Monday, December 30, 2013

Mid-Gulf Florida Adventures

Once we left Pensacola and headed across the Gulf of Mexico, I held out little hope of anything more than just another long offshore passage to be endured to get there… A means to an end if you will.  But the wonderful spontenaity that is Cruising  once again saved the day.  

The Plan:  Sail offshore from Pensacola Pass to Panama City.  Stay a night or two then go back offshore from Panama City to Clearwater. 

The Reality:  We decided to go the additional few miles further and stop in St. Joseph’s Bay.  As we entered the Bay, our choices were to either anchor off the peninsula and go right back out for the hop to Clearwater, or go on in and stop at Port St. Joe’s Marina to wait for weather.  The weather gods were consulted… i.e. Passage Weather and Wind Guru and the decision was made.  Port St. Joe’s Marina it is!

Now understand that prior to this moment, we had read nothing of this place.  We got out our cruising guides, consulted Active Captain and motored the five plus miles across this bigger-than-iI-thought-it-would-be Bay.  I did glance longingly at the anchorage with its promises of fabulous shelling as we motored past… Maybe we could anchor there on our way back out.

Port St. Joe’s Marina advertises itself to be the Friendliest Marina on the Gulf Coast.  That’s a pretty big statement after our time in Delcambre, LA., but we’re willing to give them a chance.  We motored through the breakwater and I couldn’t help but be less than impressed by their facility.  But, once we got settled and had a nap, we were revived and happy with our choice.

Your Chariot Awaits
During our two night stay, John went more than the extra mile to make us feel welcome.  The marina provided a hose for washing down the boat, deck chairs at the doc, free bicycles to use for provisioning and even a newspaper tossed to our doorstep.  

Coming home with the groceries
These things, along with the close proximity to grocery and other retail sources made this place the second most welcoming marina we’ve visited.  

John had smiled knowingly when he said to let him know if we needed anything, and that lots of folks come for one night and stay for more… he was right!  

Gulf County Canal
We were looking for a weather window for that final hop to Clearwater.  When we started studying the charts, we realized that we could go inland in the ICW from here to Apalachicola, and with all of the Facebook friends we had telling us not to miss the oysters there, we decided “why not?”.  So, a new plan was born.  

After a second night at Port St. Joe, we continued on by way of the Gulf County Canal.  

We turned into the ICW and found ourselves thinking we were back in Louisiana.  The waterway was lined with trees and we even got our first glimpse of a nesting pair of Bald eagles.  

Nesting Bald Eagle
Amazingly beautiful beasts!  We had a totally stress free passage some 20 plus nautical miles to Apalachicola, making this a short day.  

We docked at the Municipal Free Dock just under the bridge leading out into Apalachicola Bay and St. George’s Sound beyond.  The docks were pretty nice for free!  (29°43.470'N, 84°58.819'W)
Our plan was to stay for one night there, but in looking at the weather and our options, we decided to wait here a second night instead of continuing on to Carabelle where we would have to pay for dockage. This gave us some time to explore the little town and have some of their World famous Oysters. 

We started our morning with a walk along the dock and were treated to a stunning sunrise.  What a way to begin a new day!

We had some generator problems, but we had spare parts aboard.  We spent our fee morning with the boat torn apart replacing a shot impeller.  We finished about mid afternoon and took off on a walking tour of the town.  

Burlap sacks waiting for the harvest
There is much evidence of the fact that Oysters are their livelihood.  We passed several processing plants with stacks of oyster bags outside.  

TONS of oyster shells
The source of a particular smell was soon discovered… a huge pile of cast-away shells lie outside of one plant…  eewww! 

We picked Boss Oyster for our dinner, not only by virtue of the recommendations from Facebook friends, but by the long lineup of cars outside their doors!  This must be the place!

Bruce and I are really not oyster fans generally speaking.  But we just could not see leaving here without trying them after all the accolades we had heard about these being the BEST!  We chose a $17 sandwich off the menu to split and were not disappointed.  It was STUFFED with oysters, scallops, shrimp, olive salad and a lovely sauce. It was more than enough for us both, and we left the place feeling happy and stuffed!

We strolled hand in hand along the pier and enjoyed the sunset, although it wasn’t quite as good as the sunrise, we were having a good life!

Overnight, we never noticed any lessening of the ripping side current beneath our boat.  It was running so fast that it made noise on the hull.  We had hoped that the tide would be low for our departure beneath the bridge, but we also needed for it to slack up a bit to allow us to get out of the slip.

Neighbor lending a hand
I worried about it all night, and in the morning, I voiced my concerns to Bruce.  He too had been having some misgivings about leaving… We went out to assess the situation and while Bruce loosened the non-burdened lines, our neighbor came out of the boat next door.  He assumed that we were leaving as Bruce was disconnecting lines, and offered immediate assistance.  Well, not looking a gift horse i the mouth, we accepted!  I guess we’re GOING!

Our escape from that slip left me with knees shaking and hardly able to mentally process the events that started with the loosening of the bowline causing the boat to slam agains the far piling… to our frantically retrieving the trailing line from the water while in neutral, struggling to keep the nose into the current…

Our dock from mid channel
Somehow, we were able to get backed out and headed in the right direction, but I hardly remember how exactly…  It’s a blur.  

Suddenly, we were sluicing along under the bridge and out into the Bay.  The rest of our day was thankfully uneventful.  

We passed another bridge and found dozens of small boats harvesting oysters the old fashioned way.  These guys work hard for their money scooping up the shells with these small basket/rake things.  I’ve gotta hand it to ‘em.  

Our plan to stay at a marina in Carabelle was changed by our experience with the current at Apalachicola.  The river at Carabelle could very well be in the same condition and we had no intention of putting ourselves through that if we could avoid it.  We chose a quiet anchorage off Carabelle beach with good protection from North/NE wind and wave.  (29°49.703'N, 8441.050'W)
By the time we got there, the winds were a whisper and the waters were flat.  We spent our afternoon relaxing and preparing ourselves for the offshore passage to Clearwater and marveling at how much our plans can change in the blink of an eye.  

The amazing thing about it all is how I continue to be amazed!  We were able to enjoy a couple more of the often missed cruising towns along the Florida West Coast and avoid several hours of slogging in the Gulf.  We experienced our first taste of tide/current action and had some wonderful meals.  We caught our first glimpse of the awesome Bald Eagle in the wild.  I wonder how many Cruisers bypass these places and miss these Mid Gulf Adventures...

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Longest Night EVER

Wrestling the dink into place with a halyard
We’ve had a pretty easy time of it so far, traveling in flat water in the ICW for 99% of our Cruise… This has made our preparations to depart every day very easy.  Practically just get up and GO!  

But this passage is different.  Its our first offshore passage since we started cruising.  We can go no further in the ICW because of our 62 1/2 ft. mast height… we can’t get under all of the bridges between here and Tampa.  

I won’t say that there are a lot of Cruisers coming from the Gulf Coast, but for the towns along the way that we’ll miss… I can’t help but think that they’re losing out because so many Cruisers won’t be stopping there along the way. Maybe the “Loopers” keep them in business...

We spent the day before departure prepping the boat.  We brought the dinghy up on deck and secured it.  We folded the davits and tied the outboard motor to the rail.  We moved the kayak to the aft rail and took one of the deck storage bags to the aft deck as well.  This left the foredeck clear except for the dinghy.  We moved everything to the v-berth that wasn’t tied down, including the bicycles.  

Inside the boat, we stuffed things into cabinets and tied things down.  We move the knives from their magnetic rack, we aren’t expecting any conditions that could make them come loose, but why take that chance?  We topped off the water tanks and I made some chicken salad and an easy oven meal of enchiladas for our dinner… we were set!  

I asked Bruce if he was nervous, he replied "no".  I was nervous. We've been offshore before, but it's been quite some time, and never with the kitties aboard.  I think most of my nerves were just me torturing myself... so I snapped out of it and started to get excited about it.

The ever-helpful Jezabelle...
We spent some time reviewing the charts and making notes about possible Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C...  We checked and re-checked our weather sources.  We sent out our Float Plan to our contacts...

Pensacola Lighthouse from a new perspective
Our morning was spent in leisurely fashion doing all of the little last minute things.  We anticipated our passage to be about 24 hours duration.  We wanted to approach our destination in daylight, so we couldn't leave very early or it would put us there before dawn.  We finally pulled out of the slip at almost 11 a.m. and headed for Pensacola Pass.  We motored out past the Pensacola Lighthouse, where we had visited during our stay.  Funny how I hadn't noticed it coming in.

The Pass is a beautiful spot with perfect white sand and blue water… with the good omen dolphin diving off our Port side… Yay!  I was getting worried that we would have no dolphin sendoff…

We had some swells broadside for the first part of our passage, turning into swells on the nose with light winds to match as we settled into our desired route. This made for a bit of a sleigh ride, but it wasn’t uncomfortable.

Bruce finally gets to SAIL!
We raised sails to stabilize the boat even though the winds were light and Noserly, we could just carry it but we weren’t going more than 4.5 knots for a while.  Bruce wasn't really happy with our speed, but with the waves we were punching, it was the best we could do.

Before too long, the winds increased and clocked somewhat to allow us to sail more comfortably at 6.5 knots.  Unfortunately, they came back East and we rolled the jib and had to increase motor to keep up 5 knots.  Bruce seemed busy with the sails so I tried to get some sleep.  It would be a long night...

Evidently I did get some sleep...
While I dozed, sometime in the night, the winds came back to the North and I was called upon to help roll out the jib again.  We carried that for a good while until the increased to about 19 knots.  We were doing over 7 knots which would get us to our inlet too soon.  We needed to slow down.  Bruce furled the jib and we continued on with main alone, still doing 5 to 6 knots.

We had a couple of brief light rain showers accompanied by a few gusts... I continued to get little bits of sleep in the cockpit, but Bruce really couldn’t go off-watch because he was constantly trimming sails and adjusting things.  I helped some, but until about 1 am, it was all him.

I took watch at that point and Bruce got a little sleep.  We continued under main only until we reached the entrance to St. Joseph Bay at dawn, then dropped sail and motored across the Bay and into St. Joe’s Marina.

Throughout our sail, the seas were not bad.  We had waves directions from front to Port quarter, but never anything big.

Some confused seas at one point were the big problem for the kitties.  There was some mess to clean up when we got in…  Poor babies.  Both had come up into the cockpit at different times through the night.  Jezabelle even snuggled under my blankie with me for a few hours.

There was one scare in the night.  Jezabelle left me and headed over to sit on Bruce's lap (I thought).  Suddenly he gasped "Jezzer's OUT".  She had crawled under the enclosure and was strolling nonchalantly around the outside perimeter.  I called her back to the opening and snatched her inside.  This was in the dark, full tilt sleigh ride, in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico!!!  Had she fallen or been washed overboard, she would be GONE!  I was horrified and didn't let her out again...  Lesson learned!

I was glad to get in.  Bruce had fun out there, but for me it was to be endured.  Never bad, just not my thing.  It would have been a whole different story if it hadn't been cold...  

I took the helm and guided us into the St. Josephs Bay Inlet and across to the Marina.  We considered anchoring along the St. Josephs Peninsula, but the weather called for rain, so we opted for the warm electricity hookup of the marina...

I think we did things right this time.  We prepped the boat for worse conditions than we got and were never in danger.  Had it been warm, the passage would have been downright pleasant.  Had it been summer, we wouldn’t have had the thirteen hours of darkness making this the LONGEST NIGHT EVER!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Pensacola Adventures

When my daughter was in about the sixth grade, she took the initiative and found a way to get to the Mall without "bothering me"...  She took the City Bus, and was very proud to tell me all about it when I got home.  My reaction was not exactly what she had been expecting... I was appalled!  For that, she got grounded for a MONTH!!!!

People who live in states where public transportation is widely used would not understand my reaction.  But people from Texas, where EVERYbody has a car... might get it!  Now... here we are, without a car of our own, and we're riding the BUS!

Houston... We have a problem...
Thanks to a kick in the pants from Carolyn, our Facebook Friend... We got the bus schedule off the internet, and set out in our rain gear to find adventure in Pensacola, FL.  It was a bit chilly but my old optimism had returned once again and I just KNEW it would be a great day to get out and explore! Who knew that the bus ride itself would be counted as one of the highlights of our day?

We walked several blocks to find the transfer station, arriving just a few minutes early... enough time for a chat with the patrons who had arrived before us.  While Bruce was chatting it up with "Army Guy"... I had the pleasure of meeting (after he gave me a hard time for being dressed in Capri jeans) "Mr. Sixteen Mil".  His story:  He's ex military and loves living the life of leisure here in Florida.  He has travelled all over and spent years living in Panama, where he keeps the sixteen million dollars.  He's on his way to see his sweetheart, who wants the big "I DO", but he doesn't because she won't sign a pre-nup saying he can leave his millions to the charity of his choice after his death...

Pretty lights = BAD
Our bus comes and we say goodbye to our newfound friends...  Before we can make it around the block, our bus begins making noises.  ALARM kinds of noises!  The driver pulls over to the curb, stops the bus and begins the process of figuring out what the heck is wrong!  You see, the lights come on and the bus shuts down, and that's IT!  We're stranded!

At this point, there are two stories unfolding for our entertainment pleasure...  Story one is the bus saga.  There are people who need to get to work but it all works out nicely as a van comes to get them and gets them to their jobs.  Thanks but we'll wait.  

The second story is the poor dude in the back talking to his Ex-girlfriend on the phone.  Evidently there has been a breakup here two days before Christmas.  He's carrying her shirt and a small gift that he wants to bring to her at work today... and he needs to come by her place after work to get his sweater from her closet and the gifts he left there...  

We're just happy that this equipment failure is somebody ELSE's problem...  A new (older) bus comes and we board.  We get on our way and chat with the driver as he tries to make up the lost time by skipping stops!!!  Yep!  I hope we don't get "skipped" for our return trip!!!

We make it to our destination... the National Museum of Naval Aviation!  The bus spits us out and I worry, because we'll have a different driver for the return... somebody who doesn't know we're out here!

Top on my list-of-things-to-see is not the Naval Museum, but the Pensacola Lighthouse just up the street.  So, we hoof it up the road about half a mile.  No worries, it's cold now, but it's gonna warm up... I'm SURE of it!

I just LOVE lighthouses and I'm super excited about climbing this one!  We've had the opportunity to climb exactly THREE!  Only this one since we left home.  

We enter the Lightkeepers quarters and see the exhibit there, telling about how life was for the keepers through the years.  

Downstairs living area
There are two sides to this house.  The light is automated now, so none lives here, but back in the day when it was tended by humans, two families lived here.

There would be the Keeper and the Assistant Keeper.  Each of them had one side of the house for their families.

Master bedroom
The two sides had separate stairs and were identical.  Living quarters downstairs and bedrooms upstairs.  Very small but nice.  

The home was attached to the lighthouse with kind of a mud room, where the doorway to the tower beckons...

We entered the long hallway and I got a little creeped out.  Evidently there was an Episode of Ghost Hunters filmed here in Season 5.  It was a lot darker in there without the flash of the camera!

The festive Christmas tree did nothing to quell my claustrophobia tendencies nor my fear of heights as we mounted these OLD stairs...

The place was well kept, but I could FEEL the age of these walls as we wound our way up, up, up.  I had to push back thoughts of how the walls could crumble... and how I hoped that there was no sway from the winds whipping outside...

The metal stairs were beautifully wrought, but there were some missing, having been replaced by a wooden step...  Would today be the day that another metal step would give out?

Yeah, I know... I'm a Nut!  But thankfully there were windows where we could stop and take a break from the 177 step climb.  

We were rewarded with an increasingly incredible view of the pass outside.  

We finally made it to the last bit of stair, where we had to duck our heads and climb through the upper floor.  The winds sucked my hair up into the lightroom.  

It was a tight fit as the huge mechanism holding the prisms slowly spun in circles.  

We found the tour guide ready to answer any questions we might have.  

The view was spectacular, even if I was a little (OK a LOT) nervous about the heights!

I didn't LOOK down, but I took a picture of it!
We walked the entire circle, braving the fierce winds on the other side..., then we headed back down to allow the next group to enjoy this primo spot.

We walked back to the Naval Museum... I'm SURE it's colder now than it was.  

We had a nice warm lunch in their restaurant and strolled around looking at all the shiny planes.  

It was amazing that they could get all of these HUGE things into this space!  It kind of had a "New Car Showroom" feel...

We bought tickets to an IMAX show, The Miracle of Flight.  It was awesome!  Parts of it made me feel a little queasy because it was so real.  Too bad no pics allowed!  We got to see how they trained the famous Blue Angels.  I'm amazed how they can teach the body not to black out from forces of gravity!  Just amazing...

We continued on through the exhibit, watching a short film about the first Trans-Atlantic flight.  The plane used was on display... HOW could this thing fly?

I found out something that I did not know about my husband...  He has a surprisingly extensive knowledge of airplanes.  He could name the plane by looking at it before we got to the information placard.  AWESOME.  

He even held his own in conversation with the Tour Guide and I was totally impressed!  

We finished up our stroll through this field of giants with a nice hot piece of apple pie and coffee at the bar.  We had a cold wait at the bus stop in our future and a walk back to the pier from the transfer station... That's all supposing that the bus remembers to come get us!

The bus DID pick us up... The new driver was even aware that we were here.  Public transportation took great care of us today!  We were touched that the new driver even delivered a little Christmas message from our previous bus driver, who got off work at 2pm...  

We were all warm and fuzzy as we walked those blocks back to the Palafox Pier.  The rain held off but it was brrrrr cold as we made it thankfully back to our warm and cozy boat!  

The day had been such fun and we never would have gone without the help from our Facebook Friends!  We'll get the hang of this "adventuring" thing yet, but it's nice to have a helping hand from other Cruisers who have gone before us!  

Here are some more pictures from our day out!

Heading for the Lightkeepers house

The Well

Lightkeeper's house all festive

The Kitchen

Upstairs Living area

Children's Room

Downward Spiral

The view from the window

The last bit before climbing through the floor

Inside the lens

View Left towards Pensacola

View Right, The way we came...

Bruce not worried at all

Pensacola Pass, where we'll pass through on Christmas Day

Tammy, very nervous...

View from the windy side of the NAS

Bruce ready to catch me if I tumble...

The obligatory selfie with the lighthouse

Cockpit of a plane

Amazing wing made of cloth

Inside the big old plane

Outside of that same plane, looks like it's made of corrugated tin!

Fighting Tiger!

Miniature Aircraft Carriers