Monday, August 26, 2013

Venice Florida to Biloxi Mississippi

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I left Pelican Bay anchored off of Cayo Costa State Park early morning.  It is a wonderful place and popular with the locals. The weather was nice so I decided to sail in the gulf.  My destination was Venice. I remembered how much John and I liked Venice on the way to the Bahamas so I made a point to stop back by on my way home.

The tide was running hard and fast as I entered the Venice inlet.  I called up Crows Next  Marina on the radio and asked for a slip parallel to the current.  No way was I going to dock it perpendicular to it.  They put me in a great spot and I was tied up nice and snug and made my way to the showers, and then to eat, drink, and be happy.
Tied up in Venice Florida at Pirates Cove Marina
I was told by a passerby that the restaurant at the marina is top notch.  It is.  Don't miss out on the excellent food there.  The beer was good too.  After eating I hung out at the boat and noticed a crippled manatee swimming not far away.  It had been cut by a boat prop.  They are too slow and boats are too fast to be out of harms way.

The next morning I planned to make my way around the "lost coast" of Florida.  It is shallow and remote but the rewards can be great with superb fishing and possible manatee sightings.  I left Venice early in the morning trying to make it beyond Tampa Bay.  As I approached Sarasota my phone rang and Rick, my neighbor in Little Rock, had invited me to hang out with them in Seagrove Florida.  He had rented a fine beach house near the famous Red Door Bar and Restaurant.  Hmmm... manatees or fresh fish grilled over charcoal with copious amounts for beer and friends.  Without checking the weather, I turned my boat in the direction of St. Joseph Island, a 250 mile open water crossing.  St. Joseph Island is just west of Apalachicola Bay and will put me on a good line for Panama City.  There I can take the GIWW to Seagrove.  I motored into the wind the first 3 hours of the trip.  I was cursing this damn stretch of ocean.  It had beaten me to pieces on the way south here and it looked like it was going to do it again.  But the winds changed right along with my attitude.  The seas became kind.

The winds became favorable and my attitude too.  

Sunset on the first day of my Gulf crossing.

Its always exciting when the sun sinks low and night approaches.
 I had a long haul to St. Joseph Bay, so I decided to take naps along the way.  I set up Amy, my wind vane self steering gear and took 20 minute naps all night long.  The weather got exciting in the middle of the night as thunderstorms were raging all around me.  I was headed into one very large storm at one point.  I was trying to decide if I should go around it or not.  It was so large I didn't want to waste the time to bypass so I just kept going into it.  As I became very close it just disappeared.  Evaporated. Vanished in thin air.  It did leave some pretty uncomfortable seas for about an hour...and then, the wind really picked up to 25 knots or so, and off I went, getting pushed quickly to my destination.

After one of my 20 minute naps, I got the binoculars and scanned the horizon looking for other ships.  You would think that being in the middle of the gulf with all that space the chances of coming up on another boat is very small.  Well, not true.  I was surprised to see a boat very close, dead ahead.  I scrambled for my radio and before I could hail him, I heard, "Hey sailor man, uh...I am trying to pick out your bearing here.....uh...Ok...yeah, I think I got ya...yeah we're ok....we will miss".  I responded with a similar assessment.  I clicked off the radio and cursed the nerves right out. does that happen.  A near collision out in the middle of the Gulf.  I had a similar situation on my way south very near this same area.  I need a radar for this solo sailing.

Squally weather all night and into the next day on my Gulf crossing. is always comforting to me after a long night of sailing.  Things just don't seem as sinister during the day.  I was chased by thunderstorms all night and into the next day.  They didn't cause me too much discomfort other than a little anxiety.  The wind remained very favorable and kept pushing me along nicely.  It was good sailing.

Sailing in following seas.
 I managed to catch a tuna along the way.  It was a Little Tuny and unfortunately not fit for good table fair.  The day was good fast sailing.  I started to approach St. Joseph Bay, 250 miles from my starting point, at about sunset.  I still had to sail down the length of St. Joseph Island and make a U turn through the inlet and into the bay for anchoring.

Nearing St. Joseph Island late in the afternoon.

The second sunset of the crossing nearing St. Joseph Island.
It was after midnight, 42 hours of sailing, before I was able to get the hook in the sand and hit the hay.  It is hard to understand how tiring sailing really is.  I am asleep very quickly.

Anchored off of St. Joseph Island, I get the dinghy loaded for some beach combing.
The next morning I get my dingy launched and have a great day beach combing and fishing.  I landed two nice red fish and let them both go.  It was a beautiful day.

St. Joseph Isand orgy

Gulf Coast Horseshoe

Campsite at St. Joseph Island State Park.  Very nice indeed.
I spent two nights anchored out in St. Joseph bay to catch up on a little sleep.  It was wonderful.  What a beautiful place.  I did some hiking on the island, productive fishing from the beach, and beach combing.  Then off toward Seagrove.  I had about 30 miles of gulf sailing before reaching St. Andrews Bay near Panama City Florida.  The weather was nice with light winds and some thunderstorms off in the distance.  I found a nice place to anchor in 7 feet of water in West Bay near the ICW.  I would motor up the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway(GIW) the next day and anchor in Choctawhatchee Bay.

Dogged by thunderstorms again as I head toward Panama City Florida.
Below is my anchorage in West Bay.

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Motoring up the ICW between St. Andrews and Choctawhatchee Bays.
 I was able to anchor in Choctawhatchee Bay within four miles of the Rick's beach house.  I found a canal that was deep enough for my dinghy and motored up until it dead ended and locked it up to a tree.  Rick was able to find me walking down the road and the rest of the day and into the night was a exercise in gluttony with lots of great food, drinks, and a good time.

Below is my anchorage in Choctawhatchee Bay.

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I left around 10 am the next day and decided to stay in the GIW until a reached my destination.  I had bypassed most of the GIW on the way south and was curious to see what it had to offer.  It turned out to be pretty nice, especially around Perdido Key area.

Good sailing on Choctawhatchee Bay.

Anchored out in Big Lagoon on the GIW.

The GIW near Perdido Florida.  This was a very nice area on the GIW.

Below is a google maps shot the Perdido area.  I didn't know this paradise even existed.  What a treat.

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Workboat along the GIW.

The GIW is normally very protected from weather.  This trait is lost as you enter Mobile Bay.  From here on you are in the wide expanses of water of Mobile Bay and Mississippi Sound.  There is protection created by the Gulf Coast National Seashore Barrier Islands of Dauphin, Petit Bois, Horn, Ship, and Cat, but only in southerly winds.  I had my most miserable night here on my cruise south anchored off of Cat Island.  I did not want to repeat it.  The wind was stiff from the West as I entered Mobile bay.  I had to motor and motor sail into some seriously nasty 3-4 foot chop.  It was very rough sailing for most of the day.  I decided to sail up into Mobile bay for several miles and try and find some protection from the bay's western shore.  It worked out nicely and I had a good nights sleep.  The next day I made my way toward Petit Bois Island pounding into the wind the entire way and  managing to find a little spot off its southern shore that looked like it would offer some protection from the West wind.  It was bumpy but proved to be adequate and I did manage to get some sleep.  The next day I was headed to Cat Island and still pounding into the wind.  About mid day the wind switched from West to South and gave me some decent sailing weather.  It would also allow me to anchor off the southern shores of Cat Island in comfort.  I hooked into a large fish near Horn Island that cut through my wire leader in short order, shark.  I anchored off the southern shore of Cat Island near a motor yacht.  As the sun sank low on the horizon, the motor yacht pulled anchor and took off for the Mississippi coastline.  Hmmm....why would he do that.  Well, just after dark I found out.  Apparently he had good communication out there and got a weather report.  The wind shifted from South to North and really began to blow.  I spent another miserable night off Cat Island(which I renamed Devil Island) and slept nary a minute.  The next morning I was ready to get off the boat for a while.  I decided to scratch Lake Pontchartrain and try and find a marina close by.  I got on the phone and finally located one out of Biloxi, The Point Cadet Marina.  After a short 3 hour sail I was pulling up to my slip and tying off.  

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This was the end of my first cruise in the newly rebuilt Mary Annie, a 1974 Hallberg Rassy Rasmus.  The boat performed great and held up beautifully with no breakage whatsoever after four months of hard sailing.  I am very pleased with her.  The plan now is to get ready for another adventure early next year(2014) and try and sail from Biloxi Mississippi to Maine and into Canada.  Cheers.