Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On Our Own: Tarpon Springs and Beyond

Saturday, March 14, 2009
Geoie’s taxi picked him up this morning, and he’ll get a rental car at the Panama City airport for the 400-mile drive to Tampa. This isn’t exactly how we expected the crossing to end, but we all had a great time. On to the next part of our adventure!

Rene and I left Panama City for Tarpon Springs around noon…or 1pm, or 11am. We really aren’t sure. We had assumed we were on Eastern time when we got to Florida, and changed the chartplotter and laptop clocks to reflect this. As it turns out, Panama City is still on Central time. (We assumed Stacy had changed her watch, even though she hadn’t, which was why we were on time to Free Beer Friday at the beer garden.) Once again, winds are from the S-SE. Motor-sailing it is. It turns out we need to work on our cruising time estimates and how they relate to departure and arrival times. If that’s confusing, think about this…you NEVER want to transit a new channel in the dark if you can help it. Leaving around lunchtime, assuming it’ll take us 34-40 hours, means we’ll arrive in Tarpon Springs sometime between 9pm and 6am. Sunset is at 7:45pm, and sunrise is at 7:45am. There’s no way we can make it before sunset, but perhaps we can slow down the boat enough to arrive close to sunrise.

Sunday, March 15, 2009
Those crazy wind gods are at it again. We finally have good boat speed – more than we want. At this point, we’re looking at an arrival time between midnight and 2am. Tarpon Springs lies on the Anclote River, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico about 3 miles downriver from town. The river is dredged to 8-12 feet, depending on tides, but depths outside the channel can be as low as 1-5 feet. For a sailboat that needs about 5’2’’ of water to prevent us from running aground, this is not the place you want to sail/motor through in the middle of the night. Time to depower, or reduce sail area. With both sails up, we were doing over 6 kts. Lowering the main, we still managed over 5 kts. Now’s when we’d like to see those 3 kt boat speeds we had during the crossing.

Thank goodness, the winds died (and shifted to the wrong direction) this evening. We’re back on the motor, and have slowed ourselves down to the point where we expect to arrive between 4am-6am. After another look at the chart plotter, we should have deep enough waters between the channel and Anclote Key (outside the mouth of the river) to anchor there for a few hours until daylight.

Monday, March 16, 2009
Surprise! As usual, the trip into the channel has taken longer than expected, so we’re at the mouth of the river at sunrise. Perfect. Now we can traverse the shallow channel to Tarpon Springs in daylight. We spend the next hour working our way upriver, and reach town around 8:30am. The city marina, which is in the heart of downtown near the tourist center, is our first choice. Unfortunately, we’ve been unable to reach them for the past hour. We call another marina on the opposite side of the river, and are told that they have space. One problem…the approach is fairly shallow, and we’re an hour before low tide. The marina guides us in, but we hit a shallow spot and are stuck. Rene revs the engine…forward, back, forward, back, increasing RPMs and shouting a few choice words at our situation. Stacy has read that many boats go aground in Tarpon Springs…will it be our turn to call TowBoatUS? After a puff of black smoke, we’re finally on the move…for a moment. As we start to back up, the boat swings around and nearly hits a channel marker. The mud stops us again, and we’re able to maneuver to finally get out of the area. Just as we secure a spot at another marina downriver, the city marina (which is still 30’ off our bow) finally calls us back to tell us they’ll have a slip available after 12pm. Back down the river we go, this time to anchor off a public beach. It’s a lovely spot, about 3 miles from town, and we might’ve stayed there if we hadn’t planned to tour the downtown area and visit Stacy’s college friend, Sue, the following day.

We spend the next 3 hours on boat projects: cleaning the boat, airing out damp clothes and linens, and fixing the now loose engine belt. What a productive morning! At noon, we head back to the city marina for our slip right off the sponge docks and near the Greek restaurants. What a convenient spot, and it’s only about 2 miles from Sue’s house. Best of all, we arrive at high tide, and have no problems with the shallow area from this morning. There is, unfortunately, one problem with the city marina slips. They’re too narrow for Pipe Muh Bligh’s humongous derrierre! We need to go stern in to step onto the 6’ finger piers, so we try to back in between the two outer pilings. After rubbing against one and nearly hitting the other (not to mention the neighboring boat), Rene shares a few more choice words and we decide this just isn’t going to work. We head to an alternate marina back downriver and are able to tie up alongside their fuel dock. It’s twice the price of the city marina, but at this point, we just want a nice, easy place to tie up.

Tonight we’re going into town for dinner. Tarpon Springs is a Greek community that once had a thriving sponge diving industry. Tourism has replaced sponge diving as the real revenue generator in the area, but Tarpon Springs is still known as the “Sponge Capital of the World”. For us, the best part of all this history is the food! Gyros, lamb kebabs, stuffed grape leaves, moussaka, hummus, pita bread… We tried a bit of everything at Hellas Restaurant, and it was all amazing. Our marina was about 1.6 miles from town, and we were happy to walk back after dinner given everything we ate. We even have something to look forward to – baklava from Hellas’ own bakery to go with our morning coffee!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Are you wearing your green?
Today we got to sleep in…no 2-hour watches, no wake-up calls at 4am. We managed to get up before 9am and had a leisurely morning doing boat chores, reading e-mails, and catching up on Facebook. You never realize how much you take internet access for granted until you go without it for a week! We finally walk into town for lunch around 1pm. Dinner last night was so fantastic that we’re going back for more Greek food. This time we’ll try Plaka’s, a casual spot whose gyro sandwiches are supposed to be some of the best around. They’re certainly the biggest we’ve ever seen, and we’re stuffed when we walk out. We have a couple of hours to wander through the sponge shops, soap shops, and Greek markets, and Sue will pick us up later this afternoon for a BBQ at her house.

One of Stacy’s favorite things about this part of the trip is that she gets to see old friends from Embry-Riddle. Sue and her husband, Ted, have lived in Tarpon Springs for the past 8 years, and they’re the real reason we’ve stopped to visit the Greek village. Sue’s parents are also in town for a visit, and the 6 of us have a wonderful evening catching up and laughing about old times. We plan to be in Florida for a few more weeks, and again when we come back through in the Fall en route to the Bahamas. Hopefully we’ll get to see Sue and Ted again soon!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Goodbye, Tarpon Springs…hello, Egmont Key! This morning we left Tarpon Springs at sunrise to make the 30-mile journey to Egmont Key, at the mouth of the Tampa Bay inlet. We finally got the winds we were hoping for – 10-15 kts out of the NE…perfect for heading south. Pipe Muh Bligh averaged boat speeds of 7.5 kts most of the way down, and we even hit 8.3 kts at one point. We love our Winnebago! We finally powered her down a bit for the kitties since she was heeling pretty hard, but still made speeds of 7+ kts. Even when we reefed the main, we were still able to do 6+. We expected the trip to take 7-8 hours, but thanks to the higher speeds, we arrived in the Tampa Bay channel at 2pm.

We’re now anchored off the SE end of Egmont Key. Weather reports said we’d get 10-15 kt winds out of the east, which might’ve made for a rough anchorage. When we got here, we were able to anchor in 14’ of water pretty close to shore, and while we’re bouncing a bit, we feel comfortable staying here overnight. Tomorrow we’ll dinghy in to explore the island, and will overnight here again before heading further south.

Pictures from our Florida West Coast trip @

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