SWIMMING WITH MANATEES IN THE WILD

Post #39, SWIMMING WITH MANATEES IN THE WILD, Day 203, November 23, 2014.  On board:  Paul, Jim K.

Did you know that the closest living relative to a manatee is the elephant? The two species share a number of similar and unique physical and biological functions which indicate that the two species are related, evolving quite differently from the same ancient ancestor.

Manatees are mammals, which means they breathe air and give live birth to their young (as opposed to eggs or larvae or some other multi-phase process). A baby manatee (calf) weighs about 60 pounds when born after a year-long gestation period in it’s mother’s womb. Adult manatees live up to 60 years, measuring up to 13 feet long and weighing up to 1300 pounds! They generally swim about 3-5 mph, but can accelerate up to 20 mph for short bursts – don’t get in the way of a 1300 pound manatee traveling at 20 mph!  They spend approximately 50% of their time sleeping submerged, surfacing for a breath of air every 20 minutes or so. They spend most of the rest of their time grazing on underwater plants in shallow water, in which they will usually eat 10-15% of their body weight EACH DAY, which translates to about 7 hours per day eating.  That’s a lot of salad!  They also perform their one other goal in life – mating. Eat, sleep, mate – it sounds like quite a good life – until you realize that they only mate about once every two years.

Manatees are generally solitary animals, and are also quite intelligent – similar to dolphins, they possess long term memory (like an elephant) and are capable of complex learning. They communicate via a wide range of sounds, mostly between mother and calf or during play or during the mating ritual (I can only imagine what they might be saying after waiting for two years to mate (“Remind me again – what do we do next” or  “Let’s try to make this LAST”).

Manatees are listed as an Endangered Species – their primary threat is collisions with powerboats or ships, and loss of habitat. All boaters in Florida are familiar with “idle speed only” manatee zones, designed to minimize collisions with manatees in areas where there they are known to hang out.

So much to our surprise, we learned that Crystal River is reportedly the only place in the world – certainly it is the only place in the U.S. – where it is legal to swim with manatees in the wild!  The town of Crystal River is located 8 miles up the river itself, which originates from a cluster of 50 natural springs that feed King’s Bay at the head of the river.  Because it is spring-fed, King’s Bay, resembling a small lake at the terminus of the river, maintains a constant temperature of 72 degrees year round. Manatees do not like cold water – they therefore seek areas of relatively warm water to hang out in the wintertime. Thus, King’s Bay and Crystal River are home to over 400 manatees during the winter. So, of course, since we’re in Crystal River, we had to experience swimming with the manatees firsthand. Here are some images:

While it is permitted to take your dinghy and go into the area of the springs where the manatee hang out on your own, there are guides who know the best place to go at any given time and who provide wet suits, snorkel equipment, etc., so it is a far better experience for a first-timer to go with a guide. Our guide was Jeff from Double J Adventures and this is his boat.  He and his wife, also a guide, started the business two years ago and provide vey personal service - we were the only two on the boat.

While it is permitted to take your dinghy and go on your own into the area of the springs where the manatees hang out, there are guides who know the best place to go at any given time and who provide wet suits, snorkel equipment, etc., so it is a far better experience for a first-timer to go with a guide. Our guide was Jeff from Double J Adventures and this is his boat. He and his wife, also a guide, started the business two years ago and provide vey personal service – we were the only two on the boat and Jeff took these pictures with his underwater camera, then put them on a CD for us.

Jeff guiding the boat to the springs in search of manatee

Jeff guiding the boat to the springs in search of manatees

Paul & I in our wetsuits, preparing for the swim

Paul & I in our wetsuits, preparing for the swim

If this won't scare away a manatee, nothing will....

If this won’t scare away a manatee, nothing will….

It's a staring contest - who will look away first?  Ok, you win...

It’s a staring contest – who will look away first? Ok, you win…

A face only a mother could love...

A face only a mother could love…

Manatees propel themselves with their tail, then steer with their two front flippers

Manatees propel themselves with their tail, then steer with their two front flippers

A mother with her calf, who stays with the mother and nurses for 12-18 months

A mother with her calf, who stays with the mother and nurses for 12-18 months

 

The mother nursing the calf - the nipple is located beneath the mother's flipper

A mother nursing her calf – the mother’s breast is located beneath the her flipper

In addition to the manatees, we saw many fish - this is a good-sized snook that swam beneath us. Where is my fishing rod when I need it?

In addition to the manatees, we saw many fish – this is a good-sized snook that swam beneath us. Where is my fishing rod when I need it?

There are very strict rules regarding behavior while swimming with the manatees – the swimmer is to be a passive observer unless the manatee initiates interaction, in which case touching the manatee is allowed. As it was explained to me, some manatees have no interest in interacting, similar to how some cats tend to shy away from close interaction with people. Other manatees are curious and will, at times, initiate and seem to enjoy interaction. I was fortunate in that a large manatee swam up to me while I was hovering, and she clearly wanted to interact:

This manatee approached me with focused curiosity - maybe it was the beard...

This manatee approached me with focused curiosity – maybe it was the beard…our first interaction was the stare-down.

She hung around, seemingly waiting to be pet, so I did - she seemed to like it

She hung around, seemingly waiting to be petted, so I did – she seemed to like it!

Congratulating her on winning the stare-down...

Congratulating her on winning the stare-down…

 

This manatee swam directly under me - for a minute I thought I was going to get a ride...

She then started to swim directly under me – for a minute I thought I was going to get a ride…

She hovered seemingly waiting to be petted

She hovered seemingly waiting to be petted

Her skin is surprisingly rough

Her skin is surprisingly rough

 

The enormous manatee turned sideways to me, as if waiting to be pet. I did so, and she stayedstill for about a minute while I pet her like a dag, which she seemed to enjoy

She then turned sideways to me so I could pet her back – she stayed still for about two minutes while I pet her like a dog, which she clearly seemed to enjoy

By the way, I keep referring to these behemoths as “she” – I have no idea whether any of them (except the mother with the baby) is a he or she.  However, I wasn’t about to try to put myself in a position to find out…

If you want to swim with the manatees, Crystal River is only about a 1 1/2 hour drive from Tampa/St. Pete. You can do so year-round, although I imagine it is much better in the winter since the manatees come up the river at that time to escape the colder water of the Gulf. Call Jeff or Joanne at Double J Adventures, 352 445 2483.

So Crystal River was our first stop after we left Suwannee, and our last stop along the Big Bend. We left Suwannee at first light last Sunday about 2 hours before high tide, with a goal of reaching the mouth of Crystal River a couple of hours before low tide there, since there had been shoaling reported in the channel and in the 8 mile run up the river. Conversations with the local Boat US/Tow Boat operator provided some additional “local knowledge”, and we had no difficulties. The town of Crystal River is notably larger than our previous stops on the Big Bend, with  a population of about 3,000 (still a small town).  It’s economy is focused on tourism, supported by the manatees and by water sports and boating centered on King’s Bay.  There is some fishing, but it does not dominate the culture as it did in the other Big Bend towns of St. Marks, Steinhatchee, or Suwannee. Here are some images:

The Crystal River power plant located on the Gulf at the mouth of Crystal River. The nuclear reactor was permanently shut down in 2013 after a gap in the concrete containment building was discovered during a routine maintenance and upgrade. The gap was apparently caused earlier when workers cut the concrete containment to  replace a generator. The four coal-fired plants on the site continue to operate.

The Crystal River power plant located on the Gulf at the mouth of Crystal River. The nuclear reactor was permanently shut down in 2013 after a gap in the concrete containment building was discovered during a routine maintenance and upgrade. The gap was apparently caused earlier when workers cut the concrete containment to replace a generator. The four coal-fired plants on the site continue to operate. As you can see, the image of the power plant dominates the view as you approach the mouth of Crystal River from the Gulf.

Pete's Pier, the marina where we stayed at King's Bay, at the end of Crystal River.

Pete’s Pier, the marina where we stayed at King’s Bay, at the headwaters of the Crystal River 8 miles by water from the Gulf. Double J Adventures operates from Pete’s Pier as well.

The original City Hall building in Crystal River now houses a small museum

The original City Hall building in Crystal River, built around 1939, now houses a small, interesting museum focused on the history of Crystal River.

There is an interesting street in the village that contains many historic buildings from the turn of the century, which now contain a few shops and some small businesses and offices

There is an interesting street in the village that contains many historic buildings from the turn of the century, which now contain a few shops and some small businesses and offices

This is the historic train depot, also built in the early 1900's after the first depot burned down.  There are also some historic train cars on display at the depot.

This is the historic train depot, also built in the early 1900’s after the first depot burned down. There are also some historic train cars on display at the depot as well.

I've been trying for some time to get a representative picture of the many magnificent Live Oaks draped with Spanish Moss that are prevalent in Florida and other places in the south. While no picture I have taken do these stately trees justice, here is an example

I’ve been trying for some time to get a representative picture of the many magnificent Live Oaks draped with Spanish Moss that are prevalent in Florida and other places in the southeast. While no picture I have taken do these stately trees justice, here is an example

Florida cracker refers to English or American pioneer settlers from colonial times and their descendants. They started to arrive after Spain ceded Florida to Britain following the end of the French & Indian War in 1763. Since the influx of Northerners after World War II and widespread use of air conditioning, some whose family has been here much longer describe themselves proudly as "crackers". Others view the term as offensive and insulting since it usually describes poor southern whites. The owner of this pick-up seems to be in the former group.

“Florida Cracker” refers to English or American pioneer settlers from colonial times and their descendants. They started to arrive after Spain ceded Florida to Britain following the end of the French & Indian War in 1763. Since the influx of Northerners after World War II following the widespread use of air conditioning, some whose family has been here much longer describe themselves proudly as “crackers”. Others view the term as offensive and insulting since it usually describes poor southern whites. The owner of this pick-up seems to be in the former group.

As we have moved through various parts of the country, it’s fascinating to see the different attitudes regarding alcohol. In some areas, there is tight regulatory control over the sale and use of alcohol (such as in Massachusetts). In other areas, you can walk into a gas station and buy a can of beer from a tub of ice next to the cash register when you pay for your gas. In many parts of the south however, particularly in Alabama and Mississippi, you cannot buy alcohol at all – many towns and/or counties are completely dry. But I had a unique experience in Crystal River, now that I’m in Florida – I went into a large liquor store and asked the clerk where I could find a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream. “Have you ever had Michael’s Irish Cream – it’s better and $2 cheaper”, he said. “No, I think I’ll stick with the Baileys”, I replied. “It really is better – would you like to try a sample?” he asked. “What?” “Would you like a sample?”  “Uhh – sure”.  So he took a bottle of Michael’s Irish Cream off the shelf, opened it, poured some in a glass and handed it to me to drink.  He then poured samples and handed them to several other customers in the store who happened to walk by. I knew I was surely in Florida.  I bought the Michael’s.

So we stayed an extra two days in Crystal River due to windy weather (not to mention cold – it was 27 degrees in the morning!). We therefore rented a car and drove to Yankeetown then Cedar Key, the only two Big Bend stops that we had bypassed.  Yankeetown proved to be no more than a wide spot in the road a few miles from the river, and the marina where we would have stayed was remote and in very poor condition:

The marina in Yankeetown had some boats in some of the slips, but was in general disrepair and was locked up when we stopped by - fortunately we had decided to bypass this stop with the boat even though it has deep water access without having to worry about the tides

The marina in Yankeetown had some boats in some of the slips, but was in general disrepair and was locked up when we stopped by – fortunately we had decided to bypass this stop with the boat even though it has deep water access without having to worry about the tides

We then drove to Cedar Key (accessible by bridge), which proved to be a fun, funky, artsy island community with shops, restaurants, pubs, and interesting old buildings.  We had lunch and, of course, ice cream as we walked around and took in the sights of the town. Here are some images:

The architecture is varied, with many of the buildings dating back to the early 1900's

The architecture is varied, with many of the buildings dating back to the early 1900’s

AACK-bldg3

These restaurants and shops overlook the water with spectacular views of a nearby island and the Gulf

These restaurants and shops overlook the water with spectacular views of a nearby island and the Gulf

This building also overlooks the Gulf

This building also overlooks the Gulf

For some reason, this guy didn't seem to be catching much...

For some reason, this guy didn’t seem to be catching much…however, I can relate to the look on his face from my fishing experiences…

This large sign was on a big grey wall along the main street in town.  See if you can read the message - start at the bottom -

This large sign was on a big grey wall along the main street in town. The sign next to it says “Spin to Read”.  See if you can read the message – start at the bottom –

The forecast was finally for lighter winds Thursday morning – however, the tide schedule was challenging.  Low tide occurs 2 1/2 hours LATER at the upper end of the Crystal River than it does at the mouth, 8 miles downriver. There is a shoal a short ways from the end of the river where we were docked, and another one at Shell Island, at the mouth of the river.  We therefore left at first light to get past the first shoal before the tide got too low, but then had to dawdle for a couple of hours to wait for the tide to fill in at Shell Island at the mouth of the river. On top of that, when we cast off at first light, the temperature was 29 degrees and there was ICE on the decks – we had to hold onto the railings to keep from falling on the ice as we collected the docklines and cast off.  I thought we were in Florida!  The net result was a long, 11 hour day, for we had a 60 mile run to Tarpon Springs after we finally cleared the channel – we left at first light and pulled into the dock at Tarpon Springs at sunset.

Tarpon Springs marks the official end of Florida’s “Big Bend”, and marks the resumption of the protected waters of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. You may recall from previous posts that southbound trawler-type boats have a choice of crossing the Big Bend via a 20-hour overnight passage of about 175 miles or taking the “hopscotch” route and stopping at various harbors along the way, as we did, which adds about 100 miles to the trip. The overnight trip requires a 2-day weather window of light winds and favorable weather. A flotilla of boats left Carabelle on the same day that we left on the “hopscotch route” two weeks ago, and had a pleasant passage.  Unfortunately for those boats that arrived at the start of the Big Bend a day or two later, the favorable weather window slammed shut – there are now about 25 boats that have been waiting for another weather window for two weeks now, and are expected to have to wait at least until the coming weekend before they can cross, and will spend Thanksgiving wherever they are. Welcome to boating!

Tarpon Springs is a sizable tourist town with two dominant themes, which are related to each other.  First, it has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the United States. As a result, it is known for it’s many Greek restaurants which are reputed to be some of the best Greek restaurants in the nation. Second, it is known for the harvesting of sponges, in which early Greek immigrants played a critical role.

Tarpon Springs was first settles in 1876 by both white and black fishermen and farmers. They named the new settlement “Tarpon Springs” when they observed many tarpon jumping out of the water. In the 1880’s, the harvesting of sponges began and grew – sponges grew naturally in the shallow waters of the Gulf adjacent to the settlement. The harvesting of sponges was a significant industry in Greece at the time, so a number of Greek immigrants were attracted to Tarpon Springs to work in the sponge industry. In 1905, a Greek entrepreneur introduced sponge diving as a more efficient method of harvesting sponges, and he recruited divers and their crews from Greece to come to Tarpon Springs to harvest sponges. As a result, the Greek population increased dramatically. Thus, the two dominant themes in the city today – Greek culture and sponges – stem from the origins of Tarpon Springs and the relationship between those two forces that was forged over 100 years ago.

Here are some images from our stay in Tarpon Springs:

You have your pick of literally dozens of Greek restaurants, all reputed to serve great and authentic Greek food

You have your pick of literally dozens of Greek restaurants, all reputed to serve great, authentic Greek food

In addition to Greek restaurants, sponges are everywhere - in every gift shop, in dedicated sponge stores, in the "Sponge and Soap Museum, etc.  You can even go on sponge tours in which harvesters take you on their boat and you observe the harvesting of sponges in the Gulf waters

In addition to Greek restaurants, sponges are everywhere – in every gift shop, in dedicated sponge stores, in the “Sponge and Soap Museum”, etc. You can even go on sponge tours in which harvesters take you on their boat and you observe the harvesting of sponges in the Gulf waters

Spongeorama???

Spongeorama???

Sponges of every size and shape are available in the many gif shops along the waterfront, from utilitarian sponges which are said to be superior in their characteristics to the manufactured sponges that most of us use to sponges intended for ornamentation to sponges made into items intended to be used such as waste baskets for your bathroom

Sponges of every size and shape are available in the many gift shops along the waterfront, from utilitarian sponges which are said to be superior in their characteristics to the manufactured sponges that most of us use, to sponges intended for ornamentation, to sponges made into useful items, such as waste baskets for your bathroom

One of the many sponge harvesting boats on its way int the harbor - notice the bundles of sponges tied to the roof.  Sponge boats come in all shapes and sizes

One of the many sponge harvesting boats on its way into the harbor – notice the bundles of sponges tied to the roof. Sponge boats come in all shapes and sizes

The city of Tarpon Springs is located about 3 miles up Anclote River.  The harbor is fairly narrow and is lined with boats of every description, many rafted 5 and 6 boats deep due to limited space within the harbor

The city of Tarpon Springs is located about 3 miles up Anclote River. The harbor is fairly narrow and is lined with boats of every description, many rafted 5 and 6 boats deep due to limited space within the harbor

This statue of a diver on the waterfront commemorates the importance of sponge diving to both the history of Tarpon Springs and its current economy

This statue of a diver on the waterfront commemorates the importance of sponge diving to both the history of Tarpon Springs and its current economy

In addition to the waterfront along the harbor that is lined with Greek restaurants and sponge & gift shops, there is a historic downtown in Tarpon Springs that is quite interesting with architecture dating back to the late 1800's and early 1900's

In addition to the waterfront along the harbor that is lined with Greek restaurants and sponge & gift shops, there is a historic downtown in Tarpon Springs that is quite interesting with architecture dating back to the late 1800’s and early 1900’s

This Mediterranean-style building in downtown Tarpon Springs was built in the 1920's as the Howard Hotel.  It has now been restored and converted into commercial space, and is on the National Register of Historic Places

This Mediterranean-style building in downtown Tarpon Springs was built in the 1920’s as the Howard Hotel. It has now been restored and converted into commercial space, and is on the National Register of Historic Places

The city has several residential neighborhoods surrounding the downtown area in which the architecture of the houses clearly reflect their Greek heritage

The city has several residential neighborhoods surrounding the downtown area in which the architecture of the houses clearly reflect their Greek heritage

Another house reflecting its Greek heritage

Another house reflecting its Greek heritage

No Greek community would be complete without an iconic Greek Orthodox church

No Greek community would be complete without an iconic Greek Orthodox church

WOW!  Do you really think he lived here???

WOW! Do you really think he lived here?

So we went fishing while we were in Tarpon Springs and finally caught The Big One....(OK, just kidding...)

So we went fishing while we were in Tarpon Springs and finally caught The Big One….(OK, so we didn’t…)

Our next stop was Clearwater Beach, about 15 miles south of Tarpon Springs. Talk about culture change from our experiences along the Big Bend over the past week and a half! Clearwater Beach is a sprawling, new, modern, resort area with high rise condominiums, street performers, restaurant chains, and resort-type activities. The wide beach is truly spectacular with fine, white sand. Here are some images:

The beach and pier at Clearwater Beach. It was breezy and a bit cool the day we were there, so the beach wasn't crowded

The beach and pier at Clearwater Beach. It was breezy and a bit cool the day we were there, so the beach wasn’t crowded

The beach as the sun was setting, taken from the pier

The beach as the sun was setting, taken from the pier

Street vendors lining the long pier known as "Pier 60"

Street vendors lining the long pier known as “Pier 60”

The colorful umbrellas are ordinarily used by the street vendors on the pier to shade them from the sun - however, it was breezy and mostly cloudy the day we were there, so the vendors used the umbrellas instead to block the wind, creating a colorful scene

The colorful umbrellas are ordinarily used by the street vendors on the pier to shade them from the sun – however, it was breezy and mostly cloudy the day we were there, so the vendors used the umbrellas instead to block the wind, creating a colorful scene

One of the many tourist-type activities is this "Surf Machine" - water is jetted up the surface of the fiberglass "wave" so you can surf on it, moving up or down or being stationary.  I don't think I would want to be their insurance carrier...

One of the many tourist-type activities is this “Surf Machine” – water is jetted up the surface of the fiberglass “wave” so you can surf on it, moving up or down or being stationary. I don’t think I would want to be their insurance carrier…

The section of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg for the most part runs directly behind the barrier islands with the Gulf beaches just on the other side of the islands. Here are some images:

The Intracoastal in this location iseparated from the Gulf only by a narrow spit of beach with some palm trees on it.  This picture reminded me of the Korona commercials "find your beach" theme

The Intracoastal in this location is separated from the Gulf only by a narrow spit of beach with some palm trees on it. This picture reminded me of the Corona commercials “find your beach” theme

Running along the Intracoastal, you can identify the areas that are newly developed, characterized by glitzy high rise condominiums such as those in Clearwater Beach, and areas that were developed in the 50's or 60's or perhaps the early 70's, characterized by utilitarian three or four story buildings that might have originally been built as apartments or motels, now mostly converted to condominiums - basic housing but still million-dollar views and beaches

Running along the Intracoastal, you can identify the areas that are newly developed, characterized by glitzy high rise condominiums such as those in Clearwater Beach, and areas that were developed in the 50’s or 60’s or perhaps the early 70’s, characterized by utilitarian three or four story buildings that might have originally been built as apartments or motels, now mostly converted to condominiums – basic housing but still million-dollar views and beaches

An unwelcome sight on the Intracoastal - this is not a derelict boat that was abandoned or neglected and eventually sunk, but a fairly new cruiser that recently took on water until it sunk and is sitting on the bottom - I have no idea why

An unwelcome sight on the Intracoastal – this is not a derelict boat that was abandoned or neglected and eventually sunk, but a fairly new cruiser that recently took on water until it sunk and is sitting on the bottom – I have no idea why

On Saturday, our run of about 40 miles from Clearwater Beach to Saint Petersburg was marked by cloudy weather but no rain, and 15 knot winds with gusts to 20. Though not a problem on the protected areas of the Intracoastal Waterway, we were confronted with 3′-5′ waves once we entered the wide and open waters of Tampa Bay. We picked our way slowly up the bay to St. Pete, carefully managing the angle of the boat to the waves (catamarans don’t like waves on the beam). However, we reached the marina in downtown St. Pete without incident, where we are leaving the Joint Adventure for a week over the Thanksgiving holiday.  As I write this on Sunday morning, I’m preparing to leave for the airport and a flight home.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

 

 

Advertisements
Standard

WAY DOWN UPON THE SUWANNEE RIVER…

Post #38 – WAY DOWN UPON THE SUWANNEE RIVER – Day 195;  November 15, 2014.  On board:  Paul Coates, Jim K

Sing with me:  “Wayyy down upon the Suwan-nee River…far, far away…”.  Most everyone, I think, learned this song, or parts of it, as schoolchildren. The song was written in 1851 by Stephen Foster, a white man. But are you aware of the controversy it has caused over the years, and continues to cause? The song was written in the first person from the perspective of a black slave at a time when slavery was legal in half the country. The narrator sings “…longing for de old plantation…”, which has long drawn criticism as romanticizing slavery. Worse, the lyrics of the chorus includes “Oh, darkies, how my heart grows weary…”  – the word “darkies”, of course, has long been considered a racial slur. I was therefore amazed to learn when I arrived here that the song is the official state song of Florida. In order to make the song more palatable, when it was sung at the dedication of the new Florida capitol building in 1978, the word “brothers” was substituted for the word “darkies”. However, as the lyrics became more and more objectionable over time, an effort to change the state song gained traction. A contest to select a new state song was undertaken in 2007, and the song “”Florida (Where the Sawgrass Meets the Sky)” was selected as the winner in early 2008.  However, when faced with a decision, the politicians did what politicians do best – they tried to please everyone – so they adopted the new song as the state ANTHEM and kept “Suwannee River” as the state SONG. In doing so, they also officially changed some of the objectionable lyrics.  Predictably, the “two song solution” appears to have satisfied no one.

So as I write this, we are docked about three miles up the fabled Suwannee River in the town of Suwannee, Florida. The heart and soul of the town are focused on the river, and like many of the towns along the Big Bend, it is a fishing town – the locals grew up fishing since they were old enough to walk, and it has recently become a fishing destination for weekenders, vacationers, and others who have a condo or second home here on the river or who come here to rent a boat and fish or go out on a fishing charter. The boats are not offshore boats that are the hallmark of New England charters, but are small skiffs or 25′ center consoles with outboard motors.  The shallow water of the Gulf and the desire to poke into shallow places on the river or side creeks keep the boats and the fishing parties small. The year-round population of the town is only 350, and the summer population is only about 750, so it is not a big place. There is one restaurant that serves only breakfast and lunch and another that serves only dinner, and there is a very small general store that has some groceries. There are some condos that were built just before the Great Recession, and there are homes along a network of canals that were built in the 60’s. Most of the homes are modest – it is a fishing destination, not a resort-type place at all. Many of the homes and the few businesses that are here could benefit from some sprucing-up.

Here are some images from Suwannee:

It's always good to have a roadside sign to point you in the right direction -

It’s always good to have a roadside sign to point you in the right direction –

The bank of the Suwannee River, entering the mouth

The bank of the Suwannee River, entering the mouth

The banks of the Suwannee River are lined with cypress trees and beautiful, natural scenery

The banks of the Suwannee River are lined with cypress trees and beautiful, natural scenery

One of the many creels and side channels off the main river, which is in the background

One of the many creeks and side channels off the main Suwannee River, which is in the background

A creek-side house in Suwannee - there were at least 30 enormous turkey vultures roosting on the dock, deck, and roof

A creek-side house in Suwannee – there were at least 30 enormous turkey vultures roosting on the dock, deck, and roof of the house

A "typical" house on a canal in Suwannee

A “typical” house on a canal in Suwannee

Notice the sling for the boat lift under the house - a modest house, but a great place to store your boat under cover with instant access to it -

Notice the sling as part of the boat lift under the house – a modest house, but a great place to store your boat under cover with instant access to it!

The only breakfast restaurant in town is a gathering place in the morning, especially for people who are going fishing - the restaurant is part of a small marina.  We went by dinghy

The only breakfast restaurant in town is a gathering place in the morning, especially for those going fishing – the restaurant is part of a small marina. We went by dinghy

Florida has no car inspection requirement....they may want to re-think that...

Florida has no car inspection requirement….they may want to re-think that.   Notice the convertible top, which can be removed by simply untying a couple of knots holding the tarp in place.  Notice also the rope holding up the bumper…

Suwannee is literally the "end of the road"....

Suwannee is literally the “end of the road”….

We agonized a bit over whether to come here at all, as almost no loopers do, and the guidebooks all warn of shallow water and the need to ride the tides just so. We had visions of catastrophe – running aground in the narrow, shallow channel or inadvertently wandering off the channel into a shoal with waves crashing down upon us. However, remembering Eleanor Roosevelt’s inspirational words of encouragement: “My life was full of catastrophes, most of which never happened”, we were enticed to ignore our visions of worst-case scenarios and go forward.  We waited until nearly noon to leave Steinhatchee for the 42 mile run so we would arrive at about 4:30 PM, an hour and a half or so before high tide in the channel. Eleanor Roosevelt was right – we poked our way slowly through the 2-mile long channel then 3 miles up the river and had no trouble.

We had planned to stay in Suwannee an extra day or so, but the weather gods decided we should stay longer – the winds on the Gulf have kicked up seas that we don’t like, so we’re waiting for more benign weather. We therefore decided to go fishing:   When in Rome….  We found a guide that was willing to take us out for half a day.  Here are some images:

Captain Jackie, our guide, who has forgotten more about fishing than I'll ever know

Captain Jackie, our guide, who has forgotten more about fishing than I’ll ever know

A "keeper" redfish that Paul caught - Captain Jackie cleaned the fish for us, and we took them to the local restaurant where they cooked them for us for dinner-

A “keeper” redfish that Paul caught – Captain Jackie cleaned the fish for us, and we took them to the local restaurant where they cooked them for us for dinner-talk about fresh fish!

One of the Sheep's head that I caught -

This fish is called a “sheep’s head” – I don’t know why.  In addition to the two “keeper” redfish, we caught about half a dozen “keeper” sheep’s head.

A respectable catch for a day of fishing -

A respectable catch for a half a day of fishing –

Look closely and you'll see a wild boar that we saw along the shore.  There is a baby boar there as well, but it is behind the mother in this picture.  While out fishing, we also saw three large alligators, several large turtles, and a bald eagle

Look closely and you’ll see a wild boar that we saw along the shore of the Suwannee River. There is a baby boar there as well, but it is behind the mother in this picture. While out fishing, we also saw three large alligators, several large turtles, and a bald eagle which circled directly overhead.

Our fresh redfish dinner, cooked for us by the local restaurant -

Our fresh redfish dinner, cooked for us by the local restaurant –

No, we really did catch these fish!  However, my friend Doug has been known to stop at a fish market on the way home from a fishing trip when he got skunked and insist on buying the whole fish to bring home....

No, we really did catch these fish! However, my friend Doug has been known to stop at a fish market on the way home from a fishing trip when he got skunked and insist on buying the whole fish to bring home….

So I jumped ahead to Suwannee after describing our stay at Apalachicola in the last post – please allow me to back up and fill in the gap between those two places. Our first day on the Big Bend last Sunday from Apalachicola to Carrabelle was pleasantly uneventful. Carrabelle has a beautiful, well-protected harbor with plenty of space for boats.  However, the town is too small to have a real “downtown”, but instead has a few pockets of commercial establishments along a mile-long stretch of road. The town appears to have overreached in the mid 2000’s, and has several vacant, dilapidated buildings.  In addition, there are countless vacant docks, many of which appear abandoned, and a large waterfront “bank owned” housing development in which infrastructure was installed but only a few buildings built. It seems like the natural environment is attractive enough to make this a destination, but it has not happened yet. Here are a few images:

Carrabelle has a large, deep natural harbor

Carrabelle has a large, deep, very beautiful natural harbor

Entering Carrabelle Harbor at low tide -

Entering Carrabelle Harbor at low tide –

A salt water marsh adjacent to Carrabelle Harbor

A salt water marsh adjacent to Carrabelle Harbor

There were about 15 – 18  loopers at the marina in Carabelle last Sunday, so an impromptu “Happy Hour” was convened in the lounge at the marina. We learned that, of the group, we were the ONLY boat that would be taking the “hopscotch” route across the Big Bend. A favorable weather window for an overnight crossing was being forecast for Monday and Tuesday nights, so most of the other loopers were preparing to leave the following afternoon for an overnight passage, with one or two fast boats planning to leave early in the morning for a daylight passage.  However, we pressed on, planning to make four stops and run five separate days on our way to Tarpon Springs, where the Intracoastal Waterway resumes. Our first “hopscotch stop” was a small, out of the way place that almost no cruisers visit called St. Marks – it is off-route by about 40 miles, meaning you travel about 55 miles but end up only 15 miles further along the Great Loop route.  However, though no one could understand why we were going here, we LOVE out of the way places where no one goes, and St. Marks did not let us down.  The town lays 10 miles north up the winding St. Marks River, with gorgeous views of salt water marshes along the way. It is primarily a fishing town, boasting one of the oldest fishing camps in Florida.  It is another town that is literally located at “the end of the road”. Here are some images:

A salt water marsh lined the riverbank for much of the ride up the St. Marks River

A salt water marsh lined the riverbank for much of the ride up the St. Marks River

We thought that finding dockage for the Joint Adventure might be a problem on this trip due to her wide 17' beam, but it has not been a problem at all.  However, in St. Marks, we had to put her into a slip with steel posts on both sides that was om;y inches wider than her beam. Fortunately, there was no wind and a light current as the tide was changing.

We thought that finding dockage for the Joint Adventure might be a problem on this trip due to her wide 17′ beam, but it has not been a problem at all. However, in St. Marks, we had to put her into a slip with steel posts on both sides that were only inches wider than her beam. Fortunately, there was no wind and a light current as the tide was changing, so we wedged her in tight..

This is the remnant of an old bridge abutment of a railroad bridge that went to a ghost town that has disappeared called Port Leon.  The bridge was built in 1838 to extend the railroad 2 miles south of St. Marks so cotton could be transported directly to ships waiting offshore. An entire town called Port Leon was built at the terminus, including a saw mill, a grist mill, a hotel, two taverns, a post office, and a newspaper. However, just 5 years later, in 1843, a hurricane destroyed both the town and the bridge, both of which were abandoned and have since disappeared.

This is the remnant of an abutment from an old railroad bridge that went to a ghost town that disappeared long ago called Port Leon. The bridge was built in 1838 to extend the railroad 2 miles south of St. Marks so cotton could be transported directly to ships waiting offshore. An entire town called Port Leon was quickly built at the terminus, including a saw mill, a grist mill, a hotel, two taverns, a post office, and a newspaper. However, just 5 years later, in 1843, a hurricane destroyed the town and the bridge, both of which were abandoned and have since disappeared.

There is now a 16 mile long bike path where the railroad used to run in 1843

There is now a 16 mile long bike path where the railroad used to run in 1843

City Hal in St. Marks - not exactly an urban setting....

City Hall in St. Marks – not exactly an urban setting….

The one and only grocery store in town

The one and only grocery store in town

Yes, it is a fishing town...

Yes, it is a fishing town…

There is no car wash in town - but wait, this is a fishing town, and they have their priorities straight...

There is no car wash in town – but wait, this is a fishing town, and they have their priorities straight…

You may recall from the last post the "rustic" restaurant with great, fresh seafood in Panama City called Bayou Joe's.  We found another one in St. Marks - overlooking the water, just as rustic, catering to the local fisherman - and fresh fish caught earlier that day - red fish, mullet, grouper - but don't expect a white tablecloth -

You may recall from the last post the “rustic” restaurant with great, fresh seafood in Panama City called Bayou Joe’s. We found another one in St. Marks – overlooking the water, just as rustic, catering to the local fisherman, with fresh fish caught earlier that day – red fish, mullet, grouper – just don’t expect a white tablecloth –

One more story from St. Marks. In 1850, a wood-fired, sidewheeler steamship named Spray started picking up passengers, mail, and cargo in St. Marks and bringing them downriver to ships anchored in deeper water offshore, then returning to St. Marks with arriving passengers, mail, and cargo. However, in 1864, the ship was commandeered by the Confederate Navy and outfitted with two guns – its mission was to guard the mouth of the river, which was seen as an entry point for Union forces to attack Tallahassee.  The Spray was involved in several skirmishes, and is credited with a critical role in preventing Tallahassee from ever falling to the Union forces – the only Confederate capital not to fall. Near the end of the war, the Spray was eventually surrendered to the Union and taken to Key West.  After the war, the Union Navy returner her to her owner, who then resumed service ferrying passengers, mail, and cargo to and from St. Marks. After he died about a decade later, the Spray was left idle and eventually sank. She has recently been found, and possible salvage plans are now being discussed.

With a long way to go to our next stop, a small town called Steinhatchee, we left as the sun was rising:

It was cold!  Forty degrees, and there was fog on the river.  I thought this was Florida?

It was cold! Forty degrees, and there was fog on the river. I thought this was Florida!

The early morning sun on the grasses of the salt water marsh was spectacular -

The early morning sun on the grasses of the salt water marsh was spectacular –

The 65 mile run in the open Gulf was more eventful that we like. A short ways out of St. Marks, we started to encounter crab pots, marked by floats on the surface of the water. Unfortunately, we were headed directly into the rising sun, so it was very difficult to see the floats with the sun’s reflection on the water in our eyes.  Sure enough, despite both Paul and I watching for floats, we snagged one that we never saw on the rudder/propeller.  We couldn’t get it free, so we had no choice but to cut the line (it was part of a string, so the trap could still be retrieved).  Fortunately, it did not get wrapped around the prop or do any damage, so we were able to continue. The rest of the day required focus and concentration to avoid getting snagged again.

Steinhatchee is little more than a wide spot in the road, but like many of these coastal/river towns that cater to fishing, it had a local restaurant where all of the seafood was caught fresh that day. It was time for an oil change for the Joint Adventure, so part of the afternoon was spent working with the mechanic from the marina changing the oil and doing some other minor maintenance chores.

So tomorrow (Sunday) we expect to get a one day weather window, in which we plan to head to our fourth stop on the Big Bend, called Crystal River. Shallow water and timing the tides at both ends of the run continue to be a challenge, so we plan to cast off at first light so we leave Suwannee on an incoming tide and reach the mouth of Crystal River before the tide is too low.  We then have an 8 mile run up the river as the tide continues to drop. We always try to obtain some local knowledge when conditions are uncertain, so we’ve been calling the local Sea Tow or Boat US/Tow Boat operator and getting information about shoaling, shallow spots, missing markers, etc.  They have been very helpful and always willing to share what they know.

Stay tuned!

 

Standard

INCREDIBLY AWESOME

Post #37 -INCREDIBLY AWESOME – Day 189, November 9, 2014.  On board:  Jake Mycofsky, Paul Coates, Jim K.

Panama City, where we arrived on Tuesday after a 50 mile run, was a complete surprise – I expected a significant-sized city, but in reality it is no bigger than a medium-sized town.  Buildings along the main downtown street are virtually all only two and three stories high, and the downtown area is not very large. The city also felt a bit like a time-warp, like it was still the 50’s or 60’s.  On the other hand, there were only scattered vacant storefronts on the main drag, so the downtown area seems to be surviving.  Here are some images from our visit to Panama City:

This is a picture looking down the main street in the downtown area, which seemed stuck in the 50's or 60's - even the movie theater was showing a Humphrey Bogart movie!

This is a picture looking down the main street in the downtown area, which seemed stuck in the 50’s or 60’s – even the movie theater was showing a Humphrey Bogart movie!

We did find a great, funky restaurant in an out-of-the-way part of downtown Panama City - accessed through a series of dilapidated, covered docks, the restaurant is behind the docks, built on piers and overlooking a lagoon. The only seating on a covered/screened porch area. The restaurant is rustic, and the seafood was southern and right off the boats - everything was homemade.

We did find a great, funky restaurant called Bayou Joe’s in an out-of-the-way part of downtown Panama City – accessed through a series of dilapidated, covered docks, the restaurant is behind the docks, built on piers and overlooking a lagoon. The only seating is on a covered/screened porch area. The restaurant is rustic, and the seafood was southern and right off the boats – everything was homemade.

Looking inward toward the kitchen at Bayou Joe's

Looking inward toward the kitchen at Bayou Joe’s

Actually, everyone was quite friendly -

Actually, everyone was quite friendly –

The marina on the waterfront at panama City was quite nice with great views

The marina on the waterfront at panama City was quite nice with great views

Our next stop was Port St. Joe, Florida – and we re-entered the Eastern time zone! Port St. Joe is a tourist town that seemed to have an unusually large number of antique shops, along with some other tourist shops. A couple of pictures:

The main street in downtown Port St. Joe

The main street in downtown Port St. Joe

Part of the commercial shrimp and oyster fleet at Port St. Joe

Part of the commercial shrimp and oyster fleet at Port St. Joe

Port St. Joe is located on a very large bay that is also open at one end to the Gulf, Therefore, this large lighthouse was built to guide maritime traffic

Port St. Joe is located on a very large bay that is also open at one end to the Gulf, Therefore, this large lighthouse was built to guide maritime traffic

It's important to always have a plan -

It’s important to always have a plan –

In the first section of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway heading east from Mobile – between Mobile Bay and Panama City – the Intracoastal runs directly behind barrier islands and the scenery is dominated by dunes, sand, and beaches. After Panama City, the waterway turns inland a bit and large sections follow rivers and dug canals – the scenery in these sections is dominated by lowland forest along the banks of the Waterway.  Here are some images along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway:

We have not yet gone aground on this trip, but it can happen in a flash - this large freighter is agound in the bay off Panama City. Two tugs are attempting to free it

We have not yet gone aground on this trip (knock on wood), but it can happen even to large, commercial, professionally-operated vessels – this large freighter is agound in the bay off Panama City. Two tugs are attempting to free it

:

A sand cliff along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway

A sand cliff along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway

In some areas, the steep sides of the Waterway are susceptible to erosion, with sand constantly washing into the Waterway

In some areas, the steep sides of the Waterway are susceptible to erosion, with sand constantly washing into the Waterway

A dredge working to clear erosion that has washed into the Waterway

A dredge working to clear erosion that has washed into the Waterway

Portions of the Waterway consist of canals dug through the sand to connect bays, inlets, rivers, and estuaries to form a continuous waterway that is protected from the sometimes-rough waters of the Gulf

Portions of the Waterway consist of canals dug through the sand to connect bays, inlets, rivers, and estuaries to form a continuous waterway that is protected from the sometimes-rough waters of the Gulf

I think these boats can still be salvaged -

There are a surprising number of sunken boats along this section of the Gulf Intracoastal

It's not clear to me whether these boats sank from neglect or were sunk by a hurricane or major storm and then abandoned

It’s not clear to me whether these boats sank from neglect or were sunk by a hurricane or major storm and then abandoned

This is the largest sunken vessel that we saw

This is the largest sunken vessel that we saw

A waterside house along the way

A floating house along the way

The reflection in the water in this picture and the next two show how smooth and peaceful the water was as we passed through parts of the rivers/canal section of the Waterway

The reflection in the water in this picture and the next two show how smooth and peaceful the water was as we passed through parts of the rivers/canal section of the Waterway

More reflections -

More reflections –

And one more - the character of the scenery is constantly changing

And one more – the character of the scenery is constantly changing

I include this picture with a very sad note - as we passed by the vicinity of Tyndall Air Force Base, we watched in awe as pilots performed training flights in F-16 fighter jets.  However, about mid-morning, we heard a Coast Guard announcement on the VHF radio regarding a report of a plane that had crashed into the water, and to be on the lookout.  We didn't see anything, but the reports went on most of the day. It was later confirmed that the plane crashed about 50 miles south of Panama City.  The pilot was killed.

I include this picture with a very sad note – as we passed by the vicinity of Tyndall Air Force Base, we watched in awe as pilots performed training flights in F-16 fighter jets. However, about mid-morning, we heard a Coast Guard announcement on the VHF radio regarding a report of a plane that had crashed into the water, and to be on the lookout. We didn’t see anything, but the reports went on most of the day. It was later confirmed that the plane crashed into the water about 50 miles south of Panama City, and that the pilot was killed.

Our next stop was Apalachicola – what an interesting town!  My first reaction biking around town was that it looked like it was built 15o years ago and then time stood still – nothing changed.  A closer exploration, however, reveals a town with a storied waterfront/port town history which has managed to evolve with changing times but also holds on steadfastly to its roots and its authenticity.  While it accommodates tourists, the fabric of the town and its people is fishing, seafood, the river, and the Gulf.

The town is located where the Apalachicola River empties into the Gulf of Mexico, which is one of only three navigable southern rivers that flow to the Gulf. The town grew quickly based on the shipment of cotton from Alabama and Georgia – in fact, the town was first named Cottonton before it was renamed West Point, and then Apalachicola. The cotton was loaded onto shallow-draft boats to be taken to ocean vessels anchored offshore, then onto ports in the North and in Europe. The first cotton shipment left town in 1822, and by 1840, up to 160,000 bales each year were being shipped and Apalachicola was the third largest cotton port in the US.   As a result, Apalachicola was the first Gulf port that the Union Navy blockaded at the outbreak of the Civil War. While some shipments made it out by blockade runners, the shipment of cotton diminished drastically and never really recovered after the war, partly because alternate routes had been established and partly because of inefficiencies due to the shallow water in the river and the nearby Gulf which prohibited the use of larger ships. The railroads then ended the cotton-shipping business in Apalachicola, since they provided a faster and cheaper method of shipment.  The town then reinvented itself by turning to the lumber industry. With an ample supply of cypress and pine trees from Georgia and Alabama, lumber mills were constructed in Apalachicola and prosperity returned.  In addition, the sponge industry grew to be a lucrative business in town. Sponge harvesting boats would set out from town for a month at a time, carrying 12-15 foot dinghies, each of which were manned by two people – one slowly moved the boat forward with a paddle while the other scouted the sea floor for sponges using a wooden box or bucket with a glass bottom to peer into the water. Sponges were brought to the surface with a long-handle, 3-pronged iron hook. By 1895, there were 16 sponge-harvesting boats operating from Apalachicola along with processing plants on shore.  Early in the 20th century, Greek businessmen came into town and introduced the harvesting of sponges by divers attached to umbilical cords for air.  This method was more efficient. and was adopted over time by the local people as well.

However, as the 20th century unfolded, the sponge industry declined due to foreign competition and the growing use of artificial sponges, which were much cheaper. Worse for the town, by around 1930, the lumber supply had been depleted, so the lumber industry declined rapidly as well.  Once again, however, Apalachicola reinvented itself again via the seafood and fishing industry. Apalachicola oysters are renowned as some of the best-tasting oysters in the world, and are featured in restaurants and fish markets throughout the south – in fact, Apalachicola supplies 90% of the oysters consumed in Florida and 10% of those consumed in the entire US. The harvesting of Gulf shrimp is also a thriving industry in town.

Today, Apalachicola has many great restaurants featuring fresh fish, shrimp, and oysters offloaded from the boats daily, as well as an assortment of antique shops, galleries and gift shops. However, the shops do not dominate the town as they often do in other places, and the town retains some of its grittiness and authenticity. It appears that an artists community is starting to take hold as well, which adds diversity to the town.

Here are some images from our stay in Apalachicola:

The buildings downtown retain their character from the thriving days of cotton

The buildings downtown retain their character from earlier times. This building was built in 1901 as a restaurant and rooming house. It was known at that time for the chef’s specialty, a “Whole Loaf” – the chef would hollow out a whole loaf of bread, then stuff it with oysters and sauces, then bake it. It sold for 20 cents. The restaurant also had a soda fountain where they made ice cream with a kerosene-driven freezer

One of the downtown streets -

One of the downtown streets –

Another historic downtown building -

Another historic downtown building –

 

There is a performing theater in downtown, but performances are help only during the winter months

There is a performing theater in downtown, but performances are held only during the winter months

Some of the antique stores in town are truly unique, with many unusual nautical items from the town's rich maritime history

Some of the antique stores in town are truly unique, with many unusual nautical items from the town’s rich maritime history

There is even a sponge shop in town, as commercial harvesting of sponges has reopened in recent years and locally-harvested sponges are available. Sponges today are still harvested by divers, much as they were 100 years ago after the Greeks introduced that method to Apalachicola early in the 20th century

There is even a sponge shop in town, as commercial harvesting of sponges has reopened in recent years and locally-harvested sponges are available. Sponges today are still harvested by divers, much as they were 100 years ago after the Greeks introduced that method to Apalachicola early in the 20th century

A thriving art community seems to be taking hold in Apalachicola

A thriving art community seems to be taking hold in Apalachicola

The Joint Adventure at the dock along the river in Apalachicola - even the waterfront is somewhat rustic and authentic, as seen in the next two pictures as well

The Joint Adventure at the dock along the river in Apalachicola – even the waterfront is somewhat rustic and authentic, as seen in the next two pictures as well

A small boat coming into the dock next to the Joint Adventure

A small boat coming into the dock next to the Joint Adventure

riverfront houses next to the dock, as seen from the bridge of the Joint Adventure

Riverfront houses next to the dock, as seen from the bridge of the Joint Adventure

Houseboats along a long boardwalk that goes out to a gazebo overlooking the bay - a spectacular place to watch the sunset

Houseboats along a long boardwalk that goes out to a gazebo overlooking the bay – a spectacular place to watch the sunset

We ate dinner on the upper deck of a restaurant called Up The Creek - located, appropriate, up a creek in Apalachicola. This picture is taken from the upper deck with the rays of the setting sun on the grasses as the sun was setting behind us

We ate dinner on the upper deck of a restaurant called Up The Creek – located, appropriately, up a creek in Apalachicola. This picture is taken from the upper deck with the rays of the setting sun on the grasses behind us

This picture was taken from the same spot, a couple of hours later after the rise of a full moon over the creek

This picture was taken from the same spot, a couple of hours later after the rise of a full moon over the creek and river. Notice the sky!

Come on, Dad, how long does it take to drink a beer?  We've been waiting here FOREVER!!

Come on, Dad, how long does it take to drink a beer? We’ve been waiting here FOREVER!!

By the way, we have really become ice cream snobs. One of us (the guilty shall remain unnamed…) was looking in town for an ice cream parlor, but instead came upon a place that only served gelato. This person bought some gelato, and started to enjoy it as he walked down the street. Three stores later, he came upon a real ice cream parlor. What would you do?  This unnamed person discarded the gelato and bought an ice cream.  A true ice cream snob…

So – our trip has been incredibly awesome for us so far, but that’s not what the title of this post refers to. When we visited the National Navy Museum last weekend, we learned that the 2014 Homecoming Show in which the Blue Angels officially return to their home base in Pensacola would be this weekend. We were only 4 hours away by car, so I rented a car Friday evening and set the alarm for 5:00 AM on Saturday morning. As luck would have it, Jake needed to get the airport in Panama City on Saturday morning, which was on the way to Pensacola. I therefore dropped him off and arrived at the air show by 9:30. If you’ve never been to a Blue Angels show, I suggest you put it on your bucket list. They tour the country, so will likely perform somewhere within driving distance of wherever you are within the next year or two.  In any case, I found the show to be Incredibly Awesome:

This was the sunrise, taken on the way to Pensacola on Saturday morning

This was the sunrise, taken on the way to Pensacola on Saturday morning

The show started with acrobatic biplanes from the early "barnstorming" days - these planes did dives, spirals, loops - you name it

The show started with acrobatic biplanes from the early “barnstorming” days – these planes did dives, spirals, loops – you name it

I was a hair slow on the trigger, but you can see the tailspin that the pilot put this plane into, pulling out just before he and the ground met

I was a hair slow on the trigger, but you can see the tailspin that the pilot put this plane into, pulling out just before he and the ground met

A loop, flying straight up, then stalling and falling backwards -

A loop, flying straight up, then stalling and falling backwards – in unison!

All the military personnel on the grounds stood at attention and they played the National Anthem as this paratrooper descended with this American flag

All the military personnel on the grounds stood at attention and they played the National Anthem as this paratrooper descended with this American flag

What airshow would be complete without the Budweiser Clydesdales marching by?

What airshow would be complete without the Budweiser Clydesdales marching by?

Awesome animals!

Awesome animals!

Yes, all the cases of beer on the wagon are full of beer - so says the announcer, in any case

Yes, all the cases of beer on the wagon are full of beer – so says the announcer, in any case

If you look closely, you'll see that there is a "wingwalker" standing on top of the airplane.  It is a 50 year old woman named Theresa Stokes who is an internationally acclaimed aviation and space artist - her portfolio includes works of art for several major rock bands, such as the artwork on the inside of Aerosmith's "Rocks" album. She wingwalks as a hobby, and is recognized as the top stuntwoman wingwalker in the world. She does so without a parachute or safety line. At the show yesterday, she did flyovers on the wing, on the top of the airplane, and one standing on her head!  Not only that, she lives on a boat!

If you look closely, you’ll see that there is a “wingwalker” standing on top of the airplane. She is a 50 year old woman named Theresa Stokes who is an internationally acclaimed aviation and space artist – her portfolio includes works of art for several major rock bands, such as the artwork on the inside of Aerosmith’s “Rocks” album. She wingwalks as a hobby, and is recognized as the top stuntwoman wingwalker in the world. She does so without a parachute or safety line. At the show yesterday, she did flyovers on the wing, on the top of the airplane, and one standing on her head! Not only that, she lives on a boat!

Part of the show featured ten planes flying in unison and doing acrobatics

Part of the show featured ten planes flying in unison and doing acrobatics

Amazing -

Amazing –

Truly amazing -

Truly amazing –

This is the Blue Angels supply plane known as "Fat Albert" that accompanies them on all of their trips throughout the country bringing thev support crew, spare parts, etc.  I believe it is a C-10 Transport, the type that carries tanks into war zones - does anyone know for sure?

This is the Blue Angels supply plane known as “Fat Albert” that accompanies them on all of their trips throughout the country, bringing support crew, spare parts, etc. I believe it is a C-10 Transport, the type that carries tanks into war zones.

The Blue Angels fly F/A-18's. Nothing I can add to the next series of pictures -

The Blue Angels fly F/A-18’s. Nothing I can add to the next series of pictures –

AABA-jets2

AABA-Jets10AABA-Jets9

AABA-Jets4

AABA-Jets3

AABA-Jets5

AABA-Jets6

AABA-Jets8

AABA-Jets7

This picture was taken at an earlier time by my daughter Jessie - she's serving in the Navy JAG Corp, and is working on several legal issues involving the Blue Angels - as a result, she comes to Pensacola from her home base in San Diego regularly and gets to see the Blue Angels fly

This picture was taken at an earlier time by my daughter Jessie – she’s serving in the Navy JAG Corp, and is working on several legal issues involving the Blue Angels – as a result, she comes to Pensacola from her home base in San Diego regularly and gets to see the Blue Angels fly

Incredibly Awesome!!

The next leg of the trip will be one of the more challenging segments. The Gulf Intracoastal, call the Big Bend, is interrupted by about 175 miles of open water where the coastline of Florida bends in a southeasterly direction as it transitions from the panhandle to peninsular Florida. There are two possible approaches to this section – one is to “cut the corner” and go straight across, usually from Carabelle to Tarpon Springs. Fast boats can complete this crossing in daylight and do it in one day.  Slower boats must undertake an overnight passage of up to 20 hours, leaving in the morning or early afternoon and arriving in daylight the next day.  The alternative is to hopscotch along the coast, going into various harbors along the way.  However, there are challenges with this route: First, the harbors along the way are located up rivers, some as much as 22 miles off course or up a river. Therefore, the hopscotch route adds over 100 miles to the Big Bend crossing. Second, the water is very shallow throughout the area – channels are narrow, and some have only 3 1/2 feet at mean low tide – and that’s IN the channel, with shallower depths if you wander outside the narrow channels. Therefore, trips have to be planned to enter harbors on a rising tide, after mid-tide has been reached.  This is problematic, since the runs tend to be fairly long and there is only one rising tide cycle during daylight hours per day.

So – all that being said, there are some interesting places to see along the Big Bend route and we really don’t want to stay up all night and do an overnight passage, so we are opting for the “hopscotch” route. Depending on weather and tides, it will likely take 5-10 days, but it should be quite interesting. We’re on our way to Carabelle this morning.

Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

Standard

TURN LEFT AGAIN

Post #36:  TURN LEFT AGAIN – Day 183, November 3, 2015  – on board:  Paul Coates, Jake Mycofsky, Jim K.

You may recall from earlier posts that my friend Bill Burke explained that navigating the Great Loop was simple – looking at the diagram of the route, it’s like a big rectangle – just head up the Hudson River, he said, then take four left turns at the appropriate time and you’ll be back in Boston.  So we just made our third left when we left Mobile, Alabama, and are now heading East – another major milestone! Depending on where we go in Florida, we are now about half way through our journey.

Everything has changed, once again. Instead of river banks and river currents, we have sand dunes, beaches, and tides:

Much of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway is just a few hundred feet from the beaches of the Gulf, separated by barrier islands which consist mainly of sand dunes

Much of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway is just a few hundred feet from the beaches of the Gulf, separated by barrier islands which consist mainly of sand dunes

We experienced a very special treat as we ran down Mobile Bay on a perfectly calm, sunny day. A pod of about 8-10 dolphins descended upon us and proceeded to play in our bow wave for about 15 minutes:

The dolphins would dart back and forth from one hull to the other, breaking the surface periodically as they played. The white form on the right-hand side of each of these pictures is the starboard hull of the Joint Adventure

The dolphins would dart back and forth from one hull to the other, breaking the surface periodically as they played. The white form on the right-hand side of each of these pictures is the starboard hull of the Joint Adventure

AADolphins5

Notice the dolphin under water just to the left of the hull while the other one jumps through the surface

Notice the dolphin under water just to the left of the hull while the other one jumps through the surface

Another duo -

Another duo –

Actually, this is the port-side hull where I'm standing, so the dolphin is immediately below me by about 4 feet

Actually, this is the port-side hull where I’m standing, so the dolphin is immediately below me by about 4 feet

 

So our first stop was for lunch at Lulu’s Restaurant on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway in Orange Beach, Alabama. Lulu’s claim to fame is that it is owned and run by Jimmy Buffet’s sister, and supposedly he stops by from time to time (we didn’t see him). The ambiance is exactly what you would expect for such a place – open-air, laid back, friendly. It’s a large place with several separate pavilions where different bands can be playing at the same time.  Here are a couple of images:

Lulus from the water - we arrived at the same time as 4 other loopers, but there is plenty of dock space for visiting boaters

Lulus from the water – we arrived at the same time as 4 other loopers, but there is plenty of dock space for visiting boaters

Wide open on the waterside, the Intracoastal Waterway can be seen in the background.  There was no live music when we were there for lunch on a Tuesday, but you can tell that it's a hoppin' place at night, especially on weekends

Wide open on the waterside, the Intracoastal Waterway can be seen in the background. There was no live music when we were there for lunch on a Tuesday, but you can tell that it’s a hoppin’ place at night, especially on weekends

I think I'll pass on this one....

I think I’ll pass on this one….

We stayed at a village/marina resort in Orange Beach that night called The Wharf.  It is the off-season here, so there was not a great deal of activity, but the beach was beautiful.  Some pictures:

Jake enjoying a walk on the beach on the Gulf Coast at Orange Beach, Alabama

Jake enjoying a walk on the beach on the Gulf Coast at Orange Beach, Alabama

I couldn't resist a swim in the still-warm waters of the Gulf

I couldn’t resist a swim in the still-warm waters of the Gulf

So Paul & I watched a Thursday night football game while we had dinner at the bar in a waterside restaurant at the Wharf. A big guy came along and started to talk to us, eventually sitting down next to us to chat. It turns out he owned three restaurants at the Wharf, and at the end of the conversation we learned that he was Bob Baumhower, a former Pro-bowl nose tackle for the Miami Dolphins for 10 years, playing under Coach Don Shula and along with Bob Greise and Dan Marino.  For those who really know their football, he was a member of the "Killer B's" defense in which the names of all of the defensive linemen started with the letter "B". He then spent a half hour taking us around telling us stories and showing us autographed pictures on the wall of him with various other celebrities, like Joe Namath, Bum Phillips, Cheryl Tiegs, and many others. He then ordered a desert for each of us, on him. Another chance encounter!

So Paul & I watched a Thursday night football game while we had dinner at the bar in a waterside restaurant at the Wharf. A big guy came along and started to talk to us, eventually sitting down next to us to chat. It turns out he owned three restaurants at the Wharf, and at the end of the conversation we learned that he was Bob Baumhower, former Pro-bowl nose tackle for the Miami Dolphins for 10 years, playing under Coach Don Shula and along with Bob Greise and Dan Marino. For those who really know their football, he was a member of the “Killer B’s” defense in which the names of all of the defensive linemen started with the letter “B”. He then spent a half hour taking us around telling us stories and showing us autographed pictures on the wall of him with various other celebrities, like Joe Namath, Bum Phillips, Cheryl Tiegs, and many others. He then ordered a desert for each of us, on him. Another chance encounter! By the way, Paul is 6′- 3″ tall – that will give you an idea of the size of this guy. (I almost come up to his shoulder…)

Our next stop was Pensacola – Florida! Our 12th state! We planned to spend two days in Pensacola, but gale force winds were predicted for Saturday, so we stayed an extra day (only one boat left that we know of). Pensacola is home to the US Naval Air Station, and is home to the National Naval Aviation Museum and the Blue Angels. The city is smaller than I expected, with the downtown area comprised almost exclusively of three and four story buildings.  However, it is one of the most vibrant cities we have visited – a city of young people, undoubtedly driven by the presence of the large naval aviation base about 8 miles from downtown. Here are some images from our visit:

The Navy, not surprisingly, has a major presence in Pensacola, although we saw few people in uniform in the downtown area

The Navy, not surprisingly, has a major presence in Pensacola, although we saw few people in uniform in the downtown area

We were here for Halloween weekend, so they closed about 8 blocks of the main downtown area to vehicles in the late afternoon/early evening on the day before Halloween and catered to small children trick-or-treating.  The restaurants and commercial establishments all accommodated the trick-or-treaters, and there were games and music for the kids. It was packed!  I was told that, on the third Friday of every month, they close the same area to vehicles and from early evening to midnight, the entire area becomes an entertainment district in which alcohol is allowed to be carried and consumed in the entire area, so you can wander from establishment to establishment or just hang out and party in the street.

We were here for Halloween weekend, so they closed about 8 blocks of the main downtown area to vehicles in the late afternoon/early evening on the day before Halloween and catered to small children trick-or-treating. The restaurants and commercial establishments all accommodated the trick-or-treaters, and there were games and music for the kids. It was packed! I was told that, on the third Friday of every month, they close the same area to vehicles and from early evening to midnight, the entire area becomes an entertainment district in which alcohol is allowed to be carried and consumed in the entire area, so you can wander from establishment to establishment or just hang out and party in the street.

Located downtown is the Historic Pensacola Village - an area where many small, original 1800's wood frame houses have been preserved and restored, and several museums have been added to tell the story of earlier times in Pensacola

Located downtown is the Historic Pensacola Village – an area where many small, original 1800’s wood frame houses have been preserved and restored, and several museums have been added to tell the story of earlier times in Pensacola

One of the historic streets in the Historic Pensacola Village

One of the historic streets in the Historic Pensacola Village

Did you ever feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders?  This gal is holding up an enormous tree branch, and apparently has been doing so for quite a long time.

Did you ever feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders? This gal is holding up an enormous tree branch, and apparently has been doing so for quite a long time. By the way, I’ve been trying to get a good picture of a Live Oak, a magnificent species of tree that is quite prevalent in the south.  Some have trucks which are 4 or 5 feet in diameter and are several hundred years old. You often see them in classic pictures from the south with Spanish moss hanging from the branches

A restaurant/tavern/entertainment center called the Seville Quarters seems to be ground zero for the younger generation, although several other places were overflowing as well on Halloween Weekend. Entertainment over the weekend included a Michael Jackson show (every Friday & Saturday throughout the year), a dance club, a karaoke bar, a sports bar, a costume contest, a separate sexy witch costume contest, and dualing pianos in the piano bar (featured every night all year). On Halloween night they closed the street in front and the party and dancing spilled onto the street as well

A restaurant/tavern/entertainment center called the Seville Quarters seems to be ground zero for the younger generation, although several other places were overflowing as well on Halloween Weekend. Entertainment over the weekend included a Michael Jackson show (every Friday & Saturday throughout the year), a dance club, a karaoke bar, a sports bar, a costume contest, a separate sexy witch costume contest, and dualing pianos in the piano bar (featured every night all year). On Halloween night they closed the street in front and the party and dancing spilled onto the street as well

The inside of the dance club portion of the Seville Quarters in the afternoon before people arrived for the evening

The inside of the dance club portion of the Seville Quarters in the afternoon before people arrived for the evening

Dueling pianos - they take turns playing and singing requests from the audience, so the music is virtually non-stop - they claim that there isn't a song that they cant play, and the requests ranged from Frank Sinatra to current top 40.

Dueling pianos – they take turns playing and singing requests from the audience, so the music is virtually non-stop – they claim that there isn’t a song that they cant play, and the requests ranged from Frank Sinatra to current top 40.

Every Thursday, Friday, & Saturday, they put on a Michael Jackson "Thriller" show in which they flood the stage with haze from a haze machine and the dancers, made up as zombies, slink along the floor barely visible, the slowly emerge from the haze and perform a half hour dance routine - very well done and very cool - obviously professional dancers

Every Thursday, Friday, & Saturday, they put on a Michael Jackson “Thriller” show in which they flood the stage with haze from a haze machine and the dancers, made up as zombies, slink along the floor barely visible, then slowly emerge from the haze and perform a half hour dance routine – very well done and very cool – obviously professional dancers

The full dance routine after the haze has mostly cleared -

The full dance routine after the haze has mostly cleared –

In addition to all the entertainment options at the Seville Quarters, another Club downtown featured a unique band called the “MarchFourth Marching Band”. They have about 15 members and they don’t actually march (except marching in place at times during the performance). They are dressed sort of like a marching band and they incorporate a great deal of dancing and some acrobatics into their performance. I had never heard of them before, but apparently they are quite well known and tour nationally. It was a truly unique performance – here are a few images:

The Marchfourth Marching Band -

The MarchFourth Marching Band –

Each performer was quite a showman....

Each performer was quite a showman….

 

A unique acrobatic portion of the performance -

A unique acrobatic portion of the performance –

These two guys on enormous stilts danced better on the stilts than most people I've seen dance with their feet on the ground.  After the obligatory encore, everyone thought they were done - instead, they came from backstage, instruments in hand, and sang, played, and danced (including the two guys on stilts) with and among the audience

These two guys on enormous stilts danced better on the stilts than most people I’ve seen dance with their feet on the ground. After the obligatory encore, everyone thought they were done – instead, they came from backstage, instruments in hand, and sang, played, and danced (including the two guys on stilts) with and among the audience

Of course, the crown jewel of Pensacola is the National Naval Museum located at the Naval Air Station. It would be easy to spend two entire days just in the museum, which includes various simulators where you can experience flight, including a Blue Angels simulator which actually turns you upside down, forwards, backwards, sideways, etc. as if you were in the jet (no G-forces, however). Here are some images from the museum:

Called an NC-4, this is an early Navy "flying boat" - Jake is standing in front of it so you can gauge the massive size of it.  Three of them departed to try to fly from New York to Portugal (this was well before Lindbergh did it non-stop). Two didn't make it due to mechanical failures, but this one made it, taking 19 days (most of it on the ground on islands, including the Azores). There were no seats for the crew of three, and its cruising speed was about 80 mph

Called an NC-4, this is an early Navy “flying boat” – Jake is standing in front of it so you can gauge the massive size of it. Three of them departed to try to fly from New York to Portugal (this was well before Lindbergh did it non-stop). Two didn’t make it due to mechanical failures, but this one made it, taking 19 days (most of it on the ground on islands, including the Azores). There were no seats for the crew of three, and its cruising speed was about 80 mph

This is an early seaplane developed by the Navy - the large pontoons were made of plywood and had to be drained of water after every flight

This is an early seaplane developed by the Navy – the large pontoons were made of plywood and had to be drained of water after every flight

Another Navy "flying boat" - in the early days, the Navy did not view these things as aircraft that could take off and land on water, but rather as boats that could fly

Another Navy “flying boat” – in the early days, the Navy did not view these things as aircraft that could take off and land on water, but rather as boats that could fly

An interesting recruiting Navy poster from World War I

An interesting recruiting Navy poster from World War I

So we had heard of a famous bar located on the Florida/Alabama state line called Flora-Bama, and decided we couldn’t be this close and not go. It was lunchtime on a weekday in the off-season, so there was not a lot going on, but it was clear to see that it would be a wild place when it gets hoppin’. Here are some pictures:

Jake and our friend Tim from the vessel "If" in one of the many bars in FlorBama

Jake and our friend Tim from the vessel “If” in one of the many bars in Flora-Bama

The floors and walls are finished with plywood and patrons carve their initials in the walls and wood railings - obviously there are some wild nights here -

The floors and walls are finished with plywood and patrons carve their initials in the walls and wood railings – obviously there are some wild nights here –

As seen in the picture, above one of the dance floors are clothes lines upon which patron apparently deposit their bras when their no longer needed - I'm just the reporter here, reporting the facts....

As seen in the picture, above one of the dance floors are clothes lines upon which patrons apparently deposit their bras when their no longer needed – I’m just the reporter here, reporting the facts….

A view of the same dance floor from above

A view of the same dance floor from above

We continued east about 50 miles to Destin, Florida, an upscale resort town with an incredible white, sugar-sand beach. Here are some images from the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and from Destin:

The scenery along the Gulf Intracoastal is sand dunes and palm trees -

The scenery along the Gulf Intracoastal is sand dunes and palm trees –

More GICW scenery -

More GICW scenery –

The harbor front as you turn off the Intracoastal into the narrow mouth of Destin Harbor - it is clearly a destination resort harbor with waterfront restaurants, bars, shops, etc. lining the waterfront, and a beautiful Gulf-front dune beach across the harbor

The harbor front as you turn off the Intracoastal into the narrow mouth of Destin Harbor – it is clearly a destination resort harbor with waterfront boardwalk featuring restaurants, bars, shops, etc. lining the waterfront, and a beautiful Gulf-front dune beach across the harbor

The white sand dune beach directly across from the boardwalk

The white sand dune beach directly across from the boardwalk

One of the Jimmy Buffet "Margaritaville" restaurants is on the waterfront in Destin

One of the Jimmy Buffet “Margaritaville” restaurants is on the waterfront in Destin

The sunset from the boardwalk in Destin Harbor

The sunset from the boardwalk in Destin Harbor

We tied to the boardwalk then launched the dinghy and took it to the beautiful beach directly across the harbor - Paul, enjoying the beach!

We tied to the boardwalk then launched the dinghy and took it to the beautiful beach directly across the harbor – Paul, enjoying the beach!

The dinghy pulled up on the beach across from the boardwalk

The dinghy pulled up on the beach across from the boardwalk

The Joint Adventure tied to the boardwalk, as seen through the dune grass on the beach across the harbor

The Joint Adventure tied to the boardwalk, as seen through the dune grass on the beach across the harbor

The birds on guard...

The birds enjoying the scenery as well

A lesson for us all....

A lesson for us all….

We moved on to another gulf-side resort marina in Sandestine, Florida. It seems they have gotten themselves into the Guinness Book of World Records. Some pictures of our stay in Sandestine:

The world's largest fishing lure

The world’s largest fishing lure

So as we walked through the resort village, Jake & I came upon a zip line - in a weak moment....this picture is taken from the top of one of the towers, looking across the pond to the other tower

So as we walked through the resort village, Jake & I came upon a zip line – in a weak moment….this picture is taken from the top of one of the towers, looking across the pond to the other tower. YIKES!!!

Jake, making his zip line debut -

Jake, making his zip line debut – does he look scared?

A picture of grace, holding on for dear life...

A picture of grace, holding on for dear life…

Tomorrow we continue our journey east, with our next destination being Panama City, 70 miles away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard