It would seem that the Gulf of Mexico in the vicinity of the Steinhatchee River has it's own weather system. For a week we watched as the reports from almost every other location showed light winds and quiet conditions. Yet all of the forecasts and buoy reports for the area we needed to transit to get to St. Marks had winds and seas more uncomfortable than we prefer to travel. A long time ago we came to the conclusion that the shallow waters of the Gulf can develop some nasty waves without a lot of wind. The constant forecasts of 15 to 20 and buoy reports confirming winds kept us in the Steinhatchee much longer that we would have liked. Even on the day of our departure, the morning brought winds of 15 knots directly from the direction we had to go. We patiently waited and checked the buoys every hour until they showed wind had dropped to 10 knots. Beach House and crew was underway. The conditions were not ideal; there was still a very sloppy sea for us to plow into for a few hours. As the day progressed and we moved away from the Steinhatchee and Keaton Beach, things began to settle down and eventually the seas flattened and the winds dropped below 5 knots. Finally we were experiencing the Gulf at its best.
The outer buoys to St. Marks are not as far out in the Gulf as the other rivers we have explored, but it is still some distance from the first set of markers to the town itself. The distance from river entrance to river entrance was 54 miles after heading due west out of the Steinhatchee to avoid a large shoal, and then turning north to reach St. Marks. The lighthouse stands guard at the the river entrance with marsh land beyond. Farther upriver, the marsh and forest begin to combine to make for a very scenic cruise. Some boaters have anchored just off the lighthouse, but we found this less than desirable in anything other than calm conditions. It's wide open to the Gulf and the southerly afternoon seabreeze, making for a bumpy location. We took the time to check out the other fewer anchorages available on the river. Much of the river bottom is rocky so there are only a few places we felt comfortable adding to our anchorage book.
The next morning the forecasts looked good and the plan was to explore a new location for us, Alligator Harbor. This would still be a 44 mile day by the time we headed back down river and made the crossing to the harbor. The channel to get into Alligator Harbor can be a little tricky, but it is well marked. It required us to cruise along the outside of Alligator Point and stay within the channel with shoals on both side. Once around the western tip, the harbor opens up and is wide, but mostly shallow. Following the marked channel on the inside, we found a deep pocket just out of the channel and at 3:00 p.m., Beach House was secure on her anchor behind a thin ribbon of beach. The afternoon seabreeze blowing off the Gulf and the sounds of the waves lapping not far off our bow made for a perfect end to a perfect day. This is another anchorage we planned to include in the Gulf Coast anchorage guide and the next day we would be spending most of our day going from one potential anchorage to another. But for this evening, we just enjoyed where we were.
The next morning we reversed our course out of the harbor and pointed the bow toward Dog Island. Odd how such a fantastic island could have such a strange name. During the course of the day we visited and sounded 5 separate anchorages and really wish we could have stopped at every one. Weather delays have put us far behind so it is necessary to keep moving along. After a thorough exploration of Dog Island which included 5 hours of zigging and zagging, we headed across the sound to Carrabelle. It was only 1:50 p.m. when we arrived so some shore time was needed. The last time we were here was by car and we wanted to visit one of the restaurants we liked, The Fisherman's Wife. We were not disappointed and the shrimp, which comes off their own boat, was excellent and just as delicious as we remembered. We also took some time to stop by "the porch" at C-Quarters Marina and visit with the locals while enjoying a sundowner. Another perfect day.
From Carrabelle, it was deja vu all over again as we spent the day in the anchorages around St. George Island. So far the weather had been very cooperative with light breezes, calm seas and most importantly, no thunderstorms. After St. George Island, it was time to visit Apalachicola. Our last visit here had been by car a couple of years ago, but we have also been here a couple of times by boat. Apalachicola is one of those Florida towns that once thrived by the fishing and shrimp trade but fell on hard times when those industries declined. It has been trying to reinvent itself as a tourist destination and has succeeded somewhat. It's a funky, but fun town with lots of interesting shops and restaurants. There is a free municipal dock just inside the bridge that has some local boats filling most of the slips, but there is still room for a couple of transient boats. The cross current can be strong and makes getting into the slips challenging. There is also a day dock along the waterfront park and boats can spend the night, but there is a $30.00 charge just to tie up. There is no power or water. An alternative is to spend the day at the day dock, visit the town, and then move across the river to an anchorage just outside the channel for the overnight. If the anchorage is desired, there is a nice floating dinghy dock at the park. This is called The Wharf. From White City beyond Apalachicola, much of the rest of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway will be new territory for us, since with our sailboat we had to go out into the Gulf because of the fixed bridges. This time it won't be a problem.
Susan and I are both long time sailors with tens of thousands of miles under our keels spanning the US east and west coast, Bahamas, Caribbean, Central Atlantic, and US Gulf Coast. We have been freelance writers for major boating publications, including Bluewater Sailing, Soundings Magazine, Sail Magazine, Southern Boating, Lats and Atts, MarinaLife Magazine, Nor' Easter, Good Old Boat, Living Aboard Magazine and a host of internet sites. We have spent over 17 years living aboard and cruising our Mariner 40 ketch, Sea Trek. In the not to distant past, we sold her and after much soul searching decided a change in lifestyle and scenery was in order so the search was on for a new boat. We knew a trawler was in our future and after doing a lot of research and looking at a lot of boats we found a very well cared for 1980 Marine Trader 34. We have named her Beach House for Susan's love of the beach and the hopes that the view from our new house will always be pleasant. Our plans are to continue our lifestyle and to change our cruising grounds a bit and visit those inland lakes and rivers we never could with our sailboat.