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Whale Goes South

"Whale" kept waking me in February. "It's time to go. It's time to go. I don't like it in this barn, I wasn't made for this." So, in order to keep the peace in the family, my wife and I started collecting things and packing the boat for it's fourth trip to Tampa.

I rebuilt one rusty brake, one rusty bearing set, repaired the master cylinder (thankfully during a warm spell) while Barbara cooked and froze dinners for a two-week outing. We put the trailer tongue on the bathroom scales. 135 lbs. Oh my. Everything on the front bunk," says I. 76 cans of soda, 10 gallon jugs of water, one carton of canned food. Our big Danforth and our clothes. 280 lbs. - that's better. "Lets see this sucker fishtail now.

We left NH on Sunday, March 9 at 8 p.m., since I like to drive at night and Barbara had a Confirmation class to teach from 6 to 8. GW bridge at 12:30 and SNOW. New Jersey was a little slushy but we drove out of the snow into rain and kept heading south.

Launched on Anna Maria Island at 2pm on Tuesday March 10. We have a relative there with a freezer to make ice for us. We returned there every 5 days for ice and food supplies. The temperature was in the 80's most days so the bimini was used all the time. All but one day had winds strong enough to make us concentrate on sailing. No screamers but no siestas either. It rained (poured) two different nights but we had our "prairie schooner" cover (a blue tarp that goes over the pop top and bimini) up so we were dry in the cockpit. We first sailed south in the Gulf of Mexico to Venice, a 40 mile trip. The winds were favorable and we did it in a day (after not sailing for 6 months we find that "Whale" insists on sailing long days in the beginning.) Venice has a lively town dock that you can tie up to for free. We know 3 people who live in the area so each trip to Florida has started with Venice as our first destination. Our hope was to continue to travel south to Charlotte Harbor, Kao Costa State park and even Fort Myers.

After arriving late Wednesday afternoon, we listened to the weather report. Thursday's predictions were for winds 20 to 25 mph from the south and a strong front coming through on Thursday night or Friday morning. So we headed back north to Tampa Bay and our favorite anchorage - De Soto National Memorial. The property is edged with beach that is accessible sun up to sun down - for free. That was 15 miles back. (I told you "Whale" sails hard in the beginning. After a lazy Friday (waiting for the front to clear) and Saturday morning, we stocked up on ice and food and headed north. Our first night anchoring was in St. Petersburg across Tampa Bay just of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Sunday morning we headed up the intercoastal waterway. Our VHF didn't work so we couldn't call the first bridge tender.

Our solution- take down the mast. One bridge and we headed out into the Gulf again. The goal for the day was Caledesi Island. It was one page further than Barbara thought so it wound up being another 30 mile day. We arrived just before dinner.

This is Barbara's idea of heaven. The island is a State Park. On the inland side there is a very protected marina for 100 boats. The best part is that most people come for the day. If you want to spend the night it costs you $8.88. There was one other boat there. Other than the marina there are bathrooms, an outdoor shower (cold water only) and a boardwalk to the Gulf. After dinner we walked to the beach, did some bird watching and then watched the sun set. After it got dark we could see the comet. (one of the first evenings you could see it.)

We headed back south on Monday morning to Pass-a-Grill and another quiet anchorage off an uninhabited barrier island. Tuesday sent us scurrying back to De Soto Memorial as the winds pecked up before the next front came through. We stocked up on Wednesday night - spent Thursday on shore and headed out Friday with the goal of exploring Tampa Bay. The problem is t hat the bay is so large and shallow around the edges that it is hard to sail close to shore and if the wind blows 20 to 25 (which it seems to most days) the bay develops "a moderate chop" as NOAA weather describes it.

Saturday we finally got to St. Petersburg center-about a 12 mile sail from the anchorage at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and about 17 miles back to De Soto (a 30 mile a day in about 5 hours with a reefed main and small jib.)We spent a quiet Sunday at De Soto and headed out Monday, March 24th at 2p. m. for home. We encountered our first major unforeseen difficulty at 8 p. m. when the car wouldn't start after getting gas. The tow truck driver was a sailor so we talked about sailing instead of our t5roubles. We got to sleep aboard one more night in the repair shop yard and were back on the road with a new alternator at 9:30 the next morning (very fortunate). We arrived home at 3 pm. on Wednesday.

Guess what, the boat didn't fishtail. Above 65 mph it would bob around a little but didn't effect the car. The last thing I heard from "Whale". When I was putting her away was "Good job. OK you can have a month off.

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