Friday, December 10, 2010

Flipping Out

If only I had battery-powered socks,
life would be perfect!
Fortified by a hot bath and good night's sleep in an actual bed, we put on every item of clothing we possessed and left Fort Walton Beach on Thursday morning (air temperature 35 degrees, wind 5 to 10 knots), aiming straight across Choctawhatchee Bay.

By taking turns at the helm for 20 minutes at a time, we made it through the day . . .  and approached our anchorage, just beyond the Choctawhatchee Bay Bridge, a little before dusk.  

The sun had finally warmed the air, and the pale blue water was flat calm. Just outside the channel, the water was very shallow, and we could see a large flock of birds--pelicans, gulls, and common loons--all foraging together. 

The Capn' turned off the engine for a moment, and in the stillness we could hear the loons making plaintive little hoots--gentle sounding, very different from their crazy summer laughter.

"Look at that!" Cap said.  "Something's going on UNDER the water."  He pointed to an area where ripples were spreading on the flat, blue-gray metallic surface of the bay.

It was a pod of dolphins, joining the birds to snarf down some sushi.

As the big gray forms looped in our direction, we went as crazy as a couple of starstruck teens who'd just spotted Justin Timberlake.  

Mom! It's a 600-lb. toothed predator!
"Oh, wow!"  

"Oh, WOW!"

"Did you SEE that?"  "Oh, Wow!" 

After a cold but quiet night, we continued on our way.  This section of our route alternates between traverses across vast bays and and miles of navigation along the very narrow ditches that connect them. Friday was a "narrow ditch" day.  

Common loon in winer plumage. Saying, "Oh, wow, man!"
The particular segment of narrow ditch that we travelled on Friday is sometimes referred to as "the Grand Canyon" of the Gulf Intra-coastal Waterway. 

OK, we were traveling past sand banks perhaps 20 feet high, whereas the actual walls of the Grand Canyon are 4,000 to 6,000 feet high, but the simile is still apt. Like the walls of the Grand Canyon, the sand is charmingly eroded into battlements and turrets.  

We travelled on and on. Other than a lone towboat which passed us, and a small aluminum Coast Guard cutter with four crewman sitting rigid in their bright orange, full-body survival suits, it was as if we were the only boat in the universe.

We traversed another vast bay, with more dolphins checking out our bow wave and cruising away, unsatisfied.   At last we reached Panama City, Florida just at sunset.  

On the dock, a gongoozler in shirtsleeves greeted us:  "Pennsylvania?  I''m from Bradford myself.  You're not staying out on the ocean, are you? I hear there are pirates!"

We did laundry and ate dinner and walked into town. On the lamp posts along the streets, the Panama City Christmas lights took the form of little sailboats, and scallop shells, and gulls, and wood storks . . . and leaping dolphins, outlined in twinkling sea blue.

More photos on Facebook, of course!

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