You all knew I would. I bought a new boat! Here she is:
32 ft deep V Century with twin outboard Yamaha 250s on the stern. It is quite simply a beautiful, elegant, fishing machine! The gentleman who previously owned it took impeccable care of her. As the previous owner stated, "I was rather 'pedantic' about the maintenance." Thanks to him for that. There isn't a scratch or dent anywhere on the boat. The NEW name of the boat? "Capt'n Hook" :-).
I admit, at first I was embarrassed about the "Capt'n Hook" moniker considering the circumstances of how I attained it. But hey, after awhile I decided to accept my nickname fate. There are worse monikers to be labeled as a boat captain. One of the dock guys in Pensacola told me that he calls a boat owner there "Captain Crunch". I'm certain that is worse.
The boat didn't come with a trailer, not that I would trailer the darn thing anyway. Those who know me are certainly aware that I loathe boat trailers. But we have to get it from Pensacola to Panacea. Last I checked, that is a long way! And it is November. Cold and windy in November in North Florida. Nonetheless, the boat has to move. I can pay a transport company to move it by highway; but what is the challenge in that? Besides, there is no better way to learn a boat than to spend three days on it. Now, who can I find foolish enough to come with me on a three day tour, in November, on a boat that I have never used, taking it 200 miles through the Gulf of Mexico from Pensacola to Panacea?! When I called them, both of them said, without hesitation: "I'm in!"
So the crew makeup is: Marc Paul, Gene Griffin and Sam Littlefield.
And really, the final crew member is Ryan Brooks who drove us all the way to Pensacola, dropped us off, and drove right back to make a 3:30 p.m. meeting the same day. Thank you Ryan for doing that. It was greatly appreciated!
To illustrate the journey:
If it looks like it is a long way from Pensacola to Port St Joe. Trust me, it is. Keep reading...
Monday, 11/10/2014 - Pensacola
Sunny, kind of chilly, low to moderate winds. Pensacola Marina dock. We know we are going to spend the night on the boat tonight, but the question is, should we do it at the dock where it is safe or do we head out into Federal waters where we can potentially catch fish? The decision is unanimous: Head into Federal waters outside of Pensacola. After loading all our gear, sleeping bags, coolers etc., and preparing tackle, we leave the dock around 2 p.m.
Wow, this boat is a beast! Very intimidating to steer. 500 horsepower. Wow.
After catching some bait-fish near a wreck, we are now approx. 11 miles offshore south-east of Pensacola. It is about 6 p.m. The sun is setting:
Temperature is about 60 degrees. A little chilly - but all-in-all, quite pleasant. I find a fishing hole with lots of structure. We anchor. We start fishing.
Snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, snapper, - okay you get the idea.
I say, 50 red snapper. Gene always claims that I exaggerate; he says 30. Okay, so lets go with 40. And yes, they ALL go back in the water. Snapper season is only open for 3 weeks a year for recreational fisherman. Again, don't get me started with recreational versus commercial fishing rules! We could have easily filled up the boat with snapper as we were catching one every 2-3 minutes. Mind you, these are pretty big fish. Here are a few pictures of our first night: (and no, that is NOT snapper cooking on the grill)
This last picture is kind of odd. Not because of Sam (although he is a little odd) but because he caught a live squid with a dead squid. Now that is odd. Caroline Cook (who I know still reads this blog although she would never admit it) once caught a starfish with a shrimp.
Hers was the oddest catch - until Sam's. Caroline is still much cuter though.
We finally stop catching snapper at 11:30 p.m. Time for bed.
Gene and Sam are sleeping under a tarp on the bow and I have a small berth in the head compartment. At about 1:30 a.m. an odd, loud noise wakes me up. I don't like odd, loud noises on a boat 11 miles offshore. We have put an anchor buoy out to check during the night in case we drift. I don't see the buoy. Oh, there it is. Whew! The wind has picked up. The noise I heard is simply the wind blowing hard on the bow tarp. I don't sleep that well the rest of the night as the boat is kicked around quite a bit. Believe it or not, it is a little stressful sleeping on a new boat 11 miles offshore with strong winds.
Tuesday, 11/11/14 - 11 miles SE of Pensacola Beach
We awake around 7 a.m. to a beautiful sunrise:
The wind has subsided. Gene breaks out the "present" again that he and Ryan got me as a "boat-warming" gift: A gunwale (pronounced gunnel) grill. Man, that was a great gift gentleman! Gene cooks sausage and brews fresh, percolated coffee. Having hot food and coffee on the boat first thing on a cold morning does wonders for your soul!
Time to start heading East! I turn the port engine key. Click. Nothing. I turn the starboard engine key. Click. Nothing. Crap. Batteries are dead. Crap! Crap! Yes, we did charge them for a few hours at the dock, but the boat has been sitting for months. They really should have charged for 24 hours. Well, I guess we coulda/shoulda/woulda have done that, but offshore fishing was much more enticing (less wussy) than sleeping at the dock. But wait! The boat has 4 batteries on it - two of them are backup. Gene switches to the backup batteries. Vroom, vroom, both engines start immediately. We all exhale nervously. I smile. With the engines running, all four batteries are now charging. We're back in business. Crisis averted.
My eastward route has us heading quite-a-ways offshore. There are a few waypoints (reefs) I want to fish along the way. I mean, why not? Before we left I entered all our waypoints into the GPS - which is a good thing since I forgot to bring my trusty offshore map. I'm an Idiot. Yes, I capitalized that word for a reason. Terri and Delaney have actually been texting us screen shots of map segments. I don't really need it as long as my electronics work. However, if the electronics go down, then I am limited to navigating by compass. I would prefer avoiding that particular navigational challenge. After 2 hours, we reach the first waypoint - without further incident.
We are pretty far offshore now (approximately 30-40 miles). We are at the location circled on the map to the right. No land for a long, long way. The guys are anxious to try out the outriggers. So they setup 5 rigs in a "W" placement. We troll for an hour or so, but all we catch are bonito. Beautiful fish, and I know there are a few recipes on the Internet for eating them, but I have tried to cook them myself, and trust me, although they are beautiful, they are nasty, nasty tasting. Save your recipes folks, I'm not eating them. We have no problems throwing them back. They bleed everywhere on the boat.
Nothing biting out here but bonito. This doesn't bother us too much as our goal is to get the boat safely from Pensacola to Panacea - not to fish. Still, it would be nice to catch a wahoo, or a King Mackerel, or whatever. But nothing. November!
At the next waypoint, the guys bottom-fish for a few minutes. Here is a nice Amberjack they caught:
And of course, he/she goes back into the water. "AmberJack are also closed". Now don't get me started on the recreational versus commercial fishing rules. BTW, Gene and Sam are exactly the same height. I'm sure Sam would want me to convey that for the record.
We are very far out in the gulf now and still a long way from Port St. Joe. The forecast on my marine app calls for 0-2 ft seas. Bullcrap! The wind and seas have increased to 4-5 ft and it has gotten very cold. Fortunately, the wind is coming in from the West (a following wind), so we are not steering into the teeth of it. Still, it is very choppy. We are about 30 miles south of Panama City Beach. It's time to head for Port St. Joe. This next leg is 2-3 hours.
And now allow me to quickly tell you about the nicest feature on this new boat. Autopilot. OMG, I love this feature! You simply enter your next Waypoint into the GPS, press "Track" on the AutoPilot, sit back and the boat drives itself! For hours! The computer moves the engines to keep the course. Amazing. Even with autopilot though, I have to admit that this is the worst part of the trip for me. It is cold, dreary and for the first time, I get wet. We are coming down off a 5 ft wave and water clears the considerable gunwales. In fact, the wave crashes over the entire boat. Did I mention its a big boat? I make note of it. That said, this 32 ft boat handles these big waves without much effort. Had we been on the Triton bay boat, I wouldn't be here to write this blog.
We arrive in Port St. Joe, on schedule, at 4 p.m. It is my next opportunity to dock this boat, but this time I have to do it with big yachts around me. I'm happy to say that there were no dock or boat crunching ("Capt'n Crunch") sounds to be heard. I take my time and pivot the boat using the two engines. It takes a little practice; it is a little stressful, but not too bad.
Safely on land after 27 hours on the boat! The people working at the Port St. Joe Marina are very friendly and hospitable. We are light on ropes (forgot those also), so they let us borrow a few. The hot showers and morning coffee were awesome. Oh, and the bicycle was quite useful!
Time for a little on-shore fun:
Wednesday, 11/12/2014, Port St. Joe. 7:30 a.m.
This next leg is interesting because instead of taking the boat back into the Gulf and heading around the cape, we are taking the boat through the intercoastal (which is basically a river). The river eventually emerges in Apalachicola. We head into the "ditch" which is a 3-4 mile man-made channel that takes us to the river. And here is where I will issue my first apology. I enter the ditch going too fast and there are lots of small boats around me cast-netting. I forget how much bigger this boat is and I cause problems for these small boats. I get a lot of angry stares and one guy is actually screaming at me before I figure out that I should slow down. So there are some people near Port St. Joe who don't have a good perception of "Capt'n Hook". I really am sorry guys. A "no wake" sign would have been helpful though. There wasn't one. Still, I should have been more courteous.
The "ditch" is a little creepy with sunken ships scattered about:
Thank you Justin Williams for this intercoastal route advice! Not only does it reduce our overall journey by 2-3 hours, I really wasn't looking forward to heading around the Cape where the waves can get rather severe.
We exit the river in Apalachicola:
I go too fast here also. A "no wake" sign would be nice. If it had been summer, and busier, I surely would have been ticketed, but there is really nobody else on the water, except the Coast Guard putting out new buoys in the cold.
Thanks again to the Coast Guard for all you do.
I'm happy that I donate to the Coast Guard foundation.
About this time, the porpoise show up and play in the wake. Gene and Sam feed them from the boat as they play in our wake. Since we are not fishing, it is always fun to watch them surf:
I am nervous about going through "government cut" which is the man-made pass separating the Gulf from the Apalachicola Bay. I go slow, but it is well marked. There is a small boat next to the rocks. I am courteous and go even slower! I'm improving. No apologies needed this time.
We emerge again into the Gulf of Mexico. Holy Crap! No wind, the Gulf is smooth as silk and the sun is shining. This is what the weather was supposed to be yesterday. "O" Tower is our next Waypoint. It is about 20 miles offshore and "somewhat" on our way home. We fish this Air Force tower for 20-30 minutes with a variety of bait, but there is simply NOTHING biting. November!
Bring em in. Time to head home boys.
Two hours to our final waypoint. Autopilot on. Smooth seas, smooth ride. A few more miscellaneous pictures: (not in any particular order)
|Amazing Electronics including AIS, AutoPilot, and Radar.|
We arrive in Panacea ahead of schedule. My final docking maneuver goes smoothly. They even make me do it twice while they move boats around - to test me apparently.
Cleaning the boat takes forever. It is a big boat. My brother Russell even makes it down to see us. Thanks bro, for being our welcoming committee. That was cool of you.
Thanks to Captain Joel Singletary at Sea Tow Panacea for "standing by". I will remember to close out my float plan next time on VHF.
Thank you again to Gene Griffin and Sam Littlefield for adjusting your busy schedules and being an amazing crew. I couldn't have done it without you guys! You did a fantastic job. I'm proud of all three of us. Tomorrow it gets windy and very cold again. We were quite fortunate to get the boat that considerable distance in November because I think our window of weather opportunity has now closed until Spring.
It is winter now so the boat, and this blog, will be quiet until Spring. Look for us again in March/April! Come fishing with me next year. It's time to go deeper!!!
Thanks for reading everyone. (all three of you)