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Sarasota, Bradenton Beach, DeSoto Point, Caladesi Island State Park

Travelogue - March 7, 2006

Well, we're still hull-side down! Yea!

We have visited Venice. The town mascot is represented, inexplicably, by dozens of individually painted pig statues, like the dog statues in Jackson a few years back and the boot statues in Cheyenne. I took a photo of a 3' high Pig Pirate complete with eye patch, but now I can't find it, so never mind.

Sarasota

Then we visited Sarasota, pictured above. We anchored "downtown", adjacent to the big trees of the city park lining Sarasota Bay, and when we dinghied in we paid $2 to O'Leary's Tiki Bar & Grill to tie Bump Head to their dock.

Orchid We visited a fine-art fair that ran for many city blocks, and we rode our bikes over that amazing bridge to Lido Key where we had lunch at an outdoor cafe and saw our first MANATEE at the Mote Marine Aquarium.

And we spent an entire day at the Marie Selby Botanic Garden (they featured orchids and epiphytes - Peggy M and Julie B, you would have loved it). No, this is not a picture of Rick elaborately coifed for Mardi Gras - it is an exquisite, miraculous orchid.

Mickey, Gary, Pat, Rick Our friends Gary and Mickey, whom we had met at Cape Haze aboard their Little Mick, anchored nearby and one day delivered take-out pizza to our boat - what a luxury! We provided real plates and fabric napkins, and black-olive tapanade which was not a hit. Here we all are at Sarasota's harbor-side park. Note: Gary and Mickey were instigators of The Citrus Caper of Cape Haze.

Statue Sarasota is a big city but it has a small-town feeling even as one walks among the high-rises. There were a lot of well-dressed people on the street, dining at sidewalk cafes and so forth; but there was not a lot of rushing about or noisy traffic. It was really pleasant. There are a number of sculptures sited along the harbor's green belt, mostly abstract but some literal. Here is a sculpture of the famous LIFE photo, with genuine tourists present to lend scale.

While we were all clustered around admiring the statue, as tourists are wont to do, a van pulled up to the curb and out leapt a man in a white costume complete with mask and cape and utility belt and... guitar. He wasted no time but burst into song. His cleverly disguised back-up musician, "Robin" to his "Batman" if you will, played drums in the back of the van. Hey, they were pretty good; the crowd was into it.

Street rock rules! They finished their performance and swiftly loaded their equipment into the... um, well, the Batvan. A bystander pumped his fist in the air and yelled, "Street Rock Rules!" And then the dynamic duo pumped their fists in the air, too, and then we all pumped our fists in the air, "Woo-oo!", and our heroes sped away to their next gig / mission.

A simple errand to the post office was equally off-world. I exchanged "good mornings" with a city-employed gentleman who was emptying trash containers. He joined us at the next intersection and pointed to a nearby city park, telling me, "My wedding is going to be there on Easter Sunday morning."

"Wow," I said, "it's beautiful. Congratulations!"

He thanked me, then said, "My fiance is a celebrity."

I replied, "Oh?"

He said, "Yes, her name is J-Lo."

"Ahh," I said.

Okey dokey. I told him, "Watch out for photographers invading your wedding." He agreed that paparazzi might be a problem in the Park. I wished him a happy wedding day and we went our ways. He didn't seem to have the financial means to be a stalker, and who knows? Maybe he is marrying someone named "J-Lo" and they will be very happy.

Bradenton Beach Time and the tides moved on, and we continued north to Bradenton Beach. We anchored beside the very cool historic town pier - there we are on the pier and there's Sea Gator waiting patiently in the background. Later we rode our bikes to the north end of Anna Marie Island and saw the Sunshine Skyway Bridge across Tampa Bay, far to the north.

Collards On Sunday, Rick's parents drove up to visit, bringing several of Lu's many cousins. We had a nice walk through town and lunch on the beach. Here we are at the "sailor's lounge" in the Bradenton Beach Marina, where we had moved Sea Gator to refuge from an impending blow.

The cities have been exciting - lots to see and do - but I didn't realize how tired of them I was until we left the over-built areas and cruised up the Manatee River. Several miles downriver of the city of Bradenton, we anchored off DeSoto Point.

In a major departure from the urban anchorages of late, DeSoto Point had a fine, remote feeling, with an uncluttered, treed shoreline, white sandy beach, and the sounds of birds singing and lovely still water. We visited the DeSoto National Memorial there to learn about Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto, and walked interpretive nature trails.

DeSoto Point

There were few other boats in the anchorage; it was wonderfully peaceful, and so still that when we heard a loud puff! we rushed outside to see a dolphin surfacing to breath. We listened to him exhale as he surfaced periodically across the bay and out of sight. See the anchorage, above and below left.

DeSoto Point anchorage A few days there, then we crossed the mighty Tampa Bay. We picked a very calm day to make the crossing. There was a huge freighter steaming north-east across the lower portion of the Bay, heading in from the Gulf. He must have been five miles away but looked as though we might run into him, he was that big. He took up two-thirds of Skyway Bridge's 175' vertical clearance when he went beneath - see the photo, below right.

We didn't go beneath; instead, we continued north and anchored in Boca Ciega Bay, near the town of Gulfport, west of St. Petersburg. We had made it safely across the expanse of the Bay, then when we thought we had it made we had an adventure: we got hung up on an uncharted boat wreck and had to free ourselves and re-anchor. But all is well. Later we brought our bikes in and went for a LONG ride: we got our marine parts and groceries, and even bought some Girl Scout Cookies, so it was a good stop!

Freighter under Skyway bridge Now we're back in the "country" again, and it is quiet and one can catch one's breath, as foretold. I've been looking forward to this ever since I heard about it from fellow cruisers. It is a boat-accessible-only barrier island, protected as Caladesi Island State Park. It's worth finding on a map. Here, you can do this:

Go to www.maps.google.com. Type "Clearwater Beach, FL", and hit [search maps].

There's Clearwater on the mainland. Across the bay to the west is thoroughly developed Clearwater Beach island; north of that is Scharrer Bayou; north of that is Caladesi Island State Park! It's all green, as it is all Park. Zoom in all you want until you are up close and personal with the Park, then chose [Hybrid] view, and you will get a satellite image superimposed over the street map.

Look at that beautiful, white sandy beach! Here it is, horizontally, early this morning:

Caladesi Island State Park beach Pan around until you see the Park buildings, and the docks. That's where we are now! I think the big boat on the satellite photo is the ferry which comes from Honey-moon Island, the next island to the north. We are now one of only four boats tied up here to spend the night - it is magically still and quiet.

It was NOT quiet when we came in Sunday. It was absolutely packed with day trippers and we had to squeeze into a temporary berth until people left. I'm grateful that the Park employees were so accommodating to us: it's difficult to "squeeze" Sea Gator anywhere, and backing all the way out the bayou against incoming traffic was not nice to contemplate. But Rick drives like a pro and all was well.

Monday morning we hiked down the beautiful sandy beach all the way to Clearwater Beach, where we rendezvoused with my Aunt Peggy and Uncle Don, who winter in Dade City FL. We figured we would walk there and they would drive there, and we'd coordinate by cell phone when we got close enough...

...Rick and I continued a mile past the first houses looking for access, then finally asked a beachcomber. He pointed to several upcoming public access points; Rick picked one at random; we walked down the boardwalk... just as my aunt and uncle came driving up the road they had picked as likely. We saw a blue car driving - they saw two people walking - and we met at the intersection. Pretty amazing!

(We discovered they had journeyed to Longboat Key for lunch at a restaurant near the very UPS Store where Rick and I rode our bikes to pick up mail on that same day - we could have met on the sidewalk!)

I'd show you a picture of my aunt and uncle, but dagnabbit! I forgot my camera that day; trust me, you would like them very much. We had an excellent visit: they gave us a tour of Clearwater Beach; we enjoyed lunch at a restaurant on the beach, discussed important topics of the day, and had a fine time.

Manatee After lunch Rick and I hiked back north and I collected shells. When we came back to the docks we spotted a manatee floating right behind our slip! He became the feature of the day; the Rangers said this was the first manatee of the year. That must be good luck!

This photo represents what he does: floats.

I see that there is a warming trend in Jackson. I hope you are all surviving the slush and getting around OK, and I hope you manage to get in some SWEET spring skiing!

All the best - Pat

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