Tampa Bay is the home waters of our sailing vessel, Lionheart, and Olde World Sailing Line. We ply these waters 12-months a year and host guests from Tampa to London. Though we love the Bay and its sea life, I think we too often take for granted these precious gems in our own backyard. Allow me to boast a little about our home waters.
Tampa Bay is the largest open-water estuary in Florida, extending over 400 square miles. Its beautiful coastlines grace the waterfronts of Hillsborough, Manatee and Pinellas counties. Hundreds of small tributaries funnel fresh water into the Bay through rivers, such as the Hillsborough, Alafia, Manatee, and Little Manatee rivers. The blending of fresh water with seawater from the Gulf makes Tampa Bay one of Florida’s most important estuaries, designated as an “Estuary of National Significance” by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Many of Lionheart’s guests ask why the waters of Tampa Bay are almost a tea color, rather than the blues of the Gulf. The Bay’s color is due to the very freshwater rivers that feed it. Mangroves growing along the banks of these rivers and streams, as well as mangroves lining the shores of the Bay itself, produce coffee-colored tannic acid. As you sail down the Bay toward the Gulf, the water becomes increasingly blue and green, as the Gulf’s seawater over shadows the brackish tannic-tint of upper Bay waters.
Although Tampa Bay is the largest bay in Florida, it is relatively shallow at an average depth of only 15 feet. The ship’s channels, of course, have been dredged much deeper. The sand and silt from the dredging operations have built beautiful islands all along the channels, many of which are designated as bird sanctuaries.
The mouth of Tampa Bay where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico is guarded by the magnificent Egmont Key, home to some of the most beautiful beaches on Florida’s west coast. The island is accessible only by boat. Egmont is a natural island, found in the logbooks of early explorers, such as Hernando De Soto. It was here in Tampa Bay that De Soto began his extensive 1539 exploration of what would become the southeast United States. Be sure to visit the De Soto National Park, in Bradenton. The park marks the landing site of De Soto’s ships and contains a museum and walkways throughout the mangrove-lined cove.
I hope this blog has been interesting and informative. Please also see my June, 2013 blog on the sea life of Tampa Bay (“Tampa Bay Sailing Eco Tours”).
Best of Tampa Bay
We were thrilled to learn that in the May/June issue of the Bay area’s premier publication, Olde World Sailing Line was honored with the magazine’s “Best of Tampa Bay” designation. We are humbled that our guests nominated Olde World Sailing for Tampa Bay Magazine’s 2015 “Best Local Cruise”.
Tampa Bay Magazine’s “Best of Tampa Bay” selection process is special because it is community-driven. The magazine’s staff tallied thousands of votes from their readers’ opinions, selecting winning nominations in various categories. Olde World Sailing Line was ranked #1 in the “Best Local Cruise” category for 2015.
Thank You, Sailors!
Our goal has always been to entertain and delight our guests beyond their expectations. We are very grateful to all of Lionheart’s seafaring guests and Tampa Bay Magazine readers who honored us by voting Olde World Sailing Line among the “Best of Tampa Bay”.
The winter months in Central Florida are some of the most beautiful months of the year. The air is crisp and clear as well as the waters of Tampa Bay as summer algae dissipates. This year November and December have provided us many spectacular sails, brilliant sunsets, and abundant wildlife encounters.
As many of you have experienced, Lionheart is often escorted by playful pods of dolphins throughout the year, frequently coming alongside a mere two or three feet from the hull riding our wake. But during the winter months the dolphins are joined by an influx of huge flocks of migrating water birds, including the rare white pelican. On numerous November and December sails we have encountered bald eagles as they dive for nearby fish. The most anticipated winter visitor, though, is the iconic manatee. These warm-blooded mammals, reputedly mistaken as mermaids by early sailors, look a bit like a walrus without tusks. Manatees are strictly herbivores, feeding on sea grass and other vegetation, and are very social animals.
As the Gulf waters cool below about 68 degrees F, manatees move into the warmer Tampa Bay (as well as fresh water springs and rivers). Since they must rise to the surface to breathe, manatee sightings are a highlight of any Olde World
Sailing trip, thrilling our seafaring guests both local and out-of-state. But given that Tampa Bay is Florida’s largest estuary spanning around 40 miles from Tampa to the Gulf, spotting manatees is not an everyday occasion aboard Lionheart. The good captain, however, can point you to a very nearby “Manatee hole” where you’ll see wild manatees by the dozens – up-close and personal.
The Tampa Electric Power Plant, in Apollo Beach, burns coal to generate pressurized steam that drives their turbines. To convert this steam back to water, the plant pumps in cooler seawater from the bay. As the seawater interacts with the steam, it too becomes much warmer. This warm seawater is then discharged back into a canal next to the power plant. Manatees like this a lot!
Manatee Sanctuary In 1986 the state of Florida declared this canal an official manatee sanctuary. It is a winter hot spot for migrating manatees. The Tampa Electric Company has built a visitors center and beautiful boardwalk overlooking the canal. There you can learn more about manatees and walk out over the water to view dozens and dozens of manatees in their natural habitat.
Take I-75 south from Tampa and exit at the Apollo Beach exit. A left hand turn from the ramp will take you directly to the Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Area. There is no charge to enjoy this fabulous natural wonder. Tell them Captain Mac sent you (http://tampaelectric.com/company/mvc/).
Please Be Careful On the Water
During 2013 Florida recorded more manatee deaths than ever before – 800+, vs. around 300 in 2012. Scientists are not sure the reasons for the jump in mortality, but injuries and death by speeding boats is one serious cause. Please observe Manatee Zone signs when you’re on the water.
In mid-June, Olde World Sailing Line will present one of its most unusual cruises, unique in all of west-central Florida. On Saturday, June 22, the sun will set at 8:24 pm, the second longest day of the year. At about the same time the sun is setting in the west, the full moon will be rising in the eastern sky – a fairly rare event.
As the sky turns from bright reds and oranges through deep shades of purple, the huge full moon will dominate the eastern skies. While close to the horizon, the full moon appears twice its normal size, painting ever-changing Monet-like reflections on the waters. It is a rare and spectacular sight to behold.
Lionheart will make other Full Moon Excursions on other days surrounding June 22nd. Friday’s sail is fully booked, but Sunday and Monday will also have a moon nearly as full as that of the 22nd, with moonrise only a little later.
Don’t miss this opportunity to experience this unique astronomical and maritime event. We’ll make memories you will treasure for a lifetime. Like all Olde World Sailing cruises, you will be treated to Tampa’s most luxurious sailing line, with extravagant hors d’oeuvres, live music, flowers, and First Cabin service from the moment you board.
One of the most profound pleasures of sailing on beautiful Tampa Bay is the abundance of sea life we encounter. Tampa Bay is Florida’s largest estuary – an enclosed body of coastal waters with one or more rivers flowing into it, opening to the sea. Four rivers empty into our bay, the Hillsborough River, at Tampa, the Alafia, near Gibsonton, the Little Manatee, near Ruskin, and the Manatee River at Bradenton.
Estuaries are a transition zone between river and open ocean environments and are subject to both marine influences, such as tides, waves, and the influx of saline water and river influences, such as flows of fresh water and sediments. This combination of both seawater and fresh water provide high levels of nutrients, making estuaries among the most productive natural habitats in the world. Thanks to long term improvements in environmentally friendly practices, Tampa Bay water quality is at decades-high levels.
Over 500 resident dolphins call Tampa Bay home 12-months of the year, according to Florida Aquarium researchers. Dolphins visit Lionheart on most every sail, often riding the sailboat’s bow waves and side wakes, sometimes only a couple feet away. During these encounters you can look directly into their eyes and feel the very real presence of “someone” looking back at you with equal curiosity – an awesome experience every time! The forceful sound of their exhaling breath punctuates the air and can be startling when you’re not expecting them. The dolphins seem clearly to swim with the boat for the mere fun of it.
On other occasions, the dolphins can be seen feeding on schools of fish. While on their dinner forays, the dolphins don’t pay much attention to the boat, but their swimming pattern makes observations and photo ops much longer. The dolphins leap through the waves chasing their prey and thus remain visible for a more extended time.
Pelicans and cormorants put on a predictable show on virtually every sailing tour as they forage for dinner. And scores of other sea birds become a welcome part of the Tampa Bay ecosystem and a delightful part of our sailing cruises. Every year, up to 18,000 nesting pairs of nearly 20 bird species nest in various spoil islands located within Tampa Bay. The spoil islands, now tree-covered, were formed from the sand and mud deposited when the Tampa shipping channel was dredged in the late 1920’s. Bird Island, near the mouth of the Alafia River, is the top-nesting site in Florida for roseate spoonbills and is one of the most diverse bird colonies in the continental United States. Sunset sailing tours are often the most ideal times to get up-and-personal with the rich diversity of sea life of Tampa waters.
But no matter how many times we sail these beautiful waters, it is impossible to become complacent. An unexpected twist seems always just around the next wave. On a sailing tour last week near sunset, Lionheart had a very close encounter with a friendly manatee. The manatee didn’t appear at all disturbed by our presence and remained nearby for over 15 minutes before disappearing into the depths. Sailboats have an extraordinary advantage when encountering marine life because of their natural quietness. When aboard a sailboat, your senses are much more attuned to the sea environment than when barging through the waves under power. Your sense of hearing, smell, and even sight is enhanced when moving with the elements rather than fighting them. Most important, sailing vessels do not harm these gentle creatures with prop strikes.
If you are fortunate enough to share some space with any of these magnificent marine animals, please be sure not to feed them or disturb their normal behavior (it’s also against the law). As with all wild creatures, whether on land or in the sea, frequent encounters with mankind often turn out badly for them. Observe and respect them. Enjoy them. But let them do their thing and appreciate the privilege of their company.
See Florida and the Tampa Bay Area as you’ve never experienced it before – from the decks of an ocean-going sailing yacht. Lionheart sails daily from the Tampa Convention Center Docks. Book your expedition here.
Olde World Sailing Line has developed a reputation for providing the most luxurious day cruises from Tampa. Are you ready for a Tampa romantic getaway? Whether a beautiful Half Day Sail, Full Day Sail, or magnificent Sunset Cruise, we strive to make every sail a very special occasion for our guests. Each cruise features elegant hors d’oeuvres, fresh flowers, imported chocolates, live music, all aboard a 44’ world class sailing yacht.
It is on Olde World’s Sunset Dinner Cruises, however, that Lionheart pulls out all the stops. Dinner Cruises cast off from the Tampa River Walk docks a couple hours prior to sunset. After riding the winds toward the setting sun over Tampa Bay, your teak table is set with fine china, cloth napkins, and silverware. In the galley, your chef is preparing a full 3-course dinner that you selected prior to your cruise, catered from a downtown Tampa restaurant.
As the sun sets, Lionheart becomes your own private “waterfront restaurant”. Your meal is accompanied by the music of a Celtic harp, played by Kathryn, former Florida Orchestra principal harpist. Desserts, chocolates, and bubbly as you wish. Magnificent.
Then conclude your Tampa romantic getaway with a sail back toward civilization and to the spectacular colors of city’s waterfront after dark. You haven’t seen the Tampa Bay area until you’ve seen it from the sea. And you’ll have a completely different and magical impression, when you experience it after nightfall.
The Gasparilla Pirate Fest is a mainstay of Tampa’s social calendar. Held each year in late January (some years early February) since 1904, the Gasparilla pirate ship invasion and parades bring between $20M – $40M of booty into the city’s coffers, according to a 2007 study. This year’s festival and pirate invasion on January 26 saw over 300,000 spectators according to official estimates.
Most people experience Gasparilla from the parade routes, watching the fabulous floats and gathering the sparkling booty. Parade watchers, however, may miss the invading fleet of thousands of boats, lead by the pirate ship Jose Gaspar, as they storm Tampa’s waterfront and take possession of the Key to the City. As the armada crosses Tampa Bay enroute to the channel along Davis and Harbor Islands, it is out of easy viewing range for most spectators. This year the crew (“krewe”) of Olde World Sailing Line boarded the Lionheart to lend firepower to the Jose Gaspar and fleet. Land bound crowds see only the final 20% or so of the spectacular convoy from the sea to city-center. I hope you enjoy these photos of our up close and personal encounter with the floating hoards. Check out the additional photos with on Olde World Sailing’s Facebook and Pinterest pages. Also see the Gasparilla section on the Gallery on this website. More to come . . .