|Posted by [email protected] on May 12, 2015 at 8:25 AM|
(We took this trip in October 2013)
We've known about the wonderful sailing around Pensacola for many years, so this has been a targeted destination for a long time. Here's an account of the trip as posted on the TSBB shortly after returning (with a few modifications).
I have only sailed on "big" water twice previously (a 3 day cruise on the Chesapeake Bay in 2000 and a 3 day cruise on Tampa Bay/St. Joseph Sound in 2007) which means these trips are a big deal to us. Both of the earlier trips were not without incident so I was trying to plan a trip that would be as comfortable, safe and stress free as possible. I decided to begin and end at Pensacola Marine Shipyard, sail to Pensacola Beach, to sailboat cove, and return.
Prep began weeks ago: cleaning the boat, going through boat stuff, a shakedown overnight on the boat, etc. I re-installed the boat's life lines, bought a new battery, installed a ss ladder, added a 12-volt plug, bought a battery operated lantern as an anchor light, bought a couple extra pins and rings, doubled checked ground tackle, etc. Prep also included coming up with an itinerary, making reservations at marinas, and getting advice from board members. Pensacola Tom and Gregg were especially helpful. Thanks to all who chipped in advice and suggestions. I also went online and downloaded charts of pertinent areas (NOAA chart 11383) and entered waypoints on my GPS using mapserver.mytopo.com/. I print the charts off on regular paper and insert them into place sheet holders and then into a plastic binder. (You can see the binder in one of the pics below. The black cord is to my yellow Etrex GPS.) I particularly was interested in 3 waypoints: the entrance to Bayou Chico, the Fair Point marker, and the entrance to the ICW by Sand Island.
The last bit of prep went into scheduling the trip. As it turned out, Karen disrupted those plans but I wasn't about to drive 400 miles into a tropical storm. As it turned out, she blew out, we shifted our days back a little and wound up missing the weekend crowds.
Day 1 - Monday, October 7
We packed everything heavy in the back of the SUV since our load on the trailer tires is right at max. After final loading Monday morning we left Dalton around 9:30 a.m. EDT. The boat tows well behind the Trailblazer.
We took the eastern route through (really around Atlanta) and met our daughter for lunch just south of Atlanta. Always great seeing her and especially the little grandson.
We found the marina with no trouble, rigged the boat and got her into slip C-28, four down from Shane "Wallace the Great" (a famous TSBBer) just as it was turning dark.
The night was peaceful though a bit chilly. I didn't pack a blanket but after a while wound up using a large beach towel which helped me sleep fairly comfortably. I was hoping they would have shore power for regular 3 pronged extension cords but the outlet was dead and I knew the next marina did not have the household type outlet. Just in case, I had bought a GFI to be safe. I ended up buying a 30 amp adapter at the store. Didn't want to but now I'll always have it. The battery being new had plenty of power for one cabin light but we had taken a laptop and a few DVDs in case we wanted to watch something. We never did.
Day 2 - Tuesday, October 8
The day dawned bright and sunny. Forecast was for light winds and warm temps. This was going to be great! After a simple breakfast on the boat and some complimentary coffee for my wife from the ship's store we threw off the lines and headed out.
It was a short 2 miles through the bayou to the end of the channel. We were on the bay! I hoisted the sails and shut the motor down. We were sailing. We headed ESE in the direction of the Fair Point marker. I wanted to get around it before turning SE toward Santa Rosa Sound. We were only making 1-2 knots, occasionally it would bump 3. At one point I even turned the motor back on. Along the way we ate sandwiches for lunch. Robin did a great job packing food for the trip.
Here's my wife at the helm on the bay. As you can see, the waters are pretty flat.
We finally made it to the Sound and decided to use the motor to head east to Sabine Bay where we were to dock at Sabine Marina. Here's a pic of the marina:
Not as nice a PSM but adequate. My one big complaint would be that the little fingers are not very steady. Was a bit of a challenge for my wife. The big plus: the boardwalk was right across the street! We decided to hit the boardwalk for the afternoon, come back at dusk, shower and go back for supper. We worked our plan.
It was Tuesday so the boardwalk was not crowded at all. In fact, some of the shops were not open, but we enjoyed the peace. We strolled around, got something to drink, shopped a little, and scoped out some restaurants for supper. I had originally planned to eat at Flounders, since we had heard so much talk about it on the forum; but we decided on Crabs on the Gulf side. Turned out to be a good choice.
Proof we were there:
Day 3 - Wednesday, October 9
The third day broke windy and overcast. I went out and bought some ice (the ice machine at the marina was out of order so I had to lug it from the Circle K), newspaper and coffee. The forecast was 5% chance of rain. The marine station was not forecasting anything foreboding either. After a leisure morning and breakfast, we decided to head out, though my wife was a bit reluctant. The wind seemed to be fading a bit. It was from the east and we were headed west so I figured we'd be ok. We got to the end of the channel, hoisted sail and set a course for the ICW channel at Sand Island.
We were moving along at a pretty good clip - the GPS was hitting 5 and 6 knots. We were on a broad reach very close to a run. If I had had a pole, I would have set the sails wing and wing, but I tried to stay on a course that would keep the headsail out of the shadow of the main. This pic was taken not long after heading out.
You can see the Pensacola Beach bridge in the background as well as the clouds and the sea state. It was great.
After a while the wind picked up just a bit and a few whitecaps started forming. Then it happened! Out of nowhere along come these huge 4-5' waves!! Now that's huge to someone not used to them in an 18' boat. And they were coming abeam from starboard. The boat was rocking side to side and I could just envision rolling starboard and taking a wave into the cockpit. My wife was really scared and one wave really got me concerned. I told her to grab the portable radio off the cabin bulkhead just in case.
Truthfully, I didn't know exactly what I should do. I didn't want to turn back into the wind. What I really needed to do was to set a course to take those waves at an angle; but I was afraid a gybe would be dangerous and heading up to starboard would put me on the wrong course. So I just kept plowing forward and watching. The "terror" lasted 10, maybe 15, minutes at the most and just as quickly as the waves appeared they disappeared.
In hindsight, I believe that the waves were the result of the collision of the waters from the Bay and the waters from the Sound. The tide was going out and the wind was out of the east pushing more water into the mix. When we arrived back at PSM, one of the guys at the store said that it can get churned up like a washing machine out there. If I ever go back, I'll certainly be on alert to similar conditions.
Thankfully, we made it through. In the following picture which was taken shortly after that episode you can see the sea is fairly calm. This picture was taken when we were due south of the NAS point.
We continued on toward the ICW and Sand Island. By the time we arrived at the the channel between Sand Island and the mainland the sun was out and the day was looking pretty fantastic. We went through with no problems though the waters were almost like rapids in a mountain stream. Someone had said we could probably make our way through on the other side of the island but I wasn't too eager to stretch my luck. We followed some other advice and went as far at the navy pier before turning to go into the cove. The shallow areas were pretty noticeable though. When we entered the cove the first thing we noticed was that the area on the eastern end of the island was taken; so we settled on the narrow strip about half way down. We had a little more privacy and high tide wasn't until the wee hours anyway. Here's the view eastward:
Really is beautiful and protected! First night anchoring out and we wanted to be safe. I dropped an anchor out a ways from the shore, went in gently bow first and when I touched bottom I jumped off the bow and buried an anchor on the shore. A little later I turned the boat around by simply tying off the rodes at opposite ends of the boat. I removed the rudder first though and was able to almost put the stern in the sand. Was just a short step off the boat to shore. Perfect!!
We had lunch and then I took a walk to the east end of the island. Met our neighbors - a man and his brother-in-law were sailing the two nice vessels (I believe they were both Endeavor 34"s) at that end. They were friendly and even offered for us to join them at their campfire later that night.
A beautiful view from the hilltop:
As the evening wore on my wife fixed stir fry for supper. Perfect one dish meal and not too difficult in the small "galley". Of course the "galley" is under my bunk. Here I'm reaching in from the cockpit for my share of the tasty dish.
another beautiful sunset:
An exciting day came to an end. I was totally exhausted: the trip prep, journey down, two so-so nights on the boat, an anxious crossing of the bay. When it got good and dark, I zonked out! Slept like a log!! Didn't awake 'til sunrise.
Day 4 - Thursday, October 10
The day broke as beautiful as ever. I was eager to get the forecast for our trip back to PSM. I sure didn't want another experience like the day before and would do anything to avoid putting Robin through it. The winds were predicted to be out of the east at 11-14 with a moderate chop on the bay diminishing to 8-11 in the afternoon with a light chop. Sounded like the prefect ticket home.
We figured we could spend the whole morning on the island, eat lunch and then haul anchor leaving us plenty of time to get back before dark.
We did a the complete circuit around the island and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Of course, we discovered that most shells were inhabited by the hermit crabs. If we walked in the water, we had to watch where we stepped because there was no shortage of jelly fish.
Here are a few pics from the walk:
Upon returning we ate lunch and headed out. Again, I decided not to try the "shortcut" since it was low tide. As we rounded the backside of the island Robin spotted some dolphins playing in the shallows. It was cool seeing them especially since it was her birthday.
With winds out of the east again, I had already made up my mind that I would motor out to the buoy off the point of the NAS. Motoring out at about 5 knots I was surprised that the wind in our face was no stronger than it was. 5 plus the 10 or so should have been fairly stiff but it wasn't.
When we got to the buoy, I hoisted the sails. The winds were indeed lighter than predicted, but we enjoyed a leisurely sail into the bay at 2-3 knots of speed. My GPS said to head toward the white water tower so that was our mark. From the channel buoys we motored the rest of the way.
The late afternoon and evening were very mild and enjoyable. I explored the docks while Robin cooked us some ham steaks in the cabin. We ate dinner on the dock. When night fell the ducks showed up. I couldn't resist so I asked for a few slices of bread. Before it was over I had 12 feathered friends and quite feisty they were too.
We slept well our last night.
Day 5 - Friday, October 11
I had a small chore when daylight came. When I launched the boat I had pulled out the tongue extension. Unfortunately, I had failed to make sure the trailer wires were free and snapped them. So I just had to splice them back together. With that done and a little breakfast, we retrieved the boat, derigged her, packed up and hit the road. It was a beautiful day for the highway and we enjoyed the scenery. We took another route home - up through Alabama. It actually is a prettier drive. We pulled into our yard at around 8 p.m. EDT.
A swell trip indeed!
Categories: Adventures on the High Seas