January 13th, 2007
by Ron Hoddinott
I knew it was going to be a great day. The weather was forecast to be clear, and cool with E-NE winds in the 10 knot range. I was so excited that I ended up at the Fort DeSoto boat ramps on the southern tip of Pinellas County almost an hour early. I took my time setting up, and was soon greeted by some other friends who couldn't wait to get the year off right. Mark Forrester, his brother, and son Hunter arrived. They were interested in seeing what the SeaPearl 21 was all about. Mark is thinking of competing in the WaterTribe Everglades Challenge Race next year, and was deciding if the SeaPearl would be a good choice for the race.
Ed and Becky Combs arrived with their two Cobra kayaks. Ted and Sher were coming from Punta Gorda and they were planning on kayaking too. Oggie Helt arrived with friend from Lake Tarpon Mike Lee, who is a Brit who lives on Lake Tarpon about 6 months a year. Oggie had his great old 1970's Suncat with him. Steve Morrill pulled in with Shadow, his SP 21. Steve was hosting three members of Steve's other sailing club, the BaySailors of Tampa Bay. Bill Fite pulled in with Moon Shadow, then Howard and Sheila Feldman arrived with SIM*plicity, their SeaPearl 21, and finally Stew Whitehouse came with Rivendell, his SeaPearl 21. So we had a total of ten boats counting the kayaks. Five of them were Sea Pearls, and one Clark Mills Suncat.
By 10:00 we were all launched and began enjoying the cool morning breezes. Aboard Whisper, nine-year-old Hunter took the helm. He seemed to be a natural. All I had to do was tell him how to make the boat turn one way or another, and give him targets to aim at. He followed Moon Shadow around, and then Shadow before they decided to try to make their way through the inside of Shell Key to Pass-a-Grille Pass. They made it by the way, but ended up being scolded by a Marine Patrol for being in a restricted area. Seems the signs were pointing the wrong way, so they were not given a ticket!
After cruising around waiting for everyone to launch, we aimed Whisper out Bunces Pass and took off on a broad reach. A new island, right off the north side of the pass looked interesting, and as we sailed the shallow waters between the mainland and the new island we noticed that Ed, Becky, Ted and Sher in their kayaks had already claimed it for the WCTSS! We waved and headed up a bit for Pass-a-Grille Pass to meet Steve's Shadow as they came out from the inside. It seemed like we were there in just a few minutes. The sailing was sublime. Reaching along at 5 knots we kept looking for Steve's two white sails, but we didn't see them. Seems they were held up by a certain Marine Patrol unit. We crossed the pass and headed for the huge pink Don Ceasar Hotel. After crossing the pass we spotted Steve's sails just coming out into the pass. We turned around to meet them. When Bill Fite was recrossing the pass an Erickson 32 motoring out the channel almost ran him down. To Bill's credit, he held his course, and there was no accident. Maybe he forgot that when he is motoring he's just another powerboat.
Racing back to Bunces Pass with the wind now slightly aft of the beam, we expected to reach 6.2 knots or so, but the wind was gradually dying. We had plenty of wind to beat back into the pass and land on the south side of the pass on a nice white beach, where Ted, Sher, Ed and Becky were setting up for a picnic. Before long everyone was landing on the beach, breaking out the goodies and beach chairs, introducing themselves to the friends that they hadn't yet met, and greeting old friends as well.
It was a grand repast. Sher created a cracker, cheese, and grape dish that was passed around, and a few bubbly beverages were consumed before the itch to sail again got to us. The kayaking contingent took off first, but the wind was dying for the rest of us. Aboard Whisper Mark wanted to try rowing, knowing that he'd have to do some rowing in the Everglades Challenge. The tide cooperated and was only running out slowly, so we were able to make 2.5 knots or so without wearing out Mark. Finally the engine was started and we zoomed back to the dock for a quick pull out and the usual slow stowage of gear.
Seemed like a PURR-FECT DAY to me!