Friday, March 20, 2009

Blues Festival in St Pete, Fl

St Pete waterfront
When we cruised into St Petersburg downtown one weekend in March 2005, we were thrilled to find a charming waterfront city hopping with activities. The waterfront is lined with marinas, galleries, shops and restaurants. If you are looking for arts and culture, you came to the right place. Several museums including the famed Salvador Dali, a couple of theatres and a university (University of South Florida) are all located in and around the downtown area.

We dropped anchor at the Vinoy Basin anchorage. With friends and relatives living in the vicinity, we made arrangements to see them and re-provisioned. We had so much fun we stayed a whole week. By the following weekend, our trusty generator died! Right in the middle of the Blues Festival and with friends on board. Talk about great timing. The fun stops when you cannot charge the batteries to run the computer, TV, refrigerator, A/C, etc, etc. The list goes on and on. We can go to a marina to plug in every night, but that gets to be prohibitively expensive (think of paying hotel prices every day).
Vinoy Basin, St Pete downtown
We discussed our options and reluctantly kissed New Orleans goodbye. Our cruising plan was to spend the winter in SW Florida, spring in the Florida Panhandle and New Orleans, Louisiana. For the summer, we would cruise back to Mobile Bay and head up the inland waterway to Mississippi or Tennessee. So much for planning.

Guess all good things must come to an end some time. We searched frantically for a marina. There weren't many to choose from, as most had been bought out by developers and they had them turned into dockaminiums. We were lucky to find a space at Tierra Verde Resort and Marina, a hurricane hole, we were told. We totally agreed, having survived Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma that year!

As it turned out, St Pete was an excellent place to spend the hurricane season. We had a car to get around as it was stored at a relative's place. The marina is a mere ten minutes from Fort DeSoto Park, which by the way, was voted to be America's number 1 beach in 2005.

As for the generator, we got a Northern Light 6KW installed after the hurricane season was over. It runs great, and is pretty quiet compared the 16 year-old Westerbeke we had.

St Pete is hosting the annual Tampa Bay's Blues Festival this weekend. If you are in this neck of the woods, come and discover St Pete for yourself!

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Greed is bad

The economic downturn is taking a toll on America. People are losing their jobs and homes. The last time I remember it to be this bad was in 1981, when Reagan first took office. I was oblivious to the economic woes at the time as I was barely out of college, and didn't have any savings to begin with. This time around, I'm in the thick of it. Anybody who owns a house or 401K will know exactly what I mean.

Florida has the highest foreclosure rate after California. How did all this happen? We can lay the blame on Bush, Greenspan, the banks, the mortgage companies, the home builders, and ourselves. The bottom line is we were all greedy, and most people bought more house than they can afford. In the 80s, people had to put 10 to 20 percent down on their homes. Before the housing bust, you could have bought a house with no money down. So, is it any surprise then that when the going gets tough, the owners just walk away from their homes? What have they got to lose? What were the bankers thinking? Especially the banks that own the second mortgage or the equity line?
I could go on and on and get depressed about the whole situation. Instead, I will focus on the nice weather that recently descended on Florida. After months of cold front blowing through, the weather finally got warm enough for some beach time. This past Sunday, we went to the lovely Anna Maria Island. We got there early for some peace and quiet before the crowd of families came. It felt good to have the sun on my back, listen to the soothing ocean waves lapping against the shore, and just let my cares melt away...

That same evening, around 7:45pm, we happened to be looking out our window across the street when suddenly a bright orange ray of light shot up above the roof of our neighbor's house. We ran out the door to stare in awe at NASA's shuttle Discovery. It had lifted off a mere two minutes ago from the Kennedy Space Center, on the Atlantic side of Florida. Boaters go to that area in the hope of seeing a launch. Here, we just happened to look out the window. How lucky are we? We later learned that the seven-member crew is delivering the final set of power-generating solar array wings and a new crew member to the International Space Station.

All things considered, we are grateful to be alive and well, with family and friends, and to be living in this great country. All this pain we are feeling now will soon pass. We will be strong once again.

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Best Beach in America: Caladesi Island State Park

Shelling at Caladesi Island State Park
Florida is blessed with miles of coastlines. The Gulf coast is lined with many beautiful beaches. In any given year, you can find two in the Clearwater/St Petersburg/Sarasota area ranking in the top ten. Last year, Dr Beach named Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin/Clearwater to be the number one beach in America. Dr Beach is Dr Stephen Leatherman, Director of Florida International University’s Laboratory for Coastal Research.

Caladesi Island State Park can only be reached by boat. You can take a ferry from Honeymoon Island or you can take your own boat. The state park has a marina with electric and water hookups, and you can stay overnight for a small fee.

We visited Caladesi Island one Sunday in May 2006. We were delighted to find a flurry of  activities here. It reminded us of boating in Boston. One enthusiastic boater told us that on July 4th, so many people hang out here that the aluminum docks practically go under the water!

It was entertaining watching the captains dock their boats. One fancy boat had a lady in high heels and she had no clue how to throw a line. A ferry that comes here every half hour, bringing throngs of sun seekers, so the beach was packed all afternoon. But by 6 pm, all was calm. The tourists were gone. Except for a few boaters, the beach and park were pretty much deserted. It was low tide when we took a walk on the beach. Lots of beautiful shells - mostly Florida fighting conchs and turret shells - were waiting for us. On the way back to the marina, we even saw a turtle.

If you love the beach and nature, come and explore the well-kept secret of Caladesi. You won't be disappointed.

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