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Our wonderful trip to Gulfport and St Pete

Her Diamond going under one of about 16 bridges between BSM and Gulfport

Wow – what a great trip we just had to Gulfport/St Pete – We are back at Burnt Store and I will try to capture everything that happened during the past two weeks. Bear with me, as this is going to be a long entry.

Flexibility is often the key while cruising because the weather is so unpredictable and undependable. Our original plan in leaving BSM on Friday was to have our first stop in Venice, meeting friends for dinner and staying at a marina for the night. During the 30 plus mile trip we checked the weather for Sarasota (our planned second night) and Gulfport and were surprised to see heavy winds in Gulfport on Sunday. Gulfport is almost a suburb of St Pete, a 10 minute ride south west, with a mooring field, which St Pete no longer has. Since mooring is MUCH less expensive ($25 a night vs. $2.50 a foot/night) than getting a dock, we originally were going to go that route. When we saw the forecast for 25-35 knot winds we changed our minds and quickly shifted our reservation to the marina. We tried to get a slip in St. Pete but because the Super Bowl was to be that next weekend the slips were mostly taken and those that were still available had elevated rates at $3.75 a foot per night. So our new plan was to wave to friends as we passed through Venice and go all the way to Sarasota for one night. We would then leave early the next morning and get to Gulfport at a reasonable time on Saturday, before the heavy winds. This cut our traveling time down to two longer days rather than the three leisurely ones we had originally planned.

We got to Marina Jacks in Sarasota right before the marina office closed. I signed the papers letting them know that we were off early in the morning, filled up our fuel tank (we left too early to do this at BSM) and motored off to ball 53. Ball 53 was on the edge of the mooring field and was larger than some of the other balls indicating it was for larger yachts, much bigger than us. When we got to the ball, I was grossed out to see the sea life that had taken up residence on the pendant and the plastic thimble itself. Since it was late and the office was now closed, we really didn’t have the option of calling the office for a new assignment so we spent the next half hour scrapping off sea life and barnacles so that our line that goes through the eye did not get chaffed during the night. I have never seen a dirty pendant – the picture is after we scrapped for a half hour. We had a very peaceful night and did in fact leave early the next morning.

Every time we make a trip, Bob charts a course for us on the tablet using Active Captain navigational software. That way if we get distracted or the situation changes drastically for some reason we always know where we are and how far we are from our destination. Going to Gulfport was no exception. The entrance to the city marina was a little tricky because of the shallow water and multiple fixed bridges. Once we left Sarasota Bay, and crossed the lower portion of Tampa Bay we entered a series of twists and turns that would bring us to Gulfport. Fortunately, I was monitoring the route on our backup tablet and noticed that Bob and the track going right through a fixed bridge! There are about 15 bridges from BSM to Sarasota with different opening schedules; some are on request (obviously our favorite) some are on the hour and half hour and some are every twenty minutes. Some are swing and some are bascule both of which can accommodate us. A fixed bridge has to be 65 feet for us to go under and even then I tend to hold my breath until I see the mast has made it under. As we approached the 22 foot high fixed bridge, we quickly had to update our course and we began the 5 mile series of turns into Gulfport. We passed the anchorage and mooring field on Ciega Bay on our way into the marina and confirmed that we had made a good decision to go the marina route as the mooring field was at least a mile from the entrance to the marina which would have been a very wet trip in rough water and high winds that were expected. We entered the marina and there were two smiling faces waving a greeting – Bill and Michael, our sailings friends that we first met in 2017 when we took the boat south!

The next eight days were full of the sights and sounds, food and beer of Gulfport/St Pete. Bill and Michael were excellent tour guides and I only hope that we will have the opportunity to return the favor when they come to Cleveland. They are not from St Petersburg, but rented an Air BnB for January and February to get out of the cold in Maine. They sold their Brewer 45 last year and are now land lubbers.

Some of the things we did in St Pete include:

Chris, Robin, Michael and Bill with the Allenicks at Stella's Notice the Nun's garb on the wall.

Brunch outside on the patio at Stella’s in Gulfport. The restaurant is named for the owner’s aunt who was a nun and fantastic cook. The restaurant specializes in brunch including banana nut bread French toast – delicious!

Afternoon stops at various brew pubs. 3 Daughters was definitely our favorite with a large outdoor patio with old style wood picnic table where we played cribbage, janga and corn hole.

Bob and Sheila at Sunken Garden - note the multiple layers of clothes we are wearing.

The Sunken Garden: A botanical garden in St Petersburg since 1935. The four acres was owned by George Turner who drained a shallow lake which had filled an ancient sinkhole and dropped 15 feet below street level. The filled in area provided rich soil for what is now an amazing garden and a beautiful setting for weddings.

Rainbow Cypress tree - note the colors in the bark

Duncan McClellan Glass Studio & Museum: There are various museums in St Pete that specialize in glass. Last time we were in St Pete we saw lots of Chihuly glass which was beautiful. The McClellan museum is unique in that, in addition to he beautiful displays of local glass artists, it is also a working glass blowing studio where young glass artists come for residency. We were mesmerized as we watched two artists create their pieces. They also have a garden loaded with various pieces of glass art and sculptures. McClellan himself is a very gifted glass artist.

Mazzaro’s Italian Grocery. The grocery was packed with delicious breads and baked goods, cheeses and olives, pasta and anything else needed for cooking Italian cuisine. Something to see.

On one of the colder days, we visited both Tarpon Springs and Dunedin, two small cities on the gulf coast. Tarpon Springs has a Greek heritage and is the sponge capital of the US. Dunedin has a Scottish/Irish heritage and has a cute downtown area.

We rode our bikes along the downtown bike paths from 3 Daughters to the new pier, which provides a spectacular view of Tampa Bay. Along the way, we stopped to watch a street performer juggle a chain saw and he called on us (Bill, Michael and Sheila) to help him with his act. He very much reminded us of the street performers at Mallory Pier in Key West – not quite as good.

We also rode around the Fort De Sota Park. The park is part of a chain of five interconnected islands providing 1136 acres of beautiful parkland and beaches. Bob loves forts and he really enjoyed seeing the old cannons and munition storage areas of the fort.

Our last day we had a walking tour of 30 murals in a three block area of St Pete. There is an annual festival featuring mural artist and as you can see from the pictures, they add color and texture to the cityscape.

The weather was certainly part of our Gulfport experience as a portion of the time it was colder than usual for this time of year. It not only brought us into the marina but we met a very young couple on a Catalina 30 who came in from the anchorage for the same reason. Sarah and Guy, from New Orleans, are new to sailing and working it out as they go along. Guy seems to be very hands on and Sarah, an aerial artist, (How cool is that?) is very willing crew. We hope to keep in touch as the winter goes on.

With the Super Bowl in Tampa and the risk of deteriorating weather we opted not to go with our original plan and bypassed Tampa. We anticipated more than a few Yahoos in power boats on the Tampa bay before the game - having started pre-gaming earlier in the week. Additionally, I was longing for some anchor time and we wanted to be at BSM on Wednesday so we left Gulfport on Sunday early in the am and sailed across the Tampa Bay and back into the ICW. The wind was 16-20 knots but from the north east which gave us a very comfortable point of sail. Once in the ICW we lowered the main sail but kept the Gennaker up. We cruised through the Sarasota bay and settled for the night at a very nice anchorage about 6 miles south of Sarasota. This gave us a short trip (10 miles) to Venice in the morning, where we were going to Meet Rob Certner and Gretchen for lunch at the Crow’s Nest. This had been our plan for the start of the trip. The wind continued to be higher than originally projected but our anchor gave us the confidence we needed for a good night sleep and that we were not going to drag and we didn’t.

Monday morning we had a leisurely breakfast and then motored the 10 miles to Venice. The Crow’s Nest is on the south side of the Venice inlet and with 2 knots of current can create a tricky docking situation. Bob pulled the boat up along their long dock with the bow pointing out into the gulf with little trouble. We had a delicious lunch at the Crow’s Nest, a walk out on the Jetty and then set off for Cape Haze to anchor one more night before heading home.

Serious fog at Don Pedro State Park Beach. But that didnt keep me from finding shark teeth - 40+

Cape Haze is right across the ICW from Don Pedro State Park which is my favorite beach due to the lack of people and the abundance of shark teeth. I have mentioned before that the only access is by boat and you can stand in one place and have the shark teeth come to you. We enjoyed the beach for about two hours and then dinghied back to Her Diamond and took off for BSM. We arrived back around 4:30 pm just in time to gas up and pump out before the office closed - so we are ready for the next adventure. We cruised into the dock a little while later and were welcomed back by various dock neighbors with a drink and news of what had gone on while we were gone.

More to come…..



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