After arriving in Apalachicola I decided to spend a couple nights to rest up and take care of some chores. (Joker valve on the toilet…fun,fun.) The town is bustling with a surprising amount of tourist action, which is a good thing. There isn’t an easy way to get to the town and it really does have a lot to offer if you fancy that old town Florida atmosphere such as myself. It really is the forgotten coast. But you can guarantee you are going to get the best oysters and seafood than anywhere else around. They literally unload the oysters from the boat and you have them on a plate a few minutes later. I always wanted to try the brewery in town, Oyster City Brewing, but it was packed and I needed food too. Yes, believe it or not this sailor does not run on just rum and beer. I ended up finding a wood fired pizza place on the corner near the marina. The name was “Slice” and peering into the window I spotted all the Oyster city brewing beers on tap. Awesome! I quickly became friends with the owner who was still celebrating the grand opening of his life long dream by enjoying a few of his favorite adult beverages he had stashed behind the bar. It just happened that he used to sail and his son was also a very accomplished sailor on the East coast. After a delicious pizza and some cold beer I made my way back to the boat to catch up on sleep I was still lacking from the crossing the day before.
The next morning I awoke early to make my way toward Panama City. One of the good things about having a smaller boat is the ability to fit under most bridges. There is a bridge in Panama City and another in Ft.Walton that are both 50 feet tall. I need 47.5 feet to clear the expensive stuff at the top of the mast. The flexible antennae at the top acts like a curb feeler at 48.5 feet, but I really don’t like getting that close! My journey up the Apalachicola river was interesting with an occasional alligator staring me down from the river bank. My original intent was to make the western side of panama city. Unfortunately I ended up getting chased by another bad thunderstorm. Thinking I could outrun the lightning and wall of rain I passed up the Panama City Marina. I was able to make it a few more miles before realizing my luck was running out as the wall cloud began to descend upon me. I approached the St.Andrews marina, made a frantic call on the VHF radio to the dockmaster and was tied up to a nice floating dock before the worst of the storm landed on top of me. Even though I was not planning on staying at a dock that night, it worked out quite well. The water clarity was amazing, almost rivaling the keys! The price for the slip however was nothing like the keys! If you are passing through this section of the coast I definitely recommend a stop at this marina. Just the floating dock was worth it! It really is the small things in life.
I made the best of my short visit and decided to venture into town for a drink and some food. After a walk around town I stumbled into the restaurant closest to the marina. It was called Fourwinds and they were advertising a blues and jazz band that night. Sitting at the bar with a perfect view of the stage I started talking to a younger guy next to me who was also a sailor in the past. He was good friends with the bartender and told me all about the history of the place. It is family run and while the kids run the tables the parents were sitting in with the band who sounded awesome! After an amazing evening and probably more drinks than I should have had I returned to the boat to get some sleep.
I left about 7am the next morning after hitting the self service pumpout dock. My destination for the day was Hogtown Bayou, a nice anchorage just east of Destin. I have family that live close by and I planned on spending a few days to hang out with them and rest up before making the trip up river. After passing through “the narrows”, a narrow cut between Panama City and Choctawhatchee Bay, I passed under the 331 bridge and hung a left into the deep Hogtown Bayou anchorage.
After dropping the hook and launching the dink I made my way to shore where my Aunt Cindy picked me up and drove me to their place for dinner and drinks. Since I turned 16 I have been traveling to Grayton Beach as often as I could to Hang out with my aunt, uncle and cousins. Emily and I even had our wedding on the beach here. It really does feel like my home away from home. You also know that you are going to get some amazing food whenever you show up. My aunt and uncle both are amazing chefs and always serve up amazing dishes when I visit. Thanks again!
That same night I went back to the boat. I really don’t like leaving the boat alone at anchor, especially with the storms coming through everyday like they were. I departed around noon the next day after riding out 2 thunderstorms and made the short trip to Baytowne resort and marina. I left the boat here for 3 days while I stayed with my family. The marina is really nice and you get full use of the resort amenities. After my short stay it was go time. My plan was to make Kentucky Lake in 2 weeks from Mobile. I knew it could be done, but it wouldn’t be easy. I needed to keep my pace up.
Before departing to make the short trip to Ft.Walton I met a younger couple on the dock who lived on Pickwick Lake. Pickwick is part of the waterway that I would have to travel on to reach Kentucky lake and they offered to put me up for the night in air conditioning when I arrived which was really nice. Ft. Walton offers a free dock which you can spend the night on. You just have to call the police department and let them know. There is a sign with the .needed contact numbers posted right before you go to shore. The dock is in a perfect location for provisioning. Publix is located across the street, there are plenty of restaurants nearby and there are multiple auto parts stores in the area.
My next stop led me to Pensacola beach. Pensacola is a good stop with a few anchorage options. I picked a protected spot across the street from the margaritaville hotel. The night before I had seen that one of my good friends from boulder was in the area. Fortunately our schedules worked out and we were able to meet up at a restaurant just behind my anchorage. It was great meeting up with Tim and his sons for the evening before heading to mobile bay the next morning.
I then departed Pensacola and passed the naval air base before arriving at LuLu’s. LuLu’S restaurant is owned by Jimmy Buffett’s sister and has great food, great drinks, and a very nice marina with floating docks. I ended up making my way to the bar to grab some dinner and watch the musician playing on stage. I heard the individual next to me conversing with someone grabbing a drink about sailing. After bringing up boats we spent the rest of the evening swapping stories and good places to stop and anchor. He once worked as a dockmaster on the Tennessee river and provided valuable information for going up the river.
I Left once again early the next morning towards Dog river in Mobile Bay. I knew that I would have ships to contend with in the bay; however, I was not anticipating so many oil rigs in the bay itself. I always thought they were placed farther offshore. I followed the channel to Dog River to play it safe. The charts show shallow water across the bay with many obstructions probably from old oil rigs. Next time I will try to find some local knowledge about cutting across the bay. After being passed by about 8 ships I made the turn into Dog river and tied up to the fuel dock at Grand Mariner marina. After preparing to fuel up I was told the pumpout did not work and that I would have to pumpout across the river at dog river marina. I think next time I will stay at Dog River Marina. The gentleman running the marina was very courteous and helpful considering I wasn’t even staying at his marina! Once crossing the river again and Tying up alongside the pilings I filled my water tanks and took a shower before heading above the marina office to the Grand Mariner Restaurant and having one last meal that I wouldn’t have to cook. There isn’t much between Mobile and Demopolis other than Bobby’s fish camp which would be closed when I arrived in the middle of the week.
One of the best parts about cruising is the people. You meet all types and kinds from all over the world. Most cruisers and boat people share one common state of mind. They are all happy. And when things do go downhill and you need help you can guarantee that you will always have a number of willing hands to get you going again. Good friends of mine call boat people being in its own “Tribe” and it couldn’t be more true. We look out for each other, help each other, and offer to lend assistance whenever possible. It is really encouraging to see so many kind and gracious people in this world during a time when hate and greed seem to be taking over and dividing us from what really matters. If we can love one another, help one another, and educate ourselves about what others are actually going through, I think we could finally find that world of peace that we strive to stumble upon.