I have been horribly neglectful in maintaining this blog. Last post was back around April. It isn’t that I haven’t been writing about what’s been happening, I simply have been posting on, gasp, shame, Facebook instead of here.
It would be impossible to explain all that’s happened since the last post so I’ll try and do it succinctly.
Because of deteriorating health problems with my COPD and the fact that Medicare doesn’t pay a penny once you step outside the boundaries of the country I was forced to leave my beloved Boquerón, Chiriqui, Panama and repatriate last April.
The only way I could afford to live in the states just having Social Security to depend was to buy a boa. It’s a small one, a Venture 22, and after fitting it out with my friend Stephen, I left Fort Lauderdale and headed north on the Intracoastal Waterway giving the Tangerine Twatwaffle’s Mar a Lago the finger as I passed.
The boat came with a 25hp Yamaha outboard. It was just all wrong for this boat. Over powered, overly heavy and the damned thing quit on me three times between Fort Lauderdale and Stuart. While there I exchanged it for a 9.9 Mercury which is the max recommended for the boat. Never a moment’s problem with it. It took me across the Okeechobee Waterway to the Gulf of Mexico and then all the way up into the panhandle of the state to Carrabelle. I had been planning on going all the way to Louisiana to look at what little was left of Breton Island where I’d run crew boats in the Kerr-McGee oil production field for a couple of years. With all the hurricanes since 1978 what was once an island about a half mile long and a couple of hundred yards wide where we actually lived at night has been reduced to a couple of hundred square yards total. I just wanted to see it once more.
But the dream died in Carrabelle. I’d had a complete loss of appetite for a couple of weeks. It wasn’t that I was sickly. I just lost interest in eating. I collapsed in the office of the marina there on the 4th of July. On the 5th I departed and headed toward Bradenton Beach, a few miles below Tampa Bay. I knew a couple of people there; a lady I’d met in Panama and her sons. I thought I’d go there to spend the winter months.
Some 15 miles out in the Gulf at about 2 a.m. I could barely breath and was unable to sit up. I dug out my little 6-watt handheld VHF radio and called “Mayday, mayday, mayday.” The Coast Guard station in Mobile, Alabama, heard my call and after determining my GPS position they sent a boat that evacuated me to shore where an ambulance waited and took me to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. I’d planned on having a nice lobster dinner for my 75th birthday on the 9th but ended up eating hospital fare instead.
In all I spent 17 days in either Tallahassee Memorial or Health South Rehab Hospital before getting back on my boat which had been towed into Panacea harbor and heading down to Bradenton Beach.
Why Bradenton Beach?
- It has a great free anchorage and dinghy dock. There are a number of other smaller anchorages nearby.
- Access to good public transportation that makes owning a car unnecessary. On Anna Maria Island, of which Bradenton Beach is but one of three towns, there is a FREE “trolley” service that runs every 20 minutes from 6 a.m.to 10 p.m. Okay, they aren’t really trolleys; just buses made to look sort of like New Orleans street cars or San Francisco cable cars. They run past Walgreens and CVS pharmacies, Publix supermarket, Ace and True Value hardware stores, and, as it happens, one of the stops is half a block away from my new doctor’s office.
- If I need to go over to the mainland there are two Manatee County Transit buses. They go by Walmart, Home Depot and Lowe’s, Winn-Dixie supermarket, West Marine and tons of restaurants and fast food emporiums. The #6 bus also ruAftns by Blake Memorial Medical Center, one of the two hospitals close by. The cost for old timers like me is 75¢ but I buy an “unlimited” fare card for $20. The only problem with this is it’s only once an hour but I know know when I need to get to the bus stop to catch one. Also learning when it passes other places I go to like Wally World, etc.
- The #6 bus runs right past the Y that I’ve enrolled in. Gives me use of their indoor heated swimming pool, a fantastic spa with ultra-modern exercise equipment and, best of all, HOT SHOWERS. There are no showers on 22-foot sailboats.
- I know a couple of people here. One is a lady I actually met down in Panama who is a native of Bradenton and moved back here just after I did and lives with her two adult sons.
I’d been in Bradenton Beach for about a month when I developed severe chest pains. Not a heart attack, wrong side of the chest and having already HAD a heart attack it wasn’t the same kind of pain. I got myself ashore, got a cab and went to Blake’s emergency room where I was admitted for a four-day stay. Underwent several CAT scans, ultra sounds, X-rays and an endoscopy to discover I had a “very large” duodenal ulcer. Meds have brought that under control.
A month and a half ago my new doctor gave me a sample of something called Breo Ellipta for my breathing. This is a totally unsolicited endorsement of the product. It has literally changed the quality of my life for the better.
It’s expensive even after my insurance discount (I’ll pay $265 a month until my med costs have reached $600 then I can apply to the manufacturer for help). It doesn’t stop me from getting short of breath but those times aren’t nearly as severe as without the Breo.
I still need the Ventolin inhaler but since starting on the Breo a month ago I’m using it A LOT LESS THAN BEFORE. I had been buying an inhaler about every two weeks. Today I stopped by the pharmacy and bought another one to have in reserve. My insurance knocked off a whopping $6 (welcome to America, Richard) off the cost so what cost me $9.35 over the counter in Panama is now costing me $53.01 here) BUT I still have 58 puffs left from the 200 each inhaler starts with AND the pharmacist checked and I bought this last one on November 23. A MONTH AGO!!
Let me fill you in on some of the places I stopped at on my cruise in no particular order:
- Indian Town. It’s on the Okeechobee waterway east of the lake itself and has a nice little marina. There’s very little to the town except for a few restaurants, a couple of banks, a hardware store and a road OUT! There was a resident alligator at the marina.
- Cedar Key. I’d read a lot of good things about events that go on there on Facebook. Place was a total disappointment. On the way north I didn’t even stopped. Looked around and the continued on to…
- Suwannee River. Yes, Virginia, there is such a place. It’s hauntingly beautiful, too. On the Gulf side it’s very reminiscent of the Cajun Country marshlands. The river, itself, reminded me a lot of the Atchafalaya River with it’s huge stands of cypress trees. The town of Suwannee is nearly nonexistent. Desolation might be an improvement. There are two marinas where you can get fuel and basic marine supplies. One of them has a restaurant that’s open for breakfast and lunch and is famous for serving the WORLD’S WORST MEATLOAF! There’s a small store about a half mile away from that marina with a limited amount of groceries for which they rip your eyeballs out on prices but it’s the ONLY store around. In all I spend TWO WEEKS anchored around in the river, a week going north and then coming south. I had to wait on the weather because I wasn’t about to go out in the open Gulf of Mexico in 25 mph winds in a 22 foot boat.
- Oh, and once I left Bradenton Beach on the run north I also ran out of phone contact and had no internet connection. One of my readers, not having seen me publish anything on Facebook for almost two weeks called the Coast Guard and reported me “missing and over due.” When I finally found out the Coasties were trying to find me and contacted them by radio they said they were within a couple of hours of actually sending out planes to search for me!!!
- Carrabelle. Easternmost panhandle port. Nice run up the river past several small marinas to the large Moorings Marina. Docks are a bit shabby, but the free breakfast every morning more than makes up for that. The Moorings is a convenient place for cruisers to stop. Restaurants within easy walking distance. Fairly decently stocked IGA grocery store across the street. Ace Hardware a block away.
- Panacea. In the panhandle. Well protected harbor. One dry stack marina but with gas and a restaurant. Nothing town.
- Econfina River. Good anchorage inside the river but a long way from anything. Just a scenic overnight spot if you’re coast-crawling through the big bend. Spent two nights there coming and going.
- Keyton Beach. There is absolutely NO REASON for a cruising boat to stop here! No town. No fuel. Shallow anchorage.
- Steinhatchee. (Pronounced STEEN hatchee). It’s a LONG HAUL from the Gulf into the river where there are two marinas usually full up. Restaurants are available with wifi. Dozens of sailboats anchored along the river above the marinas. It’s an endless boat parade as people pour down from the launch ramps north of the anchorage and on out to the open water. August is scallop season and it’s absolutely nutso. There’s one small combo gas station/food store there about a quarter mile walk from Hungry Howie’s restaurant. They have a small floating dock and if you buy a little something from them they’ll let you tie up for a bit to go shopping.
- Crystal River. A couple of marinas. Limited good anchorages where you don’t get bounced around on the wakes from the endless parade of boats, especially on the weekend. No shopping available. One marina has a brilliant marketing ploy. They are at the very end of the river selling gas. You have to motor about 10 miles in from the Gulf to get to it and then back of course so you burn up a lot of fuel. As you run up the river you notice hundreds of palm tree trunks without tops that were torn off from various storms and hurricanes.
- Port Richie. There’s a NEW Port Richie but you get to this long before you get to that. Coming in the long entrance (they’re ALL long along the shallow Gulf coast north of Dunedin) you pass what the charts euphemistically call “Shacks” but they’re pretty grand retreats built out on the water on pilings. Very reminiscent of “Stiltsville” that was located in Biscayne Bay near Miami but succumbed to numerous hurricanes. There’s a nice little marine store and gas dock up towards the end of the river. There are a couple of restaurants, including a Hooters with free wifi and off to the left there’s a good-sized pond, Miller’s Bayou, that’s an excellent anchorage. All together I spent about five days anchored there going and coming because of the weather.
- Tarpon Springs. Go if you must. I wasn’t impressed. There are a couple of places to go get fuel. A small anchorage not too far in from the Gulf near a public park and boat ramp.
- Hernando Beach. There is only ONE reason for a cruising sailor to stop at this place and you have to have a very shallow draft vessel to do it. That is if you’re sleepy and the next anchorage is too far for your physical condition. If you go up a long, long, winding, narrow channel and come to the town you’ll find absolutely NOTHING for you. No marinas, no fuel, no shopping no place to anchor. But, back down, not too far from the channel entrance, on the north side of the channel there’s a series of rocky spoil islands and inside that a rather large bay with a low water depth of a little more than 3 feet. I anchored in their just behind the seaward-most island. It gave me excellent protection from the vicious wakes of the power boaters and commercial fishing boats that pass by in a constant stream. Otherwise, avoid the place.
- A little ways north of Tampa Bay, and just south of the Welsh Causeway bridge, over on the northeast side of the waterway in the shadow of the Veteran’s Hospital there is an excellent anchorage with decent protection all around. And one of the best shantyboats I’ve ever seen…
Then there was Hurricane Irma to contend with. Early on all of the “spaghetti” models, save one, had the storm tracking up the east coast of Florida. That one had it traveling right up here over Bradenton Beach! While everyone was saying it looked like we were going to be in the clear I kept saying, “You watch, that bitch is coming up the single, solitary path on all the forecasts. Guess who was right?!?
I struck the mast and then headed out of the anchorage as most of the boats did, but I went where none of the others did. I went across the ICW and under a little bridge and up a narrow canal. After the canal turned 90 degrees to the right I found another narrow canal that seemed like a good place to check out. It was so narrow in there that I’d be unable to turn around so I backed down into it. A couple of hundred yards in I found an indentation in the mangroves that lined both banks and headed into it. It was perfect! Two thirds of my port side was covered by thick mangroves and half of my starboard side was. Ahead of me was a jungle of trees and astern, across the sliver of canal there were three, two-story, cinder block houses and, more mangroves.
I got half a dozen lines into the trees and hunkered down for the storm. That was the worst of it. The anticipation. Then, two days after I secured myself the storm started picking up. The wind literally blew the water out of Tampa Bay, only a couple of miles north of me, and I ended up with 2/3rds of the boat sitting on the mucky bottom. Fortunately the Venture 22 has a swing keel and a flat bottom and will float in just a foot of water. I was actually looking UP at the ground level from my cockpit!
As the winds increased they simply blew right over my head. In fact, before the eye neared us I went to bed. In the morning the winds were replaced with rain and when I was able to stick my head out into the open I found that the worst thing I’d suffered from the hurricane was about a gazillion mangrove leaves covering nearly every inch of the deck. I stayed put for another day before returning back over to the anchorage. Some of the boats that hadn’t moved to safer shelter were still doing well, but looking around the whole anchorage area seven boats had sunk.
I decided to leave the mast down. In the several hundred miles I covered from Fort Lauderdale, across the state on the Okeechobee Waterway and then up to Carrabelle in the Panhandle and back down to Bradenton Beach I actually only sailed four times. The rest of the time it was a combination of things…too much wind, not enough wind, or the wind was coming from the wrong direction.
Having the mast lying down on deck as it was for the hurricane was unacceptable and a nuisance. So I made a “gallows” for it out of PVC piping. It now sits up in the air, low enough that I’d be able to get under any bridge with at least 10 vertical clearance and yet I can stand upright under it back by the tiller. It also makes a wonderful anchor for a tarp to protect the cockpit and over the hatchway.
There have been some nice days here at the anchorage…
Some were downright scary!!! This is less than a quarter mile from where I’m anchored.
Well, that wraps it up. I’m not promising that I’ll be a LOT better than I have been, but I will be SOMEWHAT better.