Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tampa Bay Paddle Distractions - St. Pete's Most Famous Debate!

How can I admit that I went to St. Petersburg in Tampa Bay, Florida with a camera that I hate and fell in love with the city the first few hours and refused to take any pictures of it out of respect. "I'll be back with a better camera. This is just a scouting mission for places I like enough to visit twice."

After several hours of exploring the city by car, nature called. Where to go? It's not the land of fast food stops that I usually only use for things other than food. "Head to the marina, there must be something there."

A sweet historic looking Byzantine style little octagonal brick building on the water across from the boats in the marina suddenly caught my eye.

"No way, it's a public restroom!" Never mind more immediate needs, out came the camera I hate to snap a shot of it.

"Why am I doing this? I've never taken a photo of a bathroom before!"

People needing to enter the establishment are stopping to let me take a shot unobstructed. Tourists with puzzled expressions are wondering why I'm taking a picture of it. "Why are you taking a picture of a restroom?"

Me: "I'm not sure. Go ahead, don't let me stop you!"

A happy jogger passing by stops, jogs in place and says, "Do you know the story of this bathroom?"

Me: "Ummm, no. There's a story?"

Jogger: "As legend has it, there's a church, St. Mary's, only a few blocks from here on the corner of 4th Street and 5th Avenue. The architect of the church was not paid as promised for his work. Out of spite, he had this public bathroom built to resemble the church and had it constructed before the church was built."

Me: "Great, thanks. A bathroom with a story! Have a good jog!"

Now I've got to find the church without a map and spend time researching the story. Stories are passed on for a reason? I wasn't looking for one.

Sure enough, the church is nearby and easy to find. You'll likely find the bathroom replica first though! And it seems to be more popular!

According to the church website, the church was built in 1929, seats 1,000! Impressive!

Mini St. Mary's on the marina seats many less! And was apparently built in 1927.

The story makes sense. The church was built during the Great Depression. The architect was likely underpaid. The church has its own version of history though. No mention of the public bathroom it resembles!

I'd like to visit the interior (of the church) one day.

And the debate rages on. Is it a true story or not . . . ?

Tour guides and passing joggers (and now me) have kept the story alive.

Kudos to Henry Taylor, architect. What a beautiful and useful design of both buildings and a brillant way to make a point! Out of spite, you made the church more famous with a remarkable replica of it in the form of a restroom in a more noticeable location than the church (on the water at the marina) and helped more people find the church and learn more about it!

What's the moral of the story?

Interesting to ponder! Ha!

(Don't tick off your smart and savy architect!)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Boats for Cockroach Bay Paddle, Big D's Kayaking

Cockroach Bay boat launch, Tampa Bay, Florida

Cockroach Bay, Tampa Bay, Florida - Kayaking with manatees and dolphins

Finally, a blogworthy paddle from a beautiful boat launch in Cockroach Bay, paddling a sweet Romany S with a Werner paddle in open water with views of St. Petersburg across Tampa Bay, and deep enough in high tide to get through miles of mangrove islands, manatees, dolphins, and leaping mullets all along the way, and the photo that makes the post is a guy straddling a little 13 foot Tampico demonstrating wind and water dynamics using a banana for a kayak?


That's Don Thompson of Big D's Kayaking. Who else does that? He calls it "banananimation" but the rest of us paddlers called it a snack after the lesson. Hmmm, maybe I've been edging my boat wrong in a cross wind too? Bananas are convincing teachers.

At the end of the 4-hour paddle Don also showed us how to chop open a watermelon with a Lendal paddle. I thought he was just joking, but he actually made a perfectly clean cut with it. I hid behind the German paddlers, they were my "splatter-guards" just in case. Something to remember if you find yourself alone on a beach one day with a huge watermelon and no knife to cut it with.

And thanks to Don for letting me commandeer his boat! When we arrived at the launch and all the boats were lined up on the beach, the only one I could see was the Nigel Denis Romany S.

Me: "I'd really like to paddle this boat!"

Don: "But this one over here, the Tampico, was the one planned for you."

Me: "I know, but I REALLY want to paddle the Romany S! Can I?"

Don: (Pause) "Well . . . OK."

When Don hopped into the boat planned for me, I realized I'd taken the guide's boat. I felt a little guilty, BUT IT WAS SO WORTH IT!! I hope not just for me. Other paddlers wanted to test paddle it too. It handled like a dream and I didn't think skeg once. And he let me paddle it for the entire trip.

Me: "Has anyone else ever taken your boat before?"

Don: "Well, no. You're the first."

Me: "Sorry, maybe we should keep this a secret!"

Two thumbs up from the Baffin Paddler for Big D's Kayaking and the Romany S!

Don is a great guide, supplies good equipment, takes you to a beautiful location, and we all came home happy paddlers full of fresh cut watermelon!

The paddle gods were with me that day.

Directions to Cockroach bay in Tampa Bay, Florida

To get to the Cockroach Bay boat launch in Tampa Bay from the northwest part of the bay, take the 275 south, cross the Skyway Bridge, catch Hwy 41 north until you get to Cockroach Bay Road. On Hwy 41, there is a handy Shell K gas station and market right across from Cockroach Bay Road. Otherwise, you're likely to miss the little road sign in the middle of nowhere.

Cockroach Bay is in the southeastern entrance of Tampa Bay and is a manatee protected area, so go slow with motorized craft. We were told that the average adult manatee has about 15 motorboat scars. Ouch! So please be careful and go slow if you operate a motorized craft in the area.

And we did encounter a few manatees in the Cockroach Bay area. Ever see a manatee? Another place you can find them in Florida is Crystal River. If you do head out to see manatees, it is important not to disturb them as there are protection laws.

The tides in Tampa Bay are minimal, only a couple of feet. You need to watch out for the low tides though, so you don't get stuck in low spots, especially in the mangroves. Paddling in a few inches of water is not fun or safe if the bottom is deep and soft!

Happy paddling!
The BaffinPaddler

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mangroves, Caladesi Island, Barrier Islands, Tampa Bay, Florida

Looks nice? Enjoy the pic. It's better than being there. I'm wondering why other paddlers around here would recommend this? Not me. Come to Canada and paddle! Short and sweet at least. Only took 10 minutes to get through it in murky water and no room to move the paddle. The paddle to get there was not interesting. I wouldn't rent a rec boat to do it for $30 for two hours in this area. But the beach around the corner from the mangroves is a nice place to hang out in swim gear and get toasted by the intense Florida sun, if you like that. On the way back from the shallow water, hit a deep spot with some wind and boat wakes and some dolphins passing by.

I was the only one in rash guard and neo shorts. Ha! There are so many places I'd rather paddle . . . so far.

Pier along my beach cycle path, barrier islands

Giant Jellyfish

Happy Heron

Pelican Convention

Wild Green Parrot Treehouse

Monday, April 5, 2010

Biking the Barrier Islands! Gulf of Mexico, Florida

Finally doing something wow! And no, it wasn't paddling. When paddle plans temporarily fall through, it's time to hit the beach on a bike!

After three days of researching where to paddle in Tampa Bay Florida, chatting up locals, looking at maps, trying to find my way around a new place, I finally made peace with the noisy fridge in my Barrier Islands basecamp in Bellair. And I finally found the best spot on the patio to dodge the hot Florida morning sun to catch the Internet connection with my laptop poolside to blog. Trust me, putting up with the "pool rats" when they are out and about is an impossible feat I have not mastered . . . yet. Headphones! There's an idea.

Today I rented a bike I totally fell in love with at the Energy Conservatory Bike Shop in Dunedin, Florida. Only $20 for 24-hours and it came with a great helmet (optional around here) and a bike lock. What a deal! It's a Giant Farrago. When I first looked at it, I had my doubts - I didn't know the brand - how foolish!. At first glance, it didn't look like much to me but someone told me, "Hey! These are good bikes!"And he was right!

I don't know Giant bikes, but I will have to learn more about them as I'm researching a new bike, and thinking about Marin bikes.

Back to the fantastic cycle on the Barrier Islands beaches  I have to walk about a hundred feet from the basecamp with the Giant to ride the sand from Belleair beach heading south. There is no paved strand like you find in California's Redondo Beach, one of my old haunts.

I'm wondering if it is allowed to cycle on the sand?  No one else is doing it and the sheriffs patrolling the beach in big trucks pass right by me. So, I guess it's allowed. Other beach-goers ask, "Hey, can you ride on the beach?"

Me: "Guess so, the sheriffs didn't stop me."

Beach-goer: "I mean, CAN YOU RIDE ON THE BEACH? With all the sand?"

Me: "Guess so, looks like I'm doin' it!" And wow! It is FUN!

I've been on a lot of beaches in California, Mexico, Cuba, and St. Martin. But never on a bike. Why not? The sand is usually too soft. It would be impossible to cycle it. But while on my daily jogs on Florida's beautiful Barrier Islands strip of beaches along the Gulf of Mexico during the low tides, I noticed how hard the sand was closer to the water. It is perfect for jogging - as long as you dodge the jelly fish that may be scattered along the shore. But can it support a bike I wondered?

Yep! It rocks! Better than riding a horse on the beach (almost). The bike can't swim.

A few highlights along the way (and some highlight pics to follow this post.)

A flock of wild green parrots living in palm trees.

A monster jellyfish!

A crab scurrying sideways from the ocean to steal a little dead jellyfish (couldn't shoot him, he was too quick!)


Mating Laughing Gulls (No pics of that, it wouldn't be right!)

Lunch at Guppys in Indian Rocks (4-thumbs up from the BaffinPaddler!) I could eat there every day. Great food, service, and atmosphere. My kind of place!

After 3-hours of cycling the Giant Farrago from sand to road, every part of my body feels good. Nothing hurts and I just want to keep going - another Forrest Gump moment! You can feel the quality in every part of the bike. I can even ride no hands on bumpy sidewalks, it is so well put together. I'll keep the bike for the rest of the trip. It will help me escape the pool rats! They are gearing up as I write this so time to hit the beach!

A paddle trip to Cockroach Bay planned later this week. Let's see what that will bring.

Happy cycling beaches when you can't get out and paddle!
The BaffinPaddler

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Biking in Tampa Bay, Florida

When the paddle plans fall through and demo days aren't really demo days, it's time to give up on hitting the water with a paddle and hit it with some wheels.

Getting a bike around here is way easier than getting into a boat (sea kayak) you have to rent, especially on an Easter weekend. Paddling will come later. Bike shops abound and some of them are pretty sweet! OutSpoken Bicycles in Clearwater, Florida!
When you ask about bike trails in the area, most shops will point you to the Pinellas Trail and hand you one of the best guides of the entire trail that I've ever seen. It's a 34-mile trail that runs north and south of the western Tampa Bay area. It's a super convenient trail if you're using it for transportation, like heading to the quaint town of Dunedin (Dun-ee-din) for restos and the marina.

The bike trail was not very scenic on the (recommended by locals stretch) I did from Dunedin heading north. Very urban and often runs along busy roads and smelly stuff in parts. It's an old railway route with a level plane all along the path.

But . . . BINGO! You can ride down the long strip of hard-enough sandy beaches on the western coast of Tampa Bay in what is called the barrier islands on the Gulf of Mexico. They are the first line of defense for the mainland when the hurricanes slam through the Gulf. And this area is a mandatory evacuation zone!

More on riding on the beach later. It rocks!

The BaffinPaddler

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sweetwater Kayaks, St. Pete's, Florida

Yesterday was another day of running around gathering input from locals and putting together all the clues of what to do. Mission accomplished. The rest of the week will be spent "doing"!

I had the great pleasure of meeting Russell Farrow yesterday at Sweetwater Kayaks, an expedition paddler with all the credentials. He is overly tan (by Canadian standards), as are all Floridians, tall and lean with long silver hair and the trademark stubble of a guy just returning from an expediton. He has a beautiful, big, three-year-old German Shepherd dog named Cedric who would not sit still for a shot.

Russell had just gotten back from a trip to Baja. He's a guy to interview if you are a writer or journalist . . . if you can catch him! He's busy. Some have. I asked him if he would post the interesting story of his "Vacation from Hell" that I saw framed on the wall of his store. Cross fingers.

He had a blog that timed out and so is now lost, but the good news is that he is working on another one. He hasn't published it yet because he wants to build the content first.

I took a lot of pics yesterday, and which one made today's post? Russell's shower curtain. He'll probably hate me for that. But he's got lots of great pics of boats on his site so go there for more on that.

If you visit Sweetwater Kayaks, make sure to visit the restroom! The interesting shower curtain inside quickly caught my eye. It made me take a second look, fish out my camera and take a picture. It is made of some type of fibre, not plastic, vinyl or nylon, bold and striking. There were real sea shells sewn onto it. There must be a story behind it? I wanted to ask Russell, but I'd already picked the poor guy's brain enough that day in between all his cell phone calls and other clients stopping by. I later found out his wife is a designer, and it is from her shop, Claudia's curtains.

Thanks go to Tom, a local Ottawa paddler in Ontario, Canada who suggested I check out Sweetwater Kayaks while visiting the Tampa Bay area. He asked me to say hi to Russell for him. I did.

Happy paddles.
The BaffinPaddler

Friday, April 2, 2010

Tampa Bay, Florida - Day 1 - April 2, 2010

Took a direct flight from Ottawa to Tampa Bay on April 1st on WestJet. Only 3 hours. If you like incessant jokes that make you wonder if they really know what they're doing, fly WestJet. Maybe it was just the timing! It was April Fools Day. The leather seats are comfortable and even my long legs fit in between the seats. Hertz had a nice selection of cars, no complaints. Took a cute,(can't figure out the colour) KIA mid-size SUV. Like it!

Went to bed last night at 1:00 a.m. after hanging out at the pool researching stuff and gathering info from the tan and friendly locals, who also helped me get the Internet connections fixed on my laptop which needed major updates! The only place you can get it at my Belleair basecamp is at the pool! (I mean the Internet.) Boo hoo (ha!). I wanted to write from my balcony.

Up at 7:00 a.m. to catch the morning moonshine and a giant pelican fishing in front of my window. Everything looked nicer and larger when no one else was around. More space! Even the buzzing fridge that is smaller than me and my yoga mat had shut up. Time to screw up the coffee by adding too much water and make the paddle plans:

Contact Sweetwater Kayaks.

Find out about the river paddle I want to do to see manatees, dolphins and birds (minus the gators).

Investigate paddling pristine Caladesi Island (south of Honeymoon Island and Palm Harbor) across from the Dunedin region of Tampa Bay. Recommended by a local beach jogger.

Tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. there is a demo day in the Bay, so will check out what kind of boats they paddle in Florida.