The Motor Vessel "Once Around"

The Motor Vessel "Once Around"
The Motor Vessel "Once Around" in the Florida Keys

Monday, December 19, 2011

Have You Seen This Woman?

As you have probably figured out by now, the Admiral and I arrived home on the Left Coast early this week to spend Christmas with our family.  Still, I have been monitoring the doings of Looper friends.  I received a troubling e mail after arriving home.  The more I think about it the more I worry.  It purports to be from our friend Jan on Jolly Tolly.  It read in part…

OK – sit down for this piece of news – I went to four (4) lights today.  Our last pump out was Bay Pointe on 11/30.  I think that is a record.  Maybe I won’t have to go to rehab now…”

Anyone who has followed this blog remembers well the story of the “Pump-Out Queen” that I posted back in August.  If not, you need to go back and read it to understand the urgency of this post.  For you see, it is impossible to believe that the real Jan wrote the above message.  Someone must be posing as her, but why?  Well, in any case, we will not be duped.

When we left St. Petersburg this past Monday, Captain Ron of Jolly Tolly gave the Admiral and me a lift to the Tampa Airport.  When we inquired as to Jan’s whereabouts, Ron seemed a bit vague. ..something about, “She’s not very good with goodbyes.”  Hmmm…that doesn’t sound like Jan.  After all, this is a lady who, when guests overstay their welcome, asks them, “Would you like me to make you a sandwich for the road?”  Very subtle, huh?

Now, I would never suspect the good Captain Ron of any skullduggery.  After all, he and Jan have been happily married for something like 37 years.  Well…anyway…they’ve been married for that long.  Still, the message is so out of character that even if it was written by Jan, it must be some kind of subliminal plea for help. 

On the other hand, maybe Ron finally had enough of pumping out the boat at every turn…and just lost it!  It would be an obvious case of temporary insanity.  Most of us captains would understand.  If I have to spend one more afternoon in a Laundromat you might get a similarly confusing note from Carrie…

Anyway, please consider this an all points alert:  If any of you have actually seen Jan in recent days, please send evidence that she is not being held hostage or that she has not had some kind of mind altering drug administered to her.  The entire Looper community should be on the lookout.  Start by checking around the pump-out stations at every marina you pass.  She can’t be too far from one.

Please help us find the real Jan!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Smoked Mullett & Dog Races???

Lately Carrie and I have felt a bit like Charlie Brown, where the storm cloud seems to follow him around.  For the last several weeks it seems like every time we get to a warmer port, the weather god’s know we’re there and send in a cold front.  Clearwater was no exception.   When we arrived there on Tuesday it was about 78 degrees and sunny.  
We rented a car on Wednesday, and along with Fred and Julaine from Boreas, backtracked to the neat little town of Tarpon Springs.  It is a Greek community, and they still free dive for sponges as their ancestors in Greece had done for centuries.  The town is full of great restaurants.  On a tip from Ron and Jan we ate lunch at Dimitri’s and left there stuffed and happy.  We started cruising the shops, but within an hour or so a cold wind came up and blew a rainstorm into town.  We were in tee shirts, shorts and flip flops.  We toughed it out for a while, but were soon ready to head back to the boats.
Wednesday night the wind howled through the marina, the temperature dropped and Thursday morning was little better.  We decided to stick around for another day, but by noon the wind had dropped off quite a bit.  Since we only had 30 miles or so to go to St. Petersburg we decided to follow Boreas down there.  We slipped the lines at about 1:00 PM and were at Maximo Marina by 4:30.  Jan and Ron from Jolly Tolly met us on the fuel dock.  Their boat will call Maximo home through the third week of January as they take time off to return home for the holidays.  Once Around will be here through the first week of January.  Boreas left for ports south the following day.
The house of the day...

Carrie said this cormorant was in attack mode!

The approach into Maximo Marina
Jan and Ron had rented a car and offered to show us the sites.  Now, I’m sure St. Petersburg has much to offer, but our first night out with the Jolly Tolly crew was, shall we say, interesting.  Ron has a favorite local restaurant called “Crab Shack” that specializes in Smoked Mullet.  He says he’s brave enough every other year to try it, as he says it sort of “sticks with you” for a few days.  Of course, I make him order before me to make sure he’s not setting me up and was surprised when he actually ordered it.  Now, with my courage in question, I had no alternative but to follow suit.  Having done so, I now think it must be an acquired taste.  Maybe I’ll try it again in a couple of years!
The "tasteful" decor of The Crab Shack!

And Captain Ron with the "tasty" evidence!

And of course, not to be outdone...

But, our Georgia tour guides were just getting started.  We left the Crab Shack and headed for their next haunt, Derby Lane, the dog racing track!  What the heck, when in Rome…
It didn’t take our Admirals long to get into the swing of things.  Jan and Carrie had great fun betting on the dogs.  Carrie actually won her second bet, and if she had listened to my suggestion, she would have won big with the Trifecta.  Still, that little taste of winning and the two girls had a blast for several more races.  Ron and I had a couple of rum and cokes and started betting on which of the dog handlers would win their sprint down the track to retrieve the greyhounds.  I was sure I had picked the right guy, but he finished out of the money the first two times and scratched after that!  I had to buy the drinks.
We returned to the boats Friday night laughing about our meal and the night at the races.  Can’t wait to see what our tour guides come up with later in the weekend!


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Crossing

A friend of my First Mate's on the dock at Carrabelle
On the day we planned to leave Carrabelle (Monday), Brandy IV departed first in the morning due to her slow speed.  Within a few hours, word was out that Brandy was on her way back.  They were getting beat to death in 3-5 foot seas on their beam.  This was enough for the rest of us who were planning on leaving later that day to postpone departure for a day.  The Admiral dragged me to (where else) the Laundromat where we did about sixty loads of clothes…OK, maybe four loads.  By the time we finished, the world had changed again.
Greg and Kate on Grianan and Last Chance had gone ahead and departed around 1:00 PM and phoned back that, just as had been predicted, things had calmed some.  That, and a report from another fast boat that had crossed to Tampa on “calm seas”, was enough to get Boreas to leave around 2:00 PM, and Jolly Tolly felt we should leave at 3:00.  Carrie and I rushed back and finished our departure prep.  By 3:00 we were slipping lines and headed out for the 18 hour overnight crossing.

Once Around leaving Carrabelle.  Photo courtesy of Salt n' Sand

For the first three or four hours, we thought we might have made a mistake.  The seas were 2-4’.  The good news is they were coming almost straight at us.  So, as the sun set, we prepared for what would still probably be a pretty rough night.  However, as the Gulf is known to do, things changed quickly.  For several hours through the middle of the night the seas calmed to 1-2’, and we were all patting ourselves on the back (over the radio) about how great this was.  Of course, the Gulf gods weren’t quite finished, and the last several hours were a bit rougher, but not as bad as earlier in the night.
Once Around performed perfectly.  The more experiences we have with her, the better we love her.
Carrie had to take the sunset photo from her seat due to rough seas
During the calm sea portion of the night, things got kind of mind-numbing.  We tried lots of things to pass the time.  Crossword puzzle…yuch…nausea from motion within minutes.  Music…that worked for awhile.  Let’s see, what else could we do, what else could we do?  Get your minds out of the gutter…I suggested and got only the Admiral’s stare.
When the kids were little Carrie used to play little games with them in the car to pass the time.  One of them was called “I Spy”.  One person would say, “I Spy something with my little eye…something blue (or yellow or green).  The rest of the players would then look around and try to guess what it was.  On busy highways, that could be a challenge, taking some time.  But, in the middle of the darkest part of the trip, Carrie, without warning says, “I spy with my little eye…something red.”  I cracked up, as there was exactly one red object in our universe at that time, which was the port navigation light on Boreas, who was following us.  It was a short game, to say the least.
Finally,  at about 3:00 AM, after about an hour of silence she made her most desperate attempt, “You want to talk?” 
“Huh?” is all I can manage.  She thought that was funny too.  I didn’t get it.
She slept for an hour or so on the fly bridge bench seat, then I went below and slept for nearly two hours in our cabin.  “Slept” is probably an overstatement, as by then the seas had stirred up again and we were taking a bit of a pounding, which made me feel at times as if I were levitating.  Not good.
We arrived at Clearwater too early, having been warned to come in after 10 AM to avoid the sunrise glare which hides the floats that mark the crab pots.  Crab pots are fishermen’s revenge against power boaters.  If you run over one, the line can get tangled in your prop, spin up on your drive shaft and slam the crab trap into the bottom of your boat.  This often disables at least that engine, if not the boat entirely.  Luckily all of us managed to avoid these little devils, and we were tying dock lines by 10 AM.
Things were a bit calmer at sunrise... we followed Jolly Tolly and Boreas into Clearwater, FL
Clearwater, FL as we dodged the crab pots.  Can't see any?  Told ya!
All in all, the whole thing was pretty cool.  The sunset over the Gulf, the half-moon, the dolphins swimming alongside in the dark, the starlit night in the pitch black after the moon set, and the beautiful sunrise, were all spectacular.  Adjectives that best describe our mixed emotions include:  Intimidating, inspiring, lonesome, breathtaking and humbling, are just a few that come to mind. 
Every Looper made it safely, and every Looper is glad it’s behind us.  But, it was an experience none of us regrets, and one we will never forget.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

We're Here, and We're OK

We made the Gulf crossing as planned Monday night.  We made it to Clearwater safely…bone tired… details to follow…tomorrow.
PS For other Loopers looking for info:  Grianan, Last Chance, Boreas, Jolly Tolly arrived safely with us.  Saw Salt n’Sand pull in late today. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Gettin' Ready to Cross the Gulf...

Our last day in Port St. Joe brought an unexpected surprise.  We once again ran across Lollygag, who had completed their loop by crossing their wake here.  We were happy to take this photo of Matt and Sandee as they prepared to hoist their gold flag.
Friday we made the short 30 mile hop down to Apalachicola, Florida.  The weather is warming slightly, but still pretty chilly under way.  We stopped at Scipio’s Marina on the Scipio Creek, which is just off of Apalachicola Bay.  We followed Grianan, Boreas and Brandy IV into the marina, with Jolly Tolly right behind us. 
Entering Scipio Creek in Apalachicola

View from the creek...

...and more from the creek...

...part of the bustling little downtown Appalachicola, Florida
We were tied up at what is reported to be the best restaurant for oysters in town, Papa Joe’s Oyster Bar and Grill.  And Apalachicola Bay is famous for its’ plump oysters.  I am not much of a raw oyster fan, so I opted for some of the baked ones for lunch.   They make them about 15 different ways.  I could not chose so had kind of a three type sampler.  They were amazing.  Our server, Milan (pronounced Mylan) is Papa Joe’s grandson.  Milan’s dad is the current owner.  Milan told us they only get their oysters from one oyster bed, because they are the plumpest and best around.  It seems this is not just hype, as most of the locals agree and eat here when they want oysters. 
We needed to stretch our legs after stuffing ourselves on the late lunch, so Carrie and I did a walkabout around the downtown area.  There are lots of little shops and an amazing number of little restaurants and bars.  We could stay here awhile and not double up.  Carrie bought a pair of locally made “dolphin” earrings that set me back a whopping $15. There are also a few art galleries that we saved for the next day’s outing.
Saturday we went to a local “Fresh Market” downtown.  It was a bit over-hyped, but we managed to buy some banana bread and pound cake, but they didn’t meet the Admiral’s standards, so out they went before I even got a taste.  We had a fabulous lunch at Tamara’s, on a tip from Milan.  It was awesome.  I highly recommend it.  Ate Oysters again Saturday night at Papa Joe’s though…couldn’t resist.
We all cruised over to Carrabelle Sunday.  The Apalachicola Bay waters, even though fairly protected, were rougher water than we had seen in a while.  I remarked to Carrie that we have been lulled by the rivers, and this was a wakeup call that things were about to get serious again.
Entering Carrabelle, FL

Beats me...the Admiral thought it was funny...
Carrabelle is the last stop before crossing the Gulf to Tarpon Springs or Clearwater on the western shores of the Florida peninsula.  The weather is “not perfect”, so there was no shortage of opinions as a bunch of us got together to discuss the crossing we all hoped to make in a day or two.
The captains discuss strategy...

...while some of the Admirals make the decisions. 
left to right:  Kate (Grianan), Rita (Brandy IV), Julaine (Boreas) and Carrie (Once Around)
Right now (Sunday night), it looks like Once Around and Jolly Tolly will leave here tomorrow late afternoon and plan to be in Clearwater mid-day Tuesday (some 18-20 hours later).  This means an overnight crossing, which should be “fun”, right???  Again, this is all subject to last minute weather reports.  If things change we could be here in Carrabelle a while…
Click the “Find Us” button on this blog Tuesday.  It will be the first report that we made it across safely.  For those of you who get that annoying, “We’re here and we are OK” email…this one is a biggee.
Life is Good…and Boating is Fun!

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Whole Truth About Cormorants

If you read my recent post about “My” Friends, the Cormorants, I am sure I was clear how large and terrifying these birds are and had great respect for the guy who bravely grappled it to the ground and shoved it out of the boat (me!).  I even remember at the time telling everyone I had that old movie creature “Rodan” in my boat.  (You might have to be over 50 to remember Rodan, but it single handedly terrorized the entire country of Japan).  I was pretty proud of my heroism.  However, my two daughters saw it differently. 
In response to my blog Dina posted, “They look small in the picture Dad, not sure what the big deal was.”
Her sister Carla piped in, “Not too big of a bird from the looks of it Pops.”
So, to clear the air, I found two photos that put the size of the bird in proper scale from my perspective.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"My" Friends, the Cormorants

My friends, the cormorants, in the Gulf ICW

You all know my First Mate’s affinity for such things as pelicans and dolphins.  When she spots the first one of those each day she usually says something like, “Oh…look, there’s my friend the (fill in the blank)”.  Someday (after the kids take my power boat keys away) I just know she and I are going to be paddling around some small mountain lake in our canoe, and I’m sure “Her friends” the loons will be our company.  Think Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda in “On Golden Pond”.  She’ll probably even learn the “Looooooon” call, alla Hepburn.  She thinks she talks to whales now, so why not?
But, there is one particular species of wildlife which she does not claim as her own.  Rather, she always points at them and giggles, “Look Frank, there’s your buddies, the cormorants.”  Now cormorants are not particularly cute, nor funny, nor beautiful.  So how, you might wonder, did they become mine?  So glad you asked. 
Ironically, the incident was all my First Mate’s doing in the first place.
We were in our “west coast boat” (thank you Doug) a couple of years ago, moored off Catalina Island.   Our friends John and Linda on Poseidon were moored not far away.  We were both spending the month of September wandering around the waters of Catalina, and having our family members join us for a week or so around the Labor Day holiday.  When we awoke this particular morning however, we were all alone…sort of…
In the division of responsibilities on our boat, the Admiral always checks the doors at night before we retire.  She insists on locking them as well.  Since she is so fixated on this, I rarely worry about it (kind of like minor amounts of water in the bilge).  So, when she arose one sunny morning and went up to make coffee, we both knew whose fault it was that she found this huge bird flapping wildly around inside our salon.  All I heard from below was the Admirals screeching (or was it the bird's?), so I sprinted up to the pilot house, (where the side door to the outside deck had been left wide open overnite) and assessed the situation
It was pandemonium!  The bird was flapping his four foot wingspan around near the aft salon door, which was closed.  It should be noted here that just as we both knew who had let the bird in, we also both knew whose job it was going to be to get the damn thing out of the boat.  I moved out the side door and shimmied my way down the skinny side deck to the rear cockpit, intending to slide the door wide open and hope the bird would take the hint.  Naturally, when I arrived there, I found that the Admiral had locked that door!  At this point a couple on the adjacent boat yelled, “We think we saw a bird go inside your boat.”  Yeah thanks, I thought, smiling at them.  Then, in a concerned voice they warned,”He may be injured.”  Well, if not, he’s about to be, I thought.
Working my way back to the open side door of the pilot house, I re-entered the boat to find the crazed bird had moved up there also and was, for the moment, sitting in one of the side window frames.  He looked unhurt, but was a little demented…or was that me?  He also had a very sharp beak that looked to me very much like a six inch paring knife.  What to do, what to do?  The Admiral tossed me a throw blanket and orderied me to capture the bird by wrapping him up.  OK…that’s one idea.  Since the only option I could think of involved the 12 gauge shotgun I keep on board, I figured I had better try the Admiral’s solution first.
I did manage to get most of the bird in the blanket on the first try.  However, from the neck up, he was still free, and he did his level best wildly trying to peck me to death as I worked my way across the cabin with him in my outstretched arms.  I noticed the Admiral doubled over in laughter at what must have looked like me with an angry tiger by the tail.  I managed a perfect underhand toss through the open door and suddenly both bird and blanket were set free!  All was quiet aboard except for the Admiral’s giggling.
So, now you know, why to this day, every time we see cormorants...