Saturday, December 21, 2019


We are under way eastbound across Choctawhatchee Bay, headed for an anchorage at the eastern end. We are bashing through 1'-2' chop in moderate rain and 2nm visibility. It's not uncomfortable, and we definitely need it behind us before wind shifts to the east overnight, making most of the bay untenable tomorrow.

Notwithstanding my prediction that we would be docked at Homeport and eating at Lulu's Thursday evening, we did neither. That prognostication had been made when the plotter was projecting a 4:30 arrival there, which would ace us out of reaching the anchorages in Wolf Bay, an hour further along, before dark.

In fact, we arrived at Homeport at 3:45, just ahead of closing time. We pulled up to the fuel dock, pumped out our waste tank for $5, and were back under way before 4, leaving us just enough time to make Wolf Bay. We dropped the hook in a familiar spot, off the Orange Beach Waterfront Park (map) and cracked open a beer.

The last time we stopped here, we needed the WiFi the park provided (which crapped out in the evening when a windstorm took out power along the whole shoreline). We no longer need that, but I could still see the signal. There is still a restaurant next to the park, with its own dock, but we again opted to eat aboard and forego the cold dinghy ride. We had a peaceful night with no windstorms.

Today's wet, lumpy, featureless cruise.

Yesterday morning we got an early start, mostly so we would not have to run the generator all morning just for heat, and between that and starting out an hour further east, we were crossing into Florida, east of Perdido Pass, by mid-morning. Even sidelining for a few minutes at Robertson Island to let a tow pass through the narrow channel, we were across Pensacola Bay by lunch time, and through the Gulf Breeze bridge just after noon.

My planned stop was just east of the bridge at Pensacola Beach, which has a nice anchorage, a free municipal dock, and a number of decent restaurants. But with stiff easterlies and a fetch that extended all the way to the Navarre Bridge 15 nautical miles east, the anchorage and the docks were extremely choppy, and we'd have had an uncomfortable stay. Considering we still had five hours of daylight ahead of us, we opted to press on to the next stop.

That would be the free city dock at Fort Walton Beach (map), where we were tied up again just in time for cocktail hour. We checked in with the police department, as required, and at dinner time we walked a few blocks to the excellent Ali's Bistro. We remembered the venue but not the name, so we think it has changed hands since our last visit. We're back in civilization; dinner was easily three times what we'd be spending in Bayou La Batre.

After dinner we walked across the street to Publix to replenish the larder. This morning I carted all the recycling off the boat, which we've been hoarding since our visit to the Mobile recycling center in the rental car before Thanksgiving. I also walked over to the shopping center for a much-needed massage.

The city only gives you 24 hours at the dock, which is too bad because there are lots of restaurants and easy access to shopping here. Very long-time readers may remember we spent six full weeks here back in 2010, parked at the Elks Lodge on Okaloosa Island while we awaited deployment orders. In that time we became intimately familiar with Fort Walton Beach and, to some degree, nearby Destin as well. All told I think this is our fifth visit here; three by bus and two by boat; it feels a bit home-like to us.

Tomorrow's cruise will take us through the long, narrow land cut connecting Choctawhatchee bay to West Bay and thence St. Andrew Bay. That will put us in the Panama City area, which is our only real option for a decent place to spend Christmas. I've made marina and rental car reservations for Christmas Eve and Christmas, and we have lined up a beach bar that is serving the traditional flavors buffet-style on Christmas Day. We have lots of options for the Eve.

Tomorrow's lousy weather making us cross the bay today means we'll be in St. Andrew Bay two days early, rather than the single day buffer I had left in the plan. I expect we'll anchor someplace with easy access to shore for the two nights before moving into our holiday quarters.

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