To Part One
By now some good wind had filled in and we made short work of the Pensacola Bay, averaging 5 knots and headed right for the bridge that crosses the bay to connect Gulf Breeze to Santa Rosa Island and Pensacola Beach. After sailing under the bridge we took a hard right turn and motored into the mix of power boats, jet skis, para-sailors, and kayaks to find our way to lunch. The goal: a famed hamburger joint called Surf Burger. We picked it out amid the condos and tourist traps, and landed Laguna between the fleet of rental beach cats and the fishing/tanning pier. Lunch was EXCELLENT; the service, prices, and food were all beyond our expectations. I recommend it highly should you ever visit Pensacola.
With lunch finished we waddled back and launched the boat towards Navarre Beach, tonight's camp. Santa Rosa sound was another fantastic sail, with good winds on a broad reach and boat speeds around 7 most of the way. I had a "weather eye to the horizon", as they say, watching several thunder storms as they moved across behind us some miles away. One was tracking closer and I soon saw we would get it. Apparently I wasn't listening to my crew at that time. It seems Matthew had already seen our shelter of choice, and told me so. But as I scanned the deserted Island shore I spotted a small park with shelters, and shouted with glee. Everyone looked at me with that look. You know the one."Duh Dad. we just told you that!!" The sky just opened up as we pulled LagunaUno onto the beach and set the shore anchor. There were several motorcyclists already hiding in one of the shelters, and they looked at us like we were crazy as we turned a table on its side and draped a tarp over it. 10 minutes later, when the horizontal rain began, they looked rather longingly at it!
Once that squall passed, and the boat was bailed, we were off again. The wind was gone, as often happens after a spring shower, so we were sailing under the Iron Genoa for the last 4 miles. We arrived at Navarre with a couple of hours of daylight remaining, but it seems some of our fellow sailors had been worried by our "dilly dally" trip. Most of the boats had been on the beach several hours already, but we were far more interested in the trip than the destination. The beach camp was close to a restaurant and some condos, and a convenience store and that's about it. We enjoyed the cool but fresh showers and the public bathrooms were nice and clean! Unfortunately, I had been watching another storm on the radar (iPhone ROCKS for coastal sailing!) and as I feared it was heading right for us. I had decided to put off setting up camp until I saw what this storm did and that turned out to be a wise choice. This one was much worse than the previous storm and I don't know if our very large tent would have been standing afterwards. By the way, because we had the dog with us, I spent the storm hiding in the bathrooms while my family enjoyed a very nice meal in the restaurant. But they did send me a nice hot bowl of chili and a cup of coffee which made the adventure a better memory. Joining me in the restrooms were the crew of a Michalak Toon2. During a very quick look out the door to check on the storm, one of the Toon's crew noticed their boat starting to drift off!! I'll never know how he saw it in that split second in the near-dark, but we were able to sprint down to the water amid the thunder and lightning and haul it back to the beach! It was lucky that that one was the only one that tried to sail away as the wind was easily Force 6 or 7 at the peak of the storm!
After that one passed, and with the boat bailed, we were able to set up camp and get some sleep. I can't possibly tell this story without adding in the 2AM passing of the 2 drunken ladies (and I use that term loosely)! The restaurant there is also a bar, and it was Saturday night, so you can imagine the crowd that was there at closing time! There were even several police cars there to pick up the people foolish enough to stumble to their cars. I was disturbed by the police lights, so I was awake when these poor ladies began their ill-fated walk down "our" beach. The problem? Well, imagine what the beach looked like with about 30 boats all pulled up and anchored to the land. It was a mine field for the drunks, and I doubt they missed a single anchor line as the fell repeatedly, stumbling and cussing each boat owner as they went. I may have been more sympathetic had one of them not started barking at my dog, who, of course, barked back waking the whole family. The next morning my wife found one of their shoes by our anchor. Sweet justice I say! Another strong stormed rolled through about 5AM, resulting in my standing up holding the tent up for nearly an hour as the storm raged. The family slept right through it though, so all was good!
Dawn broke as the storm left, the boat was bailed (AGAIN!), camp was broke, and we were on our way! Several boats had dropped out due to the weather forecast of head winds for day 3. Maybe the Florida forecasters have a better record, but being from Texas, if they say West winds, I expect ANYTHING but WEST WINDS! Sure enough, it was more like NNW and we had a beautiful close reach all the way back up Santa Rosa sound. We pulled in to a cute little marina by the bridge for a restroom break, ordered a pizza, and bought a couple gallons of gas to justify our use of the marina dock. Should you find yourself in the area, Santa Rosa Yacht and Boat Club is a great stop with very friendly folks!
From the Yacht Club we fired up the motor to make a quick passing of the bridge. On the other side the winds were fluky and we had more ghost hunting to do. So the motor was again fired up and off we went, planting ourselves on the Ft Pickens Beach about an hour later. In case you should ever stop by, beware. There is a structure of historical value in the water, and a sign that says "Stay 200 Feet Away". And don't bother to try to figure out 200 feet, there is a mark on the seawall, and you better be on the other side of it. Never mind that a quick pace-off shows that mark closer to 200 YARDS away. The local uniformed public servant is quite certain you should be on the other side, and he has the final say!!
The plan for night 3 was to camp in Sailboat Cove, nearly across the channel from the Sand Island camp of night 1. The problem was the North-ish winds were pounding the normally sheltered beach and not very conducive to our camping plans. Before long it was nearly unanimously decided we should move back to Sand Island. A sheltered peaceful camp was wonderful and the very cool temperatures brought in by the Norther were also welcome. We all slept VERY well that night!
Our final day was as beautiful as the others. A cool start to be sure, though maybe not as cool as the picture appears to show!
A fun beam reach, with dolphins and lots of boats besides those with our group, and a scenic view the whole way. Once we entered the channels we motor sailed. The tall condos and lots of trees break up the wind and make sailing hard. Hats off to the many small boats that stubbornly sailed the whole way! We were out for vacation, and we had a great time, but those that were there for a sailing challenge really had a great workout! I was especially impressed with Mike's Scamp, and Scott's open transom self design. Both went very well. Mike finished the whole course with style. That scamp is small but looks SO GOOD!
We had a very good trip, the weather was great except that one heavy front, and I can't say enough about that clear water! I'm SO jealous of the people who get to enjoy that every day. I also want to give props to the Florida boaters. I don't want to start a "State Debate", but I personally found the power boaters more cooperative and friendly, and though the area of the pass was very busy with jetskis, campers, and fishermen, there was very little litter. I spend a lot of time on the water and beaches in TX and I think we could learn a bit from Floridians. Our whole family agreed we would love to go back and explore some more, though we also agreed we would never camp like that again. Four nights in the sand, setting up and tearing down camp and no place to shelter from the weather was just too much for this crowd. We look forward to returning to the area very soon, but with a vessel we can stay aboard. Real beds, limited sand, shelter from sun and rain, all will make a great trip just perfect!