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by Dan and Jan Ahart

Chapter One

In 1908 Kenneth Grahame published the childrens book classic, "The Wind in The Willows". In the first chapter, River Rat says to Mole, "Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats…" Truer words were never written or spoken. Messing about in boats is a joy that is difficult to describe, especially to someone, who hasn't experienced it. Maybe the closest I can come is to say it is not unlike having your first car, your first house and your first vacation all wrapped into one experience. Jan and I absolutely love everything about boats, excepting the cost. For us, our boat is our home, our transportation, and our hobby.

To share a little of what we experience, I want to record that as I write this, we are lying at anchor in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. A stone's throw away is the city park, which is beautifully maintained with palm trees, beautiful flowers and lots of grass. Adjacent to the park is one of the most beautiful old hotels in Florida, The Stouffer Vinoy. If you ever visit the marina area of St. Petersburg, you must at least walk through the lobby of this classic old building. I get the feeling it must have been the set for a least a dozen movies starring Humphrey Bogart or Lauren Bacall or maybe both. A few blocks away is the Salvador Dali museum, which can be visited for a $9.00 fee. It is worth more. Don't miss it, and be sure to wait for a guided tour. Dali was not only a modern eccentric – he died in 1989 at the age of 85, but his paintings are so unique and complex the average observer would never begin to understand what they are all about without a guide. The guides do not tell the visitors what the popular interpretation of the paintings are, rather they quote the explanations of Dali himself. Back to sailing. Here in this beautiful setting, surrounded by beautiful sailboats from all over the U.S., we count our blessings and enjoy the opportunity to simply be here and see, feel and experience the wonder around us. Our boat is our passport to adventure. Here we sit in the privacy of our own home, surrounded by beauty, history, myriad activities and other fun stuff.

A short description of our boat is probably in order. Her name is Sojourner and she is a 1983 12 meter Catalac. The name is a contraction of the word catamaran and the designer's name – Tom Lack. The size in feet and inches is 40 feet ten inches long and 17 feet six inches wide. She was originally designed to sleep seven, but we have reduced that to four in that we have converted two staterooms to other uses. Namely a library and a workshop. There are two heads (toilets) and one shower with a propane water heater. We chose a catamaran because of the space, the flat floors, the stand up head-room, minimal steps and level sailing characteristics. She has a sloop rig, which means there is one main sail and a head sail or jib. Two 30 horsepower diesels are also available and enough fuel to motor over 1,000 miles. The fresh water tanks hold a total of 140 gallons. We have a propane oven and range, a 12 volt refrigerator, a 110 volt icemaker, a 110 volt, 600 gallon per day fresh water maker, a 10 kilowatt diesel generator for generation of 110 volt power and a 2 kilowatt inverter which will convert 12 volt DC current to 110 volt AC current. A recent addition is a satellite TV receiver which enables us to receive TV anywhere, which is both a luxury and a necessity in that we watch the Weather Channel daily. As for communications, we have a ham radio, two VHF radios and a cell phone. For navigation, we have two GPS receivers, radar, autopilot, radar detector, depth finder, and four compasses. For safety, we have an automatically inflatable liferaft designed for six people, an emergency lifepack with food, medicines and water as well as hand held radio and GPS and of course a 406 megahertz emergency radio transmitter or EPIRB. The EPIRB floats and can be manually activated or it will activate automatically if it gets tossed in the water. It transmits a signal to a satellite and tells the Coast Guard who we are and where we are and that we need help. The EPIRB is probably the greatest safety device available today, other than common sense. For convenience, we have an inflatable hard bottom dingy with a 10 horsepower outboard. We can lower it very easily and motor to shore if we chose to anchor out, which we do most of the time.

We began our odyssey on the day we retired, October 15, 1999. Well, actually we had to wait for a new sail to be delivered, so we really got underway on the 17th. We left the Baytowne Marina, which is the marina operated by the Sandestin Hilton in Destin, Florida about 8:00 a.m. and headed East through Choctawhatchee Bay and then into the Intracoastal Waterway to Panama City, Florida. We could have turned West and exited the Bay by going under the Destin bridge, but the bridge is only 50 feet above the water at high tide and if there are any waves, which cause the boat to rise a foot or two, we could be in trouble because our mast is 48 feet above the water and there are antennas and a light on top of it. So, we took the easy way out and headed for the waterway or the "ditch" as it is sometimes affectionately referred to. In this case the moniker is apropos because a good bit of it is the result of simply dredging a straight and uninteresting canal through the low lands of the Florida Panhandle. However, we eventually reached Panama City and anchored for the night off Shell Point. The weather was beautiful and we enjoyed our first retired night at anchor or swinging on the hook as some boaters refer to it. I don't really care for that term even though there is a certain amount of swinging back and forth or forth and back as my Norwegian grandfather used to say. He had a point when you think about it. One would go forth before going back I guess. At any rate, we slept well.

The next day dawned cool and clear with a nice North wind, perfect for sailing East or West. Once you get into sailing, you learn that a sailboat will go fastest when it is going perpendicular to the wind. It has to do with the aerodynamic shape of the sail. Take my word for it. The wind was forecast to last for the next two to three days, so we made a command decision to get out into the Gulf and sail to our next destination, which was Carrabelle, Florida, a distance of about 100 miles. After breakfast, we pulled up the anchor and sailed through the bay and finally reached the Gulf about 10:00 a.m. We decided to sail South about 10 miles and then turn Southeast to sail around St. George's Island and on to Carrabelle. At an average speed of 5 knots, a little over 5 mph, we knew it would be an overnight sail. We had already agreed upon rules for sailing and at night we take special precautions. Our boat has an inside helm and an outside helm (steering wheels). We always use the inside helm at night and neither of us goes outside without alerting the other. When one of us does go outside, we always wear a personal flotation device (PFD) or life jacket, and a harness. Our harnesses have tethers so we can attach ourselves to safety rings that are mounted at certain points on the boat. Following these precautions will prevent either of us from accidentally falling overboard. We agreed that each of us would steer for one hour at a time, giving the one not steering, a chance to rest.

The sail was uneventful. It was a beautiful night with a half moon, lots of stars, a fifteen knot wind out of the North and a rolling sea with waves of three to four feet between crest and trough. All that combined with a few choice albums played on the CD, including Jimmy Buffet, and we had a great time. We arrived at Dog Island, which is just off Carrabelle about 10:00 a.m. the next day. Needless to say, we were tired, so instead of going directly in to Carrabelle, we anchored just off Dog Island on the mainland side in a gorgeous horseshoe shaped bay and rested for two days. Sojourner can float in less than four feet of water, so we were able to anchor close in to the beautiful white sand beach where we could wade ashore to explore the island. The water at this location is not as clear as Southern Florida, but for the Northern Gulf Coast it is very clear. Most of the time, we had no difficulty seeing the anchor on the sea floor. Dog Island is a popular spot for cruisers because it is very pretty, clean, sparsely populated and is the jumping off point for Southern Florida. The Intracoastal Waterway ends here and doesn't begin again until Tarpon Springs, which is 125 miles to the Southeast, which after Carrabelle, was our next destination.

The next day we visited Carrabelle, which is a delightful little fishing village. We tied up at The Moorings Marina and filled our fuel and water tanks. We also were able to walk two blocks to a laundromat to wash clothes and to a grocery store to get some fresh food supplies. We had earlier arranged to have our forwarding agent send our mail to the marina and sure enough it was waiting for us when we got there. We spent most of the day in Carrabelle just looking around while waiting for the clothes to wash and dry. Our last stop before leaving Carrabelle was to visit the fresh fish market where we bought two pints of fresh oysters. We left the marina, anchored in the bay and stuffed ourselves with a fried oyster lunch before heading for Tarpon Springs. Stay tuned.

Dates: 1999-10-15,
Locations: St. Petersburg, FL
Keywords: Kenneth Grahame quote, The Wind in The Willows, The Stouffer Vinoy Hotel

The Ahart Odyssey © 1999-2004 Dan and Jan Ahart. All rights reserved.