OPA!! We landed in Tarpon Springs, FL., a decidedly Greek Town, on January 15, 2020…The Gulf Crossing is OVER!! On to explore the West Coast of Florida and cross our Wake (AKA complete our Loop)!

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Tarpon Springs Municipal Marina

After arriving in Tarpon Springs at 1:40 pm, and checking in at the Municipal Marina, we went into town for Gyros, following the Dock Master’s suggestion.  We had a delicious lunch at The Limani before returning to Misty for a nap!  We were both exhausted, and Nancy was additionally wiped due to a bit of seasickness during the crossing.

Downtown Tarpon Springs, and the delicious Limani for lunch

Tarpon Springs is known for its sponge industry.  The first sponge business was started in the 1880’s.  After years of growth, John Cocoris introduced the technique of sponge diving to the area by recruiting divers and crew members from Greece.  The sponge industry soon became one of Florida’s leading maritime industries.  Despite red tides and sponge diseases, there is still a small active sponge industry today.  Sponge boats and their catches line the wharf, and the Greek influence is quite prevalent.  There are numerous Greek restaurants, bakeries and wine stores, and of course, sponges are sold everywhere!  Even the street signs are in English and Greek!

Sponge boats and monuments to the divers dot the waterfront

Scenes around Tarpon Springs

We spent our time in Tarpon Springs wandering in and out of the shops, enjoying the Greek food (including the bakery and Baklava!), watching the sponge boats and exploring the “Spongeorama Sponge Factory“  for treasures.  We bought a couple of sponges (how could you not?) in this fun and kitchy store.  Nancy enjoyed the beautiful bike paths, and she rode to the beautiful local library for a WiFi connection (to work on our blog!).  Side note….Nancy has visited numerous libraries on our journey, and has been impressed with what lovely spots they are.  Beautiful buildings, gardens and wonderful staffs!

Spongeorama!!

On our last evening we enjoyed an amazingly authentic and delicious meal at Mykonos.  From the flaming Saganaki to the Baklava, it was amazing!! Thanks to our friend Deb Neal/Saltaire, for the recommendation!

A fabulous dinner at Mykonos

Tarpon Springs is a beautiful little town, and we would love to come back to do more exploring of the “Bend” in Florida!

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So long for now, Tarpon Springs

As we left Tarpon Springs and got out of the Anclote River to the Gulf, we finally felt like we were in Florida…and we were THRILLED!!  We made a short 37 mile run to Clearwater Beach Municipal Marina, which is a short walk from spectacular Gulf beaches.

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Heading out to the Gulf….looking like Florida!

As we got settled after fighting with the wind, Nancy went up to the bow to  secure lines and fenders.  She found a fearless pelican on the piling just a couple of feet away from our bow.  He stayed for a bit, posing for the camera!

We wandered down to explore the beach after a quick lunch on board.  There was a lot of activity at the beach: a big volleyball tournament with many spectators, lots of people enjoying the beach and the views from the pier.  It was great to get our toes in the sand!

Enjoying a walk around Clearwater Beach

We rented a car while in Clearwater, as we have decided to look for a “dirt home” on the Gulf Coast.  We enjoyed the beautiful neighborhoods and towns around the Clearwater area, but the real estate is pricey!  Off the list!

We had been told that the food and the jalapeno margaritas at Marina Cantina, adjacent to our marina, was good, so we gave it a shot.  We thoroughly enjoyed our Empanadas, Nancy’s yummy shrimp dish, and Rob’s fish tacos.  Oh, and did I mention the ridiculous carmelized Plantains with ice cream and caramel sauce?  This Loop is sometimes too delicious and tempting!

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Yummy jalapeno margaritas and meal at Marina Cantina (note dessert is given a well earned larger space!)

We took a drive to see the small towns of Dunedin and Gulfport, both filled with charm and right on the Gulf.  Dunedin is a charming, small town named by two early Scottish settlers.  Dunedin is the Scottish Gaelic word for Edinburgh.

Dunedin, Florida

Gulfport is an adorable little beach town, and it’s super colorful buildings and gardens give it a funky vibe! There was a market lining the main street of Gulfport the day we visited. We enjoyed the various vendors and their food and wares, making a few purchases before having a delicious lunch at Stella’s (FYI, Stella was a former Nun).

Colorful Gulfport

There were a number of other Looper boats in Clearwater, and we had a fun group for “Docktails” before we left with the crews of In-Vince-Ible (Sarah & Harlan), Apres Sail (Kathleen and Michael), Alcyone (Patty and Todd) and Saltaire (Deb, John, Cheeto and family).

Clearwater Beach Docktails

We departed Clearwater on January 22 with cooler weather.  It was sunny, but only 39 degrees when we pulled out of our slip, but it was expected to warm up to 70.  Bring it on!!

Shortly after we got underway, we had a fabulous dolphin display, as they jumped and twisted out of the water in our wake!

We did another short 37 mile run to Harborage Marina in St. Petersburg.

Tampa Bay, enroute to St. Petersburg

After pumping out and getting settled in our slip, we bumped into Bo Brown, who commented on the beauty of our Misty girl.  Rob thanked him, and mentioned we were going to sell her, not knowing that Bo is a broker for Preferred Yacht Sales, who has an office at the marina.  After chatting for a bit, we welcomed Bo and the Preferred Yacht team aboard for a tour of Misty.  It turns out that Joe Zammataro, Preferred Yachts owner, rode the Transbridge Bus from Clinton, NJ to Manhattan several years back!  Such a small world, as Nancy did just that for 22 years!!  After having a frustrating time connecting with the broker from Curtis Stokes Yacht sales, and such a positive experience with Preferred Yachts, we decided they would be the broker to list Misty, after we return from our trip to the Bahamas.  Phew…big decision made!  Now we were free to explore beautiful St. Petersburg!

Our first afternoon we hopped on our bikes, and rode around the waterfront, parks and a bit of town.  We enjoyed dinner on board, and a beautiful sunset over the marina.

The next day was filled with ART!  First stop was the remarkable Dali Museum. While never a fan of his genre of work, you can’t help but be amazed by his imagination and incredible talent.  The building that houses the collection is a work of art itself, featuring a geodesic glass bubble nicknamed the Enigma, with 1,062 glass panels.

The gardens and grounds around the Dali Museum

Founded with the collection of avid Dali collectors and friends, A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, the museum is home to over 2,400 Salvador Dali works, including nearly 300 oil paintings, watercolors and drawings, along with more than 2,100 prints, photographs, posters, textiles, and sculptures, not to mention films.  It is a remarkable museum, and well worth the visit!

The remarkable Dali Museum

After a quick (but yummy!) lunch at a downtown sidewalk café, we continued on to the Chihuly Collection.  Ahhhh, Chihuly!!  Dale Chihuly is considered to be a pioneer in studio glass, who transformed the methods of creating glass art.  There truly are no words for the color, texture and light his work captures.  We’re real fans of his work, and have had the good fortune to see the Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle.  If you’ve never seen his work, it’s worth finding, and once you know his work, you’ll recognize it, and be amazed at  how frequently you will spot it in your travels.  We’ve seen pieces at the Borgata in Atlantic City, NJ, on the lobby ceiling at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, and one near the entrance to the butterfly house at Zoo Miami. And, a museum in St. Petersburg!

The Chihuly Collection

We continued south on January 24th under cloudy skies after waiting for a fog to lift.  We were heading to Sarasota, and on the way, we were surprised to find that there really is a Gilligan’s Island!

Gilligan’s Island

The short run to Sarasota (38 miles) took only 4 hours, and we were settled in our slip at Marina Jack by 3 pm.

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We wandered around town, then had a quiet dinner and evening aboard Misty.

Downtown Sarasota

Night scenes at Marina Jack

The next morning we hit the farmer’s market in town.  The dock hands had told us it wasn’t anything special, but we disagree!!  It was a wonderful market that went on for blocks, and along the cross streets, with a great combination of crafts, produce, plants and food trucks.  We loved it!

Sarasota farmer’s market

After lunch, we took an Uber to The Ringling. Wow!  The former winter estate of John and Mable Ringling (yes, as in the circus!) features an art museum, a circus museum that houses an amazing miniature circus display, the Ringling mansion Ca’ D’Zan (who knew the circus was so profitable?!), a theatre, gardens and grounds. We had only the afternoon, and the art museum was closed for renovations, so we opted to tour the circus museum and wander the grounds.  Ca’ D’Zan is an event in and of itself! Since we’ve decided to look for a home here on the Gulf Coast, we are sure to be back!

As you enter the Circus Museum, you are greeted by “The Greatest Show on Earth” mural, painted by William Woodward, a well-known muralist and painter, as well as a Professor of Fine Arts at The George Washington University.  For 22 years, the mural was showcased in the Ringling Brothers corporate lobby.  When the offices moved to the West Coast of Florida, the mural was donated to the Ringling in 2012.

The mural is huge!  42 feet long by 22 feet high, it is an oil on canvas that depicts 45 performers, 45 animals and 7 banners.  The mural took Woodward a year and a half to plan and six months to paint.

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The Greatest Show on Earth mural, and Nancy joining the circus!

The Circus Museum is not that large, but the highlight is the miniature circus display.  It’s amazing and remarkably detailed, covering not just the big top, but all of the behind the scenes areas of a circus to truly give you the scope of the production.

The remarkable circus model at The Ringling Circus Museum

The grounds are truly spectacular, with Mable Ringlings huge rose garden, a hidden garden, paths among the trees, all as you wander to the magnificent home facing the Gulf. Ca’ D’Zan meaning “House of John” in Venetian dialect, was designed to resemble a Venetian Gothic palace, similar to those the Ringling’s admired on their trips to Italy.

Ca’ D’Zan and the grounds of The Ringling

When we returned, we met our friends John and Deb Neal/Saltaire at the Tiki Bar near the marina for a drink to celebrate their “wake crossing”, meaning they completed their Loop!

After drinks, they headed back to their boat in the mooring field, and we wandered into town and enjoyed a wonderful Vietnamese meal at Pho Cali, recommended by the Dock Master at Marina Jack.

Fabulous Vietnamese food at Pho Cali

We made a 40 mile run on a lovely, warm sunny day from Sarasota to an anchorage at Cape Haze, where we shared the basin and briefly met Deb and Gene/Explorer.  It was a beautiful, quiet spot, and we enjoyed a lovely sunset.

Gulf ICW and Cape Haze anchorage

The 50 mile run was filled with dolphin displays, a highlight for a mostly cloudy, cooler day!

Seeing these guys never gets old!

Legacy Harbor Marina in Ft. Myers is lovely, but while our slip had a beautiful view of the river, we were nearly as far out on the dock as you could possibly be!  Oh, well, good exercise, and they had a pool!

Legacy Harbor Marina, Ft. Myers, FL.

We were thrilled to finally re-connect with our friends Barbara and Joe Huber/Balahula, who we met at Marlin Bay Marina in Marathon last February, and have bumped into along the way around our Loop.  They completed their Loop several months ago, and are down in the area relaxing at their condo (in between working!) in Ft. Myers Beach.  We enjoyed a drink aboard Misty before a fun meal at Capone’s in town.

Barbara and Joe Huber/Balahula, and dinner at Capone’s

The next week was FILLED with real estate with our great broker Sarah, from Schooner Realty.  After looking at a dozen houses, we found one we love!  We made an offer, and after a minor negotiation, we’re under contract!  2219 SW 28th Terrace, here we come!!  Very excited for this new chapter!

Looking forward to settling into our new home, and playing in the garden!

There were a lot of Loopers at Legacy Harbor, and we enjoyed Docktails one evening, and a fun pot luck dinner another night, hosted by the marina.

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On February 5th, we were off to Naples, where we would connect with our wonderful old friends and neighbors from NJ, Doug and Diane Desaulniers, who were down visiting Diane’s Mom. Over our three days in Naples, we had a wonderful visit! From Docktails aboard Misty, lunch at the Dock at Crayton Cove, a fabulous sightseeing tour of beautiful Naples, capped off by a celebratory “we almost completed our Loop” dinner at Mediterrano!  Now that we’ll have spare bedrooms, we look forward to NJ reunions in Florida!

Adventures in Naples with Doug and Diane

We left Naples City Dock on February 8th under cloudy skies and a bit of wind (gusts up to 20 mph!).  The wind was contributing to the already slightly crazy current in the Naples inlet….there were waves breaking just past the entrance!

Crazy current and waves outside of the Naples inlet

We headed to Shark River in Everglades National Park, as we’ve heard this is a beautiful, peaceful anchorage with spectacular night skies and abundant wildlife.  Unfortunately, when we got there, our anchor seemed to be jammed, and it would not deploy.  We tried unsuccessfully to call Boat US, and to convince another boater to raft with us.  So…since it was only around 3 pm, we decided to head back out into the Gulf and gun it down to Marathon.  We knew it would be about 2.5 – 3 hours, but with days longer, we pressed on.  What choice did we have?  The unexpected pleasure for the day would mean that arriving in Marathon meant that we would be crossing our wake that day!!!

The end of the rainbow…Marlin Bay Marina, and crossing our wake!!!

So, after a 121 mile trip from Naples, we made it to Marathon at 5:35 pm on February 8, 2020, officially becoming Gold Loopers! After 356 days, 150 locks, 6,241.83 miles, 233 stops, traversing the Atlantic, Chesapeake, Hudson, Lake Champlain, Richelieu, St. Lawrence, St. Lawrence, Ottawa, Rideau, Trent Severn, three of the five Great Lakes, the Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee Rivers and THE GULF OF MEXICO, we’re done!  We’ve met “new old friends” (you know who you are!), been challenged beyond belief, learned SO much, seen some amazing places and made memories too many to share.  We thank everyone who helped us along the way!  Most of all, we are incredibly proud of this accomplishment.  And, I thank my wonderful Captain, for his patience, guidance and expertise!  I never once felt unsafe (OK, maybe once!).  You made it the trip of a lifetime!!

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WE DID IT!!! GOLD baby!!! ❤️

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