November 5-Carrabelle to Clearwater, FL (Crossing the Gulf)
We got up with the alarm at 5:00. Neither one of us slept very soundly in anticipation of our departure today. Bob rechecked the weather while I had breakfast. Everything was looking "good to go". We gave Murphy a good long walk, as he would be cooped up most of the day. The sky was starting to lighten up in the east as we got the boat ready to leave.
No one was up and about, but us. We untied the lines and pulled away from the dock at 6:25.
As we moved away from the protection of the channel, we noticed a sunken shrimp boat near an island.
Sitting atop that island was a stilted house, perched like a target for any hurricane or storm that came up the Gulf.
I felt a little anxious about leaving the protection of the channel, but today would be the day for our crossing. I tried on my offshore life jacket just to make sure it was easy to put on if I needed to.
We got to marker #2 (about 5 miles out) and made the decision to go straight across. The winds were out of the NE and the waves were less than 1' on our stern so the ride was pretty smooth. Another boat, Marbles, would be crossing with us from Carrabelle. He would follow us to Clearwater. It would be 162 miles, 6 hours, 3 minutes, and 8 seconds according to the GPS. The sun rose above the horizon (and a low cloud bank) at 7:10. We saw one big Sportfish out farther, doing some fishing, but other than that, it was just the 2 of us out in the Gulf. It was a sunny day for awhile and it started to warm up with the heat from the sun. The waves increased to 1-1 footers. We got out in the Gulf about 40 miles (2 hours) and the waves began to increase to 2-3', with an occasional 4 footer. Because we were traveling SE and the wind was out of the NE, the boat was going up and down and side to side. I noticed more whitecaps as well, and we had to slow down our speed. Bob was looking a little green around the edges and I had the "white knuckle" thing going on, so I suggested that we turn east and run closer to the shore to be protected from the wind and waves. We did, but this would make our trip a little longer and now we were running in the troughs of the waves. This created more spray on the boat and more rock and roll. It was still an uncomfortable ride, but it would improve the closer we got to shore. It would just take about about 3 hours to get there. Bob asked me to read aloud from the book I had brought up to the bridge. Lucky for me it was written in large print, since it's not that easy to read during a rough ride. Reading would pass the time and take our minds off of the conditions we were experiencing. We had tried earlier in the trip to listen to a "book on tape", but it was too hard to hear it over the sound of the engine, so we gave up. We did pass a few more fishing boats way off shore and one pleasure boat. After another hour or so, Bob got seasick and had to leave the wheel. (Now I know why I kept that waste basket on the bridgefor moments like these.) Afterwards, he had to lay on the floor of the bridge to get rid of the nausea. I had to take over at the helm for about an hour.
He had taken his seasick medication and we were both wearing our Seabands to ward off seasickness. A lot of good it did him. Poor guy! The boat was on auto-pilot, so I didn't have to steer. I just had to keep a lookout for other boats, crabpots, and fishing nets. The sky turned cloudy, with an occasional moment where the sun peeked through the clouds. Bob's nausea came off and on, so when he needed to lie down, I took over again at the helm. Ater about an hour, the seasickness went away completely. We kept in contact with the other boat, Marbles, who had left with us. They stayed on the direct course line and were in 3-4' waves with an occasional 5 or 6 footer. We would both end up in Clearwater for the night. We turned south at Suwannee River and were taking the waves on the stern. It made for a better ride, the closer we got to shore.
Now we could travel at full cruising speed. The sky got darker on the horizon and we didn't know if we would run into any rain or not. This was the longest time we had ever been out of sight of land. The Gulf waters acted very similar to the waters of Lake Michigan, although we heard that the waves are farther apart in the Gulf and more swelly. It didn't seem so to us, at least not today. It seemed more like a Lake Michigan crossing. We came across an area of crabpots or fishing nets. They were hard to spot among the waves, but we were able to avoid them. Later, we came upon numerous long strings of crab pots the farther south we got. We were dodging crabpots left and right. We saw more and more little fishing boats the closer we got to the coast. About 7 1/2 hours after we started, we spotted the shore. What a welcome sight! I was never so happy to see land in my life! Bob called Buddy in Carrabelle to let him know what the wave conditions were and about our change in course. We left our "float plan" with Buddy in Carrabelle before we left and told Bernie in Ft. Myers just to let them know where we were headed in case something happened. We had our ditch bag ready, but never had to use it. Thank goodness! We entered Clearwater Pass at 2:03 and followed the ICW channel south to where we thought the marina was located.
We had to have 2 bridges open for us as we went south on the ICW.
We motored down the ICW about 7 miles before we realized we had gone the wrong way. (There were mislabeled directions in our Waterway Guide).We did get to see some beautiful homes along the way, but we had to turn around and head back the way we came. The bridge tenders were not bothered by us asking them to open their bridges again. It would be another 30 wasted minutes until we would get to the marina and settle in. We passed a pirate tour boat,
a tour boat called Little Toot,
and a few other party fishing boats in the harbor. We finally got to our slip and were tied up by 4:00. Murphy barked at the pelicans and egrets to chase them off the dock. Bob rinsed off the boat and I took Murphy for a walk. He was so
ready to get off the boat. I helped Bob dry everything down and we sat down for a cocktail before going to dinner. We would treat ourselves to dinner out tonight at Crabby Bill's. Darkness fell at 6:00 and we were ready to go to dinner.
We walked to the restaurant and had a nice meal. The evening was warm, but breezy. We watched a little TV before going to bed early. We traveled a total of 193 miles today. It had been a long day for both of us. The boat did remarkably well and got us here safely. Only one more day until we get home.
November 6-Clearwater to Palmetto, FL (Home- Final entry)
We slept in today. What a treat! We had a nice celebratory breakfast after crossing the Gulf yesterday and cleaned up. Bob got the boat ready to leave while I walked Murphy. Clearwater Municipal Marina is a busy tourist area with all kinds of tour boats coming and going. The city was preparing for the triathlon being held this weekend. It also has some of the most beautiful beaches on the West coast. We had been to this marina on land before and knew of its appeal. As I walked Murphy along the docks I spotted some cute boat names on the boats in the marina. Cute boat names #45, #46.
We went over to the gas dock to get a pump out and were heading down the ICW at 10:00. It was a warm, sunny day with a few cottonball clouds. The winds were calm and we were on our way home.
Traveling on the ICW, we found a lot of "slow-no wake" zones due to marinas, manatee areas, etc, but it gave us a chance to see a lot of things too. This area had some cute little waterfront restaurants, where you could pull up in your boat and have lunch or dinner.
We passed quite a few boats traveling the ICW today. It wasn't as busy as a weekend would be, though.
We had 7 bridges to request openings of. We had timed them pretty well because we didn't have to wait long for any scheduled opening. It was such a pleasure to finally be on our own big boat, cruising the Florida waters. The clouds all disappeared and we had the perfect day for traveling! Crossing under our last bridge in St. Petersburg
into Tampa Bay, we peered out at the waters.
It was like looking into a mirror and the water was like glass. How ideal! You don't get many perfect days like this!
We motored alongside the causeway that we had driven so many times before back and forth to Tampa.
We saw the golden spires of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge about 1:00 and knew we were almost home. Our excitement was building!
We crossed Tampa Bay and cruised into Terra Ceia Bay. Bob commented about how we had traveled through these water so many times before in our fishing boat, but things looked so different on our big boat from up high on the bridge. Maybe it was because we could see over the tops of all the mangroves now. Now we were in our "home territory", but it was odd to see everything from a different perspective. We pulled up just outside the slow zone in Terra Ceia Bay near the house and called our neighbor, Neal.
We were arriving at 1:15, just before low tide, so we would have to anchor the boat in the bay and come back later when the tide was coming in. (The tide would become a regular part of our life now.)
Neal had offered to come out and pick us up in his fishing boat and take us to our house in Tropic Isles.
He came out and Murphy, Bob, and I hopped aboard for the short ride in.
As we turned the corner into our canal, we were surprised to see some of our neighbors gathered on Neal and Lynelle's deck waiting for us with their Packer banners flying, wearing Hawaiian shirts and leis.
What a festive sight! Murphy waved his little paw as we pulled up to their dock and disembarked. Murphy was first and he went right to sniffing the grass. Bob and I were next and we were greeted by a "welcome home" and hugs all around. It brought tears to my eyes. I was sad the adventure was over, but so happy to finally be home. We had a glass of wine and visited with everyone before we went home to open up the house. It had been closed up for 4 months, but Neal and Lynelle were kind enough to open up the windows, take down some of the hurricane shutters, deliver the mail that they had so kindly been collecting for us, and turn on the power. You couldn't have any better neighbors than that! We went about doing some of the chores we always did, when we opened up the house after being gone for awhile. Murphy followed me around and was trying to figure out where we were this time. He located his food and water bowls and finally found a spot to lie down and keep an eye on all the action.
It wasn't long before the tide started to come up and around 4:00 we hopped in Neal's boat again and headed back out to Justavacation anchored in the bay.
Bob and I got aboard and hauled up the anchor. It came up easy and pretty clean. (Little did we know that we had bent the shaft of the anchor when we set it earlier.) Neal returned to Tropic Isles. Bob started up the engines for the short ride through the canals to our house. The wind had picked up and was blowing onshore. That would make maneuvering in the narrow canals a little tricky. Entering the main channel, we had enough water and were not kicking up any mud.
That was good! We had three turns to make before we would get to our dock.
Bob made those turns with ease. Our neighbor, Neal, took some great pictures of the boat coming down the canal.
As we made our second to last turn, we were again surprised by more of the neighbors who were out in their yard, waving a "Welcome Home" sign and banging some pots and pans.
Sharon's husband, Jerry, (they live across the canal on the corner), was all dressed up in a wig and tropical skirt. What a stitch! Neal and Lynelle were again on their deck, with more of our neighbors, repeating the same "welcome home" fanfare.
(I guess we had spoiled the surprise a little when we didn't come in with the big boat and had to arrive in the fishing boat due to the tides.) Bob spun the boat around in the basin and placed her gently at our dock about 4:30. We had lots of help to catch our lines and get her securely tied in the wind, to take her rightful place at our dock.
One of our neighbors down the street ran over because he said he heard the big Detroit engines and knew exactly who it was. We put out fenders and hooked up to electricity at our dock. I'm sure we will be tying and retying the boat at the dock a few more times until we figure out the best way to do it.
We took off a few items that we would use in the morning, but tomorrow we would begin the process of unloading the boat. She needs a good washing and then we can put the cockpit cover on the back to protect the varnish from the sun. We have to keep telling ourselves that we are retired now and we don't need to do everything "tomorrow". We got Murphy settled in the house and then visited with everyone for awhile.
Lynelle had planned to have us over for cocktails and a light dinner in honor of our return home. That was so sweet and greatly appreciated. We were tired from the excitement of our arrival home and our trip of 41 miles. We walked over to their place two doors down, sat down with a drink, and heaved a deep sigh of relief. We had made it!
Lynelle, Jan, and Diane put out a great spread of food and everything was delicious. We sat out on their deck, watching the golden sun set in the sky. Once the sun set, the night became cool and it was time to go home and check on Murphy. Bob had an issue with the sprinkler system to deal with (back to reality), and then it was time to go through some of the mail. We did that, as we watched a little TV and turned in early. We talked about how great it was to finally be home! We had been on the boat, one week shy of 4 months. In thinking back on our journey, we had a few tense moments, but all in all it was a trip filled with wonderful memories, new friends, and new places. We couldn't have done it without the support from a few special people: My brother, Randy, who helped us navigate down the rivers; our friends, Bernie and Barb, who spent time with us traveling the "Big Bend" of Florida's coast from Pensacola to Carrabelle; and last, but not least, Neal and Lynelle, who kept the home fires burning for us by collecting our mail and checking on the house. We thank you. There were many friendly people along the way who shared their stories, maps and charts, travel advice, folklore of the area, their vehicles, and much needed weather information that we found invaluable. We'd like to thank them all. For those of you who traveled this journey with us through our blog, we hope you enjoyed it and got a laugh or two. It was a pleasure to share it with you. We also want to thank Justavacation for getting us home safely. She's an old girl, but she served us well. As we sit on our dock, looking out on Terra Ceia Bay, we say to each other, "There's no place like home", and begin to contemplate our next adventure. So as the saying goes, "Live well, Laugh often, Love much! Life is too short for anything less!
Final note: Trip Data
Traveled 2,240 miles
Bought 3,200 gallons of diesel fuel
Spent $13,075 in fuel costs
Accumulated 158 engine hours
and 98 generator hours
Visited 50 locations
Passed through 26 locks
Priceless fun, memories, and friendships