We leave Pearl Bayou and stop at a marina for fuel and then head on. The sun is shining and the wind is calm. We can travel without coats for a while. West Bay has hardly a ripple as we cross. Schools of bait fish are being driven by predators below. The tiny fish sometimes leap out of the water in their frenzy. This attracts birds which pounce from above.
We leave the bay to find ourselves back in Montana. Pine trees resembling Ponderosas grow to the shoreline of the river.
Leaving the river has us crossing a much larger bay. Breezes and lowering temperatures draw the coats back on. There are several groups of 5 or 6 power boats formed in lines scattered across the bay. At some unknown signal, a line will race away, then shortly another, then another. Helicopters circle and chase, occasionally dipping low. Fighter jets cross back and forth overhead. One boat pulls alongside us and asks us where we are going. We explain and are told to not change course. We are in the middle of a military exercise. No other explanation is given. We get the impression they are practicing interdiction of terrorists attempting attacks in small high speed boats.
The activity provides a distraction from the monotony of again powering into a headwind in the cold. We travel as long as we can and end up anchoring in Toms Bayou in Destin after dark. We almost feel our way in using our depth sounder. A flashlight can barely light up the next mark…sometimes. Some marks are found by watching ahead for a post sized shadow passing backlight from local dining room windows. Anchor down, a bite of dinner and sleep.
Next day, Thursday 12 Feb, 2015, we are again off and motoring. The wind gradually builds during the day, out of the west which is the direction we are headed. I barely glance at the larger map and assume we have about 80 miles to go to our friend’s dock. Weather is to deteriorate tonight and be poor for several days. Higher winds and lower temperatures are forecast. Night time temperatures below freezing make me wish we were going to be in Chico Bayou tonight with our little space heater plugged into shore power.
The day is pretty but cold. Barbara provides a surprise mid afternoon. She has given the charts more than a quick glance and discovers I’ve made an error and we are much closer to our destination than I had guessed. If all goes well we can be there by late afternoon!
My unstudied distance error is not the first of the day. The second occurred about 3 o’clock. I had no electronic chart at the helm nor had I taken the paper chart out into the wind. After all, we are just traveling line of sight from sign post to sign post. I am tired. The sun is in my eyes. My sunglasses have a light coating of dried salt spray. (I’m hoping to come up with more excuses!) I don’t see the next sign post, but we are approaching the last bridge under which we will pass on this trip and I’m lined up for the tallest center span.
I run aground. I’ve run outside the last mark onto a shoal. The last mark before the bridge was not a tall signpost 14 feet above the water for which I was searching. It was a green “can” buoy on the water and off to starboard of where we sat. I try to get us off the shoal under power with no success. We discuss options of kedging off or raising the sails to heel us over to reduce our draft. We talk about waiting for a higher tide to help lift us off. The sails could push us to shallower water. Kedging would mean re-launching the dinghy, lowering the anchor and chain and rode into the dinghy, choosing what we hop would be the shortest path to deeper water, taking the dinghy as far as possible in that direction and dropping the anchor, head back to the boat and start hauling in the anchor, hoping it set and pulled us towards it. Most boaters know what kedging is, but I’ve included this description for our non-boating followers and as a reminder of how time consuming it would be.
Yes, we could have gotten ourselves off the shoal, but waiting for the tide would have taken a long time and might not have been enough lift. Raising sails could have made the situation worse. Kedging was going to take quite a bit of time and we were running out of daylight. I swallowed my pride and called TowBoatUS. After all, isn’t this the reason I purchased the Gold Unlimited Towing membership level?
In a little over an hour, our savior arrives, ties onto us and has us floating free again. He is very nice, professional and helpful. We are grateful.
I am reminded of a book we read several years ago. I believe the title was “Desperate Journey”. He told about his adventures and mis-adventures as a beginning sailor. It is not deathless literature, but interesting and somewhat entertaining. In it he tells of all the happenings, good and bad. We found ourselves asking why he would include some of the things he did which seemed dumb or foolish to us. He didn’t have to include them and thereby show his ignorance or foolishness. Nobody would ever have known. It did, however, reveal what actually happened and showed his human failings. It was part of his journey. And so was my grounding for us.
We cross Pensacola bay and head into Chico Bayou just after sunset. By the time we see one of our friends waving her arms at the end of her dock, it is shades of gray. We turn into the dock, tie up and step off to hugs. We’ve made it. We shall not freeze tonight.