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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Back in Blue Waters

May 13, 2014:

We woke to a hand-painted pastel sky after our night of UN-rest on the Plaintiff’s Rest.  

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The oldies-but-goodies mixed tape soundtrack of Island Time kept playing through my mind as I put on the kettle for coffee.  “You can’t hiiii-iiide your lying eyes,” as I lit the stove.  “And your smiii-iiille is a thin disguise,” as I pulled out the french press.  Phillip and I felt a little bittersweet to be leaving.  We’d had such a good time in Port St. Joe (twice on this trip!), but we were excited about our last passage.  We kept humming old tunes while we readied the boat, shoved off and headed back out into St. Joseph Bay.

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And, it felt as if the Gulf was calling us back, pulling us out of the bay, back out into blue waters and then gently pushing us home.  The wind was light most of the day, on our stern, but with the following seas we averaged 6.0-6.5 knots most of the day.  Phillip calls it “cooking with Crisco” and it makes me smile every time because I haven’t seen that white lard stuff in years.  It was kind of like a childhood friend growing up.  I remember that nostalgic blue cardboard can with the plastic lid.

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We used to keep it up on the top shelf back home in New Mexico, and my brother and I had to climb on the counter to get it down.  Two scoops of that in the ole’ Fry Daddy and you were ready to fry up anything!  We used to drop in gobs of pancake batter in and let them fry up.  Maybe they call that a funnel cake, I don’t know.  My brother and I called them fry cakes and drizzled them with Hershey’s syrup.   Very un-Paleo.

With the favorable conditions, Phillip and I spent the entire day on a beautiful run, holding the wheel just for sport, spotting dolphins and shrimp boats, munching on fresh, non-fry cake snacks and soaking up every last bit of the denim-blue horizon on our way back to Pensacola.

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We had to motor for just a few hours in the afternoon, but the wind kicked back up around dusk so that we could sail through an exquisite sunset.  It was a bit bittersweet knowing it would be the last time on this trip that we would watch it set on the Gulf.  There’s just something about seeing the vast reach of the sun, when she’s uninhibited and stretching as far as your neck can turn.  It’s like being in an IMAX.

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Phillip took the first night shift and apparently tried to sneak some lady flying friend aboard while I was asleep, but I wasn’t having it.

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“You best find your way off this boat, you hussey!”

We barely had enough time to get two shifts in before the lights of the Pensacola Pass starting to blink on the horizon soon after midnight.  It’s always neat to see that great big lighthouse flash on the horizon, still guiding us in the way it’s done for hundreds of boats before us for hundreds of years.  Kind of makes you want to put down all of your little mobile gadgets and just marvel at the timelessness of it.  While we normally don’t like to come into a Pass at night, this was our Pass, our bay, one we’ve sailed through dozens of times.  This was home.  Even at night, under a puffy moonlit sky, it looked and felt familiar.

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I think my feet first landed on the dock around 2:30 a.m. when I hopped off to tie the first line.  Pensacola.  We had made it back.

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I actually couldn’t believe we’d been gone so long.  Six weeks may seem like a long time to head out on a sailboat, when you’re back at home, planning, plotting and trying to block off the time to do it.  But, when you actually set off to do it … six weeks zips by in the blink of an eye.  It seemed like maybe last week, I’d tossed the last line into the cockpit and we headed out the Pensacola Pass on our way, for the first time, to the Florida Keys.

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But, it wasn’t last week, or the week before.  It was April 3rd, almost six weeks prior.  Sure work was calling.  Sure we had lives to get back to.  But, did we also want to keep going?  Keep cruising?  Of course!  This trip had only solidified what we already knew.  We want to do this.  We love to do this.  We love the work, we love the play, we love the chilly nights on passage, we love the hot bakes on the deck in the sun.  We love it all.  Any time we leave, we’re always going to want to go further and longer.  But, we had certainly gone far and long this time.  All the way to the Keys and back–our first year after buying the boat.  That may seem pretty small time for some, but it seemed like kind of a big deal to us.  While we were glad to be back, big, huge beating chunks of us wanted to stay out there.

After a wobbly walk back to the condo and a quick, dizzying shower, we laid in bed that night replaying a spliced reel of images from the trip.

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For me, having stepped onto a sailboat for the first time only a year prior and just now really learning what it takes to sail and be a capable cruiser and for Phillip, having finally realized his dream of owning his own sailboat and finding a fun, rough-and-tumble mate to sail with him, we were both kind of puffed up by the fact that we had actually sailed our boat, just the two of us, all the way down to the Florida Keys and back within the first year of buying her.  Our minds started to wander to all of the places we wanted to take her next time and all of the things we wanted to do to her to ready her for the next, further-longer trip.  There’s so much more in store for the crew of the Plaintiff’s Rest.  We’re excited to show you everything we’ve done since the invigorating trip to the Keys, the lessons we’ve learned and the places we’ve been since.  We’ll tell you some stories along the way.  And, some truths too.  Stay tuned!

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How To Make Friends at a Marina

May 11, 2014 (Mother’s Day!):

There are two ways, either 1) cook up a savory dinner on the community grill, open a box of wine and invite everyone to share it, or 2) play the best loud music, open a box of wine, and invite everyone to share it.  It’s doesn’t take much really.

Our second day at the Port St. Joe Marina, we headed back to the Piggly Wiggly to provision up.  Since we’re the roughneck, backpack-sporting cruiser type, I’m sure we do come across as ominous thieves.  Or, Phillip does at least, because the Piggly Wiggle backpack Nazi confiscated his backpack–again–the minute we walked through the door.

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Why do I document these things you might ask.  Because I find them hilarious.

Another hilarious quality of the Pig–the full spectrum, scope and line of official “Larry the Cable Guy” processed products.  Let’s see, you’ve got your …

Larry the Cable Guy Hamburger Dinner (just add burger!).

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Larry the Cable Guy Cheesy Tuna Dinner (when you want the other white meat).

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Larry the Cable Guy Beer Bread (“just add beer & butter”).

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A full array of Larry the Cable Guy Seasonings.

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And, let us not forget, the variety of Larry the Cable Guy “Tater Chips” (TM)–Barbeque Rib and “Pass the Dang Ketchup.”

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Mmmm-Mmmm good!

After an appetizing stroll through the Wiggly market, we headed back over to our favorite lunch spot in PSJ–Peppers Mexican Grill–home of the “Clean Plate Club,” where Phillip and I filled up to the gills last time on their $12 burrito that comes with an endless supply of chips and salsa.  This time we opted for the monstrous taco salad and carne tacos, complete (as always) with an endless supply of hot, homemade chips and salsa.

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De-lish!  But, also super filling.  We had to walk about two miles just to feel normal again.  Port St. Joe is certainly not a bad place to do it though, with plenty of picturesque, scenic walking trails and coves.

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You are here.

We perused the docks,

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met the infamous PSJ local, Larry, who gave us the infamous “If you’re bumping into things … ” line (a real character),

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got invited to tour some pretty sweet new boats–a 2013 Seaward Unlimited–

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and checked out the marina grill situation to scope out our prospects for dinner.

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We decided the grill was a-go, so we hauled all of our fixins and a box of wine over to the grill to set up shop and cook up a fine pork tenderloin with roasted broccoli for dinner.

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But, when you get a slab of meat like this going on the community grill at a marina full of hungry old salts, I’ll tell you what happens …

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you start making friends.  Real fast.

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“Mmmm … what ya’ll cooking up there?”  They seemed to come from everywhere.  All walks of life.  All different kinds of boats and cruising backgrounds.  I had to make several trips back to the boat to get more wine and food and we ended up piece-mealing the pork out and sharing with everyone.  We had a great time mixing with the locals, though.  And, I have to say, the older the couple, the more hilarious they seemed to be.  I spent most of the evening chatting with this one couple, I can’t quite recall their names–something like Edna and Burt–who’d been cruising together for something like 20 years.  Edna would say of Burt, “Awww, hell.  I don’t think he can tell the difference between my boobs and my stern at this point.”  But, then she’d lean over to me and whisper, “to be fair, there ain’t much difference, but, I’m never fair to Burt!”  I loved those old coons.

Phillip and I thought we were the real showmen of the marina.  Cooking up a fine feast, feeding everyone and sharing tall tales from our mis-adventures as the sun set on the friendly folk of the marina.

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But, we were amateurs.  Earlier that day a fleet of trawlers had pulled in, the leader of the pack, s/v Island Time, having docked right behind us, stern to stern.

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We could hear their rockin’ 70s classics blaring out eight boats back as we packed up our fixins at the grill and started making our way back to our boat.  Having shut the community dinner down around 9:00 p.m., we had every intention to go straight back to the boat for a good night’s rest as we planned to get up early the next morning and head out from Port St. Joe to make the 24-hour run home to Pensacola.  But, it soon became clear that was not going to happen.  “You are a dancing queen!” thumped through the cabin of our boat, and Phillip and I joked that it was now the s/v Plaintiff’s UN-Rest.

A raspy female voice broke through the music and laughter, shouting at us through our companionway.  “We’re not going to get any quieter, so y’all just better come join us!”  It was our last night in Port St. Joe, our last night to be docked in foreign waters, and our last night on the trip.  Our last night!  And, we were planning to rest?  “Screw it,” we said, grabbed a half-full box of wine, two glasses and headed over.  And, these folks …  If I thought Edna and Burt were entertaining, the Island Time crew blew them right the heck out of the water.  They danced and sang, danced and sang, belting out every lyric to every song that poured out of the speakers.  They had an awesome mixtape station going, too–the BEST kind of oldies–like Lying Eyes (Eagles), Dancing Queen (ABBA), I’d Really Love to See You Tonight (Mix), Baby Come Back (Player), Sail On (Commodores), I Can’t Go For That (Hall & Oates), I Can’t Tell You Why (Eagles), I Wanna Know What Love Is (Foreigner), It Must Have Been Love (Roxie), Total Eclipse of the Heart (Bonnie Tyler).  You see what I mean?  The good damn stuff!

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If you can’t beat ’em (or sleep through it!), might as well join ’em.  There’s the Plaintiff’s Rest there!

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And, they kept passing around this microphone, with a long dangling cord, that should have been plugged into something (probably a Singalodeon from the 80’s),

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but it wasn’t.  They just wadded up the cord, wire-tied it and sang into it any way, at the top of their lungs.  One of the gals told us “It’s a wireless!” with a “Get it?” smile and nod.

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Those “oldies but goodies” sure showed us how to friggin party.  I can only hope I’m half as a bad-ass as they are at that age, pulling my massive trawler up to the marina, breaking out the “wireless mic” and inviting everybody in the damn place over to a fully-stocked open bar and a full-out oldies dance party.  I snuck some from our cockpit when I went back for another box of wine.  You can see Phillip sitting on their boat, cracking up at the sight of it.

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But, it only makes you want to go over, step aboard and find yourself the full breadth of it–on their boat, surrounded by incredible, fun-loving folks who could give a damn about what anyone else thought.  They gave us yet another wildly-entertaining Keys Trip tale to tell and made our last night truly unforgettable.  Thank you Island Time!  

Sing it with me now–“You are a Dancing Queen!  Young and sweet, only se-ven-teeeeen!”

Sax Sultan in the Beer Garden

May 10, 2014:

After the horrendous slam-a-ground just outside of the Port St. Joe bridge and the heroic motoring of our boat to get us off the shoal and bring us safely to port, the Captain, the boat and I were all ready to kick back and relax.  For the crew, it was shower, then shrimp, then a cocktail or two.

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For the boat, it was a nice rinse down and a washing of anything on the boat that could fit into the machine. We were throwing linens, clothes, everything in the basket, with reckless abandon.

“This towel?”

“Sure.”

“The rug?”

“Why not.”

“The curtains?”

“Maybe next time.”

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By the time we got to the laundry room we had a heaping pile, but the facilities at the PSJ Marina are great–clean, always available, accessible and fully-functioning.  And, they certainly earned their “Florida’s Friendliest Marina” title by helping us cash in our wadded-up dollar bills for quarters for the machine.  Three loads later, everything on the boat, minus the curtains, was clean, pressed and fresh as a daisy.

Unfortunately, a full inspection of the boat revealed yet another casualty of the Keys trip–the overflow valve for our holding tank on the port side.  Like Larry said, “If you’re bumping into things, it just means you’re getting out there.”  Well, we had apparently bumped into something while we were out there, which ripped the black plastic cover off of our overflow head and left a small gouge in the side of the hull.

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Uggh.  Add that to the list.

For dinner, we knew exactly where we were going to go–Joe Mama’s Pizza!  But first, we wanted to get a pre-drink and pay a visit to our old pals at the Haughty Heron bar just behind the marina.  Last time we were there, they’d given us a free pour and a free Heron t-shirt!  Not that we were expecting the same treatment, but, much like feeding a stray dog, it certainly had us coming back!  We love the vibe in that bar, though.  Very laid back, great atmosphere and a great wine selection.

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And, on this night of all nights, the ‘tender told us they were going to have live music in the “Beer Garden out back” and that we should come back for it after dinner.  “The guy on the sax will blow your mind,” she said.  “It’s like he sings with it.”

Although it doesn’t take much to entertain us, particularly when we travel–we seem to find interesting sights, people and performances just about anywhere we go–but, a singing sax??  That was certainly a new one for us.  We were definitely in!  We finished our pre-dinner drinks at the Heron and told her we’d be back for the show.  Then it was off to Joe Mama’s for their famous wood-fired pizza and (my personal favorite) the HUGE family-size house salad, made table-side with all of the fixings.

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They claim it serves a family.  I’m inclined to think it would be just right for me a toddler.  We also got the sauce-less wings again, too, which we love and I tried the red wine flight.

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The Chilean Veramonte was the highlight, until the pizza Gods rained upon us with savory fennel sausage, melted mozarella and caramelized onions.  It was a glorious Italian bounty.

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We ate like kings, drank, rested and ate some more.

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Our bellies full and our bodies content, we made our way back to the Beer Garden outside the Haughty Heron for this promising sax show.  The Heron had built out an awesome deck area behind the bar complete with an amphitheater, palm tree landscaping, string lights and plenty of tables and chairs to sit and enjoy the free live music.

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And, the guy on the sax …   Let me just say, it reminded me of that Dusty Dinkleman character from that Ryan Reynolds classic — Just Friends.

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“Have you seen him play that guitar?  It’s like he has 15 fingers.  I can’t compete with this guy!”

Sorry Phillip.  But, the guy was a mad genius with the sax.  Whatever Dusty could do with his fingers, well, this guy could do with his mouth.

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He was incredible, as was the rest of the band (although I have to admit I didn’t notice them much).  Sorry again.  It was Latitude 29.  Check out some of their other covers and shows HERE.  I was like a tweenager at a One Direction concert, singing and filming and “whoo-hoo’ing.”  Seriously, I whoo-hoo’ed.

Several times.  We stayed till the sun fell, belting out the words (or whatever words came to mind) to every song, until they closed up shop.

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Great, GREAT night at the Beer Garden!  Thank you Haughty Heron (and the Sax Sultan from Lat 29) for putting on such an incredible show!

I Wouldn’t Use the Word ‘Run’

I wouldn’t.  It just doesn’t quite capture it.  Jumped.  Landed.  Struck.  Those are all more appropriate.  But, run?  No.  I wouldn’t say we ‘ran.’

May 10, 2014:

After a wild, peanut-shelling, hatty-hour hollerin’ night at Bowery Station, Phillip and I made our way back Up the Stairs for one final feast in Apalachicola.  The braised pork shank appetizer, fresh baked bread and wedge salad were divine.

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Not to mention the quaint, cozy view of the town from the upper deck.  For dinner, Phillip enjoyed a perfectly cooked filet and I, according to the waitress, “put down some duck” (Caribbean style with roasted red peppers and mango).

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She kept warning me when I ordered it how big of a dish it was.  “That’s really a lot of food, ma’am.”  Good, I thought.  Because I didn’t come here for just a little!  She seemed shocked when I cleaned the whole plate, so we got real crazy and ordered some dessert just for the hell of it!  “Yes, we’ll have the homemade peach ice cream, please.”

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In all, we thoroughly enjoyed our last night in that sleepy old Florida town.  We woke the next morning, bright and early,

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and readied the boat to motor “the ditch” back to Port St. Joe.

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I am thrilled to say it was one of our easiest “de-dockings” yet.  I am still prone to get a few heart palpitations when we pull up to docks and away from docks and near docks and around docks.  The whole process is just fraught with peril, but this time the river pushed us right off.  We waved a hearty goodbye to the friendly Blue Dolphin Crew anchored around us and watched Apalachicola shrink away in the distance as we headed up the channel.

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And, just as it was last time, the Ditch offered us up another beautiful motor day.  We eased along through old swamp-like pines, with Spanish Moss hanging the from the trees and birds swooping elegantly above the water.

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Rusty old bridges, worn-out shrimping boats and driftwood boathouses littering the banks make it feel like you’re trudging up the ole’ Mississipp.

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We even got to throw out the Jenny for a bit in Lake Wimico and do a little sailing.  Otherwise, it was just a leisurely cruise.  We read and wrote and enjoyed an incredibly peaceful five-hour motorsail over to Port St. Joe.

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Bringing you the very best, from the cockpit of the Plaintiff’s Rest!

Everything was great and wonderful and perfect, until all of a sudden it was not.  While we were protected from the weather in the channel (I’m assuming that’s why they call them “protected waters”), such was not the case when we came out under the bridge at Port St. Joe.  We were motoring the narrow channel and it was blowing about 15 mph right over our port bow.  With little protection from the South (only the thin sliver of Cape San Blas on the other side of the bay), the wind was picking up a lot of fetch across the bay and beating into us, bringing 2 foot seas along with it.  The wind and waves were pushing us around in the narrow channel and just as we were coming under the bridge and preparing to hang a left to come into Port St. Joe Marina, the boat made a wicked “WHAM!” sound and slammed aground.  Like I said, the word ‘RUN‘ would be incredibly deceiving in this situation.  We didn’t just ease up gently on the bottom and scooch up on the soft sand.  No, our boat lifted up on a wave and came crashing down on the ground underneath it.  I bolted upright and looked around, thinking we had actually collided with something.  We heard glass shatter below and looked down in the cabin to see that the globe from the lantern had popped off with the impact and busted into a hundred pieces on the cabin floor.

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Out of instinct, Phillip said, “What was that?”  Followed immediately by, “We’ve hit something.  We’ve hit the ground.  We’ve run aground,” as if his thought process was simply occurring out loud.  I looked behind us and in front of us and it looked like we were still between the channel markers.  Phillip revved up the engine to try and get us off, but we just kept hitting, over and over again.  The depth was reading 5.2 but it was hard to tell from the GPS which side the shoal was coming in from.  Meaning, we weren’t 100% sure which way we needed to go to get off of it.  Phillip thought it was on the starboard side, but the wind and waves were coming at us right over the port bow, pushing us back each time on the shoal.  We tried our boom trick, swinging the boom way over on the port side and having me hang off of it to try and list the boat to port to get off of the shoal, but it wasn’t working.  We could see the marina.  It was right there!  We were less than a half-mile away, but we were stuck.  Lodged on the bottom and beating it with every passing wave.

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Phillip swapped places with me on the boom and gave me the wheel with instructions to keep trying to motor off the shoal toward port.  He had pulled up the number for the marina on his phone in case we needed to call for a tow.  I pushed the throttle forward and heard our Westerbeke struggling mightily into the weather while Phillip dangled and bounced his entire body weight from the boom hoping he could free us.

“Now?” he would shout between bounces.  “Anything?”

“Not yet,” I would shout back.  “We’re still hitting!”  Ugh, it was such a sickening feeling.

Just as we were about to call it and make the call to the marina, I started to see depth on the GPS.  First 6.2 then 7.0, then a joyous 8.3.  Finally double digits and the boat stopped beating.  Phillip could feel it and he bounced around a little harder as the boat finally started to ease off.  I gunned it, pushed her hard to port, and we finally started moving forward.  Once we settled out and got our bearings, we looked back, and it was clear the heavy wind and waves on the port bow had pushed us just enough outside of the channel to hit bottom on the starboard side.

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It’s surprising, sometimes, how easily you can run aground when you don’t realize how much the weather is really pushing you.  Our takeaway from this experience was to ensure the next time we find ourselves in a narrow channel in rough conditions, we’ll make extra effort to look both forward and backward and make sure we’re staying between the channel markers from both the rear angle and ahead.  It’s easy to just look forward and think you’re staying in the channel because your path lines up with the markers ahead.  But, we learned to look backward as well to make sure you’re not slipping out.  It doesn’t take much of a “slip” to slam aground.  We have never felt such an impact in the boat, and we never want to feel that again.

Thankfully, though, our trusty gal got us off and brought us safely into the marina where we gathered our collective breath, thanked and praised her profusely, promised we would do everything in our power to never let that happen to her again and then we hugged her.  Or at least I did.  A big bear one, right around the mast. Once again, despite our undeniable efforts but inevitable shortcomings, she had brought us safely in to port.

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Thanks girl.

April 7, 2014 – Keys Log: Day 5 – Goodbye Gorton

They say for a sailor, wind is more valuable than money.  If that’s true, we were filthy, stinking rich when we woke that morning.  It was blowing 20-25 knots and gusting in the 30s!  If we wanted kiting wind, we certainly got it.  It was time, finally to bust out the kites!  Phillip and I quickly donned our kiting gear and got out there!

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First suit sighting of the trip!  Finally!

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And … then we cover her right back up!  That water was still a little cold, though.  There is one thing I do not like to be when I kite, and that is chilly!

Once we were geared up, we headed over to the cove we’d sighted the day before and pumped up!

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Phillip took a spin first to see what the conditions were like.  He is by far the expert and can usually give a pretty good assessment of whether the wind or conditions are too much for me.

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Once we got the kite pumped up and launched, we had a few lookie-loos stop by to see what we were doing.  I always get a kick out of what people think about kiting – some examples:

Onlooker says: “Man, I can’t believe you guys are doing that in this wind!”

We think:  Well, you kind of NEED wind to kite.  We wouldn’t be out here if it wasn’t.

Onlooker says:  “I bet you have to be SO strong to not blow away!”

We think:  Not really, any lightweight can learn to kite.  It’s just about how you fly it. 

But, I understand why they’re often so taken and intrigued by it.  It is a pretty novel act to watch – powering yourself across the water with a kite.  And, Phillip certainly makes it look easy.

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Video HERE.  (But he always does!)  I was chomping at the bit to get out there, but I stood by on the shore, like a faithful kite groupie, snapping pics and footage and fielding questions from the peanut gallery.  We had two guys keep coming out in shifts, one then the other, to check us out.  Once I struck up a conversation with them, they told me they ran the local tavern there and were taking turns leaving the bar one-manned so the other could come out and watch Phillip kite.  They were really captivated by it.  We also had a gal from the Gulf County Visitor’s Center, which was right down the road, stop by to snap some pictures.  Phillip seems to attract onlookers like the paparazzi.  I sometimes feel like his big-shot manager on the shore – “No pictures, please!”  But, the Gulf County gal, Kelli, got there just as Phillip was coming in to deliver the bad news.  It was really picking up out there – blowing probably 28-30 knots – and Phillip said it was probably too much for me.  He could barely hold down the 9 meter kite (our smallest).  Unlike money, sometimes the wind is just too much.  But, my time would come.

I told the gal from the Visitor’s Center that I had some footage and pictures I could send her as I helped Phillip pack up the gear.  She was grateful and told us to stop on by the visitor’s center while we were there for some freebies and good info on the area.  We’re always game for good local info and anything free.  So, after we got all the kite gear cleaned up, we set out to find the visitor’s center.  And, find it we did!  They had a great facility there.

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Our newest kite groupie – Kelli!

The gals there were really nice and invited us in for a tour of the facility.  They told us about the annual scallop festival they host where they send several travel writers out for a day of scalloping in the St. Joseph Bay so they can do a write-up on the festival and the area.  Guess who will be coming back in September!  Sweet!  They also gave us some free samples of Tupelo honey which is made right there in Gulf County.  Sweet-ER!

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In all, the gals there were very nice and gave us some good tips about motoring the ditch through Lake Wimico, some good anchorages near Carabelle and some lagoons to look out for.

We thanked them for the info, left the facility to stroll around town a bit and stumbled upon The Thirsty Goat.  They had some awesome t-shirts there.  Thirsty?  Get your goat on at The Thirsty Goat.  Ummm … yes, please!  I snagged one and slipped it on.  And, it was some kind of stroke of luck because I had it on when we made to the next stop on our impromptu pub crawl – The Haughty Heron.  

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I didn’t even think about the fact that I was wearing the competitor’s logo proudly as I strolled around the place, eyeing their t-shirts and almost wishing I’d saved my one “bar shirt buy” for this place!

Haughty or Naughty?  “Naughty!  And, do you have that in a small?”

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But, the cool thing was when the guys came out from the back to help us out and offer a drink, they turned out to be the very same oglers from the kiting cove.  THESE were the two blokes who were taking shifts at the tavern to come out and check us out!  Recognizing us as the local kiters and spotting my Goat shirt, the owner, Blake, quickly said he wouldn’t stand for it.  He hooked me up quick with a good ‘goat cover’ – one of his own Haughty Heron shirts – for free!

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He also poured us two free glasses of Healdsburg Ranches merlot to try.

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I’ve told you our position on freebies …

In all, it was a very “fruitful” venture.  We didn’t even mind that it started dumping buckets as we were walking back to the boat and we got totally, completely head-to-toe soaked.  (It certainly didn’t hurt that our ‘spirits’ were nice and high by then … we were literally singing in the rain!).  We made a make-shift drying line in the cockpit to hang up our sopping threads and tucked in for the night.

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And, friends, while the day was done, I had one more deed yet to do, and I feel I have to share it with you.  It’s certainly is a significant milestone in my sailing career and easily a very blog-worthy event as I feel these guys have sort of developed into their own character on the blog over the course of this past year.  You’ve seen them time and again, keeping me warm and dry and highly visible in fashionable raincoat yellow.  Yes, that’s right, the Gorton’s Fisherman Pants.

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The ones, actually, that came with the boat.  Plaintiff’s Rest’s previous owner had left them for us, knowing, probably, what a true sailing asset they were.

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It was time to say goodbye, though.  They were huge and clunky and completely cumbersome to begin with, but I used them all the same because they served their purpose.  But now, they had started to flake and crumble and leave little yellow flakes everywhere I went on the boat.  We were also coming into summer and they were an extremely hot, constricting foul weather cover.  We had picked up some new Frogg Toggs at Port St. Joe, and I had to retire the Gorton’s pants.

So, put on some nostalgic, sentimental song – I recommend Joe Crocker’s raspy theme song to the Wonder Years – With a Little Help From my Friends – as you scroll wistfully through these photos.  They certainly were friends to me, and we hated to see them go.

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We’ll miss you Gorton’s!

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April 6, 2014 – Keys Log: Day 4 – Clean Plate Club

I heard a light little shuffle up on the deck, a gentle swish of a bag and then the warm scent of fresh-baked muffins filled the cabin …  Okay, they weren’t fresh-baked, they were wrapped, but the gesture felt the same.  We woke on Sunday morning to find the Sunday paper and the two darling little banana nut muffins laid lovingly on the deck of our boat by the friendly staff at Port St. Joe Marina.

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When they say they are the “friendliest marina in all of Florida,” I have to say … I believe them!  We sat and read the paper, and drank coffee and nibbled on muffins all morning.  After two nights in a row of two-hour shifts at the helm, a nice, leisurely morning on the boat was just what we needed.

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Yes, we took pictures of it.  We’re just that devoted to the blog … 

Around noon, or even a little after, we finally ventured out to see what the ole’ town of Port St. Joe had to offer.  We were thrilled to find beautiful, breezy walking paths around the marina,

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a potentially perfect cove for kite-boarding,

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a quaint little downtown strip with several quirky bars, unique restaurants and other delightfully tacky establishments.  Definitely our kind of place!

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Now, I don’t know about you fellow cruisers, but when Phillip and I eat out on our sailing ventures, we like to try and scout out the little local places that offer food we can’t really replicate on the boat.  Something unique to that area, or unique altogether that we haven’t had in a while – like some great middle eastern food, or a decadent french meal, or some funky little taco hut that has a line around the corner.  Not knowing at all what we were in the mood for, we stumbled upon this colorful little Mexican place – Peppers – and decided it was definitely worth a go.

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And boy, was it!  A hot basket of chips and salsa hit the table as soon as we did, and didn’t stop coming the whole time we were there.  A hot, piping basket even came out with the check that Phillip and I tried to wave off, but that we actually ended up putting a pretty serious dent in anyway.  We split the “California Burrito,” which was about the size of my right calf (yes, the right one – it’s a little bigger than the left).

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It was bursting with flavorful beans, rice, corn, chicken, cheese.  You name it.  A perfect combination of savory flavors and crisp greens, and it was doused in this addictive queso.  It was awesome!

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Clean Plate Club!  We are card-carrying members.

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We made a few more stops on the way home to provision up (milk, cereal, coffee and the like) and scoped out a few more eateries for the next day’s outing.  We saw a pizza place that some folks at the marina had been telling us about – Joe Mama’s Pizza – but found it was closed Sunday and Monday, and we were planning to leave on Tuesday.  Bullocks!  But, in all, we congratulated ourselves on such a fortuitous stop.  We had never been to Port St. Joe by boat and we were thrilled we’d landed here.  Everything was within walking distance of the boat – bars, restaurants, the Piggly Wiggly.  Whatever you needed.  And, while a storm brewing in the Gulf is bad news for sailing, it certainly was promising for some awesome kiting in the St. Joseph Bay.  We kept an eye on the wind, hoping the storm would bring us some great conditions for kiting while we were there.

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On our way back to the boat, we met some great fellow cruisers that were docked up right next to us – David and Mary Lucas on Liza.  David and Mary were headed down the west coast of Florida to make the cut through the Okeechobee.  We invited them over for sundowners, shared some tall boat tales (although our harrowing dinghy debacle seemed to take the cake – as it often does), cooked up a great grilled chicken salad for dinner and called it a night.

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April 5, 2014 – Keys Log: Day 3 – Don’t Mind the Weather

It’s funny how things tend to work themselves out when you’re sailing.  We had a follower tell us a while back (and rightfully so) that the most dangerous thing you can have on a boat is a schedule.  While time is decidedly always an issue – if only we all had an infinite supply we could go anywhere we want and stay six months – but the weather and wind and the sun also play a role in where you end up by boat.  It’s often a place you didn’t expect to go; rather, it’s a place you chose when you thought the weather wasn’t “working with you,” but once you get there, you often decide it is most definitely a place at which you’re glad to have ended up.  And, then you start to wonder whether the weather had it in mind all along …

So, the wind, in our minds, had not been “working with us” since we started off on this venture.  It was directly out of the southeast, dead on our nose, for the entire first night and day of the trip.  For that reason, we didn’t make near as much ground as we would have liked toward Clearwater, and with a known storm coming into the Gulf in the next day or two, we decided to pull out and head into Port St. Joe.

Log book:

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We had never been there before by boat, but we had heard great things.  It wasn’t originally in the plans for us, but, that’s the thing about plans.  But, as soon as we changed our heading toward St. Joseph Bay, we found ourselves on a perfect beam reach, making great headway, and doing some of our best sailing of the trip yet – right into the black abyss.

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The wind has a wicked sense of humor.  But it was like she was congratulating us on such a wise decision.  We were sailing along so fast, we were going to reach Port St. Joe before sunrise, and – as many of you fellow cruisers I’m sure follow the same rule – on the ole’ Rest our goal is never to come into a new Pass at night, so we actually had to turn around and sail back out into the Gulf for a bit to make sure we didn’t beat the sun in.

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It was a strange feeling to have worked so hard to make way forward for a day and a half, only to now turn around 180 degrees and sail for a few hours at 5.5 knots in the opposite direction.  Like I said … funny how things work out.

But after an hour or two of sailing back out, we finally turned around again, and sailed back in to St. Joseph Bay right around sunrise.  The fog was still so heavy we struggled to find even the flashing bouys.  Markers you would typically see miles out would now only reveal themselves at about 100 yards.

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I sat up at the bow and squinted through the mist to try and find them.

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“There’s one!”

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As the sun finally started to creep up and melt away some of the fog, we caught our first glimpse of land on the horizon and it turned out to be a beautiful morning.

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Thankfully the inlet into St. Joseph Bay was an easy one and we made it into the marina and docked up without issue.

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Between you, me and the fencepost (well, and all followers of this blog, I guess) I still get a little nervous every time we pull up to a dock because you just never know what’s going to happen.  I have failed to lasso a stern pole, jumped off the boat without a line, and a-many other docking mishaps I have failed to mention on this blog that still cause me a little heartburn when we start pulling our big beauty out of the open blue and up next to treacherous pilings and other fiberglass beasts.  A little tip – I always call ahead to the marina (despite the occasional eyeroll from the Captain) and ask them every time to send out a dock-hand (I’m assuming that’s a sufficient title) to help catch a line.  I mean, it’s a big, expensive boat, our most prized possession, I’m not ashamed to ask for eight hands on deck to help save her.  The marina at Port St. Joe has a reputation for being the “friendliest marina in all of Florida,” and I’ll say I have to believe it.  They sent a young chap right out who proved to be an excellent line-catcher and he helped us get tied up and gave us a quick tour of the facilities.  I can’t say enough good things about the folks at the Port St. Joe Marina.  They all went above and beyond.

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Plug that baby in!!

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The Captain … always doing a double-check.  (Rum drink in hand … )

Once the boat was secure, we set out to check out the marina office and get checked in.

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Even the pets at Port St. Joe are friendly.  We had a lovable white lab welcome us right in with a soft pant and a smile.  (To my good friend Anna – he reminded me of Tugg!!)

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The dockside bar there at the marina, looked the perfect place to try out the local Port St. Joe cuisine, so we settled in for some fine oysters and fish tacos.