After finishing the river portion of the trip and entering Mobile Bay, we were happy to take a couple of days off from cruising in Fairhope, Alabama. The weather was beautiful and we took the time to do some grocery shopping, laundry and relaxing with other Loopers. There’s a shrimp boat that runs in and out of there every day, so we were able to get 4 pounds of fresh shrimp for $20! Fresh fish (non catfish!) is something we were really missing for the last part of the trip, so we had some that night and the rest is stocked away in the freezer.
Danny and I detoured off the route on our own for a bit after leaving Fairhope to head to Flora-Bama! This is a place on the Florida/Alabama line that Danny had known about and always wanted to go to. It’s actually just a bar – or a group of bars – with live music 365 days a year. Google says it opened in 1964 and is a “down-home waterfront bar/grill that offers oysters, pub grub and live music every day”. That’s what it is! We ’d made a dock reservation a few days prior, when we got there we found out we couldn’t fit into any of the slips with power – so we ended up at the end of a pier in a very shallow, quiet creek. We may or may not have bumped bottom once on the way in when we weren’t paying attention, but luckily its a sandy bottom there 😃 . So, it definitely is “down home”, one might say a dive bar with bras hanging from the rafters and torn leather bar stools. But the place was packed on a Tuesday afternoon and we listened to T Bone Montgomery as well as some really talented musicians who were in town for a Song Writers Festival. We really had fun and thought about staying an extra day to walk the sandy white beach and go listen to more music, but as often happens on this trip, weather was predicted so we moved along after just one night.
We spent three days in Pensacola, FL, home of the Blue Angels. We kind of kicked ourselves for not just moving on from Flora-Bama and skipping Pensacola; we are starting to be a little crunched for time if we’re going to make our 11/22 reservation in Fort Myers – but more about that later. It was windy and rainy, but we visited The Naval Aviation Museum, which was cool, and sat on the dock in blustery weather to watch the Blue Angels fly, they happened to have a show while we were there.
Next stop was Destin, Florida. This is a town on the “Emerald Coast” that I’d heard about years ago. It sounded quaint and pretty and I was happy to hear it could be a stop on the trip. It was really, really touristy. We docked beside Margaritaville, and I had a good Cheesburger in Paradise, but the stop was a little disappointing. We did see a pod of dolphins 🐬 swimming near the boat on our way in, there were white sanded barrier islands all along the route, and the weather was warm and sunny, so all in all it worked out nicely. No dolphin pictures unfortunately – I still haven’t been able to capture any good ones, though I LOVE watching them play in our wake.
We are back into intracoastal waterways now, and when leaving Destin had the choice to travel in the Gulf ICW, or “outside” in the ocean – the Gulf of Mexico. The weather apps all predicted low wind and waves, so we decided to make the 45 mile run outside to get to Panama City more quickly. Well, the weather apps were wrong. The waves were predicted at 1 to 2 feet with an occasional 3. They were more like 2 to 3 feet with an occasional 4 and very close together, so it made for a bumpy few hours before we started turning in closer to the coast to get to the marina. About halfway through the journey, I felt the port engine stop just before we heard the alarm telling us that had happened. The rough waters had stirred up some “junk” at the bottom of the fuel tank, so Danny had to go change the primary and secondary fuel filters while we were underway in the ocean. This happened to us just about a year ago in a big bay on our way South and I was absolutely panicked operating the boat on the one engine while he was down below. Now, some 4000 miles later I was still nervous, but maintained my cool while keeping us going on the one engine. I was once again reminded how grateful I am to have a capable, determined, downright stubborn Captain as a husband. He was dammed he was gonna fix that engine – and he did and instead of panicking and calling him up to the bridge every 15 minutes I kept my cool. What a difference a year makes!
We spent one night in Panama City, FL and thought about waiting out an oncoming cold front and winds there for a few days. The issue now is time. Old boaters say you can have a destination or you can have a schedule, but you can’t have both. I get that. Weather rules, and running in “iffy” weather can make or break your trip. So, when we got out on the water that day we decided to keep going while the going was good – to stay ahead of the weather! We cruised a long, 80 mile, 10 hour day to Carrabelle, Florida the “jumping off point” for the next section of the Loop – THE CROSSING! What does this mean? Well, to get to the West Coast of Florida, we have to cross the Gulf of Mexico. That means we have three choices:
- We could travel for one long, fast day the 175 miles to Clearwater, FL
- We could travel across the gulf for 175 miles at our normal, slower pace for an overnight to Clearwater, or
- Take the “rim route”; 3 shorter days all in the Gulf to Steinhatchee, then Crystal River, then Tarpon Springs which is very near Clearwater.
Option 1 doesn’t work for us because we’re not fast enough and Option 2 doesn’t work for us because I’m not brave enough. We’d have to leave Carabelle at about 2pm on one day to arrive at 10am the next day – that means about 18 hours overnight across the ocean where we would lose VHF radio and cell phone contact for a few hours. Our boat can handle it. Danny can handle it. I can’t. So we are waiting for the right weather to start the rim route, which looks like it might be Monday at this point. And while we’ve waited it’s gotten COLD! Not as cold as home, I know that but there’ve been lows in the 30’s and the highs are only in the 50s. This isn’t what we came all the way to Florida for!!
We have reservations in Fort Myers for two weeks starting 11/22 and plan on spending Thanksgiving with Danny’s nephew Brandt and wife Carolyn, so we’d really like to get there soon. Also, Fort Myers is where we cross our wake!! That means we finish the Great Loop! Danny figured out today that we are about 6 stops away from crossing our wake and becoming Gold Loopers, so we are anxious to boogie but more concerned with a safe crossing, so we are in a holding pattern.
There are LOTS of Loopers here now, many arrived yesterday and we expect more tomorrow. We will all enjoy the free breakfast that’s offered every morning at the marina, attend a weather briefing given by a local mariner, enjoy some docktails and figure out who’s going when and with who. Buddy boats have been really nice along this trip, but now they’re practically essential. Even on the rim route you’re in open waters for several hours, so it’s better to have someone around who knows you’re there and vice versa even if it’s just for moral support. This is a really big part of the Great Loop and one that causes the most anxiety to a majority of the Loopers. Just what I need – more anxiety!!!
I think I’m ready. Danny’s ready, he’s changed the oil and checked everything twice. I’m knocking wood, blessing myself compulsively and watching the weather furiously. Next time I blog we’ll be on the other side of the Gulf – God willing!!
I will keep all y’all posted!
Captain Dan & Cruise Director Jodi