Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ft. Walton Beach to Panama City

Another beautiful day, another 75 miles or so.  I mentioned the city park in Ft. Walton Beach in yesterday's post.  Here it is from the water at 7 AM this morning.

And we stirred up a flock of pelicans not long after that. Speaking of birds and animals, I should note that all the cruising guides from Galveston to here tell us to watch for alligators and bald eagles.  We have seen exactly zero of these thus far - none, nada.

When you leave Ft. Walton Beach, you begin about a 35-mile run across the open waters of Choctawhatchee Bay.  It looked like most open water, pictures of which I will spare you from.  But when you leave the open water, you run an interesting 18-mile narrow canal nicknamed the Grand Canyon, a relative term considering it's in Florida.  Here's the entrance as you leave the bay.

You can see the open bay behind the boat below with Rhonda at the helm.  Yes, I know our boat looks like the Clampetts, but when you do an early morning departure with all things cold and damp (temperatures in the low 40s), you kind of throw everything  "somewhere" just to get moving and sort it out later.  The bike thing was a last minute decision when we left Orange Beach.  We definitely want them aboard for getting around towns with no courtesy car and places too far away to walk for what you need.  My bike is on the aft deck rooftop inside the dinghy, just haven't gotten Rhonda's up there yet.

Once inside the canal, the Grand Canyon gets its name from these high (for Florida) sandy banks.

The long stretches and occasional curves make for pretty cruising and pics also.

Leaving the Grand Canyon, you enter another large bay which leads you to the Panama City area.  There was a huge fire in the distance on our port side.

Instead of continuing on to Panama City, we hung a left about half way through the bay for some friends' home on Fannin Bayou in the city of Southport.  Here's the story on how we met Rich and Mary Gano.  Six years ago we were doing a fall cruise on the TN River.  Our boat at the time was  a 1972 wooden hull 32' Grand Banks, a beautiful boat I might add.  Here's "Help Me Rhonda II" docked at Hales Bar Marina in Guild, TN. 

We got up early one morning to head downstream and I called the lockmaster at the Nickajack Lock nearby to be sure there would no delays.  He said "if you can get here in 20 minutes, I'll get you through.  If not, there will be a 4-hour delay for a barge coming upstream for a lengthy lock-through."  I told him we would be there and we got busy leaving ASAP.  (We probably looked like the Clampetts then also).  As we left the dock I noticed a 42' wooden hull Grand Banks that had arrived after dark the previous evening, named "Calypso."  The owner was on the dock, we waved and he asked "where you headed" and I relayed the   lockmaster's comments.  He said " We're heading downstream also.  We'll lock through with you."  Sure enough we made it in time but hit a solid wall of fog just before entering the lock.  You could no longer see the lock!  The 42' GB driver said, "just follow me in."  Well, he sounded like he knew what he was doing so I thought what the heck, why not?  We followed him in and locked through successfully in very dense fog. We traveled the TN River together for several days with Rich and Mary Gano and have stayed in touch ever since.  Oh by the way, he's a retired boat driver for the US Navy so he did have the experience!  Meet Rich and Mary 6 years ago.

And here we are aboard Help Me Rhonda II.

And the 2 Grand Banks together at Ditto Landing on the TN River in Huntsville, AL.

We've kept in touch over the years but it's the first time we've had the four of us and the boats together again.  Rich and Mary still have "Calypso" and we're now up to "Help Me Rhonda IV" - parked together below at their dock in Southport.  Neat story, huh?

We went out for dinner this evening at The Shrimp House in Panama City and will spend tomorrow getting caught up with stories and more stories (mostly about boats and maritime stuff, duh).  We'll probably continue on our trip Saturday.  Thanks again Rich and Mary for having us at your dock and in your home.  Good folks!

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