Apollo Beach couple takes a pass on the road for RVing at sea

The Robbinses tour the Indian River in Dominica with their guide, Martin, rowing for them.
The Robbinses tour the Indian River in Dominica with their guide, Martin, rowing for them.
Published Sept. 18, 2014

Whenever we find ourselves filled with a wanderlust to see the world, it would do us well to remember that more than half of this planet is covered with water. For those with an itch and skills to sail and take their time at it, cruising means taking your trip aboard a sailboat big enough to have a galley, bathroom and bunks — almost like RVing at sea.

Of course, one major difference is the wind is free. No $100-plus fill-ups at a gas station. In fact, there is a growing number of folks who RV at sea, taking their time to see the sights, meet fellow sailors and enjoy the privacy of an overnight anchorage in a cove or inlet.

Some sail for a weekend, others for weeks and months.

Cruisers come to the sea in various ways. For John and Peggy Robbins of Apollo Beach, separate sailing paths brought them together about eight years ago. John sailed Chesapeake Bay while a student at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis; Peggy grew up sailing Midwest lakes during Girl Scout camp.

When they married and took a Caribbean cruise to the Bahamas, they looked out at the serene scene around them and made a vow. "We're coming back here on our own boat," John recalls.

So they did, numerous times. John and Peggy bought a Manta catamaran in November 2012 and named it Want To after their favorite Sugarland song. They've been to ports up and down the East Coast and in the Bahamas. Their boat has a generator to make fresh water and provide electricity for all the comforts of home. Their sea home is 40 feet long and 21 feet wide at the beam. The mast stretches 83 feet high (making the catamaran too tall for the bridges of the Intracoastal Waterway).

Aside from the fun of getting there, wherever "there" turns out to be, RVing at sea has other lures. "The sunsets," says John, 68. "The rainbows you see. The beauty of the islands. The water is so clear you think your boat is in a swimming pool."

Peggy, 62, agrees. "You learn to live small. You learn to provision well." She said she likes the challenge of preparing up to 55 meals ahead of a trip, storing them in their home freezer, then transferring the meals to the Want To, with meals at sea augmented by local fruits and vegetables.

While there are no odometers aboard catamarans, there is GPS. John estimates they've sailed approximately 6,000 miles in less than two years.

The couple belong to the Seven Seas Cruising Association, an international organization. While there is no local chapter, members and would-be cruisers gather every second Saturday of the month at Harvey's Fourth Street Grill in St. Petersburg.

There are at least two other cruising clubs in the Tampa Bay area. The Dolphins Cruise Club of Tampa Bay. The club started with four couples in 1989; today, there are approximately 190 members, according to Mark Bridges, club commodore. The club organizes 20 to 25 cruises a year. Some are as short as an overnight sail to spots like Egmont Key, the Manatee River, Cortez or downtown Tampa. Longer cruises might last six weeks to two months, Bridges said, to places like the Dry Tortugas or the Florida Panhandle.

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"Most of our members, maybe 80 percent, are retired and range in age from 50 to 90," Bridges, 70, noted.

The Tampa Sailing Squadron has about 250 members, according to Steve Hodges, a member of the club's board of directors. Members sail every year to places like Key West and the Dry Tortugas, going in groups of two or three boats as "boating buddies." There's no hurry and "these are seasoned sailors."

The group works with a dozen or so Sea Scouts, the equivalent to land-oriented Boy Scouts, to train students in sailing and safety. There's also an annual Christmas toy drive.

Hodges says he loves sailing the west coast of Florida.

"There are so many little anchoring spots where you can get out by yourself and get out in the middle of nowhere.

"There are a plethora of places for people to get out on their boats and have a one- or two-day trip."

Fred W. Wright Jr. is a freelance writer living in Seminole.