Monday, May 18, 2009

Sailing up the Florida Coast

Note: I'm posting this from my phone so please excuse the lack of photos- I'll add some when I can find some wifi for my laptop.

I woke up early Sunday morning to finish up editing my Florida video before Nathan (my visiting friend from NY who's joining the trip for a few days), and I met up with Nancy. She had generously given us a ride on her boat on Friday and had mentioned that were some endangered gopher tortoises on Fort Myers Beach. We met up at our hotel and walked to the nearby nature preserve to see if we could spot some for ourselves. Nancy pointed out lots of plants along the way and we spotted some osprey fishing off the coast before we caught sight of our first gopher tortoise. It was hanging out just inside it's hole checking us out from the security of it's home. We saw at least a dozen different holes, though only two tortoises seemed to be home.

We parted ways with Nancy, packed up our room, and headed across the street to The Offshore Sailing School who had volunteered to teach me to sail on a three day trip up the coast to St. Petersburg. Nathan and I boarded the 38 foot sailboat and met Pete, our captain/instructor for the journey. He gave us a quick overview of all the lines and sails and talked us through some safety information. We'd read over the sailing textbooks they had sent us, but seeing it in person was quite a bit different. Pretty soon we had untied from the dock and we were sailing off from the sunny Fort Myers coast. I took the wheel for the first few hours as we powered through some channels and under bridges. After we got into some more open water we let the sales out and eased up on the motor. It was pretty impressive to see the power of the wind and watch the boat accelerate as we trimmed the sails. Pete pointed out all the lines and we quickly figured out which line pulled what.

After about twenty miles we anchored off the coast of a small island and started making dinner as we watched the sunset. Apparently some storms passed through overnight, but I slept through everything. We woke up a little after 6- we wanted to get an early start and try to beat the predicted rain showers. We pulled the anchor up and started on our way. Within thirty minutes we were all in our rain gear, and the rain never quite stopped. Pretty soon the showers were joined by thunder and lightening. We decided it was probably a good idea to take a break, so we got off course and headed into shore. We pulled into a slip in Gasparilla and dried out a bit before checking out the marina. There's a small store that sells snacks, bait, and a surprisingly large selection of Gasparilla Marina T-Shirts. There's also a bar & grill and a huge garage that stores around 600 boats on huge shelves. It was also the home of the largest fork lift I've ever seen in my life. The wheels were nearly as tall as me.

We all took the opportunity to shower at the comparatively huge marina bathroom and Nathan and I got started on dinner. Tonight's selection- pasta with a cheesy garlic tomato sauce, teriyaki broccoli, and salad. Now we're cleaning up and hoping for good weather tomorrow. I've got a train out of Tampa on Wednesday afternoon, and if we can't make some serious mileage tomorrow than I've got to come up with a Plan B. I'm starting to investige seaplane pilots in the area who aren't afraid of a little cloudy weather. Anyone know anybody who fits the bill?

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