Tarpon Springs to Cabbage Key

Tuesday, January 22, 2019:

The forecast showed winds out of the east at around 15 knots with bay and inland waters a moderate chop. The low tide was very low at 0756 due to the Blood Super Moon.  No big rush to leave since we were waiting on the water.  This slip was deep, but the channel looked pretty shallow at low tide.  I added about a cup of transmission fluid and about half a quart of oil and filled up the fresh water tanks.  We backed out of the slip just after 1100 and eased on out to the Tarpon River and the fuel dock at River Energy.  With the current and the wind combined with their lack of cleats on the dock, we had a difficult time getting tied up, but finally the attendant came out and helped us.  We took on 170.3 gallons at the most agreeable price of $2.63 per gallon.  That is the lowest price we’ve paid.  By 1210 we were back underway and followed the markers back out of the river.  At 1315 it was windy in the ICW and waves were running around one foot, but it was a beautiful and sunny day with the temperature at 70 degrees.  We limbo’d under the Dunedin Causeway Bridge without asking for an opening.  The tide board showed 22 feet of clearance and the center was a little higher, so we knew we could get under without delay.  As we moved on south through the Intracoastal Waterway, there were several other bridges of marginal height but each time we approached cautiously and slipped under being careful to stay in the center of the bascule.  It was still a little windy and we docked into a slip at the Madeira Beach Marina at 1630 with help from Captain Terry (Magic) and Gil (Chrysalis).  We got showered and ready for docktails with a great group of Loopers and wannabes.


While we were in Madeira Beach we took advantage of Magic’s employment of a diver to check damage he had sustained from hitting a crab trap.  The diver came over and checked the bottom of Sabbatical.


He cleaned some growth off and removed some zebra mussels from one of the intakes, but overall we got a good report.  He said the zincs were all in good shape, but the back nut on our prop was loose.  He returned the next day with his prop wrench and tightened it up.  Best $50 I’ve ever spent.

We walked over to the beach with the crews from Magic, Chrysalis, and Sunshine Rose for lunch at the Snack Shack.  We stopped at the hardware store to pick up some sand paper.  It’s past time to start working on teak.  When we got back on board, Jane started sanding the rail on the aft of the fly bridge and Tom Sawyer’d me into taking over.  Once I got it down to bare wood she applied a coat of Cetol.

We were able to do some advance planning and made reservations for Riviera Dunes in Bradenton and at the Fort Myers Yacht Basin. We found out the seal kit that Brent (our Mobile mechanic) had ordered arrived and was waiting for us.  We confirmed with Brian Basco in Ft. Myers to get it installed when we get there.

Our friends Danny and Sydney Shires came over from Tampa on Thursday to visit and brought us beautiful roses. They really brightened up the cabin and we had a great time with adult beverages on the fly bridge.  We had a great dinner at Salt Rock Grill and were glad to have had a chance to visit and catch up.

Friday, January 25, 2019:

It has been one year since our first day on America’s Great Loop. The time has sped by.  It was difficult to realize that we’ve been at it for a whole year.  The wind had let up some so we could get out of the slip.  We had wanted to leave a couple of days earlier, but it was so strong coming out of the south, I refused to attempt backing out of the slip given the close proximity of the dock just to our north.  I would not have had the time or room to get the boat around before making contact with the other boats.  Like Clint Eastwood said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”  I know mine and let discretion be the greater part of valor.  We eased out of the slip at 1025 under clear skies on a light chop with a nip in the air.  It was only 51, but we have jackets.  We set the course for Riviera Dunes Marina on the Manatee River in Palmetto.  We passed under the Treasure Island Bridge at 1056.  By 1130 we were in Boca Ciega and I spotted the old Don Caesar Hotel.

We turned south to parallel the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and crossed the main shipping channel at 1240.


The conditions were less than ideal with some wave action, but it was tolerable and by 1330 we entered the Manatee River.  We arranged for a pump out at the fuel dock before heading to our slip at Riviera Dunes and docked at 1435.  It is a very fancy  marina with two heated pools and lots of big fancy rich-people boats.


My old childhood friend, Mike Miles, came by for a visit.  We were planning on staying two nights so we made plans for Mike and his wife to return for dinner on Saturday night.  There is a good restaurant right there at the marina.  It was another fine night of reconnecting with old friends.

It was rainy and cold on Sunday, so we decided to just hang on the boat and stay one more night. It was a very lazy and rainy day.

Monday, January 28, 2019:

Sunshine was breaking through and I ventured up to the office to settle up for our extra night. We dropped the lines at 0945.

Caroline (anchored in the Manatee River) has seen better days.

At 1040 in the Manatee River near G-3 we were hitting a two-foot chop.  It was coming from the wrong angle so not a comfy ride, but by 1100 we were back in the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and moving between Anna Maria Island and the mainland.

By 1328 we were going under the Siesta Key Drive Bridge.  We arrived behind Casey Key at the Blackburn Point Swing Bridge at 1435 and had to wait for an opening.  He had just closed it and needed to let the auto traffic clear.  It didn’t take long and we were able to piggy back on the sailboat ahead of us for the Albee Bridge and slipped right on through the bascule.

We continued on through Venice to an anchorage in Lemon Bay by Englewood just north of the Beach Road Bridge.  It was great anchorage and a great night.  We hung out up top until well after sundown and ate our left-overs from the Salt Rock Grill for dinner.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019:

We stayed in bed until after Mr. Sun made his appearance. The night had been calm and cool enough to encourage snuggling.  It was a chilly morning at 44 degrees and we were snug under the covers.  We didn’t have far to go so we didn’t need to get an early start.  I checked the route and it was only 20.3 miles until we “cross our wake” to complete America’s Great Loop.  I figured if we left around 9:15 we could celebrate at Cabbage Key for lunch.  We dilly dallied about a bit and I added about three cups of oil to Big Red and a cup of transmission fluid to the old Borg Warner Velvet Drive.  I made notes of the tides in the log book, but they were largely inconsequential.  We finally cranked up at 1040 and I had Jane ease us up toward the anchor to make it gentle on my back.  We have a ratchet windlass, but often I just pull it by hand.  I got it up and we idled on back to the ICW channel.  By 1214 we sneaked under the Boca Grande Swing Bridge without asking for an opening.


At 1220 we were in Gasparilla Sound continuing south to cross Charlotte Harbor.  The waters cooperated with just a gentle chop very much unlike our last day in Charlotte Harbor.  It was very easy cruising across the Boca Grande opening just inside the mouth.  We noticed another Looper boat, Flip Flop, just ahead of us.  We approached the red day beacon number 74 and I pulled back on the throttle just before we crossed the imaginary line of where we had boated through last January 26th.


After 369 days and 6,845 miles Sabbatical crossed her wake at 1325 just north of red day beacon #74 near Cayo Costa.  We high-fived and both cried.  I put it in neutral and went down to the bow to change the burgee.  We can now proudly sport the gold.

I came back up to the bridge and hailed on channel 16 “All Loopers, All Loopers; this is Sabbatical. Please go to channel 69 for an announcement.”  I changed channels to 69 and started again, “All Loopers, All Loopers, All Loopers; Please be advised that Sabbatical has completed America’s Great Loop and crossed her wake at day beacon number 74 near Cayo Costa.”  We got no replies, but it was still fun to make the announcement.


We continued on south to Cabbage Key. Within 15 minutes we entered the Cabbage Key entrance channel.  I hailed the dock master over the radio.  “Cabbage Key this is the trawler Sabbatical”.

“Go ahead Sabbatical.”

“We’d like to dock for lunch. We’re 36 feet, 13 ½ foot beam and draw 3 ½ feet.”

“Keep on coming straight ahead, Sabbatical. I have one slip you can go in stern first with a starboard side tie.”

“That doesn’t work for us. We’re a single screw, no thrusters vessel.  I’d rather enter bow first and port side tie.”

“Captain, that won’t work here. For this slip, you will need to tie stern to.  I don’t have any other spot for you.”

“Stern to with a starboard side tie it is then,” I acquiesced. By then I could see him waving at us from the dock.  The slip was next to a very large and expensive boat and further encumbered by another dock extending from the boat house.  Turning about would have to be performed before getting into those close quarters.  I just kept it slow and pirouetted gently watching the bow of the neighboring vessel and the end of the angled dock from the boat house.  It was a slow-motion ballet.  Once I got turned, I started backing bumping in and out of reverse to move at the slowest pace.  Rule One: Never go any faster than you want to hit the dock.  I used the wheel to straighten her up a couple of times with quick effective bumps in forward.  I got it in just the right position and Jane handed the line to the dock master and he complimented my piloting skills.  Once they had us secured with a stern line, bow line, and spring, I came down from the helm.  I got a fist bump from the dock master.  “Why’d you say you couldn’t dock stern to?  You did great.”

I answered, “I didn’t say I couldn’t do it; I just said I didn’t like to.” We adjusted a sausage fender by the stern quarter and we went up the hill to the lodge for our celebratory lunch.

On the way out, we had a nice chat with Phyllis Wells. She owns Cabbage Key along with her husband Rob.  I’ve been coming here since the late 1970’s shortly after they bought the island.

We left Cabbage Key and went back to one of our favorite anchorages in Pelican Bay. It was a perfect evening enjoying champagne and each other with dancing on the fly bridge.

What an amazing journey it has been! We’ve enjoyed sunsets and sunrises.  We’ve been delighted by cruising in glassy waters and terrified by waves unpredicted.  We’ve been injured and hurt each other’s feelings.  We’ve survived and loved like never before.  We have mingled and imbibed with many new friends at lots of Docktails.  We have worshiped at lots of different churches with local folks we didn’t know.  We’ve seen a great deal of these beautiful United States by water and enjoyed lots of the scenic Canadian waterways.   We’ve developed new skills in bollard wrangling, diesel mechanics, and boat driving.  We spent 57 nights on anchor which was 15% of the time.  We docked at 135 different places.  We went through 127 locks and we used 2300 gallons of diesel in 966 hours of operation.

We thank Ron and Eva Stob for inspiring us with “Honey, Let’s Get a Boat”, Tim and Valerie O’Neill for selling us their wonderful boat, Chester B, and the entire AGLCA staff and volunteers including harbor hosts along with so many of our friends and family who’ve helped us and celebrated with us along the way.

Wilson Beach to Tarpon Springs

Wednesday, January 16, 2019:

It was beautiful and perfect night on the hook at Wilson Beach but 70 miles from our anchorage to Sea Hag Marina in Steinhatchee. I figured if we got underway at 0700 we’d arrive at Sea Hag around 1630.  Sunrise was scheduled for 0730.  We were up early and so were the dolphins that seemed to enjoy playing around our boat at sunrise.


It was a bit chilly at 39 degrees so we cranked up the generator and turned on the heat.  The water to the east beckoned us with only a slight ripple.  By 0725 we were off anchor and Jane piloted while I stowed the anchor rode.  After an hour we were still enjoying the comfortable conditions with following seas of less than a foot.  Jane pointed out that the boom was swinging back and forth some, so I tightened that up.  The following seas were giving us a boost in speed.  We passed Marker R-26 at 0845 in a two foot chop.


At 0940 we realized that land was not in sight.  There was some grousing about the lack of phone service and the choppy conditions but there was nothing we could do about either.  I sighted land at 1300 off the port bow.  The chop had reduced to less than a foot.  When phone service resumed, I made an appointment to get back to the dentist in Gainesville and we set up reservations for points after Steinhatchee.  Most of those reservations we would later cancel or change.  We got passed by Chrysalis and Trust Your Cape just before entering the Steinhatchee channel at 1530.


We docked early at Sea Hag Marina at 1545 and noted that Eddy’s Weather Wag had nailed the forecast and we felt privileged to have made the crossing on what was called the best day of the winter so far.  Jane got some laundry started and we showered up.  Then we walked over to Roy’s Restaurant for dinner.  There we joined Mike and Sally from Mikey Likes It and Gil and Debbie from Chrysalis.

Thursday, January 17, 2019:

The tides for Suwannee were high at 1127 and low right at 1649, so I knew we would want to arrive well before 1500. It would only be a run of about 5 ½ hours so not demanding an early departure.  Freezing weather with some ice on the docks combined with copious quantities of pelican poop makes for a very slippery situation.  I didn’t go down, but I did get a scare.  On daily engine checks, I added some transmission fluid and was happy with my system to contain the extent of the mess and catch the leak.  It was a beautiful morning with crystal skies, but just too darn cold.

We ran the little space heater in the fly bridge to keep the shivering to a minimum.  We backed out of the slip at 0800 aided by the current.  By 0835 the sun had warmed our little roof-top solarium as we skimmed along on the calm water.  We took a course of 190 degrees from the number one marker at the end of the Steinhatchee Channel crossing Deadman Bay.  At 1200 we passed Red Bank Reef and finally entered the McGriff Pass Channel at 1229.  The porpoises greeted us as we approached the number one marker.

It is not a well-dredged channel and if not timed correctly, one can run aground right in the marked channel.  Of the three Suwannee River Channels, though, it is the best and most reliable.  Because of the depth issues, I continued at a slower speed.


We boated into Wadley Pass at 1251 and navigated on into the Suwannee River without grounding.  Docking at Gateway Marina was a trick with the narrow fairway and almost too narrow slip, but we did it safely and tied lines at 1320.  Gateway Marina is the old Miller’s Marina and has reportedly been purchased and they are building a restaurant and bar and have other upgrades planned.  Dredging of all channels would have a positive impact on the economy of this tiny town at the mouth of the great river.  The town of Suwannee is special to me because my grandfather started the development before his death in the early 1950’s.  I’m not sure he would recognize it today.

At 1700 my cousin Carol and her husband Ben arrived to tour Sabbatical before taking us to dinner at the Salt Creek Restaurant.

She is the consummate welcome wagon of Suwannee, obviously paid for our slip and bought us dinner.  We thoroughly enjoyed our visit with them that extended after dinner at their home.

Friday, January 18, 2019:

Our previous plan had included anchorages in Cedar Key and/or Crystal River, but the weather window was closing and it was time to high-tail it to Tarpon Springs. Ben had given me the low-down on the options for exiting Suwannee.  We were looking at a long day ahead of us and needed to go as early as light would allow.  Basically he said that East Pass and the Main Channel were not options and that we’d have to go back out the way we came in through the McGriff Pass Channel.  The low tide was going to occur at 0606, so I knew that there would be no way for us to get to Tarpon Springs before dark unless we left before 0400 and the Admiral squashed any plan involving predawn cruising – no room to argue.  The winds were forecast to come out of the east at only five knots before changing to SE late in the morning and SW in the afternoon.  Bay and inland waters were predicted as smooth.  That was as good a forecast as we could hope for since we had 92 miles to go.  We knew we couldn’t get out of the pass because of the low tide at 0700 or even 0800, but we needed to gain every advantage we could so I did something that most boaters would never plan on.  I planned to push the envelope and run aground on the rising tide to ensure that we’d be out of the channel at the first opportunity.  I would never do this where rocks could be involved, but it’s a mud bottom, so we left the dock at 0718 and were gifted a beautiful sunrise coming out the creek into the Suwannee River.

At 0734 we entered Wadley Pass with depths around six feet. We entered the marked channel for McGriff Pass.  At 0751 we touched bottom a little bit by marker R14 and continued on cautiously at idle speed until we found the mud engaging the bow keel at 0755 right by marker R12.  We waited five minutes and then ten and couldn’t dislodge, so I shut down the engine and we had breakfast of cereal and fruit on the fly bridge while we waited for the rising tide.  Two crabbers came by on their way out to check traps and both stopped to check on us and asked if we were ok.  They quickly understood that we were just waiting on the water.  A rising tide lifts all boats, but I only needed it to raise one.  By 0825 we were floating again and re-cranked Big Red to see if we could make it the rest of the way out.  There was no more bottom bumping and we exited the channel at 0840 knowing that we could not have gotten out one minute earlier.  We got up to speed and noted that the Navionics app was showing our arrival at well after sundown.  We were not overly concerned since we have a good spot light and the clear sky should extend twilight.  At 0850, I checked the engine and noted a small amount of coolant escaping from the radiator cap.  At 0900 we checked with our friend Herb Seaton (Phanthom) who is the AGLCA Harbor Host for Tarpon Springs.  He assured us that the channel in is well marked and that there is lots of ambient light to make an after-dark approach in unfamiliar waters very doable as long as we understand reading the chart and following the markers.  I think we’ve got that down by now.  Jane checked in by phone with Turtle Cove Marina and got our slip assignment and Adrianna said she’d leave a packet hanging on our power pedestal.    At 1000 we were just off of Cedar Key and looking for any fishing boats that I might know around Sea Horse Reef.  By 1220 we were about 25 miles west of Crystal River.  The water was calm and the cruising pleasant even though there was no land in sight other than the power plant.


By 1400 the water was changing to clear green and we spotted a turtle.   At 1615 we sighted land again. Jane noticed that cell service returned about 30 minutes later and started calling to change reservations at multiple marinas.  The long day cruising was tiring, but we were treated often to porpoises and then a beautiful sunset.

Jane manned the spot light as we entered the channel of the Tarpon River.  We docked bow in without a problem in slip 21 at Turtle Cove Marina.  We took a few minutes to clean up a bit and then walked up to Costa’s Restaurant to join a large group of other Loopers for dinner.


While we were in Tarpon Springs, we rode the Jolley Trolley and had lunch at Crabby’s on Clearwater Beach with the crew from Magic and Chrysalis.  We did some walking for exercise and enjoyed other Loopers at Docktails at the Tiki Hut.  We worshiped at St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.  The weather deteriorated with cold and wind and we relished residing in port and knowing we arrived at the point where we can cruise the Intracoastal instead of open unprotected water.  We rented a car and drove to Gainesville for my dental appointment (finally fixed with permanent crown).  While we were there, we enjoyed a lunch with our daughter and the grandsons, but returned to Sabbatical the same day.

Blood Moon-set in Tarpon Springs