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The Emerald Coast and the Big Bend

Posted by on April 5, 2014

This portion of our journey was bookended by two delightful towns, Fairhope, Alabama and Tarpon Springs, Florida. In between were the broad bays, bayous, rivers and barrier islands of the Emerald Coast, followed by a series of ‘open water’ (i.e. mostly no land in sight) hops along the more remote regions of Florida’s Big Bend.

The Emerald Coast is renowned for its tropical weather and spectacular barrier island beaches. This has attracted a great deal of beach home and condo development, and the typical vacation accoutrements that go along with them. While we enjoy such attractions and comforts too, our focus while cruising is usually on smaller towns and quieter anchorages. Fortunately we were able to find these in abundance, with interesting stops in places like Apalachicola, Carrabelle, Smack Bayou and Dog Island.

For most cruisers doing the Loop, the open water crossing of the Gulf of Mexico from the protected ICW ending at Carrabelle and beginning again near Tarpon Springs is a big one. Many choose a one-step overnight trip (about 180 miles). For us, however, because of our relative speed and ability to handle the fairly shallow depths of the river entrances at selected interim stops (Steinhatchee and Crystal River) we chose the longer, more scenic route. This worked out very well for us, with sunny weather and relatively calm seas the entire way. It also allowed us to have experiences that other cruisers miss, such as the opportunity to swim with the manatees in the incredibly clear waters of the Three Sisters freshwater springs in Crystal River.

We’re not sure our pictures do complete justice to this lesser known area of Florida, but we’ll let them speak for themselves.

We enjoyed exploring Fairhope's leafy residential streets on our bikes.

We enjoyed exploring Fairhope’s leafy residential streets on our bikes.

The National Naval Aviation Museum in nearby Pensacola is home to the Blue Angels; the yellow biplane in the lower left was flown by George Bush Sr. during WWII.

The National Naval Aviation Museum in nearby Pensacola is home to the Blue Angels; the yellow biplane in the lower left was flown by George Bush Sr. during WWII.

Almost all the aircraft at the museum are original; many of the WWII vintage planes were recovered from the bottom of Lake Michigan near Chicago, where navy pilots were trained how to take off and land from aircraft carriers.- sometimes not successfully.

Almost all the aircraft at the museum are original; many of the WWII vintage planes were recovered from the bottom of Lake Michigan near Chicago, where navy pilots were trained how to take off and land – sometimes not successfully – from aircraft carriers.

The Admiral wants to take one of these with us on His Idea.

The Admiral wants to take one of these with us on His Idea: the Captain says he’ll mutiny.

Our departure across Mobile Bay was sunny and serene.

Departure day across Mobile Bay was sunny and serene.

Our anchorage at Ingram Bayou.....

Our anchorage at Ingram Bayou…..

.....where we were entertained by dolphins feeding in the shallow waters for mullet.

…..where we were entertained by dolphins feeding in the shallow waters for mullet.

Unexpected things happen when boating - a faulty switch for the anchor windlass led us to a 'character' marina inhabited by an unexpected menagerie of exotic birds.

Sometimes unexpected things happen when boating – a faulty switch for the anchor windlass led us to a ‘character’ marina in Fort Walton Beach that was inhabited by an unusual menagerie of exotic birds.

Osprey nests on all manner of trees, posts, poles and the like have been frequent sights, however this was the most unusual location we have seen so far!

We have seen osprey nests at the pinnacle of all manner of trees, posts, poles and the like, however this was the most unusual location we have observed so far!

One of the interesting small towns we visited was Appalachicola, where shrimping and other harvests from the sea are important mainstays of the local economy (along with tourism).

One of the interesting small towns we visited was Apalachicola, where shrimping and other harvests from the sea are important mainstays of the local economy (along with tourism).

A wide variety of waterfowl are evident in the rivers, bayous.....

A wide variety of waterfowl are evident in the rivers, bayous…..

.....and shallow bays of this area; in the distance is a barrier island that is crucial to the creation of this rich marine ecosystem.

…..and shallow bays of this area; in the distance is a barrier island that is crucial to the creation of this rich marine ecosystem.

This is a portion of the  Carrabelle River estuary.

This is a portion of the Carrabelle River estuary.

On the beach of Dog Island, at the end of the Gulf Intra-coastal Waterway; the Captain is in the distance contemplating the next day's open water journey across the Gulf of Mexico.

On the beach at Dog Island (where the shell collecting was outstanding) at the end of the Gulf Intra-coastal Waterway; the Captain is in the distance contemplating the next day’s open water journey to the east, across the Gulf of Mexico.

A blast of pink among Dog Island's hot, white sand dunes.

A blast of pink among Dog Island’s hot, white sand dunes.

Fortunately, red sky at night.....

Fortunately, a red sky at night…..

......foretold of very good weather for our three day journey around Florida's Big Bend (over 200 miles in all),

……foretold of very good weather for our three day journey around Florida’s Big Bend (over 200 miles in all).

Feeding time fro the resident pelicans at the adjacent slip at Sea Hag Marina in Steinhatchee; this is a major recreational fishing centre and the remains foe the days catch are dumped in the river for these fellas to feast on.

Feeding time for the resident pelicans at the adjacent slip at Sea Hag Marina in Steinhatchee; this is a major recreational fishing centre and the remains of the days catch are dumped in the river for these fellas to feast on.

We are always delighted when we have a chance to get up close and personal  with the local wildlife, from manatees......

We are always delighted when we have a chance to get up close and personal with the local wildlife, from manatees……

.....to gators.

…..to gators.

The next installment will cover our time spent in the delightful town of Tarpon Springs, our journey south to Fort Myers, then east across central Florida via the Okeechobee Canal to Stuart, and south to Miami, our departure point for the Bahamas.

8 Responses to The Emerald Coast and the Big Bend

  1. Janice

    HiJohn and Ria – it all looks so serene and beautiful (except the alligator!). It sounds like things are off to a great start. Take care and enjoy!

  2. Roy and Sue

    Hello Captain John and Admiral Ria!
    Great pix!! CRAZY how you’ve had both snow and palm trees in such a short period of time.
    Hope that it’s all sunshine and white sand from here on out…
    Keep posting, as we are enjoying following your adventures!!
    Sue (Roy is sitting right behind me as I type and he says hi too)

    • john-and-ria

      Hi R & S,

      Glad you`re enjoying the pix. Thankfully the cold weather is well behind us – now we complain about how hot it is!

      Spent the last few days in Fort Myers. It`s a great little place with an excellent marina (filled with American and Canadian snowbirds). Later on we`ll likely return to spend some more time here.

      Hope you folks on the west coast are now enjoying spring….

      Cheers,

      J & R

  3. Mindy

    I love to see your pictures and read your stories! Thanks for letting us all live vicariously through the two of you and your adventures.
    Mindy

    • john-and-ria

      Thanks Mindy – it’s good to know the blog is doing its job of sharing the experiences we’re having!

      After the extreme winter eastern Canada has had this year, we hope that spring has finally arrived in Montreal….

      J & R

  4. Doug

    Beautiful pictures, but I have come to expect nothing less. A public congratulations on your three stage journey around the Great Loop!! Way to go Captain John and Admiral Ria!

    Cheers,

    Doug

    • john-and-ria

      Thanks Doug. Ria and I are looking forward to seeing you and Roslyn in Miami….

      J&R

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