Stories from the Great Loop
Stump Pass Beach State Park
a good day...
Lemon Bay, Stump Pass State Park
Manasota Key, FL
February 27, 2019
Stump Pass Beach
It’s been a good day.
I began at Crow’s Nest Marina in Venice, FL reorganizing and cleaning up L.T. Looper. Specifically, I finally found a place for my boat hook and secondary anchor to live without being in the way. 23 feet of boat makes that somewhat imperative and I’m down to just a few awkward things that still defy a permanent home.
Only 17 miles due to late start and numerous slow speed manatee zones. I think I glimpsed my first manatee, not sure because it was so quick, but it wasn’t a dolphin, which I see regularly, because there was no fin. It’s hard for me to spot a manatee because my helm is inside the cabin and sits too low to see down into the water.
Five bridges, which is a lot for a short day. They all had at least 20 feet clearance so I got under comfortably, a modest advantage of L.T. Looper – many looper boats would have to wait for those bridges to open. There was one yesterday which I cleared by about 6 inches, which earned me a ‘good work Captain’ from the bridge keeper. I need 15 feet clearance with my VHF antenna up, 9 with it down.
I anchored next to Stump Pass State Park and and pulled my kayak down to explore. On a whim, I threw in a shirt and my wallet along with the cell phone in case I might continue to paddle into town about 1½ miles away to the north. I walked the beach about a mile to the southern tip of the key at Stump Pass. Passes here are not mountain passes but inlets to the Gulf of Mexico between the keys. I returned via a network of paths seemly established on purpose but only maintained through usage.
Along the way I found a new tree species, the Shell Tree, a roped off nesting area for the Black Skimmer, an eagle’s nest with two eagles, a touching and seemingly appropriate memorial to a local environmentalist, a pretty darn inviting bench and a view of L.T. at anchorage. I talked to a guy just emerging from a swim in the (still kinda cold) Gulf to tell him he was a tougher man than me. He replied that he had to able to tell his friends back home in Pennsylvania that he had swum in the Gulf. After hearing that I was from Colorado, he shared that he was moving to Colorado Springs. This led to a long conversation about the merits of Colorado; he must have found it interesting because he was shivering the whole time.
Back at the kayak, I indeed decided to paddle to town and found a place to stash the kayak in the trees at the parking lot for the Park. Somewhat hesitant about the distance, I started walking toward the restaurant area of town. After a ½ mile, I made a firm commitment to my complaining stomach to find a place to eat – firm enough to ignore a stunning sunset over the Gulf. With ample time to think, I decided to avoid the overpriced tourist oriented seafood places and any place with local musicians playing for tips. I’ve generally been disappointed with the former and suffered through too many bad renditions of Jimmy Buffet at the later.
I landed at Geraldi’s, the Italian Eating Place. It’s the small, hole in the wall type place I enjoy. Jose and Marita own and run the place themselves. You’d be hard pressed to find more authentic Italian – mostly pizza, salads, pasta and subs. The menu fit the place though I’m sure Jose could chef any high end Italian dish.
I chose a calzone. For a beer, Marita directed me to the bar next door. There, to the amusement of several local barflies, the cute bartender patiently explained that it was still Happy Hour and that I would get two Stellas for $3.50. She wanted to know if I wanted the second one now or later. I couldn’t quite sort this out as I was still trying to get my head wrapped around the concept of two Stellas for $3.50.
With a role of her eyes, she finally put an ice cold Stella and one of those little plastic dipping containers in front of me. “Bring the empty bottle and dipper back to redeem your second Stella.” She was finishing her shift but said the bartender coming in would honor it. I was now fixated on the ice cold Stella. “Sure” I mumbled and headed back to the little lattice enclosed outdoor dining area next to Geraldi’s.
By the time I returned, which wasn’t very long because I hadn't brought my water bottle from the kayak, the story of the mumbling Yankee had made it all the way around the bar. Several patrons greeted me with a good natured laugh that I found my way back. The new bartender promptly set my second Stella on the bar.
When I had ordered my calzone, Marita had warned me that they came large or larger. I ordered the larger, hoping to avoid cooking for another night. Still, I wasn’t prepared for what arrived. I ate about a third. Two nights without cooking! The two Stellas soothed my feet on the walk back to the kayak. L.T.’s anchor light guided me home.
I won't pretend that every day is this good. My novice mistakes and forgetfulness have made for some awkward moments, but haven’t had any serious consequences yet. The learning curve is still sometimes frustrating, especially with seemly infinite variations and combinations of my chart plotter, radar and sonar. I haven’t even tried to hook up my Sirius radio system yet, mostly because I don’t have speakers but partly because I’m rationing my limited tech oriented brain cells.
Manasota Key, FL Feb 27, 2019
Geraldi's Manasota Key, FL Feb 27, 2019
I stressed some, but never felt unsafe, crossing Tampa Bay in some rough water. And for the first time in my journey, I experienced rude boating in the overdeveloped and overused section of the ICW north of Tampa Bay. Too many big boats with too much horsepower captained by people in too big of a hurry.
I heard one bridge keeper tell a captain to cool his jets over the radio. She did it professionally, as befits her status. I would have been mortified. Bridge keepers are among a group including lock masters and barge tow captains that you really don’t want to upset. Karma matters on the water; they all have radios.
Still, it was a good day.