The Trip North — Crystal River

April 7, 2020

Yesterday I was down at the shop sorting junk (by myself) when I began to think how I used to detest meetings after 40 years of them.  But a meeting with coffee and bagels and some of my nicer associates wouldn’t be bad right now.  So the Peggy Lee World War II hit “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day” popped into my head and kept playing.  That’s until I realized it was the song that was featured in the movie “Dr. Strangelove” as Slim Pickens rode an atomic bomb down from a B-52 and destroyed the earth…

On March 2 after a big provisioning trip and gas at St. Pete Municipal, we headed north up the ICW.  Things had been hectic getting Molly to the airport, going to the store, returning the car, etc., so I thought I’d just head into one of the housing developments at St. Pete Beach and anchor.  Everybody wants real estate on the water, so the developers have scooped out scores of little coves along the waterway that make perfect anchorages.

But the boat was running great, there was little traffic, and in the ICW it could blow 30 knots and it wouldn’t matter because none of it is more than a mile wide.  I ducked into the anchorage at Dunedin, but it was a little rolly, so cranked her up, hit the autopilot and on to the Anclote keys — wild mangrove and sand islands near Tarpon Springs that are a nature preserve.

The trip was more than 40 nautical miles, which would have been a big push for Memsahib.  I love sailboats, love to sail, but let’s face it, there are just too many days bobbing around under power going slow, or strapped down in too much wind.  Running the boat fast in flat water is the best part of cruising Tardis, and we have so much range that if the weather looks dicey, we just wait and catch up later.

The Anclote keys are packed with boats in the summer, but this early in the season in northern Florida and I had the whole anchorage to myself,  which after n entire life of too-damned-much-going-on is just fine with me.

The run up to Crystal River was the longest I’ve ever done in Tardis, about 60 nautical miles.  An unusual experience since the shore is all mangroves, creeks and islands with a skim of water over the bottom and very hard to see.  So you go for mile after mile feeling like you are in the middle of the ocean, but look at the sounder and the water is only nine feet deep.

The wind came up from the south pretty hard,  but the water is so shallow the waves can’t build, although the whitecaps made spotting the thousands of crab traps along the way challenging.  I had to concentrate every minute without the autopilot to help.

Chartplotters, GPS and electronic maps have made navigation pretty easy, but you still get “This can’t be right” moments.  The channel marker into Crystal River is so far out into the Gulf that you don’t feel you are even close to land.  But it winds through the sandbanks for miles, and into the river you come.

I was tired but fascinated — the river is exactly like low country Georgia — marsh and palmettos and tiny creeks winding through countryside that can’t be more than 10 feet above sea level.  Then, around a corner and into the anchorage at King’s Bay, chock full of boat’s and civilization, but also a noted fresh-water manatee refuge.

I spend a couple days just riding around in the dinghy looking for manatees (might have seen one), reading, and becoming ever more conscious of the epidemic as I read my daily dose of the New York Times and Bloomberg.  Then onto the very funky marina at Twin Rivers up toward the river mouth.  The staff was great, but it is an old-time fisherman’s marina — gas, bait, and one shower.  But they seemed fascinated to have a boat like Tardis and moved all the rental boars around so she had a premium berth right up by the store — and a steady stream of visitors who seemed to have heard somewhere that a boat could be built of wood, but had never actually seen one before.

New owners have taken over the marina and want to encourage transient boats (who pay in three weeks what a local fishing boat would pay for a season) and even while I was there were starting to build new shower and head facilities. Weather kept me off the Gulf an extra day so on a whim I called Enterprise and got a car to tour Crystal River ($23 out of season) and they gave me a 400 hp Chevy Camaro convertible that scared me to death every time my foot came near the accelerator.  So that led to another experience.  I expected a sleepy little village, but up behind the mangroves in back of Kings Bay is a little city — Walmart, Publix, McDonalds and all. And a desperately need ABC Liquors.

One serious note.  You pull into the King’s Bay anchorage and think it is just full of sailboats.  But look closely and I’d say 75% of them are abandoned and most in pretty bad shape.  At night I only saw five anchor lights of legitimate cruising sailors.   This is a huge problem in the South — people run into problems paying for their boat or it just gets old, so they anchor, take off the registration numbers and leave.   So states and municipalities are imposing “no anchoring” rules figuring if no one can anchor, they can’t abandon their boats.  But that leaves cruisers, Great Loopers and liveaboards no way to anchor.  Just because you anchor instead of stay in a marina doesn’t mean you are some kind of bum — it means you like quiet and nature and stars.

A lot of cruisers don’t like it because there is cost involved, but Kings Bay is going to put in a mooring field, as other communities have, to solve the abandonment problem.  I support a program where those passing through can continue to anchor for three nights and after that you register and go onto a reasonably-priced mooring.  Anyone abandoning a boat would be hunted down, flogged and put in the brig.

Watching for manatees and having a cocktail

Abandoned boats at King’s Bay

These people probably don’t want to look at a marine junkyard

Tardis in King’s Bay

Wilderness cruising





One comment on “The Trip North — Crystal River

  1. Dale Niemann
    April 7, 2020 at 5:44 pm #

    Thank you so much for continuing to give us updates.  Sorry I missed you when you were in Tampa Bay area.  I live in Palm Harbor. dale Dale Niemann


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