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June 12, 2013

Cruising the Sun Coast

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Page 7

A couple of miles north of Blackburn Point is Midnight Pass, the subject of much controversy some years ago. The forces of nature were gradually moving the pass northward, endangering the homes of some people influential enough to get the pass filled in. Taking exception, local boatmen tried to dig it out one night. They did not succeed, but their efforts created a nice little cove and beach besides the interesting name! Beware — at low tide some spots can be as shallow as two or three feet.

Northward, the waterway transits Little Sarasota Bay, winds through the narrows at Siesta Key, then opens into Roberts Bay (also reported to be shallow — only two-and-a-half to three feet) and Sarasota Bay proper. If Pine Island Sound is an escape from civilization and Lemon Bay is a wonderful combination of undeveloped anchorages and friendly facilities within easy reach, Sarasota Bay is a return to the Twenty-first Century with a sparkling modern city on the mainland side, luxurious homes and resorts on the barrier islands, and wonderful cruising waters between with excellent facilities and great restaurants at every turn along its shores. It is urban cruising at its delightful best.

If you are entering Sarasota Bay from the Gulf, be aware that Big Sarasota Pass has been officially closed by the US Coast Guard and has been declared a "dangerous inlet." The markers for inbound and outbound traffic have been removed, so passage is now being made only by shallow draft, local boats with knowledgeable skippers. Some markers remain in the pass area but they were left for local use only, some are private and some have been placed by the county, they say. But still: The pass is definitely not recommended!

The shifting shoals which brought about the closing of Big Pass were undoubtedly the reason they dug the more straightforward New Pass farther north. But we guess it doesn't pay to fight Mother Nature. New Pass is still having shoaling problems, too, with possible less-than-project depths from the entrance to Light #7. Pay close attention to the temporary buoys, not charted because they are frequently shifted in position. Buoys 1, 2, 3A, 5 and 5A, have been set to mark the best water. During periods of offshore winds, a breaking bar condition can develop at the entrance. Mariners are advised to use extreme caution when transiting New Pass and view Local Notice to Mariners editions for shoaling information and repositioning of aids to navigation. Longboat Pass is the suggested alternative.

Sarasota lies at Mile 73, and is one of the prettiest cities to be found anywhere, the site of more shore attractions than space permits us to list, and home to a  number of marinas and docking facilities. At the east end of the John Ringling Causeway (with its new high bridge) to Lido and Longboat Keys is the big Marina Jack, right downtown on the mainland side with its on-site restaurant and a pantheon of shore facilities. It’s also adjacent to a very large anchoring area that’s an easy commute to the shore attractions.

Sarasota has been a desirable destination since at least the 1500s (it is shown as “Zarazote” on old Spanish maps), and probably long before — there is evidence Native American Caloosa and Timucuan tribes roamed the area for hundreds of years before Europeans arrived. But it wasn't until the 1920s that the current development began. Much of the modern community was funded by John Ringling, founder of the Ringling Brothers Circus (which later merged with P.T. Barnum's Barnum & Bailey Circus to form the Greatest Show on Earth). Ringling initially chose Sarasota as headquarters and winter home for his circus and circus people, though they later moved the base down to Venice. To create a true home here, Ringling built causeways and roads, enhanced islands, built bridges and generally underwrote the community's early domestic infrastructure.

Ringling was also instrumental in the development of the community's cultural growth. He built an Italian Renaissance Venetian-styled palazzo on the banks of Sarasota Bay to house his extensive collection of 17th-century Baroque art. It stands today as the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art. (Next door there's a circus museum that not only displays mementos from the early days of the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Shows but also covers the art of the circus all the way back to Roman times.) Largely as a result of John Ringling's early influence, Sarasota has nurtured a much healthier and more vigorous local arts community than you'll find in most cities of similar size — currently boasting a ballet company, an opera company, and an arts cinema, plus several active theaters and galleries. To this day, Sarasota is often called “The Arts Capital of Florida.”

Ringling is remembered and honored by the aforementioned John Ringling Causeway as well as by his museums.

Something new in the Sarasota area is a company that delivers groceries to boats and homes on order! The new Galley Grocer and their contact information appears at  www.galleygrocer.com

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