Here we are with the Dohertys and Miskas in front of Muddy Waters and the historic Vinoy Hotel in downtown St. Petersburg. We stayed for a week and thoroughly enjoyed this lovely city.

We made our way through Tampa Bay along its western shoreline toward St. Petersburg, tired from our journey but excited to be on Florida’s west coast. We’d hoped to stay at the centrally located municipal marina, but it was full thanks a local boat show. We landed instead at a beautiful private facility next door, the Vinoy Marina. More expensive but still in the thick of it all. (Last time here we arrived on four wheels, the Vinoy Marina wasn’t around, and Jennifer was competing in an Olympic distance triathlon, staged just a few hundred yards from this very spot.)

Approaching the marina basin, I hailed the Vinoy on Channel 16. “Vinoy Marina, Vinoy Marina, Muddy Waters” is how it went. No reply. I waited about a minute and hailed the marina again. I got this reply: “Vinoy Marina, this is Muddy Waters, how can we help?” Hmmmm. I asked to switch from 16 to channel 68 so we could be on a working channel. Then I said, “Vinoy Marina, this is Muddy Waters.” They responded, “This is Muddy Waters, how can we help you Vinoy Marina?” What the hey? I figured my confusion was the result of our thirty-hour passage and my often foggy mind. Finally, someone hailed us from the city marina and explained that the vessel responding to our call was city marina’s mobile pump-out boat named (what else?)…Muddy Waters. Ah, just say it ain’t so, Joe!

You know what the pump-out boat is, right? Yes indeed, they have a powerful pump, long hose, and a large receptacle, and the brave men who operate these machines remove the business from your boat’s holding tank. It’s just a fact of boating life. You gotta’ eliminate the waste, come clean, be environmentally conscious, mop-up the Superfund-like sites like a responsible citizen. It also happens to be the law. Makes good sense. Most often, pump-out facilities are located on marina fuel docks. We have, however, come across Humpty Pumpty, the Fecal Freak and other similarly designated boats designed to carry big, um, loads. One such boat offered the winning slogan: “We don’t take crap from anyone.” Marketing wizardry.

Once we cleared things up with the other Muddy Waters, we tried the Vinoy Marina again on channel 16. No luck. But they’d given us our slip number earlier over the telephone so we just pulled on in and the kids gracefully dismounted and made quick work of our spring lines, fore and aft lines, shore power and water.

Moments later, uncle Doug and tia Sima arrived on the docks, and the kids’ smiles once again brightened an already sunny day. We’re so lucky to have seen Sima and Doug a number of times on the trip, most recently in Chicago. We shared big hugs all around on the docks in St. Pete. Sima and Doug booked a room at the historic Vinoy Hotel, not twenty paces from Muddy Waters. Doug and Sima had already scouted out a few good places for lunch, and we quickly washed the salt off of Muddy Waters and ourselves and were set for lunch. We called our friend Ashley, who captains a large boat for an NFL player, and he joined us too for lunch.

We all slept well that night, following our long passage and then a full day of exploring St. Pete. The kids spent the evening with Sima and Doug at the hotel and seemed to adjust just fine to beds that don’t rock you to sleep. Jennifer and I are always up well before sunrise, but we needed to catch-up on our shut-eye after the passage. The kids called us later in the morning and said that from Sima and Doug’s room they could see us having coffee in our PJs in Muddy’s aft cockpit. While we sipped coffee and soaked up the fine city view, the kids made their way with Sima and Doug to the city-famous Vinoy brunch where they all filled up on good eats.

Later that morning we all walked to a fantastic farmers market and bought a half-dozen bag loads of fresh, local, organic produce. We returned to Muddy Waters and Jennifer started-in on one of her usual healthy homemade feasts. Our good friends the Dohertys drove over from Orlando and joined too, this time bringing their newest family member, Anna Kathryn. Anna comes from a long line of boaters and fishermen, and we were proud when Michael confirmed it was Anna’s first time on a boat. Michael and son Matthew traveled with us twice on Muddy Waters – from Stuart to Miami in 2010 and then earlier this year from New Smyrna to St. Augustine. Matthew caught the first first aboard Muddy Waters too – a spanish mackerel. Captain Mike, first mate Anja, deck hand Matthew and swabie Anna are always welcome aboard the good ship Muddy Waters.

The following afternoon Jennifer, Keenan and Daria drove with Sima and Doug to Tarpon Springs, soaking up the Greek-American food, culture and sponge-fishing. They also visited the beach-side town of Clearwater, where a number of Loopers were tied-up after crossing from the Panhandle.

I stayed behind on Muddy Waters that afternoon because we had to replace a sensor on one of our vacuum pumps. And you know what this particular vacuum pump does, don’t you? Yes, it takes a certain something from a certain round basin and sends it to a certain holding tank, which is regularly pumped-out at designated facilities or by authorized boats with funky names (see the third paragraph) that handle the…funk. Believe it or not, that was our first repair of the entire trip, and while the part was a real-world expensive $275 it was relatively inexpensive as far as boats go.

We spent the next few days touring the city on foot, including the beautiful historic homes in the northeast corner of town. We visited the Salvador Dali Museum, a stunning collection and new building, and took an hour-long tour with a deeply knowledgeable docent. We saw scores of early Dali works, including sketches and even black and white films. The docent explained the various symbols and multiple layers of meaning in so many of Dali’s works of art. The kids seemed to find the quasi-hidden images in the paintings much quicker than Jennifer or I could. We all found the painting Gala Looking Into the Mediterranean Sea especially memorable given our travels through the land of Lincoln – but, it did take us a few squints to get it since the painting is so large.

Jennifer and the kids visited the Chihuly Museum and recognized some of the Chihuly works we’ve seen at home in Miami at Fairchild Tropical Gardens. We also hosted my former school mate Duane and two of his three kids. Though we missed seeing wife Julie and their daughter, it was great to see Duane after so many years and meet his two boys. We also met another cruising family, the Metros, and had them and their two children onboard for dinner. We had good fun swapping stories about cruising in the Bahamas, Florida and on up the U.S. east coast. We also spent a full day hanging out with our good friend Jen who recently re-located from Miami to St. Petersburg. We got to visit her lovely historic neighborhood and new home and hear about her blossoming student tutoring and teacher training business called the The Literacy Lift.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to St. Petersburg. Family and friends make any stop a special one. Combine that with a terrific town, wonderful waterfront, magnificent museums, plentiful parks and fab farmers’ market and, well, those are just among the finest ingredients for a memorable trip. Whether by one propeller or on four wheels, we’ll be back to St. Pete before too too long.