Chapter Eleven: Some Much-Needed Shore Leave!

CRACK!  There went another.  I’m telling you, I like to watch lightning.  I think it’s beautiful.  I’m not sure I ever need to see it again from the cockpit of a boat, though.  

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Big thunderheads seemed to loom over us every time we sailed away from the shore.  We had the handheld electronics piled in the oven and Mitch, Phillip and I were curled up, tethered in in the cockpit and we watched as the storm in Apalachicola Bay thankfully (knock on teak!) skirted around us.  Once the storm eased off a bit, so did we, and it was all smiles and “whews!” as we motored our way in to take some much-needed shore leave in Apalachicola.

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We called ahead to see if we could get a slip at the Water Street Hotel.  When Phillip and I sail to Apalachicola we usually try to snag a spot at the City Docks.  You may recall the lone sign there that says “Call Chief Bobby Varnes for dockage.”  But, the house batteries on Mitch’s boat appeared to be running low (although the eMeter was a little confusing).  We just weren’t 100% confident in their capabilities, so we figured a nice, air-conditioned, rejuvenating night in a slip would be a welcomed reprieve for this tired crew.  Also, Mitch has much less draft than we do (4’11”) so he can creep further up the river than we can in our Niagara (5’7″).  

We made Mitch handle the docking strategy and tell us what lines to tie off in what order (again so he could practice coming in single-handed) and he did a pretty good job.  He had everything planned out right, he’ll just have to work on which side is starboard and which side is port (but I goober those up all the time too, so … “No, the other starboard.”).  In all, it was nice to see the boat tied up and secure with the longest offshore passage behind her.

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Now it was off to the showers for this crew!  See ya!

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It seemed our marina shower luck had run, though.  Back in Clearwater, we’d had hot water but no AC in the shower rooms.  What did I call it?  “It wasn’t a shower, I’d say it was more of a steam spray.”  The minute you stepped out of the water stream you started sweating.  Well, this time, in Apalachicola, we had nice, chilly AC in the shower rooms, but no hot water.  I’d call this one an Arctic rinse.  My lips were turning blue and my teeth were chattering by the time I got out of there.  I’ve never been so thankful to step into the humid Florida air and feel beads of sweat start to form on my skin again.  Ahhhh … nice and muggy.  Once we were spruced up, it was time to hit the town.  

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Phillip and I love the old sleepy Florida feel of Apalachicola.  It’s like it’s been frozen back in time.  Everyone moves a little slower.  They talk a little slower, too, and I kind of like it.  We decided to go Up the Creek for dinner (literally).

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[WARNING: Foodie pics coming.  I hope you’re not already hungry.]

The grilled conch cakes we’d had there when Phillip and I were making our way back from the Florida Keys last year was, we decided (and it was very hard to make this decision but we finally settled on it) one of the best meals of our entire Keys trip.  They are incredibly rich and drizzled with a honey lime sauce made from local Tupelo honey.  Words simply cannot describe …

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The boys got some fish dishes with fries that were good but not good enough that I can even recall them next to my conch cakes (oh, and a side of brussel sprouts – love me some greens!)

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We had a good chat during dinner about the trip.  Mitch confessed that his worries were finally starting to ease now that we had brought the boat on the other side of the Big Bend.  This was definitely the home stretch of the trip and the Nonsuch was still intact and performing well. We decided to take our time motoring “the ditch” the next day over to Port St. Joe so Mitch could experience it.  Phillip and I had often described it to him as a jaunt down the ole’ Mississip’, as if Huck Finn would pull up right next to you on his rickety raft.  The Westerbeke was chugging along really well and departure from Port St. Joe on the other side of the ditch would give us a nice jumping off point to make the last overnight run to Pensacola.  We came back down the creek after dinner to find Tanglefoot plugged in and chilled for the evening, and we all got a much-needed solid night of sleep on the boat.

The next morning, though, I found myself facing a kind of peril I have never encountered in all of my cruising: Killer Bees!  I kid you not.  Around 6:00 a.m., I stepped out of the boat to stretch my legs and make a little trip to the ladies room (so as not to wake the boys on the boat) and as I was walking along the sidewalk along the dock behind Water Street Hotel, about every five or so feet on my path there was a bee sitting on the sidewalk.  At first it didn’t bother me, there was just one.  As I walked by he started to buzz around so I walked a little quicker, but then I encountered another and another and another.  By the time I got to the restrooms I was flailing and swatting and batting them away.  I jiggled on the handle but it was locked and I felt like I already had a swarm on me.  Screw the bathroom!  I decided to run.  I was jumping and sprinting and yelping all the way back to the boat and (seriously) hitting a bee with every arm stroke.  Those things were on me!  The boys got a big laugh about it but I saw them swatting and yelping a little too when they made their own trek to the men’s room.  The bees in Apalachicola are no joke.

We decided to head over to Cafe Con Leche for breakfast.  It’s a quaint little shop Phillip and I had stumbled upon last time but didn’t have the chance to eat breakfast there.  They have books and magazines and local art and fresh homemade arepas (baked corn cakes stuffed with all kind of goodies–peppers, ground beef, cheese, etc.–you pick).  Phillip and I split the Picadilly arepa and it was scrumptious.

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Mitch turned his nose up at the arepa (mistake) and got a plain old ham croissant.  You can get those anywhere, Buddy!  Boring!

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We walked around Apalachicola poking in all of the quirky little shops and B&Bs.  

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What are you looking at?

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Mitch was huffing and puffing everywhere–hot as a pregnant cow.  He was cracking Phillip and I up flinging every door open with an overly-dramatic sigh and a gulp of the AC.  That man is not meant to cross deserts.  We found some diesel engine oil at the marina by the City Docks so we stocked up on that as well as transmission fluid to replenish our leaking fluids before motoring the ditch over to Port St. Joe that day.  Like clockwork, the storms started brewing on the horizon the minute we started to think about tossing the lines.  I swear those storms were chasing us!

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We hunkered down in the boat to let the rains pass.  While they look pretty intimidating, the summer storms were usually intense but very brief.  They would rumble and flash and dump some rain and then the skies would clear.  We spent the stormy hour battened down in the boat replenishing the fluids.

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Yes, that’s my “work suit.”

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It didn’t take long for the storms to pass and the clouds to part.  We had put over a half-quart of oil in the engine and, while she didn’t emit the monstrous “black blob” that had shot out of her the last time we cranked, there was still a little bit of black discharge that floated behind her this time.  It was probably a product of us running her harder than she’s been ran in quite some time, but she really was performing like a champ.  Captain Mitch handled the de-docking plan and managed to get all of his ports and starboards straight this time as we tossed the lines and started puttering up the ditch to Port St. Joe.

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Cute little house boats docked along the river.

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And the not-so-cute …

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The storms stayed on our horizon but never did anything more than sputter and sprinkle on us as we enjoyed a nice, easy day motoring the ditch over to Port St. Joe.  

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Phillip and I (totally exploiting our role as crew) started talking up Joe Mama’s Pizza and the big, lavish Italian dinner we were hoping for once we got to Port St. Joe.  They have great wine flights there, incredible sauceless chicken wings, a HUGE family size salad (made table-side) and decadent thin-crust pizza.  Aren’t you hungry now?  We love Joe Mama’s!  Mitch really didn’t have a choice in the matter.  

We stopped in first at the fuel dock at Port St. Joe to fuel up for the last leg of the trip and, I have to say, Mitch’s docking skills really were improving.  He did the whole thing–docking and de-docking at the fuel dock–on his own.  Phillip and I could tell he was really getting a feel for his Nonsuch, which is a fun thing to watch.  Now, did he bump a piling or two when slipping up next to his dock for the night?  Sure, but who hasn’t?  You have to get a feel for that too, because it’s just going to happen.

Once we were docked, our first mission was to make a Piggly Wiggly run to get some provisions for the last passage of the trip.

ARRRGGGHHH!!

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Mitch was killing us over this Arizona Green Tea.

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Yeah, that stuff.

He had brought two gallons of the stuff for the trip (that and eighteen, give or take, single serviecs of Gatorade–the man cringes at water). Mitch had burned through his two green gallons early on in the trip and now needed more.  He meandered the Piggly aisles back and forth with no success and finally enlisted one of the fine red shirt-clad Piggly people to help him on his hunt.  When she couldn’t find it in thirty seconds, however, he enlisted yet another.  I swear, Mitch had two little red helpers following him all over the store looking for his beloved tea.

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I’ll tell you, there is never a shortage of stories when it comes to Mitch.  He is walking entertainment.  Sadly, the red broads came back empty-handed and Mitch had to make do with just the Gatorade.  Sorry Buddy.

After our store run, we spruced up for a night on the St. Joe town!

Aren’t they dashing?

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For Phillip and I, that usually kicks off with a pre-dinner drink (or three) at the Haughty Heron.

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I think he’s trying to pat his head and rub his stomach there.  Not sure.

It was fun to chat with the owner there–Wade, I believe it is–because he said he remembered Phillip and I from when we came through on our way down to the Keys last year.  Probably because we had spent a couple of days kiting in the cove at Port St. Joe and drew a pretty good gathering of lookie-loos!  Kiting tends to do that.

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The Heron folks were great, though, and even gave us a drink on the house.  Then there was no stopping us.  Phillip and I had pretty much forged the deal while we were motoring the ditch that day.  We had been craving those succulent chicken wings, that tangy salad dressing and the cheesy, meaty goodness of a perfectly-cooked thin crust pizza all afternoon.  We didn’t even let Mitch vote.  It was Joe Mama’s or bust.

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I know.  Yum, right?

We ordered the “La Roma” pizza–pecan pesto sauce, pancetta, tomatoes, basil and two eggs baked on top.  It reminded us of John Besh’s restaurant, Domenica, in New Orleans.  Just great quality dough cooked in a stone oven.  So good.  

Our server was quite the character, too …  Get this.  

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She was making small talk with us while dropping some linens and plates down, moving pretty quickly, obviously trying (as a good server should) to get us drinks, then appetizers, then the main course.  We weren’t having it, though.  This was a highlight of the trip for us.  We were going to do it like the Europeans: nice and slow.  We told her we were happy for her to take her time with our dinner.  

“We want to enjoy the AC in here,” Phillip explained.  “Because ours is out.”  

“Oh, in the truck or the trailer?” she asked.  A good ole’ country girl.

“Neither.  The boat!” we all said heartily.  I’m not sure what that makes us, but we got a pretty good laugh out of her.  Dinner was such a treat.  While we don’t want a lavish fine-dining experience every night, the occasional splurge is worth it.  Especially after a couple of salty, tiring days at sea.  We definitely indulged and it was great of Mitch to treat the crew.  Thanks Buddy!

I don’t recall much about the walk back.  There were lots of replays of the Arizona tea fiasco and the lack of AC in the truck/trailer, I know that.  I know there was some bumping of elbows and backsides as we all brushed our teeth as quickly as we could over the kitchen sink and scrambled to our respective bunks.  And I also know the crew slept nice and soundly that night.  Maybe a little too soundly … 

“No more two bottles of wine for you guys!” Mitch croaked when we woke the next morning.  “Phillip snored all night.”

Phillip just smiled and rolled over, which made me smile too.  It had been a fun couple of days ashore.  But, the Gulf was calling us back.  It was time that day to ready the boat and head offshore again to make our last twenty-four hour run from Port St. Joe to Pensacola.  We woke to a crisp sunrise and, for the time being, clear skies.  The coffee was brewed, the beds were made and the crew of s/v Tanglefoot prepared to make way.

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Thanks to my Patrons who help me share the journey.  Get inspired.  Get on board.

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2 Responses to Chapter Eleven: Some Much-Needed Shore Leave!

  1. All your food talk makes me hungry. Mary

    Sent from my iPhone

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