Pensacola, Florida - May, 2004
Well, here we go again with another installment to the "Mile Marker" chronicles of Indigo Moon.
Our previous "Easter Weekend at Mississippi Sound" story has everybody enthusiastically wanting to "come along" on more of our adventures (I won't "retread" information/definitions in previous "Mile Marker" installments, so it would be best to read them chronologically if you want to be up to speed).
Anyway, here goes: Pensacola, here we come:
Having completed our Easter Weekend trip to Mississippi Sound, we now focus our sights on a two week trip in early summer from our home port of New Orleans to Pensacola, Florida and back. It is high time we stretch Indigo Moon's legs a bit further, and we do so from May 17 to May 28, 2004. We have taken two weeks off from work so that we can take our time.
We originally plan to depart on Saturday, May 15, but the weather has us down. Severe thunderstorms are pounding Louisiana. The weather report looks better for Monday, so we hang around New Orleans on Sunday and wait it out.
The following morning, on Monday, May 17, 2004, we strike out early from New Orleans. This time we are fully fueled and topped off with water, ice and provisions such that we will not have to stop in Slidell and lose an hour getting out of the Lake like we did at Easter. Instead we can sail/steam non-stop to Ship Island south of Gulfport, Mississippi.
The weather report looks good. But, as we approach the "Rigolets" there just happens to be a sole, isolated thunderstorm sitting right over the Rigolets. It's a powerful, very developed storm of the kind we see often in Louisiana. It's dumping two inches of rain on everything it its path. As if standing guard, it is between us and the Gulf of Mexico. We are trapped in Lake Pontchartrain for the moment.
I get ready for a blow. It starts drizzling. That gusty, cool edge of the storm is upon us. We see lightning "popping" a mile or so away. Hmmm...... we have a 57 foot lighting rod on this boat that we also hang sails on once in a while. Yikes! It always make me very nervous.
With engines running, I hold up in a channel near Treasure Island and watch the storm on our Furuno radar system, which works great. We are two miles west of the storm's core that is about a mile in diameter. It's drifting slowly northeast, so we wait for it to move up and off the Rigolets and clear the way for our passage from Lake Pontchartrain into open waters of Lake Borne and the Gulf.
It is, in my opinion, absolutely necessary to have radar. I am happy we have good equipment to monitor the storm. It's a strong storm, with the all too familiar and ominous gunmetal gray shaft of solid rain pouring out of the edge of it. The south edge of the storm is well defined and backlit by clear skies and the morning sunlight to the east.
Turns out, Melissa is unafraid of lightning. I am, on the other hand, what you could say "purdy damn skeered" of it. Melissa taunts me as I sit at the helm in my foul-weather canary suit: "What are you scared of? You drive 90 m.p.h. in the rain, right on someone's bumper, and that doesn't scare you, so why are you afraid of lightning?"
My carefully reasoned response: "Well if you ain 't scared, then why don' t you come hold this metal wheel, smarty pants?!"
We make a deal; from here on out she will be "the lightning skipper."
Once outside the Rigolets, and with the storm now far inland, we make way toward Ship Island. The wind is out of the east and, frustratingly, it is only five degrees off our bow. We can't sail directly into it and must use the engines. I raise the sails anyway and gain one knot by using the sails close-hauled along with the main engines.
It's rough. We take water over the bows much of the morning, "beating" our way east directly into 15 to 20 knots of apparent wind. The notoriously choppy waters of St Joe Pass leading up to Mississippi Sound are making our day a strenuous one.
In many places, the water is only 10 to 15 feet deep. Just as in Lake Pontchartrain, the waves seem to be made of muddy pudding and are three to four feet tall and one foot apart. Indigo Moon fights them and ultimately wins, but at the rate of only one at a time. I am always impressed with how stable the ride is on a catamaran. On days like this on a monohull sailboat, everything seems to wind up on the cabin floor.
It is good we left early this morning and didn't have to stop for fuel. We are only making 6.5 knots against the wind, waves and current, compared to 7.5 and 8 knots on the Easter Trip when we had the wind at our stern.
Despite our slow progress, we make it to Ship Island in plenty of daylight to anchor. We were already exhausted when we left New Orleans, from all the running around we did for several days to get ready for this trip. After today's rough passage we will call tomorrow a "lay day" for sure. We make a simple supper and hit the bunk.
We remain at anchor and sleep in today. After a leisurely breakfast, we break out the computer and watch Billy Bob Thorton's movie "All the Pretty Horses" in the salon. There is a big thunderstorm in Mississippi Sound directly north of us. I suspect we will get rained on, but the storm never makes it out to Ship Island.
As late morning rolls around, the passenger ferry boat to Ship Island periodically unloads and loads tourists at the dock that is only 300 yards away from where we are anchored. I am watching them when I notice a very aggressive red-winged black bird on our cockpit table trying to pick up a ziploc bag of steaks I have thawing out for tonight!
I have fun dealing with birds nosing around the cockpit much of the afternoon. It is obvious that the Ship Island bird population has figured out that there are often tidbits of food to be stolen from sailboats at anchor.
About 4 p.m. we decide to pull anchor, motor seven miles to Gulfport Harbor to top off the fuel tanks, and then come back to the Island and anchor again. We have been running the generator for almost 24 hours straight and we will head out for Pensacola at 3:00 a.m. so that we can be sure to reach Pensacola Pass in daylight. I call the fuel dock on the phone to make sure that they are open after 5 p.m. and find they are open until 7:00 p.m.
It is fun, because the marina fuel dock is obviously a "happy hour" hangout for locals and there are all kinds of guys having a beer after work and coming to look at the Moon.
After fueling up we head back to Ship Island. No sightseeing in Mississippi Sound this time. We eat supper and go to sleep early with the alarm clock set for 2:45 am.
Well, now. An alarm clock going off on the Moon before 3:00 a.m. It's way early. The coffee pot is already set up, so I hit the switch and get it going and also put on a pot of water for Melissa's tea.
I study the charts again while waiting for the coffee to drip and the teapot to whistle. I also check the waypoints I programmed into the GPS unit last night and make sure I know my route. For safety's sake, before heading anywhere, I always like to memorize data and landmarks on the chart such that I can refer to my charts later in the day, but only for confirmation rather than information.
I go to the foredeck with the forward deck light shining down from its mount above me at mid-mast. It brightly illuminates the foredeck so I can see to stow the anchor. By the time we raise anchor and make way, I realize just how dark it is. No moon at all. Back at the helm, I am trying to regain my night vision that was robbed by the deck light.
It's spooky. I know there is a big pier and a mooring ball very near us. I am disoriented, because we have spun around a bit chasing the anchor down to pull it. I slow down to verify with the radar and GPS that we are headed away from the Island. I can see absolutely nothing "out there" with the naked eye.
As we make our way west along the north shore of the island to get to the Ship Channel, I can hear the breakers at the west end of Ship Island. My coffee is kicking in. I am really waking up and getting my bearings now. Once in the Ship Channel proper, and I am sure we won't hit the shoals on the west end of Ship Island, I turn and steam south. I verify the flashing green lights to starboard and flashing red lights to port confirming the data on my GPS screen. I am a happy camper; we are safely heading out to sea in the Ship Channel and we are right on schedule!
Melissa is totally silent for a long time. That means she is uneasy. I ask her what's up and she says she doesn't like not being able to see anything. We laugh though, and continue to pick at one another. Melissa says: "Ok, so I'm the Lightning Princess now, but that's better than you -- you're the Prince of Darkness." Hey, I got no problem with that deal -- I like night watch!
After a couple of hours, first light comes up and it's nice to see the water color has improved to a nice blue-green and that the muddy waters of Louisiana and Mississippi Sound are miles back in our wake.
We keep heading east south of Horn Island and the Petit Bois ("Petty Bwoa") and then past the Ship Channel into Pascagoula.
We make it past the lighthouse at Mobile Bay and the Exxon rig south of Fort Morgan.
Melissa is below in the galley, getting ready to make lunch. At the helm, I am amazed at the condominium developments between Fort Morgan and Gulf Shores. As we pass from two miles offshore, through the binoculars the condos look like huge pastel-painted doll houses.
I am enjoying the beautiful water and think to myself about how much beachfront property now costs. While looking at all these new multi-million dollar condominiums, I wonder: where does all that money come from anyway? And that ain 't even counting the mega-million dollar high rises! It's hard for me to believe our economy has ever been weak or even timid in the last few decades considering people are building and buying such things as fast as they can be produced.
Melissa calls out from below and interrupts my meaningless economic meditations. She is going to make lunch. The seas have built up even more and we are still beating into an east wind. The sails are up, but not enough wind angle to really sail. The wind is still almost on the nose and we are starting to take waves over the bows again.
I notice the anchor is not properly secured. It is bouncing around in waves that break over the front crossbar. Between waves, I run up the plank to the crossbar at the bow and quickly secure the anchor and run back. The autopilot has been steering for hours, so I simply tell Melissa to keep an eye out from the galley as I completed that task.
When I get back to the helm, I look below and Melissa is going to cook a hot lunch in these rough seas. I don't say anything. I watch as she skillfully "dances" with a sharp knife and an avocado. I smile quietly to myself. She cubes grilled chicken breasts left over from the night before, chops an onion, and then fires up a skillet. The seas are getting rougher still.
In no time, I've got a plate of hot Chicken Quesadillas and fresh Guacamole. I leave the autopilot to its duty and eat a really good hot lunch. Yep, Melissa is the girl for me. The Princess of Lighting and hot lunch too! Hoo mama!
We are steady on our route east that parallels the coast about two miles offshore. I've got fishing lines out and Wham! Something big has demolished the bait and ripped the hook off the lure by pulling the line out of a crimp. I had the drag set too tight.
We finally pass Gulf Shores and an hour later we pass the outer buoy for Perdido Pass. I intentionally pass within twenty feet of it. I still have lines out and want to see if I can coax a "triple tail" or a cobia to bite, but no luck. It's after 3:00 p.m. and a hundred boats have surely trolled past that marker today already. So, despite my best efforts, I won't be able to redeem myself on the loss of the big fish earlier today.
As we near Perdido Pass, I wish we could duck in under the bridge and anchor for the night – it's a long day for me now with twelve hours at the helm already. But, alas, we cannot fit under the Perdido Pass bridge's clearance of only 54 feet. We need at least 60 feet and must press on for a few more hours to reach Pensacola Pass.
When we are about even with the Ono Island water tower, I call my good friends Larry and Betty Jones on my cell phone. They know we are going to show up sometime this week but don't know exactly when. This will be fun.
Larry answers. Betty is in Mobile with the grand kids. I ask him what he's doing and he says "nothing." I tell him to go up to his third story loft and look for me out in the Gulf. We keep talking and Larry studies the areas of Gulf that he can see between the condo high rises that partially block his view of the Gulf. I ask: "do you see us?" Larry answers: "Naw, naw, I don't see anything. . . Yeah! Yeah! I see y'all! I see y'all! You're looking good!"
He sees us under full sail! We make plans to meet up tomorrow or the next day. About this time Melissa, knowing I am exhausted, demands that I relinquish the helm and take a nap or at least lay around the cockpit.
Now, mind you, I have not been able to get the boat to do more than 6.9 knots all day despite my fully raising and lowering all sails at least four times, with all sorts of tweaking of sail trim. I've exhausted every combination of sail and engine power imaginable.
Within ten minutes of her taking the helm the wind shifts favorably for her. The seas subside to a very comfortable state. Laying down in the cockpit, I can sense this change in rhythm. I ask: "how fast are we going?" Melissa answers from the helm: "8 knots." I ask further: "Are you on course to the waypoint at Pensacola? Melissa, (feeling nagged): "yes, YES, I am ON COURSE."
I get up and look at the wind gauge and the Gods have smiled on her. The wind angle has shifted fifteen degrees to the south and we are really making sporty headway now. Melissa smiles and informs me: "Yeah, I knew you were screwing up all day, but I didn't want to say anything." I am too tired to do anything but laugh out loud — hey what am I gonna do, argue with the Princess of Lightning?
We make it into Pensacola Pass at about 5:00 p.m. and the tide is running out quickly. It takes full throttle on both engines and we are only making 3 knots into the current.
Swells are BIG and we are getting water over the back transoms. We've never had water all the way up the back steps before! It was unnerving. We even get some water in the starboard engine compartment. I learn afterward that a small section of the hatch gasket does not make a proper seal.
I wish we could take pictures of this rough water, but I am too tired and busy on the helm. Melissa is too busy concentrating on what the boat will do in such big rollers. It does fine.
It's a strange sensation, though, much like trying to run up a down escalator. Waves and water rush by and the engines sing with all their might. Looking at the water right around us, it seems we are doing ten knots, but when you look at the shore, we are barely moving.
It takes a good twenty minutes to get inside the pass and to calm water. Once inside, we are greeted by turquoise water against white sugar sands.
We turn west out of the Pass into the Intercoastal Waterway and are in Big Lagoon in short order. It's a sizable body of water that is protected by Perdido Key to the south and the Florida mainland to the north. It offers great anchorages that are just over the dunes from the Gulf. We motor to Redfish Point and find a good place to anchor a stone's throw from the dunes of Perdido.
It's always interesting here at Pensacola. Aside from all the natural beauty, there are a lot of low flying Navy aircraft to watch. As we are motoring to Redfish point, a Navy trainer jet flies over us at about 300 feet. We are right in the landing pattern. I can almost see the rivets in the fuselage. He's about to stall and gives it full throttle right over our heads -- exciting!
I laugh and exclaim to Melissa that it's always a pleasure to see a twenty-two year old playing around with at least a million or so dollars of the taxpayers' money.
We get the anchor down and it's been a fifteen hour day. There is no mystery as to why they call heading into the wind all day a "beat", because we surely are in every sense of the word. It's the "good" kind of beat, though, and we are thankful for a safe passage. A great sunset rewards us.
Larry Jones comes over mid-morning by boat from Ono Island. He's in his new runabout, center console fishing boat. We haven't seen each other in a couple of years now, and it's really good to see Larry. He takes us to the Southwind Marina for lunch before he heads back to Ono Island. Melissa and I plan to dock at Larry and Betty's pier tomorrow.
But for the rest of today . . . it's to the beach! One of the nice things about Big Lagoon is that it is at the far east end of Perdido Key. The road on Perdido ends several miles to the west such that there are miles of beach that are inaccessible by road. All you have to do is dinghy to the dunes, walk over them, and you are on the Gulf side beach, all by yourself.
We walk for hours without seeing anyone else's footprints. We walk along and explore and even inspect a large Channel Marker for Pensacola Pass that broke loose from its mooring and beached.
The washed up Channel Marker was interesting to see up close. These markers don't look like much when you are sailing along an eighth of a mile or more away from them. But, man oh man, what a substantial piece of equipment it is when I climb on it! I bet that thing costs more than a 9 Series BMW!
Once we are back to the boat it feels great to cool off. We have run the air conditioning non-stop and the Phasor diesel generator happily hums along at 1800 rpm day and night, powering our little floating paradise.
After relaxing a little, I decide to go for a swim with my snorkel gear to check on the boat and clean her up a bit. Lake Pontchartrain, with its muddy water, leaves "tea stains" on the bows and on the water line of the boat. I take this opportunity to use Fiberglass Stain Remover to turn the hulls bright white again.
We do our usual chill and grill at sunset and call it a night early, because tomorrow we are going to pull anchor and go to Orange Beach's famous Ono Island and visit all our friends including: Henry Bermingham, a fellow coonass who is originally from New Orleans and now retired; Larry and Betty Jones, natives of Alabama who are retired and live both inland at Flomaton and on Ono Island at Orange Beach; and even more coonasses – friends Bobby and Linda Carbo, visiting from Slidell, Louisiana.
I wake early and want to try and catch a speckled trout or two without waking Melissa. It's just my luck to catch a fish that I cannot identify, other than to report that it has double rows of very sharp teeth, top and bottom. It also has very good eyesight and advanced coordination such that it knows how to thrash in just such a way as to rip open the first knuckle of the index finger of anyone who catches it!
The fish bled some, but I bled a lot more! I woke Melissa up, despite my efforts to try and tussle with the fish quietly.
Mid morning we head west in Big Lagoon and the Intercoastal Canal toward Ono Island. We stop at "The Oyster Bar" restaurant and marina to fuel up, having used most of our fuel on the all day trip from Ship Island and then the running the generator for over twenty four hours thereafter.
Once fueled up, we keep heading west under the Perdido Bridge and past Rabbit Island. I am concerned because we have developed a slow leak of seawater into the engine compartment from the starboard engine sail drive boot. I think at first it is just residue of the water we took on due to the big waves and leaking hatch gasket. But, I find a small trail of water weeping from around the saildrive where it is bolted to the hull. &%#@!, *@!$%! I am pissed! As scheduled preventive maintenance, I just paid Seabrook Marine in New Orleans over a thousand dollars in labor to replace sail drive oil seals and the boots that were not leaking before! #$@*!
As if this new seawater leak is not distressing enough, as soon as we depart the fuel dock, the starboard engine is vibrating badly. It's so bad that the anchor chain is bouncing and rattling on the foredeck! Gee whiz, a leaking sail drive boot to starboard, and now the whole damn starboard engine and sail drive are jumping all around, increasing the stress on the leaking boot. Hmmm. . . I'm not pissed anymore, now I'm worried! We limp along, with about two miles to go. I take a deep breath and enjoy the sights anyway. I'll sort it out when we dock at Ono Island.
We continue on heading south and then west along Old River, which runs east-west between Perdido Key to the south and Ono Island to the north. Ono Island is a beautiful, private, exclusive, wonderful development (fancy way of saying really expensive too) that has only one small bridge that connects it to Perdido Key at its west end. Waterfront homes range from phenomenal to spectacular on Ono Island, and we are happy for two families of dear friends that are lucky enough to be retired here in paradise. They live right next door to each other on the water!
We tie up between our friends' docks and it is a wonderful reunion for us. I have been so busy for the last two years we have not been to Ono to visit. This is the first opportunity to see my friends in a long, long time. Too long for friends as dear as they all are to me.
We enjoy hanging around in the cockpit:
I don't know how Henry managed to come and go without us getting a picture of him, but he looks a lot like a combination of these two characters:
Everyone has a chance to tour the Indigo Moon and we "visit a spell" as they say. After a while, I decide to dive under the boat and see if anything can be found to explain all the vibration we experienced after leaving the fuel dock.
Sure enough, we have picked up a short piece of three-strand 2" diameter nylon rope on the starboard prop. It's been spun into a big "bird nest" around the prop. I have to dive down and cut if off.
After such "fun" why not ham it up for the camera, right? The frayed rope makes a pretty good blonde wig! Anyway, I have some laughs and we are glad the vibration will be gone.
Saturday, 05/22/04 and Sunday, 05/23/04
Indigo Moon rests for two nights, nested between our friends' docks. We do what all good Louisiana coonasses and Alabama rednecks do! We fish, cook, eat, visit, then sleep. Then we cook, eat, visit and sleep some more!
At Henry's one night, Bobby cooks a whole beef filet on the grill, with baked potatoes stuffed with onions, garlic, cheese and bacon. Plus, homemade trimmings of everything (including a homemade spice cake by Betty and Linda's homemade banana pudding). After long and careful analysis by me, and following several independent and lengthy experiments, I finally conclude that the cake and pudding are best eaten together in large portions in a BIG bowl.
Another night Larry grills fresh snapper we caught offshore with his cousin earlier the same day. Betty cooks her famous fresh vegetables and all the trimmings. It is truly wonderful.
Turning now to a wholly separate issue, a very, very sad aspect to our visit is that Larry's awesome 37 foot Topaz sport fishing boat Three Queens IV (named for his wife and two daughters) was hit by lightning a few weeks ago right in his Ono Island boat house, and sank!
My lighthearted references to lightning, and poking fun about Melissa heretofore in this story, are all tantamount to "whistling in the graveyard" as they say. Make no mistake, we have deep respect for the dangers of lightning. Though the odds of being struck are supposedly low, the threat is very real.
Larry shows us pictures. I literally fight back tears. I know that Three Queens IV is Larry's "dream boat" and represents a culmination of years of hard work and the accomplishment of finally owning a first-class bluewater fishing yacht. Larry is as skilled an outdoorsman and licensed charter captain as you will ever meet. He has fished offshore here for decades, owning several boats – but this was "the one."
Here is a picture of the yacht the day it sank, sitting on the bottom in the boathouse. A blast of lightning caused a fitting to be blown off the hull under the waterline. The flooding was so fierce that the bilge pumps could not keep her off the bottom.
I decide to go up my mast and get some shots of the boathouse roof to show the damage done by the blast of lightning for insurance purposes if Larry should need such photos.
Most people don't realize that lighting bolts do not come down and strike things. Instead, a powerful bolt of electricity shoots upward and meets downward bolts far above the ground and then all the voltage goes to the ground.
These photos show that the lightning bolt shot up from Three Queens IV and blew a hole out of the boathouse roof, as if a cannon were shot upward through the roof. Outwardly bent metal and chunks of scorched plywood on top of the roof tell the tale. It must have been a massive strike.
While 57' up the mast, I also take several pictures to capture the surroundings and try to demonstrate just how picturesque this area really is.
It is a shame that these pictures just can't capture how stunningly beautiful the day is from my perch at the top of the mast. I could stay here all day – it is overwhelming!
Oh well, Larry is at the winch, and it's time for me to come down. At least I'll have these photos to remind me of this wonderful day.
Later in the day we decide to go see the Three Queens IV in person. It is "on the hill" as they say, in a boat yard on the Intercoastal northwest of Ono Island. The quickest way there is for Melissa and me to hop in Larry's runabout bay boat with him and go by water. The yacht awaits insurance inspections and ultimate decision regarding whether or not it will be classified a total loss or be rebuilt.
Once there, I am distressed. It is like going to the funeral home. I certainly do not mean that in a way that would suggest that the loss of a boat is a tragedy on the scale that equals loss of human life. I will say honestly, however, that seeing first-hand the utter devastation of this fine craft puts the same kind of knots in my stomach.
It causes me great emotional pain to see my dear friend, Larry, there with his dream boat in such terrible shape. I hate it when bad things happen to good people. Melissa and I can't hardly believe our eyes. It's bad.
The engines have been pulled out and "pickled" (filled with diesel fuel) to keep them from rusting internally. The yacht is now a grimy mess covered with engine oil inside. Oil stains on the outer hull won't budge, even after being treated with acid. Electrical circuits everywhere are burned and blown. The damage is all encompassing. When I see things like this I always think of the hundreds of hours of craftsmanship it took to build this fine yacht and how unacceptable this outcome is. It is beyond reason.
We leave the devastated carcass of Three Queens IV on the hill where she now rests and ride back to the south side of Ono Island where Indigo Moon awaits us.
More shots of the damage:
Later that evening we enjoy a nice dinner with Betty and Larry and turn in early for we will depart tomorrow and head back to Big Lagoon for two nights before beginning our journey back to New Orleans.
We are up early and start getting ready to cast off. It is sad saying goodbye to Larry and Betty, and we go next door and visit with Henry a while too and say our goodbyes with him. He is excited and waiting for delivery of a new two-seat Cadillac convertible and is planning to drive all the way to California and back. He shows us all the brochures on his car and we share in his excitement before we say farewell.
It has been so very good to see everybody. In the mid eighties, when I was a starving undergrad at LSU, I spent months of time in the summers at Henry's fishing with both Larry and Henry. Back then, I never would have imagined in my wildest dreams that one day I would be lucky enough to visit Ono Island on Indigo Moon. Anyway, a part of me always remains with my old friends on Ono Island. I am thankful for the precious memories of fishing, fun and fellowship with them that will endure a lifetime.
With all of our farewells complete, we cast off and head back to Big Lagoon. There are lots of things still to see. The water is so beautiful compared to the Louisiana "gumbo" we sail in at home that it is hard to believe it. Like all Louisianans, I have loved the Florida panhandle and its waters since the first day I laid eyes on them (over thirty years ago).
Here are some sights on our way back to Big Lagoon:
I decide to cook spaghetti for dinner. It's fun cooking on the boat, because almost anything tastes great on a boat. I cut up some turkey sausage and brown it, and then throw it in some Prego and viola, you'd think you were at Emeril's. Hot showers and off to bed. We decide we will day sail in Pensacola Bay tomorrow, and then return to Big Lagoon and take another long walk on the beach.
In the cool of early morning we head east across Pensacola Pass and into Pensacola Bay. The water color is that emerald green and blue that is so mesmerizing. Although I cannot adequately catch those little rascals on film, dolphins are rolling around and playing, grinning, and squeaking at each other.
It's already been a great day and it's not even 10:00 a.m. yet!
Sailing conditions are ideal. I know we are in tune with wind, water and nature when I pick up my Diet Coke and see water "smiling" back at me.
While sailing north into Pensacola Bay, we notice a Navy vessel holding its position in the middle of the Bay. As we get closer and watch the operation, it is clear that Navy helicopter pilots are practicing landings and take offs from the vessel.
The vessel is predictably named Bay Lander. All day a procession of several helicopters fly in a big circle, taking turns landing and taking off with the aid of a ground crew on the vessel's deck. We didn't want to get too close, what with Homeland Security and all that.
Once back at anchor in Big Lagoon, we go to the beach for another long walk. Since our arrival last week, the wind has shifted and blows hard in the afternoons from the south and southwest such that there is a lot of grass blown up on the beach.
We find a lot of small sand dollars that we started calling nickels, dimes and quarters according to size. Also, a very small crab shell caught our eye. We bleach them and add them to our shell collection on the main salon table.
We enjoy the rest of the day. I check all systems and we make general preparations to be shipshape to begin our long sail west back to Ship Island, Mississippi tomorrow.
The Blue Angels are stationed in Pensacola. Every year in July they do an air show over the Gulf, right in front of Pensacola Beach. It is not uncommon on any given day to see them practicing. I have been hoping to see them all week. Early in the afternoon I see the Blue Angel's Big Blue cargo plane, a C-130 (nicknamed Fat Albert) take off, head south right over us and then bear east and disappear over the horizon.
About two hours later, I hear some action to the north and it's the Blue Angels! They are taking off and they head in the same direction Fat Albert did. I was hoping to see some stunts, but they were obviously headed to some other destination to put on a show. I have pleasing daydreams about prior Blue Angel shows I've seen. I watch them fly out of sight in perfect formation – as if they were connected by some invisible framework or bracing. (After we got home, I checked the Schedule and they were apparently headed for the Naval Academy to do a show.)
While I watch them, I think "that has got to be one of the coolest jobs on earth!" They are like a rock and roll band on tour, with the "roadies" flying ahead in Fat Albert (as the equipment truck), and the "rock stars" arriving later in F/A 18 Hornets (jets that are way cooler than Lamborghini Countach sports cars). Hey, this is every hot rod enthusiast's wet dream. Tom Cruise and Top Gun my ass, these guys are the real thing! (Here is the official site of the Blue Angels, if you want to know more.
Snap out of it! I shake off my daydreams. Back to reality, Buddy! I have things to do. We will head out at first light. Considering Pensacola Pass was so rough coming in, and has a treacherous reputation, I will not navigate it in darkness as I did leaving Ship Island. I would rather be late into Ship Island and navigate that simple channel in darkness if forced to do so.
It will be a long day, though. It was fifteen hours on the way over, against an east wind. You guessed it; the wind will be out of the west southwest on the return trip and will increase in velocity all day, building to twenty knots or more according to NOAA weather radio.
We will have to fight our way even harder back to Ship Island. It reminds me of the old joke: "when I was you're age we had to walk to school and it was three miles uphill both ways in the snow", etc. A sailboat is one of the few modes of transportation that is actually often faced with a round trip that is tantamount to being "uphill both ways" all due to unfavorable wind shifts.
Having double checked the charts and the GPS waypoints, and completed all necessary tasks to weigh anchor at dawn, we relax for our last evening in Big Lagoon. There has been a Navy C-130 cargo plane doing touch and go landings for hours now. I continue to watch it into the twilight and think about things like how many gallons of fuel are being consumed for six hours of "touch and go" landings in such a monstrous contraption? Where will those pilots ultimately be stationed? Will we be out of Iraq before they get assigned somewhere? What will they end up doing? What is the pinnacle of success for a cargo pilot, flying Fat Albert for the Blue Angels?
We turn in and need not set the alarm clock. We will simply leave the hatch shades open and first light will wake me instantly – it always does. You know, getting older and "up with the chickens" and all that.
What a first light it is! We are fortunate that Pensacola Pass is not rough and we make way out into the Gulf and turn due west about two miles offshore. The sunrise is nothing short of spectacular. For me,
the most spiritual moments on earth occur while witnessing such dramatic vistas on the open water. It is breathtaking! As said, cameras are pitifully inadequate at capturing the scale of such scenes. So, as beautiful as this photo is, multiply it by at least ten.
We continue westward and pass Perdido Key and Ono Island. We can see the old Ono water tower and the new Ono water tower under construction. We know that Henry and Betty & Larry are just to the west of the towers and we wave goodbye.
All day we head west and fight the wind and seas. I try to sail and motor, but the wind angle is almost directly in our face. The jib keeps back winding now and then (filling up with air on the wrong side and rubbing on the mast and its upper support frames called "spreaders"). I will find out later that I rubbed a hole on the leech (back edge) of the sail by so doing. UK Sailmakers in New Orleans will ultimately repair it and add a wear patch to prevent any reoccurrence of such damage. The wind taunts me cruelly all day. Literally one or two degrees of wind shift would allow me to sail, but no luck.
Also, every hour, Melissa takes the helm and watches carefully to see that I don't go overboard as I go into the starboard engine compartment with bucket and sponge to bail out the gallon or so of water that leaks in through the weeping saildrive boot.
As I continue to negotiate unsuccessfully with Great Zephyrus, exalted ruler of the West Wind, I notice that shrimping season is in full swing. There are entire fleets of shrimp boats anchored for the day, obviously having shrimped all night. Shrimpers are coming and going and I can hear them on the VHF radio discussing their catches last night and strategies for trawling tonight.
By late afternoon Great Zephyrus is pounding us. Photos never capture how rough the seas really are in person. I take a few shots, though, to try and illustrate what we were fighting, hour after hour.
The boat is soaked. Wave after wave breaks through the forward trampoline and over the bows. The wind is howling in my face at an apparent velocity of 26 knots. I zip in a plastic windshield ("dodger") that connects to the bimini top, so I can at least get out of the wind a little bit.
Melissa is sleeping happily on the sofa in the main salon. She is at the apex point of all movement and is quite comfortable.
We reach the Gulfport Ship Channel at Ship Island right at sunset. I look at the charts and the GPS and try to figure out just how close I can cut the west end of the island to get inside and duck behind the island, out of the seaway. I am watching the rough seas and the breaking waves over the shallow shoals on the west end of the island.
I don't trust the chart or the GPS plotter. They both say 25-plus feet of water ahead, but I still see waves breaking in that area. I head an eighth of a mile farther to the west to be safe and turn north. For the first time today, we are running with the wind and waves and it feels great.
Good thing I waited to turn. We caught a five to six foot wave and instantly accelerated to 12 knots! Riding the wave in, I watch the depth sounder go to as shallow as 9 feet, much less that the 25-plus feet shown on all the charts. Geez! It must have been four feet or less where the waves were breaking. We are lucky and make it across the shoals safely. I'll not cut that corner again!
We drop all sail and anchor in what is now our routine "parking place" at Ship Island. The wind howls relentlessly and the anchorage is somewhat rough, but we are at least behind the island and protected from the big waves offshore. We sleep hard all night.
We spend the next day making our familiar journey back into the muddy waters we call home - New Orleans.
We make it back to New Orleans with plenty of daylight. I have already called David Montz at Seabrook Marine and he will have his mechanic and lift ready for me first thing in the morning to pull Indigo Moon out of the water and repair the leaking saildrive boot. To their credit, Seabrook stands behind its work and makes all repairs at its expense while the boat is in the slings, sending me on my way by noon and back to my slip on Friday. I single hand from Seabrook back to the Marina. Melissa is waiting to catch the lines and she takes a picture of me coming in.
We are tired, but again, it's "the good kind" of tired. We pack up everything and then wash Indigo Moon. She has sea salt all over her and running a hand down any lifeline produces a thimble of salt crystals. We give her a long and thorough freshwater bath. She seems very happy about that.
On our drive back to Baton Rouge, both Melissa and I are thankful for yet another happy adventure. On this trip, Indigo Moon is relentlessly pounded by rough seas, much more so than she was on my delivery trip for days across the open Gulf last year (when I encountered thunderstorms and much larger seas far offshore). Despite the rough trip to and from Pensacola, she never lost her poise. The "catamaran ride" is obscenely smooth in rough water. The closely-spaced choppy four-to-six-foot seas of the shallow Mississippi Sound have tested her (and us) and we are very happy with the performance. Melissa always says about Indigo Moon: "she's a good girl and she'll take care of us." Our trip to Pensacola and back underscored that sentiment for me as well.
Where will we go next? The Keys? El Caribe? Belize? Who knows? We'll have plenty of time to decide, because hurricane season is now upon us and we'll stay close to home until it passes at the end of November.
Until then, fair winds from the Moon!
Buddy and Melissa