The floor is a realistic mural of a koi pond.

    

We found the Loch Ness monster in a pond at a little city park and Ron was adopted by a stray puppy for the remainder of our walk.

    

Back at C-Quarter Marina, we spent a few hours with fellow loopers studying maps, charts and weather apps in preparation for the 170 mile gulf crossing to warmer climates…….

The “crossing” is one of the few unprotected (open water) voyages loopers have to make to complete the journey.

After dinner we joined other loopers on the porch to exchange more looping stories and everyone’s plans to move forward…..

    

Carrabelle (Jan 8)

Having a free day, we took a stroll down the Carrabelle River.  We are told the manatee sometimes come this far north but we didn’t see any on this chilly and windy day.  We walked the docks of other marinas and found a floating home in the harbor (behind Karen).

    

    

We met new boater friends Janice and Chris aboard “Sweet Relief” a 42 ft Hatteras and we reconnected with Doris and John on their sailboat, “About Time”.  We met Doris and John when they dinghied in to Bobby’s Fish Camp on the Tenn-Tom mid-November last year.  It’s always exciting to meet up again with fellow boaters we have met along the way.

We all went to Pirate’s Cove for dinner and to watch the college football championship game.  Being that we are boaters with no vehicles, the owner of the restaurant was kind enough to pick us up at the marina and shuttle us back after dinner.  Food was great!

    

……….SPOILER ALERT – Alabama won in overtime!

Pinball Wizard (Jan 7)

I asked Ron if he had any thoughts for today…….after our “pinball” start getting out of the slip – he said, “What comes to mind is “SumeBeach”. We were forwards, backwards, sideways, and bouncing off all 6 pilings in the slip – and that was just the first 5 minutes!  We were in the NO FUN  ZONE  today.  We left for Carrabelle this morning in 18 MPH winds.  It was either leave or be stuck there several days due to the incoming weather.  The tide was going out, rain was in the forecast for tomorrow and the high winds were gusting.  Spray from the waves splashing 15 feet over our windshield and isinglass enclosure kept us focused on our navigation to say the least.  Crossing St. George Sound is somewhat like running in the gulf.

Seeing NO boats some days and a boat or two other days leaves us wondering if we are truly blessed to have the opportunity to actually do this – – – OR – – – absolutely crazy FOR doing this.

    

Once in the protected mouth of the Carrabelle River things quietened down substantially.  We were told Carrabelle was a drinking town with a fishing problem.  We found it delightful.  Unfortunately, you see the impact of the hurricanes here with abandoned boats, but overall it is a very quaint village.

    

At the end of the day, secure in a slip at C-Quarter Marina, the Carrabelle, Florida sunset was a welcome sight.  At least there are other boats here and we are all waiting for a weather window to cross the gulf in calm waters.        

Photos at the end of a trying day answer the question – are we blessed or crazy…….

    

We are truly blessed…….

Apalachicola and Titans Football (Jan 6)

We try to make a “rough” travel plan for a few weeks out.  We try to make a “as close to accurate” travel plan for a few days out.  Based on weather forecasts, tides, winds and rain – some days like today we have trouble deciding whether to go or stay.  After much deliberation (Ron calls it waffling), we decided to stay in Apalachicola one more day.  Ron walked the little town to see if he could find a local sports bar where we would be able to watch the Titans take on Kansas City in the playoffs.  We don’t always get good reception on the boat and in some places they have never even heard of the Tennessee Titans, much less have them televised.  This was our big determination for today as to whether to travel or stay put.

    

Ron did not find a Sports Bar but he did find The Rosette Spoonbill Lounge willing to put the game on for us in their karaoke room.  We had the entire room to ourselves.  They did not serve food so Ron walked back to the boat to get popcorn and chips.  Notice the coffee filters he brought to use as our “chip basket”.  Ron has never been accused of being domestic!

        

Titans won!  22-21 – and moving on in the playoffs!  Woo Hoo!

Panama City to Apalachicola, Florida (Jan 5)

Got an early start out of Panama City, low tide was upon us and we had to get out of Dodge before we beached.  You can see how low the water is, as just feet away from our boat is now land that was covered by water only a few hours ago.  YIKES!

…….as in previous posts, we see beached sailboats along the way, some with more intriguing stories than others.  This hurricane season was brutal to Florida.

    

This winter weather here in Florida is also brutal.  For the last two days our power cable was frozen.  Still got power to the boat, but when we were ready to get under way, the power cord was frozen and the cable master would not reel it in ….duct tape to the rescue!!!  We had to apply duct tape around the intake receptacle to prevent the back-splash of water from entering our electrical system…..so far so good…..by mid afternoon it warms up enough to power it in…..just a little bit of useless information………

And again, we had dolphin swimming around the boat and in our wake.  We have had dolphin sightings nearly every travel day since we arrived in Texas in November and it is always a pleasant surprise to have them swimming along side of us!  The scenery along the Florida Intracoastal is different, with both vegetation (sawgrass) and rural residential.

            

We were delighted to enter Apalachicola, a quaint little town in Florida.  We walked the streets while the sun was still up, it was chilly but warm enough to be outside.  The town is dotted with dozens of little shops, restaurants and museums.  Apalachicola claims to be the oyster capital of the world.  The guest register at our marina has been there for 37 years and we were surprised to see at the top of the page – Albert and Cindy, a couple we met on the Tenn-Tom waterway a month earlier.  They have now made their way to Key West aboard a vintage 1960 wooden 50 foot Chris Craft, “MissMarianne”.

        

We ate at the local recommended “Boss Oyster House”.  Food, oysters, shrimp and gumbo were all excellent!  There we met our new best friends, Deb and David, and Allen and Robin – from Kentucky Lake.  They are traveling by motor home and travel trailer and doing by land exactly what we are doing by water.  We all enjoyed the fresh “and famous” Apalachicola oysters for dinner.

    

We walked back to the boat and crashed at 7:30 p.m. (another example of “boater’s midnight”…..)