Friday, February 20, 2015

Human Failings?

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.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

from St. George Island. 10Feb15

Well, the warm and sunny for walks on the beach, etc., didn’t last long.  We awoke to cold, fog and rain.  Charts and a GPS led us to the marks leading towards Apalachicola.  We were about two hours along, cold and wet,

When what to my wondering eyes should appear,

A tiny white skiff and 2 fishermen here!

Hand raking the bottom, fresh oysters to get

Even though they are freezing in the dank, cold and wet.


Two hours more and the rain let up just as we passed through Apalachicola.  We continue up the Apalachicola River and after 3 or 4 miles we have entered another world.  We’ve entered a river in the midst of swamp and marsh land.  Sails would do no good here since there are trees to the edge of the water on both sides, some twice as tall as our mast.  We could be headed up any remote river anywhere.   I’m reminded of Bogart and Hepburn and may just go below and start our fire.

We might just have time traveled back a thousand years or more.  There are no signs of humans here.  No trash in the water or visible on shore, and the only activity we see is turtles by the dozens sunning themselves on partially submerged logs.  The entire time of the river, about 5 hours, we only saw two other boats, not counting the Coast Guard that went by as we dropped anchor.

We cannot go too close to the banks.  If we didn’t hit a submerged log, a tree leaning from shore could tear up our mast.  And where is it that snakes drop out of trees on unsuspecting passersby?

We come to a split in the river.  Which way do we go?  There are no signs or markers.  Fortunately either route works as they merge ahead.

We arrive to cross Lake Wimico.  It is about 6 miles long, 3 miles wide and it seems not much of it is over 2 feet deep.  Stick closely to the narrow channel dredged between the markers.

Past the lake is more swamp country.  As someone who lives where the land and even sometimes the water solid, I could see myself dying if I tried to leave the boat and go cross country.

We glance down a little side channel and just barely make out a floating cabin tied to the trees.  Around another bend, several more are hidden just off the river.  Surely they are just part time hunting and fishing camps for really nice folks.  Deliverance was only a movie.

A tiny house on the bank is our first sign of permanent habitation.  It sits atop pilings.  The little yard is fenced and has not a blade of grass or weed, even under the house.  Chickens.

As we close in on civilization, it is approaching sunset.  We must anchor along the bank.   Two anchors are used, one from the bow and one from the stern.  This keeps us from swinging it towards shore and running aground, or out into the river and being hit.  There is small chance of being hit since we have only seen 3 other boats all day.

The next day is today, 10 February, 2015, a Tuesday.  We head out at about 7:30 AM and in a few minutes it is just after 6:30 AM.  We have crossed from the eastern to the central time zone. 

The morning finds us crossing larger unprotected bays.  Temperature is in the mid 40’s.  We feel head winds of 25 miles per hour and higher gusts.  Small waves throw spray over the bow.  I have seldom been this cold in the winter in Montana.  We decide this is no fun and find an anchorage in Pearl Bayou outside Panama City.  It is nicely protected from the wind and waves.  The sun breaks through and the sky clears.  We whip up a pot of hot chili for lunch.  Even though the winds are supposed to die down some, we decide this will be just right for a relaxing afternoon and night.  We promise to push hard tomorrow!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Why did you come to Florida?

Ahh, now this is why I came to Florida. Sunbathing in the cockpit with refreshing libations, after a long walk on the beach. That was our first walk on the beach this year!  We wonder if the jelly fish purposely go up on the beach to die or were accidently washed up there. Are they dead or going to die, or will they float away when the tide comes in. Questions of life. We also saw horseshoe crab shells and maybe one or two out in the water. Life goes on.

The walk on the beach was after a 30ish hour passage. Two hours on the helm and two hours to sleep?  I encourage all of you to do this just so we can share in our experience. While you are on the helm, be sure to turn down the temperature to 50 degrees, turn a nearby fan on high and stand on a little trampoline. For your two hours of sleep, be in a water bed with someone bouncing the bed around. I just can’t tell you how much fun it is, you must experience it.

Before the passage, we were in Tarpon Springs for a couple days. We have been there a few times and always find it enjoyable.  At first blush it is a quaint little Greek sponging community. That was truly its start. Now it is more like a tourist destination with little boutiques selling shells, sponges and soaps. It must be the cleanest town in Florida. All that being said, we keep going back.

Our original plan was to cross all the way to Pensacola, but weather and our endurance, changed all that. We bailed out early and will probably do the ICW, which will take longer, but will be easier.

Life is good. Hoping yours is also. B

As mentioned in the last post, the passage to Gulfport was cold, rainy and somewhat rocky, but took us to an anchorage just off the municipal dinghy dock.  We were happy just to curl up after dinner and have nothing to do for the evening.

Sean came to visit.  We originally met him during one of our Green Cove Springs stays.  He and his bride drove across the Florida peninsula to GCS twice to see us.  Actually, he was more interested in our old engine as a rebuild for his sailboat.

Sean picked us up at anchor and ferried us into downtown Gulfport for a stroll and them some afternoon refreshments.  We enjoyed both the scenery and the time spent with Sean.  We hoped to see him and his bride again later in the week in Tarpon Springs.  However, the flu laid him low so their visit was cancelled.  By the way, Sean was going to deliver to us some new electronic charts for our cockpit navigation system.  I guess we’ll do it later by mail.  And, if any of you ever need electronic charts, get in touch with me and I’ll give you his contact info. 

After lunch our second day in Tarpon Springs, we untied and headed out to anchor.  It was a blustery afternoon and evening, but the weather was to change overnight.  Next day was to be a 2 ½ day passage to Pensacola, but as Barbara pointed out above, it was cut in half by deciding to go to Apalachicola.  We’ll head on to Pensacola tomorrow, probably by way of the Gulf Intracoastal Water Way.  If we just putz along, it will take 4 days.

Meanwhile, back at the boat, the wine is breathing, dinner is almost done, the sun is shining in a cloudless sky, the beach we walked earlier on St. George Island is visible nearby, and a little light classical music is lending a relaxed atmosphere.  No, we are NOT interested in trading places with anyone!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


Dear friends,

Wow, time goes by quickly when you’re having fun! I think it has been a whole week since we have written to you all. We hope that all is well. We have had nice weather, not too hot, not too cold. Today is a little stormy, but no rain so far. As I write we are circling before the Cortez bascule bridge, which is having some electrical problem and can’t open. We have been going in circles for almost an hour. I might have to ask Reggie to circle the other way, I’m getting a little dizzy.

I think we were in Fort Pierce when we last wrote to you. After leaving there, we went to Cabbage Cay and walked on the nature trail. We learned about some of the native floral and fauna.  We’ve had several opportunities to learn about the floral, but we have a hard time putting that information in our long term storage.  We did not see any of the fauna, which was OK with me. I had no desire to see the rat snake which can grow to be 10 feet long or the indigo snake which can be even bigger. I’m a little surprised I didn’t see one, as I was looking very carefully with each step.  We didn’t see a gopher turtle either, which I would have enjoyed. They live under ground in their burrows. We walked the nature trail two more times at a faster clip to make sure we would be hungry for lunch.  The Old House Restaurant, as the name implies, used to be a house, the former home of the son of mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart.  There were two beautiful fireplaces, which were the only real indications that it was an old house. The walls, ceiling, in fact almost every surface not in use is covered with signed dollar bills. Our 2008 Cruising Guide said there were over 50,000 bills. Lunch was quite tasty. I had shrimp salad and Reggie the steamed shrimp deluxe.

From Cabbage Cay it was a short hop to Cape Haze Marina, where we tied up to their dock. We treated ourselves to real showers and connected to shore power. Shore power enabled us to plug in our electric heater.   Aw, what luxury, and warmth! The highlight of our stay, however, was meeting Pete, the previous owner who was responsible for Submit’s paint job. I think it was the paint that sold us on her as much as anything. Pete was very gracious and did not gasp in dismay when he saw her. She really is due for a new paint job.   We just have to make sure we have moved all of the hardware that we are going to move, so the holes can be covered up.

Next stop, Sarasota. We picked up a mooring ball, as the anchorage was a long way from the dinghy dock.  In the morning, we walked to the Farmers Market, where we purchased srom fresh produce and enjoyed the many and various artisan booths. That afternoon, we caught the bus to the fairgrounds to attend the Celtic Festival. The entertainment included: Celtic square dancing, the telephone pole toss (they were trying to flip it end over end, which none were able to do while we watched), They were also trying to throw a rock on a stick over a pole 18 feet in the air, the hammer throw, which looked more like a big rock on a 4 ft pole, using a discus technique. The last one was another toss over a high pole, but this time they were tossing a small bale of hay with a pitchfork.  We couldn’t help but wonder if the origins of these competitions involved copious quantities of Scotch. We ended our time at the festival with a more gentile competition. Young girls in their clan’s kilts were dancing the jig, sword dance, and some other dances I can’t remember. We didn’t have any idea what the judge was looking for, but we picked our favorites. 

The next day we again took the bus to the Ringling Estate, a 66 acre estate owned by the circus baron, which he donated to the state of Florida.  We visited the Tibbals Learning Center, where there was a huge miniature (think jumbo shrimp) display of a circus, including the kitchen, railway, ‘backyard’ performers tents and of course the big Top.  The next museum was the Original Circus Museum which included costumes, wagons, and their person train coach, which was quite luxurious. After our lunch stop, we went to the Ca’d’Zan, their personal home. See picture.
 A walk through the grounds brought us to the art gallery.  The Ringlings were major art collectors. I was amazed at the paintings they had acquired.  We say original artwork 4-5-6oo years old and older.  All in all it was a fun filled, full day.

I must close now, as poor Reggie was been out in the cold, windy (15-20, gusts to 35. R.), rainy weather all day. (Don’t forget waves and spray over the bow. R.) We are ready to drop anchor in Gulfport. I’ll fix him a hot toddy and then some dinner.

Fair winds and following seas,

Barbara and Reggie.