Thursday, May 17, 2012

 Homeward Bound

The Navy’s Blue Angels swooped down and saluted us as we entered the Pensacola Channel Tuesday morning, on the final legs of our GC3 Panhandle Cruise.  We were truly in the premier seats, center of the Bay with a 360-degree view of their 45-minute practice session as we proceeded to our slip at NAS Bayou Grande.   Arkeoo, several miles ahead of us, hopefully got part of the show, too, as they headed to Orange Beach Alabama.

We spent a few extra days in Panama City, awaiting a good weather window to go back out into the Gulf for the 90 NM trip.  All was not wasted as we had access to excellent restaurants in the historic St. Andrews neighborhood.  Ate oysters for lunch and then oyster for dinner and then again more oysters, yes at all four eateries.   The lovely Oaks Park is on the land that archeologists have determined was a seasonal early Indian encampment with its access to the bay and its bounty.  Our entertainment varied from watching the commercial fishing boats come and go and off load their catch, shrimp, grouper, vermillion snapper, scamp and tuna.  On Saturday’s there is a farmer’s market at the marina parking lot. The St. Andrews marina served both the recreational tenant boats, transient boats (along a floating lay along dock) and the commercial boats.  The facilities, including laundry, were appreciated. 

Camaraderie is one of the benefits of the GC3 cruising concept and we certainly enjoyed sharing meals (Fresh Bay Shrimp & Grits, Mississippi style, farmer’s market offerings in  basil, garlic, zucchini, tomato, eggplant, hot sausage casserole, and goat cheese sundried tomato fettuccini).  Maybe we need to have a subtitle to our GC3 cruise, the gourmet’s delight!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Month without an “R”

It took a series of rain squalls – we’ve had such perfect weather, interesting towns to explore, beaches to walk and winds for sailing, that we’ve haven’t sat down, until now - to write a new post.  We have lots to share.

As northerners, we always heard that raw oysters shouldn’t be consumed in a month without an “R”.  Floridians seem to have no such limit.  To most of us who enjoy raw oysters on the half shell, Apalachicola oysters are the “gold standard”.  Nearby St. George Sound has the largest beds in Florida; they have a sweet mild flavor that can be slightly enhanced by a little cocktail sauce laced with horseradish sauce.  They were as perfect on May 2nd, 6th, 7th and 9th as in any month with an “R”.  The industry is larger than we imagined.  Oysters processing houses line a quarter mile of Scipio Creek; tons (10% of the US market) are shipped whole and live in bags as well as shucked and shipped in various size fresh cold containers.  We discovered the enormity of the volume on our biking excursion around Apalachicola.  We saw 30-foot mountains of shells being fronted loaded aboard 100 foot a flat deck barge.  The shells are taken out to help form new oyster beds by giving the spawn a place to attach and grow. 

Apalachicola is usually a one-night stop on our way to the southwest Florida Peninsula of Florida (Clearwater).  This trip we toured the community on our “boat bikes” visiting museums, old homes, seafood shops and an ice cream soda fountain. 

Did you know that the first patent in 1851 for inventing an air conditioning machine was granted to Dr. John Gorrie?  His discovery occurred when he wanted to cool the air in the of the Apalachicola Yellow Fever patients’ sick rooms.  Apalachicola and Port St. Joe both experience epidemics in the 1840’s.  In Port St. Joe 80% of the population was wiped out.  The State Park Service has an exhibit in his former home featuring the operational machine invented, along with an excellent historical panorama.

The Orman House located on as high a hill as exists along the Apalachicola River is now operated as a State Park/Museum.  Our Ranger guide gave us one of the best historical overviews of the evolution of the area.  “When Cotton was King” the river provided the transportation for the Georgia grown cotton to the harbor and Orman’s many cotton warehouses.  From there they were loaded on to ships in St. George’s Sound for transshipment to Savannah.   The prosperity connected with the cotton trade ended after the Civil War as railroads were built and provided quicker more efficient transport to southern textile mills and Atlantic Sea ports.  Logs from the impenetrable forest were sent down the river for milling and shipment.  That industry and the canning and freezing of Seafood packaging allowing distribution eventually sustained the area, which is often called the “Forgotten Coast”.

Our three-boat flotilla enjoyed spotting the oystermen as we headed east through St. George’s Sound/Bay to the eastern end of the Gulf Coast barrier islands-Dog Island.  Rafting up in a well protected bay surrounded by grass beds make it possible for only one anchor down and thus only one anchor, when weighted, was muddy and mucky.  Clean up was a two-stage chore, 1st aboard with the wash down pump and 2nd when we hauled 160 feet of chain out of the anchor locker later and rewashed at the marina.  The Rustic homes along the beach are built on high stilts and sit tucked behind the sand dunes.  Clusters of shorebirds included Sanderlings, Willets, Ruddy Turnstones and 3 kinds of terns, Royal, Sandwich and Least occupied the beach.  The surrounding shallow depth, grass beds were the perfect spots for John to take the dingy and fish.  The fishing turned into catching – two nice spotted trout- making a terrific dinner for the Zephyrina crew.

From Dog Island we began our return journey.  A night in Apalachicola gave us the opportunity to enjoy an oyster and shrimp dinner at “Up the Creek”. 

Though we are retracing our coastal route we have deviated to check out Crooked Island, an excellent anchorage via a narrow channel on property near the Tyndall Air Force Range.  Sailing close to the wind we raced west to the Panama City’s Harbor Channel.  After bucking the out going current we ducked behind the barrier island, Shell Island, to anchor/raft up.  An early morning beach walk on crystal white sands was another reminder of why we love sailing – the lovely natural places we can enjoy.  Sea Shell and its crew, John & Kay Sheehan had left after morning coffee, to take the ICW route back home.  Sea Shell’s shorter mast allows passage under the less than 50’ bridges.

Given a forecast of afternoon thunderstorms the St. Andrews Municipal Marina was our next stop.  After tie up on the lay along dock, we found Ernie’s Oyster Bar and Brew House for sustenance and libation.

The rain has washed off the salt from Zephyrina’s hull.  Now Arkeoo’s crew, Connie & Wally, will join us analysis the wind forecast and plan our over night sail to Pensacola.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Exploring the Florida Panhandle

A new adventure – Spring 2012!  Yes, it’s been 10 months since we posted in our sailing blog. 

Three Catalina sailboats, members of G3CCC who are also members of the Pensacola Yacht Club embarked on a 2 week cruise to explore the bays, anchorages and interesting waterfront towns along the Gulf Coast of the eastern Florida panhandle.  We met at Ft. McRee, just instead the P’cola Channel and headed out into the Gulf for a 21-hour afternoon-night sail.   We sighted the entrance buoy into St. Joseph Bay about 7:15 AM.  Eagle Harbor anchorage is inside the San Blas State Park, where Arkeoo (Connie & Wally Conway) and Sea Shell (Kay & John Sheehan) rafted up to Zephyrina (Helen & John Caffrey).  The seabed at this spot is rather muddy, murky and sticky; so one anchor down gives the two other sailboats a reprieve from the slow weighing of the anchor with a wash down spray from the bow when departing the otherwise great anchorage.

The beach sands here collect a different variety of shells than at our Pensacola Beach.  This is due to the configuration of Cape San Blas.  She has an elbow out into the Gulf with her forearm stretching 15 miles NNW.  This cape creates the inside of St. Joseph Bay whose shallows provide excellent scalloping and fishing.  What glorious spot for exploring, holding a potluck dinner aboard and a much needed long night’s sleep.  While relaxing we hosted a fellow sailor from a Panama City on his sailboat for a sun downer and learned of a great anchorage at Crooked Island, which we’d like to visit on our westerly sail home. 

Across the bay is an excellent marina in the town of Port St. Joe.  It has been a convenient and favorite stopping spot for us as we make a crossing of the Gulf to south Florida.  Our folding bikes were assembled easily on the dock and the six of us toured the PSJ Nature Bike Way, stopped at the local museum to learn about the PJS and Apalachicola town rivalry of the 1830s and the subsequent yellow fever outbreak that devastated town’s population and it’s “up market” resort attractions for the wealthy from New England and Europe.   We highly recommend the Sisters CafĂ©, the No Name Bookstore and “of course” Joe Momma’s Pizza. 

The Plen Air Artists are in both Port St. Joe and Apalachicola this week, May 3 – 13.  We saw their terrific Art Show last year, when we were returning from 6-month cruise to south Florida and the Keys.   Yes, that was the trip on which we stopped posting in the blog at Venice.  We were so busy enjoying the activities and visits with friends we made but a few brief entries directly on Facebook.

This post was written as we motored on the cross county canal and ICW using Lake Wimico and the Apalachicola River a waterway cut in the Impenetrable Swamp to Sipico Creek at St. George’s Bay.  The Spanish explorer, Desoto is said to have lead his troops through this swamp.  Just think of the snakes, bugs, 8’ tall saw grass, razor sharp palmetto bushes, Yaupon Holly, slash pine among the soggy underbrush.  It’s amazing he made it to the Mississippi!

We expect to visit the Gorrie and Raney Museums, check out a butterfly garden and explore the old maritime antique warehouse.   We never pass through the area; on even a one-night stop with out have the gourmet delight of Apalachicola Oysters accompanied by a glass or two of Sauvignon Blanc.