Apalachicola, FL & Gulf Crossing

After we left Niceville, FL we had hopes to stop at Shell Island but the wind had other plans for us so we ducked into a protected anchorage called Pearl Bayou for a quiet night.  We headed into Apalachicola the next morning.  It was a favorite stop of mine on our first loop and I was excited to stop again.  The girls still remember how much they loved finding oyster shells and walking around the cute town.

Along the way we passed through the hurricane damaged areas of the Panhandle.  Most of the damage was on the Gulf side, not the ICW side, but we still saw quite a bit of devastation.  Trees snapped in half.  Docks and boats under water.  It’s sad how much work it will take to fully recover from the damage.

When we arrived in Apalachicola we were greeted with one of the famous fishing boats there.  I find them so charming.

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We hopped off the boat and headed into town to explore.  We found a neat Christmas tree hung with buoys and other nautical decorations.  We explored some of the cute shops we remembered from a couple of years ago.  And after looking at a few restaurants, we decided to head back to the new restaurant right above the marina.  A sailboat we met in Niceville happened to be docked there.  He had already eaten but agreed to come up and join us for a drink while we ate.  We started with us and Wilsons so already a big group of 11 (Tim was with us as well).  As we were eating, Brian came to join making us 12.  And then two other boats arrived who we had been waiting on.  Marshall and Judy on Let’s Go and Bob and Sandy on Plumb Fun.  We added 4 more to our table and took over that part of the restaurant!  We had a fun time and all hashed out our gulf crossing plans for the next couple of days.

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The next day we were not in a rush at all.  Our plan was for a daylight gulf crossing so all we planned to do was get to Carabelle in time to have dinner and go to bed the next day.  So, that meant I had time for a long walk around Apalachicola that morning.  I explored parts of town I hadn’t seen before.  I found an amazing old cemetery and beautiful old churches.

After my walk I went back and got the girls.  We were headed to the old time soda fountain we went to two years ago.  Tim joined us as well as Wendy and her girls.  We loaded up on ice cream and milkshakes!

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Eventually it was time to head back and make our way to Carabelle.  Getting out of Apalachicola was no easy task.  It was extremely shallow (right around 5 ft) and there were huge work barges in the channel.  I could all but touch the barge it was so close as  we went past.  We also passed another barge carrying sunken or destroyed boats.  So sad to see.

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We got all settled in Carabelle and caught a beautiful sunset as I walked to the store to grab a few ingredients for Tim.  He cooked us his amazing chicken fettuccine alfredo for dinner.  YUM!  Wilsons joined us and then headed to bed as they were scheduled to leave at 2:30 AM and run through the night and next day, arriving in Tarpon Springs before sunset.  We touched base with our buddy boat who we would be doing a daylight crossing with and all headed to bed full of nervous energy.

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The next morning brought the usual excitement.  Our buddy boat’s engine wouldn’t start.  It’s always something!  He said he’d check some fuses.  Nothing.  Ben was anxiously watching the tide and worried about getting out of our slip.  The channel was plenty deep, but our slip wasn’t.  He also didn’t want to cross without another boat.  He and Tim eventually just jumped on the other boat.  Ben was in the engine room and Tim suggested finding a mallet and hitting the starter (I may have that all wrong) to get it going.  Sure enough that worked and was a relief to everyone involved.

The girls and I gave hugs and said our goodbyes for the day.  It was very bittersweet and hard to watch Have Another Day pull away from the dock without us on it.  Our plan was to drive our car around the bend and meet Ben and Tim in Clearwater in a few hours.  The forecast was amazing.  Sunrise was downright magical.  I’m so thrilled Ben and Tim had such an incredible ride and a little bit jealous I didn’t get to be there for it.

The girls and I had a wonderful drive.  I don’t often say that, as we spend way too much time in the car.  But this time we hung to the back windy roads following the water.  No interstate.  No traffic.  Small towns.  It was downright charming.  We didn’t have to do any of the big roads until the very end of the trip.  We pulled into Clearwater and got all set up at the marina and waited for Ben and Tim to arrive.  We got our boat tied up and helped get our buddy boat settled and headed to the beach!

We’d finally made it to mainland Florida!!!   It was warmer.  And sunny.  And the beach felt AMAZING!!!  We watched the street performers and sunset and headed to get some dinner and then all collapsed from exhaustion of the long day.

Niceville, FL

We finally left Orange Beach!  This meant we were on our way across the Panhandle of FL.  Next stop was Niceville, FL and Bluewater Bay marina.  Ben’s Aunt Janet teaches in Niceville and told me to check out the marina there.  It was the most accessible and affordable marina closest to their house in Santa Rosa Beach.  So, we checked ourselves in for 17 days!  Our plan was to spend Christmas and NYE with family and have some much needed playtime with Judah and Frankie, Ben’s cousin Sarah’s little kids.  We tied our lines and bolted for shore.  Janet picked us up and drove us to their house.  Ben and I dumped the kids in the door and grabbed his uncle Tom’s car and drove all the way back to Orange Beach to get our car.  We were exhausted but spent 5 hours in the car getting our car and driving back.  Janet fed the kids and then Sarah took them to hear house to play with the kids.  Sarah kept the girls until late when we finally got back.

We spent a lot of days relaxing and playing with the little kids.  Janet also invited us to her school and gave the girls free reign to go through all her classroom books that she was was getting ready to give away.  We cleaned up.  We took so many books we won’t need a bookstore for ages!!  The weather still wasn’t super warm but Janet keeps her pool nice and heated for the kids so when the sun finally came out the kids were in the water faster than you could say jump.  They hadn’t swam in months and were so excited to be in a pool!

We spent Christmas Eve at Sarah and Adrian’s house.  Tom and Ben’s cousin Isaac did a huge shrimp boil for dinner.  It was delicious!!!  Uncle Tom and Aunt Janet took over the reading of Twas the Night Before Christmas this year.  Although my kids are hard and fast with traditions so we read it again in jammies back at the boat before bed.

Christmas morning arrived and Santa found the boat!  The girls opened gifts and then we went to Tom and Janet’s house again.  Tom made us all breakfast and then another round of gift giving began.  Ben’s extended family thoroughly spoiled the girls.  They (we) are so lucky to have family and surrogate family everywhere we go.  We feel truly blessed.

Christmas day was the first warmish sunny day!  It felt so good to sit out in the sun and watch the girls play in the pool.  Isaac and Adrian took turns throwing my kids in the pool and they had a blast.  The kids took turns between playing in the pool all wild and crazy with Judah and the boys, and then quiet time with Frankie.

After Christmas we gave everyone a day or two to recover and hung around the marina.  The girls and I rollerbladed and scootered and swam at the marina.  The girls found a resident kitty to play with.  And we had multiple docktails with Jack and Patty, the local harbor hosts.

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We enjoyed a rainy day glow in the dark bowling with the family followed by dinner at an awesome local fish place who catches fish fresh daily.  They also used a lot of their new Christmas presents.  They made charm bracelets and string bracelets and crystals!

NYE rolled around and we said goodbye to Tom, Janet, Isaac and Judah as they headed to California to visit their other son Tommy and family.  We spent NYE at the marina with Jack and Patty and had a delightful time.  They invited us to their boat and are the perfect hosts.  We stuck around until 10 or so and wanted to get the girls back to bed.

New Year’s Day the Wilsons left Orange Beach and traveled all day in fog to get to Niceville.  I kept texting Wendy warning her about how bad the fog was.  It wasn’t bad when they left but kept getting progressively worse.  We could hear them coming in but it was hard to see much of anything until they were close.  It was a happy reunion!!!  It had been since Green Turtle Bay since we had seen them.

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We had a couple of play days.  The middle girls worked on selling rocks and making bookmarks to sell.  They played in the sand with the rope swing.  And we took a trip to the marina pool again.  We had a few great dinners and docktails with the marina crew.  And then finally it looked like we had a window to move across the Gulf.  At this point our friend Tim (who we met on day 2 of our first loop) came down to join us.  The plan was he’d boat with Ben for the crossing and the girls and I would drive our car.  Our last day in Bluewater Bay was spent with Ben, Jack and Patty moving our car all the way to Carabelle.  And Tim arriving to the boat.  We then had a big dinner with everyone as a send off.  The marina had become our home for a few weeks and it’s always a little hard to get moving again!

 

Pensacola, FL

Before leaving Orange Beach we wanted to head to the Pensacola Naval Aviation Museum.  We planned to stop there for a night by boat but then realized since we now had a car with us it would be a lot simpler to just drive the 45 minutes.

Right when we arrived a trolley tour of the grounds was leaving.  We hopped aboard just in time.  The trolley took us around parts of the restricted naval base grounds we were not permitted to walk around by ourselves.  It was a very cool giant parking lot with tons of old planes.  We thought the planes with folding wings were pretty cool.  Check it out in the pictures.  Our guide was retired navy and flew on I believe 7 different types of the planes and helicopters we saw.  It was a slow day for planes in the air but we did get to watch a few fighter jets take off while we were in the trolley.

Once back inside the museum we started with the Main Street USA exhibit from World War II.  They learned how gas was pumped and talked about ration books.  It’s always a good reminder that we are all very fortunate today.

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Planes, planes everywhere.  We could have spent an entire day studying the history this museum held.  But we had to pick and choose.  The Blue Angels are a favorite of ours.  We watch them perform most summers in Chicago and two years ago on our first loop we were lucky enough to anchor in Pensacola for their fall air show.  During their performance season, visitors to the museum are allowed to watch their practice sessions outside daily.  Unfortunately in January they are not practicing.  So we had to settle with playing on and climbing in their retired planes in the museum.

After looking around the main building a little more the girls practiced driving a few more planes and then we headed to Hangar Bay One.

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I loved this building.  We started with the Coast Guard exhibit.  A group near and dear to our hearts.  The Coast Guard risks their lives every day to keep boaters like us safe.  We took a look at the safety and rescue exhibit and Ben showed the girls how the basket is lowered from a hovering helicopter down to a boat or person in the water.  Maddy climbed into the basket for rescue.  We watched a video of actual rescue footage.  And discussed how terrifying it would be to be hoisted up in one of those wire metal baskets swinging through the air attached to a moving helicopter.  Yikes!

The girls climbed in a few more cockpits and drove a few more simulators.  We moved onto the sobering Vietnam exhibit.  And ended with this cute plane painted like a shark.

This is a fabulous, educational, FREE museum if you are in the area!