Friday, November 20, 2015

Carabelle to Steinhatchee

We weren't planning on leaving until this afternoon, so we slept late. Especially after being kept up the the racket from the bar. It was almost 0800 before we dragged ourselves from bed.

Since we made a grocery run yesterday, we had the fixins' for a really good breakfast. Pork sausage, fried egg, and cheese on english muffin breakfast sandwich. We have not eaten this unhealthy in a very long time. And it felt, and tasted, GREAT!  I can see boat living is not going to be good for my waistline.

Bob called a short while later to talk about the weather forecast. It was supposed to be windy this morning, then lay down in the afternoon. But the winds seemed pretty calm right now. Bob wanted to leave now; I wanted to wait until the forcast drop in the wind. I hopped in the dink and went to his boat to discuss it. We finally agreed to leave now and head to Alligator Harbor. If the wind was calmer than forecast then we would continue on to at least Steinhatchee.

By the time I got back to Micrsoship, got the dinghy put up on the boat deck, and got engines warmed up and anchor up, it was 1120. We headed down the river and out into the bay. As we turned east behind Dog Island, the seas were calm. This was looking good. By the time we cleared the east end of the island, it was getting a little rolly. But still not too bad. The decision was made to go for it.

As we headed out through the cut through the reef the seas started ramping up a bit more, but still tolerable. We did decide to limit the crossing to just Steinhatchee, though. As it was, it would be well after dark when we arrived. The number of crab trab floats in that area are legend, and I was not looking forward to trying to dodge what I could not see.

As the afternoon progressed the seas got bigger. We never got truly uncomfortable, the we did have to secure things to keep them from being thrown to the floor. Just before it got dark we started seeing lots of crab floats. This was unexpected, as we were still many miles from short. I decided it was best if I turned on the spotlight and just left it on. I can't begin to count how many floats we dodged over the next few hours. Some were really close calls. In fact, I am not completely sure we made it though unscathed. There were more than a few big thumps against the bottom. I will have to wait for warmer and clearer water so I can dive under the boat to check the shafts for ropes.

Stylist is a much faster boat than us and arrived 45 minutes before we did. Bob called to say the area was thick with crab pots, and be on the lookout for them. We anchored about 3/4 mile away from Stylist, in a bit shallower water. Anchor down at 2110, after a 10 hour run. We were bushed. A little Scotch to unwind, and to celebrate a successful crossing, and then off to bed.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Apalachicola to Carabelle

We were up about an hour before dawn and started getting the boat ready to move. We have been at Saul Creek for a week now and are really looking forward to getting on the move again. Even if we can get only as far as Carabelle.

Sunrise was at 0707, so I started the engines at 0645. It was only 4-1/2 hours to Carabelle but we wanted to get an early start while the wind was calm. We had the anchor up by 0700 and were on our way. Stylist left about 30 minutes later.

As we passed through Apalachicola we could see all the other cruising boats stacked up waiting for a good weather window to continue. There is limited space in Carabelle to anchor out so I was glad to have a chance to get there early. As we entered the bay I saw Stylist on the AIS just pulling into the river.

The wind was calm, and seas flat. Perfect day to make the run. Shortly after we passed through Apalachicola we started hearing all the other boats on the radio as they were getting underway. We had a smooth ride until we got to the pass between St George Island and Dog Island. The big swells from the gulf were rolling through there. I could see huge breaking waves on the other side. We rolled heavily in the beam seas, but it only lasted the 20 minutes or so it took us to cross over to behind Dog Island. I radioed back to let others know to be ready for this. Some of the boats were planning on pushing further past Carabelle, but when they heard the size of the swells they decided anchoring in Carabelle was the better option.

We arrived at the Carabelle River around 1130, and headed up river. Twenty minutes later we had the anchor down near the center of town. An hour later the other boats started arriving and were scrambling to anchor in the two remaining spots. The others ended up having to pay to stay in a marina.

Our friends on Stylist already had reservations to stay at Moorings Marina. They needed water and fuel, and needed to pump out. This worked out nicely for us, as we were able to dinghy in to tie up behind them. We topped off all of our water jugs, made a grocery run to the IGA across the street, and did laundry at the marina. I then walked from one end of town to the other to go the the sole liquor store. Only to buy the most expensive bottle of cheap vodka I have ever purchased. I think our liquor re-provisioning will have to wait until we can buy at more sane prices.

We spent a pleasant evening with Bob & Gail, and they fixed dinner for us. We got home late and went straight to bed. We were serenaded to sleep by the live music from the eclectic local bar about 50 yards from us. Then the music ended a 0100 and the redneck brawls began. That lasted until around 0300, and it was finally quiet.

The weather looks like we might be able to leave tomorrow afternoon and make a short run to Alligator Harbor. We can stage there for the crossing to Steinhatchee or Cedar Keys.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

So much for monotony!

We ended up staying at Saul Creek for another two days. But it was anything but boring! The wind speed climbed even higher, and changed direction. For the worst. We had been well protected from the north wind, but were now getting blasted by an east wind. As the section of creek we were anchored in was oriented east-west, we were open to the full force of the wind.

We were swinging from bank to bank in the wind. M/V Stylist was doing the same. Sometimes we would get within 30-40' feet of each other. I finally decided the safest thing to do was to pull up the anchor and move a bit further away. I made the mistake of thinking I could let out a little extra chain when we re-anchored, since Stylist was now further away.

During the night the wind got even stronger. I could hear the aluminum framework on the bridge thrumming as it vibrated in the wind. This usually happens once the wind is around 40 mph. But the anchor seemed to be holding well, as it always does. We went to bed and slept pretty well.

When we got up the next morning I noticed that Stylist was gone!  I knew they would not leave in the middle of the night unless something serious had happened. Bob had mentioned that if he had any problems with his anchor holding he was going to move further back in the creek. I was going to get the coffee going then hop in the dinghy to go look for him.

I walked on the back deck to get the dinghy ready, and got a real shock. The stern of Microship was up in the trees near the bank!!  The extra chain I had let out had allowed us to swing too close to the bank. Some of the trees had large branches that extended out 10-20' over the water. We had apparently been swinging under those branches for a while. They scratched up the back of the boat, ripped our flagstaff and mount right off (there goes the flag I rescued last week!), and picked up the spreader bar for hoisting the dinghy and dragged it across the cockpit. Then it rested on the opposite side, just rubbing up and down against the bulwarks and scratching the heck out of it. How the heck did we sleep through all this??

I winched in some chain and got us pulled out of the trees. Then I decided to get the anchor up and to move further back in the creek myself. As we went around the bend, there was Sylist. We went a short distance past them and dropped anchor.

I put Duke in the dinghy and went to see if I could find the flag. Perhaps it had gotten caught on one of the branches. No luck, the current had taken it. As I was returning Bob came out of his boat and motioned me over. I asked what happened that made him move in the night. He said they woke up and saw my anchor light through their stateroom window. The way we were anchored, that should not have been possible. He rushed up on deck, and found we were less than 20' from his boat. He decided he must be dragging his anchor, as we were barely moving. He was surprised to hear we ended up in the trees, as we were rock solid in the middle of the creek when they moved around 2030.

We ended up moving even further up the creek to stay out of the wind. But the wind is finally supposed to subside tomorrow, so we are planning to make the run to Carabelle at first light.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Saul Creek monotony

We're still stuck at Saul Creek. The wind has been blowing 20-25 knots since Friday. Today is Monday. The forecast says we might get a break Thursday, then high winds again Friday into at least next Wednesday.

This is a great place to ride it out. We barely feel the wind tucked in between the trees here. But the view is getting a bit monotonous. In addition, hunting season opened last Saturday so boats are zooming past all day. There is not a lot of room here so they pass within 20-30' without slowing. Constant wakes.

We have no cell phone signal here. Zero. Phone just says "No  service". Even with the signal amplifier turned on. The Verizon MiFi gets one bar of a 1X signal; the slowest connection possible, short of none. So just sufficient to do email, do blog updates (occasionally), and check weather reports.

I know it sounds like I am complaining, but I'm really not. This is a beautiful spot and I'm thankful to be here. It's relaxing, and the night sky is to die for. It just feels strange being so disconnected.

If anyone needs to contact us, email is the only way.

Paula and I did make a trip into Apalachicola Friday evening. It's about a 30 minute dinghy ride. We had to get our fix of some of the best raw oysters in the world. Boss Oyster restaurant has their own specially outfitted boat that harvests oysters every day. They are refrigerated immediately, on the boat, then brought to the restaurant. I have never tasted fresher, or saltier, oysters. Since we are going to be stuck here until at least Thursday we may have to make a repeat trip... or two!

It was well after dark by the time we finished eating and headed back. I had my MarineBeam spotlight so had no problem following the navigation markers home. But it was darn chilly!

The next day, Bob, on Stylist, mentioned he was having problems with their laptop. I decided to volunteer my services to fix it. It turned into a very pleasant afternoon visit. We returned to pick up Paula so we could all chat. Gail made a big pot of clam chowder for a mid afternoon snack. We ate, drank beer, and got to know each other. Bob ferried us home as it got dark.

So here we sit for the foreseeable future. I can think of worst spots to be!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Pearl Bayou to Saul Creek

We were up early, as usual, but Bob & Gail still managed to beat us out of the anchorage by 30 minutes. They were heading out at 0550, we followed at 0620. It was looking like another beautiful day.

As you head east from Panama City there is another long, narrow stretch of the ICW. It is very scenic, and we usually don't see any tows in this section. And we did not today, I am happy to say. We made good time, and passed the Gulf Outlet Canal by around 1215. This is the canal that leads down to Port St. Joe. On our normal cruises we would divert here to spend a night or two at the marina there. It is very nice, there are big grocery and sporting goods stores within two blocks. Better yet, one of our favorite Mexican restaurants is only about six blocks away. But we are on a mission to get down to the Keys, so no diversions this time.

We passed White City a short while later. There is not much here except a big highway bridge, and a public boat launch with a small park. There is room along a bulkhead for a couple of larger boats to tie up, for free. But it is very basic, no power or water. Still, I had considered stopping here for the night when I was planning the trip. However, it was only 1230 and I did not want to stop that early. We had plenty of time to make it to Apalachicola.

I checked the weather forecast to see if there was any chance we could make the crossing from Apalachicola or Carabelle to the west coast of Florida. The big bend area is too shallow to stay close to shore, so you just have to cut across over to Steinhatchee, Cedar Keys, or Tarpon Springs. Depends on how long you want to run.

The wind was forecast to start blowing Friday, 20-25 knots, and do that for the next several days. I decided we would anchor in Saul Creek, just off the Apalachicola River, about 5 miles north of Apalachicola. Great protection from wind. It is in the middle of the swamps, very isolated, and beautiful,

Bob abandoned his plan of staying at a marina in Apalachicola when friends staying there told him what they were paying. Since he would need to pay to stay for up to a week before the wind subsides, he opted to anchor out with us.

They arrived first and anchored at the mouth of the creek waiting on us. We arrived about 45 minutes later, at 1300. I eased past them and led them back to where the creek splits and is big enough for two boats to anchor. We were secure by 1320 and settled in for the duration.

Bob immediately launched their dinghy to head into Apalachicola. They wanted to go visit their friends, make a grocery and liquor store run, and check out the town. They had not returned by dark and I was concerned. They had never been here before and would be running down an unfamiliar river in a pitch black night. They finally made it back at 2100, more than a little tipsy. We had asked for some limes so they motored over to deliver them. They also brought a gift for Duke, a large box of Milk Bones. Duke approved!

They retired to their boat. I watched to be sure they made it aboard safely, then went to put the limes to good use. Dark & Stormy's, here I come! :)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Ft Walton to Pearl Bayou

After the fiasco at the Ft. Walton docks last night, we were well and truly happy to be underway this morning, and we left the dock at 0630. The winds were light enough that we considered going offshore at Destin to run outside to Panama City. But, the weather gods can be fickle, and I did not feel like getting beat up if the winds suddenly picked up.

As we entered Choctawhatchee Bay a small trawler blasted past us. It was the C-Dory 25’ trawler that had been at the docks with us last night. He had been awakened by the ruckus on the dock, too. There was a bit of a chop on the bay and he eventually had to slow down. The pounding was just too much for him. We hardly felt it, and I was glad we had stayed on the inside.

While it was overcast and cool this morning, it turned into a beautiful, sunny day later. It warmed up to around 70 degrees with a light breeze. It took us about 3-1/2 hours to get across Choctawhatchee Bay. By 1000 were entering the narrow ICW between Choctawhatchee Bay and West Bay near Panama City.

This section is quite narrow in places, and is often transited by tows (tugs pushing barges). It can be a bit harrowing when needing to pass them, especially in the many bends in the channel. We had a few tense moments when passing a tow with fully laden fuel barges. I was coming up on his stern as he was approaching a bend in the channel.  I called the tug captain on the radio and asked which side he would like me to pass him on, and did he want me to wait until we got through the turn ahead. He responded to come on ahead, pass him on his port (left) side. He was going to favor the outside of the bend (right side of the channel) so I would have plenty of room. He was doing 4.5 knots, and I was doing 6.5. As the tow was three barges long it was going to take me a while to creep past him.
All was well until I got about half way past him. Then he started to creep to the left and crowd me against the bank.  As anyone who has been around tows knows, these guys suck all the water out of the banks as they pass, and then it rushes back in. This was beginning to happen directly below me, and the depth dropped from 12’ to 7’ in a matter of seconds. We only need 5’, but in anything less than 7’ the boat gets squirrelly at cruising speeds. This is because the stern squats a bit at speed, and in less than 7’ the rudders get very close to the bottom. The flow of water over the rudders gets very turbulent, the net result is they become much less effective. What this meant for me now was the bow was veering off towards the barges!  I swung the wheel hard to the left and then we were veering towards the bank.  This nerve racking cycle went on for several agonizing minutes as I ever so slowly moved ahead of the tow. I swear I could hear that captain laughing as he watched me spinning the wheel from side to side. 

I must say this is not our usual experience with passing tows. In situations like this the tug captain usually throttles back to allow us to get past him quicker, and reduce the chance of sucking us into the side of one of the barges.  Earlier in the day I heard other boats talking to the tug and this was what the captain offered to do. But they must have had a shift change, as the guy I talked to was not the same voice I heard earlier. But, all’s well that ends well. We made it past safely, and I only peed myself once. J

We finally exited the narrow ICW channel around 1300 and entered West Bay, just west of Panama City. As we entered open water we got a radio call from a boat coming up behind us. He kindly offered to give me a slow pass if I would throttle back to allow him to come around. This is always much appreciated, as it minimizes the wake these fast boats throw. I pulled back to idle and he came past us with very little wake. Once ahead he opened it up. When I saw the wake he left I was doubly happy of his considerate action.

That happiness was to be short lived, however. A large, fast moving blob appeared at the top of the radar screen, headed directly at us. It was about three miles away. I grabbed the binoculars and scanned the horizon. There!  A very large sport fishing boat, at least 50’, was heading right at us. Even at this distance I could see the tremendous wake he was throwing, at least 6’. This was not going to be pretty. I called repeatedly on the radio to request a slow pass, but no answer.  I warned Paula, cooking in the galley, to secure as much as she could as we only had a couple of minutes. I checked the chart and saw that depths outside the channel were increasing, so I started angling out to put as much distance between us as I could. He passed us about 50 yards away, never slowing. It was close enough that I could hear the high pitched whine of the engine turbo chargers. I turned directly away from the wake in an attempt to outrun it, but that was a wasted effort. At least it had dropped to only 3’ by the time it caught up to us. I made a hard u-turn so we could take it directly on the bow. I heard a couple of crashes from below, but not too bad. Its guys like this that gives sport fishers a bad rep.

As I looked astern for the sport fisher, I noticed that Bob and Gayle, on M/V Stylist, had caught up to us. They were still at the dock when we left this morning. But they cruise around ½ to ¾ knot faster than us so can cover a bit more ground each day. They passed us as we neared Panama City. We chatted on the radio and Bob said they were planning on staying in Smack Bayou. I warned him there was only room for 1-2 boats in there, and the entrance channel was very narrow. He said the guide book said how scenic it was and he was going to give it a try. I told him we were going about 30 minutes further to Pearl Bayou. It is much larger, room for at least a dozen boats, and easy to get into.
I had considered stopping for fuel in Panama City. Not that we needed any, but the two city marinas had the best prices we had seen since leaving Mississippi. I could probably squeeze in two hundred gallons. But I got an email from a fellow boater saying the best prices could be had at a fuel dock in Ft. Myers Beach. I have twice as much fuel as I need to get that far so just decided to wait.

As we passed Smack Bayou I saw Stylist heading in. He got right up to the narrow entrance channel then did a quick 180 and headed back out. He called me and said there were already two sailboats in there, and he felt the entrance channel was too narrow for his 50’ boat. He was going to proceed to Pearl Bayou and would meet me there.

We arrived at 1530, a few minutes after they did, and found it just as we remembered if from our last visit five years ago. There were only two sailboats here, one obviously derelict. But there was more than enough room and we dropped the hook a short distance from Stylist. This is a beautiful spot, surrounded by a thick forest of pines and oaks.  We often see bald eagles here. There is a recreation area at the entrance, but that is part of Tyndall Air Force Base, as is all the surrounding land. It is generally very quiet, but there is occasional jet traffic.

We watched a beautiful sunset, ate dinner, and went to bed. After all the racket from skate boarders and pissed off ex-husbands last night, we were looking forward to a quiet night at anchor, and a good nights sleep!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Ft. Walton

I was up at 0500 hours and getting the boat ready for first light departure. The free city docks in Ft. Walton are popular, and there are only six slips available, plus the T-head dock with room for two boats. I wanted to get there early so we could get a spot. Only 3-4 of the available spots are deep enough for our boat.

We were out of the anchorage by 0600 and cooked breakfast along the way. Fresh baked biscuits and scrambled eggs. I’m really spoiling Paula. Nothing new there, though!

We arrived in Ft. Walton an hour later, and it looked like a sailboat was already on the T-head dock, our preferred spot. But it turns out that it was just anchored a short distance away. There was quite a current flowing from astern, but we eased in and moved as far to the end as we could, so there would be room for someone to dock behind us. Got tied up, and called the City Manager’s office to let them know we would be staying the night, as required. The stay is free, but you can stay only one night. They then call the police department to alert them of your presence. They come down later and just chat, and make sure everything is okay.

I was happy to see the police regularly coming to the small park adjacent to the docks. I had read reports of vagrants hanging out there, and that turned out to be the case. They ran several off over multiple visits.

Paula walked to the nearby Publix to do a bit of grocery shopping while I did boat chores. When she got back we filled the water tank and sun shower bag. We tested the water and found 130 TDS, which is very good for tap water. So we also filled all of our empty water bottles. There is no power available on the docks, but that was not a problem. The solar panels are having no problem meeting our power needs, so the batteries don’t need charging. The new 12VDC refrigerator means we use very little power overnight, so the solar panels can replenish the batteries in a few hours each morning.

There were more than a dozen restaurants within a few blocks of the docks. We took the opportunity to get off the boat and have a meal out. Excellent Mexican fare, fish (amberjack right off the boat) tacos for me, and shrimp chimichurri tacos for Paula. 

There were two sailboats moored in the slips. They appeared to have been here for far more than one night. One was definitely a derelict boat, it had no mast, all the handrails were broken off, and the window frames were sealed with black duct tape. There was about three inches of barnacles growing on the hull. Much to our surprise, a youngish couple got off the boat a short while later and left.
Later that afternoon, another trawler arrived. M/V Stylist, a 50’ Carver, owned by a couple who hail from New Hampshire, but now live in Sebastian, FL. They had purchased the boat in July and brought it down the river system, through Mobile, and were on their way around FL to the Sebastian on the east side. Nice folks, we chatted about our respective cruising plans.

A short while after they arrived a young police officer came by to check on everyone. He acknowledged they had been made aware of our arrival that morning. He said that someone had called to complain about the derelict boats in the slips and asked if that had been us. I told him that when I was accepting someone’s hospitality, especially when it’s free, I was not about to complain about anything. He laughed, and said they had been trying to find out who owned the derelict boat next to us. It had been there for months. We mentioned we had seen a young couple get off the boat that morning. He gave us his card and asked we contact the police dept. should we see them again.
An hour or so later, while Bob (from Stylist) and I were chatting on the dock, the girl who got off the derelict boat that morning walked down the dock and boarded the boat. Paula saw her and immediately contacted the police. They were there within minutes and started questioning her. Little did we know what the consequences of this would be later tonight.

As it started getting dark we decided to splurge one more time, and walked up to a small pub a block away. The reviews on the food were good, and accurate. We had a great meal, and some good draft beer from a local craft brewery. Home by 1830, watched a little TV, and in bed by 2100.
I slept fine until a loud noise woke me at 0300. It kept repeating, so I came up to the deck to see what it was. There was band of several teenagers riding their skateboards up and down the boardwalk, and doing jumps over some tree roots that crossed it. Clackety, clackety, clack… THUMP!!  Over, and over, and over, all while they were snapping photos with their cell phones. This went on for over an hour. Finally, they left, and we had blissful silence again.

I was just drifting off when I heard loud voices, very close by. Lots of cursing and shouting. Again I got up to see what was going on. At first, I could not determine where the noise was coming from. I initially thought it was from a nearby condo. But then I heard a loud smack and someone cry out. It was on the other sailboat in the slips! We had seen an older gent board it this afternoon, but now I was hearing two men and a woman. It was a very small sailboat, perhaps 24’. It was bouncing around like crazy as they struggled inside. More smacks, and the woman cried out.  Next thing I know all kind of stuff is getting thrown off the boat; clothes, shoes, a purse, coats, etc. Then the young guy who got off the other sailboat this morning climbed off this other boat. He had an armload of sleeping bag, clothes, and pillows, and proceeded to throw them on the derelict boat. At this point I felt justified in calling the police. They had requested we contact them if anyone boarded the boat, after all.

I spoke with the dispatcher for several minutes, explaining the situation. She asked some questions and then said they would send someone down. The officer was there in no more than 5 minutes. The older woman on the sailboat rushed out and started screaming at the officer that it was all his fault. It turns out that the girl the police had questioned that afternoon had spilled the beans on the guy with her. So he could not return to the derelict boat and had to bunk on the other sailboat. The older woman was apparently his ex-wife living on the boat with another guy. What a soap opera!

We decided an early departure was called for and got the heck out of there. Now I remember why we prefer a quiet anchorage to a dock, even if free. As we left, the woman was standing on the dock looking at all her worldly belongings floating away.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Spectre Island

Awoke this morning to find the wind still howling, as forecast. So we accepted the fact that we would be here another day. Not that it is a bad place to be, with miles of snowy white beach all to ourselves!
At least, we thought we would have it to ourselves. It was Monday, a workday for most folks, and the weather was cool, overcast, and very windy. But at around 1300 hours a brave soul showed up with his kite sail kit. He was alone, and struggled for a good while to get his kite inflated and flying. But soon he was whipping across the waves. He was not nearly as good as some of the guys that were here yesterday, but he made some halfhearted attempts at getting airborne. He lasted all of 45 minutes before packing it in. I don’t know if he was just too cold, frustrated, or both.

As he was leaving we noticed the wind dropping a bit. The waves were also getting smaller. We had a serious itch to move on so pounced on the chance to get out of here a day early. In short order we had the anchor up and were motoring out to the ICW.

It was only about three hours to Spectre Island, our next planned anchorage. We considered stopping in Navarre for our traditional provisioning stop at the Winn Dixie there. It is easy to get to… just drop anchor right off the beach and walk across the street. But, we did not need much, and planned on spending the night in Ft. Walton tomorrow, so would get groceries there.

Since we didn’t get underway until just after 1400 hours, it was dark by the time we arrived at Spectre. But radar showed no other boats there, and we have been here so many times it was easy to make my way in. Anchor down and set and we were having our evening libations by 1800 hours.

We had a very peaceful night. It was nice not to hear the wind howling through the aluminum framework on the bridge. There were minimal flight operations at nearby Hurlbert Field, very unusual, and I only heard a couple of MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft departing in the night. No gunnery practice at the range, either

No pictures to post yet, as we still don’t have good enough internet access.