Copy Write 2/27/2002 © Updated 1/3/2006
I have never tried a mid winter cruise, for three reasons
February 1-3 from a scheduling point of view fits. Keep the trip short range in nature with a bit of luck the weather will cooperate. Watching the weather forecast everything looks good. A front will push thru Friday, meaning north winds and no rain for Friday night, Saturday to be sunny and questionable weather for Sunday, with a trend toward decent weather. Friday the front came thru right on schedule rain and high winds, some sunshine by late afternoon and winds calming.
The Perdido Bay system is dumbbell shaped with an east slant at the north to a west slant at the south. A north wind seems to blow from the top western edge of North Perdido Bay. My original thought was to sail, should be an easy broad reach down. As my first mate (daughter) was also coming along and it would be cloudy and dark I chose to motor. By 6pm we were in our way. The winds, blowing all day from the north crossing a good size fetch. I was nervous about the sea state, relived to find it choppy but no white caps. Had there been whitecaps we would have turned around or never left. With the keel all the way down motoring was easy, occasionally a series of bigger waves would hit and heel us over some. The further south the waves shifted from the beam to the stern quarter pushing us around some. Once past Grassy Point Perdido Bay narrows into a channel I call the "chute" waves calmed some and the ride became easy. The wind was still off the stern and pushing us around some.Return
I trailed my MOB line realized you couldn't see it in the dark had second thoughts about dragging it. If I went over would I be able to find it or would I get tangled, eventually decided to leave it in the water. I was thankful for the whistles I added to both life vests several years ago. Disturbing thought, if Rachel went over would I be able to find her. Waves weren't bad enough to hide her, on a positive note the cloud cover reflected a lot of light from Pensacola area and I could see the water surface easy. Promised my self we would not do another night trip with out some kind of emergency light attached to the vest. I think the chemical lights would be more than enough, break them open at launch and they burn for several hours, kids love to play with them and they don't cost that much. All my previous night trips where in fair weather clear skies and water surface easy to see. One thing I will try is attaching a chemical light to the end of my MOB line to see how well it shows up at night.Return
Once under the Lillian Bridge about an hour out the temperature really started dropping? Before it was cold, now really cold. I wanted to make Manuel Bayou area a good ½ hour from the Lillian Bridge. Once past the mouth of the Bayou I started looking for a place to park for the night. Cranking the keel almost up we motored toward what was now a windward shore. I wanted in close but not too close. Dropping anchor and diving into the cabin to light the burner, soon the cabin was toasty warm. I don't mind a propane burner as long as I am with it. I had both hatch boards in with the pop-top gaping slightly for ventilation. The hatch in the forward part of the cabin does not seal airtight so I knew there would be fresh air working thru the boat. Once we were ready for bed the burner goes out and time to snuggle into sleeping bags.
Usually I manage to pick sound anchorages in good weather, never too much rocking. Not tonight, most of the waves working down the chute were small but occasionally a few would bunch up into a bigger one. Also the wind making the halyards slap. Inside some plastic bags hanging from the cabin top slapping against the side making a crinkling sound as they hit. Rachel went right on off to sleep. After getting up and adjusting the halyards with a bungee cord to the outer stay, unhooking the plastic bags then putting them down I knew with the boat rocking the way it was I was not going to sleep.Return
Back out, cranking up the motor slowly heading southwest, working my way to an area known as Red Bluffs. As this was further west there was no wave action working its way down the chute. Just whatever wind blown waves from the shore. Also managed thru no skill of my own to find a deep spot allowing me to drop the keel all the way down. Back in my not so warm sleeping bag, just about asleep in a warmed up sleeping bag and another thought crosses my mind. All the stories of other sailors dragging anchor or breaking free or the wind shifting, or, or, or! Back out into the cold once again. Locating the other anchor and going forward to secure it, remembering the fact I need another anchor cleat forward. Running the anchor rode outside as I carry the anchor back to the cockpit. Carefully motor a northwest heading allowing the boat to drive up on my current anchor. As I feel the bow pulled by the existing set anchor I heave the second over and kill the motor. Gradually "Don't Ask" falls back and both anchors set. Snubbing excess rode on the second anchor, not too bad a set for late in the night. Not a perfect 30 to 45 degrees more like an "L" with one leg cocked out of whack. Still I am satisfied, "Don't Ask" is riding better, sleeping bag is calling. Finally the voices in my head are satisfied, "Don't Ask" will ride safely thru the night and so will I.Return
Sleeping aboard has recently improved, in past trips the narrow quarter berths are OK until about the third night, then I start remembering how comfortable my bed is at home. 1st night is fair sleeping adjusting to different noises, 2nd night better because I an tired from all the yachting activities and less than perfect night before sleeping, 3rd night wishing I had more room, more padding just plain more. November 2001 I cut a sheet of 5/8ths plywood down to two sections 5' X 2'. These sections fit between the head of the keel trunk and the pendant winch. Converting the back section of the cabin into a big bed. I have some foam mattress pads to roll out and cover everything, very comfortable and lots of room.Return
Saturday morning we both are up early, all the work of last night and my planning has paid off. Clear skies, cold but warming as the sun rises with stiff wind. After a beautiful sunrise that included sizzling bacon, bagels and cream cheese or should I say cream cheese with bagels it is time to tackle one slight problem. Anchoring last night near Manuel Bayou my daughter informs me she does not feel good and is sniffling. It would take about an hour to motor against the wind back to the Lillian Bridge for Momma to pick her up. I really don't want to do that, I suggest she waits until morning.
After breakfast Rachel has decided she wants to go to Pirates Cove Marina for lunch, no arm-twisting on my part honest. The wind is sporting pretty good, waves building no whitecaps yet, off we go under a full mainsail, broad reaching. As the gusts hit we heel right on over then stop any further. I find with full main and full to ¾ keel "Don't Ask" is a real lady as she heels. Most of the gusts I just ride out never adjusting the rudder or mainsheet. Yea we go right on over but only so far. What a rush, keel pendant just a humming. With full keel down I need some serious water under the hull. 7'-8' just to keep from bumping bottom, best way to navigate is along the crab trap line. Most of the crab traps are in deep water, if I stay outside of the crab trap buoys, plenty of depth and they mark the way to go. Just sail from white buoy to buoy. Rounding Ross Point the tree line is between the wind and us. Blowing just enough to keep us moving comfortably, almost flat water, as the fetch is too small to build. Sailing northwest close reaching to Pirates Cove. Almost but not quite there, I really wanted to sail in to the turning basin behind the marina, with the wind almost on the nose at the entrance no way. As it is still early a motor cruise up Roberts Bayou is in order. Once in the turning basin and the mainsail stowed off to the left are several bigger boats at anchor, Captain Rachel at the helm we wander around the bayou going up all the forks as far as water depth will allow.
Beaching at the old wooden /tin building serving as a restaurant time for lunch. The hamburgers are just as good in the winter when business is slow. As we are waiting for our order a guy comes in and sits down, (flash back to my first trip to Pirates Cove) he has an old Dachshund with him. The dog is an expert beggar, just sits there quietly looking at you eating your food. Rachel is about done with her chicken strips so with the owner's permission, of course we had to share.
I wanted to take a good look at the marina, lots of bigger boats, and a few monster catamarans. On our way back I spot a familiar looking boat trailer and sure enough on top of the trailer is a SC 22. As I was looking in the cabin windows it seems the owner lives in the travel trailer behind the boat. So we start comparing notes, he has never seen an Eclipse model before. On the way to where my boat is anchored a SC 23 under restoration is on a trailer. Wow several South Coast owners' right here!!!Return
Eventually I know we must head back, now that Rachel has been to Pirates Cove and had lunch she is ready to "BE" home not going home. Back out I just raise the main sail (remembering how it was coming over). Once past Ross Point I find the wind has slowed some and the building sea against us calmed quite a bit. Eventually I decide full sails would be best, with Rachel at the helm I go forward, she is quickly becoming an important part of the crew rather than ballast. With the jib drawing an easy fun beam to close reach back across South Perdido Bay. Before I know it we are past Red Bluffs and last nights anchorage. I am well out on South Perdido Bay the sun is shining. Backstreet Boys on the CD player (no Jimmy Buffet hey I have crew to please), life is good. As we turn north east toward Dupont Point in the distance it is time to start setting up for the uphill climb to Lillian Bridge.
As we are heading toward Dupont point on a starboard reach I hear an odd splash right behind me, turning I find a familiar grey shape just below the water. Then another and another, "oh my gosh", four Dolphins come to say hello. I always have a hard time taking Dolphin photos, they just don't sit still long enough and it is difficult judging where they are going to surface to be ready. Also the sun is often in the wrong position. They hang with us for about 5 minutes then off they go doing whatever Dolphins do. Later we see several more but none come to say hello. As I get closer to Dupont Point the wind is doing the one thing I really didn't want, right down the middle of the chute. Quicker to motor, it seems to take forever, really it doesn't but Rachel is ready for Momma to pick her up, as she has a cold I can't blame her. Kits Marina is on the Alabama side of the Lillian Bridge. 3pm after dropping off my first mate time to complete the Ground Hog Day Celebration Cruise.
With just a mainsail "Don't Ask" heads south, broad reaching angling across the chute from Kits Marina toward Dupont Point. A slow easy ride downhill keel up to 15 cranks, trolling line aft. Sade "Lovers Rock" CD moaning in the background (still no Jimmy Buffet, Parrot Heads please forgive me). Eventually I have to swing wide to avoid the shoals off Dupont Point. Instead of turning right back out on South Perdido Bay a different destination: Tarklin Bay, I have not been back to visit since October 2000 . Left it is, with the keel at 15 tucking in close to shore we just drift on by. Lots of bird life around, a flock of ducks don't like my approach so they fly on ahead to get away only to move again as I approach. We do this dance about three times before the flock is scattered enough I no longer threaten them. Eventually the flock has regrouped behind me. Late in the afternoon sun is shining bright and I am down to a long sleeve shirt and jeans.
Tarklin Bay takes a hook to the north making it a good place to hide out from the world. The channel into Weekly Bayou and civilization is well marked but to the North of me is nothing but shoreline and woods, the area is now a State Park and all the dirt roads the four wheelers used to drive are now hiking trails. Many times I have hiked some of these trails. Entering this thin water area it is time to play a game called fetch the mark. I could motor but what kind of fun would that be. Keel high mainsail only tacking my way back and fourth gaining ground each tack.
I want to reach the mouth of Tarklin Bayou; I spent some time in there October Trip 2000. Water getting thin fast eventually I am too thin to have any keel down, kind of hard to make to wind with no keel down. Stowing the sail time to motor, almost there and the water is almost gone no way to gain entrance. A nice sandy beach to the east of me opppps not enough water to get in close. How bout the other side same thing. Water levels during the winter are a good 1' to 2' lower than summer.
No Tarklin Bayou this trip. Back out into deeper water (not much) time to settle in for the night. Off in the woods I can hear an Owl hooting, birds flying about, Pelicans dive bombing mullet in Tarklin Bayou, time to get out the fishing rod and watch the sun fall down. As protected the hook part of Tarklin Bay is a real easy ride overnight not quite as cold and a sky full of stars. I don't leave the pop-top hatch open for long it is still cold.
Morning, catch a few photos of the sun waking up, check the fishing lines I set last night, all the bait is gone nothing on the hooks. Fresh pot of coffee and the last of the bacon did I mention cream cheese with bagels? Last morning out is always a bit sad, time to return to reality yet the satisfaction of a trip well done. High clouds have rolled in over night wind is still from the north, not very much but still cold. Do I hang out and hope the clouds break some later in the day or head back now. Forecast is all over the place, some clouds, and possibility of rain and or sunshine mixed in. It is time to go home! Crank the motor and westward ho, around Dupont Point and climbing up hill to Lillian Bridge. Still trolling that fishing line only this time using a King Mackerel rig, Sea Gulls seem to think it is a fish or something a few think about diving but abort before actually hitting the water.
Did I mention it is a bit cold this morning, using some line tied to the rudder I crouch behind the cockpit to reduce the wind. Then I place two boat cushions in the cockpit sole and sit on that peeking over the pop-top. Almost to the bridge fenders and a wild idea comes to mind, what if, well it just might work, hmmmm where is some extra line, yup I think it will work. But, let's wait until the other side of the bridge first. Once north of the bridge the six-gallon jug of extra gas I carried is placed on the cockpit seat right in front of the motor. Line is lead from the tiller to the port cockpit winch then across to the starboard cockpit winch and into the cabin.
The SC Eclipse has a forward hatch, with it open I can adjust the motor just right and balance the tiller against the motor sit in the cabin and steer the boat. North Perdido Bay has little boat traffic, on a day like today none to never. I can see out of the cabin windows and the front hatch, hey this is pretty neat. As we come out of the chute and into North Perdido Bay proper the fetch is kicking up some rougher waves, nothing bad. Grabbing the 6-gallon water jug with about 5 gallons of water it is pushed back next to the fuel tank servicing the engine. Just enough extra weight back there to offset the increased wave action.
In the cabin I am sitting on the port side. I'm sure it was a strange site to anyone watching a boat apparently on its own. I enjoyed the hour it took me to motor from the bridge to homeport. With this new idea, lots of opportunities, first some modifications, a clear panel for the forward hatch needs fashioning also pop-top enclosure has resurfaced as a priority. I need to get serious about both before my April trip. If I had a clear pop top enclosure, the pop top could be up allowing full field of vision under motor with me in the cabin. As long as the waves are not bad hey, this might just work.
By 12 noon "Don't Ask" was in her slip and my car loaded down with junk the sky was clearing some sun was out and much warmer than this morning, back to a long sleeve shirt.
While not perfect I figure the first annual Ground Hog Day Celebration Cruise was a success. Here in Florida if the Ground Hog sees his shadow 6 more weeks of good sailing weather.
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