Backwater Environmental Escape Rendezvous
by Ron Hoddinott
Five West Coast Trailer Sailing Squadron boats made the long trek to Pensacola to attend the National Trailer Sailing event known as the B.E.E.R.. cruise. This year 82 sailors had signed up to attend the cruise, but for whatever reason the actual number who launched was 52 or 53. Still a large group to organize and prepare for! A group of 8 sailors from the Gulf Coast started this event four years ago, and it has grown each year. The group of sailors call themselves the GRITS group, which stands for Greater Regional Interstate Trailer Sailors. Wow! I thought we had a long name! These guys spend the entire year planning and getting everything together for the three day cruise on the waters of Pensacola Bay and Santa Rosa Sound, and it shows! Besides having a web site dedicated to this one event, and preparing a goodie bag of charts, GPS waypoints, routes, and other information about the area, they put on a great feast for everyone on Thursday AND Friday. Thursday's dinner was 80 pounds of crawfish straight out of the Louisiana Bayou! Friday evening, for a charge of only 5 dollars, the GRITS team cooked an entire pig in what they called a "Cajun Microwave Oven." This consisted of a large pine box on legs with a concave metal lid. The box was lined with heavy aluminum foil, the pig was put in, and then charcoal was piled on top of the lid. Light the charcoal, and wait 6 to 7 hours. Result? A wonderfully tasty and tender pig roast. Chief cook John was also cooking a "Cajun Boil" of corn and potatoes in a 30 gallon vat on a large propane cooker. So you may have guessed that these wonderful guys have a bit of Cajun in them. You'd be right.
But what was it like up there, you ask? Ahh.. the story gets even better. I arrived on Friday about 1 PM, and Art and Brenda with their Peep Hen Kiva, and Paul Waggoner with Wag's Folly were already in the water at the PSMC (Pensacola Shipyard Marina Complex). I began to set up Whisper, when Bud and Rhoda rolled in with Nutshell, their SeaPearl 21. Ed and Becky Combs arrived too late for the pig roast but were ready to launch on Saturday morning. I wondered where everyone was going to tie up, but there was room for most at the long docks, and Whisper rafted alongside of Paul Waggoner's O'Day 19. We were on the shallow side of the dock, but had plenty of water for a SeaPearl. Right in front of us was a Sandpiper 565 (18 ft.) that Eric Hill-Whitson and Pat Regan trailered down from Ontario just for the cruise. Eric and Pat were having the time of their lives! Another couple worthy of special mention was Justin and Edith PipKorn from California. Justin and Edith built their Vagabond 20, "Just Right", and after tearing up the other small cruisers in the Small Craft Advisor "Cruiser Challenge", decided to take a two month vacation by trailering her across the country to Florida and back. They had just completed a cruise out to the Dry Tortugas. Just Right, was.. well.. just right for offshore work. Well built, and able. Also from the pages of Small Craft Advisor Magazine was John Edwards' "Miss T", a well traveled Montgomery 17. John wrote about his experiences trailer sailing all over the United States last year. Although most of the boats were production boats of one sort or another, one venerable sailor, Travis Votaw had built a Princess 22 by B & B Yacht Designs in North Carolina. His Princess, named "Pilgrim" was a cat ketch, very roomy, and quite fast! Here's a link to the site that describes her completely: http://www.bandbyachtdesigns.com/princess.htm.
On Saturday we were supposed to leave the docks and get underway about 9 AM, and that's just about what happened! What a sight, all those boats under sail in Pensacola Bay, sailing close to the wind in light air. Whisper excelled in the conditions, and was soon well ahead of the fleet. A few boats were keeping up, but had to follow the deeper waters of the proscribed and well marked channel, and fell behind. Out in front was Nutshell, Bud and Rhoda's SeaPearl, but without an engine it would have been a tough go for them to get under the Pensacola bridge with the wind and strong outgoing tide against them. I came alongside and took them in tow. Since we were several minutes ahead of the nearest boats, we headed over to the north shore of Santa Rosa Sound, where an enormous sand dune offered an opportunity for a lunch break and a few photos. We watched about half of the fleet go by and then I started out after them. At this point the wind was almost nonexistent, and everyone was motoring or motorsailing. The Honda 2 on Whisper got a really good work out, but I did manage to catch up to the tail end of the fleet. Just as I ran out of gas on the internal tank, the sea breeze kicked in from the south and built up stronger as the day progressed. I watched my GPS indicate first 5 knots, then 5.5, and eventually a period of two hours where Whisper never dropped below 5.9 knots as we passed boat after boat under sail. I was in sailor's nirvana! Great beam winds, beautiful boats, and a 14 mile stretch of smooth water ending at a beach bar on Navarre Beach! Juan's Pagoda was a sand floor beach bar with a neighboring restaurant called Sailors! The WCTSS group headed over to the restaurant with a bunch of new friends and had a really nice dinner. Unfortunately the music for the evening was a really awful and loud dirt-rock band who played bad imitations of every loud song they'd ever heard. We all raised anchor and moved to a shallow spot across the cove near some beach vegetation. It wasn't much quieter over there, however, and it took a long time to get to sleep that night!
Sunday morning the plan was to return part of the way to Quietwater Beach. It was about a 14 mile sail, and fortunately the wind had shifted to the East, giving us a nice quiet, but somewhat slower run. Having had more sleep than most, the WCTSS group got underway first. Nutshell, Whisper, Wag's Folly, and Kiva headed for the south side of the Sound, where beautiful white sugar sand dunes stretched for miles. Ed and Becky stayed closer to the intercoastal channel. I pulled over at one particularly intriguing spot and took a break. The other WCTSS boats pulled in around me. What a spot! The huge white sand dunes of Santa Rosa Sound, found at last! Art and Brenda liked the spot so much that they stayed for several hours before moving on. The rest of us cast off again after a half hour or so. Shortly afterwards, heading west toward Quietwater Beach, I spotted a lone loon up ahead, making it's unique and unforgettable cry. I wondered why it hadn't headed north for the summer like the rest of his kind. As I passed by, he dove under the water, came up and cried out again, only to be answered by another loon with a slightly higher pitch. The pair, who mate for life, had found each other, and perhaps some peace on Santa Rosa Sound. Who says loons are crazy?
Quietwater Beach was anything but. It was loaded with beach bars and shops, but the anchorage was soft sand with great holding. Whisper arrived first, and selected a spot to anchor close to the eastern shore of the cove. Some of the boats had to anchor way out and use dinghies to come ashore due to their deeper draft. Bud and Rhoda, Paul, Ed and Becky, and finally Art and Brenda in the Peep Hen anchored nearby. We spent a good hour or two helping the other cruisers select good anchorages and get their anchors down. I'll have to say that the folks who live or visit the Pan Handle beaches certainly know how to have a good time! The music coming from the restaurant was decidedly better than the racket we'd heard last night, although still not up to Bud's taste. Paul Waggoner offered to make his famous Chicken Casserole, and we gladly accepted! Paul set up his alcohol stove on the shore, and we all brought forks and plates. Chicago rolls completed the repast. Later we wandered over to the bar to see what was going on, but it was so busy, that we finally gave up, and came back to the boats about sundown.
Monday was decision day for us. The marine weather reports were warning of a front coming through Monday evening that might contain severe thunderstorms and hail. Not a pleasant proposition, so the WCTSS group decided to break for the marina and get a head start for home before bad weather arrived. We still had some water to cover before we reached the safety of the PSMC, however, and the wind was right on the nose out of the west. Bud and Rhoda were towed through the bridge by Paul with his larger 5 HP Honda, and then cast off. Paul's sloop rigged O'Day made great time against the wind and tide, and pulled ahead of the SeaPearls. I hugged the north shore to try to pick up a counter current. Ed and Becky in Minnow set sail and had a great upwind sail. Somewhere after rounding the first point, Whisper reached 6 knots on the GPS... countercurrent alongshore was confirmed. We covered the six or so miles to the marina complex in a little over two hours beating to windward the entire time.
Buy the time we got Whisper on the trailer and loaded up, I was totally exhausted. I guess it was a combination of having a cold, not enough sleep, lots of sun, and whatever, but I almost passed out a couple of times! A shower and some food helped and I limped out of the marina about 1:30 PM. The farther I drove toward home the better I felt. A good lunch and dinner on the road, and I made it all the way home by 10:30 PM.
If you think you might like to explore the white sand beaches of the panhandle some time, the B.E.E.R. cruise is a great way to get to know the area with sailors who really know the area, and friendly sailors from all over the country. Maybe you can make the trip next year for BEER 2006!