What a busy couple of weeks! We drove home from Mobile to Tarpon Springs and were immediately enveloped in Herb Seaton’s Looper welcome committee!
We had dinner with several Loopers who had just made the crossing and later in the week were reunited with our friends from Moon Dance and Bella Blue who had also successfully made the Gulf crossing from Appalachicola. It is heartwarming to see new friends really embrace the town you call home. Rusty Bellies was a HUGE favorite, as was Dimitri’s and I know a lot of Looper relatives will be getting Tarpon Springs sponges for Christmas this year!
Family kept us busy with the arrival of our beautiful granddaughter, Presley James Coleman.
Her mom and dad are a little sleep deprived but are doing well and big brother, Walker seems to be adjusting to and accepting his new little sister with lots of “Awww’s” and kisses on the head.
I’m pretty sure they will be the dynamic duo in no time, keeping their folks on their toes.
Our nephew Joe married his beloved, Toni and the wedding was lots of fun with reunions with family members who we hadn’t seen in a while. Joe and Toni are a devoted and beautiful couple and we wish them a long and happy life together.
My kids gave me the best Christmas present a mom could ask for by being all together in the same place for the last time in the foreseeable future.
Kristopher and Rachel will be moving to Pittsburgh at about the same time we return from our Loop (ETA 1/6/19) and Annelise is headed to Israel and then Morrocco and from there no one really knows but she doesn’t plan to be home any time soon. Leland is now in Miami and seems to love the southeast coast of Florida, for the time being at least. The photo of all three of them together will be a treasured keepsake for years to come.
We were able to spend time with my mom and reunite with dear friends while home but the time raced by and very quickly it was time to return to the boat. Jerry’s brother BJ came with us and brought nice weather for almost his whole stay! The first day back in Mobile was rainy but after that, it was actually sunny and even a bit warm while we were together.
We used that first rainy day and the fact that we still had the rental car to drive to Pensacola to see the National Naval Air Museum. I had visited it when my kids were very small and the only thing I remembered was the Blue Angel simulator because we were all aboard and lifting off when Annelise panicked and hit the punch-out button which stopped the ride. I thought her brothers just might kill her that day! The rest of the museum has grown and been drastically updated and is really a marvel to explore.
The guys had a blast playing pilot in the simulators and we spent most of the day there. Later we found that the Pensacola lighthouse was closed for lens repair but we were able to walk around the keeper’s cottage, which was quite grand compared to some of the ones we have visited.
We returned the rental car and had dinner aboard the boat, turning in early. The next morning dawned clear and sunny and warmed up quickly as we left Mobile to cross Mobile bay and into the ICW.
We spent the night at Orange Beach at the Wharf Marina which was very reminiscent of the National Harbor Marina outside of Washington DC. There is a multi-storied time share along the marina which opens in an arch in the middle, leading to a main street that was decorated for Christmas.
There was Christmas music playing and all of the palm trees had lights which pulsed in perfect time with the music. It was fantastic to see. We enjoyed a pitcher of beer together and then had some outstanding barbeque. Strolling the avenue afterwards treated us to more lights and Christmas decorations.
The next day we waited for the wind to die down and left the Wharf around noon. We only had a little way to go to anchor out at Red Fish Point which is right near Pensacola.
The anchorage was just off Perdido Key beach and we could see the Pensacola lighthouse from the boat as the sun set.
It was a quiet and calm night until about 4 AM when Jerry began stomping around on the deck.
“Hey, you might want to see this barge out here,” he called to me. I was incredibly irritated as it was cold and too early to get up and I couldn’t imagine why he wanted me to get out of bed to see a barge in the dark. He stamped around for another 30 minutes and then came below declaring, “We may need to pull up the anchor and get going! This guy is adrift, moving towards us and I can’t get him to respond on the radio!”
At this point BJ and I both came topside to find all of our Christmas lights and every other light we have brightly lit and sure enough off our starboard side was a barge that was definitely drifting closer and closer to us. Jerry repeatedly tried to raise the guy on the radio and contacted other ships in the area, to no avail. He started our engines and just as we were about to pull the anchor, the guy finally came over the radio stating that they had just changed tugs and that he did see us and that he wouldn’t hit us. SHEESH! That would have been nice to hear an hour earlier but we were all up, the boat was running and there was a gorgeous sunrise breaking over the beach.
Nobody was going back to bed so we went ahead and got under way. Again, it was a short run and we pulled into Palafox Marina in Pensacola at 10 AM which was great! Not only is it a really nice marina but it is situated right in the middle of the Seville area of Pensacola and is central to a lot of nice shopping, quaint neighborhoods and tons of restaurants and bars. And to make it even better, all of it was decorated for Christmas! We explored for a while and then returned to let the guys nap and then we had a fabulous dinner at Jaco’s right next to the marina.
Afterwards, BJ found an Irish bar he wanted to explore and Jerry and I went walking. Pensacola does Christmas up big time for the kids (SO mad I didn’t take my camera along). We came across a little train that was packed with children and a few parents that did a loop around the city streets and then delivered its occupants back to city hall where there was a HUGE tree and lots of activities for the kids to do and of course Santa was there, in his sleigh, noting Christmas wishes. There were also tall candy-caned pipes that were spouting a fine mist of snow made out of bubbles and the kids were dancing underneath it trying to catch it as it fell. It was a really nice evening and so wonderful to be able to stroll, arm-in-arm, without freezing to death!
We said good bye to BJ the next morning and were sorry to see him go but ran into friends and ended up taking a couple of hour walk with them through new neighborhoods up to the Publix to reprovision. It is a small world, we were coincidentally docked right next to Glyn and Laura on Peregrine, who we have leapfrogged with since they started their journey in Milwaukee from the slip next to ours.
The first night we were in Milwaukee, we returned to the boat, after exploring, to see a HUGE party on the boat next to ours (it turned out to be their going away party) and then fireworks exploded across the sky for a good half hour.
The next morning, Laura and I introduced ourselves and I asked her what the fireworks were for, since it didn’t seem to be a holiday of any kind. She won a place in my heart when she looked me right in the eye and declared soberly, “Those were for you, to welcome you to Milwaukee!” We have met up again with them in Joliet and Clifton as we came down the wretched river system and we got to catch up by sharing some war stories. It is always fun to reunite with friends and while it is sad to leave them, we hope that the part they need to make repairs arrives soon and that we will see them when they hit the west coast of Florida.
That evening we went to the old Seville Quarter to Rosie O’Grady’s and attended the Rotary meeting there. The Seville Rotary is the newest Rotary club in Pensacola, at almost 10 years old and is a nice group of younger professionals. It was an informative meeting and we got to share our CART mission with them, which garnered a good bit of interest.
The next day we were under way early, headed eastward to find a hidey hole that would protect us from a predicted, gale-force storm bringing yet another cold front with it. We decided to by-pass the Ft. Walton town dock as it was too early to stop and conditions were good to continue.
We made our way to Bluewater Bay Marina in Niceville, FL. The marina was tucked away and so enjoys perfect protection from wind and waves. We bowed in so we could clean some of the river stains off the bow, giving ourselves a back deck that faced out into the Choctawatchee Bay.
There was a family of loons fishing the waters behind the boat and every once in a while a dolphin would blow pfffft as he corraled fish into the weeds, creating feasting opportunities for the vigilant pelicans who surveyed his progress and then splashed down to share in his success.
Bluewater Bay Marina is a terrifically friendly spot. We were greeted at the fuel dock by Eddie, who we haven’t seen since Savannah. He is kind of a Looper legend. As a retired Air Force pilot, he now provides a weather service for boaters, which is relied upon as boats prepare to make the Gulf crossing from the Panhandle to Pinellas County.
Once we pulled into our slip, we were immediately invited to docktails with new friends, Patty and Jack on Nearly Perfect. They are the harbor hosts here and we had a great time sharing experiences and snacks. There is a Christmas decorating contest going on so many of the boats are done up for the festivities. If we could, we would vote for Nearly Perfect and hope their snowman will withstand the coming winds! It was hard for me to get this picture, he was doing so much ducking and weaving!
There are a lot of live-aboards here and I can definitely see why. The restaurant and oyster bar have something going on almost every night and the food is excellent. We tried the roasted oysters and they were amazing! I can still taste the garlic though!
It must be a really fun place when the weather is nice (how many places have I made that same remark about over the last year?) There are picnic tables under ancient live oak trees right next to a little sandy beach. Pelicans dive for fish just feet away from where the kids play on the beach. We had to duck to avoid being hit by an incoming pelican yesterday. Fortunately, he chose to dive just short of hitting us!
We were on our way to do laundry which is always interesting at marinas. We have had fancy marble laundry counters, outdoor laundries where the cats stay warm on top of the dryers, and everything in between. Sometimes they are outrageously expensive and other times they are free (a boater’s favorite thing because then you can do a load of beach towels and boat rags).
According to our waitress, the laundry in this marina was built around the owner’s favorite oak tree and sure enough when we went in, there was a hole in the floor and the roof through which a giant live oak grew. This is all very charming until you are doing laundry in the rain and there is no dry place to put your clean clothes!
We are on the home stretch now, waiting for weather to allow us to move towards Panama City. From there, we plan to trace the panhandle and the west coast of Florida to arrive home on Epiphany. We know better than to believe this is cast in stone but that’s what we will be shooting for.