Our Loop Completion

On Thursday, December 14, 2017, we officially completed America’s Great Loop when we crossed our wake at marker “101” at the inlet to the Caloosahatchee River.  The imaginary wake is the one we created when we entered the river heading north on the ICW back in May 2015.  Continuing on through Big Carlos Pass another 4 miles, we arrived back in our slip at Ft Myers Beach around 3:00.  Our friends, Donna and Bill were there to catch our lines and open the champagne.  Our journey was just short of 8000 miles… 7997 to be exact!

Our last night onboard was spent at anchor at Cayo Costa State Park, a mere 30 miles from the wake crossing.  I guess we wanted to delay the inevitable and enjoy a final sunset on the beach.  Although the anchorage is behind the island, we were able to take the dinghy through the mangroves over to the beach for the viewing.  We grilled some steaks and were treated to a meteor shower, watching from the rooftop deck under a blanket. (We had to stay awake a little past looper midnight for that!)

We actually were not alone in the anchorage.  In addition to a couple of sail boats, there was a looper boat there we had never met before.  We took the dinghy over and exchanged cards with Doreen and Greg from m/v Noah’s Ark and commented on the irony of meeting someone new on our last night.

Traveling slowly, we made our way through familiar territory.. Cabbage Key, Ding Darling, the Sanibel Causeway, the Bowditch Point inlet, and the Ft Myers Beach bridge.

After crossing your wake, Loopers get to hang the gold burgee on the bow to show everyone you have finished the loop.  Our white looper burgee is quite tattered in spite of my efforts to mend it back in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.  So, the gold one is definately an upgrade.  But, I think we’ll hold on to the white one, which holds a lot of memories of a spectacular journey.

I know what you’re thinking right now…  yes, there is another flag.  Loopers completing the trip a second time get to fly a platinum burgee, but that’s it, there ain’t no more.  At this point, we are thrilled with the gold and have no plans to go platinum.  (Right Skipper Joe?)

This moment is bittersweet.  We don’t know what’s next but we don’t think we’re ready to be done cruising.  Something new is likely to be on the horizon for us.  In the spirit of Christmas, we joined Donna and Bill in Naples Thursday night after our wake crossing to witness Florida “snow”.  Every Thursday night at 7:30, snow falls for 15 minutes from the street lights on 3rd Ave.

Snow falling in Naples Florida

If you are Hallmark Christmas movie fans like we are, you surely know what it means when snow flakes begin to fall in the final minutes of the show.  Some kind of change is a-coming!

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Sunset Cayo Costa

Categories: Great loop, Status Update | Tags: , , , | 14 Comments

The Homeward Stretch!

For us, the home stretch is from Tarpon Springs to Ft. Myers Beach, about 150 miles. After two and 1/2 years and over 7800 miles, our loop journey will be complete in 150 miles. This is a fact that is hard to take in. It seemed like an endless journey until now. We still feel like rookies. But, its true… we are the ones who have come full circle. We’ve been to all the “must see” places Loopers talk about. We’re the ones now handing out tips and suggestions. We don’t know it all, but we do know a lot more than when we started. It’s time to take our place in the hierarchy.

On Monday, we left Tarpon Springs to begin the home stretch journey. Tarpon Springs is another wonderful Florida town we may not have noticed if we weren’t looping. Although its a tourist destination, it’s also a working harbor for divers harvesting sponges. Dive boats bring in freshly harvested sponges and lay them on the sidewalk to dry. Factories then take the sponges and trim off the barnacles and clean them for sale in the shops. Now that we’ve bought and used natural sponges, we can proclaim their superiority to those synthetic sponges you get at Target. One noticeable difference is that they absorb so much more water – probably three times more! The other is that they are immune to mold and mildew. It doesn’t grow on the natural, organic sponges, so you don’t have to worry about bacteria.

Because of the sponges, the town is nearly 50% Greek. The Greek islands are known for their olives but also for the sponges that fill the waters. When the immigrants came to the new land, they settled here, in the part of Florida with clear waters favorable to sponges and their harvesting. Tarpon Springs, Clearwater and Sarasota all have beautiful crystal clear water that the ocean sponges thrive on. If you come to Tarpon Springs, you can enjoy Greek food and pastries to your heart’s content, and buy some sponges.

Monday’s destination was St. Petersburg Beach, in order to visit looper friends Mike and Leanne Rowe, owners of m/v Rowe Boat. We originally met in the spring of 2016 at the rendezvous in Norfolk and then again a few months later in Canada when we were traveling through the Canadian locks together. They completed the loop a year ago. Now they welcome passing loopers to spend the night on their own dock, right along the ICW route. We spent hours talking about our loop experiences and enjoyed a Mexican dinner together, until “looper midnight”, which shut us down at 9:00 pm.

On Tuesday, our destination was Treasure Island marina on Venice beach, about 50 miles. I must say that I was thoroughly enjoying the clear water and jumping dolphins as I was driving, when sadly, we were pulled over by the U.S. Coast Guard around 10:00 am. They boarded our boat, asked questions and wanted to see our driver’s licenses. 20171212_102713.jpgFrom what we could tell, this was a routine training exercise. Fortunately, they let us go! We spent the rest of the day fighting the strong winds to stay on course and monitoring the depth sounder because of the shallow water. Not very relaxing. At about 4:00 pm, we were two miles from Venice beach when We experienced our “moment of terror”. It was the final bridge of the day and required an opening, at only 9 feet above the water level. The bridge operator’s voice was “oh so pleasant” when he instructed us to proceed and that he would open the bridge when we reached marker number 12. Unfortunately, as we passed marker 12, he let us know that there was a problem getting the lock to unlatch on the bridge. This problem turned into an hour and half delay while we tried unsuccessfully to tie up to the bridge wall and then tried to anchor. The strong winds and narrow channel would not allow it. It was kind of like the moment of terror preceded by hours of boredom, as we have often alluded to. Ultimately, the bridge mechanics showed up and saved the day and we were able to arrive at the marina in Venice Beach before dark.

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Tomorrow, Wednesday, our plan is to anchor at Cayo Costa State Park, just north of Sanibel Island and arrive on Thursday at Ft. Myers Beach, where we officially will cross our wake. We’re half way through the final stretch!

Here’s some of the other sites along the way to Venice Beach.

 

Categories: Great loop, Loopers, Places, Trawler Cruising | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

A Looper’s Dream Crossing

Planning the crossing

At our planning meeting on Saturday at 2:00 pm, Sue from m/v Odyssey commented that her hopes for this crossing have always been for “calm seas and a full moon”. It turns out her dream wasn’t big enough! We had flat seas and a super moon, plus a pod of playful dolphins. It was the most incredible and amazing Gulf crossing of all time! But, what do I know? I’m just a novice.

IMG_0738.PNGThis Gulf crossing is one of only two sections of the loop route that takes us out into the ocean. (The other was going around New Jersey). The Inter-coastal Waterway (ICW) ends at Carrabelle and then restarts again south of Tarpon Springs. Loopers basically have two options: 1 – Pick a good weather window and depart Carrabelle and head to Tarpon Springs in one jump. At our speed, this is an 18 – 20 hour trip. Or, 2 – Do the trip in three hops stopping at Steinhatchee the first night and anchor somewhere the second night. Option 2 requires three good weather days in a row and an anchorage overnight in the Gulf of Mexico. Many choose this option, especially smaller, shallower boats, as the coastal waters are very shallow. We chose option 1, although we heard from experienced loopers recommending both options.
In the weeks and days before our crossing, we were following “Eddie’s Weather Wag”. Eddie provides this service to anyone who wants to subscribe to his daily updates. In his update, he interprets the weather conditions which he studies from several sources specific only to the upper, eastern Gulf of Mexico for the crossing. Looking at weather forecasts, wind conditions and forecasts and wave conditions, he recommends “Go” or “Don’t go”. It’s not only a matter of safety, but comfort, when he looks for seas less than two feet, winds under 10 mph and wave direction to avoid a beam sea. Eddie says he has learned from experience, what he and his wife consider comfortable, and chooses to help others answer the question: “should I stay or should I go?” I agree with Eddie and his wife and know from some experience that the very worst thing of all is a beam sea! When Eddie said on Monday that it was looking like a good weather window coming Thursday through Sunday, we began moving into position. Our friends made plans quickly to meet us in Carrabelle and everything went as planned.

Four boats left from Moorings Marina in Carrabelle (Odyssey, Seeker, Crows Nest and Tasteful Traveler) together at 3:00pm and three more slower vessels left from C Quarters Marina an hour earlier (Tiki Queen, Cha Cha and State of Bliss). We coordinated the departures to meet up along the route and check in with each other during the overnight crossing to Tarpon Springs. A few of the boats were heading to Clearwater, just a little bit south.

All of us felt safety in numbers and relief knowing that others were there to assist with any emergency that might arrive. At the top of each hour, we had a check-in via VHF radio. We also had our friends aboard serving as crew and helping us stay awake. It just couldn’t have been better. We arrived in Tarpon Springs close to 11:00 am Sunday.

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Arrival at R4

One of my biggest fears about the crossing was the complete darkness. The reason we have to leave in the afternoon is because we need enough daylight to get from the marina, through the channel to Marker R2. From there, we set a waypoint at marker R4, 150 miles away at the entrance to Tarpon Bay channel and stay on a straight course. At 8.4 mph, this will take 18 hours. Eddie says the last 30 miles of the trip will be filled with crab pots and suggests we plan to arrive at R4 no earlier than 10 am, in order to see and avoid the crab pots. So, most of the trip is in the dark of night and we tried practicing driving using only our radar. There would be nothing but darkness when looking out the windows except for the lights of the other boats traveling with us. Yikes!

In a remarkable turn of events (as you already know from the first paragraph), we had no darkness due to the beautiful super moon. I’ll call it divine providence. As we watched the sun set Saturday evening, the moon was already rising. It shone like a flash light for a while in front of us, then overhead like a spotlight which allowed us to watch a half dozen dolphins racing against our bow and jumping for 20 minutes or so around 1:00 am. They returned an hour or two later and gave another show for Joe who was at the helm. The 3:00 am radio check-in was filled with dolphin updates from the other boats. At the 6:00 am radio check, Joe reminded everyone to turn around and say goodbye to the moon but the eastern sky was already beginning to brighten with the pre-dawn light. It truly was a looper’s dream!

This video shows the calmness of the sea as we arrive at R4 Sunday morning.

Our plan is for Tasteful Traveler to spend some time in Tarpon Springs, then depart on Monday for the tale end of our journey back to Ft Myers Beach. A week from now it could all be over! It’s another scary thought.

Here’s our sleep deprived crew, having switched our tassels after making the crossing!20171203_072652.jpg

Categories: Crew, Great loop, Gulf of Mexico, Loopers, Trawler Cruising | Tags: , , | 7 Comments

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