Enough with the shipyard! I think you kids need a little flashback break and a glimpse of what all this hard work is for and the fantastic cruising grounds we have right here in our home port of Pensacola. Enjoy! (But don’t you get lazy … we’re getting right back to work next time! Just a few more projects and that boat will be pimped out, rigged up and ready for blue waters!)
And … little glimpse in the life of Annie. Life is SO FULL for this little sailor right now. I’m about to embark on an incredible adventure which I will announce on the blog THIS FRIDAY! I’m working on a really cool trailer for that this week. I’m also working hard on the book as well as I plan to publish it THIS MAY so you all have another salty Annie saga to relish while I’m off adventuring. Not to mention all of my normal HaveWind stuff that I need to stockpile so it can publish on schedule in my wake. I wouldn’t want you all to go through Annie withdrawals! I do it all for you, because I couldn’t do it without you. Thanks to you all, my Patrons, fans and subscribers, who have shown me such love and support! HaveWind is about to Travel to new heights! Buckle up!
With Big Mom tended to and Alabama in our rear-view, Phillip and I set to planning our Thanksgiving voyage. Due to the rush trip to North Alabama for the funeral and the lost time from work, we both needed to put in a few days at the office to make up for it before we took off again, so we settled on a departure date of Wednesday, November 20th, which would still leave us 10 whole days at sea. Now, while a trip east to Carrabelle, Apalachicola and the like was still do-able, it would be a stretch as Carrabelle, alone, is a two-day passage, assuming good weather, and I can tell you what we did not have that week was good weather. A front was set to pass through, leaving us with 25-30 mph winds and a predicted 6-9 foot sea-state. Not something you want to jaunt out in just for fun. There were plenty of anchorages we had heard about on the western route, so we decided to stay protected along the ICW inshore and head west in search of (what else?) — women, whiskey and gold!
Here is an overview of our planned voyage:
We planned to head over to Fort McRae first for a couple of days on the hook, then ease in to Pirate’s Cove to dock up and hang out with the local riff raff for a day or two. From there, we would jump over to Ingram’s Bayou (a place many of our sailing buddies kept telling us was one of the most beautiful, pristine anchorages over that way) to drop anchor for a couple of quiet nights, before we made our way over to The Wharf in Orange Beach where we had reserved a slip for Thanksgiving. Phillip’s clan was also planning to rent a condo there for the holiday and we – as true cruisers tend to do – were planning to make full use of their facilities! There is nothing like a hot shower and a washer and dryer after seven days at sea!
All told, our trek out west was going to be about an 8-9 day trip and we had planned one last anchorage on the way back (likely Red Fish Point – just near Fort McRae) for one last night of solitude before heading back to the real world.
So, we set off on a brisk sunny Wednesday afternoon (Nov. 20th) and headed to our first stop — Fort McRae:
Now, we’ve been to Red Fish Point many times, so the passage across Pensacola Bay and through the little inlet by Sand Island was all too familiar territory. No sweat. We could make that sail with our eyes closed (assuming, of course, no other boats, bouys, or a shore). Stevie Wonder style!
But, we had never made the “uey” around the corner and into the inlet between Sand Island and Fort McRae.
And I’ll have you know I had to Google the word “uey” for the proper spelling. Urban Dictionary says:
Cab driver : “I’ll just bang(make a/take) a uey on the next stoplight”
Although I’m not sure that’s just a “New England” thing. I think ‘to bang is to make’ rings true just about anywhere.
We had a phenomenal sail over. But, I will say, we had not been out on the boat in weeks and I think just about any conditions would have been ‘phenomenal’ to us as we were just thrilled to finally have water moving across the hull. Although many may disagree, runny noses and chilly fingers just aren’t enough to make any sail UN-phenomenal in our book. But, apparently we were a little rusty. I’d love to say we executed the ‘uey’ around Sand Island perfectly and eased right on up into our anchorage by Fort McRae. But that’s just not how it happened. As we were making (banging I guess the New Englanders would say) the bend, the boat lurched forward and let out a slight groan. With my hands on the bimini bar, I could feel the soft, thud of the ground we hit below. And let me just say for the record – although I’m a little reluctant to admit it, we have done it a time or two now (run aground) – but it’s never a feeling you get comfortable with. It’s a sickening, discomforting movement of the boat and instantly identifiable as contact with the treacherous bottom below. Thankfully, for us, it was a soft, sandy bottom and Phillip had the sharp skipper skills to back us out, “bang out” a bigger loop and get us into Fort McRae with our keel in tact.
Now, I’ve heard some people refer to this anchorage as “party alley” because it’s usually chock full of sailboats, power boats, trollers and the like. Hence the “party.” But, we were hoping that on Thanksgiving it would be pretty sparse so we would have plenty of room to spread out. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. There were three other boats in there, a marker for some sunken hazard, a bouy and a tight shoreline that we had to deal with. Enter the infamous Swing Radius. Now, most of you are smart enough to make a pretty good guess as to what that is, but humor me for just a moment for the newbies.
Imagine your anchor as the center of the circle. The radius, then, is the distance from your anchor to the stern of your boat:
Using the radius, you can then plot out a hypothetical ‘circle’ your boat could occupy depending on which way the wind or tide pushes it. Now, with several “obstacles” around us – three other boats, an immovable marker for the sunken hazard, a bouy, and a nearby shore with outstretched shoal, we had to be sure we dropped enough anchor chain (known as “rode”) to hold our boat secure while not creating a swing radius so large it would allow us to strike the surrounding obstacles. We typically like a 7:1 ratio. Meaning, if we were in 7 feet of water, with 4 foot freeboard (distance from the water line to the deck), that’s 11 feet total depth, so 77 feet of rode.
Now, while getting the anchor set right is important, making sure we had a proper cocktail at sunset easily trumps it. So, with the tight parameters, we dropped about 55 feet of anchor chain (an approximate 5:1 ratio with our ten feet of total depth) and set to our evening ritual. A book and cocktail at sunset. Could there be anything better?
But then another boat pulled up nice and tight near us and set us both on edge. We started looking around, running and re-running our calculation of the swing radius and speculating, once again, as to the approximate distance to the shore.
With both of us being born fierce litigators and each a few drinks in and, thus, a little more ballsy to boot, Phillip and I embarked on an exhaustive debate about the swing radius. I made a rough calculation and explained to Phillip my educated guess as to the radius, to which he naturally responded:
With no one else on the boat with us, a riveting discussion ensued, in which I had to drop some serious geometry knowledge on Phillip that, if translated to a demonstrative aid, would look something like this:
Simple, right? I thought so. Or at least I was sure, in my eloquent, unslurred, precise and persuasive frame of mind, that it was. And, I told Phillip as much. To which he responded:
Fine by me! I had made my peace with it. I offered my best pitch – full of reason and geometry and gin – and my plight had fallen on deaf ears (or ogling eyes – although I consider them to be synonymous). I set about to “banging out” another drink or three and resting my weary mind while Phillip got up about every hour to try and make out the markers and shoreline in the dark of night as the wind began to howl over the boat. I kept a shoulder turned to him, pretending to be sleeping soundly (lah-tee-dah) as he was checking GPS coordinates on his phone, but I was wide awake and just as worried as he. The sounds and motions of the boat from below were incredibly deceiving. What could just as easily have been the wind and a smooth shift of the boat in the water sounded, in the v-berth, like the keel wedging into sand and the boat preparing to tip over. Neither of our weary minds were resting. Phillip made one last trek topside, and I heard him walk up toward the bow, my eyes following the sound of his footsteps in the dark. Then I heard them pound quick on the deck above as he scurried back to the hatch and shouted down to me:
That’s a great shot, but that’s not it. This shot – the money shot – is stellar. Not only does it capture Phillip doing something totally awesome (but when does he not do things that are totally awesome?) but he did it right in the front of the boat, the glistening Plaintiff’s Rest. This shot is supreme. Trust me – but we’ll get there. First thing’s first.
First we had to get that beautiful boat out there on the hook as often as we could between boat chores. Let me give you some highlights of our summer anchorages (and I would imagine this song is the right backdrop for this rockin’ photo montage):
Just about every Friday at 5:00 p.m. (okay, who am I kidding – NOON!) we tossed the lines and headed out for the weekend. We often went west to Red Fish Point where we stayed for our first anchorage.
We enjoyed some exquisite sunset sails over:
And you know what happens when we start sailing? For those of you who said “clothes come off!” you would be right! But, we also drink! We are sailors you know! Every time the sun would start to dip, we would whip up one of our famous “Oh Shiiiit” cocktails or pour a fine glass of wine.
Nope, that’s not the money shot either. Not yet. Stick with me …
We would often head east too, over to the Pensacola Beach area to anchor out behind Paradise Inn or Big Sabine:
And we did some serious sailing along the way – I’m talking wing-on-wing! That’s where the Jenny and the main are on opposite sides of the boat – one pulled out to starboard and one to port. Looks like this:
It is a technique used to maximize the sail surface in light wind to allow us to sail downwind when the wind is directly on our stern. Here is our Jenny and main, wing-on-wing:
And … we sailed her like that under the Bob Sykes bridge! *gasp*
But the scariest part was, Phillip let me steer her like that!
A look of total concentration. I was in the zone!
Thankfully, we made it under, boat in tact, bridge in rearview and a big smile on my face.
We had some buddies sail along with us on occasion to get some great shots of us sailing:
Awesome shot, too, I must agree – but that’s still not it. Almost!
We cooked up some mean meals on the boat:
Sirloin steaks with chimmichurri? Yes, please! But, the wind often blew so hard it would blow out the flame on our grill.Have wind will NOT cook!So, guess whose job it was to hold up a cover while the meat cooked.
That’s right – you guessed it – the First Mate’s!
But it was totally worth it. I mean … look at that feast! We really don’t eat well on the boat, I’m telling you. Not well at all!
That thing was a beast to blow up. Definitely good for the “gun show!” We had a great time paddling around, though, once she was inflated:
Then we deflated her and rolled her right back up.
Great for storing on the boat, not so good for the back. It is a wee bit of a chore but again – totally worth it – because we always finish our chores up with a drink (or four)!
Nope, that is STILL not the money shot – although he is a sexy beast! Don’t you just hate it!
We met up with some buddies and shared a case of PBR:
Then they passed out!
And their little dog too! As did we! Day-drinking is hard.
Our “Sail Groupies” (Phillip’s folks) often came out to hang out with us on the hook:
They eat a lot! But we don’t mind. We feed them so they’ll take us out wakeboarding:
And, they helped us get it. Yes, IT. The Money Shot. Phillip’s dad pulled him right around in front of our boat and Phillip threw up a “hang ten” sign so I could snap this sizzling number. I give you – The Money Shot:
Oh yeeeaaahhh! That is money. Looks like the opening trailer for a bad-ass movie to me. I believe this is the appropriate accompaniment: Big Pimpin’
Yes, that’s what it looks like. Life on the hook. Well, on anchor, that is. The technical definition is “living on a boat and anchored some place not attached to firm land or bottom.” (http://manateefritters.com/2012/07/13/going-to-live-on-the-hook/). Gorgeous, ain’t it? I know now how great it can be, but, I have to tell you – this whole time – I did not. I didn’t know how mind-blowingly blissful the sailing lifestyle could be. It’s like when the doctor asks you what news you want to hear first: the good or the bad? You always say the bad. Get it over with right? Right. I think that’s exactly what I did.
For this entire Gulf Crossing, transmission busting, Dasani-bottle fluid catching, mast-climbing, greasy, sweaty, exhausting ride we’ve been on, I had yet to see the real reward, the true benefit of the sailing lifestyle: LIFE ON THE HOOK. Realize, I had yet to even know what it feels like to drop the anchor (not once) and have the boat stop in the middle of the water. Just STOP. No worrying about depth, or the wind or transmission fluid. No hoisting sails or pulling in lines. No checking the engine, refilling the coolant, watching the oil temp, watching the horizon for wayward ships, buoys or crab traps. Once we dropped the anchor, the boat … just … stopped. And she was safe, and secure, and poised right in the middle of a beautiful cove about 100 feet from the shore. At first, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Without any “work” to be done, I was a little lost. You mean, I can just sit back and have a drink and enjoy the sunset? Phillip said, “You can do whatever your little heart desires.”
Ahhhh … life on the hook. Let me give you a little taste. Here’s where we went:
It was about a 3-hour sail (that, thankfully, ended much better than Gilligan’s tour). Pensacola Bay is huge and catches a lot of fetch. It’s a great sailing bay and seems there’s always enough wind to do something with. We headed over to Red Fish Point, near Fort McRee (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_McRee). It is a barrier island covered with sugary, white sand and a federal park to preserve the remnants of the civil war area fort that remains. The park is accessible primarily only by boat and appears to be lost in time, preserved and serene, like it’s a thousand miles from anywhere. We had a beautiful sail over.
We were just thrilled to have the boat back in the water, the lines tossed and the two of us headed out for anchorage.
As I sit here today, I really can’t think of a better feeling. Oh, wait, sun on our skin!
I told you clothes come off when we sail. And, we were sailing! It felt so incredible. It’s like the stress and toil of the shore you’re leaving behind just seems to stay there. It doesn’t come out there on the boat with you. The most important thing is the wind. That’s the only thing you’re concerned about. Sailing is incredibly freeing.
The minute we dropped anchor and I had the option to “do whatever my little heart desired,” I dove right in the water, first thing.
I know. Looks kind of like a dolphin, but I assure you: ‘Tis me!
My little heart was soaking this “life on the hook” gig up. Loving every minute of it. It was quite a haul, but we swam all the way to shore. The sand was a brilliant white that felt cool and smooth under our feet.
And, it made sort of a crunching, squeaking sound when we walked on it.
Fun little fact for you:
Did You Know?
The stunning sugar white beaches of Gulf Islands National Seashore are composed of fine quartz eroded from granite in the Appalachian Mountains. The sand is carried seaward by rivers and creeks and deposited by currents along the shore.
I mean … was there life before Google? (I’ll credit my brilliant friend Meagan for that revelation!)
We spent the afternoon swimming to/from shore (clothes on), then dried off and poured some wine to sip on while we watched the sunset.
As usual, she did not fail to impress. It was absolutely gorgeous.
But, after all the swimming, we were ready for dinner. We set up the grill for the first time, which was a bit of an event for us. It hooks on the stern rail and connects to the propane supply on the boat.
Phillip hooked her up like a champ and threw some chicken on the grill. I sauteed some spinach and baked a fresh loaf of bread down below and – voila! – we had ourselves a right and proper feast!
I know, right there in the cockpit, a four star dinner? I was amazed. This anchorage stuff was totally tolerable. We did have one mini fiasco, though (as is always the case with us) when we were cleaning up for dinner. There is certainly no garbage disposal on the boat, so you have to be careful not to let any food particles go down the sink drain. You either have to put a strainer in the drain or scrape the dishes over the side of the boat before washing. We chose the latter. Phillip stacked the plates and everything in the pot we used to cook the spinach and went topside to start scraping. I heard him fidgeting and struggling with something and he finally stuck his head down and said “It’s stuck.” Stuck??What’s stuck? “The plate,” he said. “In the pan. I can’t get it out.” He brought it down to the galley and I had to laugh. It truly was stuck.
One of the dinner plates had slid down nice and snug in the base of the pan and, with a little soapy water underneath it, it was suctioned in there like a leech in the wrong place.
Don’t worry, I “stood by” Phillip and tried to help. I got that pot on the stove and tried to extract the plate with a screw driver and a hammer, using some real technical surgical skills I picked up in Nam.
Phillip even gave it a go, but that thing wasn’t budging.
We had wedged a knife in, but even that wasn’t working.
So, we decide to heat things up. We put that baby on the burner and lit her up, hoping the steam from the water below would free the plate. She started bubbling up, and popping and sputtering. I thought the plate was going to explode. I was skeered.
With one final pop and no free plate, Phillip decided it was time the plate made a sacrifice. He went topside with the screwdriver and hammer and I was sure he was planning to demolish it. I heard some banging and a rousing “Eff you plate!” and he came down with an empty pot and plate shards. I kept a piece to go along with the bolt head that sheared off during the Crossing, costing us the dinghy. I’m going to make a wicked shadow box someday.
With the dinner fiasco finally resolved, we poured some more wine (yes, more) and watched the moon rise and the stars come out. Again, it was perfection.
But, it certainly paled in comparison to the sunrise the next morning. It was my first on anchor and it was magnificent. I think I shed a tear or two, it was so beautiful. Okay, I didn’t, but I certainly took a lot of pictures! This is only 4 of the 59 I snapped that morning so know that I culled it down for you:
like magic, I was “hooked.” This mate was ready to anchor anywhere! We were right here at “home,” just outside of Pensacola Bay, but, I swear, we could have been anywhere, the Keys, the Islands, half-way around the world. This boat was ready to take us there. It was that night, we started planning our grand adventure.