There are two ways to cruise around the “big bend” of Florida’s Gulf coast, an area that does not offer the protection of the Intracoastal Waterway. You can cross the Gulf between Carabelle and Clearwater, which involves an overnight cruise. Or, you can make shorter day crossings from one small town to another as you make your way around the bend, which involves entering some very shallow water inlets. Because Estrellita draws relatively little water, Stel and I decided for the latter. Either way, the weather needs to be watched very closely for selecting the days when open water cruising will be kind to the boat and to the body. The weather was good for several days, so this 3-day jump across the Gulf allowed us to visit the small fishing villages of Steinhatchee, Cedar Key and finally Tarpon Springs. All three legs of the trip involved about 8 hours of cruising a day, which we did along side cruising buddies Andy and Julie on “Fruitcakes”. We will always have fond memories of our days and evenings with them as we finally made our way into a WARMER climate!

Stel and I have visited the west coast of Florida in the past, but have never gotten a chance to explore the waterways. We welcomed the clear and warmer water, but were surprised at the consistently shallow depths of the inland waterways and bays. We are starting to get used to it and have never been so happy to have a relatively shallow-draft boat. And with these waters come hundreds of dolphins! The sound of Estrellita’s engines combined with the forward wake from our bow seems to be a magnet for these wonderful creatures. We very seldom cruise for 15 minutes before a pod of dolphins comes along side with acrobatic jumps, turns and occasionally a flip. It brings us pure joy to watch them and we are confident that God put grace in their movement and a smile on their face to express their love for us as well.

Did I think that I was going to get away with not decorating our home for Christmas this year? Not a chance! Our Looper friends, Ken and Ann Shandley, invited us to attend their Christmas Boat Parade in Venice, so the pressure was on to get Estrellita dressed up a bit for the occasion. Our friends allowed us to use their car to make a trip to Lowes where we purchased the lights and garland needed to get the job done. To tell you the truth, I have never enjoyed decorating for Christmas more. The parade was lots of fun and we followed it up with a wonderful Advent worship service at First Baptist Church of Venice the following morning. We were officially in the Christmas spirit. And a extra bonus….I had promised to take Stel on a boat ride in Venice some day. Done!