Exploring Tampa & Sarasota Bay

278 Days Looping
4,330.1 Nautical Miles Total (4,983.0 Statute Miles)
89.6 Nautical Miles This Week
10.3 Hours Underway This Week
7.8 NMph Average Speed
0 Locks This Week, 154 Total Locks

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Monday – Jan 13th – 0 NM – In: Clearwater, FL
Our original plan was to leave Clearwater on Monday. Over the weekend, a couple new to their large boat asked us what our plans were for crossing Tampa Bay. They were a bit apprehensive to cross alone as the weather was predicted to be a bit windy. We checked the weather forecast and it did look a bit windy so we agreed to wait another day in Clearwater and travel with them.

Florida requires that you obtain something called a Sojourner’s Permit if you are going to be in Florida with your boat for more than 90 days. Also, if your boat is federally documented (like ours) you must display a current registration sticker from your home state. South Carolina does not offer registration for Federally Documented boats, so we have no registration sticker. So Florida requires that we obtain a Florida Registration sticker. Basically this is a way to collect Tax money from the boaters coming through the state. For our boat, it amounts to just under $200. I don’t mind paying as Florida does offer a lot of resources to boaters like municipal marinas, lift bridges, law enforcement, protection of the manatees, water quality monitoring, cheap or free pumpout. It also hopefully gives them a chance to find the owners of all the derelict boats that litter the banks of the waterways after storms. What’s annoying is the process!

You can go to any local county tax and licensing office, the same place where you go to register your car or get a driver’s license. So, on Monday, I rode my bike about 3 miles to the Clearwater Registration office. This was a storefront in a converted strip mall. I went early hoping to beat the rush. Ha! There were 200+ people already there. They did have about 15 of 25 windows open, but there was only one window that did boat registrations. In the end I spent about 2 hours waiting for my turn. The other “complaint” I have is that the registrations are based on your birthday, and they don’t pro-rate the fee, so if you birthday is the day after you come in to register, you still pay the full amount, now THAT is a ripoff! My un-birthday is in May (I stopped having them at 39, so now refer to them as un-birthdays), so we will get 4 months before we have to pay it again. We’ll plan to be out of Florida by then!

When I was done at the registration office, I rode the bike back to the boat stopping at a store along the way to pick up some string cheese. We haven’t had string cheese for ages and we picked some up a shopping trip ago, and now I’ve got the hankering for string cheese and we keep running out.

While I was gone, Brenda had worked on her cross stitch, and done a bit of cleaning. We spent the afternoon just puttering around the boat and in the evening ate leftovers.

Tuesday – Jan 14th – 49.7 NM – To: Bradenton, FL
Tuesday morning we got ready for an 8:00 departure. Our new friends on Mississippi Girl stopped by at 7:30 and said that they were pulling out to go across the river to fuel up and pump out. We went over to help them cast off. They have a large boat and no thrusters and the wind and current were pushing them into the dock so it was a struggle to push them off and get them underway. It was 8:00 by the time they got out! It was going to take them about an hour to get over to the fuel dock and fueled up, so we went back to the boat, had some breakfast, then took the boat over to the front of the marina, pumped-out our waste tanks then tied up to an empty space on the face dock to wait for them.

About 9:00 they called us saying that they were on their way back across the river and we shoved off to meet them at the channel crossing. As we were coming under the bridge, a giant shark came right at us down the channel!

The ride to Tampa Bay was uneventful, the winds were pretty calm. We had to deal with a number of lift bridges, but given that it was low tide, we were able to fit under them without having to wait. Mississippi Girl is not as tall as us so if we fit, they fit! We went past Saint Pete Beach and into Tampa Bay proper.

We saw lots of dolphins as we went along and of course the multitude of pelicans and seagulls. As we crossed the bay, there was no commercial traffic, and we had a nice view of the Tampa Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The water was smooth, and as we neared the other side, we said good-bye to Mississippi Girl. They were continuing on to Sarasota and we were taking a left to go to Bradenton.

Bradenton and Twin Dolphin Marina where we were staying is about 8 miles off of the main ICW. We’d been running slow all day because Mississippi Girl is a slower boat, so we took the opportunity to crank up the engines and blow out the carbon, and we were there in just under 20 minutes! We pulled into the marina and got tied up by around 2:30. I took an hour to rinse the salt off of the boat, and then we relaxed for a bit.

Twin Dolphin Marina is a large marina with lots of large boats in the 60 to 80 ft range. We were on the smaller side of the boats docked there! We were on the new docks, near the “Green Bridge” (Named after a Mr. Green, but colored concrete gray) There were a number of looper boats already there, and we walked around and visited with them. In the evening we walked up the street from the marina and had dinner at O’Bricks.

Wednesday – Jan 15th – 0 NM – In: Bradenton, FL
Wednesday was Laundry Day! The last time Brenda did laundry was in Clearwater and the towels all smelled funny. Also, we needed to do the sheets from Bethanny’s visit and ours as well. Twin Dolphin had some nice modern (clean) commercial washers, and a great boaters lounge and some of the nicest bathrooms we’ve seen in a while! We stripped all of the beds, and emptied out the closets and Brenda did several loads which took most of the morning and early afternoon. On the boat, especially with the changing temps we tend to have one or two sets of clothes that we switch between. These we “recycle” over several days and at times, you’ll pick something up and wonder, “how long have I been wearing this?” (Time for a sniff test!) So from time to time, we just take everything that we know we’ve worn and wash it just to be safe.

In the afternoon, Sonia and Gregg on Golden Daze invited us over to their boat on the other side of the marina for docktails and to catch up with Jamie and Trish on About Time, Dave and Penny on Southern Cross, and to meet some new friends on Gary and Gina on Prime Interest II. We were welcomed aboard by Rusty and Ruby their golden retrievers who remembered us and knew we always bring treats!

After our visit we walked into town and went to “Tom’s Bad Ass Bar & Grill” for dinner.

Thursday – Jan 16th – 0 NM – In: Bradenton, FL
Right next door to the marina was the “Bishop Museum of Science and Nature”. Which features an all digital planetarium and a manatee rehabilitation center. When we got there, we were just in time for a live planetarium show. The presenter was excellent, he was “VERY EXCITED” about the stars! The technology was also amazing, they showed the night sky over Bradenton for that night, you could then pick any star and it would tell you what it was, overlay constellation images, and zoom in. They, you could say, show me that star from any point in the universe and with a woosh like going to light speed in Star Wars, you were looking back at it from outer space. Very cool! We watched two presentations in the planetarium, and then walked around the exhibits in the museum waiting for 2:30 when they were going to have a manatee show.

We got to the manatee tank early, and there is a lower “underwater” viewing area. As we walked up, the manatees came swimming over to check us out. We got some great shots! There were four manatees in the tank. They are animals that have been injured and have gone through convalescence but need some more time to get strong before being released back in the wild. They have a great life swimming around the tank eating several hundred pounds of romaine lettuce and endive a day.

After the Manatee show, we finished walking around the museum. The base of the collection was donated by a local resident and is sort of a cabinet of curiosities. There are bottles, lamps, stuffed animals, cameras, a whole variety of artifacts.

After we left the museum, we visited a few art galleries then walked part way across the “Green Bridge” to take some pictures of the marina and the boat. In the evening we went to the Pier 22 restaurant which is on an old pier that separates the two halves of the marina.

When we got back to the boat, there were a bunch of alien looking fish swimming around the docks. They are called “Sea Hares” very odd!

Friday – Jan 17th – 39.9 NM – To: Venice, FL
Friday we left Twin Dolphin just before 9:00 and headed to Fisherman’s Wharf in Venice Florida. We backtracked the 8 miles to the ICW and then turned south. The route was mostly inside and smooth. We head to deal with a few bridges along the way. The winds were strong but for the first part of the trip they were either behind us or we were shielded in the waterway. We had to pay attention again as the channel is pretty narrow, and it gets really shallow, really quick. Also there are long stretches where you can only go at idle speed (4 mph) as they are Manatee zones. When we reached Sarasota Bay, it was pretty rough. We felt bad for a group of Coast Guard Auxiliary guys on a small boat crossing with us as they were really getting banged around. We ran a little fast, and were able to pretty much skip over the tops of the waves.

Once we passed under the John Ringling Causeway (of Ringling Brothers Circus fame), we were back in fairly protected waters. Aside from a number of bridges that we had to wait to be opened, some of which were challenging as the wind was strong and pushing us around, it was a smooth trip. It’s spring in southern Florida and the Osprey’s and Pelicans are in full nesting mode! It seemed that almost every other channel marker had a nest.

The land along the waterway here is very developed with lots of impressive homes. Again we had a number of bridges that we had to have opened for us including a swing bridge where the bridge keeper closes the gates from the side, runs across the bridge and opens it from the center, then has to run back to the side to re-open the gates. As we passed through, we had a nice chat with him. We arrived at Fisherman’s Wharf Marina in Venice at 1:30. After settling in, we walked over to the Tiki Hut Bar & Restaurant for a beer, and after one (or two) decided to stay and have an early dinner.

Saturday – Jan 18th – 0 NM – In: Venice, FL
Venice Florida is a town built by the railroad. In the 1920’s the railroad union from Chicago, decided to develop Venice as a vacation community using funds from the Railroad Engineers Union Retirement Fund. They bought up the land, planned a beautiful community with parks, public buildings, a large hotel, theatre and a showcase railroad station. Unfortunately, it was less than half finished when the stock market crash of 1930 hit, and the economy crashed. The union pulled out, and the town went into recession. In the 1940’s the Kentucky Military Institute, a boys military school bought the old hotel and a few other buildings and used it as their winter quarters. Then in the 1960, the Ringling Brothers Circus moved their winter headquarters from Sarasota to Venice.

The railroad pulled out in the 1970’s and the old railroad tracks are now a rails-to-trails network. We walked from the marina to the railroad station and took the tour. The docent was very informative and had many side stories about local characters.

From the railroad station we walked across the bridge that spanned the Intercoastal Waterway, (where the elephants used to cross when the circus came to town), and into downtown Venice. Venice has been revitalized and the downtown is very beautiful with lots of shops, restaurants, and parks. We walked down the main street to the farmers market, then back up the other side stopping for lunch. We then walked back across the ICW on another bridge next to the marina and back to the boat.

In the evening we went back to the restaurant at the marina. They had a very good guitarist and we stayed for a while listening to the music. When we got back to the boat, we turned on our underwater lights and watched the fish swimming around behind the boat, there were some pretty good sized ones!

Sunday – Jan 19th – 0 NM – In: Venice, FL
Sunday morning we walked into town for breakfast. Then we took an Uber to the old Circus Grounds near the airport where they were holding an Arts and Crafts festival. We walked around looking at the crafts for a couple of hours then went back to the boat.

It was a nice cool day, so we walked to the Winn-Dixie grocery store which was about a mile away and did a bit of shopping. When we got back to the boat, we saw that our friends on R-Pad were just up the water way heading toward us. We chatted with them and they decided to stop at our marina for the night. We met them at the dock, and then went to Dockside (the tiki bar restaurant at the marina) and had a nice dinner. When we got back to the boat, we got things ready for a morning departure headed to Boca Grande.

NEXT WEEK: Looper-palooza in Fort Myers, Florida