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The above photos are of M/V Tatoosh.  This is the yacht of Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft.  She’s 303′ long and the 49th largest motor yacht on the planet.  She’s tied up a block or two from us here in St. Pete undergoing maintenance and refit…and, for sale at $125,000,000.  The black stick on the left side of her is the mast of a 46′ sailboat, one of her toys…she also has three other tenders (boats) berthed on her decks.  Allen has since had an even larger yacht built.  Allen has since had the M/V Octopus built…414′ long.

We’ve been in St. Pete too long; we’re both ready to leave. There’s several reasons we’ve been here so long, but most revolve around our final decision to sail to Cuba in late May. Another is because St. Petersburg is such a damn nice area. But, it’s time to go.

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One of the nicer mega yachts that have been with us in the marina, the Marshall Islands flagged M/V Triton.  At 163′ a real beauty.

I haven’t written in a long time because I came down with a case of the flu. The first week was the pits, I just gutted it out. Week two saw the worst of it pass but then I developed a case of nasty bronchitis. Week three saw me throw in the towel on the bronchitis and go to a local clinic for relief. Halfway through week four I feel much better but am about as drained and weak as I’ve ever been. But, Tuesday, it seems I’m finally over the hump. Chuck and I both agreed that next year we need to take the flu and pneumonia shots.

But, I digress.

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A lot of our time here has been spent seeing the local sites. We rented a car for a few days and took in Tarpon Springs  to the north of us. Then we headed south a ways to Sarasota and took in The Ringling museums. One weekend was spent watching the St. Petersburg Grand Prix. And, last week, we spent the afternoon at the Dali Museum  . All were well worth the effort. The race, and the Dali Museum were only a short few blocks of bicycling, as is the downtown and waterfront district of St. Pete.

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The above are photos o the Ca’ d’Zan…the Sarasota home of John Ringling, on the grounds of The Ringling museums.

And, we’ve also spent a fair amount of time on our boat repairing and redoing the bright work; thankfully that is complete.

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All of Tarpon Springs, a surprisingly cool place to visit for the day.  Tarpon Springs has the largest concentration of Greeks outside of Greece, due to the sponge fishing industry.

And, more still, we spent a lot of time agonizing and planning our trip to Cuba…or whether we even wanted to go through the bother of doing it at all. In the end, we decided to go ahead and we are set to depart Key West for Marina Hemingway, ten miles west of Havana, on May 27th. We’ll be there two weeks.

Cuba has always been high on our list of places to visit first. Many yachties now days simply go, and ignore the formalities…they don’t check out of the US, Cuba doesn’t stamp their passports, and they don’t check back in with customs when they return, either that, or they go to another island before returning to the US and check in from that island. By all accounts, neither the USCG or US Customs and Border Patrol really much care anymore about the Cuba connection. But, we wanted to do it legally and, doing it legally is not such a big thing. One fills out a Department of Homeland Security, United States Coast Guard, Application for Permit to Enter Cuban Territorial Seas  form and away you go…after it’s approved, which now days is always. Or, one can opt to have someone else fill out and submit the form, which we did. The longest we can stay in Cuba, because of US regulations, is two weeks…we will be there for the full two weeks. We will be departing with six other yachts as part of the Winds of Change sailing rally; the rest of the boats will only be staying one week.

The worst part of the Cuba thing was the fact that, all excited, I invited several couples I know and asked if they wanted to come along with us…fully anticipating no one would be able to get away for the almost three weeks they’d have to commit to, but hoping anyhow. Boy, was I wrong. All three couples got back to me almost immediately indicating they’d love to come along, and quite enthusiastic about the opportunity do so. What a conundrum that put me in. I’ll never make that mistake again.

Aside from the fact that there would be more than a fair share of paperwork and coordination for such a trip, I went into major agonize mode over what to do about the invites. In the end, Chuck made the decision for me. He said, “Look, this is a semi-complicated trip to begin with, I know you are good and life-long friends with everyone but I’ve never met them, but more importantly, this is the first of many countries we will visit and there will always be other trips for our friends; I’d like the first trip out of the country, especially to Cuba, and especially because of all the work just the two of us have put into the boat to get her ready to cruise…to just be you and I.”

I saw his point and liked the rationale. So, to those friends, and you know who know who you are, I’m sorry but am sure, and hope, you understand. And, believe me, other invites will be coming down the road.

And, so, it’s time to go to Key West. We have reservations for this Saturday at Stock Island Marina Village . We will be there until we depart for Cuba on May 27. The plans are to continue, and complete, the provisioning of the boat by tomorrow before fueling up this Thursday morning here in St. Pete and then sailing over to Anna Maria Island  where we will anchor out in Tampa Bay. Early Friday morning we will exit the bay and make the non-stop passage to Key West and then around to Stock Island and the marina…most hopefully arriving before dark on Saturday afternoon.

It’s a pretty long haul from here to Stock Island Marina at about 36 hours give or take…and, of course, another over-nighter. As well, we will have to enter Key West through what is called the Northwest Channel . At Key West we will take the main ship channel past Key West to the Hawk Channel, about five miles or so, before entering the Safe Harbor Channel and on into the marina. From our entry into the Northwest Channel, all of these channels are bordered by some extremely shallow water, sometimes a sand bottom, sometimes coral. And, considering we’ll be at our most sleep deprived when we have to negotiate them, it will be a welcome challenge. Then, again, it’s always a challenge going somewhere on a sailboat when you’ve never been there before…part of the fun and what it’s all about really, when you think about it.  We are carrying no additional crew.

See you there…

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