Sunday, December 29, 2019

Hurry up and wait

We are under way across St. George Bay in the Florida panhandle, en route to the bustling metropolis of Carrabelle. There's nothing, really, in Carrabelle, unless you count their signature claim to fame, the world's smallest police station (a blue phone booth). Nevertheless, they have the cheapest fuel in all of the gulf coast of Florida, at $2.50 per gallon, and so even though we have no need to see the place again, we're making the stop to take on fuel.

Historic Cape San Blas light, now in Port St. Joe, festively lit with light strings.

Thursday afternoon we arrived in Port St. Joe at 4pm and dropped the hook pretty much right outside the remains of the city marina (map). A large No Trespassing sign forbids access to the basin, which otherwise might have been a protected anchorage. That did not stop a couple of small boats from going in there to fish, and there is one remaining tour boat using what's left of the city dock.

The view from our anchorage. San Blas light at right, old marina entrance at left.

At dinner time we tendered around the nearby shoal and over to the municipal boat ramp, which has a long face dock where we tied up. We strolled the town, which was nicely decorated for the holidays. I was quite surprised by how touristy the place was, with a half dozen or so decent restaurants and several shops along the main street. A nearby chandlery and a grocery store make it an excellent cruiser stop, even with the marina closed.

Downtown Port St. Joe.

Equally surprising was the lack of any industrial port activity or even evidence of any equipment along the deepwater wharfage. Perhaps the dredged deepwater channel and quayside is merely a strategic asset for nearby Tyndall AF base. In any event, there was no sign that it is ever in use, but we made sure to anchor out of the turning basin anyway.

Decorations in the park near the boat ramp. The fish flashed alternately.

We had a nice pizza dinner at Joe Mama's (lots of businesses here play on the Joe theme), which made up for the disappointing pizza we had in Panama City Beach. It was a nice stop, and would have been good for two or three days had we been so inclined. The Cape San Blas lighthouse was moved here in 2014 to preserve it from the eroding cape, and we noticed it festively lit on our way back to the tender. It made a nice backdrop from the boat all evening.

Friday we weighed anchor and took the Gulf County Canal from St. Joseph Bay to the GIWW, where we rejoined our previous track. We followed our breadcrumbs back to Apalachicola. On our last pass, we had arrived in Apalachicola after a long, hot cruise, with Louise feeling under the weather. That, combined with relatively lower experience and comfort with river tactics and shallow-water anchoring, we opted not to stop, anchoring a few miles upriver instead. On this occasion we wanted to get ashore, and so we dropped the hook off-channel in a wide spot across from town (map).

Vector at anchor in Apalachicola, as seen from the park and dinghy landing.

That put us directly across from the city dock, a very short tender ride away, and with an early arrival I tendered ashore stag to explore the town. Once again, I found the place surprisingly touristy, although it's less of a surprise here than it was at St. Joe. A half-dozen well rated restaurants, a few shops, and one of my new favorite breweries, Oyster City, are all right downtown, and a Piggly Wiggly is a half-mile walk.

We returned together for dinner at the Owl Cafe, and strolled the town a bit. As if to underscore our choice of dinner venue, we found a live owl perched on a piling, keeping watch over our tender. We returned to Vector to find her exactly where we had left her, and I mean exactly. Strange, considering the tide had turned completely. We turned out to be in some weird hydraulic where the current quickened and slacked with the tide but never changed direction; we did not move more than ten feet in any direction in two full days.

Appalachicola's "tree," a fishnet decorated with pot floats and liferings, and holiday lights at night.

When we first set out for Apalachicola from St. Joe, we hoped to continue on almost immediately, fuel up in Carrabelle, and then make our jump across the gulf. But the forecast deteriorated steadily, and by yesterday morning it was clear we'd not have crossing weather until New Years. Since Apalachicola had far more, and nicer, services than Carrabelle, we opted to spend another day, with an option for two. We walked to the Piggly Wiggly for provisions after lunch, and last night's dinner was a casual affair at kitschy burger joint and raw bar The Station, in what formerly was clearly a classic three-bay service/gas station.

The Station, which I snapped mostly for my good friend Ben.

This morning we awoke in pea-soup fog, with the Coast Guard issuing dense fog advisories through noon on the radio. It looked for a while like that would make the extra-night decision for us, but by noon it lifted to the point where we could see the bridge and downtown, so we weighed anchor to get under way. The fog is still with us, but we can see the markers and other traffic.

This classic Harley hack was parked outside Bowery Station, a local watering hole with live music.

Arriving today will give us all day tomorrow to make our way to the fuel dock and take on around 1,100 gallons of fuel, roughly a two-hour process. We can then head out to Dog Island, the barrier island to the gulf, and anchor to await our opportunity, perhaps Tuesday. We've opted to skip the Steinhatchee stop, as we'd need to arrive close to high tide and that window is passing, so our next hop will be overnight, either to Cedar Key or Clearwater, depending on weather.

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