I can’t tell you how many times Phillip and I have left Palafox Marina, whether it was headed out to our favorite anchorage, Ft. McRee, or just for a day sail, or sometimes to shoot all the way out into the Gulf and head south to the Keys, Cuba, the Bahamas, or beyond. There was always a sense of thrill, however slight, when we would turn the corner around the jetty, point into the wind and hoist the main just as we were leaving the marina, a scent of adventure always in the air. It has been a bit bittersweet to say goodbye to Palafox Marina, at least for the time being, and perhaps indefinitely. We just don’t know. But, whatever may come, Palafox Marina will always be an important chapter in our boat’s story as it was her primary home since we got Plaintiff’s Rest in 2013. That’s seven years of memories at that marina!
We’ve done dozens of boat projects at Palafox Marina.
It’s where I first learned to dock the boat (and that bumping the dock is not the complete and entire end of the world). It’s also where we put on our solar in 2014.
It’s where we first installed our working jib in 2017.
It’s where Phillip (we believe) will someday grow a third eye because he had to dive in the marina (yuck!) to retrieve part of our dinghy assembly that he dropped into the water. Down you go, Phillip!
It’s where I got my heart-shaped “boat bite” from a heat gun.
Palafox Marina just houses so many memories for us. But, now it was time to leave Palafox Marina, perhaps indefinitely, because it just couldn’t offer us shelter anymore. What once looked like this.
At the time looked like this.
It was just … time to go.
Plaintiff’s Rest was docked safely on the sea wall to the west, directly across from her former slip where she had bucked and heeled and held on for dear life.
Now, our day had come to move her to the shipyard to be hauled out so we could finally assess the full damage to her rudder from Hurricane Sally. I had mentioned, during my previous burst-of-a-post ; ) that Phillip and I were worried to turn or move her rudder in the unknown condition it was in after the storm because we were afraid something that might have been magically lodged might become un-lodged and that she might start taking on water. For this reason our initial move of Plaintiff’s Rest, from her ravaged slip to her temporary spot on the sea-wall, had been done under sheer man- and tow-boat power as we did not want to move the rudder until the day we were hauling ass to the shipyard in case she started taking on water.
Well, today was that day. And, it was Captain Annie again answering the call of duty.
September 23, 2020, 2:00 p.m.:
“I need you to pull me off at the hip as best you can!” I shouted to our buddy, Cap’n Jack, who had graciously offered to come that day to help in case Plaintiff’s Rest had issues with steering or some other problem once we started operating her and we needed a tow. Honestly, I was overwhelmed at the response I got from many friends we had asked for help:
“I’m not in town, but I’ll tell you where the keys to our fishing boat are. Anyone can drive her.”
“I can come with the dinghy.”
“You’re welcome to my boat.”
“I’ll be there. Should I wear a cape?”
These were just some of the responses we received. It really was heart-warming to feel the effect of such an outpouring of help, even from those who had lost their boat in the storm. It seemed all sailors, no matter what has happened to them or their boat personally, want to see any other boat possible survive. It’s like shaking a heavy fist at nature. You didn’t get us all. Not this time.
We ended up having a friend (shout-out to Bill Wein – I sure wish I could have seen you in the cape!) who was going to come in his 10-foot rib on Thursday (Sep. 24th), when the shipyard had us slated to haul at 3:00 p.m. As you can imagine, dozens upon dozens of boaters, damaged and scattered throughout Pensacola, were itching to haul, so we were advised, if we were given a pretty early slip to not miss it, as it might be weeks, maybe even months before the opportunity would come again. This is why Phillip and I were feverishly asking for quick help. But, the shipyard called on Tuesday and said Wednesday would be better, could we do that? Off went the round of texts and calls again, trying to line up help for the new, day-earlier time slot. We finally ended up with Bill’s rib, to be driven by another friend, Cap’n Jack, who was available Wednesday. It was a hodge-podge rescue team, but I was thrilled to have help. Phillip was on-board, but just in case of emergencies, as he was still fielding his own onslaught of work emergencies that had not let up since the storm struck. We had another good friend, Keith, on-board to help as well, but I was once again in charge.
Cap’n Jack had me tied a few different ways to his rib hoping he could pull me off of the wall (as, of freaking course!) there was a steady E/SE wind pushing me onto it, with not much room to maneuver off. And, I had absolutely no clue how much maneuvering, if any, I was going to be able to do. This was the first time we had cranked the engine (thankfully, Westie turned right over) and tried to steer the boat using the rudder since the storm. Here we go, I told myself as I signaled Keith to let loose our last dock line to shore. As I started to move the boat I could feel her responding to the rudder, which was overwhelmingly comforting. But, as we started to pull away from the dock, unfortunately, Jack’s bridal and the force of the wind had grabbed my bow and turned me completely perpendicular to the dock. Worried I would lose control of her if she started to spin in a circle, I made the tough call.
“RELEASE!” I shouted to Jack, which we had discussed before would be my “safe word” if I felt things going sideways and I wanted complete control of the boat. I’ll admit I was just a little terrified, but thankfully after several years honing my piloting and docking skills, I did feel comfortable I would be better able to navigate her than a tow-boat. All lines fell off the boat and she was free. By that time, she had turned completely to the north with her stern facing the direction we needed to go, toward the marina exit to the south. But, thankfully, I had seen Phillip pull off this bass-ackwards maneuver (I can literally call it that) before. I threw her in reverse and throttled her up hoping I could get enough momentum to steer her nicely, albeit in reverse, toward the exit.
Phillip watched me attentively, but he did not step in. He was on call. I was Captain. That had been our deal. Mercifully it worked. Whatever shape our rudder was in down there, she was fully capable of steering our boat. I was able to back up to the exit and manuever her, finally after that tragic ordeal she had suffered there, out of Palafox Marina. Cap’n Jack snapped this pic of Plaintiff’s Rest underway, all of our wayward, flat bumpers still tied on, with Captain Annie at the helm, but damn if we weren’t making way.
Plaintiff’s Rest was going to make it! Phillip and I locked eyes and gulped a big knot down our throats realizing the momentous accomplish our boat had just achieved.
And while our plan had been to travel as gently as possible in the Bay so as not to put any additional pressure on the rudder, of course it was blowing 22+ out there. We were heeled over without a lick of canvas up, but she seemed to be tolerating the conditions just fine as we made our way into the channel to Bayou Chico. Cap’n Jack was running recon in advance of us making sure there weren’t any sunk ships or other large debris in our path, as many boats had been smashed and wrecked and met their fate, too, up in the Bayou.
Phillip had me laughing as we were both looking ahead and he was pointing out the slip where I would pull in and tie to the dock so the shipyard crew could then man-handle us into the straps to be lifted out.
“Well, this should be the easiest docking you’ve ever had to do. You don’t have to worry about scratching her at all.”
I have to admit I really needed that gigantic dose of humor in that moment. He was totally right. There was nothing I could do to her now, as far as a hull-bump, that would make any hill of beans. Plaintiff’s Rest was already scratched and marred to high heaven. But, she was floating and going! Those were two big blessings right there. Unfortunately, we didn’t get lucky with a third. While this would have dawned on me had I had a little more fore-thought, but I’ll just have to admit, I was in my own little “Save Plaintiff’s Rest” bubble that I hadn’t thought to consider the state of the docks at the Travelift slip. In my mind they had appeared pristine. A safe haven for our baby girl once she made her harrowing journey across the Bay.
What was I thinking?
Almost every dock in Pensacola was wrecked by Sally. Of course the Travelift docks were wrecked too. We could see it immediately as we passed by them. I knew I had an E/SE wind pushing me and, when that is the case—i.e., both momentum and wind charging me toward a slip—I am always inclined, if space allows, to pass the slip and come at her with the wind working against my momentum to give me better control. So, I had already planned to pass the slip initially, but when I did I saw what terrible state it was in. Both sides of the dock were thrown cock-eyed from the storm. Phillip was trying to communicate with Brandon ashore to determine which side was the least damaged so we could tie to it.
“Starboard,” he hollered back to me from the bow as I was making my turn into the slip, but I could tell the wind already had too strong of a grip on me, and I wasn’t going to be able to make the slip, particularly not with a starboard tie. It would more likely be a port slam at that point. So, I backed out and circled again. My hands and legs were shaking. I was sweating, although the wind had me chilly. But, as I started to come toward the slip another time, Phillip was hollering with Brandon and I didn’t know what the status was. “Neither side!” Phillip shouted back to me, which just struck me dumb. Neither side? Phillip jogged from the bow back to the cockpit and doled out my terrible fate that day: Both sides of the dock were unusable. I had to motor straight into the straps, no mess-ups.
I backed out again and was trying to make another circle but the boat didn’t seem to want to respond. I throttled up, but she couldn’t seem to get her bow around. “Throttle more,” Phillip said watching me struggle, which I did to no effect. I was honestly afraid I had lost the rudder and was about to send Phillip down below to look when he asked: “Are you in gear?”
What can I say? I was nervous. I was anxious. But, I was definitely not in gear. Get yourself in gear, Annie, literally! Thankfully I had the wherewithal not to throw her immediately into gear, at full throttle. I’ll give myself that. And, I didn’t pee. There’s that, too. But, once I throttled back, shifted her into gear, I was then easily able to turn and maneuver and by some miracle of grace I then motored her directly into the straps. You want to talk about not much room for error. I was so relieved when it was done that I clapped for myself. I seriously did. In the cockpit. All on my own. I didn’t care who thought it was weird or silly. But, the guys at the yard were super nice about it and congratulated me on a great entry. They said they’d had many boats come charging in and get all goobered up coming into the Travelift, so thankfully I had saved them some extra work.
And, then it was time. Time to finally haul our hurricane-ravaged beauty and see what carnage we would find beneath. Phillip and I gave each other a little hand-squeeze as she started to emerge. Surprisingly, her bottom job looked pretty good. Gouged in a few spots but nothing too terrible. That boat that had sunk behind her, although it had damaged her stern rail, hull, and rudder, had likely saved her from other boats that had tried to come at her like a spear. The rudder, however, was definitely chipped and cracked on the bottom, which meant she was also likely water-logged, too.
Although we did not yet know the full state of repairs that awaited us, Phillip and I felt simultaneously exhausted and exuberant to have that day behind us. Our baby girl had been plucked from the wreckage and finally sat in safe hands now on her jack stands at the Pensacola Shipyard. She was safe.
It was a strange feeling, though, not knowing where she would go next, where her new home would be, and what might become of Palafox Marina. As I write this (February 1, 2021), Palafox Marina, while it has been cleaned and a few docks rebuilt, remains largely empty with no activity occurring. We have no idea when the rebuild might begin, how long it might take, or whether Plaintiff’s Rest will ever call Palafox Marina home again. It’s been sad to see such a beautiful marina go, and while we don’t know what exactly lies in the future for Plaintiff’s Rest, we know she had a great time of it at Palafox Marina. To our many memorable years there. Cheers!