Friday, February 26, 2016

January 8 - February 4, 2016 ::: Madisonville to Dunedin, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Palm Island Marina, Pelican Bay, and Punta Gorda, on Florida's West Coast

Christmas, New Years, all over ... time to move ahead on the Third American Great Loop Adventure, time to travel East and prepare for crossing the Gulf to the West coast of Florida.  The plan has SONATA moving from Madisonville across Lake Pontchartrain to the Mississippi Sound, through Mobile Bay and the Florida panhandle to Apalachicola.  We depart with the normal feelings of sorrow in departure, joy in the new adventure, and apprehension in what is in front of us. 

Underway from Madisonville, from DeZaires Marina, at 0505 ... in the dark, in the dark fog!  Out of the marina into the Tchefuncte River, a call to the bridge tender to open the swing bridge, continue on the South course to the Lake ... slowly in the darkness.  Once we arrive on the Lake the sun begins to come up and we can see almost a quarter mile.

 Just about the time the sun begins to rise SONATA arrives at the Causeway Bridge and visibility improves.  Under the bridge (no opening necessary) and we are now East bound and the fog clears.  There was a beautiful clear day ... until we approached the CSX Rigolets railroad bridge.  At the bridge the fog blew in and again visibility was reduced to a quarter mile.  Fog signals, tugs in the area, a narrow channel, other vessels appearing on radar and AIS ... much excitement. 
We planned to anchor on the Mississippi Sound just South of Biloxi ... but the weather would not permit due to increasing winds in the afternoon and strong winds forecasted for the next day.  SONATA and crew pressed on to Fairhope, Alabama ... 
Just before midnight, after some 17.5 hours of travel (142 nautical miles) we arrived in Fairhope and docked at the Eastern Shore Marina.  What a beautiful sunrise the next morning as we were securely tied to a dock. 
Our first visitors in Fairhope were Jeff and Carol Lee Macfarlane on board the vessel TUG LEE.  The are from Boyne City, Michigan, and also working their way East.

Prior to departing Madisonville we had been in contact with Bill Moorhouse on CORSAIR and planned to meet him in Fairhope.  Bill had traveled home to California and CORSAIR had been waiting in Demopolis for Bill's return.  SONATA and CORSAIR planned to travel together along the Florida coast.

SONATA's entry into the ICW on January 12th, out of the wind, protected and a nice day planned.  The original plan was to stop at The Wharf in Orange, Florida.  Time, distance, and weather, caused us to change our minds and proceed on to Pensacola, the Palafox Marina.  We wanted to stop at the Fish Market and enjoy their Shrimp and Grits ... the best.

Along the way we passed LuLu's ... owned and operated by Jimmy Buffett's sister.  Time being a consideration ... we continued on to Pensacola.


 All along the part of the ICW in the Florida panhandle, the vistas are beautiful.  The white sandy beaches along side SONATA, the dolphins playing on the port and starboard sides of the vessel and jumping in front of the bow.  All part of God's great gift to us ... earth.

A one night stop at Pensacola and then on to Fort Walton Beach were we stopped at the Adventure Marina which was right on the ICW.  With CORSAIR in company we went out to eat again ... oysters nicely steamed just next door. 
 Two nights at Panama City ... strong winds kept us there the second day.  On Saturday the 16th we were underway for Apalachicola.  There were strong currents pushing us down stream as a result of the many rainy days.  A nice ride to Scipio Marina and a four day stay to arrive at an appropriate weather day.  The earliest day that appeared was Wednesday the 20th.  We departed about 1300 on our way to Dunedin.  CORSAIR was to follow as was HATTITUDE, a 42' Hattaras with Roger and Vebbie Griffith aboard.

Out of the marina, down the Scipio River passing the waterfront, over to the Government Cut, through the cut and the fun began.  Once clear of the cut the wind and waves increased markedly and we were soon in 4-6' waves on the bow.  The course to Dunedin was about 130M and we would arrive early the next morning.  We took turns at the helm and everyone got at least a "cat-nap" on the couch.  After some 8 hours the wind seemed to pickup ... but the waves decreased and the ride was more comfortable.
The panhandle behind us ... on our way with our two followers.
A pleasant sunset over the Gulf as we proceeded South East.
The reward was a beautiful sunrise over the East Coast of Florida as we made our way to Dunedin, Marker One Marina.
First matter of business in Dunedin was BREAKFAST a block from Marker One; eggs, cheese grits, bacon, toast, jelly.  All one can ask for after a safe crossing of the Gulf.
Leaving Dunedin with MANANA
 Entering St Petersburg Municipal Marina

We spent a lovely evening with good  friends John and Jane Dew. They took us to a rooftop restaurant on the beach side of St Petersburg for a sunset over the Gulf and then to their home for a fabulous glad to see them again!

Don CeSar Hotel known as Florida's "Pink Palace" was built in 1928 to resemble a Mediterranean-style castle
Bonnie and Sue visited the Dale Chihuly Exhibition of beautiful hand blown glass...The handblown hanging bowls, called Persians, below are entitled "Sunset"..A large collection of these bowls are
displayed on the ceiling of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.
A magnificent chandelier

The Garden

The Float Boat inspired by the Japanese fishing floats...a 16 ft dory is filled with the float balls and the larger balls all positioned on a black mirrored floor

                                                              Isn't she just the bomb!!

                                                            Another local just relaxing!

We left St  Petersburg on a nice calm day and within 30 minutes we were in the middle of a heavy fog 
                             Approaching the Sunshine Hwy, where is the sunshine!
We finally clear the fog as we get close to Sarasota

Our accommodations for the next few days...the Hyatt-Regency Hotel and Marina

Our first adventure in Sarasota was the Ringling Bros. Barnum Bailey Museum..The Ca d'Zan (The home of John) Mansion and the circus in miniature which has been the life work of Howard Tibbles ..the railroad station says "Knoxville" which of course has special importance to us and the world's largest little "Big Top ! Absolutely incredible!


We depart Sarasota via the Intracoastal Waterway and pass Venice
 White pelicans are always beautiful to see 
Palm Island Marina will be our stop for a couple of days
We spent two lovely days anchored in  Pelican Bay

Arriving Fisherman's Village, Punta Gorda 

Our friends Skip and Shannon Wright  live in North Fort Myers had us to their home for a lovely dinner with friends, Mike and Ruth Meine, who all used to have their boat at Ocean Marine with us but are now full time Fort Myers good to see them again!!!