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Launching Our Dream
Florida's West Coast
2005 – 2008
Sunshine Skyway Bridge
~ Sunshine Skyway Bridge ~
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St Petersburg
Encounters with Fate
Sunday morning burst forth with a banshee wind screaming through the shrouds, abruptly bringing us to consciousness. We popped our heads out of the companion way to verify our position wasn't changing, and as our eyes adjusted in the pre-dawn light, we noticed everyone prairie-dogging out their hatch for the same reason. All our anchor rodes were taunt save one. Gravity Storm appeared to be gliding by at a pretty quick clip.

The vessel whose anchor gave way first caught our attention when it came into the basin the day before. Bearing an identical name, Don and I debated whether it was the same boat that had been docked near us while living in Bradenton years before. We recalled how that skipper always came barreling into the dock, knocking around the other vessels and screaming commands to whichever unfortunate woman agreed to crew with him that day. On more than one occasion his date du jour jumped ship and furiously stormed up the dock – never to be seen again. His obvious ineptitude ranked him among the most incompetent skippers we'd ever encountered.

Several dinghies were launched to assist the freed boat whose hull was now being scraped against the sea wall. Don and I watched as Gravity Storm regained control and began motoring round and round in the small basin. "Is he just going to keep cruising back and forth until the wind dies?" Eventually, the anchor dropped, but we were less than confident it was safe to go back to sleep.

We'd been anchored out on the Manatee River the week of Thanksgiving, and on the spur of the moment decided it would be fun to sail up to the St. Pete Strictly Sail boat show occurring the following weekend. We arrived on Friday expecting to locate a good place to anchor among other boaters attending the expo. It wasn't until we'd motored around the northern side of the pier that we saw the expected flotilla in the Vinoy basin. Unfortunately, the anchorage was tightly packed with small day sailors and when we dropped our 60lb Bruce, we discovered very poor holding.

We didn't want our heavy blue water cruiser to be like a bull in a china shop among these lightly built boats, and so opted to anchor just outside of the basin. Once assured we were dug in, we jumped into the dinghy for lunch at the pier. The restaurant on the top level provided a beautiful panoramic view. First, we looked to the north to double check that Re Metau was happily floating on her hook. Wandering over to the other side we discover that – alas – the south basin was host to larger cruisers. When sailing in, the seawall had blocked our view, and since this was located directly in front of the show grounds, the masts of the anchored boats blended in with the exhibition yachts just beyond.

Sailor Don
~ Sailor Don ~

"Should we move to be closer to the show?" Don and I were thinking along the same lines. It would be fun to flaunt our pride and joy whenever the exhibitors asked "What kind of vessel do you have?" We quickly dinghied back to Re Metau and claimed our spot in the south basin. Only five other boats were resident when we dropped anchor, among them a beautiful 56' sloop named Tranquility with which we neighbored.

As evening fell, we decided to take the dinghy to a marina cafe we'd frequented in the past where we hoped to enjoy some good live music and adult beverages. To our dismay, we found parking meters at the public access dock, along with a sign that stated 'These Docks Intended for Boats Over 30 Feet in Length'. Reasoning that the phrase 'Intended for' was not the same as 'Restricted to', we went ahead and tied up our 10' Dinky Duck and paid the $2 parking fee. I perused the menu while Don questioned the waitress about the possibility of a band when we came to the realization that the relaxed seaside tavern had changed into a stuffy, overpriced bistro.

Just as Don and I concluded staying would prove too costly for our appetite, another dinghy pulled up behind ours. "Let's save him the parking fee, give him our ticket and go someplace else!" Don darted over to the dock and ensued in a very long conversation with the disembarking family. We all met up at the entrance of the restaurant, where I was introduced to Leighia and Cameron and their children – the crew of Tranquility. There – among thousands of boaters, we'd run into our new neighbors! They expressed their gratitude for our generosity, and proposed meeting up sometime before leaving the anchorage.

We spent the next day with the masses at the boat show, drooling over a multitude of marine gadgets and expensive yachts. Among the crowd we encountered many old dock mates as well as our new acquaintances, Leighia and Cameron. The more we talked to them, the more Don and I felt these two were kindred spirits. Owners of a cruising business, Trans Marine Pro, Leighia and Cameron specialized in renewable energy resources. Leighia extended an invitation to a potluck dinner they were hosting on Tranquility Sunday evening. We were both anxious to see Cameron's onboard machine shop, and so happily accepted.

Anchored by the Vinoy
~ Anchored by the Vinoy ~

The Sunday morning wind began to wane as the sun brightened the sky. When evening approached, we gathered up our contribution to the evening's fare and dinghied over to Tranquility to join the others. The salon was filled with lots of interesting people, delicious food and spirited dialogue. Before long, the conversation turned to the plight of Gravity Storm, who had left the basin earlier. We discussed the poor holding, debated the effectiveness of different types of anchors, and boasted about our big Bruces. Like Re Metau, Tranquility has hanging on a Bruce anchor, albeit much heavier. In the end, we all agreed that it could have happen to any of us, and were silently grateful that fate hadn't chosen any of us.

After returning to Clearwater, we received an invitation from old Bradenton dock mates and friends Ted and Linda, to join them at the Dolphin Cruising Club Christmas party. All the attendees were sailors, and the event was held on the top floor of a premier location in St. Pete overlooking the bay, promising to be a fabulous place to watch the Holiday Boat Parade also taking place that evening so we were delighted to attend. Ted introduced us to some of the guests seated at our table, then accompanied us to the balcony to watch the spectacle of lights floating around the Vinoy basin below. Tranquility was still moored to the south, where Don and I had anchored the week before. As we gazed down into the bay, Ted began sharing a traumatic anchor dragging experience that happened to one of the guests at our table, Gary, in that very cove.

Don and I confirmed that we'd found poor holding there ourselves, and began sharing the event we'd witnessed. When we mentioned 'Gravity Storm', Ted laughed at the irony. He clarified that the incompetent skipper we encountered in Bradenton bought Gary's first boat and never changed the name. Like many boat owners, Gary retained the name for his new boat, and we were in fact both talking about him! We were anxious to return to our table and solicit Gary for his firsthand account.

St. Pete Pier
~ St. Pete Pier ~

Given the warmth of that fateful night, I was fairly certain the various state of undress caused most of us, Don and I included, to hesitate from going up on deck. Gary confirmed this as a fact, noting that his bare body and his barely conscious state had him in quite the quandary. We all laughed, having had the same experience. When dealing with an impending disaster on deck in a hurried half stupor, one tends to function like a two year old just learning how to dress. Since fellow boaters arrived to provide assistance, Gary opted to struggle into some pants.

Luckily, the seawall was eroded underneath, so the hull was spared. Only some lifeline stanchions were damaged. With his wife Sharon at the helm, Gary hauled the useless hook up and had her motor back and forth while he collected his thoughts and his pride.

"Were we the laughing stock of the basin?" Sharon worried.

I assured Sharon that everyone at the potluck understood it could happen to anyone. "It was the strangest thing! The anchor just bounced across the bottom. It never turned and took hold." When he told us it was his 35lb Bruce that let loose, the same type of anchor that held both Re Metau and Tranquility, my heart skipped a beat.

Having survived with little damage, they were all able to laugh about the whole episode. But then Gary stated "I'm still mad about the parking fine I got for tying up my dinghy at the public docks!"

Fate – It was all Gravity Storm's that day!