Sunday, Sarasota, Fl

November 30th, 2008 john

Miles Today:  0   Miles Total:  1121

We stayed the extra day at Marina Jacks due to the weather.  There was a several lines of thunderstorms due to pass our way, and the winds were forecasted to be 30 knots with gusts higher.   This would be a good day to stay tied up.

The guys walked to a small restaurant for breakfast, giving the Admiral some extra well earned beauty sleep.  Then at noon she and I walked into Sarasota and went to church in a beautiful little church about a half mile away.  After church we shopped a little, bought some fancy pastries for the deserts, and then had lunch in a sidewalk café.  When we got back it was time to watch football and relax.  It rained that evening so we decided not to leave the boat.  Barbara whipped up a great spaghetti and salad for dinner and all was well.

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Saturday, Tampa Bay to Sarasota Fl

November 29th, 2008 john

Miles:  24     Total Miles  1121

We left again at a leisurely pace, upping anchor and on our way by 9:00.  Again this would be a short day.  The weather was beautiful. Winds at 10 knots, bright sun.  Barbara, just relaxed and read her book on the back deck while the three gentleman managed the navigation, which actually kept us quite busy.

It was a holiday weekend and the “crazy’s” were out in force.  We had boats going every which a way.  Very few of them showed the courtesies of an experienced boater.  Although the bodies of waters traversed were large and sheltered by out islands, the navigable channels wound all over and required strict attention to the buoys.  You dare not get outside the channel or you are likely to run aground.  In addition you had to pay attention to the speed control signs, no wake, minimum speed, manatee zone, etc.  They are strictly enforced in Florida.

We arrived at our destination marina at just about noon.   Marina Jacks is an upscale marina facility in downtown Sarasota.  Full of big boats!  We entered, wound our way around some of the piers and entered our designated slip with no difficulties.   THAT was a pleasant experience.  The marina is beautiful, with floating docks, water, electricity, cable TV, even a Sunday paper delivered to the boat.  It also has three restaurants in the middle and sits adjacent to a beautiful public park.  It has a tiki bar/nightclub with live music.  All was very pleasant.  We ate a light lunch on board, went for a nice walk, came back and took a nap, then got up and dressed for dinner.

After returning from dinner and another walk around the park, I got on the Internet and checked the weather and found out it was going to be bad then next day.  The decision was easy; we would stay for another day and re-evaluate the weather on Monday.

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Friday, Clearwater to Tampa Bay

November 28th, 2008 john

Miles:  40     Total Miles  1097

We allowed everyone to sleep in, then, leisurely left the dock around 10:00 for a planned short day up the coast.  We had planned to stop at a yacht club that night but when we called we found that they were all full, due to the holiday weekend.  The crew voted to continue on.   We did some quick calculations and figured we could get across Tampa Bay before sunset.  The bay is a very large body of water and it would be good to get across in light winds, for heaver winds were predicted for the remainder of the week.

We arrived at Manatee River off the south shore of the bay at about 4:00 pm, well before dark and anchored in a protected cove just off Desoto National Park.  It was a quiet anchorage, despite the other 20 boats we were sharing it with.   We just tucked in, dropped the anchor, and watched it for about 30 minutes to be sure that we were set.  Meanwhile Barbara put together turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, etc.  This was really roughing it.  I apologized to Barbara that there was no place to plug in her cable TV.  The night was calm with 5 knot winds out of the South.  Barbara’s comment captured it all.  She said, “This looks just like all the Boat US Christmas Cards that we have been sending out for years.”

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Thursday, Thanksgiving Day in Clearwater.

November 27th, 2008 john

Miles:  0     Total Miles  1057

We were amazed at the temperature in Clearwater.   With a breeze it was still cool but a lot warmer then we had experienced on the Northern Gulf coast.  It was time to get off the boat so we called and made reservations for a noon meal at one the few restaurants open for Thanksgiving.  We walked about a mile and a half to the restaurant and ate our hearts out.   They had a big buffet with all the normal holiday trimmings but also had oysters, shrimp, smoked salmon.  What a feast!  During dinner I had to take it easy.  I felt fine the whole crossing but sitting in that restaurant, everything started moving up and down, side to side.   It was amazing.  It is not uncommon to experience that in a marina shower after a long day on the water, but I definitely toned down my eating.  (Maybe a new diet in the making.)

We walked the beach on the way back to the boat and watched all of the snow-birds enjoying the bright sunny day.  Some of them were in the water!   Not me.

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Wednesday, Carrabelle into the Gulf of Mexico

November 26th, 2008 john

Miles:  184     Total Miles 1057

Ok, today is the day for the big “Crossing”.  This is not a part of the trip to be taken lightly.  The Gulf can vary from 1 to 2 foot seas, upward to 20 to 30 foot seas with a norm probably in the 6 – 8 foot range.  It is desirable to find a “buddy boat” that is going your way, but very difficult because of the difference in boat speeds.  This is not a portion of the trip that you are just looking for fuel economy, but one that you want to put behind you as soon as you can.

In May I had to make this same crossing bringing the boat home for the first time.  But in the summer the Gulf is a lot calmer and multi-day weather windows are common.  However in later November, the windows get smaller and not as often. As we had been crossing the northern shore from Mobile to Carrabelle, I had been following all of the marine weather forecasts.  I was hoping to arrive in Carrabelle just as a window was opening.

As I said in my last post, you normally want to plan your trip across the Gulf so that you leave land during daylight hours and arrive on the far shore during daylight hours.  It is not just that it is difficult navigating into a harbor under dark, but the main concern is the crab pots.    These are traps with floating balls at the service, typically laid down in a straight line (to assist retrieval) approximately 100 feet apart.  If you should hit one of these you take a chance of winding it around your prop and there goes an engine, or time for an unwanted cold swim.  I had line cutters installed on the Emery El that hopefully will cut the line if it hits the prop, but the idea is not to test them.

So the plan was to leave around noon and arrive in the morning on the other side.

So much for plans!  We never got a chance to have our morning weather meeting with Buddy.  He came knocking on our hull at 9:00 and said “If you are going to go, you better get going early.”  He had already reviewed the weather maps and saw some indication that the window might close earlier then previously expected. He further advised that we not go straight across but that we go out to the sea buoy, turn left and go east for about 20 miles, then turn southeast for about 60 miles and then south to Clearwater.  This was a longer course than originally planned but would bring us into calmer waters, closer to the “Big Bend” area of Florida and out of the path of the Gulf Stream, trying to avoid bad weather.

An hour and a half later we were shipshape and on our way out.   We had been joined by J.C. Kennedy and John White, both fellow US Coast Guard Auxiliary and US Power Squadron members.  So we were hoping for the best, but prepared for other then the best. (I had to think about how to say that, because you can never be prepared for the worst.) Barbara had cooked a turkey last night and has it ready if we wanted a Thanksgiving meal on the way.  We were ready.   I made up a shift assignment list, putting all four of us on four hour shifts, that is, four hours on, four hour off.  Barbara chose to be an active part of the crossing and she was a champ.  Not only did she do her watch from midnight to 4:00 a.m. but she kept the crew supplied with cheese, crackers, apples, trail mix, etc.  No one wanted to eat a heavy meal. 

We followed Buddy’s course suggestion but cut the corners of each turn as we determined the seas to be soft.  We had a glorious night.  A beautiful sunset, beautiful sunrise and the seas were 2 feet or less the whole way.  The only problem was that since we left earlier then previously planned we were arriving in the dark.  As we got within 30 miles of Clearwater, we just cut back our engines and paralleled the coast, staying in deep water where we hoped there would be no crab traps.  We waited for the sunrise and then headed in.  Believe me, it was a full time job for three of us to miss all of the crab traps.  I would have to go look at my logs, but dock to dock I believe we made it in 23 hours.

We pulled into Clearwater Municipal Marina, had to back in, but made it on the third try.  Secured our boat and gave our thanks.

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Tuesday, Apalachicola to Carrabelle FL

November 25th, 2008 john

Miles Today:  30    Total Miles:   873

We woke up at a leisurely pace this morning and then set sail out the creek into the channel and under the bridge into Apalachicola Bay.  This is a rather large bay and the winds picked up.  The predictions were for 15 to 20 mph winds, but we saw many gusts to 30.   The fetch across the bay was so large that the waves began to build up.  At one point we had 2 to 4 foot waves coming across our beam.  I turned on the stabilizers and off we went.  The stabilizers are big fins that stick out below each side of the boat that are controlled hydraulically.   There is a computer and a gyroscope that control them automatically and they attempt to counteract the roll of the boat. 

The stabilizers did a fine job. We just plowed on forward with barely an occasional spray on the pilothouse windows.  Barbara just sat there writing her blog on the computer throughout the whole day.  It is really amazing what the right equipment can do.

The other amazing thing is that we have rarely been without cell communication.  I added a tall cellular antenna to the boat with a booster and a repeater inside the boat.  Then I purchased an ATT phone and bought Barbara a Verizon phone.  We also have an ATT air-card as well as a Verizon air-card to access the Internet.  This is the modern day, man.  Communications!  THAT MEANS THAT ANY OF YOU CAN GIVE US A CALL AT ANY TIME, to keep us in good spirits.  John: 901-277-8208   Barbara: 901-237-7896

Ah, sorry, I digress.   We crossed Apalachicola bay and then went through St Georges sound.  There we entered the Carrabelle River and wound our way to the Moorings Marina at Carrabelle.   Now here was the real test.  We had 20 mph winds, and a 1 knot cross current and had to back into a slip that was less then 12 inches wider then our boat.  I am not kidding. It took me three tries, but I finally leaned it up against a pylon and slid her the rest of the way in.  They had a very good person on the dock and he help immensely.

Once we were secure, Barbara and I just looked at each other and shook our heads.  So far I can truly say that every day is a new experience.

I walked over to the marina office where I met “Bud”.  He is the man I have been reading about for several years in all of the blogs.  He is the authority on “weather windows”.  After about an hour discussion, he agreed that tomorrow afternoon looks to be the start of a window.

In the mean time, I have two very good boating friends who are driving down from Memphis tonight to join us on the crossing.   They are both very experienced and I am looking forward to their visit.  Everything is subject to the final decision to be made tomorrow morning, after a meeting with Bud, reviewing the latest weather information released at 8:00 a.m.  But it looks like tomorrow is the day.  If it is we will depart somewhere between 12:00 noon and 2:00pm, journey all night on a course direct to Clearwater Fl with a planned arrival late morning.  I am estimating it to be about a 20-21 hour trip.  The idea is to leave one coast in daylight and arrive on the other coast in daylight.  You especially need daylight to be able to drive around the thousands of crab traps that line the coast up to 25 miles out.  

If you are interested in following our progress, I have a satellite tracking device that works on the web.  (If I remember to turn it on).  It sends out a tracking fix every ten minutes for 24 hours.   You can see it on the web at

http://share.findmespot.com/shared/gogl.jsp?glId=00lRVvfGfeDB94RaD9oEjVVYshIf3OqrQ

One of these days I will add it to my website for you all to use a bit easier.

Till the next shore.

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Monday, Panama City to Apalachicola FL

November 24th, 2008 john

Miles Today:  65    Total Miles: 843

We had originally planed to stop at St Joe’s but after doing some additional planning we decided to bite the bullet and to directly to Apalachicola.  This would be one of our long days, so up at 5:00 and off the dock at 6:05, well after twilight but just before sunrise at 6:15. Barbara has not been known as a “morning” person, but she was a good sport and was up on the top deck taking pictures of the sunrise as we departed.  It was spectacular.  But of course every sunrise and sunset is spectacular.

We crossed the remainder of Panama Bay, East Bay and then into the river and canal section.  In the afternoon we were passed by one cruising boat and as he went by I noticed that his hailing port was Germantown, TN.  I reached him on the radio and we exchanged pleasantries for several minutes and then he went on his way.  People are just very friendly on the water.

In late afternoon, we arrived in Apalachicola and turned into Cipio Creek and pulled into Deep Water Marina.   It turned out not be a marina, but a condo/hotel with slips, but the location was right down town and very convenient.  Getting into the slip was tricky, but after a little struggle we made it.

Downtown Apalachicola is darling, with little shops, restaurants and nautical antiques.  It is the oyster capital of Florida. It ia a place where you could easily spend a couple of days.  We had a great meal down on the waterfront then walked back to the boat for a good evenings rest.

 

We could have stayed another day, but I looked at the weather, which has been cold front after cold front.  However the weather started to look good  at least from a Gulf crossing perspective if not from a temperature one.  If we could leave and go onto Carrabelle, we might just be in time for a weather window, to cross the Gulf.

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Sunday, Niceville to Panama City

November 23rd, 2008 john

Miles Today:  59.1    Total Miles: 778

After two days of no travel, we got up early in the morning and carefully extracted ourselves from the charming Bluewater Bay Marina in Niceville.  The wind was blowing firmly but we carefully maneuvered though the rows of boats, made our turns and went out the tricky channel.   We were on are way again and it did feel good.  Under the bridge and out into the big bay we went, heading for Panama City.

The day was brisk, but comfortable in our pilothouse.  It required constant navigation, even with all the charts and electronics that we have.  It was just a very winding channel of buoys and sometimes they were miles apart.  You dare not venture out of the channel, for you could see birds standing  in the water, just outside the channel. Always a bad sign!

We did see an abundance of dolphins.  We all call them dolphins, however they really are porpoises.  They are big and very friendly.   They would come in pairs, heading exactly straight at the bow of the boat.  Then at the last minute they would disappear.  Barbara kept trying to get pictures of them, but they were very shy.  I was laughing, for each time she brought the camera out, they would duck under.

Then Barbara went out to our bow and looked way over the front down to the water. For those of you that have not seen the Emery El, her bow leans way out over the water and is up very high.  Anyway, when she looked down there were two or three dolphins, swimming in our bow wake, right at the front of the boat.  She got some great pictures of them just under the water, running just at the front of the boat.  One of these days I will get the pictures posted to the website for all to see.

We arrived at our destination, St Andrews.  This is a very nice public marina in Panama City.  We tied up and then went for a walk all through old town Panama City.  The only bad news was that all of the restaurants were closed on Sunday.  We returned to the boat and Barbara cooked up a great meal and we were comfortable in our little home on the water.

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Friday, Niceville, FL

November 21st, 2008 john

Miles Today:  0  Total Miles: 718.9

The night was fitful.  A cold front came through, the winds shifted out of he north and they blew.  I was up several times trying to adjust dock lines.  At five in the morning, I got onto my computer and checked the weather.  It was to blow 20 mph winds today, (I was to see 28 mph) and I can just imagine trying to get out of this harbor in those winds.  We made an executive decision.  We’re staying.  In fact we are staying two more days due to the forecasted winds.  There really is no reason why we could not have departed.  We just figured; “why push it”.  This whole trip is supposed to be laid-back and fun.

Barbara called and rented an Enterprise car.  They came and got us and we were off exploring.  We went out to Destin, shopped a little, had a great dinner on the beach, then returned to our snug little boat for the evening.  The cold front was really cold, it went down into the 20’s.  The next morning we went shopping again, as in food store, hardware store, etc.  Then we returned the car and were driven back to our boat.

In the late afternoon we met a delightful couple in the next boat.  I really wish we could keep the friendship longer, but we are off again tomorrow for our continued adventure.

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Thursday, Pensacola to Niceville FL

November 20th, 2008 john

Miles Today:  53  Total Miles: 718.9

It was windy in the morning as we slipped the lines on the dock at Palafox Pier Marina in Pensacola.  We had to back out of the harbor, then rotate 180 degrees and leave.  All went well, but it still raised the adrenaline.  Just as we were backing out, an 80 foot yacht also started to depart.  The captain saw me coming and kept his boat on the dock with both bow and stern thrusters until I passed safely.  I waved a big thanks as we went by.

It was one of our longer days but it went well.  We saw dolphins on our bow several times but each time I grabbed the camera and got outside they were gone.

We transited the “narrows” section with no problem but it took constant attention. It may be a wide body of water, however only a narrow channel is navigable.  The channel wondered left and right.  It was just a matter of understanding the charts, the buoys, and keeping a good lookout.   The wind picked up, but I turned on our “stabilizers”, fins on each side of the boat to take the rolling motion out.  They worked great.

Then we passed the inlet between Fort Walton Beach and Destin FL and the water was totally green.  We chose not to stop at either city but to continue down the Choctawhatchee Bay.  We chose a marina on the north shore away from all of the hubbub. We crossed the bay and entered Rocky Creek Bayou and into Bluewater Bay Marina.  It is a quaint little marina that I had stayed at last spring when bringing the boat up from Florida to Tennessee.  It is a family owned marina and really kind of neat with a very good small restaurant. 

The problem was the entrance.  There is a very small channel which leads you into the marina.  As I was coming in I started talking to the marina on the VHF radio and there were complicated instructions.  In the meantime, all the channel markers were in a row except the last ones and they were offset to the left.  The talking distracted me and “slug” we ran aground.  This is not a good feeling.  I tried backing up, but no go.  What to do.  I called the marina and told them I was aground.  Evidently this happens all the time so they were not worried and would get someone to come out an help with  a boat.  Meanwhile the Admiral wanted an explanation.  Can’t blame her.  After a few moments of calming myself, I tried again to back off.  My propellers were not in the sand, just my keel.  Slowly the boat began to move, then a little faster.  We were off.   Hooray!  If there could only be a way I could lose a little weight from these adventures.

We backed up into the channel and the proceeded into the marina.   “90 degree right, just passed the sandbar, then 90 degree left and go down the boats tied to the pier.  Please stay close to the boats so that you don’t run aground again.  At the end turn you boat around and back into the last slip.”

Yow, did it feel good to be tied up.  The day went so smooth until the last 20 minutes.  That is the way boating is.

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