Hooligan’s Chattahoochee Coup Too

Hooligan’s Chattahoochee Coup Too

In November of 2002 eight Catalina 22s set off on an adventure known as Hooligan’s Chattahoochee Coup. Launching our boats in Lake Seminole we motored 106 miles down the Apalachicola River to Apalachicola, Florida, and then sailed west to Ft. Walton Beach. It was an awesome adventure, the kind you might hear about and want to do yourself. Fast forward eight years to October, 2010, and a new adventure called Hooligan’s Chattahoochee Coup Too was about to unfold.

Of the original eight boats that participated, four would repeat the trip: Paul Gallant, cruise leader, sailed on his C22 Hooligan, Kent and Jane Overbeck, C22 owners,sailed on their Seaward 26 Jeremiah, Bob and Trish Endicott, former C22 owners on their Jeanneau Tonic 23 Pogopelli, and Dora and me on our C22 Rhapsody in seA.

This year we were joined by other Catalina 22 sailors Ken and Tammy Palmer on Lo Ki, Robert Donehoo and Bonnie Cox on Line Dancer, Barry Hines on Southern Cross, Eddie Graham on Yee Haw, Dan and Peggy Bower on Address Unknown, Stan and Annie Connally on Cay Cat, and Bob and Lesa Burnham on Cata Tonic. The Burnhams provided everyone on the cruise with a satellite view poster of the Apalachicola River Basin,making it easy to visualize the trip.

The adventure started off much as the first one with a gathering at Chattahoochee State Park to launch boats in Lake Seminole. Paul had arranged for drivers to take our tow vehicles back to Fort Walton where we would pull out at the end of the trip. Without their help this trip would not be possible. At approximately 2:30 PM on Saturday October 9th we entered the Woodruff Dam locks and descended to the Apalachicola River. The adventure had begun.

It has been years since barges have used the Apalachicola River and it is no longer a commercial river. This simply means the river is no longer dredged and navigation buoys and aids are no longer maintained. The river is not as deep in many spots due to silting that has occurred over the past eight years. That, coupled with a lack of rain, translates into a shallower and more challenging river. On this trip we all minded our depth sounders. We only had to go about 18 miles on the first day. We pulled into an old cutout in the river made for barges and spent a comfortable night beach anchored around mile marker 88.

We awoke Sunday to face the first obstacle, a thick fog. It wasn’t too long before we could see both sides of the river through the fog. We had over 50 miles to go to keep on schedule. Dora and I were the first to leave, followed closely by Eddie Graham on Yee Haw. The rest of the group was divided, with most following and some remaining until the fog lifted. We didn’t get too far before we started getting into areas of the river where the fog was still thick and we couldn’t see either shore. For about an hour we were navigating strictly by depth sounder, constantly hunting for the deepest water. Eventually the fog cleared. Just past the bridge at Blountstown we ran into shallow water. I tried the right shore, the middle, and the left shore and couldn’t find water deeper than 2 feet. Our boat has a wing keel and we bumped the bottom several times looking for a way through. Eddie Graham was able to get through with his swing keel. After a few minutes Paul Gallant on Hooligan arrived. Paul also has a wing keel. He told us if we hugged the shore along the right side we could get through and soon enough we were on our way again.

Dora and I were out front again and we were able to radio back and let the others know where the river was shallow and which side to stay on. At mile marker 44 we bumped bottom three times before making the far shore and deep enough water to get through. We had to get up right against the trees. Our plan was to spend the night on a sandbar near mile marker 33. We were close. Kent Overbeck on Jeremiah hailed us on VHF. After a brief discussion it was decided we could make the sandbar before dark. During the conversation I had lined up two channel markers and planned to stay to right of them. If nothing else they at least identified where the channel used to be. The radio conversation had distracted me a bit and when I set the microphone down I noticed a third marker off to the right and obscured by downed tree branches. We were outside of what was left of the channel. We hit bottom, bounced, hit bottom again, bounced once more, and came to a stop.

We had about 15 feet to go before we would be back in deeper water. We ran the motor hard and worked the rudder back and forth but gained only a couple of feet. It was time to get out of the boat and lift up on the stern and push. Did I mention there are alligators in the Apalachicola River? Up to my waist in the river I lifted the stern and pushed as Dora worked the motor and rudder. We gained a few more feet but this was going to take some time. I immediately thought of the movie “The African Queen” where Humphrey Bogart was pulling his boat through shallow, marshy water. Shortly other members of the group showed up and we had help. Everyone wanted to help. Ken and Tammy started over on Lo Ki, but they also have a wing keel and we waved them off. Robert Donehoo has a swing keel and he got close enough I could hand him a line. He started to pull and soon found his boat stuck as well. It only took a couple of minutes to free Line Dancer. With Robert pulling from the bow with Line Dancer, Dora working the motor and rudder on Rhapsody, and me lifting and pushing the stern we were back in deep water in short order. It was with a sigh of relief I climbed back into Rhapsody. I am not sure if I was more relieved the boat was moving or I was no longer passing myself off as alligator food in the river. We made mile marker 33 with time to spare.

Monday morning we were up early and on our way to Apalachicola, 33 miles away. Robert, Bonnie, Dora, and I made a stop at Ft. Gadsden. There is a spot you can pull your boat up in the marsh and go ashore. As Robert was settling his boat in just in front of us Bonnie turned to fend them off our boat. She was on the bow and sat down hard on the hatch, catching one of her fingers in the hatch. Bonnie was much more polite about the pain than I would have been. Dora, Robert, and Bonnie stayed on the boat. I stepped in the water to go ashore and sank up to my knees in the mud. Good luck recovering a shoe in two feet of muck. Google Ft. Gadsden, it has an interesting history.

Monday evening was spent in the town of Apalachicola. It was a rare boat that hadn’t bumped the bottom coming down the river and we were glad to be in deep water. This was as far as Bob and Lesa were going and we said goodbye. From this point on it would be easy going, or so we thought. Tuesday morning we were greeted by an alligator swimming around the boats. Following the Intercoastal Waterway west we were on our way to Port. St. Joe. A canal intersects the Intercostal just west of White City and provides a shortcut to Port St. Joe and the Port St. Joe Marina, where we were well taken care. Annie Connally hosted a little party for the ladies aboard Cay Cat. She dubbed it a "hen" party. Later in the evening we went to dinner, some opting for the local Mexican restaurant and others opting for the marina restaurant. When we turned in for the night we were looking forward to the next day’s sail to Crooked Island. Wednesday morning was a warm, clear day. There was no wind. The water in Port. St. Joe was like glass. We would be motoring to Crooked Island. Along the way we saw the usual dolphin and a couple of sea turtles.

Crooked Island was beautiful. Most of us beach anchored while Eddie on Yee Haw and Bob and Trish on Pogopelli came ashore in their dinghy. Jane Overbeck invited the ladies aboard Jeremiah for another party while the guys hung out on shore. Jane dubbed this a "chick" party. If there were a prize for the neatest gadget I would have to give it to Kent and Jane Overbeck. We had some flags flying from our jib halyard and I pulled a little too hard on the halyard. The flags separated and the halyard went flying out of reach of our boat hook. Kent produced a gadget called a halyard retriever. It is a small grappling hook with a place for a spare halyard (in this case it was our main halyard) and a messenger line. I hoisted the retriever up, gave a little flick with the wrist, caught the jib halyard, pulled both halyards down with the messenger line, and the problem was solved. You can find the halyard retriever on Trailer Sailor. Mine arrived in the mail today.

Crooked Island wasn’t done with us yet. We woke Thursday morning at low tide and Barry’s boat Southern Cross was enough on the beach that it wasn’t going anywhere, it appeared, until the tide came in. I thought we were finished with shallow water. With Eddie, Robert, and Kent helping they heeled the boat over off the keel, and got her into deeper water. We were headed for the next stop on our itinerary, St. Andrew’s Commercial Marina in Panama City. There was a breeze, but it was directly on our bow. We sailed a little, motored a little and arrived in Panama City around noon. Most of the group got underway immediately after refueling and taking on supplies. Robert, Bonnie, Dora, and I opted to eat lunch before departing. This put us about an hour behind the group. We didn’t have that far to go so we didn’t see a problem with a leisurely departure.

During the afternoon the wind picked up as a cold front moved through. We were headed west and the wind was directly on our nose again. Wind was 18 to 20 mph and waves in the bay were 3 to 4 feet. The plan was to anchor for the night in West Bay, just prior to entering a 17 mile canal known locally as the ditch. The ditch connects West Bay with Choctawhatchee Bay. We expected to run the ditch Friday morning. We could hear chatter on the radio from the boats in front of us talking about finding anchorage. We couldn’t pick up everything they were saying but when we got to the ditch they were no where to be found. We talked with a sailboat coming east who informed us they saw several sailboats stretched out over 4 or 5 miles in the ditch and anchored for the night. We entered the ditch and caught sight of a bald eagle. We caught up with Kent and Jane on Jeremiah, Barry on Southern Cross, Paul on Hooligan, and Eddie on Yee Haw around dusk and settled in for the evening. We learned Ken and Tammy on Lo Ki, Dan and Peggy on
Address Unknown, Stan and Annie on Cay Cat had found a safe anchorage a couple of miles further in. Bob and Trish on Pogopelli had gone all the way through the ditch and anchored in Choctawhatchee Bay. Robert and Bonnie rafted next us. Robert produced a TV and treated
us to a movie.

Floyd and Carol Anne McKenzie, fleet 77 members, live in a bayou on the east side of Choctawhatchee Bay, just west of the ditch. They had invited everyone to their house for a party. We arrived at the McKenzie’s about 3:00 PM after motoring through the 17 mile ditch. We anchored in the bayou and Kent Overbeck and Bob Endicott provided shuttle service with their dinghies. Of course we all had food left over, so dinner was pot luck plus a lovely barbeque that Floyd and Carol Anne had. There were lots of folks from Fleet 77 on hand as well with a good time had by all.

Saturday morning we were up early. This was the last leg of the journey. We had about 25 miles to go to the Ft. Walton Yacht Club. We had a nice beam reach for awhile but the wind died down later in the day. We motored the last 10 miles or so. As we pulled up to the docks at Ft. Walton Yacht Club we could see our tow vehicles lined up and waiting for us. This adventure was over and soon enough we would be heading home. We were all already talking about the next cruise.

A special thanks for the drivers of our tow vehicles from Lake Seminole to Ft. Walton Beach that made this trip possible:

Judy Gallant
David Gallant
Floyd McKenize
Frank Kubisek
Fred Boyer
Bill Marshell
Walter Schmidt
Waly Schuman
Sue Schuman
Sandy Hauer

Footnotes to the Apalachicola River article: The day after leaving the Apalachicola River and arriving in Apalachicola we learned the water level had dropped a foot. We certainly would not have gotten through if we had delayed the departure by a day.

This is the second trip made down the Apalachicola River. The first trip was documented in the story "Small Boat, Big Adventure".

"Hooligan's Chattahoochee Coup Too" was originally published in the Catalina 22 National Sailing Association publication MainBrace