After her second inland rivers trip, Sojourner stayed at the Dog River Marina just off Mobile Bay while we tied up the last loose ends in Lexington and headed south in the car to Orlando where we renewed ties with friends Shirley and Wayne and with their help, made arrangements for the Spring 2009 semester on land. After securing an apartment, etc., we took a one-way rental car to Mobile to rejoin Sojourner and continue the southeastern journey to sun and warmth. But it was early December; we found some sun but little warmth as we cruised along the Florida Panhandle from Mobile to Carrabelle, FL.
The Panhandle trip brought an incredible variety of sea scenes and landscapes, from the breadth (tho’ not much depth) of Mobile Bay through the narrows of “the ditch” or Florida’s “Grand Canyon”, between Ft. Walton and Panama City, to the expanse and darkness of the Gulf. It was quite an adventure, and we added several new items to our “firsts” list, including our first running aground and our first traveling with a “fleet” of other cruisers. The former was somewhat frightening as it happened very late in the afternoon and it was dark by the time BoatUS pulled us off the shoal and guided us into the marina less than a mile from our mishap! The latter, being part of a cruising group, was a terrific experience. We will always remember fondly our time with Bud, Muriel and Shelly on Sunshine, Peggy and Guy on Southern Comfort, and Eileen and Bill on Blue Max! The friendliness, helpfulness and generosity with which they all welcomed us into their merry lil’ band of trawlers was incredible! We had great fun feasting on Apalachicola oysters and listening to their “running aground” stories, most of which were much more interesting than ours!! We also learned the truth of the old cruising adage: “it’s not if, but when, you’ll run aground”!!
Given the time constraints of Carolyn’s classes starting in January, we decided to “jump” across the Gulf from Carrabelle down to Clearwater FL rather than take the longer, and surely more enjoyable, tour around Florida’s “elbow”. The “Gulf jump” is an off-shore endurance run, usually done from sunrise one morning to sunrise the next. We knew we were not ready for such an undertaking on our own, and so we asked SEASENSE to join us once again. As it turned out, Capt. Patti had already been engaged by another vessel to make essentially the same trip (as part of a longer “get to know your boat” training session similar to ours on the Mississippi). And even better, this other boat was only a day or two ahead of us crossing northern Florida. Sojourner was pleased to welcome back Capt. Carol, and we all rendezvoused in Carrabelle for “THE Jump”! Truth often being stranger –and better—than fiction, the other vessel was also named Sojourner!! And that’s when –and why- we became Sojourner KY as distinct from Susan and Slade on Sojourner NY!! Southern Comfort, one of our lil’ fleet mates and Footloose another trawler decided to join the Sojourners on The Jump so when we headed out from Carrabelle at sunrise, we felt like a virtual SEASENSE Armada! We have few pictures and even fewer words on record to describe THE jump, perhaps because as Susan noted several times, it could be described simply by one line from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner: ”…water, water everywhere…” But that perspective might just be slightly colored by her personal experience of the trip…
THE Jump certainly added to our series of firsts: traveling out-of-sight of land, traveling for 24 hours without stopping, travelling at night, and relying solely (being dependent upon) on radar and other electronic equipment to steer by and know where we were..!! We did have a full moon and the Gulf was beautiful, if somewhat rocking and rolling… After a “beam sea” (the waves hit the boat broadside) for the first 12 hours, we had 3-5 ft seas most of the trip… SojournerKY, Capt. Carol and Carolyn did just fine, but Susan’s stomach did not… Additionally, SojournerNY faced a series of mechanical problems during the crossing, and we all welcomed the ahead-of-schedule arrival outside Clearwater harbor before sunrise.
After some dancing among crab pots until we had enough light, our armada followed the rather winding channel into the city marina without incident. The jump experience isn’t something we would not want to do again anytime soon, but we are glad we did it! We did it and that says something!! It was also another valuable SEASENSE learning opportunity; we gained great cruising friends on SojournerNY, and it did get us to warmer (or less cold) weather. We stayed in Clearwater for several days for some R&R after “the jump,” and we were there long enough to see the incredible night-time holiday parade of boats! From Clearwater it was but a one day jaunt to St. Petersburg and the City Marina that became Sojourner’s winter home. [ More pix]