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Waiting for Weather
Patience is not just a virtue, it's a way of life for cruisers here on the "forgotten coast" of Florida. It seems that every southbound boat here in Apalachicola got just enough of a thrashing out in the Gulf that they will wait as long as necessary for calm seas before making the 150 mile jump down to Tarpon Springs. And just as it did last week in Pensacola, the forecast is for strong winds and high seas for several days into the future. In the meantime, Apalachicola has an excellent playground, a Subway, and an Internet cafe. There's work to do on the boats and Christmas shopping, although no one knows where they'll be for the holidays just yet.

Thursday, December 15 - Apalachicola
Yesterday Jerry and Ruby on Wind Dreams left for Carrabelle (although it seems more likely now that we'll make the jump from here in Apalachicola) while Steve and Gloria on Living Well pulled into Deepwater Marina and kept us company. Annie and Laura decorated the interior of the boat for Christmas. Laura forbid me to go into the aft cabin, originally until Christmas Eve. "Where will I sleep?" I asked, and she indicated the salon. "What about my clothes?" I asked. "Oh, Mom will get whatever you need if you ask her," Laura said instantly. Finally she relented and let me enter as part of a grand presentation yesterday afternoon which included her playing Christmas music on her recorder.

Today we had planned on leaving the marina ($1.25/foot per night) and going to anchor out somewhere...just as we had for the past couple of days. But the weather was unsettled to say the least, so here we are again for another night. I've gotten some work done on the boat, installing a new clutch for the mainsail roller furler, and adjusting the angle of the boom so the sail should roll on easier in the future. Between that and Uno (Care Bears Edition) games and watching holiday classics such as Elmo Saves Christmas, we've stayed as busy as ever.

Photos: (1) Laura likes visiting the Cafe con Leche. (2) Living Well has quite the bowsprit. (3) The aft cabin was a wonderland of glowsticks, chains of colorful paper, and Christmas lights.

Sunday, December 18 - Apalachicola
Weird weather patterns (a continuous series of lows and fronts that keep the winds and seas high) have persisted here in Apalachicola. We've walked to the grocery store, worked on the boat, and waited. Jerry and Ruby on Wind Dreams have left the boat in Carrabelle and gone home for Christmas. Gloria on Living Well has gone to South Carolina for a couple of days. It rained all day yesterday--the first real "rain day" of our trip. Friday night we enjoyed a get-together with the folks from the marina. It was obvious when we got here that Deepwater, although staffed with very helpful and friendly folks, was in transition. Dockmaster Wes tells us the owner is winding things down while dreaming of waterfront condos. He is hoping to open another marina/boatyard nearby. He, his wife Deanne (not to mention Gene and Sheila) have been most excellent hosts and Laura has enjoyed interacting with all of them. Wes gave us a good deal on a weekly rate for our stay here and although we don't have 100% of the amenities of Sciopio Creek Marina down the way, we're happy with our temporary home.

Word is that Ron and Bobbie on Anticipation, one of the leaders of our Boatilla, are considering heading south tomorrow. The forecast is seas 3-4 feet, which is not ideal but possible.

Monday, December 19 - Apalachicola
After a dockside strategy meeting Seaductress, Anticipation, and Living Well agreed to leave tomorrow when conditions should be optimal (okay, not optimal but as good as we've seen) and Gloria will (we hope) be back from South Carolina. There are a number of other boats (trawlers, I think) going tomorrow as well. I went up the mast and installed a new anchor light to replace the one broken by the bridge. We met for lunch and Internet updates at Cafe con Leche, then retired to our boats to rest up after another busy, busy day.

Annie says: The Christmas season is a bit different when you are living on a boat and moving around. Laura and I have decorated the boat with lights, colored paper chains, Hawaiian leis, beads and glow sticks. We also decorated the small Christmas tree I received as part of my retirement celebration. The boat looks quite festive in a small scale fashion. I like it. (So does Laura.) The only tough part is coming up with gift ideas for Laura that will fit on the boat, but I think she will be quite pleased with what she gets. She is very excited about visiting Aunt Krissy and Uncle Robert for Christmas at their house. She remembers the lizard she caught when we were there this spring and hopes to catch another. It might be a bit cool for lizards though. Laura (the most amazing six year old I have ever known) sends a holiday HI to everyone.

Photos: (1) Laura's decorations in the aft cabin are a source of delight to us. (2) Annie and Laura hard at work. (3) Dockside Strategy Session (left to right: Ron and Bobbie from Anticipation, Steve from Living Well, Annie from Seaductress).

Wednesday, December 21 - Gulf Crossing
The boat wallowed back and forth in the following sea as the wind whistled through the rigging, foam hissing off the bow as we surfed down another of thousands of four to five foot waves. Had we known the sea state we were to encounter in the middle of the Gulf, we might have stayed in Apalach waiting for a calmer window. Still, I think Steve summed it up when he said conditions weren't ideal, but "well within nominal limits."

Seaductress found herself careening down the waves at eight knots in the darkness. Shortly after 1:00 AM Annie came on deck for her shift and I went below into the rolling cabin, where it was necessary to keep a hand on something lest you get rolled right off your feet. Laura was sleeping peacefully in the v-berth, the wildest location of all. Any questions about whether I would be able to sleep were quickly answered as the next thing I knew, it was 4:00 AM, my turn again upstairs.

I had left Annie motorsailing with a reefed main and just tiny bit of the foresail out, and when I returned we were almost a mile ahead of the other boats. I rolled out some of the genoa and shut down the motor, not to be restarted for the next five hours. As the sky slowly brightened, floats for crab pots began to appear; we would spend the next two hours dodging them. We left the Gulf at Anclote Key and headed in to Tarpon Springs, motoring up a narrow channel lined on both sides with shrimp and sponge boats. Total time for our crossing, dock to dock, was 28 hours. There was room only for two of our three boats at the Municipal Marina, so Living Well, who planned to be continuing south tomorrow, motored back in search of an anchorage.

We, on the other hand, will likely stay here until after Christmas. It had been an uneventful 150 mile crossing of the Gulf of Mexico, which is the very best kind of all.

Annie says: The moonlight on the water at 1:00 AM was beautiful. Once I found a comfortable place to wedge myself into the cockpit to prevent slipping and sliding all over the place, it was really neat. The time passed much more quickly than I thought it would.

Tarpon Springs is a quaint little town. Laura enjoyed the aquarium where we got to see the shark feeding and played with the rays in a touch tank. She also thought the natural sponges were neat, especially the finger sponges. The gift shops (of which there are plenty) attracted her like a stong magnet.

Photos: (1) The world's only Sponge Christmas Tree. (2) Tarpon Springs is the place for sponge enthusiasts of all ages. (3) S/V Anticipation in the Gulf. (4) S/V Living Well in the morning.

Friday, December 23 - Tarpon Springs
It was the day before Christmas, so we piled into our rental car with Ron and Bobbie from Anticipation and went shopping (not so much for gifts but for the boats). Later Annie and Laura and I went to the beach, which was beautiful. Acting on a tip from Ron, we went to the spring basin and saw at least two manatees. Howard Park was especially impressive, with a great playground hidden in the live oaks and a causeway out to a fine beach.

Yesterday we did laundry and then received a visit from our old caving friend and sailing mentor, Tom Pride. Tom spent an hour going over our charts of the west coast of Florida and entry into the Bahamas--priceless information. We reveled in his company and are in his debt for taking the time to drive up and see us! We ate at Mr, Souvlaki's, which like 99% of the restaurants in Tarpon Springs, is a Greek place. Tom is without a boat at the moment but we hope he'll get back out into the cruising life sometime soon.

Photos: (1) Sunset Park. (2) Laura just to see what that foam felt like. (3) Flowers on a beach?

Monday, December 26 - Tarpon Springs
We had a wonderful Christmas Eve and Day with Krissy and Robert in southern Georgia, staying at their home on the beautiful Satilla River. Christmas with Laura is always a treat. Most of our presents to one another over the past couple of years have been gifts to others, either donations to our favorite causes or kind deeds done in honor of another, but of course Laura is the exception and as usual she raked in the toys, DVD's, and stuffed animals. On Christmas Day, Robert drove us all over to Jekyl Island in search of Sand Dollars and sure enough, we found not just one but seven of them. Aunt Krissy dutifully picked up trash on the beach (which was a Christmas present in itself to all of us) while Robert waded into the cold Atlantic in a heroic attempt to recover Laura's new kite, which had broken its string and refused to come home. Upon returning home Robert and Krissy produced a replacement kite (plus a spare) so all was not lost.

Thanks to everyone who called, visited, and provided hospitality to make our first Christmas on the water a big success!

Photos: (1) One of Laura's favorite activities. (2) Walking the crab line on Jekyl Island.

Wednesday, December 28 - Clearwater Beach
Today was a long one. We started at 5:00 AM in Daytona Beach, where we had driven the day before in a traffic saga to meet family. This had been accomplished, so we departed before the sun came up in hopes of not sitting in traffic (it worked--the trip was cut in half to three hours). I returned the rental car and after saying farewell (for now) to Ron and Bobbie in Anticipation we motored out the Tarpon River, passing one sailboat (Blue Bonnet coming in after making their Gulf crossing). The word was that the Gulf was mostly "flat," so we proceeded out into the green water. An hour later we were making little progress against 4 foot waves and a steady 20 knots of wind on the nose. Water was sloshing about on the foredeck, and soon we had a wave actually impact the dodger. Still, Laura was doing fine down below and it was only 9 miles to the Clearwater inlet, so we continued on.

Once through the inlet we began to jockey for position with a pirate ship and the giant yellow speedboat Sea Screamer, both of whom seemed to be taking their passengers around the inlet rather than out into the Gulf. Our plan was to anchor in the Mandalay Channel, so we motored very cautiously a mile up into the shallow water but with a front approaching we weren't happy with the prospects so we doubled back to head for Clearwater Municpal Marina. Ahead we noticed the mobile church known as the Floating Chapel, which we had passed at anchor earlier, was now underway and so we raced them back to the ICW. Modesty forbids naming the winner of this contest, but it was a close match.

After crashing into Slip 130 at the marina (heavy tailwind) we set off to explore Clearwater Beach, which we had visited a couple of years ago while looking at the S2 35C Synergy. I think Clearwater is going to rank as one of our favorite stops. Although the marina is not cheap (almost $2/foot) you can walk to at least five different Frenchy's restaurants and there is a brand new playground at Pier 60 that Laura loved, along with musicians, street performers (Dallas the fire-breathing jugglar was great), and various inflatable slides and attractions for the kids. The grouper sandwich at Frenchy's was, indeed, the best I'd ever tasted. And we're connected to wireless Internet right here at the dock.

Photos: (1) Dallas the fire-breathing street performrer. (2) The St. Petersburg Turtle (this one at Frenchy's Saltwater Cafe). (3) The Floating Chapel in the thick of the race. (4) The playground at Pier 60 is lighted and covered for your playing comfort.

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Copyright © 2007 by Rodger Ling. All rights reserved.