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June 12, 2013

Cruising the Sun Coast

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Page 9

Tampa itself offers a wide variety of shoreside attractions, and has been a big time destination since 1884 when Henry B. Plant (the west coast's answer to Henry Flagler) brought his railroad to town. Also like Flagler, Plant built hotels for his rail passengers to travel to, and finished the Tampa Bay Hotel in 1891 — at a reported cost of three million dollars.

One of the current attractions is Ybor (pronounced E bore) City, aka Centro Ybor, which began in 1885 as a modest cigar-making center established when Don Vincente Martinez Ybor, an influential Cuban Exile (yes, they existed pre-Castro) moved his cigar business from Key West to an undeveloped area east of Tampa. Ybor City soon became one of the world's leading cigar-producers with around 12,000 people employed in 200 factories. These days, Centro Ybor has only one factory and is more noted for outstanding shopping, dining and entertainment. It has been declared a National Historic Landmark District and is one of Tampa's hot spots.

Tampa is also home to Busch Gardens, a theme park/zoo (one of the nation's top four zoos) with a variety of thrill rides for kids of all ages and free-roaming African animals on a recreated Serengeti. And, speaking of thrill rides, if you've somehow so far resisted the urge for a side trip to Orlando, once again you are quite near, and on a direct route. Transportation can be easily arranged.

Nearer still, at the other end of the Gandy Causeway, is St. Petersburg, known all over the world as Sailing City and once the home of a major portion of the sailboat builders in the United States. There are a couple of boatyards at the west foot of the Gandy Bridge. Then, right downtown, are the first-class facilities of the Renaissance Vinoy Marina and the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina with a ship’s store — a huge facility right in the heart of everything — and St. Petersburg Yacht Club, all clustered north of the airport that juts out into the bay. Nearby is the Salvador Dali Museum, home of the world's largest collection of the master's Surrealist paintings. 

South of the airport peninsula — at the mouth of Salt Creek — is the downtown Harborage Marina at Bayboro, which has a swimming pool, dockage and in/out storage. Salt Creek is lined with marine facilities, including another Harborage facility (with fuel), Salt Creek Boat Works, Salt Creek Marina, Jopie and Sandy Helsen’s Sailor’s Wharf Yacht Yard, Elite Marine with storage and a sailboat rigger on-site plus Embree Marine and others.

For all of the urban development in the area, there is also good anchorage in the North Yacht Basin if you register at the Municipal Marina nearby. There is a pleasant, less urban anchorage in Coffeepot Bayou, south of Snell Isle, north of Renaissance Vinoy’s basin entrance.

In the middle of all this, at the end of Municipal Pier, stands a Must-See  — The Pier, a five-level inverted glass pyramid housing an observation deck, museum, art gallery, several restaurants and bars, shops and boutiques, a meeting and banquet facility and outdoor attractions that include pierside miniature golf. The Pier is now being schedule for a major re-design and rebuild, so you’ll want to be sure to see the “old” before the new one takes over.Visiting boats will find dockage at the Municipal Docks on the south side, from where a tram serves The Pier. The Pier stands like a lighthouse marking the entrance to the big, busy Municipal Marina.

Heading out of Tampa Bay and back to the Gulf ICW, the northbound cruiser has two options: An inside route rounds Pinellas Point, goes under the Skyway into Maximo Channel, under Pinellas Bayway and into Boca Ciega Bay.

Another major construction project in the St. Petersburg area has been underway and it’s it picture now graces our cover. Pinellas Bayway’s stucture C (running east/West along the south portion of Boca Ciega Bay) provided an interesting photo project for our editor, Bruce Bingham. The new -and beautiful- high bridge will help all of those St. Pete racing sailors make better time getting to the starting line...not to mention the sportfishermen heading out to catch their dinners! And of course cruising of all size and shapes will enjoy the “no waiting” new bridge while everybody driving along the Bayway will be saving time too.

The mainland shore has several facilities, including the Loggerhead Marina - St. Pete, and Magnuson Hotel on the east side of the northern end of the Skyway, and O’Neill’s Marina inside Maximo Point on the west. Gulfport Municipal Marina is farther north in Gulfport Harbor. The Maximo Marina  facility is up a canal just north of the Maximo Point Bridge.

Pasadena Marina is on the north side of Boca Ciega Bay on Chart 20. Liveaboards are welcome there.

A less-protected route runs southwest under the Skyway to Egmont Key, where the ruins of an old coastal defense fort are surrounded by a white sand beach. (If you opt not to enter Tampa Bay you will find Egmont directly north of Anna Maria across the main Southwest Channel.)

North of Egmont Key are Fort DeSoto, Mullet Key and a whole complex of low-lying keys joined by a causeway to the mainland and separated by deep-water channels that extend north to Pass-a-Grille. There are plenty of places to anchor or gunkhole, but currents through the mouth of Tampa Bay change the bottom so constantly that you’re better off piloting by eyeball than by any chart or guide.

Running northward inside Pass-a-Grille on the way to rejoin the Gulf ICW, the route passes several facilities. 

From Pass-a-Grille, the inside and outside routes merge in Boca Ciega Bay and the Gulf ICW continues northward between the Pinellas Peninsula and a perfect chain of protective barrier islands that stretches 25 miles to Honeymoon Island and St. Joseph Sound.

That, and the ten miles farther to Anclote Keys and Tarpon Springs, is a remarkable concentration of marinas, boatyards, marine facilities and attractions, plus restaurants, hotels and businesses with some kind of dockage. All are a stone’s throw from the beaches. We'll just touch a few high points as we cruise northward. There are also peaceful anchorages and wild spots along the way. North of the St. Petersburg Beach Causeway at the end of Long Key is Blind Pass Marina, with restaurant on-site, then, farther north under Treasure Island Causeway the waterway widens to Tom Stuart Causeway at Bay Pines.

The Johns Pass area is next, with a cluster of marinas and boatyards including Johns Pass Village and Don’s Dock (gas and diesel, no dockage). Another “Don” (grandson of the original) runs it now. Johns Pass Village is a tourist's delight with shops and restaurants. There's the new Madeira Bay Marina with adjacent hotel and restaurant and the Madeira Beach Municipal Marina. (Note: Johns Pass hasn't escaped the seemingly ubiquitous shoaling either. If you use it, just watch the markers, which are moved as necessary to mark the best water.) Northward, at Mile 126 you enter “The Narrows,” a claustrophobic four mile stretch in which currents can be strong, idle-speed and no-wake zones are practically end to end, enforcement is vigilant and marine facilities are few. But it's a pleasant-enough passage if you relax and enjoy it. (Continue...)
 

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