Thursday, March 14, 2013

Time with friends in Longboat Key and Venice, Florida

February 3-5, 2013

The next couple of hops on our trip were more about people than places, although the places were really nice, too.  We called this the beginning of our “Glendale Phase” of the Loop, as we hoped to see a number of friends from Cincinnati over the next few weeks as we traveled south along the Gulf coast. Seems people can’t wait to leave Cincinnati in the winter, and an awful lot of them end up down here.  First we would be visiting Pat and Nancy DeCastro on Longboat Key, and then Stu and Pat Clipson in Venice.

Leaving St. Petersburg, we passed under the beautiful 5.5 mile Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which spans the main channel between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay. This is the “new” bridge, completed in 1987, following the partial destruction of the original bridge in 1980 when it was struck by a freighter during a storm. Sections of the original bridge remain in place and are now the Skyway Fishing Pier State Park.

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Over the years there have been a number of serious, even fatal accidents in this busy shipping channel. One of the reasons we stayed in St. Petersburg as long as we did (besides the fact that we loved it!), was that there were several days of high winds on Tampa Bay and we saw no point in heading out for an uncomfortable trip. The day we left was sunny and calm, a wonderful day for a boat ride. As we left Tampa Bay and waited for an opening at the Anna Maria Island bridge, the dogs and I enjoyed the view from the bow.

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We were heading for the home of fellow Glendalians Pat and Nancy DeCastro, who have a beautiful home on Longboat Key with a dock out front. We weren’t there five minutes before Joey casually walked into their pool and took himself for a swim. Nothing like making ourselves at home!


It was Nancy's birthday, and they had invited another Cincinnati couple over for dinner. After a wonderful dinner we watched the Super Bowl (yes, I really am that far behind on this blog!). Our hosts graciously offered us one of the guest rooms, but we opted to stay on the boat. Nancy called us her “backdoor neighbors.”


Pat and Nancy invited us to stay another day, which we gratefully accepted. They drove us around and gave us a tour of Longboat Key and charming Anna Maria Island. We had lunch at the City Pier Restaurant, a fun place at the end of – you guessed it – a long public fishing pier. It’s one of the many places in this part of Florida that tout their grouper sandwiches, and they really were good here.


In the afternoon we returned to Pat and Nancy's home and relaxed by the pool.  They are in a wonderful location for watching water, boats and wildlife.  Just opposite their house is a mangrove island that is a rookery to huge numbers of herons, egrets and pelicans.  It was fun to watch the flocks returning home in squadrons in the late afternoon after a day of fishing. We also watched a pod of dolphins “herding” fish for dinner.


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I guess having big birds hanging around the yard can be a nuisance, but we thought this guy was pretty handsome!

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In the evening we went to a part of Sarasota called St. Armand’s Circle on Lido Key, a lively neighborhood of restaurants and shops. We ate at a good Italian restaurant and enjoyed seeing the area.

The next morning Pat left early to go fishing, but we visited with Nancy for much of the morning while we waited for high tide before leaving their fairly shallow channel. As she does every time she meets a land-based friend, Bailey put on her most pathetic face to try to persuade Nancy to let her stay! But it was time to move on. We had a wonderful visit and thank Pat and Nancy once again for being such welcoming hosts!

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It was a beautiful day, so we decided to go out Longboat Pass and travel south to Venice in the Gulf rather than dealing with the shallow Intracoastal Waterway. The Gulf was like glass and we enjoyed the easy two-hour trip.

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We pulled into the Venice Inlet and docked at the Crow’s Nest Marina. We had been warned that the depth at the marina might be too shallow for our boat at low tide, but we had no trouble. I had heard that the beach at Venice was a great place for finding fossilized sharks’ teeth and wanted to go exploring.  The dockmaster told Craig that the closest beach wasn’t the best place for hunting but gave us a small baggie full of the tiny black teeth that earned Venice the title “Shark’s Tooth Capital of the World.”  Mission accomplished! Deciding I now had more sharks’ teeth than I’d ever need, we spent the rest of the afternoon doing boat chores and visiting with other cruisers on the dock.

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In the evening, we welcomed Stu and Pat Clipson, friends from our church in Glendale who wisely choose to spend every winter in this lovely spot. Stu and Pat have been faithful followers of our Looper blog, so it was fun to welcome them on board.  After wine on Blue Heron, we walked to the very good and very popular restaurant at the Crow’s Nest, where Stu and Pat treated us to dinner. After a delicious meal and great conversation, they gave us a tour around their very attractive town. Before we said good-night, they came back to the boat to sign our guest book. What a fun evening!  Thanks again, Stu and Pat!


Next: Loving island life: Boca Grande and Cabbage Key.

(Real-time update: on March 14, we are in North Palm Beach, enjoying the beautiful Old Port Cove Marina and waiting for the wind to stop blowing!)

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