The LITTLE TOOT that Could
Text by Donna Mallo
Photo: by Beth Stites
Every journey begins with the first step. This holds true for the Little Toot too. Once you climb aboard the Little Toot, your journey will begin in the competent hands of Captain Cee Jay Stites and his First Mate, wife Beth.
First order of business: the rules and regulations of the sea. Ever the environmentalist, Captain Cee Jay informs his attentive audience that “it’s illegal to feed and/or swim with the dolphins.” Because the forty foot long Little Toot tug boat is lower to the waters’ edge than other boats, it is able to safely navigate in the shallows as well as the Gulf of Mexico, guaranteeing dolphin sightings. But, if the Little Toot does not locate a dolphin during its hour plus tour, they will give you a free trip the next time around.
TOOT…TOOT, TOOT, TOOT and we’re on our way. A stingray splashes in the harbor as we set our sights on the intracoastal and the Gulf of Mexico. As two pelicans perch on Marker #11, we amble along in the no wake zone until we’re clear. The Little Toot then accelerates to a comfortable ten knots.
“That’s the speed the dolphins like” states Captain Cee Jay. “Tens knots is the same as driving twelve miles per hour or fifteen feet per second.” Marker #7. While comfortably enjoying the local flora and fauna, Captain Cee Jay begins his animated narration. Drawing our attention portside, the Captain points out Mrs. Roebling’s bathhouse and Nigel Mansard’s mansion, currently on the market for a mere forty-three million dollars.
“If anyone sees a dolphin, call out twelve, three, six or nine o’clock” instructs the Captain. Excitement builds as both young and old search for a dolphin’s tail to break the sparkling water.
On holiday from Lucerne, Switzerland, Helen Brown and her family never miss an opportunity to ride the Little Toot. “There’s nothing like this in Europe” Brown professes. Brown’s friends, one a financial advisor and the other a banker from Zurich, once again become boys as they position themselves at the bow of the Little Toot, anxiously waiting for a sign.
The Sea Screamer passes by; Toot. “On land we compete for ticket sales, but on the water, we cooperate with each other” states the Captain. “Any sightings?” the Captain asks the Screamer.
The Screamer: “A pod was spotted around 880, heading south.”
Marker #15. “Nine o’clock” yells the twelve-yea-old boy. Slowing down, the Captain methodically circles the area. Within minutes, a dolphin is swimming alongside the tug, starboard; cameras click.
Not equipped with a GPS tracking device, the Captain relies on his passengers, other local sightseeing boats and mainly First Mate Beth to locate the dolphins. Ever at the railing, Beth’s eyes are constantly searching the Gulf of Mexico for a pod of dolphins.
“Twelve o’clock” the man excitedly informs the Captain.
“Everyone clap” Beth instructs the captive audience.
“Dolphins like it when you clap.” On cue, the dolphin responds and leaps into the air.
“Dolphins use the wake from the tug to propel themselves forward, which takes less energy” Beth continues. “Dolphins weigh between four to six hundred pounds and must eat up to twenty pounds of crab, mullet, eel and shrimp daily to sustain themselves. Playful creatures, the dolphins also jump to remove parasites.”
It’s 92 degrees hot, but under the canopy of the Little Toot the temperature is pleasant and balmy. On board, you can purchase soft drinks, water, beer and wine and the Little Toot has restrooms for your convenience. The tug departs at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m. and sunset daily (sunset times vary with the season). For $2, you can purchase a parking pass, good for half a day parking at the Clearwater Municipal Marina (opposite Pier 60).
The Little Toot is available for special charters such as birthday parties, anniversaries, ash scattering at sea, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and youth and church groups. Reservations are required (727) 446-5503. Adults: $20 (tax included), Children 12 years and under $14, Children under 3-years-old are free.
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