Our next destination is the Florida Keys, but we knew we wanted to take our time and explore the southwest coast of florida. We chose Egmont Key as our first stop. This is a relatively exposed anchorage, so we made sure to pick a night when the winds were calm. We left St. Pete through Pass-a-Grille channel and had a great sail to Egmont Key and used our autopilot. With the wind in our favor, we anchored under sail.
Egmont Key is a state park located at the mouth of Tampa Bay, it was not a long trip from where we were but I really wanted to check it out! It was a great way for us to dust off the cobwebs that had accumulated from our stay in gulfport. Egmont Key has a long and diverse history from a navigational lighthouse, indian holding area, defensive forts, and quarantine from Cuba. We enjoyed walking around and checking out the lighthouse and ruins of the fort. There are also gopher tortoises on the island, and a lot of them!
We wandered around the island and found ruins of various forts and batteries, park rangers quarters, and the lighthouse. We also walked to the beach side and enjoyed having the island all to ourselves. It was a great stop for a day.
The one down side was that the pilot boat base was located on the island as well, and we were anchored in the general vicinity. Pilot boats transport maritime pilots out to vessels coming into the harbor. The pilots have “local knowledge” of the harbor and so foreign vessels must legally have a local pilot escort them into the bay. Once in the general area, the vessel will hail the pilot on the VHF and the pilot boat will then race to the boat to escort them. The pilot boats are very fast and made one heck of a wake! We woke up a few times in the night with some of the most severe rocking we’ve encountered yet! Other than the few passing wakes, our night was peaceful.
After enjoying Egmont Key, we pulled anchor and continued down the coast. The wind was still in our favor, so we got to leave under sail as well! We had another awesome sail across the bay until we reached the mouth of the ICW. We traveled along the intercostal waterway, and thats when the headache began. There was a small craft advisory in effect, so I was being selective in picking an anchorage that would protect us from the winds. Well everything just seemed so crowded, so we kept going to a more remote area near longboat key. We were keeping a close eye on our charts when we suddenly ran aground. Oops! We put it in reverse but didn’t really move, so Erik hopped in the dinghy for some extra horsepower while I maneuvered us off. That was frustrating, so we turned around and had our eye on a different anchorage. We were checking it out when we were aground again…it went from 10ft down to 5ft very quickly. We decided to leave the area immediately and backtracked to the Cortez Bridge in Bradenton. We were able to anchor successfully and wait out the high winds.