May 1, 2014:
That’s right. May. We finally made it to MAY. Phillip and I both couldn’t believe we had spent an entire month on the boat and it had felt like only a couple of weeks, a few days at the most! Time was flying and our trip, it seemed, was slipping by faster than we would have liked. But, I’m sure it always feels that way. You never really want to go back … once you start going! But, sadly, we had jobs and meetings and all sorts of other obligations calling us back to Pensacola, so we needed to start making way that way. Although our original plan had been to make our way up along the coast to Clearwater before we jumped back across the Gulf to Carrabelle, considering our engine situation (one drip approximately every 10 seconds) and reports we had heard of storms rolling into Clearwater, we decided to motor up the ICW to Venice to shave a little off of our trip to Clearwater and closely monitor our engine in the safety of protected waters.
We would then make the Gulf crossing we had now made three times back from Clearwater to Carrabelle. It would be the last BIG crossing of the trip.
And, as you may recall, the last time we made this passage, from Clearwater to Carrabelle, we beat into 30 hours of rough weather and seas and had to hack off our dinghy in the middle of the crossing.
The really mind-blowing thing was, though, that she made her way across the entire Gulf alone and ended up in Ft. Walton, where we reclaimed her. This time, thankfully, we had opted for an inflatable dinghy, which was stowed safely below, so, assuming good weather, we were hoping to have a smoother passage. But, that was the next leg. We set our sights first on Venice via the ICW. Now, recall we still had a dripping dripless, although it was relatively minor, and a fluky manual bilge pump which we attributed to a cracked pump hose. So, our first mission that morning was to retrieve the replacement hose we had ordered at the Gasparilla Marina and make sure our manual bilge pump was working. That was the mission anyway …
I will say, it was a beautiful area around Gasparilla for walking, biking, canoeing, and
they had a very friendly staff at the marina, happy to sell us any type of hose we wanted. Cha-ching! Unfortunately, though, the new hose didn’t fix our manual bilge pump problem. Even after feeding the new hose from the pump at the cockpit down to the bilge, we still couldn’t suck the last bit of water out. It seemed the pump wasn’t sucking very well. It kind of sucked at sucking, I guess you would say …
But, our electric bilge pump was working fine, our manual pump was only kind of sucky and our thirsty Thirsty Mate, that trusty ole’ chap, was working great. Super suckage. So, we decided to go for it. We tossed the lines, had a friendly lad at the dock help us ease out (hence – no docking debacle this time!) and headed up the ICW toward Venice.
Now, the ICW runs along the West Coast of Florida from Anclote Key (Tarpon Springs, just north of Clearwater) down to Ft. Meyers, and serves as a nice option if the sea state in the Gulf is gnarly and you still want to make way along the coast. Most of the bridges along that route are either 65 feet or taller or they open to allow marina traffic through. We had six bridges total to make it through from Gasparilla up to Venice.
Most of them were open on-demand. Meaning you call the “bridgemaster” (I assume that’s his technical title) about 10 minutes out to request he open the bridge for you — “Open Says-a-ME!” Assuming no traffic or issues, it’s no problem, he opens the bridge as you’re headed toward him and voila! Occasionally, he may have some traffic backed up or some other issue and you’ll have to do a few circles before he can make it happen for you, but it’s generally not a problem. Other bridges open on a schedule, once every 15 or 30 minutes. So, you just have to know your bridges ahead of time and schedule/plan accordingly.
Luckily, I travel with the most awesome Captain in the world, and he had figured all of this out ahead of time and had all the numbers and times and everything printed out, ready to go, while I sat around and ate grapefruit.
Ain’t life grand? Okay, I shared some with the Captain, too.
Grapefruit … yum!
But, Phillip soon wised up and put me to work, keeping up with the log book, checking on the bridge times and
(of course!) monitoring our engine drip.
We were motoring under moderate load most of the day and she was dripping once approximately every 15-20 seconds. It seemed the hotter and harder she ran, the less the drip.
No comment … Likely the pressure and heat caused the seal around the stuffing box to swell, which created a tighter seal. In all, we were pleased with the slight drip and felt comfortable spending the day motoring up the ICW. The esteemed Captain called ahead as needed for bridges that opened on demand.
And we tried to motor accordingly (slower or faster) to come up on those that were scheduled just about the time they were opening.
It was pretty cool to see the massive cranks and gears that raised these bridges.
It’s pretty impressive to take a road that can hold tons upon tons of traffic and just … eehhh … crack it open and let a boat through. While most opened up like a drawbridge, we did pass through one that spun on an axis.
Like I said. Pretty cool. Definitely a different feeling than making our way across the Gulf. While we prefer to sail — always — it was a nice motor day and we got to marvel at some impressive engineering feats along the way.
An inspection of the arm showed I was developing a rare case of what we quickly coined “elephantitis.”
Everything from the wrist down was normal until about here,
where it balooned out and took on a squishy, swollen feel all the way up to my shoulder. And, let me just warn you – do NOT Google images for elephantitis. Just. Don’t.
We made it to the Crow’s Nest Marina in Venice around 3:00 p.m. and settled in nicely at Slip No. 9. The staff at the marina were exceptional. They helped us dock, welcomed us with maps, info, a menu for the local Crow’s Nest restaurant and showed us the facilities. Washer & dryer, nice showers, restrooms, even free bike rentals for marina guests. Sweet!
Live webcam leading out to the jetty:
By then, it was getting close to 4:00 and we were getting … happy. “I’ll take an Oh Shit!, please.”
We sat and sipped and uked and watched the marina activity for a bit,
before cleaning up to head over to the Crow’s Nest Marina Restaurant for dinner. They had separate shower suites, with restroom and shower stalls, which is super nice.
Not “truck-stoppey” at all! The arm was looking awesome …
Not disgusting at all! Just kind of Popeye’ish if you ask me.
I do eats me spinach! But, it was progressing along fairly well and still attached … so, no complaints.
We cleaned up and got ready for a nice dinner at the marina restaurant. The bottom floor of the Crow’s Nest Restaurant is more casual, a tavern-like atmosphere with light fare, live music, etc.,
while the top floor is a ritzy, fine-dining restaurant.
We figured, when in Venice …
“Table for two, please. Top floor.”
And, the food … was … decadent! We ordered up some phenomenal chicken skewers and oysters to start,
which of course came with a basket of piping hot fresh bread and a trifecta of dipping goodness (salty house-made butter, crushed garlic spread and olive oil with spices.
Then, well, things got a little hazy. I remember ordering (and thoroughly enjoying) the snow crab legs, and Phillip got the lamp chops. But, let’s just say, we were a few cocktails, two glasses of champagne and a couple bottles of wine in. I told you we were going to take this crazy act on the road! I remember the crab legs, but not the bib …
“You say it brings out my eyes? Stop it. Cap’n, you’re making me blush. My, my … “