Friday, December 12, 2014

December Doings

Mara Beel has been sitting in salt water for a month now, for the first time in her life. Time to have her bottom cleaned. Salt water promotes the growth of various forms of marine life on the hulls of boats. This stuff needs to cleaned off regularly so it won't slow down the boat or damage the bottom paint. Some intrepid boaters have the gear to do this themselves. We don't have the expertise or the equipment, so we had divers tackle the job yesterday.

The divers said our hull and zincs are in great condition, and thought our props were brand new- that's a minor miracle considering all those logs in the Mississippi!

We took a long walk through Hammock Park and found more trails to explore.

We were part of the gang of 17 that gathered for BBQ at Ozona Pig Wednesday night, a "see you on the water" to several boats that left the next morning.

Photo by Patsy Conrad

Last night we hosted dinner on our boat- Jim and Mimi and Patsy and Tom joined us for Mimi's jumbo gulf shrimp, Patsy's fresh green salad and my pasta.

Sunrise was spectacular today.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Looper Lifestyle

Day 96-99
Miles today: 0 Total miles: 2,481
Hours today:   0
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

There's no big, exciting news to report for the last few days- just the typical Looper Lifestyle.

Sunday evening we co-hosted a cookout for several Loopers who crossed the Gulf over the weekend, including True North, Roundabout, and Dream Fever. It was so wonderful when other Loopers did that for us the previous week that we wanted to pass it on. After all, who wants to cook after spending 27 hours bouncing around in the Gulf of Mexico??

Another fantastic sunset in paradise

Monday was a gray, misty day, so we drove up to Tarpon Springs with Dan and Angie. We chatted with Lollygagger and Raydiance, who landed there after the crossing. I made Ranchero Chicken tacos in my crockpot, so Angie and Dan joined us for dinner. Our challenge at the moment is to use up our perishable food before heading home for the holidays!

Tuesday was a special day- my childhood friends Nancy and Janet, and Nancy's husband Tom picked us up and we shared lunch at Ozona Blue and memories of the good old days in Fort Madison. I had not seen these girls since I was 8, and caught up with them back in February, which is a whole 'nother story.  Nancy babysat my brother and me way back when until her family moved to Florida!

Nancy, Janet and Becky onboard

Last night we ate at Frenchy's Outpost, just across the street, with Sea Horse and Raydiance. It is not surprising that many Loopers feel the need to join AA and Weight Watchers at the end of their journeys!

This morning we begged a ride to the Pinellas County Tax Office and purchased a Florida registration for Mara Beel. This registration might or might not be required- no one seems to have a definitive grasp of the law. We are a Coast Guard documented boat with a Wisconsin registration, but Florida wants some $$ for any boat staying in the state more than 90 days. We have heard that the fine for not have this non-required sticker is not appealable, and is more expensive than the registration sticker. So, better safe than sorry.

Our shiny new sticker

This afternoon the men made yet another of their almost daily trips to West Marine. (West Marine is to Mark what the Container Store is to me.) Meanwhile  I went for a long walk on the excellent bike/walking path that runs from Tarpon Springs to Clearwater and discovered a great little park, a historic chapel, and a butterfly garden. Tomorrow I will go back to those places with my "real" camera.

Hammock Park

Andrews Memorial Chapel

Saturday, December 6, 2014

'Tis the Season...

Day 95
Miles today: 0 Total miles: 2,481
Hours today:   0
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

...for Christmas boat parades.  This one took place in Dunedin, Florida, this evening. 27 boats lined up with a lot of music and celebration to travel from between 2 marinas. It does seem rather strange to us to hear Christmas music and see all of the holiday decorations when the weather feels like summer.

Boaters go all out with decorations here!

The Coast Guard led the parade from Marker 1 Marina to the Dunedin Municipal Marina.

Earlier this afternoon the marina hosted a cookout for parade participants and non-participant marina folks. We enjoyed hamburgers, hotdogs, potato salad, beans, etc. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Comings and Goings

Day. 93-94
Miles today: 0 Total miles: 2,481
Hours today:   0
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34
The weather has been perfect this week! It's hard for us to believe that Christmas is almost upon us.

Loopers are coming and going here. Five boats are planning to cross the Gulf headed for our marina this  weekend, so some of us are planning a welcoming cookout on Sunday. Meanwhile several boats have headed south. Patriot and Ta Ta left Thursday.  

Mark looks on as Connie, Jim and Mary look for the ideal anchorage as they decide on their next stop.

Meanwhile 8 of us went to the St. Petersburg Boat Show yesterday by car. We rode with Angie and Dan (Sea Horse) and included the required stop at West Marine, of course. I didn't take any pics at the boat show, but we did spot this "clothing optional resort."  Interesting.

We went out to dinner with Angie and Dan. Needing a break from seafood, we chose the Smokehouse in downtown Dunedin. Yummy smoked meats and BBQ!

Today was a sorely needed boat chore day. I did laundry, made hummus, and cleaned the inside of Mara Beel. Mark tackled the outside. He made several improvements on our dinghy and re-arranged storage space in the bridge. He also put new lines on fenders and re-inflated several of them. He tinkered with our bikes and hosed off the decks. There's never a shortage of to-dos. He also put up our Christmas lights- it's looking festive now.

This evening we enjoyed a small family reunion with my (Becky's) relatives from Pittsburgh. My Aunt Virginia and cousins Susan and Tim, and Tim's wife Janet (cousin-in Law??) are vacationing in the area. We introduced them to the docktails custom at our marina before a delicious dinner at Ozona Blue. What a coincidence that we are here at the same time-- loved seeing them after a 3 year gap.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Day. 90-92
Miles today: 0 Total miles: 2,481
Hours today:   0
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

After recovering from our crossing, we have been exploring the area around Dunedin. Monday Tom and Cindy, our friends from home,  picked us up and took us out for lunch in Clearwater. 

Afterwards we relaxed in their beautiful winter condo. What an incredible view!

We returned to the Marina for the nightly dock tails. There is quite a group of Loopers here.

On Tuesday Mark went with several other guys to West Marine and a boat salvage place- they had a ball! I know Mark enjoyed a boys' day out. Meanwhile, Mary, Connie and I rode our bikes to Tarpon Springs. A wonderful bike trail took us 7 miles to this town, which is famous for sponges and Greek food. It was considered the sponge capital of the United States, and many divers came from Greece to harvest the natural sponges. This led to the establishment of many Greek restaurants. One can purchase sponges in a variety of shapes and sizes. We ate a Greek lunch at Helas and then browsed a few shops. It's been ages since I had a day with girls!

 I was more than surprised to run into relatives walking along the street! My cousins Tim and Susan, Tim's wife Janet, and their mom, my Aunt Ginny, are visiting from Pittsburgh! We will connect again for dinner.

We were caught in a brief shower on our return ride, but we quickly dried out. We were back at the Marina in time for our nightly get together. A large group of us walked a few blocks to Frenchy's Outpost for dinner. Such a rough life we're leading! We are all relishing this time together. Today a few boats headed south, and more will go tomorrow. Some of us will be leaving our boats to go home for Christmas before continuing our journeys. Chances are good that we will see each other on the water somewhere.


Monday, December 1, 2014

We made it!

Day 88-89
Miles today: 194.5    Total miles: 2,481
Hours today:    27.7
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

Mara Beel was part of the flotilla that took advantage of only the second weather window in November to cross the Gulf of Mexico between the Panhandle and the west coast of Florida. (Last year there were 10 weather windows in November.) Some boats waited as long as 2 weeks for good weather. We did not wait at all due to our unplanned trips home.

Once we started the Loop, the Gulf crossing hung over us. We kept it at the very back of our minds most of the time, but there is a certain amount of apprehension about facing the unknown. It's something we just want to get through and not suffer too much while doing it. It can't be scheduled in advance and it can't be done impulsively. But the reward on the other side is warm sunny weather and a huge sigh of relief.

We traveled with 4 other boats. The captains did a lot of detailed planning before we ventured out- course, speed, procedures, etc. were carefully decided upon in advance. Our group was like-minded in these things, which made the trip a lot easier. Sea Horse, Mara Beel, Ta Ta, Serenity, and Perfect Balance made up a terrific little fleet!

It was a beautiful day to go! We are the boat on the right in this photo. Right around East Pass the waves were bumpy and we all thought we were in for a rough ride.  However, after a few miles the water smoothed out and continued to get better. We watched the sun set with sadness, knowing it was about to become very dark. 

We had a bit of moon light for a short time, and then it, too, disappeared. Let me tell you, it was DARK out there. Very dark. Pitch black. Impossible to differentiate between sky and sea. Our instruments were on night mode, meaning the radar showed a black screen and the panel was illuminated by soft red lights.  We could not have any other lights on because light would destroy our night vision for 20 minutes or so. So no reading, knitting, no cell service, etc. Just  sitting and talking. It made for a long night. A really long night.

Mark and I did 2-hour shifts. Our autopilot was steering, so we just needed to keep an eye on our radar to make sure the group stayed intact. We both slept pretty well on the settee during our down times. We had check-ins by radio every 30 minutes, and we all looked forward to those. It was great to hear voices and see the navigation light of our companions. We were blessed with smooth water the entire trip, and no one was sea sick. No mechanical issues, either. We couldn't ask for a better crossing!

When the sun finally made its presence known, it was time to dodge crab traps. These are submerged wire cages with a floating ball attached to each one with rope. They are strung out in lines with the traps about 100 feet apart, usually in 20-30 feet of water. We saw about a million of them. The floats are all different colors according to their owners. Our least favorites were the ones with blue tops on the balls- the same color as the water. Don't know why they don't use day-glo Orange. Hitting one of these would result in the rope wrapped around the propeller, which would obviously be bad news. We had line cutters installed on our props just in case. Guess we can't tell if they worked, since we don't think we hit anything. 

We finally sighted red marker 4 and turned on to the Intra Coastal Waterway with great elation! We continued south to Dunedin where many of us will leave our boats to go home for Christmas. 

Last night one of the couples who arrived several weeks ago grilled chicken for our group, and we all contributed a dish to share. The champagne corks were popped and we toasted our successful crossing.

And it was early to bed for a tired but very happy group of Loopers.