Monday, 30 November 2015

Apalachicola to Carrabelle and the Gulf Crossing

Our last day in Apalachicola.  There is much more close by in this town than our next destination in Carrabelle where we leave to cross the Gulf to Clearwater Florida.  We thought it would be a good idea to replenish.  The Dock master at this Marina said we could take the golf cart to shop.  It's legal here to have them on the streets as long as you stay off the main highways.  Our ride!
There was a hardware store right next to the grocery store so Steve was able to get the fitting to allow him to use the wash down with a nozzle.  Since the grocery store was right beside the hardware store, Steve browsed the isles of the hardware store while I shopped for food.  All replenished and ready to head back.  It was just 2 miles but my job was to watch to make sure nothing fell out.  The beer and wine was strategically placed to hold in the groceries.....yeah that's why we bought the beer and wine.
Since we are leaving tomorrow we thought we couldn't leave the Oyster capital of the USA without having raw oysters.  This restaurant was recommended to us by some Canadian friends Linda and Al Givens, who frequent this area most winters.  Up the Creek Raw Oyster Bar......they were delicious.
After waiting out 4 days of wind here we thought we would head to the Marina where we wait for our weather window to cross the gulf.  It was another windy day but we were on the ICW so it didn't have much of an effect on the boat but it beat up our Looper flag to the point that we almost lost it.  Steve insisted on going up to the bow to rescue the flag. 
We arrived in to the channel where our Marina was located.  This is huge fishing town both commercial and recreational.  Steve has purchased a Florida fishing license so he can fish both salt and fresh water fish.  Can't wait to eat some of his catch.  We passed these boats as we approached our Marina.  Notice the one in the middle that has sunk.
As we pulled in to the Marina office, I told Steve it was a good thing he purchased a fishing license because it looks like they don't mess around here.
We arrived at this Marina on Tuesday Nov 24th.  Thurs Nov 26th is American Thanksgiving.  We had no sooner landed and tied our boat when 2 other Looper boats approached us and told us there was a pot luck Thanksgiving Day dinner on Thursday in the boaters lounge.  They also mentioned that there would be a big screen TV in the lounge so we could watch football. 
Now go back up and look at this picture.  The family that are second to the left are Ant, Sue and their daughter Tiggy.  They are from South Africa.  They are not Loopers but own an 85 foot houseboat that Ant (short for Anthony) is moving to Clearwater.  Sue and Tiggy will not go on that journey with him he is going with a crew of friends.  This houseboat will be their home.  It is 1600 square feet so lots of room.  We spoke with them and were fascinated with their stories.  In 1992 -1993 Ant set a world record for sailing around the world in an open boat.  I believe it was 19 feet long.  If you go to you tube and search Ant Steward Alone you will see about a 20 minute video telling his story.  Amazing people you meet on this journey.  Again people we met in an afternoon but by the end of the afternoon you felt like you'd known them forever.

The food at Thanksgiving was delicious.  Someone brought stuffing and I kept hearing people say, "what's stuffing." 
I was inside the boat and I heard Steve talking to these guys that sounded like he had just found his long lost buddies.  These guys were so funny, just happy to be fishing.  This would never be allowed in a Marina where we come from but these guys were harmless, just wanted to fish. I asked them what they were fishing for and they told me catfish and then asked me if I wanted some. When I asked if I could take his picture he asked me if I would make him famous.  I assured him I would.
Finding a spot to exercise Dexter can sometimes be a challenge.  At this Marina there were no parks close by just roads and residential streets.....however.....we spotted this dock across from our boat.  Steve and I would walk Dexter there and then stand away from each other as he ran back and forth until he was tired out.  Perfect spot....what ever it takes, it doesn't always have to be grass.

When you cross the gulf of Mexico there is much research to be done to ensure you are safe.  Steve promised me I wouldn't die on the boat.  You are crossing approx. 165 miles of open water about 60 miles off shore.  There is nothing but you, your boat and Mother nature and you wanna hope you haven't pissed her off lately.  You need to know what the water is going to do when you are out there. 

There is Looper named Eddy Johnson that posts Eddy's weather wag every morning.  His weather wag tells us what the winds and waves will do in the gulf and if it's a go day or a no go day.  There are many apps you can look at to see the weather on a certain day, none of which usually agree so Steve and I decided when Eddy says go we go.  It was Friday morning and we were looking at the weather wag.  Eddy said that Monday/Tuesday were looking like good days to cross.  We need two days because we only travel at approx. 8 miles an hour and you have to arrive in Clearwater in the day light hours otherwise you could run in to crab pots that can get tangled in your props and put you dead in the water.  We talked with other Loopers as this isn't a journey you want to make alone.  We decided we would have docktails in the boaters lounge on Sunday at 5 to discuss our plan to cross.  OK, I have 3 days to prepare....my nerves are kicking in. 

We had a good sleep Friday night and woke up and went for breakfast at the Marina. There is a free breakfast with awesome sausage and French toast and amazing coffee.  We woke up early for this.

After breakfast we came back to the boat and checked out Eddy's Weather Wag.  Eddy says, go today, or tomorrow.  Ugh??  We talked to some other boaters, some said they would go Sunday some said they would go today, Saturday.  Now, you have to understand how quick the weather forecast changes.  Yesterday there was no window until Monday and today that's changed to today so tomorrow the Sunday window may be closed.  Steve and I decided that as long as there were other boaters going we would go.  Not gonna lie, this is my biggest fear of this trip.  Having said that, America's Great Loop has never lost a boater.  What are the chances we will be the first?   Here I go...poor Steve......did you check the engines? (he does every time we stop why wouldn't he now). Steve....I just talked to a guy and his shafts almost fell off are ours safe?......Steve what if something caught on fire in the engine room? What if? What if?  Remember Ant and Sue...the family from South Africa?  Well Sue isn't going with Ant, she is driving to Clearwater.  Steve finally looked at me and said, why don't you go by car with Sue and I will meet you there. ABSOLUTELY NOT, WHY WOULD YOU EVEN SUGGEST THAT!  OK I'm in.....and it's probably best that it happened that way.  Sometimes too much time to think isn't a good thing. I had a good sleep last night knowing we weren't crossing for 2 days.  If I'd known we were crossing today...maybe sleep wouldn't have been all that great...and trust me I needed that good sleep last night.  We took Dexter for his final walk at 1:30pm Saturday.  We will be travelling with Charlie and Kay "Plane to Sea" and Bob and Lynn "American Pie".....I couldn't stop singing to myself.  By By Miss American Pie.
Our friends Evelyn and Clark from "Sea Moss".  On their bow to give us a fond farewell and safe travels.  They will leave tomorrow.
The ride will take about 19 - 20 hours and we want to arrive around 10am.  If you arrive earlier than that, the sun is in your eyes and you can't see the crab pots.  American Pie and One Bay at a Time left at 2pm.  Plane to Sea travels a little faster so they held back and left a couple hours later and caught up with us along the way.  We all set identical compass headings in our gps.
Just as we head out a dolphin jumped by our boat to keep us safe.
                                                          American Pie taking the lead
We left the dock at 2pm so this picture was taken a little bit in to the journey but will show you, on our chart plotter our course to Clearwater Florida. The chart plotter shows current time of 3:40, eta 10:40am, speed 7.1 Knots, 135.7 Knots to go.  We'll be there in 19 hours! 
The seas were calm and we were having the time of our lives.  We watched as the sunset, it was beautiful!
Then it got dark.....but it was still OK.  We were having fun and now I'm singing Rascal Flats, Praying for Daylight in my head.  The view from the bridge.
                                  This is not a bad shot this is the picture looking out.
AND THEN.....then moon came up.  Eddy spoke at our rendezvous and said the chances of getting a moonlit crossing that's a go is slim....we got one!!  When I first saw the moon rising I thought it was something in the water.  It came up a beautiful orange colour.
It was a beautiful crossing until about 1am.  The wind seemed to come out of nowhere and we were tossed.  We couldn't really tell how big the waves were given it was dark....and I was just about to nap.  That's not happening. By now we are three boats travelling together as Plane to Sea has caught up with us.  I was never afraid..... the boat handled beautifully and we changed our course so we were taking the waves more comfortably. 

The sun started to rise and the waves started to subside.  We had about 4 hours of rough seas, uncomfortable yes, would I have chosen these seas NO, but as much as I surprised myself, I was never afraid.  By now we know this boat so well and this boat can take much more than her crew.  I knew we would be just fine.  The sunrise was beautiful with Plane to Sea in the short distance.

 It took us a little longer than anticipated to arrive at Clearwater Beach.  We are in the distance now but still about an hour and a half away.
We would have come in about an hour sooner but we were about 30 miles off shore in the dark and noticed some crab pots.  If these things get caught in your props you're dead in the water.....so when we spotted them in the dark we head away from shore until the sun came up.  We were lucky to have spotted them in the dark because they can be a challenge to spot in day light depending on the conditions.  This yellow buoy in the water is a crab pot.
 Clearwater!


Arrived at the dock at 1pm.  By the time we got Dexter to shore he had gone 24 hours without even asking to pee. With the rough seas and having to go back out because of crab pots we were actually 23 hours to complete this journey.  Would I do it again?.....in a heart beat!   Steve and I were both exhausted but somehow got a second wind once we hit the dock.  There are many other Loopers here and all quick to congratulate us on our crossing.  The feeling of completing this challenge is something you just can't explain. Overwhelming, emotional....emotional before and after but different crazy emotions before and after.  Thank you Steve, my rock.  Tomorrow is Dec 1st and we are in warm temperatures on our own boat, our home.  Pinch me!  "One Bay at a Time."


Sunday, 22 November 2015

Looping....Pensacola to Apalachicola Florida

We left Pensacola very early, heading East toward the gulf crossing.  It was a very cool morning so I sat in my chair next to Steve for awhile wrapped in a blanket.  I later decided to curl up and bam...out like a light.  I had the best sleep ever, all cozy.  Nothing feels better than a nap in the fresh air.....didn't know that this shot taken until I started to blog.  My nose was cold.
All fresh now!  Passed through Fort Walton Beach.  USA Military at work.  

Passed through Destin Florida where my Mom and Dad spent many a winter.  Mom and Dad does any of this look familiar?  Looking into Destin from the ICW.
Stayed at an anchorage that night.  There was a park close to the anchorage where we could take Dexter to shore.  We thought we had company but the two sail boats that were at anchor with us had no one on board. 
Once again we had a beautiful sunset at this anchorage.
We weighed anchor and head further East.  We had a stretch of river and found  the banks to be much different than the other rivers we have travelled along this trip.  The banks here appear to be all sand.
We arrived at our destination for the day at Panama City.  Whew.....gotta say that place stinks.  There is a pulp and paper mill and it emits a sweet sulphur smell that makes you think there is something wrong with your boat.  Once again there  was an abandoned sail boat at this anchorage. 
The shorelines are becoming more and more swampy with very little space to land Dexter.  Protected shelter and somewhere to land Dexter are our priorities when looking for an anchorage.  We have an app on our IPad called Active Captain that shows anchorages and also comments on whether or not there is pet access to shore.  This anchorage had a very small piece of sand at the tip of the island where Dexter could put his feet.  It was only about 2' x 5', good thing Dexter is only 1.5' x 6".
We never get tired of watching the dolphins swim around our boat.  They seem to be more active first thing in the morning and just before dusk. 
This one swam so close to the boat you can actually see the blow hole.
Dexter has made it his business to protect us from these huge creatures that seem to be endangering our boat....in his mind anyway. 
We are finding the salt water to be a bit of a chore.  When we stop after a day of travel there is a salt film over everything.  Now in our fresh water that's no problem.....just turn on the wash down and rinse everything off.  PROBLEM.....the wash down comes from the ocean.  Steve is working on correcting that.  We are going to need a fitting...maybe two...I don't know...my thing is cooking.  In the meantime my genius has rigged up our water to flow backwards from our fresh water but we can't attach a nozzle for better pressure because it would have to be a backwards nozzle. Who would have thought.  We dropped the dinghy at our last anchorage because the boat ramp where we took Dexter to shore was too far for the kayak.  When the dinghy has been in salt water it's not just a matter of pulling it up when we're done.  Steve has to flush the engine with fresh water and then rinse the whole thing.  Did I say we are finding the saltwater to be a bit of a chore.  More like Steve is finding the salt water to be a bit of a chore.   
 We left Panama City heading for an anchorage close to Apalachicola.  Once in Apalachicola we will be approximately 20 miles from the gulf crossing.  Our anchorage is about 55 miles away so we were up and on our way early.  The shorelines were littered with boat wrecks that we figured were hit with a hurricane.  They were beyond repair. 


The homes along this section were much more modest than those in the Pensacola and Destin areas. 

It is currently 12:34pm.  Once we hit the bridge in the distance the time will change.  We are currently in the central time zone.

 Bridge behind us and it's 1:34pm
Time flies when you're having fun!!
Further down the river the shoreline was becoming even more swampy.  I am getting a little concerned about our anchorage for the evening.  Active Captain says it is possible to land pets there but it could be difficult.
This just looks like home to many an alligator.
The colour of the water was like coffee as we exited the narrow river to a small lake. 
We arrived at our anchorage at 3:30 but there was really no where to land Dexter.  The Marina in Apalachicola is just 5 miles from our anchorage so we decided to carry on instead of anchoring here tonight.   Notice the turtle on the tree.
We arrived at the Marina in Apalachicola, the Oyster capital of the USA.  We saw many fishing boats pass by the Marina.  They certainly looked like working boats.
The Marina was a very friendly Marina but not quite what we expected.  We left Panama City very early so I'm sure we are ahead of the 50 some odd Looper boats that are their way here to also cross the Gulf.  Not sure how we managed to get a spot here as there are only 2 at this Marina.
We went for a walk a found the processing plant for the Oysters.  The huge pile you see is all Oyster shells. 

The birds love the freshly shucked Oyster shells as they are discarded from the plant.  It was all I could do to get this close to take a picture. 
  There are quite a few Oyster Bars here so we decided to go out for dinner at Boss Oyster which was right beside the Marina.  Our waiter made a point of telling us he was new.  He had only worked there for 2 weeks.  I asked about their wine.  He said he would be right back.  Then I asked about wine prices...there was no wine list.  He said he would be right back.  Steve said "stop asking him questions, I'm hungry."  The waiter returned and said my best deal, if I want more than 1 glass would be to order a bottle and I can take anything left back to the boat. A bottle was $22. Sold!  So Steve ordered a beer and I ordered a bottle of wine.  When the waiter returned he brought me a 1.5 litre bottle of wine.  He told me he was pulling the new guy card with this bottle.  He put the bottle on the table and Steve and I laughed very hard.  That bottle would have been $22 at the liquor store!  The table next to us also ordered a bottle of wine.  Our waiter made a point to stop by our table and show us what our bottle should have looked like.  I said oh yes I know..lol.
My drink and Steve's drink.
 Today is Sunday Nov 22nd.  We can only stay here until Tuesday because these spots are reserved by other Loopers at that time. There are anchorages but they aren't very well protected.  Great spots if there is no wind and lately there is wind.  The weather window to cross the gulf will not be within the next few days.  Maybe next weekend.  We will travel to Carrabelle from here which is about 20 miles.  We will leave to cross the gulf from Carrabelle at about 3pm and arrive near Clearwater Water in Tarpon Springs at around 11am or 12pm the next day but not before King Neptune gives a green light.  Until then.....we wait..."One Bay at a Time."