Becoming Second Nature
By James Favors
Shortly after the beginning of the New Year, Lisa and I packed up our truck, said goodbye to our loved ones, and started on a road trip heading south on I-75. Our initial destination was RV Park Palace, in Chattanooga Tennessee, where we had stored our Ranger Tug, Kismet, for three months of inside, secure, storage. This may or may not seem unusual to you but as long-time cruisers we feel like our boat is an important extension of our chosen lifestyle. Therefore, after only having possession of it for a few months, we felt a little tinge of melancholy for leaving it for three months to return home for the holidays, however all that disappeared when we backed into the storage building to retrieve our shinny red tug in mid January. It felt good to be on the road again trailering our boat to sunny Florida.
Back together again, only 600 miles separate us now from being back on the water.
We’ve all heard the saying that once you’ve learned how to ride a bike, you never forget how, it becomes second nature. Like riding a bike - the process of towing, launching and docking a boat comes naturally to me now. With that said, I’d have to honestly include that I’m always a little apprehensive during the approach, before the actual task is attempted, especially when I’ve been away from boating such as this recent three-month span.
Our launch destination was Tarpon Springs, on Florida’s west coast, a day and a half’s drive from Chattanooga (we could’ve made it in a day, but since we’re towing a large boat, we move a little slower and opted to stop short and arrive early the next day). We’d only seen satellite photos of the Anclote River Park’s boat ramp from the Boat Ramps app on our iPad2; it looked like it had everything we require for a good launch. We typically look for ample parking for both truck and trailer, several ramps with launch ramp docks to tie off of and a long, uncluttered, concrete launch pad. As we backed our Kismet to stage her near the boat ramp the apprehension quickly set in. Would it start? Hopefully there wouldn’t be any water leaks and I always worry about whether the electrical components will work after a period of rest, especially the GPS, depth sounder and VHF radio.
Floating boat ramp docks, like these in Tarpon Springs, are a bonus when launching a boat.
Upon arriving at the ramp, and seeing the good conditions surrounding it, it became easier to overcome my initial pre-launch nervousness. We have come up with a checklist for launching our boat. Once we arrive at a designated launch site Lisa and I walk the ramp to check the current, the steepness and condition of the ramp, where the tie downs are. Then we decide what side of the dock we should tie to – taking any current or other elements into consideration, and if we can, ascertain where the launch pad ends. If it’s too short, and drops off abruptly, this could be a recipe for disaster, especially if the trailer tires were to get lodged in a deep, sandy, drop off pocket beyond the ramp’s end. Rich, a fellow Ranger Tug owner and friend, suggests using an extended boat hook at ramps where the water is too murky to ID the drop-off point.
Peter helped make our stay at Turtle Cove enjoyable.
Fortunately, our pre-launch ramp walk inspection has always helped keep us from an unfortunate experience. After our short survey, we agreed the Anclote River Park’s boat ramp met all of our launch requirements. As luck would have it everything went off without a hitch, a big sigh of relief for us both – it all began to feel very natural… kind of like how riding a bike becomes second nature. We did however forget one thing in our haste to launch the boat; we forgot to take off the transom straps, which a nearby observer was kind enough to point out just before the boat went into the water. That would have been very frustrating, trying to back the boat off while it was still attached to the trailer!
Once launched, I left the boat ramp and steered Kismet out to the Anclote River, with all systems functioning properly. I felt the excitement of being back on the water. Lisa stayed behind so she could drive our truck to Turtle Cove Marina (located close to the Sponge Docks), the place we’d call home for a week, getting organized and provisioned before we started in earnest our cruise down Florida’s west coast.
Most marinas don’t have pools for their transient boater guests.
As I was cruising up Anclote River, making my way to the marina, I couldn’t help but marvel that just three days earlier we had left the snow covered winter of Michigan behind us. The distance from Traverse City, Michigan (our hometown) to Tarpon Springs is 1,400 miles. Boating this distance, at 50 miles per day (typical trawler speed), would have taken 28 days with no consideration for weather delays. Trailering our boat south, at 465 miles per day, only took three days before we arrived and launched Kismet into the salty, warm waters of Florida’s Gulf Coast. The flexibility of being able to transport our boat to a new boating destination, almost anywhere in the country, within three days, is one of the major reasons for changing our boating lifestyle to a trailerable trawlering.
Tarpon Springs is one of our favorite Florida coastal towns because of its rich nautical history and uniqueness. Tarpon Springs got its name from the earliest settlers, in 1876, after they spotted tarpons jumping from the waters. Today Tarpon Springs is notable for having the largest percentage of Greek-Americans of any U.S. City. It all started in the 1880’s, when the first Greek immigrants started to arrive in Tarpon Springs. Greece was known over the world for their beautiful natural sponges and therefore those with diving skills were recruited to Tarpon Springs to help harvest the Gulf’s sizable sponge crop. Although the sponge harvesting business is not as large as it once was Tarpon Springs has retained it’s character, ethnic pride and has transformed itself over the years to include a healthy fishing and tourist business along with some of the best Greek restaurants you’ll find anywhere. To help celebrate their nautical heritage the residents and the Greek Orthodox Church have held, for over 100 years, a religious ceremony and service called Epiphany. Among many other things Epiphany, in Tarpon Springs, is a blessing of the waters, boats and crew. For us Tarpon Springs is more than just a port of call, it’s a connection to our country’s rich ethnic history.
Here you see a sponge boat, look closely and you’ll see sponges strung up on the transom to dry in the sun.
Shortly after docking Kismet, the proverbial light bulb lit up in our heads, it slowly illuminated the fact that we had a bit of work ahead of us before we could actually start heading south on the water. We had to not only clean the boat, inside and out (still some Lake Powell dust in some corners) but we had to unpack the truck and then find storage for all of the items we brought with us. We also had our new Achilles dinghy and outboard motor to rig up for its inaugural float. Lisa suggested we stay put for a week to ensure a stress free experience so when we did head out we’d be cruising at optimal ease and could more thoroughly enjoy ourselves, she also wanted to have time to enjoy Tarpon Springs, the people, the food and the music. Basically Lisa wanted to make sure our fun meter would be fully maximized, once we got under way.
If you like desserts Tarpon Springs is the place to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Once we mutually agreed on a weeklong stay, it wasn’t hard to put our plan into place by securing a week’s dockage at Turtle Cove Marina. Edward, the owner of the marina, and his staff run a first rate operation. Peter, the harbormaster, met us at the dock when we arrived, checked on us every day, shared local knowledge with us and came to bid us goodbye when we left. The entire staff was helpful from the time they caught our dock lines until our farewell pump out a week later. The amenities of the marina are first class and resemble more a resort or yacht club rather than the typical marina we’re used to.
One of the challenges of trailering a boat is the question of what to do with the truck and trailer when you head out on the water for an extended cruise. Turtle Cove Marina surprised us by quickly answering our question, they provide storage for vehicles and trailers in their gated compound. We enjoyed the free laundry facilities and top-notch bath facilities. There is also a pool, hot tub and well decked sports bar. We typically pay more at marinas in Florida and get less in return. Turtle Cover Marina was a good find and a nice surprise for us, we’ll be back.
Hellas Restaurant is one of our most favorite restaurants… anywhere.
While in Tarpon Spring, we took advantage of having our truck still available by making provisioning and boat supply runs. In our prior live-aboard life we typically did not have a vehicle while in port, so this seemed a luxury – a luxury that would soon end and not be available until we retrieve the truck and trailer a month or so later. During one of our errand runs I had to pick up line to tow the dinghy behind us when cruising. We’ve not come up with a permanent mounting solution yet. Because our Ranger Tug is 8’6” wide we purchased a dinghy narrower than the boat. If we decide to mount the dinghy with transom davits of any kind the dinghy’s overall length, for safety reasons, should not be more than the boat is wide when docking, locking or rafting off another boat at anchor. I like to research things thoroughly before making a decision and being away from the boat for three months made it difficult to visually comprehend what the best mounting plan would be. With that said, we’ve temporarily decided to tow our dinghy, until we’ve had time to come up with an option we like.
Until we decide on a permanent mounting solution we’ll tow our dinghy, as shown here.
After a week of being immersed in the local Greek culture of Tarpon Springs; eating plenty of Gyros, lamb dinners, Greek salads and some uniquely Greek desserts we were finally ready to roll. Antsy to be cruising again, we said goodbye to the crew at Turtle Cover Marina and headed out the Anclote River, south on the GICW for a winter of revisiting favorite areas and acquainting ourselves with a few new spots along the way.