We are underway in Mobile Bay, angling toward the ship channel along the eastern shore, on our way to Mobile. Yesterday we crossed the Alabama state line, ending our longest stay ever in our home state of Florida, just over six months since crossing the Georgia line in December.
Vector, ready to depart Palafox Pier, Pensacola, flanked by a houseboat and a beautiful Alaskan pilothouse.
We had a nice cruise yesterday from Pensacola, after a quick visit to the fuel dock for a pumpout before heading out into the bay. There were lots of boats out on the water on a hot, sunny afternoon, an early start to the weekend surge in traffic. Throughout our cruise we passed several sandbars chock-a-block with boats, their swimsuited passengers waist deep in the clear water, cooling off.
Our route took us most of the way to Pensacola Inlet, where the water is clear and beautiful, and we considered just dropping the hook and enjoying the clear water for the afternoon. But it was really too early to stop, and there was quite a bit of chop out where we could anchor, along the edge of Naval Air Station Pensacola. We opted to continue on, with the option to divert to the next inlet at Perdido Pass.
Speaking of NAS Pensacola, it is the home base of the Blue Angels flight demonstration team, and often they can be seen practicing their maneuvers along this stretch. They were not out during our passage (although I did see a couple of them in the distance while we were at the marina), having just resumed practices after the tragic accident two weeks ago that killed Blue Angel 6, the Opposing Solo, Capt. Jeff Kruss, USMC. The Blue Angels are part and parcel of everyday life in Pensacola; I saw one of the pilots on the docks at the marina.
What better name for a fighter pilot's boat, and I love the "I".
The base is enormous and it took us over an hour to pass it. The Coast Guard station is on-base, and we had to do-si-do around a large buoy tender that was coming in to dock just as we passed. After leaving the air station behind, it has been virtually non-stop waterfront development on either side of us.
Arriving at the turnoff for Perdido Pass we again decided to keep moving rather than make a detour of a couple of miles to get to that azure water. We crossed into Alabama and continued to Wolf Bay, dropping the hook just off the Waterfront Park in Orange Beach, Alabama (map). The park has free WiFi, and there's even a restaurant we could have tendered to, but we opted to just eat aboard.
That proved a wise decision, as our weather radio squawked about every ten minutes once we settled in. A line of strong thunderstorms spanning the width of the state was racing toward us at 50mph; when we first looked at the storm it was in Montgomery, some 150 miles north, and it hit us just three hours later. And hit us it did.
It had been hot and muggy all day, but by the time we were ready to have dinner, the leading edge of the front had already dropped the temperature ten degrees, and we had a pleasant dinner on deck. We did have to take turns getting up from the table to walk inside and silence the weather alert, which, on our pilothouse radio, has an escalating-volume tone that will wake the dead. We kept looking over at the restaurant ashore, with dozens of people seated outside under patio umbrellas, wondering if they even knew what was coming.
After dinner we ran the storm checklist, securing everything on deck and double-dogging the windows, hatches, and portlights. At the appointed time, the sky to the north turned black, and I barely got out of my deck chair just as the initial winds hit; they were forecast at 60mph and I can say with some confidence this was accurate. We had put out 10:1 scope on the anchor chain and we did not budge, but papers flew everywhere in the cabin as I opened the door to come inside.
After the initial wind burst, it was just a really big thunderstorm, and we sat on the covered aft deck watching the lightning show, along with the small boats racing for cover who had been caught unawares. Somehow the restaurant got all their umbrellas stowed before the event, but I imagine it was a mad scramble as they saw it bearing down on them. Mid-storm we saw a lightning strike take out the power ashore, if only for a few seconds, and that was the end of our free Internet. I was able to grab a somewhat slower connection later from a nearby marina; the park's WiFi never came back on.
It was all over before bedtime and we had a beautiful, clear night. The storm had dropped temperatures 20 degrees or so, and we only turned the AC on once, to cool down the staterooms just before bedtime. Today's temperatures have been so pleasant that, for the first time since setting it up, we have not needed to operate the new free-standing AC unit under way.
Local Gulf Shores institution Lulu's.
Today being Saturday, it's a zoo out on the water, and we passed, conservatively, over a hundred boats this morning on the ICW. Things were already heating up at Lulu's, owned by Lucy Buffet (Jimmy's sister) in Gulf Shores when we passed by at 10:30am, and also at Tacky Jacks across the canal. I'd have loved to stop, just to see the place, but the marina next door wants $2/foot and there's no place to anchor. Nothing about a tourist joint makes me want to drop a C-note to see it.
The lesser-known Tacky Jacks, right across the canal.
Our route today ends at the free city docks in downtown Mobile. We'll see if anyone answers the phone at the security number there before arrival -- we don't want to go upriver if there is no room at the dock, and instead we'll turn off the channel just before the river and drop the hook in the bay. Considering the sheer number of boats we've seen today, we have reason to be conservative. In either case, tomorrow we will be on the Mobile River, and we'll leave the coastal waters behind for the next several months.