e stayed three days at Turner Marine on the Dog River off Mobile Bay south of Mobile proper waiting out the cold and rain. From there we moved on to a marina in Orange Beach, AL called The Wharf. This place was deluxe and we met several Loopers with whom we have traveled. From there we moved on to a marina (Palafox) in downtown Pensacola. This part of the route, from Orange Beach to Pensacola, is fairly narrow and abounds with dolphin. We had a number of them swimming alongside surfacing for air and continuing to run with us.
Palafox was not inexpensive but worth the price because of its location. Pensacola is a good-sized city and its downtown is lined with upscale shops and restaurants. We stayed for five nights, longer than we would have wanted but, again, the weather dictated our sailing plans. We took in the local sights including a fine museum. We also experienced
McGuire’s Pub to which we had to take Lyft but it was well worth it. This place was recommended to us by a friend and, even though it was not convenient to the docks, we decided to give it a try. The restaurant is very large but it is divided up into rooms, each with about eight booths giving the experience an intimate feel. The walls are plastered with photos of celebrities (John McCain at the entrance) and Blue Angels artifacts. On the ceilings are 1.4 million, yes million, one-dollar bills stapled in place. Our waitress explained that the money is insured and that the serial number of each bill is documented once per year. Plus, the food and beer, Irish ales brewed on site, is very good.
The route from Pensacola to Carrabelle passes by Panama City and Mexico Beach, the area that was devastated by the recent hurricane. The waterway we traveled was inland from these beach towns but the power of the wind from this storm was evident all along the waterway. We saw many homes, large and small, with “blue roofs”, roofs covered with blue tarps. And the tall pines, mile after mile of trees broken in half like matchsticks with the vegetation mostly stripped away. It was frightening just looking at the damage.
Carrabelle – this is the staging point for making the 170-mile, 24-hour, overnight passage on the Gulf of Mexico to Tarpon Springs. From Pensacola it took five days to get to Carrabelle. The passage was pleasant and uneventful and unremarkable. To cross the gulf a boater must wait for a forecast of 48 hours of good weather (moderate wind and waves). We waited five days in Carrabelle for a good enough forecast.
Well, the forecast was for flat seas most of the way with some building of wind and waves toward the end – in daylight. The forecast turned out to be inaccurate to say the least. We left Carrabelle at 10:30am. For twelve hours the water was benign. Then the wind and seas began to build, quickly. By midnight we were rocking and rolling with waves coming at us from the port bow. Fortunately, the waves were not directly on our beam (from the side) so we rolled side-to-side infrequently. The waves were three-to-four feet which, for our boat, generally, do not make for an uncomfortable ride. However, these waves were short-period waves, waves that come one after the other very quickly. This made for up-and-down, up-and-down, UP-AND-DOWN. A big up-and-down hit us every third or fourth set of waves. From midnight to first light (7:00am) we were unable to move around the boat without holding onto something firmly. Sometimes, we had to crawl on the floor to safely reach the head (bathroom). So, we hung on, watching the radar. We were mostly alone on the water. Once in a while we caught a glimpse of a boat’s running lights far off. Gloria does not get seasick. John rarely is affected but on this night, not so much but it was brief, and after dinner went down the sink drain, no more sickness which was a big surprise. It was a VERY uncomfortable ride. Gloria was frightened. John was not but certainly concerned.
When dawn came we were coming into range of a land mass which shielded the wind and the seas started to lay down. At the same time we began to encounter crab traps which must be avoided lest their float lines get wrapped around propellers. We had that heard this area, the off-shore approach to Tarpon Springs, is lousy with crab traps. It was not, at least as compared to the number of traps boaters see in the rivers and bays of Chesapeake Bay, not even close. The traps here were infrequent and set relatively far apart such that they are easily avoided. On the Chesapeake, sometimes avoiding traps is like running a slalom course. Ho-hum on the traps here. One not ho-hum was the fact that our dinghy, which hangs on a davit off the stern, was damaged significantly, probably a total loss. The lines securing the dinghy loosened during the night letting the dinghy to swing fore and aft and crash into the swim ladder. Being of fiberglass construction (think Boston Whaler) about a two-foot section of the rail disintegrated exposing its two-piece construction. Water will get in between and when it freezes will certainly damage the boat even more. Insurance will cover the loss but there is the deductible. Oh well, we got across safely. All else doesn’t matter.
Tarpon Springs – this is where the sponge boats live, boats that go out and harvest natural sponges. Along the river close to the sponge boats is a long street full of tourist shops and Greek restaurants, lots of them. We had dinner at one that was recommended with a friend of John’s from grammar school back in Torrington, CT. The food was terrific, Costas Restaurant. We stayed (are staying) three nights here waiting for the rain to pass by. Last night it rained heavily which was okay with John because it washed of most of the dirt and grime that, somehow, we accumulated on our Gulf crossing. From here we will begin moving south along the west coast of Florida, all in protected waterways, with stops in Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Bradenton, Port Charlotte, Venice, and Fort Meyers before crossing Florida via Lake Okeechobee to Stuart on the east coast.