St. Petersburg, FL

Mahaffey Basin

St. Petersburg was where we kept Cream Puff for 3 years while learning the ins and outs of our boat.

Links to posts about St. Petersburg:

The boat show

The Rib Festival

Segwaying St Pete

Street Art

Sailing an Amel 55 to St Pete

2013 St Pete Grand Prix

My First Time Sailing to St. Petersburg

We decided to make St. Petersburg, Florida our home for the next couple of years. The plan being, to spend as much time on the boat as possible while we determine if cruising life is the thing for us. St. Petersburg has the most awesome downtown area right on Tampa Bay. Within an easy walk of the boat is everything we need. We have a drug and grocery store with a couple of miles and about a hundred restaurants within a few blocks. Granted, sometimes this makes it a little harder for us to leave the dock but, we are determined to learn this boat inside and out.

I was seeking a crew to help move the boat from Ft. Lauderdale to St. Petersburg. I had a whole group of folks that kept saying, anytime we need some help sailing to let them know. When it came down to it, most of them were too busy to take a week off and go sailing (all expenses paid). I have to extend a special thanks to Roger Malsbury and Ed Stewart at this point. Roger and Ed made the perfect crew. Roger has been around dive boats most of his life and has a passion for underwater photography and he’s a darn good above water photographer. He is very comfortable on a boat and chipped in whenever he saw an opportunity to help. Ed is retired from the US Coast Guard. He is also a pilot and knows his way around radar. They both adapted quickly to the navigational systems onboard and I was able to sleep soundly knowing Cream Puff was in capable hands when they were on watch. The 3 of us did a 3 ½ hours on and 7 hours off watch schedule that rotated each person around the clock.

Captain Steve moved the boat down the New River for us to Pier 66. One thing I will dearly miss about the Ft Lauderdale area is the services of Captain Steve. He took such great care of our boat after the sale until we could find a home. Myself, Roger and Ed rented a car and drove the 12 hours from Atlanta to Ft. Lauderdale. We spent the evening shopping for perishables. I had already purchased non-perishables. We purchased way more than we needed but, I figured a well fed crew is a happy crew. We grabbed a yummy late supper of Mexican food at Carlos & Pepe’s on 17th St. and crashed for the night. We were exhausted from the drive, the loading and the heavy meal. We all slept well. On the morning of Thursday January 5th, 2012 we had breakfast onboard, dropped off the rental car, got a nice hot gourmet coffee and bummed a ride back to Pier 66 from the rental car company. It wasn’t long before we untied and hailed the 17th Street bridge on VHF 9 to open for us at 11:30am. We were off.

Cindy really wanted to make this trip but took a tumble the week before and rolled her ankle. There was no way she was going to be able to hobble about the boat safely. We knew it would be a few months before she would be steady on her feet again. She assumed the role of our check in person and tracked our position as we reported to her daily at 7pm sharp. She would call Roger and Ed’s wives to let them know all was okay. It made me feel at ease knowing someone responsible had our float plan and would alert the authorities if we missed a check in time. Cream Puff has two satellite telephone systems.

We did not get far out of Ft. Lauderdale when we experienced a snag with the mainsail furling. The main would not fully extend and we spent most of the afternoon trying to fix it. We really needed to send someone up the mast to work out the kink. We figured we would be near Key West the next day and would have the option to stop over. We motor sailed with the jib and mizzen and put the mainsail away until we reached Key West. I alerted Cindy about our unplanned stop over. With the engine and two sails we were easily able to maintain enough speed to reach Key West in daylight on Friday and offset the northerly current of the Gulf Stream. While the sailing was not what we had hoped for, the wind conditions were perfect and the sea was calm. It turned out to be a fun couple of days. We all quickly settled into our own routines and enjoyed the trip.

This east side of South Florida is busy with traffic. It took a keen eye on the radar at night and an attentive watch person at day to keep us clear of the many freighters, cruise ships, fishing boats and other numerous pleasure vessels. This is when I truly appreciated Roger and Ed’s experience with radar. It did not take them long to understand the system and zoom in and out on potential targets. Only once did we need to make a course deviation. A cruise ship leaving Miami was a little too close for comfort. After a quick conversation with the captain, we informed them we would alter course to pass to their stern giving us both plenty of room. It really is amazing how quickly ships show up and disappear.

We called ahead to The Galleon Marina Key West to make sure they had a spot for us. They did. We made it there just before sun set and had no trouble finding our way up the channel and into the basin where they are located. They are in the heart of all the activity at Key West but we didn’t plan to stay long. Oh well, this give us a reason to go back someday, We were all a little tired and went to bed early that night.

After a hardy breakfast on Saturday morning, we rigged Roger to hoist him up the mast. I had just recently added a bosun’s chair to inventory and almost left it in Atlanta due to being tight on space in the car on the trip down. I’m really glad I thought otherwise at the last minute. Our problem with the sail, the best we could tell from deck level was it was wrapped around itself inside of the mast. Instead of unrolling, it would unroll to a point and then half of the sail would want to roll backward. The plan was to have Roger poke the sail back into the mast with a wooden spoon (not sharp) at the point it was stuck. From the deck, Ed and I would work the sail back and forth to untangle. This turned out to be a good plan as it worked. Note in the picture, Roger had the foresight to bring gloves; smart fellow. The gloves gave him the grip he needed to pull the sail and the spoon was used to push. We hoisted him higher and double tied him off with each untangle of the sail. When all was fixed, I gave Roger his camera and he got some great shots from almost 70’ in the air.

We took out time getting underway, much to the dismay of the Galleon management who kept telling us we needed to be gone by 11am or pay for another night. At $200 at night, we had some motivation to pick up our pace a little. Our main delay was because we wanted to take advantage of the fuel dock on the next pier. We were waiting for an opening and for the dock master to call us over. The forecast for the next few days was light winds from the east. Not really being that familiar with our fuel usage rate yet, I thought it best to not pass up the opportunity to top of the diesel tank. By noon, we headed to the fuel dock, topped off the tank and said goodbye to Key West.

We left Key West by the North Chanel for the Gulf of Mexico. The waters in the keys are shallow. The north passage was well marked and the weather was clear. To be safe we motored up the channel making sure we stayed in the middle. Any amount of drift here could wind up being a bad day. Once in the Gulf, we raised the sails, successfully! And, set the auto-pilot for our waypoint outside of Tampa Bay.

Winds were from the East at about 10 knots and we sailed perfectly upright at about 6 knots for hours. We were treated to a magnificent sunset ending another perfect day.

Ed had a personal experience with a dolphin. He had the first night watch on this segment. He was along at the helm and kept hearing a strange sound. He said it sounded like a gull but knew we were too far away from land for any sea gulls. It puzzled him. He happened to look over the side and noticed we had picked up a friend. Sailing in the moonlight, the dolphin stayed with Ed. They exchanged eye contact as the dolphin surface for air. This went on for quite some time. The next day when Ed was telling us about his experience, I could tell this was going to be a fond memory for many years to come.

On Sunday, dolphins everywhere! We had a large pod stay with us for an hour, or so. With the clear water, we were able to watch them dart back and forth under the boat. We had the full show including a couple of pups with their moms. I know one thing is certain in my life; that for as long as I sail, I will never grow weary of the sight of dolphins. Roger had his ever faithful camera at hand a managed to capture the moment.

Saturday and Sunday we make great time. The steady east breeze put us ahead of schedule. By Sunday late afternoon, the winds died to almost nothing. Then, by the evening there was no wind at all. The Gulf was like glass. Not being in a hurry, we just hung around expecting a wind shift or a breeze to pick up. It didn’t. We were all a little disheartened as we listened to the latest forecast and found we were going to be like this for the next 48 hours. The sad part was we were not far out of Tampa Bay, only 60 miles or so from St. Petersburg. Not wanting to sit for two day, we reluctantly started the engine for the remainder of the tip.

As the evening settled in, so did some fog. I became very concerned about finding our way in to a new port with limited visibility. Fog and lightning are my biggest fears when sailing. We were fortunate. The fog was not dense and cleared prior to us finding our way point for Tampa Bay. We made the decision to make a night landing. We had current charts and were entering a well marked shipping channel. We were all very tired and the 3 of us made sure we worked together to keep us on track. Roger took the helm, I had the chart and Ed manned the radar. We enter the Tampa bay cannel and followed the red and green makers. We set ourselves up with the range marker to stay in the center. This did not last very long. The Tampa Bay pilot boat hailed to inform us of a Navy vessel doing 15 knots (compared to our 6 knots) coming up on our stern. Ed had already seen them on radar. We told the pilot we would stay south of the channel outside of the red markers. I think each freighter that night must have talked about us. They all hailed to make sure we saw them. We appreciated them letting us know their approach. Each captain taked to the one behind and the pilot watching out for all of us. Once under the massive Skyway Bridge we made the turn out of the ship channel and head for St. Petersburg.

Spending time with people on a boat, you get to know each other quite well. One thing I learned about Roger is he is like a human Wikipedia. Throughout the whole time we were together he would point out something and give an interesting nugget of information about it. Prior to this trip, we were casual friends and I did not know this about him. He constantly amazed me over the week. For example, we approached the Skyway Bridge and Roger says, “I think this is the bridge that collapsed”.

[Times photo, 1980]
The Buick driven by Richard Hornbuckle stopped 14 inches short of the bridge’s severed edge. Hornbuckle and his three passengers escaped.

I look at him, “Really, I didn’t know about that”. Roger, “I think it was around 1980. A ship hit it”. Sure enough when I get a chance to Google it, the bridge collapsed as a result of being struck by the Summit Venture. This happened on May 9th, 1980. It’s about 3am when we go under the bridge. I’m barely conscious, cold and tired. I can hardly remember my name let alone something that happened 30 plus years ago and recite the facts of the event. Roger has an amazing retention and as I found out is an avid reader with knowledge on a lot of subjects. During our time together, I learned to really appreciate his ability. Here’s a link to the very sad story: The Day The Skyway Fell We made our very undramatic entrance to St. Petersburg Marina at 4:30am. We secured lines at the transient dock and hung out a “do not disturb” sign. We toasted a glass of wine a called it a good day. One would think that this would be the perfect ending to this little story. I was not prepared for what came next. I was awakened about 10am by what sounded like hail. But, it wasn’t raining. Apparently, we arrived in St. Petersburg at the height of the berry season. Birds eat the berries in the trees and then pass the pit. I stuck my head out to see what the commotion was about. We had over a hundred birds on our rigging. It was as if they all saw a new boat and united as one to christen us. Our entire boat was covered with bird poop. I went back below for cover. The birds gave us the unofficial welcome to St. Petersburg.

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