Port St. Joe, Panama City, Florida’s “Grand Canyon”, Gulf Breeze, Pensacola, and Gulf Shores (April 8 – April 19, 2018)

Port St. Joe, Panama City, Florida’s “Grand Canyon”, Gulf Breeze, Pensacola, and Gulf Shores (April 8 – April 19, 2018)

It all seems so different now.  We have left the hustle and bustle of the tourist towns, and we have left the Gulf of Mexico.  We are now traveling the rivers that run parallel to the shores that make up the ICW in northern Florida.  Tugs and barges pass us by, but not many other boats.  For the most part, our scenery is pure nature, except for the jets that fly overhead from the many military bases.  The sand is so white along the beaches that it blinds the eyes; the water varies from pure dark blue to aqua and is crystal clear. We stop at small cities and little towns to see what they have to offer. Shrimp, fish, and oysters abound in every restaurant.  We are traveling nearer to the heart of the country, and it is a fascinating experience.

IMG_1666Traveling along the river from Apalachicola to Port St. JoeIMG_1671IMG_3797Port St. JoeIMG_1677This beautiful eagle flew past us and then landed on a tree by the river.IMG_3800Downtown in Panama CityIMG_3801IMG_3803John, hoping for a customer or two.IMG_3804IMG_1692

We left Apalachicola on April 8thand motored to the small town of Port St. Joe.  The marina there was very close to town so we were excited to take a walk.  There was a Piggly Wiggly grocery store and a hardware store nearby, but we didn’t really need much so we continued on our way to the town’s only attraction, a lighthouse.  We decided one night in Port St. Joe was enough.  Our next stop was Panama City, where we stayed for three nights, waiting for mail to arrive.  The marina, again, was very near the town, and we enjoyed walking around, checking out the shops, and watching beautiful sunsets.

IMG_3805The beginning of the “Grand Canyon” in Florida.IMG_1700IMG_1701IMG_1710IMG_3813IMG_3815IMG_1718IMG_1722IMG_1724IMG_1731IMG_1733IMG_1734IMG_1736

The scenery really began to change after leaving Panama City.  The river just seemed to be lined with trees, although, according to John, we were at the beginning of Florida’s “Grand Canyon”.  I had read about this area but just couldn’t really imagine where it was or what it would look like, and, at first, I was less than impressed. Soon, though, we could spot white cliffs in the distance, and before long beautiful formations in the sand appeared. The cliffs are probably no higher than 40 feet, but they have eroded into shapes that really do remind a person of the walls of the real Grand Canyon.  Colors vary from white to red and to brown to add to the beauty of the area. It was a wonderful ride along an untouched, peaceful river in north Florida.  We anchored that night in Joe’s Bayou, the perfect end to a lovely day.

IMG_3819A huge barge with its cargo.IMG_1742IMG_1750IMG_3822Historic Downtown PensacolaIMG_3826IMG_3828This was a great park with food trailers and places to sit along the street.  IMG_3829IMG_3834Leftovers from Mardi Gras?IMG_3836IMG_3839We didn’t get this, but some of my Facebook friends caught right on!IMG_3841

On April 13th, we arrived at Santa Rosa Marina in Gulf Breeze, FL.  It was John’s birthday so we walked to a great Greek restaurant nearby to celebrate.  The weather was not looking good for the next couple of days, so we just hung out there and caught up on reading and relaxing.  We left on the 16thand made the short trip to Pensacola, docking at Parafox Marina, another marina right in the center of the historic district. Walking around town here was a treat; the city has obviously been working hard to become revitalized, and the shops, restaurants, and buildings are in beautiful condition.

IMG_1785The Blue Angels practice in PensacolaIMG_1794IMG_1798IMG_1808IMG_1829IMG_1831IMG_1863IMG_1870IMG_1898IMG_1939IMG_1968IMG_1985IMG_2004IMG_2027Beautiful waters and beaches in PensacolaIMG_2029

Leaving Pensacola, we were treated to a fantastic show by the Blue Angels as they practiced their skills at the Naval Air Station there.  We knew they would be flying at 11:30 AM, so John planned our ride perfectly; we arrived 5 minutes before the show began.  Being in a boat on the water provided an ideal viewing spot.  The jets swooped around and over us in perfect precision.  The Blue Angels never cease to amaze me; I couldn’t stop smiling as I shot hundreds of pictures that day.

IMG_3853LuLu’s, Jimmy Buffet’s sister’s placeIMG_3845IMG_3846IMG_3850IMG_3861

After the show we continued on our way, leaving Florida for the first time since December.  Now in Alabama, we chose to dock at Homeport Marina in Gulf Shores.  Homeport Marina is home to LuLu’s, a restaurant owned by Jimmy Buffet’s sister, Lucy. LuLu’s also has a ropes course for adults and one for children, an arcade, a shop, and a separate bar. Musical entertainment takes place in the restaurant most nights, and, yes, there were quite a few Buffet tunes being played.  We had lunch and dinner there and enjoyed both.

Our next couple of weeks will be spent at Dog River Marina in Mobile, Alabama.  Soon we will be traveling north on the Tombigbee River, but we have heard reports that heavy rain has made the river full of debris and not safe to travel right now.  We will remain at our dock on the Dog River and travel next week to our nephew’s wedding in Arkansas by car.  Hopefully, after our return to AfterMath, the flooding will have subsided and we will be able to go on our way.  If not, we will live by our motto, “We will figure it out”.  There are places to go and things to see, even if they do not follow our plan!


Bradenton, Tarpon Springs, Cedar Key, and Apalachicola, FL (March 23 – April 7, 2018)

Bradenton, Tarpon Springs, Cedar Key, and Apalachicola, FL (March 23 – April 7, 2018)

Cruising might be defined as making a plan and then changing it; if so, our adventures fit the definition perfectly.  Leaving Bradenton, we looked at our choices.  We could go north to Clearwater Beach and do a direct, but overnight, trip to as far as Panama City, or we could take the route along the “Big Bend” of the panhandle of Florida and see some of the sights, thereby avoiding a dreaded overnight.  Of course, we planned to travel the Big Bend.  Again, ’the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry’.

We set out on our way north from Bradenton on March 23rd.  It was a nice day to travel to an anchorage near Clearwater Beach.  There, we settled in for the night, next to a beautiful golf course and with a lovely view of the skyline of the city.  Unfortunately, trouble started.  We have had chronic problems with our master head (toilet for the non-boating group), but we have always been just fine with the guest head. Until that night.  It just stopped working.  Now we had no working toilet.  For John, of course, the problem wasn’t too bad.  For me, I was issued an orange Home Depot bucket to use on the bow. The view on the bow was at least pretty at night!  Anyway, although the original plan was to go to the sponge docks in Tarpon Springs, the next day we made our way to Clearwater Beach Marina where the first and most important project was to get a head working.

IMG_1645Leaving the beautiful Skyway Bridge in TampaIMG_1658Entering Clearwater Beach, we were joined by a couple of friendly manatees.IMG_1660Next we were followed by pirates!IMG_3610Jason’s incredible salt-water fish tank.IMG_3624IMG_3626IMG_3628

Thankfully, Clearwater Beach is fairly close to Jason and Lisa’s house, so we were able to spend time with them and with little Jace for a few days.  Jason was working the day after we arrived, but Lisa and Jace came to visit, and, although we had fun plans, Lisa and I spent lots of time driving around getting parts for John as he worked on our broken head.  The next day Jason was able to come with Lisa and Jace and, again John worked while the three of us toured the island and went for a great lunch at the Columbia Restaurant.  Finally, after giving Roto-Rooter a very expensive chance at clearing some lines, we called a local plumber who was able to add a new hose that fixed the head.  This allowed us to all be free and to take the ride with Jason to New Port Richey so we could see their house, allow Kirby a good run in their fenced in back yard with their dogs, and view their beautiful salt-water fish tanks.

IMG_3591This is Chuck Heron.  He has adopted the man who runs this bait shop and restaurant in Clearwater Beach.  He is a black crowned night heron.IMG_3603IMG_3638Lots of boats take tourists fishing from the docks in Clearwater Beach.  Here is the crew of one boat cleaning their customers’ catches.IMG_3642IMG_3643On the beach.IMG_3650IMG_3652IMG_3661Clearwater Beach is so much more crowded than Anna Maria Island!IMG_3664Fishing from the pier is a popular activityIMG_3668This guy was given a fish by a friendly tourist.IMG_3695The beach view is almost obscured by umbrellas and tents.IMG_3697Of course, there are always jet skis for rent.

Clearwater Beach was the most touristed place we have visited on AfterMath, and while we really enjoyed eating in nearby restaurants, seeing the beach, and especially spending time with the family, it was time to move along.  We found that our next plan, to visit Tarpon Springs’ sponge dock by boat, could not happen as no marinas that could fit our size had any dock space available for us.  Instead we moved from Clearwater Beach to the small island near Tarpon Springs, Anclote Key.

IMG_1661At the Cedar Key airport.

We left early the following morning and motored to Cedar Key, one of John’s favorite places. Cedar Key is a tiny island west of Gainesville that has never kept updated much with the times.  There are homes, a few hotels, a cute little downtown, and, John’s favorite, an airport landing strip with a taxi way that doubles as an entrance road to the airport when planes are not around; the airplanes have the right of way!  We have driven to Cedar Key, we flew in when we had the airplane and spent a New Year’s Eve there at a bed and breakfast with our friends, Ned and Anne, but we had never boated to it.  It was on John’s bucket list to take a boat there, and he can now cross that off his list.

The plan from Cedar Key was to leave early, then go to Steinhatchee, famous for its scallops, then leave the following day, and travel to St. Mark’s before heading to Carrabelle. However, when John laid out the plan, it turned out that Steinhatchee could not accommodate a boat our size and there was no suitable anchorage.  St. Mark’s was too far to go in a day and it turned out that anchoring or docking was also a problem for AfterMath.  Therefore, we decided to go directly to Carrabelle, 120 miles from Cedar Key. Because it was a 21-hour trip and we always need to depart in daylight and arrive at a destination in daylight, we now had to do the dreaded overnight after all.  It was a beautiful night with a nearly full moon, the seas were calm, and there was no boat traffic on the radar, it was as good as an overnight can be. I still hate it; I just don’t do well without a regular sleep schedule and without being able so see anything out the windshield.  Overnights mean relying on instruments only.

IMG_3699Carrabelle, home to the World’s Smallest Police StationIMG_3705

Arrival in Carrabelle was not without its drama.  As we arrived in the marina we snagged a line on our starboard prop, which promptly stalled the engine.  Docking with one engine is a challenge, but John did a great job.  Unfortunately, we then had to call a diver to come to the boat the next morning to remove the line from the prop shaft, which required over an hour of effort.  Carrabelle is a tiny town without much to brag about except that it has the world’s smallest police station, a phone booth.

IMG_3708Apalachicola from the water.IMG_3710The old shrimp docks, still in use.IMG_3714These houseboats are VRBO rentals.IMG_3731The view from the fly bridge of AfterMath at dock.IMG_3732This shrimper agreed to let me take his picture.IMG_3733Colorful shrimp nets.IMG_3738Oysters abound here.IMG_3743In and around a shop.IMG_3744IMG_3748IMG_3750IMG_3753IMG_3755IMG_3756At the theater box office.IMG_3763Sights around town.IMG_3769IMG_3770IMG_3773IMG_3779IMG_3780David and DiIMG_3791.jpgA small botanical garden across the street from the marina.IMG_3794.jpgThe Roman House, a state park near the marina.

The ride from Carrabelle to Apalachicola through the St. George sound was pleasant despite storms that had been predicted, but that we some how managed to avoid.  Once at our dock at Scipio Marine, we thought we might spend one night there, but ended up spending four.  We ate scallops, shrimp, and oysters, and watched endless shrimp boats travel up and down the creek where we were docked.  We also walked around the town, poked through the shops, and even surprisingly and unexpectedly met up with David and Di, more extended family that lives in Tallahassee.

So, we continue our ever-changing life on the waterways.  Soon we will be traveling in the rivers and the canals in the center of the United States. Wherever we go we meet new people, find new towns, and live new experiences.  We have learned to be flexible and to take life one day at a time as no one is ever sure what tomorrow will bring.  No matter what, though, we are enjoying our time aboard AfterMath, and we know this is an adventure of a lifetime.