The Great Loop

Canal Boat - - Boating In America -

Set­ting off on their U.S. trip, nar­row boaters Ian and Jane Ainsworth faced sea-sick­ness, moor­ing to a buoy and run­ning aground be­fore en­joy­ing the sun and sparkling wa­ters of south Florida

Florida turned out to be a bridge en­gi­neer’s de­light. Even a bridge en­gi­neer’s spouse, re­quired over the years to ob­serve the sub­tleties of de­sign and con­struc­tion of Bri­tish mo­tor­way bridges, could not but be im­pressed by the num­ber and va­ri­ety of the struc­tures link­ing Florida’s many bar­rier is­lands to the main shore, or car­ry­ing rail­roads over bays and in­lets.

Most im­pres­sive of th­ese was the Sun­shine Sky­way Bridge, a con­crete ca­ble-stayed bridge which crosses Tampa Bay and which we had driven over sev­eral times when we stayed in Sara­sota be­fore buy­ing the boat. With a to­tal length of just over four miles, the bridge curves gracefully across the wa­ter, its yel­low cables re­flect­ing the Florida light.

There was not much Florida light be­ing re­flected, how­ever, on the day that we left St Peters­burg to start our trip in earnest. It would have been wiser to wait for the weather to im­prove, but im­pa­tience got the bet­ter of com­mon sense.

Hav­ing spent a week get­ting the boat ready, and two days wait­ing for the wind to drop, we could wait no longer, and left St Pete be­hind in light rain and winds ap­proach­ing 20 knots.

No sooner had we emerged from the shel­ter of the ma­rina than the swell started, which lasted for an un­com­fort­able two hours while we crossed Tampa Bay. With a draft of four feet, we found that Ca­rina rocked and rolled at the slight­est provo­ca­tion and an early les­son we learned was to Close All Doors Be­fore Set­ting Off. For­tu­nately, noth­ing was bro­ken or dam­aged, and our sup­plies of med­i­ca­tion just about warded off sea-sick­ness.

We ar­rived at Ma­rina Jack, Sara­sota, six hours later, drained with the stress but ex­hil­a­rated at hav­ing the Tampa Bay cross­ing un­der our belts with­out suf­fer­ing se­ri­ous mishap.

One prob­lem with th­ese jour­neys is that at the very end, just when you feel you can re­lax at last, you have the busi­ness of ei­ther ty­ing up to a dock or low­er­ing your an­chor or moor­ing on a buoy (pro­nounced ‘boo-ey’ in Florida, we learned). All of th­ese pro­ce­dures ben­e­fit from skill and prac­tice, in which we were rather lack­ing.

At Ma­rina Jack, Ian had cho­sen, in the in­ter­ests of sav­ing money = on ma­rina fees, to moor on a buoy, which meant that the crew (me) had to ei­ther throw a rope some dis­tance around it, or grab it with the boat hook. My only pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence of this pro­ce­dure was watch­ing Shane Spall’s largely fu­tile at­tempts, on the TV pro­gramme of her and Tim do­ing their Round Bri­tain trip in their barge ThePrincessMatilda. There had been some pro­fan­ity on the Spall boat, but we man­aged it at the se­cond at­tempt with no foul lan­guage at all. We awoke the next morn­ing to thick fog, but by late morn­ing

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