The Weather Gods have blessed us with exceptional weather for an entire week as we cruised along "The Big Bend" or Florida's "Nature Coast". We were very fortunate because it is a stretch of coast where there is no intracoastal waterway and therefore the entire 265 miles we have covered over the past week has been a series of offshore trips, none of which we would have attempted on anything less than a calm day. Even to get 2 or 3 calm days in a row is unusual but 7 in a row is practically unheard of.
Many Great Loop Cruisers opt for making the direct offshore run from Carabelle to Tarpon Springs and miss the opportunity to enjoy this unspoiled area.
After leaving Carrabelle the Captain and I took advantage of the calm weather to do some offshore fishing. All we caught was a sharksucker but we enjoyed a lovely afternoon out on the Gulf and then anchored just off Dog Island for the night. We took our dingy to shore to what is known as a great "shelling" area. We were not disappointed and returned to the boat with approx 100 shells.
Another flat calm day greeted us as we woke and we headed offshore for 81 miles and turned in at the Steinhatchee River. The marinas are inexpensive along this stretch and our dingy had sprung a leak so we tied up at the Sea Hag Marina. The captain insisted I get a T-shirt that said SEA HAG and I'm not one to argue when it comes to adding to my wardrobe. He repaired the dingy and tested our batteries and filled them with distilled water. We went for a long walk around town and bought some groceries and stone crab claws and had a feast.
From Steinhatchee we headed to Cedar Key, the halfway point of the Big Bend cruise. Some people claim that Cedar Key is what Key West was like in the good old days before it became commercialized. A century ago it was one of the biggest cities in Florida, the western terminus of the state's first major railroad and a bustling seaport. We anchored offshore and took the dingy into town to stretch our sea legs.
Another short offshore voyage took us to the Crystal Bay where we headed 9 ½ miles up the Crystal River to the town of the same name which is situated on King's Bay, a large freshwater lake. It is a popular fishing and diving area teeming with wildlife. We saw manatees, dolphins, bald eagles and turtles and heard a hoot, hoot as we lay in bed reading. I jumped up and saw a large owl sitting on the flag pole on our bow. Once again there was absolutely no wind and the reflections of all the lights in the lake and the stars above made for a tranquil sight. It is rare to lie in bed at night and feel no movement whatsoever, not even the slightest ripple in the water. It was so quiet and still that I woke up a couple of times, got up and enjoyed the beauty of the night.
Last night, after another calm Gulf cruise we are anchored just off the city of Tarpon Springs. We fished all afternoon and then listened to the sound of dolphins surfacing to expel air from their blow-holes as we barbequed our dinner. We couldn't see them in the dark, but could hear them not far from the boat.
This morning we headed in 10 miles into Tarpon Springs and got a slip at the City Marina. It is a very intereting town with a rich history. Known as the "Sponge Capital of the World" because it developed around the rich sponge beds, discovered in the 1880's. In 1905 young sponge divers were recruited formn the Dodecanses Islands of Greece and a vibrant Greek community was formed in Tarpon Springs. It feels like we are in a Greek fishing village here. Most of the restaurants are Greek and we enjoyed a delicious dockside lunch. John had a blackened Grouper sandwich and I had a Mediterranean Seafood Wrap.
Tonight the weather is supposed to deteriorate and although it is hot and sunny now the wind has really picked up and is supposed to increase to 25 knots tonight. We will spend tomorrow here, do some sightseeing and a TON of laundry and ride out the weather. From here south the Ft. Myers the GIWW begins again so we will be in protected waters. Our timing weatherwise could not have been more perfect.
John's parents are due to arrive in Pt. Charlotte next Tuesday and they have a very special passenger riding with them - #1 SON Donald. I am really looking forward to seeing him and hope the weather is great for his visit to Florida. We are only a few days away from Pt. Charlotte so we can comfortably join up with them by Tuesday.