Manatee River anchorage -- open to the north west
When I looked at this photo, I thought to myself, "No wonder I'm covered with black and blue marks! I gotta get out of here!"
It's funny how you can suddenly 'see' something in a photo that you have been staring at with your naked eyes... Ain't the human brain odd?
Anyway, it was clear that getting out of the Manatee River and moving on to my next stop would take some planning.
One issue: the next reliable inlet on the Gulf is Venice, and Venice is 60 nm away, if you include getting out of the Manatee River, and into an anchorage in Venice. And that is too far to make during one daylight run. I could do an overnight leg, but with the fluky wind forecasts, and an engine that seems to be running worse and worse, I hesitate...
I haven't mentioned my engine problems, yet. The Blue Moon came with a 16hp outboard motor. It seemed to run well enough at first, and it still starts easily, but for the last few days, it has only run well at low power. As soon as you give it some gas, it stalls out. Not good for getting in and out of sticky places like inlets and wind-blown anchorages.
In fact, the engine did not have enough oumph to power out of the anchorage above. I know, because I tried.
In puzzling over what to do next, I started looking at the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW), that provides an inside passage all the way south from Tampa. I started talking to other sailors who I met at the marina (amazing the conversations you can strike up while doing laundry!), about the ICW, and whether a boat like mine could make it through.
Universally, everyone said "Of course you can make it through!"
But looking at a chart, I had two worries: 1) it looked like I'd have to motor a lot, which was problematical with my cranky engine and 2) the ICW is criss-crossed with bridges that are too low for a sailboat to cruise under. There are no such bridges on Long Island Sound, so I had absolutely no experience with opening bridges.
After going back and forth on this question for a couple days, I finally decided to try the ICW for the best reason of all: I'd never been on it before, and new experiences is the whole point of this trip.
So last night, I set my alarm for 05:30, when I expected the wind to be minimal, and lifted anchor as soon as I could make out the markers in the pre-dawn light.
There was no wind and the tide was slack, so I was able to make a crisp 3 knots up the river and was on Tampa Bay in a bit more than an hour.
The south-bound ICW through Anna Maria Sound was right around the corner, so quite quickly, I was motoring towards my first bascule bridge, with no small amount of trepidation...
Anna Maria Sound, south of Tampa Bay, and my first bascule bridge (right side of map)
What is a 'bascule bridge'?
Movable bridge animation
Cute, eh? I wish I had that much free time...
Anyway, here is a pic of my very first opening bridge, taken at the last moment on my iPhone, which luckily I had in my pocket...
What am I doing taking a picture, instead of moving briskly through the opening?
After taking this photo, I realized I should have been moving towards the bridge, rather than fiddling with my phone, so I gave the engine a bit more gas and headed in.
Bad idea! Just as I was entering the bridge opening, my engine stalled. Luckily, by then the other boats had passed through, so I had the whole opening to myself as leaned over the back of the boat to restart the engine.
Whew... that little crisis surmounted, I made it through without knocking down any bridge piers. I gave the bridge tender a slightly embarrassed wave. He just shook his head at me from his booth, far above...
Adventure spirit aside, I seriously started thinking about doing something about that engine. This initial thought was reinforced after talking to my uncle Marty on the phone at lunch time.
If anyone is responsible for my boat building/sailing adventures, it's probably Marty. He emigrated as a sail maker from Germany around 1960, married my mother's sister, and got my father -- and me -- into sailing. He has a vast well of experience to draw from, and after hearing my engine laments, urged me to get it looked at, ASAP. I resolved to do so.
Luckily, for most of the afternoon, I was able to sail down the broad waterway, leading to Sarasota Bay, thus sparing my engine (and me!) any more abuse.
I even had a little race with another boat heading down Sarasota Bay. Even flying just the big main sail, the Blue Moon kept up with this production sailboat for quite a long time.
Racing down Sarasota Bay, towards Sarasota on the horizon
We sailed all the way into Sarasota, under the big new Ringling Bridge (named after the circus family, that had it's headquarters in Sarasota for many years), and right into the anchorage, just south east of the bridge. We came to anchor without firing up the engine at all, all afternoon.
Now that's the kind of sailing I like. And overall, I'd say my first day on the ICW was a big success. Much easier, and more enjoyable than I'd expected.
I'll be using it more in the future, but my next priority is to get that engine fixed.
Sarasota -- the shore is closer than it looks on this photo... maybe 200 yards
>>> Next Episode: Shakedown
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