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The Northern Gulf Coast Cruise - 2020

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An argument could be made that the 2020 Catalina 22 Northern Gulf Coast Cruise never happened. Some of us, however; may disagree.

Every year for nearly a quarter of a century the Catalina 22 Northern Gulf Coast Cruise has been a favorite cruising experience for Catalina 22 sailors. Over the years many of our sailing friends have moved on to other boats but there are still a few of us left that love the C22 and the camaraderie that comes with it.

Events conspired to derail the 2020 cruise. The Covid-19 pandemic put us all in quarantine. Our favored month of May came and went with no relief from the pandemic in sight. Normally I would not look for sailing opportunities in Florida in June. It just gets too hot and humid and you wind up trying to sleep in a pool of perspiration. With May out of the picture June became an option and it looked like things would start opening up. A start date of Friday, June 5 was agreed on. The pandemic was still a factor and we knew we still had to operate with caution. A new obstacle presented itself in the form of protests. We hoped the worst of that would clear up in time for the June 5th date and with fingers crossed we watched and waited as the date drew nearer.

Tropical Storm Cristobal made its presence known and as June 5th drew closer so did Cristobal. In fact, Cristobal looked to make landfall right when we wanted to sail. With pandemics, world events, and now tropical storms, it looked as if this trip was not going to happen. Most folks have vacation limits and others had time constraints. Some of the participants began to make other plans.

Some of the cruise participants had already launched in the protected waters of Blackwater Bay in Milton, Florida. Dora and I, along with Robert and Bonnie Donehoo, opted to wait until the storm passed before launching. As it turned out boats that were already in place when the storm made landfall did not make the cruise. The storm pushed a lot of water into Blackwater Bay, flooding docks and launch ramps. After the storm passed some boats day sailed around the local water, others opting instead to head home.

I guess it can be said then that the four of us and our two boats, Rhapsody in seA and Wing'n It were the only Catalina 22s to make the 2020 Northern Gulf Coast Cruise. Pensacola Yacht Club generously opened their doors to us, allowing us to rig, launch, and leave our tow vehicles for the duration. We arrived at Pensacola Yacht Club on Tuesday, June 9th, spending the first night there. Tuesday night was typical of the Northern Gulf Coast in June. It was hot and humid. Fortunately, a cold front was on the way bringing cooler temperatures and reduced humidity. The remainder of the cruise was comfortable with excellent sailing weather each day.

Wednesday June 10, we sailed to Big Lagoon. This is one of my favorite locations. We like to beach anchor and stroll along the sand. It almost always favors us with a gorgeous sunset. With only a couple of other boats anchored we spent a lovely evening away from the cares of the world. Thursday June 11 was a sail from Big Lagoon to Bear Point Marina where we stopped for lunch and ice. From Bear Point Marina we sailed on to Ingram's Bayou for the night. During the day Ingram’s Bayou is a popular destination for rented jet skis out of Bear Point Marina. It wasn’t long until evening approached, and the jet skis went away. Time for another awesome night.

Friday June 12, we sailed for Palafox Marina in Pensacola, with a stopover for lunch at Holiday Marina. We found out a protest was planned in Palafox for that evening. The protest was peaceful and respectful. We never felt threatened by it. Jacko’s is a restaurant at Palafox. We ate dinner there and were treated to a firework show across the water.

Big Sabine was our destination Saturday June 13. Sailing under the bridge at Quietwater Beach was amazing. Traffic was bumper to bumper across the bridge and as far back into Pensacola as one could see. We anchored for the night in Big Sabine. The weekend is always busy here and this particular weekend was no exception. Towards evening most of the boats went home and we had the area to ourselves.

Sunday June 14 found us back in Big Lagoon. I have never seen as many boats crowded into Big Lagoon as we saw Sunday. There were well over 200 boats but surprisingly boats were practicing social distance and we found a nice spot with plenty of room for the four of us. Typical of other anchorages, when the evening came boats left. Soon it was us and 4 other boats for the night.

We returned to Pensacola Yacht Club one week later on Monday, June 15. Being retired has its benefits, one of which it allowed us the extra time to wait out the storm. The weather was cooperative all week. We had warm days, low humidity, and breeze all week long. Nights cooled off for a comfortable nights sleep. We were greeted with a northerly breeze in the mornings and a southerly breeze in the afternoons. In many respects one of the best cruises we have made. The weather was unexpected. We certainly missed seeing friends who often make this cruise with us.

In some ways it seemed appropriate for just the two of us. The first Catalina 22 Northern Gulf Coast Cruise occurred in June of 1998 and was called the June Moon Cruise. That cruise also consisted of two Catalina 22s who were exploring the possibility of a national cruise. The weather was comfortable and cool, as it was this year. The cruise officially opened in May of 1999 and eight Catalina 22s participated. Over the years the cruise grew, boasting as many as 25 boats with participants coming from as far away as Idaho, California, and Canada.

We very were careful about choosing outdoor eating at the restaurants we visited. The one exception being the Ruby Slipper Café in the Palafox area of Pensacola. They had very limited seating and they kept folks at a distance for dining. Each location was taking extra care in keeping things clean and sanitized. The other area we took great care with was showers and personal hygiene. We brought our own shower for on the boat and enjoyed a nice hot shower ever night. Public restrooms were shunned for our own porta potty. We carried masks, WHO recommended hand sanitizer, and lots of soap.

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