After Sandestin, Panama City was like an over priced motel on the road to Apalachicola. We stayed comfortably at Treasure Island Marina, tucked up in the Grand Lagoon with the only other marinas that survived Hurricane Michael. A nearby dog park with grass fitting of Augusta National was most memorable – especially for Lola. After one night, we pulled off our T-head slip at sunrise, with Golden Daze and About Time fifteen minutes ahead of us, and Pegasus fifteen behind.
Panama City marks the eastern edge of the Emerald Coast; continuing eastward begins the transition to Florida’s “Big Bend”, first to the town of Apalachicola, then Carabelle. Our trek to Apalachicola was long and beautiful, but somber. Large bodies of water, like St. Andrews Bay, East Bay, and Lake Wimico were joined by winding sections of the ICW. Half of the nine hour journey meandered through the wreckage wrought by Hurricane Michael, cypress and pine along the banks snapped, all pointing to the path travelled by Michael’s eye.
Native Americans camped around current Apalachicola for thousands of years. Spaniards explored here, but the shallower bay waters were not as easy to navigate as Pensacola to the west. Inquiring minds might wonder about the “cola” suffix of these old Florida towns. It apparently comes via the Spanish, from latin roots meaning ” to till, cultivate, inhabit”. This of course makes no sense when thinking about CocaCola and PepsiCola.
In the 1800’s Apalachicola became a key lumber town, with mills lining the banks of Scippio Creek, hewing cypress ties for the burgeoning railroad industry. In the early 1900’s, a rail link joined Apalachicola to transport routes further north, bringing much fanfare and economic growth. When local timber grew scarce, its seafood industry blossomed. It seems every vacant lot along the Apalachicola waterfront is heaped with oyster shells.
The railroad is long gone, but its trestle over the Apalachicola river remains, a monument to a more optimistic time. A subdued seafood industry survives, but the town relies more on a collection of small boutiques, galleries, and gift shops.
We were supposed to be part of a Christmas Pot luck with about ten Looper boats further east in the smaller town of Carabelle, the typical jump off point for “The Crossing”. Unfortunately, we were unable to travel to Carabelle with our Looper pack that Christmas morning because it was low tide, and Cirila was hard on her bottom in the slip at Water St. Hotel Marina.
Thus we spent a somewhat lonely Christmas in Apalachicola. We enjoyed a fabulous Christmas buffet at the restored Gibson Inn, the centerpiece of the town. Long talks with family helped alleviate some of the loneliness we felt this Christmas, but not the anxiety over “The Crossing”. It lay before us like a surgery you might not survive. We sampled the local oysters at the “Up the Creek” – they were delicious. It was there, overlooking the river that we saw a large Carver pass by, a Looper named Escape Plan. They were heading directly to Carabelle; we would do The Crossing with them two days later.
For days we relentlessly checked weather, wind and wave forecasts. Suitable weather windows were increasingly uncertain and very fluid. Anxiety raked us every waking moment, and difficulty sleeping assured there were lots of those. At one point it looked as though we might wait two weeks. We needed to time our four hour jump to Carabelle so we could join our buddy boats a day or two before the crossing, staying in the larger town of Apalachicola until then.
Then, late on boxing day, a “very bumpy but doable” window opened on Dec 27/28. The next window might not open for weeks. Our buddy boats over in Carabelle decided to snatch the opportunity and begin The Crossing the next day. We didn’t have time to meet them there, so revised our route and timing to begin The Crossing from Appalachicola, rendezvousing with Pegasus along the way, near East Pass. The other faster boats would leave later and meet us out in the Gulf.
The Crossing, much dreaded, was about to begin.