Start: Navarre Beach anchorage, 0731
End: Hogtown Bayou anchorage, Choctawhatchee Bay, 1333
Total Distance: 33.7 nm
Average Speed: 5.6 kts
After a fantastic day at Navarre Beach, we are moving along down the GIWW. We are looking at the forecast for the evening when both a gale warning and a small craft warning have been posted on the Gulf. From 7pm Saturday to 7pm Sunday. Winds, which are blowing from the south at 10knots will increase to 20-25 knots until midnight, then will swing to the west and then north and increase with gusts in the 40 knot range. We have three options. First is stopping at a free dock in Fort Walton Beach, just prior to the 48’ bridge–limited to one night. Second is a bayou up north on the Choctawatchee bay that is open to the south. And the third is a different bayou on the south side of the bay, relatively protected from the north and south, but open to the west.
We decide knock option one off the list unless our mast clangs off the bottom of the bridge, in which case we will stop! We want to get through the bridge and be done with it. So we decide to check out the southern Bayou (Hogtown) first and if it won’t work, we will head up north.
That is our conversation as we make our way east on the GICW towards Fort Walton Beach. We have three hours before we get to the bridge and there is barely any traffic. We have the genoa out and are motor sailing along at 6.5 knots with the engines not working hard at all. At 10am the bridge comes into view and we get to it just before low tide at 1030. We crawl up to and then under the bridge. And we make it with room to spare. Don’t know why we stress over this stuff!
We are so happy with making it through that we decide to throw out our new favorite sail, the screecher. In 8-11 knots of wind. Which, it turns out, is at the very high end of when you want to have the thing out. Which we know NOW! Jan pulled out the screecher and that big sail filled immediately with air and about took Jan off the boat and into the bay! We went into code red, brought the sail back under control and then back in, put the genoa back up and vowed never to do THAT again! Every day we learn. Every. Single. Day.
The winds were kicking up some small(ish) waves on the bay and our trip was rolly to the anchorage. We got to Hogtown bayou pretty early in the afternoon and anchored between the wreck of an old power boat and a moored sailboat. We didn’t have any real problem with the south winds and we looked to be relatively protected from the North winds, or at least from waves generated by the north winds. But when the wind moved to the west, we had a long open stretch of water and that could cause us to get rocked. We decided good enough. There is a park a short dinghy ride away, to which I delivered rusty the wonder dog, then back to the boat.
We decide, based on the forecast for big-a$$ed winds, that we should swap out our anchor rode–replacing our 25’ chain/150’ nylon with our new 80’ chain/150’ nylon. Our setup is that we have two anchor lockers up front. Starboard side is where we have the windlass and where our main anchor rode is stored. That anchor, at this point, is in the water, connected to a bridle and the anchor line running from the anchor through the windlass and into the locker. On the port side we have our secondary anchor locker, in which the new rode is sitting. The port side does not have an automatic windlass, so we want the new rode on the other side of the boat. We pull the new rode out of our port locker and put it on the trampoline. Then switch the anchor line for the deployed anchor from starboard to port side. And then empty the rode out of the starboard locker and move it to the now empty port locker. Then put the new rode in the starboard locker. And THEN Jan will drive, I will manually pull up the anchor, we will putter around in the blowing wind while AJ and I disconnect the anchor on the port side (and not drop the thing in the water), move it over to the starboard side, connect to the new anchor rode, wait while Jan moves us into position and then reset our anchor.
Which we actually successfully accomplish. Without loss of anchor, tools or anything else important! At the end of an hour we have our anchor in the water with the new rode ready for the strong winds.
Which arrive, as scheduled. South winds increase through out the night but are pretty comfortable on the boat. We retire to bed at 9ish pm. I downloaded a new anchor alarm app on the phone which I bring to bed with me. We really like it–it seems to be pretty intuitive and we can see our boat as it moves around the anchor.
And at 1230 we all wake up. Our windows are open and it feels like it is raining, but it is the spray from the waves breaking against our bow and coming in our windows. As scheduled, the winds have started to move clockwise from South to North and at this point they are hitting us hard from the west, where there is a bunch of open water and there are some waves. It is super noisy–the wind is really blowing. And the waves are bouncing us. And the damn alarm has gone off on the anchor app. It is telling us we have moved 60’ outside our circle. We have entered the freak-out zone.
I grab a spotlight and head out onto the deck to look for the two boats between which we are anchored. The wind and waves have created a fine mist that makes it hard to see, but we can clearly see that we are right in line with where we should be; just flipped 180 degrees because of the changing wind. I drop the windows on our cabins and gingerly make my way back to the cockpit and then realize that I’m standing on deck in my underwear. Try to get that image out of your head. And while I’m out there (now joined by Jan, who has sensibly donned a rain jacket and shorts) we see a spot light shining across the water illuminating our boat.
Short side note: We have anchored a whole bunch of times in the last six months. For those not living on a boat, or who don’t enjoy taking their hard earned paycheck and dumping it into the water (the joys of boat ownership), an anchor light is a white light that has 360 degrees visibility and can be seen at least 2 miles away which signifies there is something at that location that ain’t moving. We turn on our anchor light every night at dusk and turn it off when we wake in the morning. And the number of nights that we have actually had someone go by us in remote anchorages (i.e. ‘not on a river’) can be counted on one or two fingers. At night, most boats stop moving.
So imagine our surprise. We are anchored at almost the end of a bayou. The only thing past us to the east are five houses and a public boat ramp. On the other side (west) is Neptune raging hell on those who would dare to visit his water. And coming towards from the east (into the storm) is not one, but two boats. All we can see is their spot light on their bow. We know it is on their bow, because we can follow the light as their boat slams into and sometimes through the waves. It does NOT look like they are having fun. And I cannot imagine what they are doing out there. I bask in the glory of the spotlight shining on me in my tidy whiteys, watch them pass by and then head below.
Confident that we aren’t moving anywhere and not going to die (tonight anyway), I look at the app and realize that I set the anchor position incorrectly. I put it on the wrong side of the boat so that when we swung around because of the wind, we swung out of the programmed circle. I put the anchor in the correct position and the nice app went back to monitoring.
So now it is 1am. We have had our adrenalin rush for the night. We aren’t getting to sleep anytime soon.
By 0130, the wind shifted far enough to the north to give us protection from the land in front of us. The wind is still howling, but the waves have gone down from annoying to rocking and eventually we all fall back asleep<sup>1</sup>.
Morning and the sun was out, wind was blowing and we were staying for another day. No sense in fighting wind and waves if we didn’t have to. Lucky and I take the dinghy to the park and whoo doggie was it a fun ride on the top of the waves.
Rest of the day was spent working on the boat, doing school work, personal hygiene (i.e. showers for all), playing banjo (and running out of the salon cabin whilst banjo was being ‘played) and basically enjoying our day of no travel on the bayou.
<sup>1</sup>Eventually is different for all of us. Sidney never got out of bed and was annoyed when we disturbed him upon our arrival back in the berth. Lucky and AJ both were asleep withing seconds of putting head on their respective pillows. Jan took almost 10 whole minutes to fall asleep.