Scattered here and there about planet earth are areas apparently created by a beneficent Providence especially for the small-boat sailor. These combine wide yet sheltered waters for racing and cruising, hidden creeks for gunk-holing, reliable breezes of moderate intensity and, usually, virtually unfailing sunshine. Such is the Tampa Bay area.
But this is only part of the story. For St. Petersburg, geographically and culturally the center of the area, is more than a waterman's paradise of purest ray serene, or even the basking place for octogenarians and proving ground for the science of geriatrics that it is generally known to be. In fact, a single brief stroll along Bayshore Drive will reveal one of the most amazing ranges of contrasts known to sport.
To the south, an airfield juts into Tampa Bay. Its unobstructed approaches, central location, pleasant surroundings and lack of commercial activity make it perfect for private flying. Across the street from the northern boundary is a softball diamond maintained by the city, the outfield putting-green smooth. Here the redoubtable Kids take on the cavorting Kubs twice a week, a contest somewhat unusual because players, in order to qualify, must have passed their 74th birthday.
Down the third-base foul line and across the drive is a launching ramp for outboards and small sailing craft, from which on a warm midwinter afternoon fans a procession of water skiers, fishermen and just plain messers-about-in-boats.
Next in order is Al Lang Field, where the brawny stalwarts of the St. Louis Cardinals shag flies and try for the fences through the spring-training and exhibition season, and the New York Yankees play exhibition games. Yet a high foul clearing the stands behind the plate could almost land among the shuffleboard players and horseshoe pitchers of the Sunshine Pleasure Club, perhaps even upsetting a fast game of checkers or whist at tables under the palms.
And then comes the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, one of the most active sailing organizations in America, with its own fleet of ocean racers perhaps expanded by entries in the annual jaunt across the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf Stream to Havana.
All this within a half mile!
"Sure," said a local acquaintance, "we have the old folks here in St. Pete. You see 'em sitting on the benches along Central Avenue and in the parks, and you'll find wheelchair ramps on every corner in the business district, but they're pretty well concentrated. Just go around with your eyes open and see what you see."
AN AMAZING IMPRESSION
And I did on my most recent visit, and came away with a most amazing impression: nowhere are more people of all conditions and ages doing more things outdoors, or having more pleasure in the process. Or, for that matter, being more friendly.