Happy New Year!

266 Days Looping
4,073.8 Nautical Miles Total (4,688.0 Statute Miles)
139.4 Nautical Miles This Week
13.5 Hours Underway This Week
10.2 NMph Average Speed
0 Locks This Week, 154 Total Locks

Monday – Dec 30th – 0 NM – In: Niceville, FL
While watching the weather forecasts for our crossing of the Gulf of Mexico, it was clear that we would not have a good weather window until after the first of the year. Bluewater Bay marina had planned a New Years’ celebration at the restaurant and our friends on Nearly Perfect invited us to a New Years Day Bloody Mary party on their boat, so we decided to stay in Niceville until January 2nd.

We borrowed the courtesy car and ran out to CVS, then hung around the marina. I did little fishing, and in the evening we went up to the restaurant at the marina for dinner.

Tuesday – Dec 31st – 0 NM – In: Niceville, FL
On New Year’s Eve, we borrowed the courtesy car and went to Publix so that Brenda could pick up supplies for her Bloody Mary Party mini quiches. We had to have the car back by noon as the marina was closing so it was a quick trip.

In the evening we met on Nearly Perfect for docktails, then went to dinner at the restaurant with Patti and Jack. Our waitress photo bombed our New Year’s Eve photo! After dinner, we went over to the bar, but it was only 8:00, and things there were not scheduled to get rolling until 9:00, so we went back to the boat, fell asleep, and woke up in the New Year!

New Year’s Eve Dinner in Niceville

Wednesday – Jan 1st – 0 NM – In: Niceville, FL
Happy New Year! We slept in a bit, then Brenda made the Spinach, Cheese, and Bacon mini-quiches. At 11:00 we went over to Nearly Perfect for the Bloody Mary party. There were 12 of us there and we had a great time. In attendance were Jack & Patty from Nearly Perfect, Robert, Linda & Julie from Errante, Bob from Maverick, John & Ellen (currently between boats), Dan & Amanda from Miss America, and us! It made for a full boat!

We had a great time and chatted, ate, and drank until about 2:00, then went back to the boat and pretty much napped for the rest of the day. In the evening we had dinner on the boat and watched the sunset.

Thursday – Jan 2nd – 55.8 NM – To: Panama City, FL
We left Bluewater Marina at 7:30 am. We had a dolphin escort us out of the marina and into the bay.

The first part of the trip was across Choctawhatchee Bay. The winds were fairly calm and we had a nice crossing. As we were getting to the Mid-Bay Bridge, we passed our friends on Velsignet. At the end of the bay, the waterway enters a canal. Looking at it on the map, and having been through canals in other parts of Florida, we expected it to be all built up with houses and docks on both sides. This canal has NOTHING around it. It was dredged through the coastal marshes and the banks are huge sand piles. There were also a lot of downed trees from Hurricane Michael that went through in 2018.

The canal was 20 miles long, and by the end, we were happy to see civilization. We arrived in Panama City and went past the shipyards. Panama City was almost completely destroyed by Hurricane Michael. It used to be a major stop on the Loop, but most of the marinas are still closed a year on. There are a few marinas in Lower Grand Lagoon (interestingly the ones closest to the Gulf) that are back in operation. We had a reservation at Lighthouse Marina for the night.

We arrived at Lighthouse around 3:30 and went to the Fuel dock for a pump out. The wind had come up and we had 22-knot winds pushing us around as we tried to dock. The dock hands did a great job grabbing our lines and getting us tied off safely. We settled in and checked the weather for the night and morning. There were thunderstorms predicted for the evening with high wind warnings. We added a few extra lines to the boat.

In the evening we walked next door to the Grand Marlin restaurant. It was a very nice place! We had a great dinner, then walked back to the boat in high winds. Around 9:00 the rain started and the wind picked up. It was coming straight off of the Gulf, across the bay, and pushed up the water in the marina over 2 feet above normal high tide. We recorded a 44 mph gust! The rain continued off and on for most of the night.

Friday – Jan 3rd – 0 NM – In: Panama City, FL
Our plan was to move on to Carrabelle on Friday but when we got up, the wind was still blowing at 20+ knots and the bay was covered in fog. The route to Carrabelle goes across Panama City Bay which is open to the Gulf and then along another long man-made canal. From there it crosses a lake and then into Apalachicola Bay and Saint George Sound, both of which are pretty open waters. Because of the fog and wind exposure, we decided to stay in Panama City for another day. After breakfast, I took a 1/2 mile walk into town and got a much-needed haircut. When I got back, we called for an Uber and went to the local Publix to do some shopping.

In the afternoon I went for a walk along the waterfront while Brenda worked on a needlepoint project. By afternoon the rain had returned and the wind picked back up with gusts to 38 knots (44 mph)! We had dinner on the boat and turned in hoping for a better morning to move to Carrabelle.

Saturday – Jan 4th – 83.6 NM – To: Carrabelle, FL
What a difference a day makes. The storm moved through overnight, and first thing in the morning there were still some clouds but they were clearing fast. We left Lower Grand Lagoon and crossed Saint Andrews Bay, headed toward East Bay and the canal.

As we entered East Bay we passed a shipyard where they build the Staten Island Ferries. Anyone who has visited New York City will have seen the bright orange ferries crisscrossing the harbor. This is where they come from!

As we got toward the end of East Bay and the canal entrance, you could really see the devastation that Hurricane Michael had caused. Even with over a year to recover, most of the trees were still stripped of branches and the number of downed trees was incredible. As we went through the canal, you could see miles of dredge sand much of it fresh from where they had to dredge the canal after the storm to re-open it. As you look at the following pictures, remember that hurricane Michael was over a year ago!

Our friends from Bluewater Bay on Errante were moving their boat from Bluewater to Apalachicola for some service. Their boat is brand new and has a top speed of close to 40 mph. They left Bluewater early and we’d been tracking them as they caught up with us. We were only traveling at about 9 mph and around noon, they caught up with us in the canal and we waved as they passed. We also saw a group of hunters that had gotten a deer. Aside from Errante, the only other traffic aside from some small fishing boats that we saw on the canal was one towboat.

As we neared the end of the canal, the number of downed and damaged trees decreased. As we exited the canal we entered Lake Wicomico. This is a fairly large lake, 5 miles long, with an average depth of only about 5 feet. There is a dredged channel that runs right through the middle that’s about 100 feet wide. As we entered the lake, we passed two more towboats with barges and noticed a large dredge barge in the middle of the lake. The dredge was taking up most of the channel, so we called on the radio to see what was the safe side to pass on. After several calls with no answer, I remembered my dredge day shape rules from my captain training and looked for the dual diamonds, and figured out that we should pass on the dredges left side. We crawled along as there were only about 20 feet between the side of the dredge and white plastic poles marking the edge of the channel.

Once we passed the dredge, we were in the deeper channel (10 ft) and were able to resume normal speed. At the end of the lake you enter the Jackson and Apalachicola rivers, for 10 miles, then enters Apalachicola Bay.

As we approached the bay, we caught up with another boat “Sea Dog” and they slowed down to let us pass. During the day, the wind had come up and as we entered the bay, which is not very sheltered, the waves started to build. When we reached the Bryant Patton Bridge, about a third of the way across, the wind had increased to 25 knots, and we were seeing 2-3 foot waves. Because of the wind coming from behind us, it was not too bad in the boat, and we were making good time.

The channel turns north for about two miles. As we made this turn, it put the waves right on the side of the boat, and about the same time, the wind increased to over 30 knots. That two-mile stretch until we turned back to where the wind was at our backs again, was pretty rough.

Once we got close to land again, the wind quickly reduced, and the waves flattened out. When we reached the entrance to Carrabelle harbor, it was almost calm even though we still had a pretty stiff wind. At “The Moorings At Carrabelle” our marina, we pulled up to the fuel dock, filled up with fuel, and got our tanks emptied. This is the last stop before crossing the Gulf of Mexico and we wanted as much fuel as we could hold for the 170-mile crossing. When we pulled in, several other loopers who were already there including our friends on Lee Loo stopped by and welcomed us.

When we were finished at the fuel dock, we moved to our slip. With a 15 knot crosswind and a couple of knot current, it was a bit challenging backing into the slip, but we got in on our second attempt. In the evening we walked across the street for dinner at a local diner with Kate and Dave from Lee Loo. Checking the weather, it looked like Monday or Tuesday would be the best travel days so we decided to stay through Sunday to watch the weather.

Sunday – Jan 5th – 0 NM – In: Carrabelle, FL
At 1:30 Brenda woke up thinking she heard someone knocking on the side of the boat. When I woke up, I heard creaking on our front cleats where the ropes are tied. We got up, and Brenda saw our friends from Lee Loo walking back up the dock. We checked the lines and they were VERY tight. Normally this marina has a 1 to 1.5 foot tide, but because of the wind and a new moon, the tide was 3 feet and it was low tide! We had to loosen our lines up and re-adjust our fenders. Just as we were getting back in the boat, we got a text from Kate on Lee Loo, saying that they had to re-adjust their lines and were sitting on the bottom in their slip. They had stopped by and noticed our lines were tight so loosened our stern lines for us and that’s the knocking we heard.

Sunday morning after a great sunrise, we went to breakfast at the marina. They put on a free breakfast for boaters and we were able to meet up with a number of other boaters waiting to cross the gulf and compare notes. Everyone agreed that Monday and Tuesday looked like good days.

In the afternoon we walked down the road to C-Quarters Marina to see Captain Kim who gives a weather briefing for loopers. Her opinion was that Sunday into Monday looked good with Tuesday starting to get rougher.

After the briefing, everyone pretty much decided that this was the opportunity and started making preparations. The crossing for slower boats takes 22 hours so they leave in the early evening, and cruise overnight in the dark so that they arrive in the Tarpon Springs area after sunrise. Faster boats (like ours) take around 8 hours and can leave in the early morning hours, to arrive in the late afternoon. The issue is that when you get near shore in central Florida (near Tampa) there are thousands of crab pots that you have to play dodgem with so that the ropes don’t get wrapped up in your propellers. Doing that in the dark is near impossible which is why everyone wants to arrive in the daylight hours.

A group of our fellow loopers on slower boats headed out around 4:00 in the afternoon for the overnight crossing, and a couple left for an anchorage near Dog Island, (the last land before you head into open water) to get a head start. We decided to wait until 4:30 AM on Monday to leave, so after seeing everyone off, we walked into town, past the “World’s Smallest Police Station”, looking for an open restaurant. Seems that the only place open that isn’t a dive bar (and I don’t men scuba-divers) was the family diner we had eaten at the night before. So after a 2-mile stroll and dinner, we went back to the boat, set the alarm for 4:00 am, and turned in early.

NEXT WEEK: We FINALLY Cross the Gulf of Mexico and a special visitor!

Kiss Some Frogs To Find Your Prince
Thanks for visiting! –Tom & Brenda

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