Trailering Magazine Archives - Destinations
Soaking Up Tarpon Springs Florida's "Sponge Capital"
When most residents of Florida cities and towns think of the year about to pass, they are going to do it with the words "good riddance." But in Tarpon Springs, along the state's northeast Gulf shore, residents will be thinking about sponges-for soaking up the rains brought most recently by visitors named Wilma and Katrina but also because sponges are part of who they are.
A century ago, Greek divers came to Florida's gulf coast in search of work... and sponges. Generations had made a living diving into waters around the Greek islands and harvesting the coveted sponges so when they were discovered offshore from what is now called Tarpon Springs (named after the fish as it "springs" out of the water) near Tampa Bay, the tradition and vocation of sponge diving flourished there. It's still going but tourism has since overtaken the market for natural sponges.
"I like this area," observes Larry Tieman of TowBoatU.S. Tarpon Springs, "because there's a unique flavor and an old Greek atmosphere around the Sponge Docks. You'll see Greek culture and taste some terrific Greek food here."
The Sponge Docks along Dodecanese Boulevard are where a visitor can buy the common yellow sponge or the more sought after wool sponge, tour or attend services at the nearby St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral (built by Greeks and modeled after the St. Sophia Cathedral in Constantinople); or enjoy Greek cuisine at one of more than a dozen Greek restaurants. There is even the "Spongeorama" where a history of the sponge industry is shown through a black and white motion picture. If you like cheesy attractions, this is aplace you'll not want to miss.
The Sponge Docks is the area where boat tours and fishing charters depart for trips into the Gulf of Mexico and where the Christmas light parade of boats originates (December 6). Next month (January 4-8, 2006), the 100th Epiphany Celebration takes place at nearby Spring Bayou where Greek boys age 16-18 will dive for a white cross that is tossed into the 60-degree water by His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Tarpon Springs Trailer Boating
The Anclote (from the Spanish word for "anchor") River runs 4.5 miles south from Tarpon Springs, connecting to St. Joseph Sound, where the Intracoastal Waterway is located inside the barrier islands. Three miles from where the Anclote empties into the Sound is the Gulf of Mexico. It is easy to see why boating is a daily event in the Tarpon Springs area.
"The most popular Gulf launch ramp in the area is across the Anclote River in Pasco County," says Trailering Club Member Lou Galanos. "It's at the end of the Anclote and known as Anclote River Park. You'll find a swim beach, covered picnic tables, grills, restrooms, volleyball in the more than 29 acres, but there's are also four launch ramps (two singlewide and two doublewide) with floating docks and a separate floating dock for loading supplies and passengers. This beautiful facility is at the mouth of the Anclote so you have easy access to the Gulf of Mexico. Consequently, it can get very busy on weekends and holidays, and even some weekdays will see a large number of boaters at the ramp."
"Anclote River Park has a current because it's near the intake area of Florida Power's Anclote facility," notes Larry Tieman of TowBoatU.S. Tarpon Springs. "Trailer boaters will be affected by this 95% of the time when launching and retrieving so when you are coming back, keep to the outward edge of the ramp because you will be pulled."
Lou Galanos notes he always sees a few people sitting in lawn chairs under trees at the top of the ramp. "They are regular spectators," he observes, "and they come every day to watch boaters as they flounder around trying to launch and recover during the tide rush. For them, it's cheap entertainment."
Galanos ought to know what's good and what's less than good about boat ramps in Florida. He researches a Gulf of Mexico Ramp Guide that is made available to his boating friends. He and his wife, Wilma, have a MacGregor 22 sailboat (Amy Jean's) on which they've explored all of the Tarpon Springs area.
"As a trailerable sailboat, it's worked well for us because it is easy to set up, launch and recover at a variety of ramps. It's also comfortable enough for two people to spend one or two nights at anchor. It has a swing keel, so we can beach it in the shallowest of waters and we don't have to pull a dinghy or wade ashore."
Kelly Wagner, office manager at Belle Harbour Marina, one of three BoatU.S. Cooperating Marinas in Tarpon Springs (Anclote Harbor and Anclote Village Marina are the others), doesn't have to think when asked about where trailer boaters can go for a day on the water.
"Caladesi Island," she responds, "you can anchor off the beach and there are trails-and it's only accessible by boat so you aren't going to get a lot of crowds." It is one of the many barrier islands just offshore, and like Anclote Key Preserve State Park and Honeymoon Island, there is little-if any-commercial development. Caladesi has a 108-slip marina that is well protected and has some basic services (bathrooms, showers and sewage pump-out). A 1921 hurricane cut Honeymoon Island in half, creating Caladesi. The water between the two is appropriately called "Hurricane Pass" and a ferry makes hourly trips across the pass between the islands.
Honeymoon Island is connected to the mainland via the 2-mile-long Dunedin Causeway. The island takes its name from a developer's plans in the late 1930's to make it a romantic getaway for newly married couples. The state of Florida purchased the land and today, it provides miles of sandy beaches, tidal ponds, a beach allowing visitors to bring their dogs for a run/walk, hiking trails, more than adequate parking for visitors, and a picnic area. As can be done at Caladesi, boaters can anchor offshore (weather permitting) and use the beach. The big debate surrounding Honeymoon Island right now is whether a boat ramp should be built on the land to increase access to the water. Pinellas County officials are studying a list of 20 possible sites, including Honeymoon. Dunedin commissioners have voted against the idea and many have claimed the last thing a barrier island needs is a boat ramp. Others have said the causeway is already busy and that if a boat ramp is built, ambulances will have a tough time getting on site in time to assist anyone who has been injured. One alternate idea being discussed is to build a few smaller ramps in different places rather than a single large boat ramp with multiple lanes.
Another barrier island that is a favorite day trip destination from Tarpon Springs is Three-Rooker Bar-actually a sand bar that protrudes above water even at high tide. In fact, over the past decade, it has grown in size so much that many locals are now calling it "Three- Rooker Island." (However, recent storms have now since cut the "island" in half). It's a bird sanctuary but you can go ashore and wander so long as you don't trespass into the roped-off areas where birds are nesting (unlike Caladesi, no dogs are allowed). "Three-Rooker has great shelling, swimming and is a good anchorage," notes trailer boater Lou Galanos. He prefers using the marina at Caladesi Island for overnights, but boaters who do drop anchor off Three-Rook Bar report it has good holding capability for an extended stay. It's also a good stopping-off point for anyone making the trip from Caladesi across the inlet to St. Joseph Sound to Anclote Key. "The area between Anclote Key and Three-Rooker is the access to the Gulf of Mexico and as a result, it can get choppy when the wind and the tide are opposing each other," cautions Larry Tieman of TowBoatU.S. Tarpon Springs. "And when that occurs, it's not uncommon to have 3- to 4-foot waves there. I suggest newcomers to Tarpon Springs pay attention to tides as well as wind direction."
While mechanical trouble is the main reason BoatU.S. Members call Tieman, running aground is #2. "I always tell boaters who aren't familiar with the area that the Number One mistake I see around here is this: Just because there's water between your present position and your final destination, this doesn't mean you can get from here to there. In many cases, it's too shallow. I've had people who aren't familiar with tides call for a tow because they are aground and they'll explain that "they just came through here six hours earlier!" Stay in the channels in the Anclote River and in St. Joseph Sound, and you'll be OK." Tieman has these additional suggestions when traveling in St. Joseph Sound: (1) Have a good chart, and (2) keep green markers toward the direction of the Gulf of Mexico (this is the Intracoastal Waterway).
Anclote Key Preserve State Park sits about three miles offshore from the Anclote River. The north side of the island is open for primitive camping (this means, you bring your own equipment, water and food, have your boat's registration paperwork, the number of campers; more info available at 727-469-5942). There are grills and picnic areas in the area as well. The southern side of the island is where you will find the Anclote KeyLighthouse. Built in 1887, the lighthouse operated until 1984, and renovations by a group of lighthouse history enthusiasts were completed just a year ago. Fishermen like Anclote Key because the offshore sea grass beds provide exceptional trout and drum fishing.
While the Greek divers probably passed all of these day trip destinations en route to and from the sponge beds offshore (and no doubt brought back a few of the trout and drum being caught today), their prime focus was on what's beneath these bountiful waters. Today, their work is celebrated, especially after a year like the one about to pass.
Other Boat Ramps from Lou Galanos
Hudson Beach, 6345 Clark Street in Strickland Memorial Park, Hudson, Florida. No fee to launch or park. There are 33 parking spaces. The ramp is 14 feet wide with a large floating dock and provides direct access to the Gulf of Mexico.
H.R. Nick's Memorial Park Located on Bayview Road in Port Richey, Florida, this ramp has 20 parking spaces and there is no fee to launch or park. There are restrooms, tables and grills on site, and restaurants (including Hooters) are within walking distance. The 28-foot-wide ramp is in good condition although there are reports of a heavy seaweed buildup on sections of the ramp.
Dunedin City Marina and Ramp Located at 51 Main Street in Dunedin, there is a boat ramp next to the municipal marina. Non-residents are charged $10 + tax to use the ramp. More information is available at 727-298-3030. BoatU.S. Trailering Club Member Randall Poppert launches his 18' open fisherman from Dunedin and has this advice: This launch is very steep. At low tide, the launch vehicle is on quite an incline. If there is a west wind, loose sea grass adds to the already slippery ramp. The tow vehicle is in park, and the parking brake applied, but only the rear wheels are locked. The vehicle could start to slide on the slime and put you in deep trouble. To solve this problem, I have made up a 1" x 3" board as a stiff leg to lock down the front brakes also. The board is forked at one end to fit under the steering wheel and then down to the depressed brake pedal. With the front brakes locked down also, I feel a lot safer to stand in back of the tow vehicle to launch or retrieve the boat. The length of the stiff leg could be made adjustable if desired. When you're alone, this system is better than using wheel chocks, which could also side. I thought this info could help someone from getting into deep trouble if alone.
Tarpon Springs Visitors Bureau www.tarponsprings.com
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