Copy Write 3/1/2000 © Updated 12/29/2005
December, January and February was spent day sailing when I could. Even here in Florida about 4 PM it starts cooling down. Ideally the boat needs to be tied up by 4:30 PM. This limits my sailing to the
area usually north of Lillian Bridge. The canal where the boat is slipped gets dark fast in the evening and lots of trees to snag the rigging.
Needless to say by March I was ready for a serious sail trip. Head out and don't come back kind of thing. I haven't sailed Big Lagoon in a long while. There is a little cove south of Ft. Mc Rae. Not deep enough for the big boys but perfect for me. I have been back there many times in a Flying Scot . Along the way there is a marina called Southwinds on the mainland side of Big Lagoon. The marina has several restaurants. The plan is simple sail down, stop off at Southwinds to meet my wife and daughter for dinner. Spend the night on the hook at Ft. Mc Rea. Sail back the next day.
I pick the week of the trip and nervously watch the long-term weather forecasts. The weather pattern is showing the usual winter fronts blowing thru and Monday - Wednesday everything looks perfect for a Friday launch. By Thursday my weather window is deteriorating. Everything is perfect for Friday; Saturday is not looking too good and Sunday even worse. Getting up early Friday (most everything is already loaded on the boat) looking at the weather it might be bad on Saturday or maybe not either way it's time to go.
Two items are most important on a trip ginger tea and boiled peanuts. On the way to the boat the boiled peanuts are purchased. After a quick loading of last minute stuff it is time to cast off.
Cranking the motor and avoiding low hanging trees I am easing down the canal when my phone rings naturally it is in the cabin. The process of pulling the boat out of the slip and avoiding the Charlie Brown kite eating trees is a bit tricky complicated by windage. Of all times for the phone to ring I should have just let it ring and called back later. As I run forward to grab the phone the engine idling decides to sputter and die. The trees are reaching with greedy arms for the rigging. With phone in hand I run back to the tiller and use the forward motion of the boat to coast out of reach of the limbs. Answering the still ringing phone I find it was one of the office secretaries playing a practical joke, by telling me of a non-existent crisis at the office. I don't mind the joke but the timing was way off. Cranking the motor once again it is time to head out into the great beyond.
Motoring out of the canal and across the sand bar into some deeper water it is time to drop anchor and raise the sails. Morning winds during winter months are fluky. This morning a light east wind could be a bit better but not bad. Pointing the boat south with full sails an easy reach toward Lillian Bridge, gateway to the rest of the world. Bridges are fickle structures, playing all kinds of games with the wind. One side will have a hurricane raging and the other almost dead calm. If sailing thru is an option, the motor is usually running at idle just in case. I got pinned on a lee fender once due to a judgment error, but that is a different story. This time sailing thru is possible. The bridge fender system is wide enough, but anticipating possible wind shifts on the other side, demands a judgment call. Is it better to shoot straight down the middle or should I hug the windward side as much as possible. Or enter on the lee side and sail toward the windward side until clear. I have done this many times and each is different due to the wind speed and direction.
Bridge fenders form an hourglass shape, I choose the middle route, once on the other side the wind shifts just enough that the boat needs a starboard (lee side) heading to grab the wind better. Not too much or I will run out of sea way and get pinned on the fender but, just enough for the sail to bite the wind and keep moving.
The Perdido Bay system is basically dumbbell shaped with the bridge at the narrow point. The bay is not oriented on a true north south direction south heading north with a west to east slant. There are numerous points, most with trees all of which have an effect on wind speed and direction. I call the long narrow section the "chute"
Once through the bridge the wind lightens and between the wind direction and my sailing direction I set things up for a light air broad reach. I carry a length of elastic shock cord to tie off the tiller. It works OK for some situations. After fiddling with it I finally get things adjusted so the boat will keep a heading with only minor adjustments. The cockpit hasn't been scrubbed in awhile, now would be a good time. Just about done and I realize we aren't moving very fast matter of fact just ghosting along dropping the jib and cranking the motor getting some speed and heading out to south Perdido bay.
Once the bay widens up the wind seems to pick up a bit. Broad reach turns into a run. Set the whisker pole and raise the keel up to ten cranks, tie off the rudder and kick back to enjoy the good life. Sun is not too hot, few other boats on the water. Once again after a while I realize we aren't moving fast enough, drop the sail and give up. Time to motor :(.
The channel between Innerarity Point Florida and Bear Point Alabama side looks wide, fact is it is shallow. Most boats end up threading the channel marked by buoys. With the keel up I don't have to follow that route. In theory I should be able to hug the east bank save some time. Reality is a bit different. I prefer not to drag the propeller through the mud. Not good for the impeller watercolor is a good indicator of depth. If the water looks brown I am too thin and need to find deeper water. After it is said and done I am almost to the buoys and the channel.
Rounding Innerarity Point, Perdido bay becomes the ICW. Barge traffic and all. I have never been through here before. Civilization crowding close with all the homes, condos and such as a contrast it is nice. Just east of Point Ono there is an area known as five islands. Basically just several small piles of sand some big enough for a few pine trees and brush. Actually a perfect place to hang out on the beach and watch the world go by. As I pass them I make a mental note, might be a good place for a quick overnight trip.
Further east the ICW gets real narrow. I soon remember why I like north Perdido bay. The boat traffic is terrible even for a Friday afternoon. The big powerboats come flying thru throwing up some serious wakes. The channel is narrow and with traffic I am not always able to head into the wake at an angle. A quick hand is needed on the throttle to keep the motor from running too high as we pitch thru wakes. One last turn, the ICW has narrowed even further. But there it is the Perdido Bridge. Motoring under I am once again in familiar sailing grounds. I have spent many afternoons sailing Big Lagoon in a Flying Scot .
Motoring south along the banks of Big Lagoon State Park / Florida State Parks all the memories flood back. Thinking I know what I am doing I start to cut across the channel and scoot across a point into the main section of Big Lagoon . Very quickly I realize shoaling has extended further out than remembered. Also the channel extends further south than remembered. Between dredging and time, things have changed. Back to the channel no shortcuts today.
Finally out in Big Lagoon proper I raise the sails ready for the grand entry. It is about 4 PM, I need to be at Southwinds by 5:30 PM should be plenty of time. Unfortunately the winds are not with me just not strong enough to get me anywhere. Once again the sails are lowered and the motor cranked.
Pulling into Southwinds I find a slip away from everyone else. Docking in a strange slip solo and dealing with windage I try to keep away from the crowds. The wind is light but just enough to push the boat around. A guy fishing gives me a hand and eventually the boat is settled in. Walking down the long pier to the gas attendant I find the pump is just about to close for the evening. Back again toting the 6-gallon fuel tank to get topped off. I tell them I need gas, a shower and that I will be staying for dinner. The attendant says OK no charge for temp slip space. Hauling the full fuel tank back I grab the clothes bag and head back to the showers nothing like a good shower after a day of yachting.
The resturaunt has a good reputation. Rather pricey, but most places on the water will be. After the shower and a change of cloths I find a table outside on the deck, call my wife let her know I am there and she can drive down. Restaurants are funny places. Sometimes the best are the worst at service. I have never been here before, while waiting on my family the waiters were most attentive (sharks circling bait) not really but all I ordered was tea and had several refills. Once my wife and daughter arrived I wanted to sit upstairs out on the porch. Hopefully away from the no-see-ums that had made their presence felt down on the main patio, upstairs has a better view. From that point things changed. Granted it was Friday night and the place was getting crowded. It seemed to take a while to get our order in and food back (which is understandable if things get busy). Upon receiving our food it was difficult to get our glasses filled. Once I got up and hunted for someone.
Don't get me wrong, the food was excellent but I hate to pay a premium price and have substandard service. Needless to say I didn't leave a good tip. The waitress was unhappy and returned to ask if the amount was correct. I assured her it was. I am not saying the place was bad or not to go there. We did enjoy ourselves dining under the stars. It may have been one of those nights when I was there at a bad time. There are several restaurants we use regularly. There have been times when the food wasn't up to the usual quality. Or the waitress is having a bad day. I will need to make another trip and try them again.
My wife doesn't like sailing, after dinner they head home and I head out into the dark. Nighttime on the water is magic pure and simple. I wanted some night sailing but decided it would be better to find my anchorage. It was dark but, no so that I couldn't see. My biggest fear was grounding, keel up I entered the entrance to the cove. About in the middle I decided to tuck in behind the curve of the land. If the wind freshened during the night from the west there would be a stand of pine trees protecting me wind from the east about the same. Southerly wind was not a concern. Anchoring in thin water the boat sails at anchor (the keel is up) I set the bow anchor first then the stern, snubbing the bow anchor to set the stern. If I am solo I tie up a hammock to sleep in. Settling in under patchy moonlight a perfect evening. Some time during the night the sound of water lapping at the stern awakens me after a few minutes back to sleep. Once again awaken by the sound of water lapping at the stern only just a bit louder.
All day the wind was from the west / southwest this evening it had backed around to the southeast. I anchored the boat pointing west. Climbing out of the cabin the wind has indeed picked up. Not bad but just enough to push wavelets against the stern. The wind was due east. Un-cleating the stern anchor rode. The boat backs down on the bow anchor enough to pull it free. I walk the anchor back to the stern and toss it in. Then pull the stern anchor free. Slowly the boat swings around bow facing east. Resetting the stern anchor a warm sleeping bag calls.
I always wake up early in the morning on the boat. Sunrise on the water is so peaceful. Good cup of fresh coffee and enjoy the time. Breakfast is a can of hash and scrambled eggs. The wind has picked up even more, tuning in the weather radio I realize the return trip needs to start ASAP. The heavy weather will get worse as the day progresses.
Reefing the main and raising the jib it is time for a true downwind run the length of Big Lagoon. With a following sea the keel is lowered 15 cranks to provide stability. Running wing and wing in high winds is a blast the boat is flying along with some surfing. A big gust hits and the boat turns to the port side (jib side), I fight to regain control. Another gust same thing after the third time I realize I need to reduce sail or I will broach or break something. Lowering the jib we are still moving fast on a reefed main. I have sailed the length of Big Lagoon many times and this is the quickest transit. Between surfing and sailing we are moving. Rounding the channel along Big Lagoon State Park the sea way narrows and the wind is still strong but the pine trees provide a windbreak. the boat slows down a bit and the gusts aren't as bad. Threading the ICW back the way I came only this time under sail.
Rounding Innerarity Point my heart skips a beat. The wind is screaming dead east across south Perdido bay, 2' - 3' chop on the bay I have no idea what the wind speed is but I know it is up there.
In weather like this the motor is useless. The prop will spend more time in the air than the water. Naturally the wind is dead on the nose. I need to either beat to weather or find a protected cove to wait it out. There is enough food to last until Monday, Sunday is supposed to be worse.
I decide to head into the mess.
If I run into problems I can always turn and run for cover. I don't dare fly the 110 jib in this weather, I have found in 23k+ winds the reefed main usually does just fine. Good weather helm in case of problems. I have never worked through a chop like this before. Just like in the open sea (or so I have read) the waves have a cycle. I quickly learn it. Several smaller waves then a big one and so the cycle begins again. Pounding through the smaller ones is not easy as they want to push the bow one way or the other and I have to constantly steer the boat. Big gusts need easing of the main. I have my hands full. The keel was lowered to 3/4 down. When the big wave hits it looks like a ride on a roller coaster. You know the main hill, you go up up up then the bottom falls out. The big ones push me off course. I dearly wish I had a smaller jib to keep the bow of the boat pushing like it should. I sail north as far as I dare toward an area known as Red Bluffs. In this weather trying to adjust the keel for thin water is asking for trouble. Coming about I head back the other way clear across the bay.
Reaching the bottom of my course and turning again, based upon my landmark it doesn't seem I have traveled east very much. At that moment I understand this will be a long day. And so it goes back and fourth pounding my way through. On one of the legs I see another small sailboat round the point. They are a bit smaller and with full sails flying. I watch them as they go through what I am. Soon the boat stops and the main is reefed, jib still flying they start back again. Apparently the other boat has two in the cockpit and the jib is much smaller. They do a bit better beating to wind than I and eventually are ahead of me. With two in the boat adjusting the keel is possible, they are able to go over some shoals I don't dare. With the keel 3/4 down I need at least 4' under. Somewhere a 30' sloop shows up. The boat is big enough that the wind and waves prove no major problem.
From out of nowhere a 20'+ catamaran comes flying by both guys hiked out on harnesses. The boat seems to fly over the tops of the waves. Full main they scoot by me and gone. Eventually I am east enough to clear the shoals that run along the west side From Red Bluffs north to Manuel Bayou. Making the run up the chute things settle just a bit. The wind is still singing in the rigging, the waves still choppy but not as bad. The gusts haven't slowed a bit. From this point I use shorter tacks. With the direction of the bay the wind is just off the bow. As a result the northern leg is much longer than the other tack. Gradually working east.
Dupont Point is shoaled big time as I have been there often I know the lay of the bottom. Working my way northeast I have to use memory as the water is churned and I can't tell how deep I am. Passing Dupont Point is a victory for me. The chute narrows and the waves calm a bit more.
On my map , north of Dupont Point there is an area marked out in gray. It is currently known as Blue Angel Park . Back in the old days of aviation the Navy stationed and trained Sea Planes. It is a nice area. Primarily for military recreation, civilians often rent space for functions I have been there several times. My thoughts were to pull in close to shore and take a break. Working my way east the gusts seem to increase in frequency and strength. Fortunately the wave situation no longer exists. The pounding stopped north of Dupont Point. The 30' sloop has showed back up, we are running parallel courses northwest. I think he has the same idea. The closer I get the less comfortable I am with the gust situation (rigging is still singing). I know I am tired and need a break potentially a dangerous condition in this wind, as I could make a stupid mistake in conditions where none would be tolerated.
Then I remember a better place. As I normally sail, I try to pay attention to the lay of the land. Always trying to remember little nooks and crannies to duck into should the need arise.
Just north of Nix Point there is a little inlet somebody is using as a small catamaran club. They have a good size fleet of boats and I see kids out there all the time sailing around. The inlet ducks back into the land a bit and is protected by pine trees. A perfect place to hide! The kids are out in force today, this far to windward and close to the shore no waves. The wind is still something to contend with. The chase boat is out patrolling like a mother duck tending young. As I approach the boats are using the center and north side to come and go, I slide into the southern side and toss anchor. Leaving the main up I also set the stern anchor to keep from sailing at anchor.
With a sigh of relief I know I am now in the home stretch. The cabin what a mess, I try to keep things stowed neatly a few things have worked loose. Mostly it is water. The keel pendant on the Eclipse threads up into the cabin I have yet to find a way to stop water from slopping through the pipe that the pendant goes through. Usually very little water gets in today quite a bit. Bailing the cabin and straightening a few things it is time for something to eat. It is about 3 PM. I have spent most of a day slopping through south Perdido bay. One smart thing I did was not to toss what was left of breakfast. Turned out to be a wise move. With the pot in the cockpit cold eggs and hash was all I had time for today. Anchoring in the mess I just sailed through would have been a bad idea unless necessary. Stopping to fix a sandwich not an option. I never really had lunch, instead snacked a little at a time as the wind allowed. I store a cooler in the port side locker and kept another cooler of water in the cockpit everything within easy reach. Now it was time for something decent. I didn't feel like warming something up so opted for a sandwich.
Kicking back watching the cat sailors I felt good I have always heard you need to push yourself and the boat from time to time as you feel comfortable. Reading about storm tactics is good but you need to practice for the time you must face it. Over the years I spent time in increasing winds learning how the boat reacts. Although I had never been in anything close to what I just experienced. At no time was I concerned for my safety. I knew if I sailed smart the boat would bring me through. After about 30 minutes it was time for the final push home.
I was tired and knew it, time to cheat. Stowing the mainsail I pulled anchor and motored thru the bridge working my way north. North of Grassy Point the bay widens out, the wind was streaking foam off the water. No real waves on the east side too close to shore; I could well imagine what the west side of the bay was like.
Hugging the east shoreline as much as possible about half way home I saw another catamaran, smaller than the first one probably a Prindle design. At first I couldn't understand what was going on. The boat was sailing oddly not really going anywhere with two guys on deck. As I neared there was something in the water behind them. At first I was afraid of MOB and the guys sailing lacking the skills to get back.
Drawing closer the truth became evident. I have heard of this but never witnessed first hand. The guy in the water had a towrope and water skis. The boat was sailing oddly because they were trying to get the guy on skis up. Never did see him skiing as I passed. Motoring usually takes about an hour to get back to homeport from the bridge.
The information on this page is not intended as a "definitive" guide to sailing .
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