Great Mate & Ol' Salt

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Coastal cruising was one of the things Dora and I had in mind when we purchased our Catalina 22, so when Fleet 77 announced a Region 3 cruise we got very excited. I asked Bob Endicott, Cruise Captain, for a recommended list of supplies. We learned Bob and Trish live and sail big on their C22. They provided us with a "cruisers guide" complete with photographic illustrations, menus, GPS waypoints and many other useful tips. We followed their advice and at the end of the cruise we were glad we did.

 We began preparations several months prior to the cruise. Several Fleet 58 members helped us get ready. Soren Sorensen helped us upgrade our electrical system to make it more energy efficient. While Soren was checking our electrical system he discovered our solar panel was not working. He loaned us his for the trip. David and Suzy Lyon loaned us their Magma grill. The Sunday before the trip Soren and Vibeke Sorensen and Rich Fox were on hand to help us pull Rhapsody out of Lake Lanier for the trip to Florida.

We worked on final preparations all week. Provisions needed to be purchased, meals prepared, and everything stowed securely onboard. Supplies were checked and missing or damaged items were replaced. Everything was packed and repacked until we found a secure place for everything. Finally, everything was done and we were ready to go. All that remained was to pack our clothes and wait for 3 am Saturday morning when we would depart. With boat in tow Dora and I headed for Ft. Walton Beach, Florida.

We were met by Mike and Dee LaGarde (Mike is Captain of Fleet 77). Mike and Dee had already made arrangements for us to launch our boat at Eglin Air Force Base. After launching they helped us get last minute provisions and store our trailer at their home. Dee drove Dora out to look at the sailing conditions in the bay and they were greeted by the first of many dolphins we would see along the way. When all was ready we boarded Rhapsody, Mike and Dee boarded Deja Vu, and we followed them across Choctawhatchee Bay, through the Narrows of Santa Rosa Sound to Specter Island, the rendezvous point. By evening's end ten Catalina 22s had assembled at Specter Island. Seven of the ten boats planned to make the entire trip.

Deja Vu ~ Mike & Dee LaGarde (Mike is Captain of Fleet 77)
Tequila Sunset ~ Bob & Trish Endicott (Bob is Cruise Captain)
Antidote ~ Ned Westerlund
Almost Done ~ Greg Haymore (Greg designed & printed the shirts)
Mari-Lee ~ Vernon Senterfitt (Fleet Capt, Fleet 92, Gainesville, FL)
Rhapsody in seA ~ Ted & Dora McGee (Fleet 58, Lake Lanier, GA)
Joyce O'Grady ~ Grady Christian and Buzz Smith (sailed from Panama City, FL to join Cruise)

Three of the boats could not make the trip but stopped by to wish us bon voyage:

Spritzer ~ Keenan and Kyle Kline (1st overnight and sailed with us as far as Navarre Bridge)
Tin Can ~ Kevin Cheshure and friends (Kevin is Fleet 77 Sec/Treas)
Fandango ~ Beattie & Brent Purcell

Bob and Trish Endicott greeted us as soon as we arrived. Bob, Grady, and Buzz helped us anchor our boat to shore. Saturday evening was spent getting acquainted and admiring each other's boats. Vernon Senterfitt had a beautiful wooden dinghy he made and everyone wanted to try it out. Bob Endicott and Ned Westerlund also had dingys and for awhile it looked like a dinghy race might develop. Vernon showed off his auto pilot and, not to be outdone, Greg Haymore cranked up his gas-driven electric generator. In a short time it was as if we had been long-time friends.

Beattie and Brent Purcell stopped by for about an hour to visit with everyone before we left. Those of us who know Beattie have a lot of respect for his sailing skill. Of the ten boats resting at anchor that night, nine of us had used our motors to get into the small anchoring hole. We all watched with envy and amazement as Beattie sailed in, luffed into the wind, dropped his sails and anchor in one continuous motion. When it was time for Beattie and Brent to leave they had the sails and anchor up and were underway without ever using their motor. Kevin Cheshure also stopped by to visit before returning home later that night.

Eight C22s were on hand Sunday morning to sail to our first destination, Navarre Bridge. Greg Haymore had arranged for photographers on the bridge to take a group photo as we motor-sailed under it. This was as far as Keenan and Kyle Kline could go with us and we reluctantly said goodbye as they returned home.

That left seven boats to complete the trip to Wolf Bay, AL and back. We turned off our motors, hoisted or unfurled the jibs, and headed for Quietwater Beach Boardwalk. The wind was about 8-10 knots out of the southwest and we beat into the wind all day. Dora and I are lake sailors and are used to tacking every few minutes. It was a treat for us to sail for several miles on the same tack. Along the way Almost Done lost an anchor off the foredeck and a cooler on Antidote did a somersault, but aside from those minor mishaps we all arrived in good order.

It was crowded at Quietwater Beach Boardwalk, but we all managed to find a place to tie up. This was my first experience with Mediterranean anchoring. With this technique the bow is anchored off the pier and the stern is backed into the pier and tied off. This technique is used on crowded piers where no finger docks are available. As soon as all the boats were secured we headed for a local Mexican restaurant. While waiting for our dinner we could see a squall developing. Those of us that went out to check on the boats got soaked.

After dinner and a walk around the boardwalk we turned in for the evening. Some elected to stay tied up to the boardwalk; others elected to anchor out a few hundred yards. Those of us that remained at the boardwalk met lots of friendly late-night dock natives who strolled down to admire the fleet of C22s. 

Our course Monday would take us across the southern part of Pensacola Bay. Dolphins swam under our boat as we left Quietwater Beach. The wind was still out of the southwest about 10 knots. Along the way we watched helicopters practicing rescue maneuvers. We passed by Ft. Pickens (a Civil War Fort), the Pensacola lighthouse, Pensacola Naval Air Station, and the Pensacola Pass (passageway to the Gulf). After stopping at Southwind and Rod and Reel marinas for supplies and showers we rafted up for the night off Big Lagoon State Park. Bob Endicott used Vernon's dinghy to set a stern anchor for the raft-up.

Tuesday was a lazy sail from Big Lagoon across Perdido Bay. We stopped at Bear Point Marina for more showers and supplies before sailing into Wolf Bay. Wolf Bay Lodge is located in Moccasin Bayou on the western side of Wolf Bay. The rest of the fleet hung back while Mike and Dee LaGarde sailed into what they thought was Moccasin Bayou in search of Wolf Bay Lodge. They quickly realized their mistake and sailed into the "real" Moccasin Bayou with the rest of us close behind.

Wolf Bay Lodge was our final destination. We were able to get four of the boats tied up to the docks at Wolf Bay Lodge. The other three boats rafted up and crew ferried in. We changed into our cruise t-shirts, which was the official uniform of the day. Several people came by to admire the boats and we enlisted one to take a group picture. The t-shirts were designed by Greg Haymore and feature a cruise map with photographs of the major stops. The highlight of the evening was the presentation of certificates attesting to our sailing skill and knowledge. Everyone who completed the trip to Wolf Bay was awarded a similar certificate. Bob Endicott (Cruise Captain) and Mike LaGarde (Fleet 77 Captain) signed the certificate.

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Great Mate & Ol' Salt
Hear Ye!  Hear Ye!  Hear Ye!  Let It Be Known To One And All That
Ted & Dora McGee
have performed, persevered, passed the rigors of the sea and commanded the great yacht Rhapsody in seA with Fleet 77 on a great sailing of the Northern Gulf Coast.  As Commander, shown exceptional abilities to elbow bend and consume drink, Bob's Tequila Sunrises or otherwise, before their sea legs stiffened.  As Navigator, shown amazing navigational skills in avoiding running aground, avoiding barges and avoiding collision with all bridges.  As Skipper, has sailed on the high seas without falling off the edge of the world or becoming lost in the Santa Rosa Island Narrows.  As Captain, has stood the night watch without snoring while sleeping.  As Master, has shown great perception and native intelligence in distinguishing North, South and East from West on the compass, port from starboard and forward from aft.  As Explorer, had the courage to venture onto exotic Specter Island, surf the Pensacola Pass, splash and play with the dolphins and barter for dinner with the wild natives of Alabama.

So Be It Known on the high seas and the low seas, that Fleet 77 accords them the honorary titles of Great Mate and Ol' Salt and the privileges thereof

SWORN AND DATED between Tequila Sunrises somewhere on the NW Florida Gulf Coast: 
Bob Endicott,                             Mike LaGarde, Cruise Captain                            Fleet 77 Captain
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We left Wolf Bay Wednesday morning with a thunderstorm threatening. Dora and I put on our foul weather gear and prepared for the worst. Rain was falling and we could hear thunder in the distance. Fortunately the storm moved to the north of us.

We stopped at Spanish Point to enjoy the white-sand beaches. This was what Dee had been waiting for and we followed her along a short walk across the sand dunes to wade and body surf in the Gulf of Mexico. When we got back to the Intercoastal waterway where our boats were anchored the wind was building. Four of the boats were rafted and anchored to the beach with three anchors. The other three boats were anchored individually. Ned Westerlund took the lead in handling the beach anchors and one at time we were safely on our way. We said goodbye to Grady Christian and Buzz Smith. Grady and Buzz had come the longest distance, sailing from Panama City, FL. They had a long trip home and elected to continue on their way.

The wind continued to build to 18-20 knots out of the southwest. The weather report forecast the wind to shift to the north later that night. Five of the remaining boats set anchor on the north shore while Mike and Dee searched for a safer harbor. We didn't wait long. They discovered a safe hole and we spent the night at Sherman Cove Marina (The NAS Pensacola recreational powerboat facility). Thursday morning the marina operators had hot coffee ready and helped us with supplies.

We left Sherman Cove Marina at 6:45 am with a 10-knot northeast wind. Mike and Dee cleverly discovered shoals near marker 144, which the rest of us were able to avoid. We followed Mike and Dee's lead under Sikes Bridge and past Quietwater Beach Boardwalk. Our planned lunch stop was around the Navarre Bridge. Ned Westerlund and Dora and I were the first ones to get to the Navarre Bridge. Ned found a dock at the north end of the bridge. I radioed our position to the other four boats. Unfortunately my sense of direction was off a bit and my directions sent Mike and Dee and Greg to the opposite side of the bridge. Bob and Trish immediately recognized my error and within a few minutes we were all tied up at the real north side of the Navarre Bridge for lunch.

Thursday evening we entered the narrows of Santa Rosa Sound. A friendly race broke out and Dora and I used our racing experience to get clear air and out in front. Winding our way through the narrow channel required frequent tacks and gybes. We congratulated ourselves on our skill but as we looked back we saw another boat had broken free. It was Ned Westerlund and he was hot on our trail. We managed to hold our lead, but Ned sailed into the anchorage at Specter Island close behind us. We had sailed 47 miles from Sherman Cove Marina that day and it was good to finally drop the sails and set the anchor. We spent the evening reliving the cruise and telling stories. We were all exhausted but no one wanted to go to bed. We knew this was the last night and in a few short hours the adventure would come to an end.

Friday came all too soon. Dora and I followed Mike and Dee back to Eglin Air Force Base where they helped pull the boat and get it ready for the trip home. We met with the group that night for dinner at Los Panchos. It was our last chance to share stories and pictures from the cruise and we all made the most of it. After dinner we took a walk on the boardwalk. Dolphins were swimming just beyond the surf. We had seen dolphins everyday and it was fitting they would be on hand to say goodbye. We spent the night at Mike and Dee's home, returning to Atlanta on Saturday.

Fleet 77 went out of their way to make this cruise safe and enjoyable for everyone. They are making plans for another cruise next year and Dora and I are looking forward to sailing with them again.  

Author's note: This was the first of many such sailing adventures along the Florida Panhandle with friends meet on Fleet 77 cruises, some of which are documented in stories on this site. This article appeared in two parts of the Catalina 22 National Sailing Association MainBrace magazine. Part 1 appeared in the July issue and Part 2 appeared in the September issue.

 

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