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Archive for November, 2006

A night at the sponge docks

We had a nearly full house under Bert & Janie’s awning yesterday morning. The weather’s nice enough that people all over the park are socializing outside more, and the swimming pool is becoming our regular afternoon destination.

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Rich C drops in on Bert & Janie, and Emma checks it out

Last night we went to Tarpon Springs, just northeast of our location, and to the Sponge Docks area of town. In 1905 the Greek sailors began to arrive in Tarpon Springs and collect sponges from the sea bottom. They still do today, and Dodecanese Blvd is now a tourist area filled with everything related to natural sponges that you can imagine.

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We were here last April, when things are busier. Last night it was pretty quiet in town, and the shops closed up at 7:30. But that didn’t matter — we were there to meet a bunch of people at Hella’s for dinner: Bert, Janie, Barry, Susan, Brett, and Lori. A reservation for nine is no problem in Tarpon Springs on a weeknight in November.

The food was great: pan-fried calamari, spanakopita (spinach pie), moussaka, gyros, lemon-egg soup, and saganaki (a flaming cheese appetizer). Then we all walked over to the adjacent bakery, picked out a pile of desserts, and sat back down at the table for another half hour. There will be awesome leftovers today.

Eleanor is trying to find the perfect microwave to go on our new countertop. So far this project has consumed three days, in which she has browsed online sites and visited local stores. Every detail has been scrutinized: weight, dimensions, wattage, color, features. I think more analysis went into this than went into the last car we bought. Of course the perfect microwave is a special order since nobody seems to stock it, but even if it has to be ordered, the good news is that we will have a microwave in the trailer, in a week or two.

Silver Joes in the morning

Our days have been consumed with work lately — the curse of the working traveler — so we’ve been spending a lot of time inside instead of out having adventures. This isn’t so bad right now, because the temperatures and humidity have been slowly building all week and today it may be more comfortable inside with the A/C on.

Yesterday Eleanor found a chrome shelving unit that looks like it will suit our needs under the new countertop we installed at Barry’s. We did some initial test-fitting last night and will finalize it later this week, after we borrow a hacksaw to shorten the legs. I’ll post photos of the finished project.

Brett showed up last night to help with that, and also to finish up some wiring for the new LCD TV. We’ve now snaked the wires through the wall so that the TV installation looks nice and clean, and everything is ready for installation of an inverter in the overhead bin later. Once I find a good “pure sine wave” 300-watt inverter I’ll wire it up, and this will allow us to watch the big TV when boondocking. (I want to get a pure sine wave inverter so I can also use it to power the laser printer once in a while.)

In addition to having an Official Magazine (which I am proud to say is Airstream Life), and an Official Bicycle (Birdy Bikes), I bet you didn’t know that Airstream has an Official Coffee.

I found this out a few months ago when we spotted Silver Joe’s Coffee giving out free samples at the International Rally last July in Salem OR. So we bought some to give it a try. (You gotta have all the Airstream “stuff”, right?)

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Silver Joe’s gets the Emma Seal of Approval

Smoked Fish and Key Lime Pie

In St Petersburg there’s a bit of old Florida called “Ted Peter’s Smoked Fish”. For forty years they’ve been smoking fish over red oak there, and serving the fish up with platters of German potato salad, coleslaw, thick slices of onion & tomato, mustard sauce and a dill pickle. It’s a pungent taste treat that’s a real relief from the “same old” restaurants.

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We went there last night with Brett. Eleanor and I split a smoked mahi mahi dinner plate and Brett got the smoked mullet. The portions are very big … Eleanor and I had leftovers from our shared dinner, but that didn’t stop us from ordering the excellent Key Lime Pie to split with Emma.

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By the way, if you go to a Florida restaurant and the Key Lime Pie is green, or looks like meringue, or has the consistency of cheesecake, it’s not right. The good stuff is tart, yellowish, and will absolutely amaze your tongue with its taste. Ted Peters has some of the best we’ve ever had. Since we are headed to the Keys next week, we’ll have to see if we can top it. In fact, I could see turning this trip into a mission to sample the country’s best Key Lime Pie …

We found Ted Peters last year courtesy of “One Tank Trips” by Bill Murphy. If you come to Florida and want to find fun things to do, check Bill’s book.

It looks like another beautiful day in Tampa. The temperatures have risen and we are getting nice weather in the upper 70s and low 80s now. I wish I didn’t have to spend so much time working at my computer, but at least with the windows open on the Airstream, and a gentle breeze blowing through, it makes for a nice day in the office.

Egmont Key

The sun rose behind a gray-scudded sky on Sunday morning, but by the time Brett arrived to pick us up at 9 a.m., it was gorgeous and sunny and heading toward the high 70s. We loaded up the snorkel gear and drove about 45 minutes south to one of my favorite places in this area: Ft De Soto Park.

Ft De Soto is a large county park located on an island just south of St Petersburg. There’s a fine campground there, every site located near the water and shaded by palm trees, which we have visited in our 1968 Caravel and the 1977 Argosy known as Vintage Thunder. Nearby is an old mortar emplacement known as Fort De Soto. The park also features two fishing piers, miles of beach, and some nice bicycling trails.

One thing we’ve never done before is take the ferry from the park to nearby Egmont Key, so that was our plan for today. I’d heard the snorkeling is nice, especially over the Fort Dade ruins, which have been reclaimed by the sea.

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The ferry is $15 per adult, $7.50 per child, and runs once or twice per day depending on season. This time of year the departure was 11 a.m. and the return was 2:30 p.m. It scoots out only about a mile and then around to the gulf side of Egmont Key to be beached.

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The island is virtually deserted now, except for a small collection of wood-framed houses on the bay side, where ship pilots live, waiting for giant tankers to come into Tampa Bay — and a large number of tortoises. The island has no public services at all, not even water, so we brought a full bag of picnic stuff and drinks.

The picnic was a success, but the snorkeling was a bust. From the boat and the shore it was obvious that the water was far too murky to see anything. To make the possibility of snorkeling even less remote, it turns out that the submerged Ft Dade ruins are off a permanently closed section of shoreline, part of a bird sanctuary. You need a boat to get to them, but there was no point on this day. Our ferry captain suggested that visibility was made poorer by a “beach re-nourishment” project (sand pumping) occurring on Egmont Key’s north side. He suggested trying again in spring.

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Fort Dade was once a town of about 500 people, complete with fire station, hospital, power plant, numerous houses, and much more. It’s a ghost town now, only foundations and brick streets remaining. Walking the ruins of the town, the last vestiges of the fort, and the beach consumed most of the few hours we had on the island.

Jetskiing Tarpon Lake

We relocated the Airstream yesterday to a different site at Bay Bayou, and then I met up with Brett for some jetskiing on Tarpon Lake. The plan was to test the jet ski that he recently bought and fixed up, before taking it out on Sunday near Ft De Soto Park.

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Unloading the jet skis at the boat ramp

This was the first day we’ve been jetskiing together since our adventure on Lake Mead last May.

Things went perfectly … for a while. There we were, zooming along the lake’s surface at speeds up to 46 MPH. The sky was blue, the air was warm, the lake was mostly calm …

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And then, about five miles from the boat ramp, Brett’s ski made an expensive noise, and sputtered to a halt.

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Fortunately, we were prepared for this possibility. We tied a rope on and slowly towed the dead ski all the way back to the boat ramp. Better to find out about the ski’s defects on a quiet fresh water lake, than out in the Gulf of Mexico.

While we were gone, Emma and Eleanor found a new wetsuit for Emma. That’s for today’s new plan. Instead of jetskiing off Ft De Soto, we’re going snorkeling off Egmont Key, which is near Ft De Soto. We met up with Bert & Janie in the evening when we came over to borrow their microwave to reheat our Thanksgiving leftovers, and they are considering joining us too.

Bill & Larry’s excellent Airstream

The last thing I want to do on the day after Thanksgiving is go anywhere near a shopping center, but Friday was a day for us to fix things and that meant a trip to the hardware store. I picked up a few screws and washers to finalize the bracket mount for the new TV, and some “Goo-gone” to clean up leftover adhesive.

In this model of trailer there’s a built-in shelf mounted in the forward bedroom, designed to fold out and support a small conventional TV. We never needed this and I have ignored it until recently. When Brett moved the old 15″ TV to the bedroom, he removed the built-in shelf, which left some screw holes and the glue residue. We filled the holes with little tan screw caps recycled from the shelf.

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You can just barely see the tan caps. Click for larger.

In the photo above there are still two divots in the wall that we will disguise or cover later. Those were made by the factory installer to accommodate rivet tails that protruded from the back of the shelf unit.
The shocker was the weight of that shelf. It’s made of steel, and felt like about twenty pounds. I should have tossed it a long time ago.

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Christmas decorations started appearing a week ago

We have decided to stay in Tampa for another week. There’s too much that we want to do here. But someone has a seasonal rental on our space, so today we need to move to another site in the park. We’ll be parked directly across from Bert & Janie.

More blog readers have purchased a new Airstream. Bill and Larry emailed me this week to say they’ve finally placed the order for their 2007 Airstream Safari 23 Special Edition LS. Congratulations! We’ll see you in the southern California desert this winter!

Thanksgiving wrap-up

It was in some ways an unusual Thanksgiving Day. Everyone attending except Brett, who hosted the event, is currently living in their Airstream. Barry came over with a 4×8 sheet of plywood from the house he’s building, which we rested on an ottoman and covered with a giant white tablecloth. That was our table. Emma decorated the tablecloth by drawing pictures all over it with her markers, and then we all sat, cross-legged, on the floor to enjoy an enormous feast.

And it was a spectacular meal, followed up by homemade pies and ice cream. Eleanor’s two days of effort in the kitchen were really appreciated by all.

The leftovers have been distributed to everyone. Bert and Janie managed to snag a lot of the apple pie, so I may be over at their trailer for breakfast. We’ve all got turkey, green bean casserole, onions in cream sauce, two kinds of cranberry sauce, gravy, an incredible stuffing, and pumpkin pie. (Even the plywood became a leftover of sorts: it will end up as part of the subfloor in Barry’s bungalow.)

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A few weeks ago we bought a large collection of Kodachromes from an Airstream owner’s estate. These slides were mostly scenic images of national parks, but a few depicted Airstreams at rallies and on a caravan to Mexico in 1958. So for a while before and after dinner, Barry and I sat down with the slide projector to review each slide.

Of 1,300 slides in the collection, we ended up with about 25 good ones. They’re all unique images that have never been published before. We’ll get them scanned and you will see them popping up in future issues of Airstream Life magazine.

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