Saturday, November 12
A restful night into the morning that finds me waking up AFTER sunrise. Readers of my previous adventures know that normally I am waking up before dawn. Not this morning! Perhaps it is the cool weather and the sleeping bag’s snug warmth that lets me sleep in a little. Not much longer though as I hear Pat, Travis, and his wife Kathy chatting and making breakfast 10’ away. So up and at ‘em Sailor!
The brilliant morning sun sparkles off the salty water and the impressive numbers of boats inhabiting the cove. The sun’s warmth feels nice as I get a simple breakfast of pastry and juice.
Our plans for the day are of the “whatever happens” variety. Other than the airshow starting around 1 pm we do not have a set plan. Travis and Kathy express a desire to roam the Fort McRee site. I originally wanted to sail across the gulf channel and visit Fort Pickens but a bout of sun-drenched laziness postpones that until another day. Besides, the already crowded cove is due for an influx of even more boats before the airshow starts.
After a lazy breakfast, Travis, Kathy, and I decide to explore Fort McRee. The two forts (McRee and Pickens) guarded the only gulf-to-bay entrance into Pensacola. Along with third fort located on the mainland, Pensacola was well protected during the War of 1812 and gave the British Navy no option to enter the bay other than blockading the channel.
Present day finds the original Fort McRee underwater and victim to the gradual westward shift of the gulf channel. In its place further west on the intercostal island is the 1900’s fort also named Fort McRee. Once a gun emplacement to defend the gulf pass during the world wars, the fort today is marked by concrete foundations for missing walls, rusty gun mount rails, an asphalt drive from shore to the fort, and a bunker-like tunnel with locked metal doors. An angled plaque with a brief history and layout map marks the main entrance area.
A very short walk of less than 100 yards gets us to the plaque and the concrete wall foundation. We roam through brush and follow sand paths. It is very difficult to visualize how the fort sat on this spot for the grown brush and limited visual clues beyond the remains. We heard the tunnel was interesting but its metal doors are locked on both ends. Thirty minutes is more than enough time to trace the fort’s remains before we return to shore a handful of yards away.
Travis and Kathy spies another MacGregor 26 semi-beached nearby and decide to introduce themselves. As they pleasantly chat and compare boats, I notice a heron wandering nearby seemingly totally unafraid of the proximity of people. The couple walking towards us prompts the unbashful bird to casually wander inland a dozen yards until they pass, upon which the heron returns to walking the shore. I don’t blame the bird … it is a beautiful sunny morning!
Bidding farewells, we wander back to the boats where Pat mentions wanting to find another person along for the show. Dan M is anchored on his sailboat somewhere in the flotilla. It is as if he is hiding among the forest of masts. Travis, Kathy, and I hop aboard Half-Fast and cast off.
Somewhere in the cove is Dan. I kinda try to help search but is easily distracted by the bigger boats. I harbor a dream of someday having a big sailboat for long cruises such as the Bahamas, east coast, gulf coast, etc, so looking at the big boats anchored as we idle past is like researching for the future. Heh.
We don’t find Dan driving through the cove so we head out westward from Sand Island to see if he anchored along the ICW. The ICW widens out between Pensacola and Perdido and to the south close to the intercoastal islands is another popular anchorage called Sailboat Cove. For a moment, we think we find him but it was not to be. Ah well. I think Pat phone texts Dan before turning Half-Fast back towards Sand Island. Ding! As we motor back into the cove, Dan answers saying he saw us idle by and that we should look for a yellow marked sail near the east end. Sure enough, there he is half hidden behind a few bigger boats! We raft up and spend some time chatting with Travis taking a tour of Dan’s boat.
Eventually, we bid adieu and finds ourselves back at our boats. Off in the distance we hear the start of the Saturday airshow so we settle in for lunch, conversation, and watching various aircraft tear up the sky in some wild acrobatics. At one point, a loud roar and a huge plume of smoke rises from the airfield. Ah! That must be the jet powered drag truck slated to perform. We are too far to see the truck, but reportedly he gave quite a show and even drag raced one of the flying planes down the runway. Dunno who won that race though.
Sometime in the afternoon a lone duck paddles over between Half-Fast and Mulsae. Amazed at the fearless bird, I break up some pretzel sticks and toss them between the boats to be snatched up by the duck. Pat grabs his camera and shoots video while commenting about the “strange seagulls” inhabiting the cove.
Also paddling around is a handful of kayaks and paddleboards. Oh man! Really wish I had my kayak here to do the same! I discuss with Pat who mentions towing the kayak behind Mulsae. Hmm … now that is an idea. Although it may look strange to see a 17’ kayak being towed by a 21’ sailboat, the kayak has a cockpit cover and should tow easily. I make a note to consider it for the next Florida 120 event.
By the time 4 pm rolls around the main attraction takes off. It’s the Blue Angels final show of the year! We have a fine vantage to watch the magnificent maneuvers. At times, the formation overflies the cove for some great video footage.
As the Blue Angles near the end of the show, Pat gets the itch to wander so I hop aboard Half-Fast. We launch and cruise westward to take a closer look at Sailboat Cove (a possible stop for a future Florida 120 group sail). It looks like a well-protected spot to anchor at not to mention literally less than a couple hundred yards across the sands to the gulf side. We swing into the ICW heading east, passing Sand Island and exploring the sea of boats anchored just off the base’s shore … but not for long for the Blue Angels show ends and suddenly there is boats going everywhere. Prudently, a USCG boat cruises around to ensure people keep minimal wakes as the water version of rush hour commences.
We motor by Fort Pickens with Pat pointing out the best spot to beach at and the docks to avoid when visiting the fort. Then we head back to our Sand Island anchorage for the rest of the day. Travis offers a delicious dinner (spicy yet great tasting) as the sun starts to go down. When darkness falls, all three boats agree to call it an early evening. Tomorrow, everyone starts the journey home.
Sunday, November 13
The morning starts out cool and blustery with an east 10’ish knot wind blowing directly into the cove’s east channel. Without a working outboard and little chance of tacking in the narrow shallow channel, I won’t be heading out that way. The only option is to try to sail through the many moored boats to the west channel then loop around Sand Island and try to tack up the somewhat wider (but not much more so) ICW.
Luckily, the kind gentleman known as Pat offers a tow out. Heck yeah! That would save some time! Thanks Pat! Mulsae gets set to sail in short order, tow rope is tossed, and off we go! Rounding Sand Island’s lee side, I get the sail up smartly before we make the turn east. Boy! It is blustery! Pat tows us clear past Sand Island, waits for traffic to clear, then casts off. Thanks again Pat!
Settling on a port tack towards Fort Pickens, I start to enjoy the sail. Mulsae feels unhurried and not pressed with no reef set. Even close hauled the tiller is feeling no weather helm, much unlike the two-arm effort to hold the boat straight in Texas’ 20+ knot winds. In fact, this feels like a great sail. Too bad it wasn’t a wee bit warmer. Following recommendations read on the Shallow Water Sailors web site, I sheet in until the foot is passing over the galley corner and concentrate on keeping the telltales flying.
Pat paces for a short ways and records the first video I’ve seen of Mulsae actually sailing …
Given the east wind coming from the direction I want to go, Mulsae and I take long tacks in the wide open ICW. Once past the Navy base point and truly into Pensacola bay itself, I set a starboard tack that hopefully will run directly to the bay’s western shore where the bayou entrance is. The wind lightens a few mph to let me lash the helm and stand up with soft drink in hand to enjoy the newly uncovered sun.
Off in the distance ahead sees a lot of sails on the water. Oooo! That looks like a regatta! Sure enough, the closer we sail the more details we see. The boats are sloops, perhaps around 18’ish feet long with a small crew. Other than that I have no idea what boat they are. I hear starting horns across the waves and watch about two dozen sails go racing for the first mark. One around the mark, spinnakers unfurl for the downwind gybe. That looks like fun!
Later on I realize the boats are probably from the nearby Pensacola Yacht Club. Very cool. Another good reason to move close to the water after retirement.
Anyway, I have to tack a couple times after falling short of the bayou entrance and sail over water so shallow that the leeboard and rudder bump. Heh. Got to love that ultra-shoal Dovekie draft. The channel to the ramp has little wind like normal so after drift sailing slowly for 20 minutes I break out the oar, set it in the yuloh oarlock, and scull the last 100 yards to the ramp. 10 minutes later Mulsae is on the trailer getting derigged.
Pat drives by to say hello (having already motored home and put his boat away) and snap the last picture of the trip.
The drive home is casual and stress free. If I cannot live near the coast, being a mere half day drive away is the next best thing. Dusk falls as we arrive home. Mulsae is unloaded and tucked under cover. I grab a drink and relax. Nice.
All in all, a good weekend sail and camp. Got to experience new things (nighttime airshow! Wow!) and gain more sailing experience with Mulsae. Not to mention fellowshipping with fellow sailing friends and meeting new ones. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone and more during next year’s Florida 120 group sail in May 2017. Pensacola is a great place to sail!
Dovekie #43 “Mulsae”