20th Annual Northern Gulf Coast Cruise

20th Annual Northern Gulf Coast Cruise


The following conversation takes place on VHF radio, channel 71.

Ted: “Tango, Tango, Tango . . . Rhapsody in seA.”

No response.

Ted: “Tango, Tango, Tango . . . Rhapsody in seA.”

Beattie: “Hello Ted and Dora, where are you?”

Ted: “Hi, Beattie, we are just passing by your house now on our way to Specter Island.”

Beattie: “I see you now. Have a safe trip. We will get together at the club when you get back.”

Ted: “Thanks Beattie. Rhapsody in seA standing by on Channel 71.”

Beattie: “Tango standing by on Channel 71.”

The Story

There isn’t anything Dora and I look forward to more than the Northern Gulf Coast Cruise (NGCC) which is held every year in May. This year marked the 20th sailing of this cruise.

The Northern Gulf Coast Cruise is sponsored by Catalina 22 Fleet 77. Ten Catalina 22s took part in the first Northern Gulf Coast Cruise. Three of the ten boats had planned to go as far as Specter Island or Navarre Bridge. The remaining seven boats sailed west to Wolf Bay, Alabama and back. By the end of the cruise we were hooked and knew we would be back. We have made all but 1 ½ cruises. We were unable to make one cruise due a calendar conflict and we had to cut one cruise short.

Sadly, two of the regular participants have passed on. We lost Vernon Senterfitt a couple of years ago and Beattie Purcell this year. Vernon made many of the trips. He was an expert craftsman and several cruisers have beautiful wooden dinghies made by Vernon. Beattie also participated in many of the cruises. Those of us that sail a Catalina 22 know that Beattie was instrumental in the early success of the boat. Beattie was an active member of Fleet 77 as well as known and loved by Catalina 22 sailors everywhere. When Beattie was not on the cruise we usually spoke with him on VHF radio at the beginning of the cruise. His home was on the water and we would pass by on our way to Specter Island.

In years past the cruise was limited to Catalina 22s only. The past couple of years Fleet 77 has invited others, who have made this cruise before but no longer own a Catalina 22 to participate. Of the 27 boats that participated on this year’s cruise only four were non-C22s.

This year there were two groups. One group of five boats started their cruise a few days early, leaving Milton, FL on Sunday April 30th. They planned to sail from Milton to Fort Walton Yacht Club and join the remaining boats.

The Milton Group, led by Paul Gallant on Hooligan:

  • Hooligan – Paul Gallant
  • This Side Up – Jon, Len, and Dianna Schwake
  • Outrageous – John and Anita Kjallberg
  • H.M.S. Monkey Butt – Tom Scott
  • Champagne on Ice – Roger Bailey and Sue Furth

A storm moved in the first night of the Milton group’s sail bringing with it 50 kt winds. Catalina 22s are tough little boats and most weathered the storm fine. This Side Up lost a rudder but they were able to retrieve it. This Side Up was also towing a dinghy which was damaged. The real damage came to Champagne on Ice. The boat was thrown up against some rocks and left a hole in the hull. Champagne on Ice was unable to continue with the cruise, but Roger and Sue joined us later at Big Lagoon on their deck boat.

The Fort Walton Group, led by Floyd and Carole Ann McKenzie on Honey Do:

  • Honey Do – Floyd and Carole Ann McKenzie
  • Habit – Graeme Wilson and Rob Boteler
  • La Serenidad – Jim and Kathy Mathews
  • DixieSea Breeze – Gary and Dee Harwell
  • Seagull III – Jack Remus and Rex the Invisible Wonder Dog
  • Rhapsody in seA – Ted and Dora McGee
  • Islander – Chris and Amanda Edwards
  • Margaret Rose – Yel Yelvington
  • Lo Ki – Ken and Tammy Palmer
  • Liberator – Ned Westerlund
  • Endless Joy – Earl Wilson and Deborah Stilson
  • Serene Dream – Don and Gloria Garrison
  • Cay Cat – Stan and Annie Connally
  • Freebird – David Williams
  • Line Dancer – Robert and Bonnie Donehoo
  • Seanachai –Eric and Liz McCafferty
  • Flash – Gordon Kayser and Robert Richardson
  • Per Diem – Josh, Katie, and Ike Landers
  • Forget Knot – Guy and Tina Campbell
  • Almost Done – Greg Haymore and Nancy Benaquis
  • Stray Cat – David Dinnes
  • Leap Frog – Kent Overbeck

Both groups met at Fort Walton Yacht Club Friday, May 5, for a social get together and cruise briefing. The cruise got underway on Saturday May 6, with both groups headed for our first destination, Specter Island. Saturday the wind was 18 – 20 kts on our nose and most of us opted to motor or motor sail. Everyone arrived safely at Specter Island. Most of the boats beach anchored but some of us anchored out. We could use our dinghies to come ashore. We would normally have a beach fire at Specter Island but due to the winds we opted to chill out on our boats for the night.

The winds had subsided by Sunday to around 10 – 15 kts, but still on our nose. Boats either sailed, motor sailed, or motored east to the next destination. Due to the size of the group not everyone goes to the same place on this day. Some opted for another anchorage at Big Sabine or Quietwater, others went to the Pensacola Beach Yacht Club in Little Sabine and some went to Palafox Marina in Pensacola. We opted for Palafox. This marina is in a historical section of Pensacola and we enjoy stopping over there. We met up with Hal and Sally Smith, longtime friends of ours and of the Catalina 22 National Sailing Association, for dinner.

Big Lagoon was the destination for everyone on Monday, May 8. Big Lagoon is large enough for everyone to beach anchor. The day was highlighted with horse race games to recognize the Kentucky Derby, lady’s hats, a nice beach fire, and stories of previous cruises. Anita Kjallberg organized the activities. It was also a moment to remember Beattie Purcell. Anita gave a traditional gaelic blessing and toast for a lost C22 sailor.

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face;

the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,

may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Big Lagoon also offered an opportunity to provide special recognition for some of the cruisers. Dora McGee, the Secretary/Treasurer for the C22 NSA, presented Robert and Bonnie Donehoo with the Sailing/Cruising Family of the Year award. In addition, Anita Kjallberg received two national awards, Best MainBrace Contribution and Best MainBrace photo. Jon Schwake was presented the Sandy Kennedy Spirit Award.

Our destination Tuesday was Barber Marina. This would be the turnaround point and the last location we would be together as a group. Barber Marina is an upscale marina with wonderful amenities and a hospitable staff. They made sure we were located as close together as possible as well as close to the marina store. They prepared a place for us for a pot luck dinner. Everyone participated and there was more food than could be eaten.

On Wednesday, we started the journey back to Fort Walton Yacht Club. Some of the cruisers would opt to stay in Big Lagoon, some at Palafox, some at Little Sabine, some at Big Sabine, and some at Pensacola Yacht Club. With a beautiful breeze blowing offshore we all enjoyed an easy sail to our destination. We sailed into the Big Lagoon area just in time to watch the Blue Angels practicing overhead.

Specter Island was the destination for the Fort Walton Group on Thursday. The Milton Group made their way back to Milton. Unfortunately, some inaccurate weather information was being circulated. One of the things I have learned from cruising is to check my own weather. Boats began reporting they were bypassing Specter Island and returning to Fort Walton Yacht Club in advance of severe weather forecast. Per Diem was close by so Josh and I both looked at weather forecasts and listened to NOAA on VHF. There was no mention of severe weather. We weren’t sure where this information was coming from but we knew with 27 boats out not everyone would bypass Specter. We dropped anchor about 1400 at Specter. Dora communicated with Carole Ann, who went on to Fort Walton, to make sure we had an accurate accounting. In all, 7 boats stopped at Specter, 4 boats returned to Milton as planned, and the rest bypassed Specter. Our evening at Specter was, at least for me, the best night I had on the cruise. The sunset was spectacular, followed by an equally beautiful moonrise. The weather couldn’t have been better.

It was significant to me that 7 boats, all Catalina 22s, dropped anchor at Specter Island on their return trip, the same number of Catalina 22s that anchored there 20 years earlier for the first Northern Gulf Coast Cruise. Also, significant to me was two of the boats that anchored Thursday night were part of the original cruise that anchored at the same spot on a Thursday night 20 years earlier.

Many toasts were offered during the cruise as a “thank you” or a recognition. I add one more, “To the seven.”

Friday was the last sail. With good weather and good winds, we sailed back to FWYC. Many of the boats had already pulled out and were ready to head home. We pulled into our assigned slip. This cruise took a toll on some of the cruisers. Champagne on Ice was unable to continue due to damage from the Sunday night storm on their way to FWYC. This Side Up had to leave their dinghy because of damage sustained in that first storm. Endless Joy had issues furling their sail on the first night. This Side Up had to replace their outboard after the wind blew them back on the beach too hard. None of those affected were disheartened. With support from everyone and their own good nature and spirit, all continued.

Friday afternoon did deliver heavy rains for a while, but everyone was already safe ashore. The cruise was over. We were already talking about the 21st NGCC. We met one last time for a group dinner at Red Lobster. A final chance to see friends, to offer thanks to Floyd and Carole Ann, who worried over everyone and made sure everyone had safe dockage or anchorage every night, Paul Gallant who watched over the Milton Group as well as the Fort Walton group, Greg Haymore and Nancy Benaquis who supplied t-shirts and bags, and Anita Kjallberg, who arranged and led most of the group shore activities. It cannot go without thank you to all those who help set beach anchors, tie up boats, make repairs, and any number of things to help fellow sailors enjoy the cruise. Many of the people there we knew from the beginning, others joined later and continue to return. On this night, we also knew new friends would return.


The following conversation takes place on VHF radio, channel 71.

Ted: “Tango, Tango, Tango . . . Rhapsody in seA.” No response.

Ted: “Tango, Tango, Tango . . . Rhapsody in seA.” No response.

Ted: “Negative contact with Tango. Rhapsody in seA standing by on Channel 71.”