Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Final Legs of this Cruise

Friends - it has been quite a while since I updated our blog.  I have had several emails asking me "where are you now....and what's next".  I guess to be honest, it has been difficult to get motivated to update this part of the blog as it represents the last legs of this cruise.

After leaving Port St. Joe, we were starting to face the reality that we could be reaching the end point of this cruise.  We actually had a "Plan A" and "Plan B": A-being that we removed the mast from the boat in Mobile and headed up the Tennessee River system to Chattanooga; B being that we stopped somewhere between PSJ and Mobile, finding a "safe harbor" for the boat and heading back to Chattanooga to be land lubbers.  After some considerable contemplation, neither A or B seemed like what we really wanted to do, but we kept moving slowly towards Mobile.

From PSJ, we went to St. Andrews near Panama City.  St. Andrews seemed more appealing than Panama City as it was a little older and quainter and didn't seem to have the tourists.  We enjoyed our stay there and were there for a couple of weeks.  We met great people in the municipal marina - but that has been a common to all of our stops. There were also some nice restaurants and bars.....and we met the couple that runs the local "Fred Astaire Dance Studio".  We had a great night out with them....despite my two very left feet.  I stood on the toes of some amazing lady dancers and likely unknowingly ruined their dance careers.

St. Andrew's Marina.

St. Andrews
From St. Andrews, we ventured onwards west to Destin.  Due to bridge heights we were not able to go up the Intracoastal Waterway, and went on the outside  via the gulf.  We also found very little information on the anchorage or slips in Destin harbor through the usual sources of information.  So I posted a message on Cruiser's Forum and got some good information and suggestions.
As we approached Destin, I knew from past motor boat experience that the pass can be a bit tricky, shallow, and crowded.  So I called the local Boat US captain for some local information.  He was kind enough to meet us at the sea buoy and guide us in through the deeper water.  It was very crowded with many small boats and sea-gnats (aka jet skis).  We found a slip at a restaurant called Beauchamps....not really a marina, more of a restaurant that found they could charge a pretty steep rate for their slips.  While in Destin, were able to meet up with good friends Whit and Maureen from Kennesaw.  Destin was a good stop over for a couple of nights, but after being in the crowds for that time, I was ready to leave.  From Destin it was a straightforward shot to Pensacola via the gulf.
Palafox Marina, Pensacola

Pipe and Cable laying ship "Deep Blue" in
Port of Pensacola
After a short while in Pensacola "Plan C" emerged.  Recall, I mentioned Plan A and Plan B at the start of this post.  Well Plan C is to stay with the boat in Pensacola and call this the end point of this cruise. 
That happened in August and as it turns out, Plan C seems to be emerging to be a good one for right now.  I have been putting off writing this post to be honest.  While Plan C is turning out to be a great Plan and Pensacola is a wonderful place to be, ending Cruise #1 was and is  a sad event.  It also marked a return to full-time work; and while I love my work, the company, and the people I work with........ I have confirmed that the salt is now in my veins and the water's calling is something that can and will take over from my career.
While the cruise is over, for now, there has been and continues to be some great sailing and adventures in the northwest panhandle.  I will continue to write posts about these until the next cruise.  If you are reading this, I would also welcome any feedback and comments.  Thank you to all those that have emailed.....very much appreciated!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Leaving PSJ

Port St. Joe has to be one of our very favorite places.  As such it was very sad to leave, but work is starting to call, and as will subsequently be discussed (future post) we have decided to try a new port for "home base".  Although this is exciting in some ways, it will mark an end to our current cruise.

Words can't describe the enjoyment we have had on this cruise.  We have met so many great people and developed what I am sure will be long-lasting friendships.  We will especially miss the new friends we have made at Port St. Joe - from marina staff, to fellow cruisers, local residents, and local musicians.

So on Saturday, August 2, we departed Port St. Joe, knowing that we will return in the not too distant future.  In our last days in PSJ, we were joined by long-time close friend Geert.  

Geert - the flying Dutchman (orange of course!)

Even Salty looks sad as we leave.......but he did spot a fishing boat of his namesake - the Captain Salty!

While in PSJ, we managed to get the Hobie out and had wonderful sails on St. Joe's bay.  Here's a shot of the Hobie beached on the "point" of Cape San Blas - a place of special times and wonderful memories!

For any cruisers following this blog, PSJ is in my opinion a "must stop" place - but please, please don't tell too many of your friends!  I would hate to see the place spoiled by too many tourists!

Our trip from PSJ took us a little further across the Gulf to St. Andrews.  We sailed about 5 miles offshore in extremely calm waters.  We sailed with the UPS sail due to the low wind speed and very calm conditions.  We had to motor-sail a good part of the way to make progress.  It was a wonderful day in a spectacular setting.  

PSJ Marina

Using our UPS Sail in very light wind

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cape San Blas Lighthouse - History in the Making, July 15, 2004

What's this I see coming down the road in PSJ?  Oh, its only a lighthouse and a couple of historic homes!

It is not every day that you see a lighthouse and it's associated dwellings being moved. In fact, I believe that only 3 such structures have been physically relocated in the United States. I know the first to be moved was the Cape Hatteras light, as I had a very small involvement in that many years ago while working with my last employer.  I believe there was another one a few years ago, but its name presently escapes me.

On July 15, the Cape San Blas light was relocated from its former location on the Cape to Port St. Joe. It was quite a sight. Being lighthouse fans (or perhaps more accurately, lighthouse admirers) we knew that plans were in preparation for the move but we did not realize it was imminent. So we went to visit the former site on the Cape on the 14th. There we found the light loaded up ready to go together with 3 other structures - 2 houses previously used by the keepers and another brick structure that was used as the oil house

Cape San Blas Light at its Original Location on the Cape 

The plan was to move all structures by road as a single convoy leaving the Cape at 8 am, for its approximate 7 mile journey to the new location in Port St Joe. The movers, planned to complete the relocation in a day.

Perhaps the biggest challenge would be to get the convoy past the 100 or so electricity distribution lines that cross the highway along its route.   This is where Duke was to play a major role. In order to minimize service disruptions, Duke crews would disconnect each service line just ahead if the convoy, and then reconnect the lines after the convoy cleared each crossing.

On the day if the move, we made a brief shopping trip to nearby Panama City, and upon our return, we spotted the convoy approaching it's destination from our slip in the marina. So we quickly walked over to the "Thirsty Goat", joining the forming crowd to cheer along the convey and raise a glass to their success!

As a civil engineer, I could not help but marvel at this amazing sight.  To see a structure moved is one thing, to see a structure moved that was designed and originally built in the late 1800s just seemed like a once in a lifetime event.  As I watched the light make its way to it new home, I paused for a moment to think what the engineer who designed the structure might think if he could see this happening.  We sent photos  to friends and relatives over the internet, and within minutes, these were being viewed by recipients in England.  Again, I thought back to the engineer who designed this structure......its even more amazing to think how technology has advanced - particularly in communications.  When you think about it, in its day, this structure's purpose was to communicate a hazard.  And now the small handheld communication device we call a "smart phone", can transmit images of events like this within seconds, to the other side of the world, bouncing the signal through space.

Additional information about the Cape San Blas Lighthouse can be found at

So I will end today's blog with a little offering from the famous poet Robert Louis Stevenson, and a  poet that came from a long line of lighthouse designers.  

The Light-Keeper II

As the steady lenses circle
With frosty gleam of glass;
And the clear bell chimes,
And the oil brims over the lip of the burner,
Quiet and still at his desk,
The Lonely Light-Keeper
Holds his vigil.
Lured from far,
The bewildered seagull beats
Dully against the lantern;
Yet he stirs not, lefts not his head
From the desk where he reads,
Lifts not his eyes to see
The chill blind circle of night
Watching him through the panes.
This is his country’s guardian,
The outmost sentry of peace,
This is the man
Who gives up what is lovely in living
For the means to live.
Poetry cunningly guilds
The life of the Light-Keeper,
Held on high in the blackness
In the burning kernal of night,
The seaman sees and blesses him,
The Poet, deep in a sonnet,
Numbers his inky fingers
Fitly to praise him.
Only we behold him,
Sitting, patient and stolid,
Martyr to a salary.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Enjoying PSJ - July 13

Port St. Joe is perhaps our favorite location in Florida, so not surprisingly, we seem to have stalled again.  I guess we will move again "soon."  I have done a fair amount of business travel from here, which has worked out quite well, and we will be having a short spell on "dry land" very soon.  We have had some wonderful day sails in the bay and really enjoyed the wildlife here, including sea turtles, shoals of Tarpon, numerous dolphin, sharks, and even a manatee.

 Sunset over the bay

We have met really nice people - both cruisers and locals and have taken a couple of new friends with us on day sails.  I think this location qualifies as the best stop on the US portion of the cruise.

Marina staff are great - a few small family run restaurants within a close walk - what more do you need?

Even a 4th firework display with prime viewing from our slip!

I guess there must be some bad days here - but I have not experienced one yet.  This boater either missed marina entrance and ran aground or had some other bad luck.  Either nobody really knows the story, or nobody seems to want to talk about it.  Actually this boat has been abandoned and has been here at least 2 years to my knowledge.

More updates soon!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Carrabelle to Port St. Joe and Cape San Blas

After we rescued Austin from the United States' smallest Police Station, we spent an evening at "Fathoms" listening to a pretty good funk band called Cuda Brown!....not what you might expect in Carrabelle.

Can you tell he loves a photo shoot!

Fathoms Steam Room, Carrabelle - the food was good too!

 Carrabelle by Sunset

The next day, we took the scenic trip from Carrabelle to Port St. Joe.  The trip on the "outside" was about 75 miles, but only about 55 miles traversing inside St. George Island, up the Apalachicola River, and then out through the Gulf County Canal.  For anyone unfamiliar with the area, our route is shown below.

The "outside" route is considerably longer as you need to go a fair way out off St. George and Cape San Blas to avoid the shoals that extend several miles offshore.

The river trip was very scenic - again, a seemingly very remote part of Florida, known as "The Forgotten Coast".

 Flat calm conditions just off dog Island....not a breath!

 Scenes from the Apalachicola River - I hear Banjos

It was a very hot day, but the scenery made the time pass quickly.  The trip was uneventful.....well almost.

One way to shade from the sun!

Just before we got to the St. George Island Bridge (65 ft.) we had to cross under power lines.  Yikes - the charts show "authorized clearance - 49 ft"  I missed that while planning the route.  I don't know why.  But why would there be 49 ft. lines within 100 yards of a 65 ft. bridge?  internet search (nothing found), electronic charts, paper charts....49 ft.  A few circles while I called to Tow Boat US on the VHF, and they told us "you are fine, the bridge is 65 ft.......the lines and bridge were taken out years ago by a hurricane and you are good as these are new lines".  Gritting teeth and staying well clear of the mast.......we cleared OK.  Thank you Tow Boat US!!  another example of charts not having up to date information.

On the Apalachicola River, we did hit a submerged log.  We saw and avoided a few, but this one caught us. Thankfully no damage.

We arrived in Port St. Joe at about 5 pm.  The marina and staff here are wonderful - highly recommend it!  I  am a little biased as this area is one of my favorite areas of Florida.  We have a small beach place on Cape San Blas and have been coming here for years.  Unfortunately the house is in a rental program and we don't get a break from the boat.....but that's OK, it is home!

 A large ketch "S/V Traveler" leaving Port St. Joe

Sunset over St. Joe's Bay

And a few minutes walk from the boat is the "Haughty Heron" - a nice little wine bar that has been visited on many a trip down here!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Tarpon Springs to Carrabelle - June 27

Winds, 5-10 from the southwest turning west.  Seas less than 2 ft building to 2-3.  That was the forecast that I assembled from several sources before we left Green Turtle Marina on the Anclote River in Tarpon Springs on Wednesday at noon. Crew - Neil and Austin comprised our crew on this leg.....Onward!

We left on a high tide which was definitively beneficial as we found our boat (4'11" draft) sat in the mud at low tide at the marina.  It wasn't bad, but just enough to hold the keel in place!  We made our way down the river to Anclote Key and out into the Gulf.  Our first leg took us almost due north with the anticipation of a broad to beam reach given the wind predictions and research I had done.....but no, winds were quite definitely from the northwest, so we were close-hauled.  Not too bad at 5-10, but still not the ideal for a long trip.  Yes, I suppose we are/have become cruisers when anything less than a downwind sail means its time to stay another day, kick back, and have another "Captain Salty's Anti-grounding Rum"!.........but onward, we needed to make some progress on our trip and things looked OK overall with the weather. We sailed and motor sailed as needed to keep up a 6+ knot average.  With 24 hours planned for the crossing, we had a long day/night ahead of us.

Anclote Key viewed from the Gulf

Anclote Power Station - I could not resist!

An hour or so out of Anclote Key and we noticed a lack of boats.  the center console fishing boats were no longer present on the horizon.  In fact, the AIS which has consistently had a range of 25 to 50 miles showed no targets. Not so unusual, but unusual where this last for hours.

We had noticed that the  boating traffic was gradually reducing up the west coast, and from Key West onward was significantly less than our previous legs.  But this was very quiet.  Almost to the point where I was questioning if the AIS was actually working.  Just before nightfall, we saw a commercial fishing boat appear on the horizon.  With outriggers out, it looked quite large.  But that was the only sighting we had either visually or on AIS until we reached Dog Island.  This just confirmed and reinforced how remote the Big Bend area of Florida really is.  In fact, it seemed more remote here than any area of the Bahamas we had sailed in due to the lack of other boats and cruisers.

Back to the weather - late in the day, the winds did start to clock around  actually anti-clockwise to blow from the west, but that was about at the point where we turned our course to the northwest to make for Dog once again, we were close hauled.  I actually decided to turn earlier than our planned route to avoid having the wind on our nose.  This worked quite well and we were able to sail as the winds picked up, but again close hauled.  Between 2 am and 5 am the winds picked up to 20......not per forecast! and started to clock around towards northwest.  So we furled the jib at around 3 am and motor-sailed with main only.  The seas picked up also, but it was totally dark.  An awesome sky with no light pollution revealed the streaks of the milky way, but no moon was visible.  We sailed on into the dark.  It soon became apparent why some sailors sleep while sailing - not that you are supposed to do, or not that I would condone it or recommend......but to be honest, there was nothing that could be seen - and I mean absolutely nothing!  I suppose a boat with lights would be very visible, but aside from that, there was not a lot of point in looking for anything.  Nothing on the AIS, nothing on radar, no lights on the horizon.  Austin and I took watches, and he slept between.  I really did not sleep - other than a reported couple of  "eyes closed" at the helm.

After sun-up, I gave Austin the helm and did lie down in the cockpit for about a half hour, then I took over again, and he hit the bunk for a few hours.  I saw a couple of thunder storms in the distance ahead of us, but it was hard to guess how far away, as the lightening was high altitude sheet  lightening.  I just hoped they would dissipate or move out before we reached them......and thankfully they did. The winds subsided as did the sea.  The sea had been about 2-3, or perhaps a little more, but it was hard to see.  What was noticeable and remarkable was the waves were at a very short period making it very lumpy, and every several minutes we seemed to hit a compound wave that the boat slapped through.  I wish I had a photo of the bough braking through waves - with the red and green navigation lights on, it lit the spray in a surreal red and green. The colors were so vivid; I am not sure if this was just due to the complete lack of background light, or if the sea was charged with efflorescence as I have seen on occasion at Cape San Blas.  I suspect it was the latter.

About 10 miles out we spotted land - Dog Island and the end of St. George Island.

Approaching Dog Island

I am still amazed at the wonder of modern electronics.  I had programmed our course using GPS and sure enough, we were arriving at the channel entry buoy, just as planned -155 miles from our starting point.

Somehow this phenomenon, this wonder of modern science, just had this impact on a tired 15 year old.

By noon, about as planned, we were docking at the The Carrabelle Moorings - for anyone familiar with "The Moorings" isn't.  The slips are old, but the people are friendly, the marina is clean, and great showers (any shower is great after 24 hours, but a clean one is awesome!), we had a good basic dinner at "The Fisherman's Wife".....and slept.

Next stop - Port St. Joe  

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Uses for an Old Toothbrush

Old Toothbrushes - Like Old Musicians
They never die....they just de-compose!

Really??  ....yes really I can hear you saying it.  What the heck is this doing on a Sailing/travel Blog??.....well read on.  I will keep it brief and hope that you will chuckle along with us in the spirit this post is intended.

Well - we found that the strainer on our water cooled air conditioning units tend to foul up at an exponentially quicker rate now water water temperatures in the Gulf are increasing.  To compound that, we are presently moored in the Anclote River which is very silty........well that's a polite way of describing it.  Water quality does not seem "pristine".  So the old tooth brush has been used several times for cleaning out the fact last time, I had to use a screwdriver to break up encrusted barnacles that had actually found their way into the strainer basket.  And that's not to mention the black "silt"/gue that had clogged the stainless strainer.  The tooth brush worked great.

The engine intake and generator also have given the success of my cleaning,
I also tackled those....all with the old toothbrush.  I didn't give it a thought, when finished other than to rinse it and put it on the Nav station for the next time it was needed....the old toothbrush still had some life left in it.

I didn't give it another thought........never even wondered where it was.......that was until out son Austin (recently joining us after a trip to China) asked if we had a new toothbrush he could use.  Obvious question....."why, is your old one needing replacement?".........Answer..."well, I think I left it in China, so I've been using the one I found on the Nav station for the last few days......"........"Really....the one on the Nav station....the grey/blue one?.......are you sure its that one?"......"yes..why?"

Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwww................but we laughed our socks off at his expense!!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Tarpon Springs - June 21

We seem to have slowed down quite dramatically.  We were making good progress but we have been in the Tampa area for much longer than we anticipated or planned.  A couple of people have emailed me asking "what happened to the blog" - well quite simply, since the emphasis has been on sailing and travel, I have not  updated it is a little while as we have not made a lot of progress.

Our progress was slowed in part by some personal/family commitments and work-related items.  We had Hannah's graduation, and a couple of work trips.  Congratulations Hannah!

And in the time intervals between, the weather just did not look ideal for our next leg.  We are at a point in Florida where our next leg will take us across Big Bend.  The area north of us has few marinas and the depths are very shallow, meaning we have to make a run for Carrabelle or Port St. Joe.  Both are beyond the range of a day sail at 160 miles + so we will have to sail overnight.  Hence, we want the best conditions possible.

But Tarpon Springs is definitely worth a mention and worth a visit for anyone in the area.  I was surprised to see what is essentially a "Greek Settlement" in the middle of Florida!  I had never been here before, so it was a great surprise - but a pleasant one as I love Greek food.

 Sponge Docks - Tarpon Springs

The local industries here are: sponges; fishing and of course tourism.  The snowbirds have gone and their summer season is starting.

The town is about 3 miles inland up the Anclote River.  When we came in, it was about mid tide and we didn't have any trouble - but it was getting very shallow and narrow as we approached the Marina.  We found a very nice, brand new marina that is very sheltered.  I don't think we can move at low fact on a very low tide, the floating finger pier seemed to be held up by the boat........not a good sign!  However, that was on a very low tide and we seem to stay completely afloat on normal tides.

It has been very hot in the day - thank goodness we are at a marina with power hook-up so we can run air conditioning.  The warmer waters are having an affect on things through.  I need to clean the A/C water strainer every few days as there's a lot or silt and barnacles building up inside the strainer.  The first time i did it i had to remove barnacles with a screwdriver.

Salty found a dog park and had a blast with other dogs......but you see the black sand.....and that was an almost white lab?....Hmmmmm not the place to go after a rain storm!

Marina pool area

Thankfully the marina has a nice pool and clubhouse.....also a Tiki bar.  Come to think about it, what more could you want?  Maybe I have just given myself another explanation as to why we seem to have "stalled" in this area.

Actually, we do have one regret - we wished we had stayed in the Bahamas a little longer.  We were concerned about returning before the start of Hurricane season, but we now wish we had stayed a couple more weeks.  Still - its been a wonderful trip so far.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

May 21 - Dunedin, FL

We arrived yesterday afternoon in Dunedin, FL.  Dunedin is west of Tampa and is a beautiful little town with a nice but basic municipal marina, and many small restaurants.

It took a day longer than planned to get here as we stayed an unplanned night at Pass-A-Grille.  This was a surprisingly nice town also.

We were actually heading up the ICW for Dunedin  when e came upon a new "fixed bridge" and had an interesting little episode.  Here's the brief version.  Since discovering that there is a 54 ft bridge on the way to Miami (our mast is 62 ft), we always check the bridge clearance 2 ways.  First, on the charts, and second by looking at the depth/clearance staff gauge with binoculars before we approach the bridge.  This has just become a habit to avoid a costly, avoidable, and embarrassing mishap with a bridge.  Those things tent to make it on You tube!!

Our charts (new this year) indicated the bridge as a bascule bridge but under construction - the bridge was not a bascule bridge! Similarly, our 2014 Waterways guide indicated a bascule bridge. Electronic charts from Navionics and iNavX gave no better information.  So we called the adjacent (older) bascule bridge tender and inquired about the clearance.  After some confusion over our question, the answer was a non-reassuring "I think its 64 ft".  Seeking confirmation, I radioed Tow Boat US - their answer was "call the Coast Guard - they will know".  So I hailed the US Coast Guard.  After checking charts, and other information the Coast Guard came back with "Captain, I cannot find any information on the clearance.  But I can try to Google it for you if you like"

By this time I had decided to approach the bridge cautiously looking for a staff gauge - no gauge present.  And it didn't look 64 ft (but that is always deceiving), and the fenders were not located under the highest span.  There was a barge moored under the highest span.  By now we had probably lost an hour and the choice was to risk it, or to go out into the ocean and by-pass it.  Unfortunately the next inlet was some distance up the coast.  A third option emerged and that was to spend the night in Pass-A-Grille and make the decision tomorrow.  I decided this was the most sensible thing -so we spent a night in Pass-A Grille which turned out to be a very nice little town.  I am glad we stayed.

Some internet research revealed the grant application for the bridge - which showed a planned height of 64 ft..  Hmmmm.......planned height, and the fenders are NOT situated between what visually appears to be the highest span.  I am still not completely convinced!  So we opted for a very nice ocean sail up to the Clearwater Pass yesterday then on into Dunedin.  I also sent an email to Florida DOT - nice and polite, requesting that they install a staff gauge, and inform the Cost Guard (and their bridge tenders) of the official bridge clearance height.  So far I have not received a response.

The sail to Dunedin was great.  We set off with very light wind so hoisted up our UPS sail.  We were making 6 to 6.5 knots in 9 to 9.5.knots of wind - awesome!.

Then the wind died - as in completely.  No wind.  Some cloud started to build and the wind picked up again.  In no time at all we were in 18 knots with the UPS sail........very exciting, but time to furl it as the wind was still building.  We furled the UPS and switched to the regular jib.  We were good for a while until the wind shifted and was right on our nose.  I suspect a cold front from the north was passing through.  On entering the ICW at Clearwater, we motored up to Dunedin.  Many shallow spots, but a glass of Captain Salty's Anti-grounding Rum kept us off the bottom and got us safely into the marina. By now it was blowing 20+ and we docked without incident, to the praise of several onlookers and adjacent boat owners.  More anti-grounding rum ensued!!

Midnight Sun in Dunedin 

Some images of Dunedin - we are planning to stay here several days for a variety of work and family reasons, and I think this will be a good location! Nice, quaint small town.  Friendly and helpful  Marina staff, and plenty of restaurants and bars within a few blocks - but with no crowds!  Yes, if i have to be on land, then this is my kind of place!