Monday, February 18, 2008

February 10 - 17, 2008 . . . Pensacola to St. Petersburg

As we departed Pensacola for points East, the dolphins were leading the way.

Our first stop after Pensacola was Destin. Just the other side of the bridge we stayed at Harborwalk where the large building, a new condo, was under construction. Bonnie had to be careful entering the marina due to shoaling just the other side of the bridge. Docked with no problems other than many many boats all around on this beautiful week end.

One night in Panama City then on to Apalachicola to wait for a weather window so we can cross the Gulf to St. Petesburg. We waited for one extra day while storms passed with 20-25 knot winds. We then departed Apalachicola and passed the downtown area and the vessel "God's Blessings" trusting that God would bless us a little more than the vessel bearing that name.

We were most fortunate to travel from Apalachicola to St. Petersburg with LUCKY STAR, Bob and Jan Christensen and their son Rob. We first met Bob and Jan in Peterboro, Ontario, then again in Charlevoix, Michigan. The meetings of new good friends is part of what makes this trip so terrific.

We departed the closed and protected waters of the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway via the "Government Cut" south of Apalachicola. Water was predicted to be waves 1-3 feet, winds NNW shifting to the East at 10-15. Everything aboard SONATA was secured for sea, for the crossing.

We departed Apalachicola just after noon, at about 1:30pm. Later, as the sun set, we prepared for the overnight passage, radar working well, LUCKY STAR about 3/4 mile behind us, and the seas were moderate. Prayers answered.

At about 6:30am on Friday, the 15th, we were able to announce "Land-Ho" as we approached Clearwater, Florida. A daylight approach to the coast is required due to the many crab pots, floats, along the coast and channel entrances.

Closer to the entrance into Clearwater, Florida, the condo buildings and surrounding area came into full view showing the beauty and reason so many retire to Florida.

Homes along the quiet waters of the waterway.

Streets now parallel the waterway as we moved from Clearwater to St. Petersburg.

In addition to the road traffic parallel to the waterway, there was an abundance of small craft boaters that shared the waterway with us.

Shortly after we tied up at the Gulfport Municipal Marina near St. Petersburg we were joined by Jane, a dear friend of Bonnie's. Jane was gracious to became our skilled "tour-guide" for the next two days.

Saturday morning we were off to Tarpon Springs, into the Greek World of sponges. We learned how sponges were, are, harvested from the sea and made a purchase. We also learned again how good Greek food can be.

Everyone is all smiles as we wait for our lunch at "MAREIPEION MYKONOS Florida's Most Authentic Greek Cookery". The girls shared a Greek Salad and a sandwich . . . Charlie had papoutsaki (fresh eggplant stuffed and baked with ground beef and bechamel sauce).

Not unlike the ocean front in Virginia Beach, everything is for sale in Tarpon Springs, from Greek belly-dancing outfits, to flip-flops, T-shirts, Crocks, sponges, candy, tours . . . they have it all.

Some of the fleet at rest in port.

Jan, Bob, and Rob Christensen of LUCKY STAR. There was a photo opportunity as we prepared for Bonnie's return to Virginia Beach for the week and Rob prepared to return home having helped his parents make the Gulf crossing.

On the way to brunch Jane took us by the Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club, a St. Petersburg hotel which has been recently carefully restored to its old beauty.

Brunch was at the Columbia Restraurant ( which is on the Pier in St. Petersburg. The BOUNTY was moored just outside our windows.

Pelicans posing outside the restaurant near the Pier, heads bowed as we go past and Bonnie is off to fly away to Virginia Beach for the week. Next stops, planned in "pencil", are Venice, Captiva, Marco Island, Shark River, Marathon, and Key West.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

February 3-9, 2008 . . . New Orleans to Pensacola

A Sunday afternoon departure from New Orleans and south on the Industrial Canal, turn to the east on the New Orleans / Rigolets Cut to the Mississippi Sound and we were proceeding East on the GIWW (Gulf Intercoastal Waterway). Overnight at anchor behind Rabbit Island just southwest of the mouth of the Pearl River.

Through the Mississippi Sound north of Cat Island, and finally Deer Island. The Beau Rivage at Biloxi comes into view and we soon thereafter arrive at Schooner Marina.

A little gambling at the casinos (Charlie lost $13.00), lunch at Mary Mahoney's (we ate there on the last visit) and then we waited for a storm to pass. For us the storm first produced fog, then rain, then strong wind. Further North in Mississippi and Arkansas people were killed and there was serious property damage. We waited.

By Wednesday morning the storm had just passed and we ran up a sky-hook to catch the passing clouds and move on east to Orange Beach, Alabama.

As we crossed from New Orleans to Pensacola all shared in the driving of SONATA; Rhonda and Leslie were a great help and did a fine job.

Crossing Mobile Bay it was "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" . . . oops, the Navy was there being protected by the Coast Guard's small boat....

One of the many platforms along the coast, this in Mobile Bay.

In Orange Beach, Alabama, near Gulf Shores, Alabama, we stopped at the marina that contained the restaurant named LuLu's. Lulu is Jimmy Buffett's sister. What a great place, wonderful food, good music . . . and we were happy to be there the day after "Fat Tuesday" for the waiting lines at LuLu's are usually some two hours long.

On our way to Pensacola we encoutered many porpoise. These fellows first approached the bow and swam in the bow wake, then off to the side of the boat and jumped and jumped. They even roll over on their side and look up at you...........

A friend of ours, Elaine, first came to SONATA in Alton during the end of September 2007. She was visiting her friends in Gulf Breeze, Fred and Caroline. The three of them met us at lunch, by accident, then came to SONATA. Fred and Caroline were, are, wonderful. We joined them for dinner at their home and while we were in Pensacola Fred loaned us his Lexus so we would be able to get around. Bonnie says Fred is her new very best friend.

Get around we did. Navy is here. We got to the exchange and commissary, then we went to the Naval Aviation Museum and saw lots of aircraft, space flight exhibits, IMAX movies, a POW exhibit, Coast Guard exhibits, and Bonnie got a workout.

Here she is . . . ready to strap in and take off, Bonnie, Fighter Pilot.

Planes and more Planes. Even a flight deck, old berthing quarters. So much to see.

Most interesting for those that had been in the Navy, the snack bar is the interior of Cubi Point NAS recreated. So much history.

End of a beautiful day, Pensacola Beach, Florida. Rhonda and Leslie leave on Saturday and return to Virginia Beach. Bonnie and Charlie will continue on to Destin, Panama City, and Apalachicola to thereafter cross over to St. Petersburg.

February 1-3, 2008 . . . New Orleans Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras in New Orleans. "Mister, throw me some beads."

Bonnie returned to New Orleans with her daughter Rhonda and Rhonda's friend Leslie . . . then off to the parades and the French Quarter.

The Friday afternoon crowd on Bourbon Street.

A stop at the Central Grocery on Decatur Street, a few blocks off Bourbon and Royal, the home of the muffuletta sandwich . . . our favorite. Then off to............

Aunt Sally's Pralines for Bonnie's dessert.

A must stop point in New Orleans is Pat O'Briens. Charlie ordered a Hurricaine for all to sample, then back to the streets.

On Canal Street the floats in the parades are ornate and of great design and the crowds are yelling . . .

......Mister, throw me some beads......

More and more floats and, yes, more and more beads.

Bourbon Street in the French Quarter . . . at night; and more beads.

Rhonda and Bonnie . . . "Mister, throw me some beads."

Saturday was walk the French Quarter, Jackson Square, the French Market and then stop for dinner before the evening parades. Our stop was at STELLA! ( where Bonnie had "Fish & Chips", which she reports takes the words to a new level, and Rhonda had Duck Fiveways. Leslie enjoyed the Walu and Charlie the Scallops. We all then shared a Bananas Foster for dessert.