Those of you who devoured all the wonderful books of Dr. Seuss growing up know the rest of the phrase. But, we’ll return to this later.
Monday and Tuesday of this week, Cindy and I took Beatitude out for another mini-adventure. We’ve been down the ICW southward on a number of occasions, so this time we decided to head north. Mid-morning we eased out of our slip, down the river, and across the bay. It was a beautiful day with a light chop on Tampa Bay. Instead of following the main channel of the ICW under the Sunshine Skyway bridge, we saved 7.5 nautical miles by taking the Sunshine Skyway Channel which parallels the bridge and highway to the west. The initial entry to this channel was quite dicey! Our depth meter read 3.9 ft on one occasion (our draft is 4’3″, so we should have hit bottom at that point, but, thankfully we didn’t!). We finally decided that the first couple of daymarks marking the beginning of the channel were useless. So, we simply followed our chart plotter and GPS, intersecting the channel a couple of hundred yards down and never saw less than 6 or 7 feet along the way.
It is always challenging to venture off to new places and take new routes which we’ve never traveled. It’s also nice to have a change of scenery on occasion. The Sunshine Skyway Channel eventually joined back up with the main ICW channel. We took a 90° turn to port and continued through the Pinellas Bayway bascule (draw) bridge. We then faced another one of those 65′ clearance bridges that are prolific along the ICW. These things always cause my blood pressure and pulse to rise. As probably mentioned previously, our mast was cut down to 64.5′ feet to allow us to navigate the ICW. These 65′ bridges make me wish it was a few feet shorter. I hold my breath and pray every time we approach one. Once we’ve passed under the first part of the structure without hearing the sound of crunching metal all is well again.
After having passed under the second bridge, we entered Boca Ciega bay. We continued across the bay to anchor at the Gulfport anchorage. Gulfport is a beautiful little artsy town complete with its share of idiosyncratic residents. We stopped one of the locals to ask for a recommendation for dinner. With her recommendations, we decided to eat at Pia’s Trattoria, where we enjoyed some fine Italian dining and wine. Very nice! The weather was perfect and the anchorage was placid and calm when we returned to our boat. The only downside to our home for the night was the wild party taking place on shore late into the night which delayed and interrupted our sleep.
Tuesday morning, we awoke to a beautiful sunrise and I decided to rig up one of our spinning reels and see if I might catch any thing by casting off the side of the boat. After 10 or 15 minutes of nothing, Cindy asked for a try. Approximately 10 seconds into her first cast, a fish was on the line. She landed a nice catfish, which I carefully released overboard after it posed for a photograph.
We then weighed anchor and pursued an alternative route home. New territory once again! After dropping a couple of lines into the water behind the boat, we exited the bay by heading out the North Channel into the gulf. It seems like the fish always strike when either exiting or entering a channel from the gulf. Just prior to exiting the channel, the drag started clicking and I hurried over to grab the rod and reel in our prize. We are actually getting a lot better at this fishing business. Cindy took the helm and slowed down the boat, while I brought our fish. It was a fish of 5 lbs. or so. What kind? I had no clue! I got out my fish identification charts and we finally decided it was a…. (If you couldn’t finish the title of this blog post) bluefish! After I pulled the hook from his razor teeth-lined mouth, I sat down to read about the bluefish:
“Known as ‘pirana like,’ watch your fingers around their sharp and strong jaws. They can bite your fingers right off. Have been known to snap fast, bite fingers and bite lures into pieces.”
WHAT! Now you tell me! I feel fortunate to still be in possession of 10 fingers.
We made our way out into the gulf and back into Tampa Bay using the Egmont Key Channel. We were passed by a large tanker ship with dolphins jumping and playing in its bow wake. Both days were, in fact, filled with dolphin sightings. We must’ve seen at least 25-30 on the first day and quite a few more on the second.
For those who’ve been out on Tampa Bay, you know that there are crab traps everywhere marked by small buoys floating on the water attached to the traps on the bottom by a rope. One tries to avoid these when possible. But, there are times when one reacts too late. Now, fortunately (for us, not for the crab trap owner) we have line cutters attached to our props that cut the line rather than allow it to wrap itself around the prop disabling our engine. We heard the usual clatter associated with one of these buoys and lines being chewed up by our props and we continued on just fine. A few minutes later, however, I noticed an object surfing along behind the boat. It was a crab trap! While not interfering with our prop, it was obviously wrapped around something. We decided to stop the boat and I donned my wetsuit, flippers, mask and snorkel and took the plunge to cut it loose. When I inspected the bottom it was nowhere to be found. Bringing Beatitude to a stop must have released it and it sank 18 feet to the bottom of Tampa Bay.
As we crossed the bay and made our way back down the river, Cindy spent some time at the helm as she becomes more comfortable controlling our sailing home. Once back, we perpetuated our return home ritual of giving Beatitude a thorough washing (which she really needed.) What a great couple of days!