To hell and Pensacola…

Wrote this entire blog entry at 4pm and lost it due to internet connection loss. I was sick because it was all so fresh in my mind at the time and I may never recapture the raw excitement but here goes:

First there are no pictures only because it is impossible to take pictures when we are holding on for dear life.

We awoke at The Wharf and planned a later than usual start at 0900. The usual checks of the engine room and a look at the latest weather predictions from at least two sources and we were ready to go. There was only light winds and a 20% chance of rain. Let me tell you we found that 20% and then some all day long. In addition we would encounter fog, high winds and horrible conditions in Pensacola Bay but I get ahead of the story.

Driving in the rain is usually no problem because the flybridge is completely enclosed in canvas and plastic windows. Of course when condensation forms on the inside and rain droplets collect on the outside you cannot see squat. This was compounded when we were crossing Wolf Bay and fog blew in our path. We decided to push toward it and see how bad it was thinking we could always turn back to The Wharf. But when we arrived at the fogbank in front of us the route behind us suddenly closed in and now there was little choice. 

We quickly turned on the radar but with the rain it was of little use so we would have to try a different approach. Reduce speed, turn on navigation lights and rely on the chartplotter. In other words look at what is on the screen and then have Jan try to locate the objects in real life based on my directions. For instance there is a green marker buoy somewhere over there at one o’clock, it should be about a quarter mile away. I can’t see anything. No wait there is something now, slow down. Its a green marker. We keep moving. Another boat comes up behind us and we think it may be someone who can take the lead that is familiar with these waters. No such luck. This guy was more desperate than we were and was hanging onto us like grim death. So now we could lead another poor soul aground or worse. Onward we pressed. 

The rains got harder and the winds kicked up but this got rid of the fog. Now the windows were forming condensation on the inside and rain beading on the outside. We had to raise one in front of the helm to see and then the rain and ice cold air comes in soaking us and everything on the flybridge. This was shaping up to be a challenging day. 

People also told us there was only a 10% chance we would see any tows and barges in this area but they were wrong because we saw at least four and always in the narrowest sections of water. We had to spin and flee from one who would not answer the radio in an area so narrow that there was not enough room for both of us. On across Perdido Bay and then a narrow channel where we could see the Gulf of Mexico over the sand dunes. Well we could have seen it if not for the giant fogbank obscuring it. The winds that helped us had blown the fog out to sea. We only prayed it would not suddenly blow back in. 

We crossed Big Lagoon and began hearing frantic radio calls and one distress call from other boaters who were already on Pensacola Bay. They described it as a roller coaster with bad wave action and high winds. We were about to enter Pensacola Bay within 15 minutes.

As you come out of the super narrow channel that connects Big Lagoon and Pensacola Bay you immediately cross a pass to the ocean where big ships come in and out. The wind was howling and the waves were like riding in a washing machine. Six Flags would not have given a better ride. Onward we rode into the belly of the beast. Did I mention that they call it a ship channel for a reason? There are huge ships moving through and they cannot stop for you. It is like a pinball game. We could not speed up for fear of plunging the bow into a wave and we dared not slow down. Just pray those engines do not falter. I was keeping one eye on the sandy beaches to starboard in case we needed to run aground to save the boat and us.

It seemed like an eternity until we heard other loopers talking to Palafox Marina for instructions on entering the harbor. We listened as close as we could while hanging on. Luckily the seawall at Palafox provided a wind and wave break creating a calm pool behind. It was night and day. I was never so happy to tie up. We ate and rinsed the boat. It was till pouring rain but we were already wet. 

Now those of you who are planning on joining our cruise do not lose heart. Be glad that we were able to handle this on our own. There is no substitute for real world experience. 

Tonight we all go to dinner and I will bet those 2-3 foot waves will be 5-6 feet before dessert is served. Tomorrow we hit the Naval Air Museum.