Monday, December 21, 2009

The Crossing...

When we last left you we were uploading the blog about five miles north of Apalachicola as we headed south so the Captain could change out crew at Miller Marine in Apalachicola to do an overnight Gulf crossing. This is the Captain’s story of their adventure.

A pelican pays us a visit at the White City public dock.


As we approached Apalachicola we noticed that the fog was getting thicker and thicker so I turned on the radar and hoped there was not much traffic on the river. By the time we got within a half-mile of Miller Marine the fog was so thick you couldn’t see 50 feet in front of the boat. I immediately radioed Miller Marine and informed them that I needed fuel and inquired if any other boats were tied to the fuel dock. The marina informed me that there was a large sailboat tied to the dock but that I would have plenty of room on the upriver end of the dock. We inched our way along with our fog horn blowing and the radar showing us which way to head. We finally got sight of the marina less than 25 yards off our bow, and our stress level began to subside…but only for a short while.

“Crystal River Bob” and Art, my crew for the Gulf crossing, were there to help us tie up and take on fuel. Now it was decision time, do we go or do we cancel our crossing because of the dense fog? We knew we needed to leave the marina within 30 minutes because we didn’t want to attempt Government Cut in the dark. However, if we did decide to go we also had to negotiate getting under a bridge, a shallow bay of water without many navigational markers, shrimp boats and other small boat traffic that was trying to get back to Apalachicola, and all of this in dense fog. We also talked with a shrimp boat that was still off shore and informed us that the fog was also very thick in the Gulf of Mexico.

Needless to say I was as nervous as a whore in church! Since I was going to be in the company of two very seasoned sailors on our trip across the Gulf I asked them, “If this was your boat would you attempt to head out in the weather?” Without hesitation they both said yes, as long as I had working radar and a chart plotter, both of which I had. So after a quick kiss and hug with the Admiral I told her goodbye and we untied the lines and disappeared back out into the fog. The sailboat that was tied up to the fuel dock also decided to leave with us and follow us out to Government Cut; however, they ended up running aground before getting there and had to wait on the tide to lift them up.

Right after heading under the bridge I became very disoriented and struggled to keep our bow pointed south. After a few tense moments and almost grounding “Life’s2Short,” a very talented crew helped get me back on track thanks, in part, to the autopilot.

Shortly after getting back on track a shrimp boat appeared out of the fog, right on our bow, and had both its stabilizer arms out over the water. I almost crapped my shorts! We took a hard turn to port and were able to miss taking off our flybridge with his starboard stabilizer by less than 75 feet!! By now I was really questioning if leaving the dock was a good idea. Every three or four minutes Bob would call out on the VHF radio and announce our position in the channel. We knew there was other boat traffic in the area and every once in a while you would feel somebody’s boat wake slap the side of the boat but you would never see them…very spooky!

We finally arrived at Government Cut just as it was starting to get dark, got ourselves lined up to make the 3/4 mile run through the island, and safely arrived out in the Gulf as darkness set in. Needless to say the fog had not gotten any better but at night it doesn’t really make any difference if it’s foggy or not when you are out in an open body of water like the Gulf of Mexico. However, radar is a must!

At this point I had had enough of being the Captain so I turned over the helm to Art for a few hours so I could sit back and relax and thank my lucky stars that we made it into the Gulf of Mexico without becoming impaled by a shrimp boat! The three of us took turns through the night manning the helm, quite a boring job for the 19 hour trip to Crystal River. The heavy fog stayed with us through the night and finally started to let up the next morning when we were within sight of the west coast of Florida.

The seas were running about three feet on our bow when we started but by early the next morning they were calm and smooth. Now we just had to dodge all the crab pots before we headed up the river to Crystal River. We thought we were home-free on the crab pots when all of a sudden we dodged one pot only to get another pot caught in our prop and rudder, a fine way to wind up our crossing! With a little coaching from Bob we were able to get the crab pot free of the boat without yours truly having to dive overboard.

We arrived at Pete’s Pier in Crystal River shortly before noon, got tied up and headed over to Bob & Phillis's for a Bloody Mary and lunch. Needless to say after one Bloody Mary and a belly full of wonderful barbecued pork sandwiches I was ready for a long afternoon nap!

The crossing crew toasts the end of a long and successful overnight adventure.


The most important thing I learned on this crossing was to use your autopilot in heavy fog. You just can’t count on your brain and common sense to tell you that you are heading in the right direction…at least my brain and common sense, or what’s left of it!

I also want to take a moment to thank my Gulf crossing crew. What a great couple of guys I had on board! Art and his wife have circumnavigated the world in their sailboat, and Bob and his wife have spent many, many years living and cruising all over North and Central America. In hindsight I’m glad we made the crossing that night. Had it been just the Admiral and I we would never have gone based on our experience.

The other interesting note about this crossing was that it was two years ago to the day we pulled in to Apalachicola in the same heavy fog and decided to wait a day before leaving the dock. That was the trip when we left with “Flagmaker” and less than 36 hours later he passed away, on his boat, at Pete’s Pier in Crystal River. RIP Jack.

After spending a few days in Crystal River and having a wonderful get-together at Bob & Phillis’s Tuesday evening with friends Mo (“MOTU”) & Joe and Bruce & Adele, we decided to take our chances with the forecast and head toward St. Petersburg early Wednesday morning.

Mo and Bob get in the holiday spirit!


The gang’s all gathered in the living room enjoying some pre-dinner conversation.


Bruce poses with Phillis and Mo in the garage while Honey gets a little loving.


Adele poses with Joe and Bob on the back deck.


Mo, what are you doing to the Captain (not that he seems to mind!).


Another great dinner with friends, courtesy of Bob & Phillis.


After some tense moments getting out of the Crystal River channel at low tide, we ended up traveling about 85 miles to a protected anchorage in Clearwater for the evening. The seas were much less than the predicted two- to four-feet but the white caps made it difficult to spot crab pots. Fortunately, there weren’t nearly as many in our path as we typically see between Crystal River and Tarpon Springs.

The Captain loves going out on the side rail to watch the porpoises play.


We covered the remaining 21 miles to Cathy’s house in St. Petersburg on a very windy Thursday, but it sure was nice to be “home” again! Since then we have essentially been lounging and enjoying being in a real house, watching a big screen television from a big, comfortable wrap-around couch. Cathy made a quick 48-hour trip to St. Louis on Friday to celebrate a life-long friend’s 50th birthday so we watched the kids, Taz and Jack, and then picked her up at the airport Sunday evening.

Saturday afternoon we made a trip to downtown St. Petersburg to check it out. Even though we’ve spent a lot of time in St. Petersburg, we’ve never seen the downtown area. We drove by the St. Petersburg Yacht Club and the Municipal Marina and then walked a few blocks of the downtown area where we stumbled upon a bar called Mastry’s. While there we learned that Mastry’s was voted one of the eight best dive bars in American in 2007 by Maxim magazine. Just our kind of joint!

Today is Monday, December 21st, and we are off to Colorado tomorrow to spend Christmas with Todd’s family in Boulder. This is the first time in several years that his entire family has been able to be together for Christmas and I’m sure a good time will be had by all at the Lanning household!

As we close this post the crew of “Life’s2Short” would like to wish all our great friends and wonderfully supportive families a very Merry Christmas and a healthy and Happy New Year!

See you in 2010!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gulf Coast Bound with "Cheryl Ann"

With our long johns donned, we left the Demopolis Yacht Basin before 7:00 a.m. on Tuesday, December 1st, in 35 degree weather. Mike & Harriet (“Dual Dreams”) were there to help untie lines and see us off. Dan & Cheryl aboard “Cheryl Ann” left at the same time in their 43-foot Silverton. They plan to travel with us as far as Port St. Joe where they will spend the winter.

It was cloudy and cold all day. After about four hours we broke down and pulled out our little propane heater to take the chill off. We arrived at Bashi Creek, 71 miles downriver, about 2:45 just as the rain was starting. We anchored and then had “Cheryl Ann” raft to us. To keep from swinging in to shore in the narrow creek, the Captain took the dinghy down and tied a stern line to shore on each side.

The rain continued all night and was quite heavy at times. We awoke the next morning to a flooded creek with lots of current and debris washing past us. Good thing we had those stern lines tied to shore! We managed to get untied, which was no small feat, and were underway by 9:30 a.m.

As with the previous day, we had a good amount of current and were able to travel between 9.5 and 10.5 mph at less than 1500 rpm’s. Sipping fuel as the Captain would say! It was a very windy day, though, with gusts approaching gale force. Fortunately, the temperature warmed into the 60’s with sun by late morning.

We reached the Coffeeville Lock about 12:30 p.m. and had to literally squeeze around the stern of a Coast Guard work boat that was blocking the river right in front of the lock. It was a tight fit but we made it through.


We arrived at Old Lock #1, 45 miles and five hours later, where we spent the better part of an hour trying to get our anchor set well enough in the soft mud to have “Cheryl Ann” raft to us. We finally gave up on that idea and had “Cheryl Ann” anchor separately. We put out 100 feet of chain and called it good after three attempts in more than twenty feet of water.

The river was continuing to rise so Todd dinghied out into the river about 8:00 a.m. Thursday morning to check it out. He reported back that debris was minimal so we hauled anchor about 10:00 a.m. and traveled 36 miles to anchor in Three Rivers Lake. It was another cold day with a brisk north wind and no sun. Our anchor grabbed nicely on the first try so “Cheryl Ann” rafted to us. The only drawback was that the current was flushing in to the lake from the rising river which caused us to literally spin in circles around the anchor most of the night!

Friday morning was below freezing and we had considerable frost on the bow. We were underway by 9:00 a.m. in a cold north wind but it was sunny and seemingly much warmer than the previous day. We arrived at the Tensaw Cutoff (52 miles) by 2:30 p.m. and took some time to check out Little Brier Creek before going back out to the main channel of the Tensaw to drop anchor. Then “Cheryl Ann” rafted to us again.

This is a new steel mill under construction about 48 miles north of Mobile.


This is known as the 14-mile railroad bridge, an old swing bridge that is opened on request for river traffic.


We didn’t realize it at the time, but there was a lot of current flushing down the main channel of the Tensaw! Fortunately, the holding was great so we didn’t worry too much about it, although we did end up putting out 50 more feet of chain and adding a heavy duty storm snubber before going to bed that evening in light of the 40 mph winds that were predicted.

On Saturday we took the day off from traveling since Mobile Bay was predicted to be too rough to cross anyway. That and we wanted to watch Alabama play Florida for the SEC Championship! “Cheryl Ann” invited us over for a late brunch complete with Bloody Mary’s and mimosas and then we prepared hors de oeuvres for the game.

Cheryl and Chef Dan preparing brunch!



Between brunch and game time, Tug and Buzz came motoring up the channel in their little boats headed for a small creek off Little Brier Creek where “Rosebud” and “Lazy Days” had holed up the day before. For those who don’t know, these four boats were all in Demopolis in November, at one point or another, and are all single-handing it in very small boats with few, if any, creature comforts.

Can you imagine cruising the 6,000-mile Great Loop on these boats? These guys are much tougher than we are. Or maybe tough isn’t the right word…?


The game started at 3:00 p.m. and what a game it was! Alabama was on its toes throughout and the Crimson Tide earned the Southeast Conference Championship by rolling over Florida with a 32-13 win. Roll Tide Roll!!!


We had frost again Sunday morning as we took off at 8:00 a.m. but we also had the sun to warm us up. We reached Mobile without incident and entered Mobile Bay. At first it was a bit rolly but then it smoothed out nicely as we trekked southeast. Shortly after we reached the Intracoastal, “Cheryl Ann” stopped at The Wharf to take on some fuel and then caught up with us at Ingram Bayou where we concluded our 60-mile day.

One of the new “stealth” Navy ships tied up in port at Mobile.


Lulu’s , a popular waterfront establishment owned by Jimmy Buffet’s sister. One of these days we’re going to stop here and find that “Log shaker of salt!”


Monday morning was not as cold, i.e., no frost, and it was even sunny until about 10:00 a.m. when we took off for Little Sabine Bay at Pensacola Beach, 26 miles east. Todd had reserved space for us at the Sabine Marina ($1.00 per foot) for a few days to wait out the next front. At the end of the channel leading into the bay, we had to squeeze past a working dredge that didn’t leave much room for error, especially for “Cheryl Ann” with its 15-foot beam. Jerry, the dockmaster, said they had about a foot of clearance on each side when they came through – yikes!

"Cheryl Ann” making her way across Pensacola Bay.


Jerry, the dockmaster, and Cheryl getting ready to enjoy the sunset.


Todd walked over to the beach with Dan & Cheryl while I got cleaned up. Just after sunset we went up to the Sabine Sandbar, a funky local joint next to the marina. We met up with Dan & Cheryl there and then walked down the street a short distance to Flounders where we all enjoyed seafood for dinner.

We had a rainbow to our east as the sun was setting in the west!




The front came in overnight with rain and strong, gusty winds. Needless to say, we were relieved to be tied to a dock! The rain had moved through by late Tuesday morning, and the temperature was probably in the 60’s most of the day, but the wind didn’t show any signs of letting up. The Captain started his morning by doing three loads of laundry, one at a time, using the marina’s facilities and then our friend Dave picked us up and treated us to lunch at Peg Leg Pete’s. Thanks, Dave, it was good to see you again!



After much deliberation, the Captain decided we were going to pull away from the marina about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. However, the fog kept rolling in and it ended up being 11:15 before we were able to leave. Two other boats, “Where’s Linda” and “Destrier,” also left the marina when we did and ended up tying up with us at the Fort Walton Beach free city dock, 34 miles down the waterway. It was a beautiful day with sunshine and temperatures in the 70’s. We were even able to trade our long johns and sweat pants for shorts!

This was the first time we have actually seen a shrimp boat on the Gulf Intracoastal. Must mean the Gulf is REALLY rough for these guys to come inside.


All tied up at the Fort Walton Beach free city dock…we like free!



A a little taste of Christmas on the panhandle of Florida.

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We were up and at it early Thursday morning. Pete of “Where’s Linda” helped untie our lines and we were off by 7:30. A strong north wind was still blowing making the bay waters quite rough, especially Choctawhatchee Bay which we spent four hours getting across! After eight hours and 68 miles we tried to anchor in Smack Bayou, east of Panama City, but the anchor didn’t hold on the first try and we were far too exposed to the north wind for comfort. So we traveled another four miles or so to Pearl Bayou where we found great holding and better wind protection.

“Cheryl Ann” slogs her way through the rough chop on Choctawhatchee Bay.


Friday was a cold, raw morning with temperatures in the 30’s, no sun and the seemingly ever-present north wind. We even had a couple of unanticipated rain showers and finally fired up the propane heater to mitigate the chill. With only 34 miles on our agenda, we left the anchorage about 10:00 a.m. and were at White City by 2:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m. Eastern time which we are now on by virtue of having crossed under the Highway 71 bridge at White City).

We said our goodbyes to Dan & Cheryl aboard “Cheryl Ann” as they broke off about two miles west of White City at the Gulf County Canal to go to the Port St. Joe Marina, their home for the winter. When we reached White City, Jim & Vaughn aboard “Twins” were there to catch a line. Todd had been communicating with Jim via e-mail over the past several days so they were expecting us. After we got settled, Jim & Vaughn came over to visit and talk boating for a while. They are also gearing up to do the Gulf crossing within the next few days if the forecast holds.

Vaughn & Jim keep their heads dry while the Captain takes a photo in the pouring rain, where the heck is the nice Florida temps and sunshine???


There was considerable rain overnight and it was a cold, gray, wet Saturday. “Twins” pulled away from the dock around 11:00 a.m. headed for Carrabelle. Todd contacted Bob & Phillis in Crystal River and made plans to meet at Miller Marine in Apalachicola at 4:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Bob and Art, a friend of theirs, are going to join the Captain for an 18- to 20-hour overnight Gulf crossing from Apalachicola to Crystal River. After taking on some fuel, they will begin their journey and I will ride back to Crystal River with Phillis to await their arrival.

Today is Sunday, December 13th, and we are en route to Apalachicola in the middle of a rain shower after a warm, foggy morning at White City. Think positive thoughts and keep your fingers crossed for calm seas as the Captain and his crew take “Life’s2Short” across the Gulf of Mexico.