Asking for another drum roll please, because we’re heading into serious stuff…the upcoming Gulf Crossing. January 3 – 15, 2020

While we were VERY happy (total understatement!) to leave Mobile, but it meant…yup, we were getting closer to the dreaded Gulf crossing.  From the beginning of this journey, the thought of  the “crossing” was not something Nancy was looking forward to.  It’s sort of an unspoken, yet legendary part of this Loop trip. Any attempted discussion of this part of the trip with veterans of the crossing was brushed off and pooh-poohed.  They told us “Oh, it will be fine.  Not a big deal”, then change the subject. Not a good sign.

We left Mobile on January 3, an overcast and somewhat rainy day,  to make the run across Mobile Bay to Orange Beach.   We passed an old abandoned light house, and as you get closer to the Gulf, oil rigs.

Dreary day on Mobile Bay, abandoned lighthouse on the left, oil rigs on the right

As you leave Mobile Bay and start to head east, the waterway narrows, you see more beaches with trees, tons of pelicans, and signs of civilization!

After a nearly 50 mile run, we arrived at The Wharf Marina around 1:15 pm.

The Wharf

The Wharf Marina, Orange Beach, Alabama

The Wharf is adjacent to a lovely and busy shopping area, numerous dining choices, a movie theater and a ferris wheel!  We were thrilled to catch up with our friends Carol, Ken and Malachi/No Schedule, and enjoyed pizza at Red or White, located right at the marina. A fun night catching up!

After two nights, we departed The Wharf on January 5th.  As we continued East on the Gulf Inter-coastal Waterway (GICW from now on!), we began to enjoy somewhat warmer weather, prettier coastline, and finally, some dolphins!  I actually joked that the dolphins were smart enough to stay away from Alabama, as we didn’t see them until crossing the Florida State line. And, it was really great to see the “Welcome to Florida” sign!

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WELCOME TO FLORIDA!!  Note the baby dolphin in the top shot!  So adora

Our next stop was Pensacola, where we caught up with Debbie Eldridge, a friend from our old neighborhood in New Jersey.  The marina is right downtown, and we enjoyed wandering around this cute town before we continued east.

Lovely Pensacola

The next day, we made a 53 mile run from Pensacola to an anchorage at Boggy Bayou, just past Fort Walton, and north of Eglin Air Force Base.  The weather was incredible…sunny, 68 degrees and no wind. 

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Worth waiting for!

Just before we reached our anchorage, we saw a huge tower structure along the beach.  Perhaps related to the Air Force Base?

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Boggy Bayou was a beautiful, peaceful spot, but as we approached the anchorage, we were treated to a bit of an air show from Elgin!  Those jets really roar!

Practice flights out of Elgin Air Force Base

A beautiful evening in Boggy Bayou

Spectacular Boggy Bayou sunrise

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Raising the anchor at Boggy Bayou

The amazing sunrise turned into a beautiful day….still warm and sunny, but with a bit more wind.  It was a great day to make the 67 mile run down to Pearl Bayou.  After passing through some sandy cliffs, the terrain flattened out again and became more marsh-like.

Beautiful GICW scenery

Pearl Bayou anchorage

The next day our 57 mile trip to Apalachicola took us through some of the hardest hit areas from Hurricane Michael in October 2018.  It’s a sad, surreal landscape.

Hurricane Michael damage…beached boats and broken trees along the GICW 

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Beautiful trees, some dredging work, and an eagle eating his catch along the GICW

Based on all of the weather reports we were reading, and information from both Chris Parker and Marv (boating weather Gods!), we had some time before we had a weather window for the Gulf crossing.  We had heard that Apalachicola is a cute town with the bonus of having good provisioning opportunities, so we decided to spend 4 nights there.  The increasing winds backed up our decision to stay put for a bit!  We stayed right in town at the Apalachicola Marina.  Most of the marina was destroyed in Michael, but they still have power and water for three boats along the waterfront.  While it could be bouncy at times, we loved our views and the convenient location.

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Apalachicola Marina

Appalachacola tree

Merry Christmas, Appalachicola!

On our first night in town, we went to Up the Creek Raw Bar, a super casual, but surprisingly good restaurant next door to the Marina.  While Apalachicola is known as an “Oyster City”, they no longer have active oyster beds.  However, there’s evidence of oysters all over town.

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Mounds of oyster shells!

Even though they weren’t local, Rob enjoyed a good bunch of them!

Up the Creek Raw Bar

We rode our bikes all over town, checking out the cute neighborhoods, historical homes and cute shops.  There’s also a small little museum Dr. John Gorrie, the local man who invented air-conditioning in his quest to help treat his yellow fever patients.  A monument and his grave are across the street in a small park.

Exploring Apalachicola

The weekly Farmer’s Market was small, but we enjoyed wandering the fishing docks along the town park, and picked up a couple of cute air plants.

Apalachicola farmers market and the fleet of commercial fishing boats

Just down the road from the marina, the historic Orman House is open for tours, so we rode our bikes over to visit the home, and the lovely gardens next door.  While we were sitting in the park waiting for our tour, one of the park volunteers engaged us in conversation about the Monarch Butterfly migration.  The gardens have quite a population, and he shared some chrysalis sightings and an unidentified caterpillar sighting he had made that morning while working in the garden.

Monarch chrysalis and a big red caterpillar

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Orman House

In the small park in front of The Orman House features The Three Servicemen monument, molded from the forms used in the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, D.C., and Apalachicola is the only other place to see them.

The Three Servicemen

We didn’t eat out a lot while we were in Apalachicola, but we did hit the Oyster City Brewing Company a couple of times!  It’s a fun spot, where you can enjoy their yummy brews, and munch on popcorn at the tables and chairs scattered on the sidewalk around the brewery.

Oyster City Brewing Company

One of the best things about this adorable little town is how arty it is.  There is an abundance of great shops and galleries, and we had fun doing a bit of shopping!

One of the things we liked best about this bare-bones “marina” was the incredible bird watching.  There was the usual Brown Pelican population, and a good sized group of White Pelicans inhabit the nearby marshes.  We were surprised by how many Bald Eagles there are in Florida, and we were treated to a couple of them hanging out on the nearby channel marker.  They sat there for 20 minutes or so, and were really enjoying one another’s company.

 

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Brown and white Pelicans and a couple of happy Eagles!

The old Chestnut Street Cemetery  is worth a visit, as it’s filled with interesting old headstones, scattered sea shells, and trees covered with Spanish Moss, giving it the eery feel you would expect from a cemetery visit!

Chestnut Street Cemetery

Apalachicola was badly hurt by Hurricane Michael, and there’s plenty of evidence of it still.  While the marina docks are somewhat intact, the electric towers on them and the boats tied up to them are broken.

Apalachicola hurricane damage

Beautiful moon over the river our last night in Apalachicola

After four great days of exploring this charming town and provisioning, we were ready to head to Carabelle, where we would sit until the weather would be welcoming for our Gulf crossing.  

Leaving Apalachicola, and seeing more storm damage from the water

It was mostly cloudy when we left for Carabelle on January 12th, but half-way there, the fog rolled in. Fortunately, it was somewhat clear as we turned into the river for Carabelle, and we were able to navigate the tricky, shoaled entrance without incident.  Fellow Loopers behind us later in the day brushed bottom a couple of times trying to navigate in the increasing fog.

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The best thing we can say about Carabelle is that we fortunately only needed to stay there for two days.  We had reservations at C-Quarters Marina, an AGLCA sponsor.  When we pulled in for a pump out and fuel, we were showed a slip where we would not be able to get off the boat, as they have short, fixed finger docks along the bulkhead.  Fortunately, The Moorings Marina next door had room for us…and they serve a hot breakfast buffet for free for their hotel and marina guests. And, fortunately, we could get on an off our boat!

There were 5 Looper boats at Carabelle (Saltaire, Salty Dog, X-SES, Salty and Misty)         , and we all got kicked out of the marina the morning of the 14th due to incoming boats.  So,  we headed out to Dog Island to anchor until it was time to make the crossing later in the afternoon.

Getting across the Gulf means making a 180-mile, non-stop voyage, that drops you on the west coast of Florida in morning light.  The timing is specific, so that you can spot all of the lobster traps that are scatterered all along the Gulf, beginning to appear as far as 40 miles off shore.  As it had been the previous few days, a dense fog rolled in, fast! But, we had two other boats to cross the Gulf with, which offered a little bit of comfort.  We all agreed to check in with one another every hour…so X-SES, Salty Dog and Misty raised their anchors and started their crossings at 4:30 pm. And, there’s little difference between traveling in the dark and not see anything, and traveling in the fog and not seeing anything. So…..we were off!

Scenes from our Gulf crossing

It was a long and rolly-Polly night.  While the seas were fairly calm, and the winds were light, the rollers were hitting us on the beam, so we did some rocking.  And, unfortunately, Nancy’s tummy wasn’t happy with it.  Super thankful for the patch, and medicinal Cannibis prescribed in Alton, IL.  Forever grateful for Dr. Dianati, and his convincing argument to get me to swallow a pill.

Happily, right at sunrise, the fog began to lift.  We were super grateful, as while we still had 4 – 5 hours ahead of us, the long dark night took a toll.   And, the famed lobster traps began to appear.  Fortunately, they were no where nearly as bad as reported, and we navigated our way into Tarpon Springs without incident!  Clearly, those reporting about the massive amount of traps have never boated in New England or the Chesapeake!!

Never so happy to see a sunrise, even if it wasn’t the most beautiful, it was indeed spectacular to us!!

Our arrival in lovely Tarpon Springs, Florida…home of a huge Greek community, and the sponge industry.  This smiley sponge face greeted us as we hunted for food before a NAP!!

Well, we did it!! Happy, proud, relieved and exhausted, the next leg of our trip was going to be focused on enjoying the west coast of Florida, find a broker to sell Misty, find a home, and get to Marathon to cross our wake.  Finale…here we come!! ❤️

 

 

 

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