First trip: Cabbage Key, Useppa Island, Gasparilla

We have been working on the boat non stop for MONTHS!  Time to have some fun…

We went on our first trip with Vitte in mid March (sorry for the delay in posting).  Our desired destination was Key West, but since we were expecting a package for the boat we had to stay a little closer to home.  We decided to visit Charlotte Harbor, two days sail from Bradenton. 

(I must apologize in advance for the lack of pictures.  I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I only got a few shots and they are mostly from our first day in Charlotte Harbor and Cayo Costa.)

Our first destination was Venice.  We didn’t get in until ~1am and the designated anchorage was CROWDED, so we decided to anchor in an 8ft pocket between the North Jetty Fish Camp and Crow’s Nest Marina.  We were hoping that the dogs would have learned to go “bye-byes” on the strip of astro turf we put on the bow, but they were stubborn and held it until we took them to land at around 2am (that’s over 12 hours).

Full moon over the Gulf of Mexico

Since we got to bed so late, our departure was delayed and we didn’t get underway until around 10am.  The wind was absent at first, but once we got off shore it picked up and we were eventually cruising towards Charlotte Harbor at 5kts. 

When we reached the channel going into the harbor we made a rookie mistake.  We decided to lower our sails and motor in because it is a tricky inlet..…big mistake.  We didn’t take into account that the sea state within the channel was producing side-to swell ~2-3ft and our sails would make the passage a little less bumpy.  We were not in danger at anytime, we were just very uncomfortable and the dogs (Charlie especially) were panting and shaking a lot.  However, we made it into Charlotte Harbor and learned a valuable lesson: DON’T LOWER YOUR SAILS IF IT WILL MAKE YOU MORE STABLE!

Rei trying to make herself as small as possible during our entrance to Charlotte Harbor

Once in the harbor we made our way to an anchorage between Useppa Island and Cabbage Key.  There were other boats there, but we found a great spot with a deserted beach in sight for the dogs to go and do some business. 

After getting anchored and the dogs situated, we took the dinghy to Cabbage Key for dinner.  As we were pulling up, we saw the dock house had a sign that read, “Conserve water, shower with a friend!”  We thought this was an invitation, but when we got to the shower house it said, “For overnight guests only.”  However, it wasn’t locked and I think the other restaurant patrons would thank us for breaking this rule.  ^_^  

Upon entering the restaurant we spotted an old wall piano with a sign saying "players wanted"....duly noted!  On the way out Ransom played "that song I like" and showboated a bit for the crowd the couple at the bar whom were quite receptive to his musical advances (and quite sauced).

After a restful night’s sleep, we decided to visit Cayo Costa for a nature hike.
Engine block...perhaps someone's mooring?

Engine block

Bath tub with mangrove tree

Bath tub...looks like a surprised alien face


Cactus flower, a welcome bloom of color in an otherwise brown environment

Mariachi garden gnome

Sunlit path

I concur

After Caya Costa we went back to Cabbage Key for delicious lunch  ^_^

View from the water tower on Cabbage Key (roof of restaurant and golden tree)

Charred palm

Us after a full day and full bellies

On our second day we took the boat north to Gasparilla Island for some supplies and lunch.  Once we anchored Ransom shouted, “Look a manatee!”  Of course I didn’t see it; I’ve only seen a sea cow in captivity and thus believe that (in the wild) they live with unicorns.

We took the dinghy to shore, docked, and walked into town.  Gasparilla is a cool place, a bit touristy, but if you look deeper you find a sleepy little island town with an old Florida vibe.

Flemming yacht

After two days in Charlotte Harbor, it was time to head back north (or “less south” to my friends in New England) to Bradenton. 

Leaving Charlotte Harbor

We reached Venice around 6 pm, but decided to keep going since our last experience there was not ideal.

Ransom and Chuckles

Unfortunately after dark the wind did not cooperate and we had to lower the sails and use our motor.  Finally we were passing Anna Maria Island and about to enter Tampa Bay.  There was a dredging vessel in the main channel and so we decided to try and enter through Passage Key Inlet…big mistake. 

The charts were WRONG.  Where there was supposed to be 13 ft of water we observed 9, and it only got worse from there.  8…7…6…BUMP, BUMP, BUMP, CRASH!  4.3 feet of water, we’re aground, and in trouble. 

Eventually a tow boat reached us and in no time flat had us free from the sand bar.  Even the Sea Tow captain was confused by the lack of correlation between chart and transducer. 

Dogs suited up in life vests for safety

Running aground was not fun, but Ransom’s dad, Curt, put it into words the best, “There are two types of sailors; those that have run aground and those that haven’t run aground yet.” 

I guess we can check that off the list.

Overall we had a great first trip.  Although there was drama, we learned from our mistakes and will convert “should have dones” to “will do next times.”
  1. No more overnights.  It’s too taxing on the humans, the dogs, and the boat.  Poor decisions are made when tired and fatigued.
  2. NEVER enter an unmarked channel at night.
  3. Early to bed early to rise gets you to your destination at a decent hour and claims you a better anchorage.
  4. Assess the sea state and plan your entry accordingly.  
  5. The dogs are not going to go “bye-byes” on board, even after holding it for close to 18 hours.
  6. Beans and rice are delicious! 


St. Petersburg channel

Entering the St. Petersburg channel
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We're headed to St. Petersburg, but the wind is not cooperating so we are motoring under the Sunshine Skyway.
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March Projects so far...

The last few weeks have been busy.  We got a lot of jobs and chores completed while in the slip at Regatta Point Marina and at the anchorage off McLewis Bayou.  Although there are only days left in March, here are this month’s projects so far:

  • Hooked up and tested wind vane steering system (which is AWESOME and allows us to sit back and relax while the boat sails it self!).
  • Officially moved onto boat (clothes, toiletries, towels, etc. oh my!)

  • Finished galley plumbing (hooked up water bladder and water tank to galley sink and switch valves to choose source).
  • Modified stove counter with additional hinge to allow access to spices and free up counter top
Now the counter folds up and in on itself

 Yay!  Better utilization of space!

  • Moved into slip at Regatta Point to do some work requiring power supply and calm waters

  • Attached EPIRB to radar mast
 Now (and hopefully never) if we have to abandon ship, the Coast Guard can rescue us!

  • Picked up life raft from Winslow.  We still need to pack a ditch bag containing food rations (humans and dogs), but there are some useful things already in the life raft (water, flares, sunscreen, etc.). 

  • Re-rigged traveler and the main sheet with new blocks.  
 Ransom re-rigging the main sheet

 Much more functional, and no more tangled lines!

  • Fixed soft spot on deck with fiberglass and epoxy, sanded and painted.
 Freshly glassed

Another layer and ready to sand

 Freshly painted...now all it needs is some non-skid (aka sand)

  • Raised wind generator with a 8’ section of schedule 80 PVC pipe (now we can move freely without fear of getting sliced up).  However, the pole is not as sturdy as we thought it was going to be, so we ordered a mounting kit from the manufacturer (and are currently waiting on it’s delivery)
 No more risk of accidental blinding

Inside the dorade box
All together again, and water tight  ^_^

  • Serviced stuffing box by loosening bolts and adding white lithium grease.

  • Attached Furuno GPS and wired to nav station

The new equipment

  • Applied vinyl name and home port graphic to stern.
Positioning the name

Removing the paper

Placing the home port

"What are you doing down there?"

Removing the paper

We're official!!!!


March so far...

We've gone sailing a couple of times so far this month and both have been interesting trips.

Don't worry, no bodily harm this time, just fun and excitement!

Entering Tampa Bay and readying to raise the main sail

Our first sail out into Tampa Bay was pretty eventful.  I heard on the VHF radio that there was a boat fire and then the location (which I didn’t catch).   

Wow, that sounds serious!  Maybe we would hear more on the radio, or even see it!  Sure enough when we got out of the Manatee River and into the mouth of Tampa Bay, there was a helicopter hovering in the distance.  As we got closer there was indeed smoke billowing from the boat and (with the aid of binoculars) we saw the copter lowering a rescue sling.   

We don’t know if it was an actual emergency rescue or just a (realistic) drill.  I think it was probably the latter since radio activity was zero during the rescue operation.  I would have thought if people were in danger there would be someone on the line giving instructions and reassurance.  Plus, I don’t think anyone actually went up in the sling…but our binoculars don’t zoom super far.

Rescue operation
You can't see in this picture, but there was a cloud of something coming out of the boat and the helicopter was lowering a backboard.  Whether the smoke was real or simulated, I know not.

On another trip into the bay Ransom came up with the best idea EVEROnce our sails were set and we were comfortable, Ransom hopped in the dinghy to get some shots (and even a video) of Vitte under full sail!  Needless to say, as soon as he motored away the dogs became very concerned and upset.  They were much happier when Ransom returned and was safely aboard again.

Full sail
Upset pups on the bow
Captain Lala
Comin' to get ya!