I have no problem spotting the Southwind because of a large lighted “Shell” gas sign on the end of the dock. I ease into the marina and temporarily use an empty slip while I walk up to the restaurant that is a buzz with activity. I find the operator and ask about a slip for the night. He says he has some available and the price is a dollar a foot so I pay him the $18. I then ask about showers only to find out they are out of service – Sorry!
A little ticked I walk back to Therapy to move to the new slip. Securing her turns into a major project since the docks are obviously designed for larger craft. It was all I could do to stand on the gunwale and try to hop up on the dock. I wasn’t successful 100% of the time but didn’t get wet either. I got settled, went for a short walk and then back to the berth to read a while. Since the marina was open to the water and the slight breeze blowing in Therapy rocked my now fermenting body to sleep.
At daybreak I went to use the restrooms and noticed a crude laundry area with a washtub. I checked and there was hot water. Back to Therapy (tide was down so now it was even lower in the water) and retrieved a towel and wash cloth and proceeded to wash my hair and clean-up much as possible with out being arrested for indecent exposure. Not perfect but it did feel better.
Shortly after leaving the marina I was approaching Pensacola Bay. It is not nearly as large as Mobile Bay but still a good size body of water for Therapy. And the wind had picked up. It was blowing out of the east at about 15 knots and the water was starting to react. I plowed on through the 2’ breaking waves but wasn’t really having a lot of fun.
After an hour of this I decided I need a break and diverted in to Palafox Pier Yacht Club in Pensacola. It was still early on a Sunday morning and the place was deserted. I went to the far end of the harbor and tied off on the wall and when ashore for a walk. I needed to get out of that bouncing seat. There wasn’t much to see and nothing was open so after about an hour I decide to abuse myself some more.
The chart plotter showed much more sheltered water about 3 miles away and I hoped for calmer conditions. By now the wind had gained a little more muscle and the waves were up to about 3 ft and right on the bow. Even with an extra cushion on my seat the best I could make was about 12 mph.
As I approached the narrowed waterway, which was still about two miles wide, I realized that there was no relief in sight. The wind was blowing right down it and the 3 ft seas were on today’s menu. I ran a couple miles farther and then at the Highway 399 Bridge at Gulf Breeze I stopped. This was nuts! I wanted to make Destin but that was another 38 miles of this stuff. I had to ask myself, “Are you having fun.” The answer was no. So what’s the point. I am out here to enjoy myself and that stopped acrossing Pensacola Bay. Plus the forecast had the wind remaining at this level for the next several days BUT changing to southwest so I would have to battle back through this on the return. No, It was time to abort. The bridge marked the end of my progress east.
Back across Pensacola Bay. Even with following seas it wasn’t a lot of fun. By the time I hit Mobile Bay the wind had declined a bit but not much. A slow passage for another 33 miles. But finally into the harbor I could let Therapy go and cruise where she is the happiest at 23 or 24 mph. I was fighting the current and dodging river trash but nonetheless pleased to be back.
The next order of business was fuel. With an adjustment for the approximate 2 mph current, I would need enough gas to get me 185 to 190 miles before the next was available. The closest gas was at Winters Marina that is 3 1/2 miles off the main channel of the Tenn-Tom at mile marker 8. The path up Bayou Sara/Gunnison Creek is blocked at the mouth by a small, low and seriously rusting railroad swing bridge. I had used the cell phone to call ahead to Winters to check their hours and ask about the bridge. The said it was manned during the day and just to pull up to it and the operator would open it.
As I approached the operator came out and informed my they were having trouble with the bridge. He said he could “probably” get it open but it would take about 45 minutes. Plus there was a train coming so it would be over an hour before I could get through. There was about 3’ of clearance under it but that’s not enough for Therapy. Then he offered an alternate route. About a mile upstream he said to hang a left into Big Bayou Canot and there I would find another bridge that stood a little higher. He thought I could squeeze under it. Once through, he said go a little farther and I would find the “pipeline canal”. Turn left on to it. I could follow the canal for a mile or so and it would cross Gunnison Creek. There I could exit and continue to the marina. Sounded like a plan.
I ran upstream, found the bridge and just cleared it by 4 or 5 inches as the train passed overhead. I located the canal, which was narrow and straight as an arrow. There were three jon boats with outboards piloted by teenagers entering it so I decided to follow the locals. It was really a kick to blast down this narrow tree lined corridor (the kids left me in their wake). Once on Gunnison Creek the path widened a little but twisted back and forth in tight hairpin turns seeming to have lost its way. I was running at cruise speed cutting right and left with an ear-to-ear smile. Reminded me of playing on a jet ski.
I found the marina (plus the kids with the jon boats) and pulled up to the fuel pumps and topped off. I went inside and talked with the owner for a little while and then repeated my joyride back up the creek and canal. By then it was 5 pm and I had about an hour before sunset. I did not want to find myself wandering around the swelled and debris laden Tenn-Tom after dark so vowed to find a suitable anchorage well before.
But now I was faced with a dilemma. The ideal solution was just to stay put in Big Bayou Canot. The problem was I was behind the bridge. If the flooding water levels came up any at all I wouldn’t clear. And since the swing bridge operation was suspect there was a real possibility I could become incarcerated in this backwater area. On the river side of the bridge there was no decent anchorage because of the strong current.
The alternative was to venture up the Tenn-Tom and look for a creek to escape the flow and jetsam. I checked the GPS and there were several available that looked promising. Once again I decided to take the chance and try to out run the sun. One of these days I’m going to learn …….