We left Tarpon Springs feeling anxiety and a bit of melancholy. Either our stay seemed too short, we were not fully recovered from the Crossing, or perhaps, we just needed more Greek food! Nonetheless, we put those emotions aside, tossed lines, and followed our GPS path back out the Anciote River.
As was the case for the Crossing, Pegasus was about an hour in front of us, this time not by design. It was a clear, windy day; Saint Joseph Sound was choppier than when it welcomed us the morning after our Crossing. Once behind the uninhabited Honeymoon Island, the waters calmed; Lola relaxed and we got in our groove.
The Clearwater Beach Marina was a layover point for us between Tarpon Springs and our planned destinations south of Tampa Bay. While our cruising pals aboard About Time, Pegasus, and Golden Daze docked at Dunedin, a few miles north and on the mainland side of Saint Joseph Sound, we opted for Clearwater. It seemed like a better place to celebrate New Year’s Eve, and we may also have been ready for some independence.
Our assigned slip was on the open end of the marina, near a large commercial dinner boat. Here, the wind was stiffer, the water rougher, and the current unexpected. After two aborted stern-in attempts, I swung Cirila around and we secured her bow in. While she was happy, the fixed docks, coupled with tidal swings of nearly three feet made getting on and off the boat challenging.
The marina was a hub of commercial activity focused on extracting as much currency as as possible from the thousands of tourists filling the high-rise condos along the beach. Multi-deck dinner boats headed out Clearwater pass for sunset cruises while dozens of fishing charters came in, laying their catch out along the docks for photos.
Up and down the docks, deck hands cleaned fish, tossing the scraps to waiting pelicans, the lazy but clever members of their society. In Clearwater Harbor, pirate ships, catamarans, and even boats shaped like sharks, competed for passengers, the tourists aboard probably disappointed because from the inside, their silly boat looked like any other. It was a fun place to stroll, knowing we could go climb aboard our own boat, have a snack and crack a beer without dropping $30. Or $100.
On New Year’s Eve, the last night of a tumultuous and life changing 2019, we cleaned up, dressed up, and strolled the short distance to the beach, looking for a place to eat and celebrate. Fulfilling the strange hankering that hits us only once or twice a year, we settled on Hooters! It was, after all, one of the originals. Our meal there that night still ranks as one of our favorites on the trip. Yes, at Hooters.
After dinner, we stopped back at the boat to grab jackets and Lola, then went to ring in the New Year at the Bait House, a small, gem of a place hidden in the corner of the marina. It was the kind of place tourists don’t find – unless they are there staying on their boat. There might be a semester’s worth of college tuition, in one dollar denominations, tacked to every soft surface, each with some note of humor or love. Lola was our ambassador and we had a ball. I’d be hard pressed to find the dollar we tacked up.
We spent New Year’s Day awash in Dawn’s famous sauerkraut and football, then watched the first sunset of the New Year while walking the beach. Not long after, we were tucked in, making an early night so we were fresh for the long and nostalgic trip to Bradenton the next day.