Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sarasota and Naples

We left St. Pete on Sunday, January 18th headed to Sarasota. The day before, Louis had lowered our mast so we could take the inside route—going through small towns and under bridges so that we wouldn’t have to wait for them to open for us. We were traveling with “C-Life” and “Reel Estate” and it was a beautiful and calm day, but still very chilly. We enjoyed seeing numerous ospreys nesting on the channel markers—they’re not afraid of getting too close to humans—like eagles are. This must be the nesting season too—every nest we’ve passed has been occupied! There are a lot of ospreys in this area.

We arrived in Sarasota a little after lunch, pulled into the very pretty Marina Jacks and called Tracy Guess—Travis’s father, who lives in Sarasota. Tracy wound up coming to our boat late afternoon and going out to dinner with us and the gang (8 of us total)—we went up the street just two blocks to a great Mexican restaurant, Dos Senoritas—everyone had delicious dinners—cheap too! But it was a mighty cold walk back to the boats—are we really in south Florida? Certainly doesn't feel like it!

Monday, we left the marina and headed to an anchorage—Cape Haze—recommended by Peggy and Guy. We rafted the three boats together in a quiet little cove—surrounded by beautiful homes—feeling safe and secure for the night. (Another cold front was to come in during the night—bringing high winds.) Louis got our dinghy down for Brantley to use with his dog, Rudder, and off the two men went with the dog—seeking a nice grassy spot. Boy, do we both still miss our Buddy! I fixed a big pot of homemade vegetable/beef soup and since there were 7 of us, we ate our supper on “C-Life”. Thanks Kay & Robert!

The cold front did indeed come through during the night waking everyone up but me—how I slept through those two hours I’ll never know! But our anchors held, so everything turned out as hoped. TYJ. We pulled up our anchors the next morning and were in for an ugly surprise—the muddiest, blackest, bottom we’ve ever seen! We spent quite a long time in the howling wind getting all that muck off our anchors—very thankful for our washdown hose on the bow.

Tuesday, Inauguration Day for our new President, we headed to Cabbage Key for the much heralded cheeseburgers they serve. Accessible only by water, this famous place is also known for the thousands of initialed dollar bills hanging from the ceiling and posts. The staff there claims to have over 50,000 bills hanging at all times and so the saying goes, once the bills fall to the floor they’re given to charity. This place is an institution around these parts—and I’m glad we didn’t miss it—even if Louis and I did have a really hard time getting “Bella Luna” secured to the dock in the high winds. By the way, the cheeseburgers were great too! It’s still cold here—but our children back home have snow on the ground today—so we really shouldn’t complain.

After lunch we left for Ft. Meyers—getting in there just at sunset. We were greeted at the dock by Bonnie and Bruce Dailey—residents of Ft. Meyers—and friends on “Phantom of the Aqua” who have just completed the Loop—congrats to them both!! Our boats had lots of salt spray on them—a good bath is in order for them tomorrow!

Wednesday, I watched the morning repeats of the Inauguration in between running back and forth to the dock’s laundry. Once that was accomplished, I started making the breads from the “starter” Peggy had given us—an Amish recipe that you divide and then bake every 10 days. Kay made a chocolate recipe and I made the traditional one—both delicious! Louis and Robert were working on our dinghy’s outboard most of the day—it’s still not working correctly—but I have faith that it will be fixed soon! The guys also rented two cars for us to use the next couple of days. We wound up going nearby to a casual restaurant for dinner—Brantley and Brenda going to the airport during that time to pick up Deb Van Nordwik, who will be traveling with them for a couple of weeks. Also, Margie and Larry, from “Wanderin’ L & M”, joined us for dinner —we’ve missed them during the weeks apart for Christmas. They are in a near-by marina having their boat repaired and will join us as soon as they can—hopefully before we cross to Marathon—where we’ll all be together for a month.

Thursday morning, Brantley, Brenda, Deb, Louis and I took off in our rental car for Sanibel and Captiva. Both small islands, they are known for their beautiful beaches, lush landscapes and superb shelling. Walking the pretty beach, we found lots of beautiful shells (small conchs), 9-fingered starfish, and other sea-life that had been washed ashore in the past two days’ high winds. We also went to lunch at one of Sanibel’s most popular spots (and one of Louis’s top 5!), “Cheeseburger-Cheeseburger”. With over 20 different toppings to choose from, plus five kinds of cheese, and all cooked to perfection, need I say more?! We’ll be back, for sure! That evening, we were still stuffed from lunch—but not wanting to miss a thing, we joined the group and went for sushi and Chinese at the Dailey’s favorite near-by spot.

Friday, “Reel Estate” took off for Marathon early. Poor Brantley, he had gone slowly long enough and was ready to “let the big dogs run”. It was a beautiful day and calm water and he was in Marathon by mid-afternoon—in comparison, it will take us 5 good days to get there—but we’re still enjoying the journey, slowly. No sooner had they left than Louis’s cell phone rang and it was Alice and Phil (of “Wonderland”) and Jackie and Lyn ( of “Carolina Captains”) both Loopers and both in Ft. Meyers for the day—by car. Both couples came to our boat and we all got in a nice visit before going to Joe’s Crab Shack for lunch. It was really great seeing both couples—it had been April ‘08 when we saw them last. “Wonderland” will be in Marathon when we get there—yea!

Saturday (yesterday), we fueled early and were underway by 8:30am headed for the Naples City Dock Marina. We arrived around 3pm, got situated in a great spot and called Judy and John Woody—who were coming for their annual winter solstice not too far from us. After getting their RV set up in its’ own special pretty place, they drove down to the marina and met us and the crew of “C-Life”. It was “Saturday Night” and we all had a blast—Judy and John fitting in perfectly with us crazy Loopers. Eleven of us went to the end of the dock to a very popular and crowded restaurant and continued on with “you-know-what”. It was such a special and fun evening and even more so by having the Woodys with us—we really do miss our friends from home! (John, you’re slipping!—you need to practice back-to-back evenings—we know you can do it!)

So now it’s late Sunday afternoon (Jan. 25th) as I am writing this. We left Naples this morning once the tide got high enough and have come down a calm ocean (outside) to Goodland, just below Marco Island. This is the weekend that the tiny village of Goodland celebrates the “Mullet Festival”. The crew of “C-Life” and us walked into town to see just what was going on and found a crowded area of about a square block filled with several thousand orderly people enjoying a live band, lots of motorcycles & old cars & beer drinkers, jewelry & trinkets & fresh vegetable stands, and mullet cooked about any way you can imagine. None of us stayed long—but it was all worth seeing, if nothing else but the clothes (or lack thereof) that some of the people were wearing. What a hoot—any reason for a party!

We’re in the Calusa Island Marina now—in a very quiet and secluded spot among thousands of mangrove bushes. There’s a long wooden dock that weaves around these low, lush mangroves that takes us back to the office, which is hidden from view and quite a long walk away too. We hear none of the noise from street traffic or near-by bars and don’t smell any food cooking in restaurants—it’s really quite refreshing and unlike anything we’ve experienced so far. Needless to say, we don’t have cable TV or Wireless—but that too is befitting this special spot (I hope to use Louis’s phone card to publish this in a while). This is as close to being “au natural” as you can get without being on anchor. The sun will be setting soon—it has finally warmed up—and we really feel blessed to be in Florida now. The windows on the boat are open and Louis has been taking a nap—just right—only the ospreys are making any noise. And with the sun to my back, this is the perfect place to sit and type and gather my thoughts—I love it! We’re having dinner on “C-Life” tonight with Kay’s & Robert’s guests, who have been with them for several days now. What a grand week we’ve all had!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tampa Bay

From Tarpon Springs, we traveled a short distance down to Clearwater. We fueled, pumped out, and both “C-Life” and “Bella Luna” miraculously got into their very narrow slips as the wind was howling. We enjoyed a great—but late—outside lunch at the nearby local hangout (Crabby Bill’s) just around the corner from the marina. We did more laundry and Louis lowered our mast—as we will be going under several bridges (that we don’t want to wait to open for us) on our way to Ft. Meyers. Late in the afternoon, we walked over to the pier where there were sunset activities—a la Mallory Square in Key West. We saw several men with metal detectors combing the beach and we witnessed two weddings on the wide, pretty and populated sandy shore—it was a perfect, but cool, evening and the sunset was spectacular. The pier was lined on both sides with local vendors, artists and picture takers—like us!

We wound up spending six nights on Tampa Bay—three at the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina (right on the Bay) and three with Peggy and Guy in Apollo Beach. Our first two nights were in St. Pete—we did laundry, ate out one night, gave our boat a much needed bath and window polishing, took a red trolley tour of downtown, went out on the famous (but very touristy) pier—complete with a pirate ship no less, took a beautiful nighttime horse carriage ride under a full “bella luna” and enjoyed the pretty sunny days that we had. Brantley and Brenda on “Reel Estate” joined us on our first day in St. Pete—they brought the boat over from Fort Pierce through Lake Okeechobee—and both of them are friends from home. We’re delighted and so glad they’re along for the journey—but Brantley is having a really hard time going slowly with his 1700 horsepower engines!

On Monday, the three boats crossed Tampa Bay (11 miles) and went over to Apollo Beach for a three nights’ visit with Peggy and Guy Leverett. We were able to tie our boat and “C-Life” behind their house, but “Reel Estate” had to go to the near-by marina. (Not a problem.) Our first night there Peggy cooked a delicious lasagna for us all and we had a relaxing and fun evening being in their beautiful home. Tuesday, the four of us girls went shopping and the boys went flying in Guy’s airplane—a Piper Cherokee 160. Guy showed Louis and Robert several anchorages we’ll be hopefully using on our way to Marathon and the men all had a great day “up in the air”. We four girls also had our own super days’ fix of retail therapy! We wound up that night at the marina restaurant, Circle’s Bar and Grille, and all eight of us had a delicious outside dinner—Kay surprising Louis with his own tiny toy octopus to keep as a reminder of his favorite meal in Tarpon Springs!

Wednesday, the girls decided to go to the movies (“The Reader”) and with so many good ones out now (it was hard to pick one)—but that one was especially good. The guys worked on the boats, did errands and everyone was happy. On our way back from shopping, we stopped at the local meat market and bought steaks for the night and wound up grilling for dinner back at the house. Guy and Peggy made our three nights with them so special and easy, and we all are deeply appreciative of their time, energy and efforts—especially since Peggy was not feeling her best. Get well soon, Peg!!

After breakfast Thursday, we crossed back over Tampa Bay to the same municipal marina in St. Pete. The Creeches picked up a friend of theirs who flew in from Southport—Buddy—who will be traveling with them until we reach Marathon—his wife will fly in next week. Once we all got our boats secured, Brantley and Brenda took off to run errands, Robert and Kay waited for Buddy to get to the marina, and Louis and I took off to go see another movie (“Gran Torino”) with Clint Eastwood—another good one—color Diane happy—two days in a row! Since the temperatures have taken a dive here and everywhere else on the east coast, Brantley cooked a big pot of delicious chili for us all and we ate on his boat—yum! Thanks B & BG!

So now it’s Friday and we’re leaving a rough and white-capped Tampa Bay—headed to Bradenton for the night—Twin Dolphin Marina. This afternoon, the guys are being picked up by a rep and are going to see a boat that is built in Bradenton that Buddy is very interested in—a Marlow—and “us girls” are going to enjoy a few hours of just being on our boats in solitude—something that we rarely get. (If it were a decent temperature outside, I think we would be poolside—but not this week—it’s record lows here too.) Twin Dolphin Marina is a great place with all the amenities—with Charlie Price as the Harbor Master making us all feel so welcomed. With his generosity, all three boats were able to stay two nights, rent two cars (7 of us!) and spend most of the day in Sarasota visiting the Ringling Brothers Museums (think circus!), and at the end of the day we enjoyed Charlie’s annual marina appreciation party. We thank you greatly, Charlie!!

From Twin Dolphins, we head to Sarasota for Sunday night, an anchorage Monday and then we hope to be in Ft. Meyers on Tuesday—weather permitting— a cold front is coming in with high winds. In Ft. Meyer’s, we’ll join Margie and Larry on “Wanderin’ L & M” and be in the home port/marina of Bonnie and Bruce Dailey—“Phantom of the Aqua”.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Five Days in Tarpon Springs

Like so many others who have done “the crossing”, we were elated to see all the activity, pelicans, snowy egrets, commercial fishing boats, restaurants, sponge boats and people as we pulled into the village of Tarpon Springs on Monday, January 5th. It was a pretty ride from the main channel up the narrow bay with commercial boats on each side of us; we made our way to the City Marina—our home for the next four nights. The smells of the different restaurants made our mouths water! Cute shops right on the water—real civilization—yes!!! Color Kay and Diane very happy!

Side by side with “C-Life”, we quickly got both boats settled in our narrow slips and immediately hit the pavement. We were definitely in the thick of activity—and all just a few feet from our boats! We were located right beside the Sponge Factory Museum, sponge boats and several head boats—boats for daily off-shore bottom fishing that take individual passengers out on the Gulf. (“Head” boat means you don’t need to charter the whole boat to enjoy a day of fishing; you just buy a ticket and get on—they provide all the fishing equipment.) We had been told by other Loopers that this location—City Marina—was the best location for seeing and visiting all the popular spots in the area of Tarpon Springs which we would be interested in.

With 65% of the population being Greek in Tarpon Springs, it was no wonder we had landed in the thick of Greek food restaurants and culture. We chose for dinner Monday night, from a recommendation by recent Loopers, a near-by restaurant called “Hella’s”. As expected, it really was delicious—except that Louis ordered grilled octopus, thinking it would taste like calamari. At some point, Louis needs to tell everyone reading this blog what he thought of his meal. Let me put it this way—I’m proud of him for trying something different! We all got lots of laughs just from watching Louis react to the plate put in front of him and Robert pushing back in his chair away from the dish!

We had expected bad weather/rain on Tuesday (we did have high winds though), but the front stalled and it wouldn’t get here until Wednesday. We had heard that taking an hour’s trolley ride would be worth our time—and since the weather was accommodating us—we thought it a good idea. So off we went a couple of blocks to catch the trolley. Little did we know it was Epiphany Day—a Greek religious holiday—and that thousands of people would descend upon this town to watch the festivities. Our trolley ride couldn’t navigate the narrow streets packed with cars from all over the surrounding areas. So we decided to follow the crowds and see what all the hoopla was about.

Epiphany Day is always January 6th—it is the twelfth day after the birth of Christ and the day that John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the river Jordan. The Greeks celebrate this day with gusto! They gather in their neighborhood churches for a service at 11am, and then all walk in a procession around noon (with the priests in full robes and drummers leading the way) to a natural spring area/lagoon—located centrally to the community. (The largest church, St. Nicholas, was broadcasting its’ service to all of us gathered on a lawn at Spring Bayou just two blocks away.) We saw several men, women and especially children in their native Greek costumes too—just precious—more Kodak moments. And surrounded by thousands of on-lookers sitting on the steep, grassy lawn all around this small lagoon area, the celebrations continued. After more prayers and blessings from the singing and chanting priests, around 60 young boys (ranging in age from 15 to 17) all clad in black shorts and solid white tee-shirts raced down the steep, stone steps and jumped into the shallow lagoon. The boys then swam/raced to about 8 small boats, all tied together in a semi-circle, and tried to get on them. Several of the boats tipped over with too many youths trying to get into the closer ones and other boats sank from the sheer weight of too many bodies. It was fun to watch—people were laughing and yelling and there was so much excitement. (I felt like I was watching the running of the bulls in Italy!) After a few more prayers, the main priest threw a small, white, wooden—but heavy— cross into the lagoon and all the young men frantically jumped in the water in hopes of retrieving the blessed cross from the bottom of the waters. As is custom for 103 years now, the boy who finds the sunken cross is believed to have the greatest of good fortune/luck for the coming year. And as it turned out, the young man who found the cross was the fifth in his family to do so. (Talk about pressure!) His grandfather, his father, and two uncles all preceded him in their youths—finding the cross—a very “lucky” family indeed!

After the cross celebration, everyone started walking away from the lagoon. We wound up eating a late lunch in another Greek restaurant—the local’s favorite, “Mama’s” (Kay got her Greek fried cheese—yum!) Again, everything was delicious but very crowded this Epiphany Day—and we decided that since it was so late, we would not have dinner but walk up after dark and eat pastries for “dinner”! What a hoot—we’ve never done that before—we hadn’t been enticed at all after either huge meal to order dessert, but we knew we wanted to sample the beautiful/delicious pastries from the three fabulous bakeries before we left here. So, we each ordered 2 desserts—I had tiramisu and chocolate chipped canolies (sp.?). Louis ordered carrot cake and an ├ęclair. Have I said yet that when we get home from this trip that both Louis and I are joining Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous?! It’s sad, but true.

An interesting thing happened to us earlier Wednesday morning when we were both working outside, Mary and Bob Drake from Soundings magazine walked up to us and asked to interview both “C-Life” and “Bella Luna” for an upcoming issue on boaters enjoying Tarpon Springs! They both stayed around for almost an hour, Bob taking pictures and Mary writing frantically in her steno pad—what fun we had, Robert, Kay, Louis and I all eagerly talking about our fabulous journey—and someone was actually listening! Louis eventually pulled out several Soundings magazines we had on board and Mary turned to an article she had written and lo and behold, Louis had dog-eared the page! I really think she was delighted and impressed that it was interesting enough to us that we had ear-marked that particular article—one on Saint Simmons Island in Georgia, where we plan/hope to stop on our way home. It will be interesting to see what Mary has to say about us when the article comes out later on this year—she said it would be in an early winter publication—and I do so hope Bob took good pictures—especially of me!

Thursday morning we finally got our trolley ride, after two other attempts. Of particular interest were the three neighborhood churches all within easy walking distance. So after lunch, Robert & Kay & I (Louis was going back to wash the boat) took off to visit these churches—stopping by the Spring Bayou to hopefully get a chance to see the manatees which had been there earlier on our trolley ride. As hoped, they were still there and we watched and watched as they came up for air in the shallow spring. Slow and gentle and huge, one even had a baby—which was sticking very close to its’ mother. What fun—now I can say I’ve seen a manatee up close and personal! And the churches were very special too—one was a lovely, small “neighborhood” Greek Orthodox--Saint Michael--and the other was the large Greek Cathedral--St. Nicholas—with beautiful guilt, paintings and many stained glass windows—the church that had broadcast the worship service on Epiphany Day. The third church was a small Unitarian Universalist Church featuring George Inness, Jr’s wonderful, huge paintings.

On our way back to the boats, Kay and I stopped at Mykonos restaurant for a glass of wine and a beer for me and I got the fried smelts, which I had been wanting to try ever since I saw a plate of them go by at another restaurant. Very small, very tasty and lightly fried, I was glad I hadn’t missed this wonderful Greek specialty. To their credit, Kay & Robert & Louis all tried one, but they didn’t like them—so I got the whole dish to myself—yum! And I’ve decided if we ever get the opportunity to go back to Tarpon Springs, we’re going to eat at Mykonos first—definitely the best of the three Greek ones we tried.

We’ve decided to eat on the boat tonight (Kay’s cooking soup) and tomorrow (Friday) we leave for fuel and an overnight in Clearwater, then two nights in St. Pete (Saturday & Sunday) and on Monday move across Tampa Bay to spend a few nights in Apollo Beach with our dear friends we’ve traveled with so much throughout this trip—Peggy and Guy Leverett on “Southern Comfort”. They have graciously offered us and the Creeches the use of their dock and their neighbor’s dock for a couple of nights’ layover and a special visit with them. “Southern Comfort” completed the Loop just a few weeks ago before Christmas and they now have earned their gold Looper flag—congratulations, Peggy & Guy!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Crossing the Gulf of Mexico

We left Apalachicola on Friday, January 2nd—having been at Scipio Marina for two nights, right alongside a wonderful seafood restaurant—Pappa Joe’s. We had the crew of “C-Life” over to our boat the day before for a traditional New Year’s Day lunch of turnip greens, black-eyed peas, pork, and cornbread. Yum-yum—I love New Year’s Day! Kay furnished mashed potatoes and gravy, deviled eggs, and a nice bottle of champagne and we all toasted the New Year with gusto—several gustoes!

We left the cute town of Apalachicola mid-morning for a short (30 mile) run to Carrabell. This is the place where most Loopers wait for a calm day to make their crossing of the Gulf of Mexico over to the west coast of Florida. We’ve had friends leave almost immediately and others who have had to wait over a week for a calm sea in order to cross. We had no idea what time frame we would be in—would we get lucky? January is not known for its’ good days to cross—the books say there may be 10 good days out of the whole month that might be favorable—we knew we were behind the main group of Loopers who had crossed before Christmas. Buddy is the “crossing guru” at Moorings Marina (where we were going in Carrabell)—everyone seeks his valued and accurate opinion and goes when he says, “Time to go!” Both “C-Life” and “Bella Luna” were prepared to wait (even if it would, most likely, take us over a week)—we would have a long trip of 82 miles (11-12 hours) in very open waters and no land in sight to get to the other side of the Gulf—Steinhatchee.

So, we got to Carrabell around lunchtime after a calm-but cool-ride. (We’re in Florida, right? I thought we were going to be warm!) Louis and Robert checked in the marina and quickly sought Buddy’s opinion. Showing our Captains his computer generations, Buddy said we needed to leave very early the next morning (yipes!)—there would be 3 days in a row with calm seas—almost unheard of in the month of January. This is great news to us!!! Both couples made a quick dash across the street to the local IGA supermarket to stock up on a few more supplies, knowing our next several nights we wouldn’t have any access to a grocery. We had one more meal of oysters at the local favorite restaurant—with a ride over and back from Tony—and all four of us loved every bite.

Saturday morning, after an abortive attempt at 6:30am, we left the docks at 8am—still in dense fog. It was daylight, but just barely in all that fog—we would be in that soup until almost 3pm! Thank goodness for radar, a great GPS system, no wind, calm waters and the security of having another boat with us! Not only is it a long ride over to the west coast, but it’s another long two days after that to get to Tarpon Springs and the comfort of the ICW. We had three days in a row of pretty weather—we knew we needed to hustle.

And hustle we did! We got to Steinhatchee just at dusk—lots and lots of Saturday fishermen were coming in. And we were tied right at the end of the dock watching all of it! Cooler after cooler went to the fish cleaning station (thinking of you, Bob!), where men and women worked hard to clean their catches of mostly bottom fish. At this local, very old Florida “happening place”, the prettiest catch I saw was 8 large and very heavy red groupers on a string. For once I didn’t beg for a single fish—I was just too tired to clean and cook anything so fresh that evening! Besides, we had to leave before daylight the next morning to go another 80+ miles (about 15 miles offshore) to get to Chrystal River. (The reason we have to go offshore so far is that the waters are just too shallow to run the coastline in this part of the west coast.)

From Steinhatchee to Chrystal River—from dawn to dusk we traveled on calm waters. We had to go out and around several shallow areas—we were 12-15 miles offshore—and had another long day after this one still to go! But we had been assured we would have little wind and a “small sea” so we took advantage of it and pressed on. We got to Pete’s Pier in Chrystal River just at sunset—hit the metal canopy overhead (which we had been assured we could fit under!)—and promptly switched slips. The locals there living on their boats all told us many boaters hit the top of the shed—evidently the owners (whom Louis had talked with 3 times about the height) still didn’t know how “tall” their roofs are! Such is life on the water.

We left Chrystal River at dawn—still having not seen any manatees, which the town is noted for. But we have been assured by Robert, from “C-Life”, that we’ll have many more chances. I’m holding him to that promise! We dodged thousands upon thousands of crab pots almost all day—poor crabs, they don’t have a chance in this area—we had no idea that Florida Marine Fisheries would allow so many in one area—and were grateful for the spurs/cutters on our propellers—we hit two ropes that were invisible and underwater! By reversing our engines several times, thankfully, Louis did not have to go swimming that day.

We have been eating on the boat now for three days and all of us are looking forward to getting to Tarpon Springs today—a huge Greek enclave with lots of fabulous restaurants, bakeries and “The Sponge Capitol of the World”. We’ll be at the City Marina for several days—right beside all the activity of the fishing boats, sponge docks and restaurants—and we all need to just stop and rest for a while. Four longs days on the water in a row is something we wouldn’t have planned—but the weather was perfect for our “crossings” of the Gulf and so, once again, we were lucky. TYJ. (Most Loopers make a 24-26 hour single crossing, traveling overnight, from Carrabell directly to Tarpon Springs. But neither “C-Life” nor “Bella Luna” wanted that long a trip, so we broke it up into 3 days.)

Friday, January 2, 2009

It's Good to be Back!

After a wonderful and power-packed three weeks at home, we returned to the boat on Sunday, December 28th. We had spent the three weeks at home seeing as many people as we could, having doctors’ appointments, and doing as many fun things as possible. We had put over 4,000 miles on our rental Chevy Impala by the time we got back to the boat—that didn’t even include all the miles I put on my car, nor the ones Louis put on his! We were up and down, back and forth many roads during that short time period and it was truly special for us; we appreciated it even more after having been gone for over 7 months. Our children were able to come to the lake from Monday through Friday of Christmas week—what great fun we all had—how our grandchildren have grown and matured this year! H.T. is taller than I am, Clay is really beginning to sprout up too, Katie is beginning to read (she’ll enter kindergarten next August!), and Taylor is no longer “the baby”. We put out only the basic necessities of decorations for Christmas and had our grandchildren merrily decorate our tree with over 200 tiny red velvet bows—which had been quickly purchased by me, thanks for the idea, Lisa!—it turned out to be just beautiful too! So when the last child had left us on Friday, we had a fairly easy time of getting everything back in place and still had enough time to get ready to close up the house and leave before lunch the next day. I did not want to see any Christmas in that house when we returned, hopefully, in May!

We spent the night of December 27th with our friends from Southport—Kay and Robert Creech—so that we could get an early start for the drive to Panama City, where we had left our boats side-by-side for the month. We left the Creech’s house at 4am and got to our boats just at dusk Central Time—time enough to get the car unloaded and all that we brought back from home safely tucked on our boats before it got too dark. In the 3 ½ weeks since we left Panama City, we had seen and done and driven and eaten and celebrated all that we could—it was time to return to the boat—we were truly exhausted. But like I’ve said before, this is no cruise boat—there’s little time for rest!

We woke up Monday morning with projects (always!) to do on the boat—Louis needed to change the oil in the generator and change fuel filters. We had the salon AC that wasn’t working upon our return and the port engine wouldn’t start the next morning. Louis quickly fixed both of those problems, but it was still worrisome for him—and not in the plan for the day! That morning, I had to get us unpacked and take stock of what was needed food-wise in order to make a grocery run—plus I needed to find a good hair salon—I did not have time during Christmas to get a much needed haircut. We wanted to get Florida fishing licenses that afternoon and have some of the near-by “famous” Apalachicola oysters too! (Our rental car needed to be turned in on Tuesday afternoon, so we were making the best time-use of it while we had it.) We had saved Tuesday lunchtime to go to Destin Beach, Florida (an hour’s drive) and check that place out—we had heard so much about the white sandy beaches and pretty spots to have lunch.

Destin Beach really is beautiful—we can understand why so many people talk about it. All along there are the whitest sandy beaches we’ve ever seen—the shoreline almost looks like sugar has been trucked in. We had lunch at The Wharf—outside on a beautiful, sunny day overlooking the inlet and large sport fishing boats. Someone had just come in from fishing and was cleaning a whole batch of flounders and the pelicans were at his feet, all clamoring for any tiny morsel to gulp down. There must have been 30 or so pelicans just right there, from the solid brown juveniles to the young-adult yellow topped ones to the old, white headed ones. We just don’t get to see that many pelicans up our way getting that close to humans.

Wednesday, we tossed our lines off the boat and said good-by to Bay Point Marina—we can’t say enough good things about that place. If we were ever looking for a great place to stay for a month or two, Bay Point would be it—from the management to the spa facilities to our morning paper delivered to our boat, Steve and his staff really know how to make you feel welcomed. Both Robert and Louis had left our spare keys with him while we were away and neither had remembered to get them back upon our return, but at 10pm Tuesday night, Steve returned to the marina to give them back to Robert—plus handed him a stack of tee shirts! How lucky we were that #1 Robert remembered (even at 9:45pm), that #2 Steve came back, and that #3 we didn’t have to wait for the marina's office to open at 8am the next morning! We needed to be underway by 6:30am Wednesday morning—we were traveling 60+ miles to Apalachicola.

There have been numerous WOW moments on this trip of ours and each of them, I hope, have been documented here. But another one happened Wednesday morning as we were crossing the wide part of East Bay—and thanks to the call from my cousin Carol, I was facing backwards “up top”. (We seldom face that way—we only look behind the boat to make sure no one is coming up on us unexpectedly!) But there was a lot of talk on the radio at that time—plus Louis was on a call himself—so I turned around to try and hear Carol better. I looked back, and lo and behold a large pod of bottlenose dolphins were jumping in the first wake right behind our boat! They continued on with us for about a mile—jumping and rolling and looking me right in the eye! I was no more than six feet from them—they were having a ball and so was I. There must have been about 8-12 of them, but one in particular kept pace with us—turning over to let me see his white underside and giving me a wink as he did so! This is a “true story”! What a thrill for me—I will forever be appreciative of that particular call, Carol—you heard me!—I do so wish you could have been with us!!

After all that excitement, the rest of the way to Apalachicola was uneventful—except for seeing another big beautiful bald eagle sitting atop his high nest waiting for an unlucky fish to break the water. We’ll never, ever get tired of seeing eagles! The afternoon was becoming increasingly chilly and grey and the wind was picking up—we were glad to be going to a marina for the night. And it was New Year’s Eve.

We arrived at our marina around 3:30pm—another great and safe day on the water. We tied up right beside a seafood restaurant and had an early, but simply delicious, dinner of oh-so-fresh oysters cooked 15 different ways—after all, we were in the area that has over 6,000 acres of oyster beds—the famous part of Florida’s panhandle called Apalachicola. It was December 31st—Happy Birthday Louis and Bud—what a way to end the year! Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest will have to bring down the ball without us this year—we still haven’t caught back up on lost sleep—we were all down for the count by 10pm! Happy New Year everyone!!