It ain’t sailing, but it’s better than sitting on the dock

There are two options for cruising down the Gulf Coast of Florida: “inside” on the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway (GIIW), or “outside” on the Gulf of Mexico itself. We choose the sailing equivalent of training wheels and decided to stick to the GIIW for our first few days. This croute ensured that we had barrier islands protecting us from wind and weather. And it gave us many more options of where to stop in protected anchorages each night. We didn’t have to commit to long days on the water right off the dock. The down side of this decision was the knowledge that we wouldn’t even be raising the sails for days. Instead, we would just motor along the Intercoastal, being very careful to stay in the center of a narrow channel and making sure that we kept in deep enough water for our boat’s six-foot draft.

The trip is broken up by passage under many bridges: bascule, or draw bridges, and swing bridges. On the day after Sarasota, we passed under 10 bridges that needed to open to provide clearance for our 50 ft mast.

Negotiating the bridges is an interesting process. First, I look up the name of the bridge we are approaching, to ensure I can hail the bridge master by name. Then I speak on VHF channel 9 to get the attention of the next bridge master, let him (or her) know that Sailing Vessel Sanitas is approaching southbound, and to ask for the next scheduled bridge opening time. Invariably, our cruising guidebook is out of date, and lists that the bridge opens every 20 minutes, when it really opens every half hour. Or, it states that the bridge opens on the hour, when we just barely missed the last actual opening at a quarter-till. Once we know the time, we essentially tread water to hold our place until traffic is stopped, the bridge horns sound, the two sides of the bridge fully open, and we can pass safely through the middle. Hopefully, not too many boats are coming from the other direction, or it can get quite crowded! Once we’ve passed through, I let the bridge master know that Sanitas is clear, and thank him for the bridge opening.

This can obviously add quite a bit of time to the trip. Especially when we time it badly, and arrive at a bridge just after an opening, and need to wait for another half hour for our next chance. On the last bridge of the day, we could see a beautiful blue swing bridge guarding the entrance to Charlotte Harbor. I hailed the bridgemaster, who said the bridge was going to open in 5 minutes, and that it stayed open for about four minutes. I must have sounded crestfallen when I responded that we probably wouldn’t make it in time, and would have to eat for the next opportunity. (In reality, we were thinking that if we missed this opening, we might need to stop for the night, as it was getting very close to sunset.) As the swing bridge started to open, I told the bridgemaster this was the most beautiful bridge we’d seen all day. He responded, “Flattery will get you everywhere. Hold your speed Sanitas. I’m holding the bridge open for you to pass.” Mike and I hooted and hollered, increased the rpms on the engine, and shot the the gap. And made it to our anchorage off Gasparilla Island before sunset.

We Untie the Lines

Finally, after three months in St Petersburg, we are leaving this safe home base, and heading south. Ready or not! The marina does start to exert its own gravitational pull. The environment is familiar now; we even have our favorite walks and restaurants. We have made friends on the docks. TC and Suzanne who live on the beautiful sailing vessel Arabella and hope to start cruising next year. Robert and Rhonda on Eagle Too who have given us lots of good advice on cruising and provisioning. Doug and Glenda, from Ontario, who are doing the great loop of North American waterways, and have been fun happy hour companions. Pat and Melana who sail a beautiful catamaran and have been gracious hosts, hopefully leaving about a week after we do when their sails are replaced.

It would have been easy to keep puttering around on projects, socializing, and packing. But Drew and Sharon picked a date, and we used that as our motivation to get moving. I had to have a little heart-to-heart with Mike on our last morning in the marina. In my best wifely tone, I gently suggested “maybe it’s time to stop tearing the boat apart on new projects, and start putting the boat back together again.”

Our last few projects involved registering the car in Florida, so we wouldn’t get fined while storing it (which only took three attempts at the DMV) and selling our townie bikes. That part made me very sad, and I sent mike in to Play it Again Sports to do the deal so I didn’t have to watch. I asked if he told the clerk that her name was Olive Oyl and if he promised to take good care of her.

Anyway, on Sunday morning, 21 Jan, we finished our last fill of the water tank, last check of the electrical systems, said our last goodbyes, and finally untied the lines and left St Petersburg. Gulp!

Super light winds meant we were pretty much just motoring, not sailing, but they also ensured a smooth Tampa Bay, and an easy trip under the Skyway Bridge, past Eggmont Key, and sound into new territory. An easy six hour motor, and we were on a mooring ball at Marina Jack’s in Sarasota by 4:00. Just for comparison, to drive from St Pete to Sarasota would have taken us just over an hour. We are definitely doing slow travel now!

Put the dinghy in the water, and headed ashore to celebrate our first day at happy hour, and luckily stumbled into the Sarasota Seafood and Music Festival. Fun opportunity to dance to a soul and funk band while eating shrimp. So far, this cruising thing is off to a good start!


My last big project before leaving St Petersburg was to provision for the next four months before we next returned to the United States. Now don’t get me wrong. I fully understand that we will have the option to buy food in the Bahamas. As several cruisers have told us, “where there are people, there is food.” And I’m not even completely committed to Walmart and Costco style shopping centers. I love a good vegetable or fish market (though I might have to pass on whole live chickens for sale!) But we have heard that food in The Bahamas is very expensive because everything needs to be brought in by boat. And, if we find a beautiful, pristine anchorage and want to stay there for a week or more, then I don’t want to have to leave because we don’t have enough food.

So anyway, this philosophy resulted in several epic shopping trips! The trip to Costco was lots of fun. You are already conditioned to buying large quantities there, and there were so many energy bars and dried fruits and nuts. Even a liquor store? We definitely had the snacks and sparkling wine food groups covered.

A second, more focused Costco trip got us completely stocked with canned goods, fruit, and gluten free pastas. Since we are storing canned goods in the bilge, we removed the labels, so that if they get wet, and the labels come off, they won’t clog the bilge pump of drainage. We have a hammock to store the fruit, with a bit more are circulation. Although one bad apple really does spoil the barrel. We need to stay on top of it! No scurvy for us on this trip!

On a shopping trip to Walmart to fill in the last few things, I almost had a nervous breakdown looking at the full cart…almost to heavy for my to push. I texted mike to be reassured that whatever I spend on cans of soup and gluten free bread in Walmart will save us hundreds of dollars next month in the Bahamas.

One last very important stop at ABC liquors. Run and hard spirits are a good price in the Bahamas, but beer and wine is super expensive. So we loaded up on boxes of wine. I pretended I had a good reason for buying this much, say a graduation party, or a church picnic, but the liquor store cashiers didn’t blink an eye.

I think we are ready to cook and eat well for the next four or five months. What do you think?

Visitors (part two)

Anne and Tony are friends from when we all lived in North Yorkshire in England. This fall, they also sold everything, and moved onto their adorable RV, Betty Ford. When they learned we were in southern Florida, they changed their plans to visit us in St Pete. Lots of fun to cook dinner together, catch up on stories of friends and travel, and even to work together! They have a goal of volunteering as they travel. On this stop, they helped us repair a leaky deck fitting, and pull hoses for a bilge pump project. Thanks Anne and Tony!

We choose a beautiful blue sky day to go for a sail on a Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, it was only a 35 degree day! We bundled up in literally ALL our clothes, and were pretty much the only boat out on the water. Anne and Tony were great sports, and stuck it out with us. But we did decide to come back to shore and heat for lunch!

thanks for visiting, for cooking us delicious Thai Curry and Lamb Meatballs, and for sailing with us and helping with projects! And good luck on your own journeys!

Visitors (part one)

We were lucky enough to have two different groups of friends visit us in St Pete in January! Jaime, Lisa, and Jack Davila were in the Tampa area for Jack’s hockey tournament, and they joined us for a sail on Tampa Bay. Jack was excellent at the helm! A real natural. Thanks for fitting in a visit on your short trip!