06/10/2011, Palm Harbor Marina
One of Pensacola's landmarks, Joe Patti's fish market
This blog has reached its stopping spot. Jascat has completed its journey to the Bahamas and back to the US. It is now snugly tied up in its resting spot for the next several months, Palm Harbor Marina, while Ann and I gather strength for further adventures as yet undetermined. We'll be starting a new blog when we set out again sometime in the late fall or early spring.
06/06/2011, Yacht Harbor Marina
Ann & John toast Jascat's arrival at Pensacola, the final destination of this cruise
The non party animals awoke with the sun this morning, while the rowdies slept in. Most of the power boats had gone, but there were a lot of little day sailboats still anchored around us at what the guide books call "Quiet Water Beach". [John calls it Fishing Bend because that's what it says on the chart.] The water may have been quiet but nothing else was. One of the bars played loud music till at least midnight. (We've had worse, in Hopetown.) We both wore earplugs to bed and slept pretty well. Not to sound too grumpy; it was fun to see where the party was, and I look forward to going back and going ashore to the beach, shops and restaurants. I'll go during the week, not the weekend.
As we were getting ready to leave, we saw an Atlantic Manta make a quick surface swim of about 50 feet. It was chasing something or being chased. Its wings were sticking up out of the water, and part of the time its barb was also.
Then, as we got underway we smelled smoke. This time it was a fire in Alabama. You want to hold your breath, or take shallow breaths, but that doesn't work for hours at a time. It has been stunning the number of places that have had fires as we traveled through them: Houma, LA (a historic church burned the day before we got there); Marsh Harbour (multiple brush fires), Big Cypress in the Everglades which we smelled while off shore and again when in Ft Myers (brush fire); Bradenton, FL and Clearwater, FL (that fire was near Tampa); Destin, FL (fire source unknown), and finally the Alabama brush fire we smelled in Pensacola. I apologize to any fire I left out. Now that is enough, let's have some rain.
Back to sailing: The winds were light today so we motored for two hours in to Pensacola. We are currently tied to the dock in Bayou Chico. We are awaiting assignment to a more permanent slip, which will have better tie up for hurricane season. We are also awaiting the AC repairman; he was ready to come this morning, but we didn't yet have dockside power. We do now, so tomorrow we hope to see him and turn on the AC. It is very hot and muggy. We were cheering the threat of another thunderstorm in hopes of cooling, but it passed us by.
The rest of the week will be spent cleaning up, fixing the AC, packing whatever goes home this first trip, and fixing a few little things. There will also be a trip to Starbucks, West Marine, and Barnes and Noble.
06/05/2011, At anchor off Fishing Bend on Santa Rosa Island (ie, the bay side of Pensacola Beach)
Last night's storm cloud over Ft Walton Beach
We're really close to concluding this voyage. We made the short hop from Ft Walton Beach to Pensacola Beach in six hours putting the anchor down at 2:30pm. From here it's only about 10 miles over to Pensacola and the Yacht Harbor Marina where Jascat is going to spend the next several months.
The first half of today's cruise was under engine power but around 11:30 enough wind pipped up that we could motor sail. Then about 30 minutes later we were able to shut the engine off and sail. We were just coming into the open part of Santa Rosa Sound so we were able to sail the best part of the Sound. We enjoyed sailing along the passing coast line and evaluating potential anchorages as we went.
Speaking of anchorages, I can really pick'em. I chose tonight's anchorage from the marine charts based on its proximity to our final destination and on it's anchoring depth (we like to anchor in 6 ft of water) and protection from waves. The anchorage at the foot of the Pensacola Bridge just off the beach known as Fishing Bend fit those criteria perfectly.
What I didn't know was that this spot is party central for Pensacola Boaters. The first clue that something might be amiss occurred when we were just about in sight of the anchorage. Ann noted that the guide book, which I hadn't looked at, said that the jet ski traffic usually died down in the evenings. What! I grabbed the binoculars and sure enough there were powerboats scattered all over the anchorage and jet skis everywhere.
Ann and I being the party animals that we aren't, decided to go in and anchor anyway. This is after all, Sunday, and we figure that most everybody will go home as dark approaches. I'm writing this at 6pm and the party does appear to be dying out. Ann has just finished putting a cherry cobbler in the oven and I'm getting ready to grill a steak. After supper we plan a cool evening swim off the back of the boat. Just a great last night of a wonderful cruise.
06/04/2011, At anchor off Santa Rosa Island
One of the cliffs in the "Grand Canyon" of Florida
My intention in this entry was to say what an easy motor through the "Grand Canyon" we had and what a great sail we had down Choctawhatchee Bay. I was going to say that we fortuitously had a 1.5 kt current flowing with us through the Grand Canyon which cut a 4 hour motor down to just over 3 hours. That time savings allowed us to reach the Choctawhatchee around noon just as the afternoon on-shore flow kicked in providing us with 15 kt winds to sail in. We sailed close hauled through the first 2/3's of the Choctawhatchee and tacked the rest to reach our anchoring destination off Santa Rosa Island just west of the Destin Bridge. The seas were nearly flat in the bay until the last hour of the afternoon providing super sailing conditions.
But the events of the evening superseded all that. We arrived off Destin around 5pm to find the bay side of Santa Rosa Island full of small, medium and large motor boats. Seems that Destin and Ft Walton Beach were celebrating Armed Forces Appreciation Day. There was to be a big fireworks display over next to Ft Walton Beach. Everybody that had access to any kind of floating vessel was out partying. We managed to find an open anchoring spot, however, and settled down to an evening of rock and rolling as a continuous stream of boats motored by.
Long about 6:30, the sky off to the east began to darken. We had heard deep booming noises before then but couldn't identify the source. Shimmering bolts of lightening soon began flashing out of the dark clouds. Obviously, a major thunderstorm was on the way.
The winds hit at 7pm. We recorded max steady winds around 30 kts and gusts up to 37. The winds stayed in the 30 kt range for about 30 minutes. As usual when we are anchored, the storm winds came in at 180 degees to the direction that we had set the anchor swinging us completely around. Ann and I had previously dived the anchor and knew that it was well dug in, so we weren't terribly worried that it would pull out. You never know until it is proved, however, so we kept a careful lookout.
We stayed safe and secure on our Rocna anchor. Not everybody did, however. A 40 ft mono hull just a little distance from us ended up aground. We think that he had anchored too close to the shallows and had swung onto the ground when the storm winds spun him around. After the winds died down around 8pm, during flashes of lightening, we could see the crew out trying to kedge off the shoal.
The monohull crew though was in relatively good shape compared to some of the inexperienced motor boaters in the bay. At least they knew where they were. That wasn't true of at least one young sailor. After the winds had died down but while it was still raining and the thunder booming, a motor boat approached us with a very young man at the helm. He comes up and says "Mister, can you tell me where Joe's Bayou is?" The visibility during the peak of the storm had gone nearly to zero and he had got completely disoriented. But he had more trouble than that. He had two girls aboard, equally young, and all were obviously terrified. They had no idea what they should be doing to get themselves out of trouble.
Ann and I tried to reassure them that the peak of the storm had passed and that they were quite safe. They needed only to go "that way" for about 3 miles and they would find Joe's Bayou. About that time a boat came by going the right direction and we were able to tell him to follow that boat and so he did.
It's easy to forget what advantages that a lifetime of experiences gives one. A no time during the storm was Ann or I worried about our safety. We know that if "this" happens, we'll do that, or if "that" happens we'll do this, and that it rarely ever gets so bad that it can't be handled. When this young man encounters his next storm at sea, he'll handle the situation much better.
And oh yes, the fireworks show was canceled.
06/03/2011, At anchor in West Bay
Another view of the squall that ran over us a couple of days ago.
What a great anchorage Shell Island turned out to be. We chose it because of its proximity to the Panama City Inlet. After three days of 6 hour shifts during the day and 3 hours during the night we were ready for a good nights sleep ASAP and Shell Beach was the closest anchorage recommended in the guide books. And a good nights sleep we got. A cool, light breeze blew through the anchorage all night long and the boat barely rocked. As a bonus, the water was clear enough that we could dive the anchor. It was set into the sand and shell bottom so deep only the shaft stuck out. Perfect for a worry free nights sleep.
The next morning, today, we motored in the morning calm over to the Panama City Marina and tied up at their dock for a few hours while we toured "historic" downtown Panama City. It's full of little shops and restaurants. We ate at a great little bar and grill called "The Place". We highly recommend it if you're looking for a really good sandwich.
Around 2pm we left Panama City and sailed for about 4 hours over to West Bay to anchor for the night. Tomorrow we're off to negotiate the "Grand Canyon". That's the colloquial name for the 20 mile long canal connecting West Bay to Choctawhatchee Bay. Portions of it were dug through high ground hence the nickname. Needless to say, we'll be motoring. Sigh.
06/02/2011, At anchor off Shell Island, Panama City
Approaching squall line, one of nature's most dramatic sights
How to summarize a three day, two night crossing of the elbow of Florida from Clearwater to Panama City in just a paragraph or two? It takes more energy than I've got right now. So, for now, I'm just going to cover probably the most notable occurrence during the crossing.
Late Wednesday afternoon, the Coast Guard announced over the VHF that mariners in the Tampa area should be prepared for high winds and lightening due to a thunderstorm moving to the SW through Tampa Bay. At that point, we were 60 nm NW of Tampa, so we didn't think too much about the warning. About two hours later, however, a dark squall line began coming up behind us moving very fast. We were motor sailing at that point, so we quickly dropped the sails and cleared the decks. The squall rolled over us with steady winds of 25 kts and gusts up to 38. Since we were prepared, the encounter turned out to be completely benign. With her sails down, the high winds didn't bother Jascat at all.
Considering that our mast was the only tall object for miles, our worst worry was a lightening strike. Fortunately, the main part of the storm, which was putting on quite a lightening show, was far away to the south. So far, in fact, that we couldn't hear the thunder. We didn't get any strikes in our area.
It was all over in about 30 minutes. Just an interesting diversion on a hot summer day.