Gulf Coast Vaccination Tour


Mid Gulf Coast Florida–the white arrows indicate anchorages in Gulfport, DeSoto Park, Sarasota, Useppa Island and Fort Meyers Beach,

This year’s mini cruise aboard the trusty sloop Mary T has come to a close. We’ve returned to Cove Sound Moorings Marina in Bradenton where we’ll keep Mary T until we haul her out for hurricane season. We decided about a month ago that sailing around to the other side of Florida and up the east coast to the Chesapeake Bay was no longer in the cards. Being constantly on the move would make it difficult to get vaccinated. Plus, if you’re trying to avoid people and minimize the temptation to dine out, the excitement and anticipation of discovering new ports is greatly diminished. We resolved to limit ourselves to exploring Florida’s Gulf Coast. So down and up we wandered from Gulfport to Ft. Myers, hitting Bradenton and Sarasota more than once. Sometimes we sailed outside in the Gulf, other times inside in the ICW (intracoastal waterway).

Kenny’s niece managed to wrangle him a Moderna vaccine through her job at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Pete, a few miles up the road from Gulfport. They had additional doses after the staff were treated so their relatives over 65 were invited to come in and get poked. It was so kind of Elsa to think of her uncle Kenny. We had recently completed the necessary repairs to Mary T, so after Kenny’s first dose of the Moderna vaccine, on February 3rd, we sailed away from the mooring, mindful that we’d need to return in a month for his second shot.

We exited the ICW into the Gulf of Mexico and pointed the bow south for Bradenton. There wasn’t a great deal of wind, but we made do until it became necessary to fire up the engine. It was a short trip, but it felt good to be on the move after two months in Gulfport. We anchored in a spot we’d often noticed from shore when taking walks in De Soto National Memorial Park, a mere four miles from our Bradenton condo. I was reminded of when we lived there with our granddaughters while Mary T languished in far off Guatemala. Kenny and I would stroll through De Soto park and gaze out at the anchored boats with such palpable longing, it almost brought me to tears.

Tall palm tree in Gulfport

Our next port of call was Sarasota a 30 minute car ride, but a five hour trip on Mary T motoring down the intracoastal waterway. It is a route crowded with motor boats, especially on weekends. They come racing by and rock Mary T to and fro making for a noisy and turbulent ride. We saw fewer Trump flags on boats than we had traveling the same waters upon our return from Roatan the previous May, but we still observed plenty of unmasked folks crowded together in many of the vessels. No covid here.

It is hard for me to view my fellow humans as anything but vectors for the virus and a perpetual challenge to regard my fellow Floridians through the eyes of compassion, when I see them so blatantly flaunting the recommendations of the CDC. How have they failed to see that it’s not just about their own freedom, but their behavior is directly connected the well being of others? Do they care nothing for their friends and relatives or health workers on the verge of nervous breakdowns, because the hospitals are overflowing and they are under staffed and lacking PPE? I have to remind myself, that they’re ignorant and deluded. Ignorant of the nature of the virus in spite of all the news coverage and ignorant of the role compassion plays in a meaningful life. To combat my rising anger when I observe people behaving reprehensibly, I now say to myself: I’m sure they’re very nice people. My attitude is slowly improving.

It was fun to be back in Sarasota. One of our favorite towns, though we wouldn’t be going to the movie theater or our favorite live music venue. We did enjoy a few meals outside in nearly empty restaurants. We did our grocery shopping at the Whole Foods on line and stood in the assigned parking space with our heavy duty grocery bags for curbside pickup. Then we’d tote all the goods back to the dinghy and on to Mary T, where I’d go through my cleaning and sanitizing process, before stowing everything.

On our daily walks, we became aware of Sarasota’s sizable Amish population. We saw them riding bikes, sitting in the park overlooking the mooring field, and waiting in line for Marina Jacks’ dinner cruise, a crowded affair in a closed boat. They were usually in large groups sporting their signature home hewn outfits. Rarely did we see any of them wearing masks. They quickly fell from the pedestal on which I had placed them for so many years.

Moonrise over Boca Ciega Bay, Gulfport

Our good friends John and Susanne Scott kindly drove up from Nakomis, FL to meet us for lunch. They’d also made the trip up to Gulfport a few weeks previously. It was our only contact with friends or family apart from zoom meet ups and getting together with Kenny’s brother and wife in Land O’ Lakes Florida. We masked on our walks with the Scotts, but unmasked to dine. There was probably some risk involved, but we’d all been playing it safe, and hoped for the best. It was the servers in restaurants, I found scariest. I always tried to mask up before they returned to the table, but occasionally they surprised me. In Sarasota the waiter, even kneeled down to get closer when taking our orders. Whaaa??? I masked up and averted my face.

The Scotts told us they’d succeeded in selling their home in Nakomis. More and more grandchildren kept emerging in the north and it was hard for them to be so far away from them. Sad for us as they were our only old friends in the vicinity. Kenny has known them since his early days at Gallaudet the school for deaf people in Washington DC, where they all used to work. They shall be missed, but we will see them on our trips to Maryland where they have another home.

The only other visitors we had were some frisky dolphins who swam over to play in our bow wake and a katydid or “leaf bug” that landed in our cockpit in the Bradenton anchorage. I captured both on video. (Katy and the generator) I didn’t know it was possible to feel such affection for a member of the insect family, but “Katy” as we called her, truly won our hearts. She moved with such grace and care. I couldn’t bare the idea of her ending in a watery grave, because katydids can barely fly. It must have been the wind that carried her all the way out to our anchored boat. I coaxed her into a yogurt container in which I put some arugula to tide her over until we could bring her ashore in the dinghy. She showed no interest in the arugula. In fact, she couldn’t get far enough away from it (like other members of the crew), and seemed rather anxious to escape her little prison. Kenny couldn’t stand to see Katy in that state for another moment, so he rowed her ashore and released her into the mangroves. While on his mission, a spectacular double rainbow arched over Mary T, and Kenny captured it perfectly. (see photo above) What an auspicious moment for Katy’s release. We thought of her on subsequent walks in De Soto Park, but our paths haven’t crossed.

Mary T behaved well throughout our trips up and down the coast, except for a couple of mishaps when the engine died. In warm climates organisms sometimes grow on the inside of the fuel tank. Eventually they break off into the diesel and wind up in the filters, clogging them and preventing the fuel from getting to the engine. On the day we departed Sarasota the engine died 500 meters from the mooring field. We attempted to sail back to the mooring, but wind and current were against us. We dropped the anchor just outside of the mooring field and called for a tow. I was a nervous wreck the whole time, because I didn’t think the anchor was holding and we appeared to be drifting closer to the bridge. I was much relieved when the towboat arrived and returned us to our mooring. Kenny spent the next couple of hours changing the filters and then bleeding the engine to remove any air bubbles from the system. It was cause for jubilation, when the engine purred to life again. It was too late at that point to go anywhere, so we spent one more night in Sarasota.

Clymer Park in Gulfport

When we were back in Gulfport for Kenny’s second vaccination we hired some professionals to clean the fuel tank and “polish” the fuel. We figured that solved the problem, but about a week later, en route to Ft. Myers in a busy section of the intracoastal waterway known as the “Miserable Mile” because of its swift current, the engine died again. We were floored. I hooked a u-turn and Kenny quickly unfurled the genoa. The current was threatening to push us out of the channel into the shallow water as Kenny worked on raising the mainsail. We made it passed the last red marker by the skin of our teeth, motorboats zooming passed us in both directions, oblivious to our predicament. We found a safe spot nearby to drop the anchor. Phew.

We immediately started going through the motions of changing filters, mystified as to why they clogged right after having having the fuel tank cleaned. I assisted Kenny handing him tools and cheering him on. The procedure went more quickly this time, but once again it was too late to go anywhere that day, so we spent the night where we were anchored. I called Luther, the owner of the fuel tank cleaning operation, and asked him why we were still having problems. He surmised that the product they used to clean the tanks may have broken down more organisms and if we were using a very fine grade of filter, it could have caused them to clog again. He recommended a more course grade of filter and topping off the fuel tanks. We followed his advice. So far so good.

Fort Myers Beach was our southern most port of call and we hit it at the peak of spring break. Thousands of drunken unmasked youths filled the restaurants, sidewalks and beaches. Of the thousands of people we saw on our walks, maybe fifteen were masked. No covid here!  During our week in Ft. Myeres Beach, I learned that Florida was soon to open vaccinations for people fifty and over. “That’s me!” I cried for joy. I went to a vaccine website that Anne, our downstairs neighbor in Bradenton, had shared with me. I was able to book a vaccine in St. Pete for the following week. The wind would be shifting in a favorable direction in a couple of days, so we’d head back to Gulfport.

We intended to sail straight there from Ft. Myers. It would only take a little over 24 hours. We headed out the inlet to the Gulf, looking forward to sailing overnight. But alas, there was no wind to speak of. The idea of motoring all the way did not appeal to us, partly because our path was strewn with crab pots, which we wouldn’t be able to see in the dark. Sailing through them was one thing, but motoring meant there was a greater chance we could snag a pot on our propeller. We ducked into Boca Grande inlet just as night was falling.

The next day wind was light but favorable, making for delightful sailing. I estimated if we kept up the same gentle pace, we could arrive at Gulfport the following morning. After a few hours, the wind died again.  We cranked up the engine. At this more speed, we’d arrive in the middle of the night. It’s no fun to arrive in darkness as city lights confuse the mariner and make it difficult to make out the navigational lights. We went as far as Bradenton and dropped the anchor off De Soto Park again. It was dark when we arrived, but there were no city lights to confound us.

We made it to Gulfport the following day, which was windy as all get it out. We ended up sailing on our reefed main alone in rollicking seas. There was plenty of wind from the stern to continue sailing when we turned into the ICW for the final portion of the journey. We doused the mainsail when approaching the mooring field. That was gratifying after so much motoring.

My vaccine was scheduled for the following day. Kenny walked the 2.5 miles with me. It was a hot afternoon and we tried to get an Uber, but without success, so we just kept walking. My appointment was at the Center for Health Equity, and they ran a tight organized ship. I queued up outside the building at 2:50 p.m. and at 3:15 I was back on the street at Kenny’s side, feeling grateful. I bet they vaccinated a thousand people that day. Then we walked all the way back to Gulfport, because Uber rates were surging. We couldn’t bare paying $36 to go 2.5 miles.

And so this little odyssey has come to an end. It’s a bittersweet feeling. There is a joy and beauty to living on the water, but there is also tension. One must be ever mindful of the weather, of how one moves on a boat, and the extra effort involved in cooking, bathing, acquiring food and water. There are the logistical difficulties of getting to a doctor or hospital in the event of an accident or sickness.

Tomorrow Kenny’s brother, Jack, and his wife, Mary, and will meet us for lunch in Bradenton and bring us our car. A cousin of Jack and Kenny, Mickey, and wife, Sandy, will also join us. They’re vacationing on nearby Longboat Key. An annual pilgrimage for them. Everyone but me has been fully vaccinated. I’m not far behind now! Then we’ll head back to our condo to enjoy the ease of landlubbing for awhile. Mary T will be here in her slip, close by, so if we’re hankering to get out on the water, we can still go. Maybe we’ll sail back to Gulfport for my second vaccination. It would seem strange, anticlimactic to drive.

Kenny and I are still torn about whether to keep Mary T for one more season. We talk about sailing to the Bahamas next winter and then up to Newfoundland in the summer of 2022. Or should we sell her and look for a replacement vessel? Do we go bigger or smaller? We ponder… In the meantime, we’ll remain happy, and continue to strive to view all beings through the eyes of compassion, difficult as it sometimes may be.

Good health to all and hope to see you soon!

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