Inhale, we are done with the rivers. Inhale, salt air fills our lungs. Inhale, Floridians can breathe. Inhale, Gypsies Palace is nearing her cruising waters where catamarans belong. Two things we love: Salt Air and Oysters. We were in the Panhandle where we can get our fill of both. Many years ago Steve and I were bringing a boat to Texas and we stopped in the Panhandle to get oysters and there were none due to the beds being stripped out from the Gulf Oil spill. Lucky us – oysters are in season and big and juicy!
After crossing Mobile Bay the first town heading east is Gulf Shores, Alabama and that only means one thing – Lulu’s! Lulu’s is owned and run by Jimmy Buffett’s sister and is home to a great waterfront restaurant, music and marina. We were Buddy Boating with Firestorm and we decided we needed to grab some gulf fish and fun. During our stay we actually went back another time during a song writer’s weekend. We were treated by a slide guitar player that had been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. That was Jim Vest and he was part of the Nashville Cats back with Dylan and Cash. You just never know what treats are going to be found along the way.
From there we went to Orange Beach, AL. We had never spent any time there and we definitely loved the area. We were treated to Char Grilled Oysters – oh, did I mention that we love oysters? We stayed at a place called the Wharf that had access to multiple restaurants, a movie theater and shopping. Plus, they hosted a Food Network cooking competition!
During this time we took a car road trip with our friends on One Eye Dog to the Ft. Lauderdale Boat Show. They had actually decided several things: they want to live a life on the water and they want to sell their current boat to buy a power catamaran, also. Their 52 ft. Hatteras is a great boat, but they have liked our catamaran so much they would like to switch to one full time. So, if you know anyone that is looking for a 3 bedroom Hatteras, take a look at this one. They have a new Aquila ordered and we will meet up with them next year!
We decided that while we were in Orange Beach that this would be a perfect time to haul our boat out of the water and perform some routine maintenance. We found a boatyard that could lift this wide cat out of the water. I have to tell you that it is a scary thing to watch your boat that barely fits into the lift area be raised out of the water! Once it is on the lift they place blocks on it and the boat sits there. We were able to still live aboard by climbing a ladder. We have electricity, but many of the normal boat functions do not work.
You might ask why do we stay on the boat if it is uncomfortable? Mostly, it is so that Steve can oversee the work. We had the bottom painted which is necessary for entering salt water again and all the running gear tuned up. Plus, we had the engine maintenance and some gelcoat work done. This lasted two weeks. I can compare it to doing renovations in your house. At first, it isn’t too bad, but the second week it is wearing on you. For us, we were not able to run a heater. Temperatures were in the 40’s at night. When it was getting down to the high 30’s we bought a space heater and cranked it up! The other thing that I failed to mention is that it is dusty. We were so happy the day we splashed. We were ready to leave our “dirt condo”!
It felt like “Get Out of Jail” and we headed to Pensacola for Thanksgiving. We were so anxious to leave that it didn’t matter that we were going to arrive in the dark. I knew that another Looper was there and contacted him so that he would be out on the dock with a flashlight showing us the way. Pensacola is a special place for me as my dad lived in Gulf Breeze for years and we would visit him up there. We actually even connected up with relatives for a quick dinner. For Thanksgiving I had not planned anything so we did what many people do – we ate out! It worked!
The highlight that we found in this area is the best seafood market anywhere, hands down – Joe Patti’s. We went twice and even found that you can dock and shop there. They have the best selection of gulf fish i.e. grouper, snapper, tuna and will steam your shrimp. There is also a sushi bar and bakery, too. If I wanted more oysters, they had them, too. I have been a lot of seafood markets, but theirs is the best.
We continued across the Panhandle on our way to Carrabelle. You see, the route for boaters to go south is to cross the Gulf of Mexico. Most people will travel all the way to the eastern most point which is Carrabelle to do the “Crossing”. Weather plays a very important part of the “Crossing” so all of the boaters plan their trip across the Panhandle to be in Carrabelle at the best conditions with little wind and waves.
We had some stops before reaching our destination. We stayed at Panama City and anchored in a small bayou just past Ft. Walton Beach. The next stop was Port St. Joe as we were entering the Big Bend in Florida. We couldn’t believe how delightful this town is. The entire Panhandle is composed of the nicest and friendliest people. Fishing is their main industry and, of course, oysters are their #1 catch. Port St. Joe, Apalachicola and Carrabelle are all knowns for their oyster industry. The other feature of the Panhandle that I failed to mention is that they have the most beautiful beaches. Not only are the beaches beautiful the state of Florida protects them and entire stretch is known as the National Seashore. No condos, no development – this is so refreshing for us.
So let’s get back to the “Crossing” of the Gulf. Most boaters will go to the shortest point to Tarpon Springs, FL. There is a clear division of “Fast Loopers” and “Slow Loopers” at this point. The slow Loopers would be the trawlers and sailboats. This will be a 21 hour journey for them. They know this during the entire Loop and it weighs at them because most boaters have never gone away from shore ever. Their crossing consists of several Buddy Boats where they all leave together and they maintain radio contact. Because we can go 20 mph we are in the Fast Looper group. Our plan was for a crossing that would take about 8.5 hours to Tarpon Springs.
We checked the weather reports and proceeded to leave Carrabelle with 3 other Fast boats. Gypsies Palace was in the lead and we headed out a 7 a.m. It was a perfect day and the water was like glass for the trip.
We left with an entourage of dolphins jumping around the bow and between the pontoons. It was cool and each boat had the same thing happen.
Everything went according to plan and we finally have gotten to where it is warm. We were still chilly in the Panhandle. Now the West Coast adventure begins!
“Give Me Oysters and Bear. Every Day of the Year and I Feel Fine”………..Jimmy Buffett