Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Gasparilla Invasion of Tampa

What a day! It began with a wet, bone-jarring ride in an open 21 foot boat traveling up Tampa Bay at up to 35 mph. We were on our way, with friends, to participate in the annual invasion of Tampa by the legendary Spanish pirate Jose Gaspar. This event has been going since 1904. As the official website states:

"... the world’s only fully-rigged pirate ship, the Jose Gasparilla, will magically appear at the south end of Hillsborough Bay. A multitude of pleasure crafts, all intent on defending the city, will boldly sail forth to meet the ship. But quickly seeing the error of their ways, they turn to join forces with the Captain and his Krewe’s flotilla. The colorful Gasparilla Flotilla then makes its way north across Hillsborough Bay and into Seddon Channel (channel between Davis Island & Harbour Island). The Gasparilla Invasion has begun!"

This event is like Super Bowl tailgating on boats. It is crowded, crazy, and fun. Food and alcohol are definitely involved. I have never seen so many boats moving at the same time- hundreds of them!  Plus a reported 100 law enforcement vessels including everyone from the University of South Florida Police, local police from several nearby cities, sheriff boats from a variety of counties, state law enforcement boats, the Coast Guard, the Coast Guard Auxiliary, and Homeland Security.

About 50 Krewes participate in the invasion and parade that follows. Each Krewe has membership requirements, volunteer requirements, dues, specific costumes, and may crown a king and queen and host debutante balls.

This entire festival lasts for a week and includes all kinds of events for kids and adults.

Spectators on shore an boaters throw Mardi Gras beads or water balloons. The more ambitious use slingshots to propel beads and balloons to people who try to catch them in nets. These people are serious about having a great time!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mayakka River State Park

Day 114
Miles today:  0    Total miles: 2,537.5
Hours today:    0
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

Yesterday we visited Myakka River State Park, Florida's largest state park. We took an airboat ride as well as the tram tour. There are a LOT of gators here, 500-1,000 we were told. The Myakka is Florida's only designated "wild and scenic" river.
Mama and 2 babies- click on photos for a better view
Who's afraid of a lil' ol' gator? Birds don't taste that good anyway.
A rare frontal shot

We sat way out on the bow for our boat tour

Our tour guide told us that feral pigs are a big problem in the area- they dig and destroy plants in the park, on nearby golf courses, and in backyards as they root around for food. Each year more than 1,000 pigs are removed from the park and are then sold to game farms and Asian markets. Since a sow has up to 3 litters a year, with 8-14 piglets each time, so the pig population continues to grow. Tilapia are also invasive and unwelcome in the park. These fish consume the food supply of the native fish, and are taking over the small lakes that are part of the Myakka River.

We enjoyed docktails and dinner with Iowa friends Glenn and Joyce. We met them two years ago when we were here, and picked up right where we left off. As everyone knows, the best part of doing the Loop is the people we meet along the way!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

We're Cool Again

Day 111
Miles today:  0    Total miles: 2,537.5
Hours today:    0
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

Boaters really appreciate refrigerators- especially those huge side-by-side models with ice and water on the doors sitting in their kitchens at home. <sigh>  Most boat refrigerators are considerably smaller and do not have ice makers. Many are a bit "warmer" then their land-based counterparts. We cynically refer to one brand of boat fridges as "NeverCold." We use our refrigerator, 2 Coleman coolers, with blue ice packs,  and an Engel portable fridge/freezer to chill our stuff.The Engel and one cooler full of beverages are up on the flybridge, while the second cooler is in the aft shower, which we use for storage. I usually know where different things are being stored, but that was shot to heck Monday when our 19 year-old fridge gave up the ghost after a gentle defrosting. We reminded ourselves (often) that this was an inconvenience, not a tragedy. Still, trying to prepare meals with ingredients stored in four different locations is majorly frustrating. It never fails that the ingredient needed is located at the very bottom of whichever cooler. So, take everything out, find the required item, and put it all back in.  Arrrgh!

Dr. Research  (aka Mark) immediately set to work to find a replacement and uncovered two options- one cost twice as much as the other and would take four weeks to ship. Not an option. Thankfully we have connections- we have Mike, who is originally from our hometown, is married to our daughter-in-law's cousin, has a boat business, and lives a few miles away. Jackpot! Mike drove over with our new fridge, removed the old model and installed the new one. He made it look easy. Thank you, Mike!!! (And Mark helped.)

The grandkids could have made a cool house out of the box.

Out with the old

In with the new

Mike connects the 110 and 12 volt

Love it!

Yesterday (Saturday) our marina hosted its monthly brunch for boaters at Pier 22 restaurant. What a delicious treat! Thank you, Twin Dophin Marina. We shopped the Farmers Market is spite of the howling wind, and bought more Royal Red shrimp- they are awesome with drawn butter. We were craving Grouper again- I think that Grouper is addicting. We ate supper at O'Bricks on Old Main, a short stroll from the marina. We WILL be going back there- the food and service are excellent.

We are happy to be tucked into the marina during these several days of strong winds and big waves on the Gulf. We watched three footers on the normally calm Manatee River yesterday- out in the open water the waves are as high as ten feet- yikes!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Reuniting With Looper Friends

Day 109
Miles today:  0    Total miles: 2,537.5
Hours today:    0
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

Our friends Brenda and Glenn (Young at Heart) just crossed their wake, which called for a celebration for these brand new Gold Loopers. (For our non-Looper friends, boats traveling the Great Loop for the first time fly a white burgee with the AGLCA emblem. When the Loop is completed, the burgee is replaced by a gold one. The few people that complete the Loop more than once fly a platinum burgee.) Young at Heart is  currently in Fort Meyers, so we made a day of it yesterday.

We left Bradenton early in our rental car. Our first stop was Punta Gorda, where we checked out the marina where we will soon be staying. It's a great place with nice people!

Next we moved on to Fort Meyers where we had lunch our very first Looper friends- Marc and Michele (Marc's Ark) and Bruce and Ann. The six of us met at the 2010 Rendezvous, and get together periodically. Craig and Barbara from Blue Heron joined us at Prime de Leon.

Perfect day for an outdoor lunch

We then went to Legacy Harbor to pick up Dan and Angie from Sea Horse. It's a huge marina with lots of Loopers- we have been feeling rather lonely in Bradenton because we haven't found any other Loopers. Anyway, we drove to Cape Coral marina to join Young at Heart and Serenity. It was wonderful to reconnect with Gina and Steve from Island Time- we had not seen them since October. Put-on' Around (Bridgette and Scott) and Bon Foeyage (Inger and Dick) joined us for dinner at Papa Joe's. What a terrific day!!

On board Young at Heart with their new gold burgee

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Day 106
Miles today:  0    Total miles: 2,537.5
Hours today:    0
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

We are enjoying Bradenton and the amenities of this marina- especially the nearby hot tub! It's good to relax for a few days. Yesterday we did some boat chores, including defrosting the freezer. The bad news is that the fridge died after the defrost- the compressor won't run anymore. Since it doesn't make sense to attempt repairing a 19 year-old fridge,  we researched a replacement. No vendor around here has one in stock, but thankfully, a new one will be delivered on Friday. Meanwhile, we are relying on 2 coolers and an insulated bag. We bought an ice maker last month, which is churning out ice cubes like a champ to keep food cool. We are fortunate that the fridge decided to give up the ghost here and not in some isolated location.

We saw "American Sniper" and "Imagination Games" recently, and highly recommend them both. 
We have not found any other loopers here, so no docktail get-togethers. Sunset is still a treat!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Bradenton Attractions

Day 103
Miles today:  0    Total miles: 2,537.5
Hours today:    0
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

Today was fun and sad- again! Our friends on Serenity and Young at Heart moved on this morning, and we miss them already. We did find some interesting things to do, never fear. We strolled along Old Main Street through the weekly Farmers' Market. It's just a few block from our marina, with vendors selling everything from jewelry to seafood. It was a lovely morning for the market.

 The strawberries from Plant City are ready, and sooo delicious !

We also bought some huge Royal Red shrimp. Sautéed in butter and garlic, they taste a lot like lobster.

This afternoon we drove to the Robinson Nature Preserve, a few miles from our marina. It's located on the Manatee River where it flows into the Bay. There are several miles of trails, and a good variety of wildlife in the salt marshes and waterways. We saw a lot of bicyclists, kayakers, walkers and runners. It's a holiday weekend and the weather is ideal, so everyone wants to enjoy the outdoors.

Anna Maria Island and The Ringling

Day 102
Miles today:  0    Total miles: 2,537.5
Hours today:    0
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

We borrowed a friend's car to explore the Bradenton area. It was a tight fit for the six of us- Kathy and I rode in the back on the first day, then Glenn and Mark gallantly volunteered to trade places with us. They did not fit quite as well as we did, but they cheerfully endured the cramped backwards ride while John served as our chauffeur.

These two find humor in every situation.

Thursday afternoon we drove over to Anna Maria Island, a tourist spot famous for its white sand beaches. The beach was lovely, the weather not so much. But our intrepid group had fun anyway!


Glenn, John and Mark

We capped off the day with dinner at friends' lovely home on the Manatee River. We love the seafood here, but the steaks we grilled were every bit as good as the filets from Fareway at home!

Young at Heart and Serenity had planned to leave us on Friday, but the gusty winds changed their minds. So we hopped back in the car and headed for Sarasota, just a few miles away. Our destination was the Ringling Museum. What an extraordinary place! It's a circus museum, an art museum, an incredible mansion, a ballet theater, lovely gardens, and a breathtaking location on Sarasota Bay. Our Iowa friends may recall that the Ringling brothers were born in a humble home (i.e., shack) in McGregor, Iowa, and went on to circus fame and wealth. John Ringling decided to establish winter quarters for the circus in Florida, and built a not so modest house for himself and his wife in 1924-26. Today this house would cost over $20 million to build.
He named it Ca' d'Zan, meaning John's house.

Mable wanted a home in the Venetian Gothic style of the palazzi in Venice, Italy, with Sarasota Bay serving as her Grand Canal. Construction began in 1924 and was completed two years later at a then staggering cost of $1.5 million. Five stories tall, the 36,000 square foot mansion has 41 rooms and 15 bathrooms.
The inside of the house resembles a castle with a great hall and crazy-ornate furnishings. Its more posh than Downton Abbey! When the house was built, there was not much going on in Sarasota, so the Ringlings chose prime real estate for their compound. The view of Sarasota Bay is amazing.

Of course there is  circus museum, which to me was the least-interesting part of this complex. There are many miniature exhibits and a few of the old circus wagons, along with other memorabilia.

Soon after the completion of Ca’ d’Zan, John built a 21-gallery museum modeled on the Florentine Uffizi Gallery to house his treasure trove of paintings and art objects, highlighted by his collection of Old Masters, including Velazquez, Poussin, van Dyke and Rubens. The result is the museum and a courtyard filled with replicas of Greek and Roman sculpture, including a bronze cast of Michelangelo’s David.

After getting our cultural fix, we met Dan and Angie at Marina Jack's. Sea Horse is docked in this beautiful marina.

Then it was time for dinner with our land-based friends, Peter and Sparkie, at the Sea Hut in Palmetto. After a night cap back at their home, it was way past Looper Midnight. Another marvelous day!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Day 99
Miles today: 30.5    Total miles: 2,537.5
Hours today:    4.3
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

Today we cruised from Madeira Beach to Bradenton, FL. It was a rather cool, cloudy day with minimal wind. We had a few beam waves as we crossed part of Tampa Bay, but it wasn't bad at all. Bradenton is off the ICW, up the Manatee River 4-5 miles. Once again, Young at Heart and Serenity traveled with us. We plan to stay here for a week, while they will move on sooner. We are at Twin Dolphins Marina, which has great amenities including a pool and hot tub.

It looks like there is a lot to explore here in Bradenton-- It will be good to spend some time seeing the sights and catching up on some boat chores.

This evening we hosted docktails with wonderful friends.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Indian Rocks Beach to Madeira Beach

Day 97
Miles today: 7.5    Total miles: 2,502
Hours today:    1.5
Locks today: 0.    Total locks: 34

Friday morning we we shoveled snow before our flight to Clearwater- what a difference 2.5 hours can make! We arrived back on Mara Beel and were happily reunited with Serenity and Sea Horse. Kathy, Angie and Becky walked a few miles to Hammock Park- we spotted a Wood Stork, but of course I didn't have my camera with me.

The following day the 3 of us traveled a few miles to Indian Rocks Beach. Sunday was a great day for a walk on the beach- the morning was a little chilly, but it soon warmed up considerably. Sea Horse left us to head on south, but we stayed a second night here.

Serenity and Sea Horse

Becky and Kathy on the beach.

Our Guttenberg friends, Tom and Cindy, met us for lunch at Jimmy Guanas in the Holiday Inn Harbourside. We had just finished eating when Glenn and Brenda (Young at Heart) surprised us! We had not seen them since the Tennessee River in October, so we are having fun catching up.

Glenn, John and Mark are happy that shorts are again appropriate.

Today Mara Beel and Serenity cruised a few short miles to join Young at Heart in Madeira Beach. 

These 3 dolphins swam just under our bow for 5-10 minutes this morning. They seem to like it when our speed is around 9+ mph. When Mark slowed down, they left us.

We girls made a grocery run to Publix in Brenda's rental care- what a wonderful grocery store! I am getting pretty good and navigating the aisles, since most of them are arranged similarly. After a late lunch we all met to plan our route for the next week or so- continuing to head south.