Chapter IV, Part 1. Tarpon Springs to Tampa Bay
Editor’s note: The following entries were printed from the handwritten log of Spirit Song, a MacGregor 26 owned and skippered by Robin McGill and crewed by his brother, Neal McGill. The brothers spent about a month during each of several years in their effort to “Sail the Ditch” of the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway from Brownsville, Texas, to the Florida Keys. Chapter IV is the log of their last voyage, from the west central coast of Florida down through “Alligator Alley” to the Atlantic and the Florida Keys. Enjoy!
Chapter IV: Tarpon Springs, Florida to Marathon, Florida, plus 20 miles
Part 1. Days 1 through 6: West Central Florida Coast, Tarpon Springs to Tampa Bay
Feb. 25, 2004 (Weds.), Day 1
It has been almost two years since my last entry in this log book. Robin was faced with some concerns at home that would not allow us to sail the ICW in 2003.
First I must write a few words to explain how Robin and I arrived in Florida for this new adventure. Robin left home in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Weds., Feb. 18, trailering Spirit Song and traveled 1,800 miles in about 3-1/2 days. Robin met with Sylvia and me in Panama City Beach, Florida, which is in the panhandle of Florida, where Sylvia and I had exchanged a week of timeshare following a one-week cruise of the Caribbean to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. Sylvia and I then went to Disney World in Orlando, FL for three nights and two days. During these two days, Robin continued to travel to Tarpon Springs, Florida, which is just north of Tampa Bay, Florida.
Yesterday morning Sylvia and I met Robin at the Tampa Bay airport. Sylvia flew home to San Jose, CA, and Robin and I went back to Tarpon Springs with every intention of launching Spirit Song so as to start our sailing trip this morning. But Mother Nature had other plans for us. Before Robin and I could get back to Spirit Song, still on her trailer, a squall line came through the area dumping over 3-/1/2 inches of rain. Not a good time to launch a boat and stay reasonably dry. We found a motel for the night.
This morning, after breakfast, we drove the boat to a public launch ramp and worked on Spirit Song for several hours preparing her for the voyage. She finally got her bottom wet at 2:30 P.M. The launch ramp is about three miles from where Robin’s truck and boat trailer are to be stored for the next month. Robin motored Spirit Song to that area while I drove the truck and trailer to the storage area. Robin arrived to pick me up a few minutes later and we are now tied up to a dock at the launch ramp facility. It is still raining but not storming.
Feb. 26, 2004 (Thu.), Day 2
We were awakened this morning by two park rangers and told that the dock where we stayed the night was to be used for loading and unloading passengers only. We moved out from the dock about 50 yards and anchored while we fixed coffee and a snack. When we were preparing to leave, we discovered that the VHF transceiver would not turn on. It took Robin and me about 30 to 45 minutes to locate a broken wire and repair it. We then headed out of the bay and located the start on the ICW for this area. This took us in an almost southerly direction and we were able to sail for about 3 hours with the wind off of our stern. We averaged about 5 mph and at times achieved 6 or more mph. Our total travel for today was 16 miles.
When we approached the city of Dunedin, Florida, it started raining at a fair rate. We decided to stop at the marina there for the night even though it was early to stop for the day. We used the extra time on shore to use the laundry facility at the marina and also inflate the inflatable life raft, which we will tow behind the boat for the remainder of this journey. Just after arriving here we walked 1/3 mile to the Sand Bar Grill, which Robin had knowledge of from a previous trip through here last year. It was an exceptionally good hamburger.
Feb. 27, 2004 (Fri.), Day 3
It rained occasionally last night and the wind picked up. When we opened the cabin hatch the wind was stiff and it looked very gloomy. We decided to invoke our primary rule while on these sailing voyages, which is: “If it doesn’t look like fun out on the water, stay tied up.” It didn’t look like fun today so we stayed in the marina today and did not travel. We found a small diner that served a very good breakfast within easy walking distance from Spirit Song. After breakfast we watched the marina staff stack power boats in a large barn using a large special design forklift. We enjoyed a mid-afternoon cup of tea that Robin prepared back at Spirit Song. About 6:45 Robin and I helped land and secure a 65-foot power boat for a couple of men who did not have much experience with handling a boat of that size. We enjoyed a nice dinner at a local restaurant and stayed several hours to listen to the live entertainment.
Feb. 28, 2004 (Sat.), Day 4
Shortly after getting out of our sleeping bags this morning, we removed 10 or 12 gallons of water from the bilge. We could not imagine how it came into the boat. We have experienced water in the bilge before but not in this quantity. We had assumed that it was getting into the boat after a rain from deck runoff but it did not rain last night. Robin tried to contact the MacGregor factory in southern California, but alas it is Saturday and there was no response. We then solicited the help of Bruce, the harbor master and he was kind enough to do an internet search to find out if other MacGregor owners had a solution to our problem. We did find that a couple of other owners were looking for a solution to the same problem but not solutions. In looking around the boat trying to eliminate possible causes Robin found that the inlet valve to the ballast tank was not very tight. He tightened the valve and the water problem seems to be resolved. We will check the bilge in the morning and hope for the fix.
Robin and I took a 5 mile walk this afternoon to see the local sights followed by another great hamburger at the Sand Bar Grill. Tonight is the first night we have been able to see the stars. It would have been a good day for sailing but until we have a handle on the water problem we will stay in this marina.
Feb. 29, 2004 (Sun.), Day 5
Yip-ee, hoo-ray, the water problem was solved. The first thing we looked at this morning was the bilge and found no additional water had found its way in for one day. The ballast tank valve was the culprit. Because of the water problem, Robin had some articles of clothing that were wet with seawater. Robin used the laundry facility at the marina to wash and dry them. After walking a short distance for breakfast, we returned to Spirit Song, to tidy up and prepare to continue our journey. Before we left the marina, we were invited to go on board the 65-foot yacht that we helped to land several evenings before. It was a very nice boat with lots of gadgets, but I think Robin and I are doing this voyage a better way.
After leaving the marina we continued south on the ICW and were able to sail for about an hour before taking down the sails and continuing under motor power because we were required to circle a couple of times until the first of several draw bridges raised to let us through. Boat traffic in this area is almost all pleasure power boats with an occasional sailboat. We traveled about 20 miles this afternoon and we are now swinging on a single anchor in a small open area about ¼ mile from the ICW. The stars are out again tonight.
Mar. 1, 2004 (Mon.), Day 6
After Robin and I got up this morning we were entertained by a couple of dolphins that were swimming in our area. They were fun to watch. Robin made some changes to the fuel line routing so that when we are under sail and the fuel tanks shift in the fuel compartment the fuel line doesn’t get a kink thereby stopping the flow of fuel and starving the engine. This took some time so we did not get started south again until about 10:00 A.M. We were not able to sail very much today for two reasons. First, the wind direction was right over the bow (a headwind) and second, the number of drawbridges, which required the use of the motor. We stopped in the early afternoon at Tierra Verde Marina for a hamburger at the Sand Bar (not related to the Sand Bar Grill in Dunedin). After lunch we were able to sail for about one hour while traversing the mouth of Tampa Bay. We are stopped for the night at anchor about 1-1/2 miles south of the mouth of Tampa Bay. We traveled 33 miles today.