Copy Write 6/1/2001 © Updated 1/3/2006
Owning a boat provides security. After all if it is your boat and the weather turns you can always go out another day.
Planning Considerations for this trip was a bit different. I usually avoid going out on peak boating weekends because it is a zoo out there. Also law enforcement is on edge and I needed to do everything possible to make sure my boat was up to standards in case of boarding.
"Don't Ask" did not come with a steaming light and I have not wanted to hardwire one in. Instead I built a portable light that can be raised up if needed. Previously I installed a line at the end of each spreader for flags and can use these to raise a light.
At this time a GPS has not been added to my list of toys so navigation will consist of using a flashlight to find the reflectors on the buoys.
Cabin power has not been used in several months. An evening trip out to the boat reveals the original cabin light is not working. Upon checking the bulbs I find one has corroded solid. Removed the fixture to bring home. My running lights came up but then promptly went out. I think it will be the forward running light. I didn't want to take that apart in the dark over water, another trip.
Back out to the boat Saturday I spend several hours tracing everything down. Both forward and stern running lights need cleaning and new bulbs. Also it seems the power line feeding the forward running light either has a short or a break. The wire was the one section of wire that came with the boat and I didn't replace it last summer. I just spliced in the section of wire from the bow pulpit. After stringing new wire everything seems to work. But I have run out of time so Sunday before launch I will need to finish up and install all the new bulbs.
Sunday due to family commitments I couldn't get to the boat until 6 pm. By 8 pm the lighting was all back in place, working and the boat loaded.
8 pm Sunday evening the fun finally begins. It is not quite dark yet and this is the first time I have tried what I call passage making at night. Blue water cruisers will laugh at me and rightly so for abusing their term. But to me passage making is defined as going from point A to B. No side trips and little sightseeing. My best motoring time was 5 ½ hours and my best sailing time was 6 hours. Heading out into the dusk was exciting. No wind to speak of and calm water motor running. About ½ across North Perdido Bay I see a powerboat flying across the water. Both of us heading south, something is not right. I see his red running light and looking at my boat I see green. In my haste to get everything together I inverted the bi color lens. Somewhere I need to stop and change it over. The waves pick up some, as I get closer to the Lillian Bridge as does the wind unfortunately the wind is on the nose. I figure the waves will be worse south of the bridge so the boat is turned parallel to the bridge and I seek the calm of the western shore. Tossing anchor a flashlight and screwdriver in hand I go forward to make the adjustment. The bow is bouncing around a bit and some how I manage to unscrew the light fixture unscrew the backing plate reverse the lens and put everything back together with out dropping anything. I am still unsure how I did that. My running light is on the bow pulpit if something is dropped it is gone for good.
Motoring south I know this area well and using dock lights I have no problem navigating south. I even managed to miss the shoals off Manuel Bayou; out on South Perdido Bay the ¼ moon is enough to outline the surrounding tree line I can just barely make out Ross Point in the distance. Using that as a reference a southwest course was steered. Trying to find Innerrarity Point in the dark proved a bit more difficult than anticipated. The extreme end of the point has no houses just trees also the east side is shoaled up big time. Every time in past trips I ended up almost to the channel markers due to thin water. Running at night I was trying to find the marker poles. I thought they were lighted turns out they weren't. There was a period of time I was disoriented and unsure of where I was. My north south relation was easy because of all the lighted condos to the south. My problem was determining the east west relationship to the pass and the dreaded eastern side of Innerrarity Point. After a while I decided to head due south regardless. It seemed I motored forever unsure if I had gone too far west or not far enough. Eventually I thought I could just barely make out trees to the east that may match up with what I remember of daytime passages around Innerrarity Point (still wasn't 100% sure). Traveling at night I noticed the green channel lights tend to blend in with the surrounding background lights. The red marker lights do better at standing out. Eventually I determined I had to be exactly where I needed to be although a bit further west than was ideal. Motoring to the blinking red light seemed forever and upon my arrival was pleased to note I made Marker # 59 gateway to destinations east on the ICW. 2 ½ hours after departure from North Perdido Bay including time for some repairs and some fumbling around finding Innerrarity Point. Not too bad!
Once on the ICW I thought the wind would be enough to drive me and tried to set up a sheet to tiller rig. Light southwest wind was not enough to keep the jib full and drawing. I had problems keeping the boat going where I wanted due to lulls of almost no wind. After bumping in to some sand bars I decided to set the sails for broad reach light the steaming light and motor sail. This worked well and before I knew it I was at Theo Barrs Bridge gateway to Big Lagoon.
Once under the bridge the ICW turns from East / West to North / South. During the day it is easy to find and stay in the channel. East side is Big Lagoon State Park, west side condos and homes. Due south is the Barrier Island and the Gulf Islands National Seashore. You are either in the channel or you are aground. Most of the markers are buoys with some unlighted poles. Way out there is a red & green lighted marker. Going out it seems you are entering an area of pitch black actually you are losing the background lighting of all the homes condos and docks. Using the flashlight to light up the can reflectors I actually make it through, almost to far south the keel starts dragging immediately the boat is turned east and moving toward the lighted poles. Once east of them you are home free. Big Lagoon opens up in front of you.
With the motor stopped I notice a better wind. Not very high but enough to move the boat trimming for a broad reach I stay out of the channel rather hug the southern side of Big Lagoon. The edges get thin fast but for night sailing the southern side is where you want to be. Far enough from the lights of the homes and docks lining the north side. A sky full of stars for a canopy. Sticking my hand over the side the water explodes into fireworks of St. Elmos fire. My stern light throws off enough light to prevent you from seeing it. With the steaming light illuminating my jib the running lights are turned off. The bow wave sparkles with St Elmo's fire. I wish we were going a bit faster to get a better effect. Where the rudder disturbs the water the phosphorescence is like a stream of flame about 2' to 3' back off the stern. If you stick you hand in the water and flick water it looks like the starburst fireworks of July 4th. For me this transit of Big Lagoon at night is what makes the whole trip worth the effort. Slow steady sailing at night no rush no hassle. Late at night just an occasional power boater and the usual tugs. If you are out of the channel the tugs are no concern.
Eventually I come up on Southwinds Marina and Rod and Reel Marina about midway on Big Lagoon. Southern (on the north side) along the southern shore a string of white Christmas lights as far east as you can see. Anchor lights of all the sailboats tucked against the southern shore of Big Lagoon. Well out to avoid grounding I sail by, bumping bottom a few times the keel is raised. NAS Pensacola has a fuel dock lit up like daylight (on the north side) makes a good reference point. As I come up on that the boats at anchor start thinning as the water does the same. Due east is Ft McRae and an anchorage commonly known as Sailboat Cove. At night with all the boats it looks like a city.
During daylight it is easy enough to ground, night makes this section coming in from the south side even more difficult. Bump a few times raise the keel. I am just about there and the boat comes to a stop. Going below to raise the keel I find it is already up as far as it will go. Shining a flashlight over the side I am almost on bare sand. Jumping over I find myself walking in ankle deep water. I find there is not enough water to walk the boat over the sand bar. I suppose I could walk west and find deeper water to get around the sand but it is already 1 am might as well anchor for the night. Finding some deeper water about 3' I set a bow and stern anchor to keep the boat broad side to the wind. Settle in for a night on the hook.
Morning I check the water and find the tide has come in somewhat and I can pull the anchors and use the southwest wind to blow me over the sand bar into deeper water. Slowly motoring through sailboat cove all the boats packed in there, glad I didn't try to enter last night surely would have snagged somebody's anchor rode.
Motoring along side Big Lagoon State Park I saw one of the strangest boats I have yet to see. It was obviously worn and the mast was white with something blue wrapped around it. The strangest thing was the mast, it looked like the boat had been dismasted and the owner just cut the mast off about 10' up. There where ropes holding the mast up. An American Flag capped the stubby mast.
After finding my spot to anchor, unloading all the BBQ stuff and brewing a pot of coffee it was time to relax. Friends and family wouldn't arrive until much later but somebody had to get there early to get a good spot
Shortly later, the same boat about 22' pulled up on the beach. Strolling down to take a look the whole thing was even odder up close. The stubby mast was a PVC pipe, the blue thing according to what I was told later was a sail I guess a square one. It was obvious they had been on the water for a while. I offered the captain a cup of fresh coffee and we talked for a bit. Turns out he traveled from Key West to Pensacola in about a month heading for New Orleans. He had a woman and a young child aboard with him whom he said had been with him for a week. Later I saw a medium size dog and found out he had a cat and a bird aboard. According to the captain he put on animal shows to make money as he traveled.
There was some kind of palm tree carving attached to the foredeck, no lifelines or bow pulpit. Some kind of PVC pipe attached to the foredeck that looked like ventilation. An anchor with rusted out flukes and some kind of carpet glued to part of the foredeck. The cockpit was shaded by a big bimini with some kind of camouflaged colored covering. Towed behind the boat was a not small boat of some kind that could conceivably be called a dingy. Inside the dingy was a lower unit to an outboard that didn't match the current outboard on the stern.
They hung around for a bit the kid played with the playground equipment eventually he decided it was time to shove off. Spent well over an hour trying to get the motor running. I even offered some starting spray I keep for my cranky OB. Eventually the motor did start and run but apparently there was a problem with the propeller or lower unit as he turned the boat around (stern shore side) and did something with the prop or lower unit. I was afraid to ask.
By the time he finally shoved off friends started arriving and I had food to cook and stuff to do.
About 3 pm it was time for me to head back, wind blowing pretty stiff S/W motored to marker 59. From this marker it would be a run or broad reach all the way home. Raising the sails proved challenging due to boat traffic keeping the water churned. At one time I had four big boats pass in both directions within a few seconds of each other. The wakes where terrible and the best you could do was to hang on.
With a stiff S/W wind an easy fast sail back home.
The information on this page is not intended as a "definitive" guide to sailing .
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