Leaving Niceville, Florida we cruise eastward in the ICW, which here is a series of connected lakes, and then into a 30 mile man-made canal which connects the lakes to West Bay and into the Panama City region.
The ride is lovely and calm and when we hit West Bay, we were accompanied by the BEST dolphins of the trip. While we had 11 ride our bow wave as we entered Key West, and have always had dolphins rush to accompany us, these guys act like they want us to play with them. They jump completely out of the very dark, tannin stained water and smack down on the surface almost like they want us to notice that they are riding along beside us. Some ride our bow wave, looking a little like this photo
and others leap and surf in the wake waves.
Either way, they roll and make very obvious eye contact with us and we enjoy their company for miles.
Coming into Panama City area is sobering. Hurricane Michael has left its mark everywhere.
The blue tarps are more evident than are intact rooves and salvaged boats are being lifted by cranes onto the shore. It is so sad, it reminds us of what we saw in the Keys earlier this year.
As we dock (next to the Sea Dragon pirate ship!) at the Lighthouse Marina (the only functional marina in Panama City) we can see the piles of debris that dwarf what we experienced after Irma last year.
The city has been devastated, losing hospital beds, jobs of all sorts and so many trees. The Live Oaks still stand but the canopy created by their leaves is gone and the water oaks and pines are scattered everywhere like matchsticks. We wanted so badly to get here to volunteer but arriving during Christmas week has not offered us that opportunity.
On Christmas eve we get to meet up with my college buddy from Oxford, Evelyn.
We choose a nondenominational church that is pretty close to the marina and attend Christmas eve service there. Evelyn’s Catholic and we are Episcopalian and this is a much livelier service than we are used to but the spirit is wonderful. Half of this church campus has been destroyed by Michael and lies in ruins beside the small chapel which will hold 3 Christmas Eve services.
It is an alive service that finishes with all of us raising glowsticks (safer than candles) symbolizing the Light of the World who came to us on Christmas day.
We leave with ears ringing from the decibel level but I think we are all happy that we chose to do this.
From there we try a couple of places on the beach that we frequented as young college students but they are either closed due to damage or for private events. We end up at Saltwater Grill and have a great dinner while we catch up.
Evelyn shares what it was like to live through the hurricane and how eerie it was afterwards with twelve foot mountains of debris alongside the roadways. She remarks on how HOT it was after the storm because the shade canopy from the trees is no longer there and how big an adjustment it is to lose all those beautiful old trees.
She has a great perspective though, knowing how fortunate she is to still have a home albeit damaged by the storm and still be able to work and travel when so many have had that choice stripped away from them along with their homes and all their possessions and jobs. It is a lovely evening which ends too soon and we swear that it won’t be as long between visits as this one was from our last.
The next morning, we celebrate Christmas with small gifts and brownies for breakfast and then we get under way. The trip today is downright grim. Coming into Panama City, we traveled through the area that had been merely brushed by the western edge of the hurricane. Today we travel through the areas that bore the full brunt of its fury and our hearts are heavy. Buildings are damaged or just plain gone.
The remaining oaks are stripped of their foliage and stand mangled beyond recognition and the pines are either snapped in half or are bent and broken, lying in whichever direction the wind cast them last.
In some areas, not one pine is left, only pencil points of broken trunks reach skyward. In others, only the slenderest and most supple stand starkly against the sky, with but a token number of needles still intact.
Boats lie scattered along the shores like a child’s broken toys and devastation is everywhere.
By the time we reach our anchorage in Saul Creek, we are mentally exhausted and ready to put the day behind us.
We sit alone in our peaceful creek anchorage, listening to the current gurgle along our hull. We hear a combination of strange swamp sounds and bird calls and give thanks that we have heard (via phone, text or WhatApp) that our loved ones are all safe and have enjoyed their Christmases – even Annelise sends a video of herself boarding down a sand dune in Israel! As the sun sets on one of the most unusual Christmases we have ever shared, we KNOW that we are truly blessed.
The next morning, we make the short hop past Appalachicola to Carrabelle. It is a little rough but fortunately the wind and waves are all coming at our bow, which is the direction our boat and her crew handle best.and we pull into a slip a C-Quarters around noon, business end away from the dock as the tide is pretty substantial here and it looks as if it might be a little shallow near the dock.
As we are checking in at C Quarters we run into Tom from Destination??? who we first met in Columbus and then again in Panama City. He invites us to docktails and when we arrive and introduce ourselves to the other couple, it turns out Dan and Lucy were aboard Lulu in Mobile and they watered our Basil plant when Cat and Gilles, who had been caring for it, left for France.
This plant has made it the whole trip, through customs illegally 4 times, lashed down against waves that wanted to give it a burial at sea a couple of times, provided countless fresh pesto pasta dinners for Jerry and me and has blessed many of our Looping friends with fresh basil along the way. I think some people even rooted the cuttings we gave them and planted them so they would have fresh basil too! So, we thank Cat and Gilles and then Lucy and Dan for making sure Basil didn’t die while we were gone for 2 1/12 weeks earlier this month.) I dropped the power cord on it by mistake yesterday and broke half of its branches off and it is still more of a tree than a plant!
Dan and Lucy of Lulu with Basil and us!
The Loop is a funny place where the world collapses into a series of common experiences made up of places and events. No one really talks about the good times they have had aboard their boats, except in passing. It is always a sharing of disaster stories and learning experiences that always end with “What the hell were we thinking!?!?!”
And so we plan the next phase of our adventure together since we are weathered into Carrabelle for a couple of days. We had thought that we would trace the western coast of Florida, hop scotching our way home through the little towns along the nature coast.
The local knowledge here says that this is not a good plan because this time of year the predominant wind is from the north and is pulling the water out of the already shallow accesses to these towns. So now we are contemplating doing the Gulf crossing with Lulu and Destination???
It is about 160+ miles from here to Tarpon which will mean a minimum of 20+ hours, some of which will be IN THE DARK, AMONG CRABTRAPS!!!! Pray for us! I have the T-shirt and now we are making final preparations to leave hopefully this afternoon (Saturday 12/29/18)
Preparations are things like:
- Consulting with locals here who know the conditions to call it a “go” or a “stay and wait for the next weather window” which could be a week from now.
- Consulting all weather, wind and conditions websites to make sure we have as safe a predicted crossing as is possible, given the time of year.
- Resting as much as possible last night and this morning.
- Filling fuel and water tanks.
- Making meals ahead so that we will have GOOD food without a lot of prepping during the trip since part of it will likely be rough.
- Making sure the handheld radio has full battery charge.
- Backing up files and photos to an external drive and making sure all essential electronics and valuables are in a waterproof bag on the back deck.
- Getting all foul weather gear, including boots, out and ready should it be needed.
- Preparing a waterproof ditch bag that has food and water, flashlights, hand-held radio, flares, knife to cut dinghy loose and other survival necessities.
- Unloading the dinghy (we’ve been using it as a trunk for extra storage) and making sure we can cut it loose and go on a moment’s notice.
- Checking the engine on the dinghy and making sure the extra gas tank is full and aboard.
- Making sure Kindles have good books loaded and we have enough podcasts to keep us awake for 24 hours!
- Stowing everything below decks that could crash around and get broken. Not sure what I’m going to do with our Christmas tree yet!
- Lashing all movable objects above decks so that nothing will get broken or be a distraction should the seas become rougher than we anticipate.
- Making sure we have a slip in Tarpon to dock the boat upon arrival.
- Consulting with our buddy boats to make sure everybody has accurate cell and radio contact information and that we are all of accord that it is time to go.
- Making sure our Gold AGLCA burgee (pennant) is ready to put on our bow when Makin Memories’ crosses her wake!
I am going to go ahead and post this even though we will not make the final “go” decision until this afternoon and will post on Facebook what time we will depart and our anticipated ETA in Tarpon given our “go” time. Thanks for staying with us, friends and family – please pray for a safe crossing for us and our friends no matter what time we end up going?