For anyone interested in learning about the waters of Florida and their history, head to Tarpon Springs on Saturday. The Sponge Docks will teem with maritime artisans and folklife.
What better way to learn about fishing, sponging, crabbing, and maritime art, music and food? Fishermen to fisher poets who hail from Cortez to Cedar Key to Apalachicola will come together for the city's third annual Gulf Maritime Festival.
Steve House, 61, of Tarpon Springs makes his living catching and selling blue and stone crabs. He has fished and crabbed commercially for decades, and his family's history is intertwined with life on Florida waterways.
"I'm originally from Everglades City, in the swamp down there," said House. "I've never done anything like this (festival) before. I'll be carrying a couple traps with me, talking about what crabbers do, and answering whatever questions come up."
As one of Florida's few remaining downtown working waterfronts, Tarpon Springs hosting this event means people can see and learn firsthand about sponge diving and processing, making diving helmets and nets, fishing, clam farming, boat building, and model boats.
They can even taste kavourmas, a traditional Greek stew taken on sponge boats. Maritime community music and dance also will be an important part of the festival. And poetry.
Ever heard of a fisher poet? Robert "Doc" Powell, is one who will present his poems Saturday. A retired professor who taught psychology for 30 years at the University of South Florida, Powell also worked as a commercial fisherman.
"This will be my first time at this festival, but I've been going to Oregon for the fisher poet's gathering for seven years," said Powell, 77, who has lived in Tarpon Springs for 24 years. "I started moonlighting as a commercial fisherman in the early '70s, part-time. That's the unique aspect of my experience, combining being a professor with being a commercial fisherman."
One of the first poems he wrote was for a terminally ill friend. Powell wanted to cheer him up. That gave him the motivation to write about their previous experiences fishing.
Wallace "Wally" Ericson of Palm Harbor knows all about fishing, the Florida waterways and beyond. He has fished for mackerel, mullet, scalloped and caught shrimp since he was a boy, plus worked with his father who was in the sponge industry since before World War II.
"In two months, I'll have been around this area 81 years," said Ericson, who was born in Tampa. "I sponged with my father during World War II and three or four times after. I've built 33 boats, up to 115 feet long. I've been scalloping as far north as the Canadian border and shrimping as far south as Nicaragua and all over the gulf. I've enjoyed it all."
Correspondent Theodora Aggeles can be reached at [email protected]