Spectre Island to Gulfport, FL


We left Pensacola with Scaliwag heading for Destin which was 50 miles away. When we had covered just 35 miles we decided to stop at Spectre Island even though it was still early afternoon. After a week in Pensacola we were craving a quiet place and Spectre Island would deliver on that. We had stopped here last year and enjoyed it so stopping again this year was an easy decision. 

Spectre Island, just off Eglin Air force base and near Fort Walton is a small island. Clear (but cold) waters and white sands are a welcome site. 

Glimpse of Heartbeat from shore. 

A few hours after we had dropped the anchor Forever Friday (Mike & Mary) pulled in. They had been a few weeks behind us for about a month or more but the extra time we spent in Mobile (weather related), in Orange Beach (weather related) and in Pensacola (boat work related) meant they had caught up with us. We all enjoyed a nice happy hour on Scaliwag swapping stories.

Scaliwag, Heartbeat and Forever Friday – 3 American Tugs reunited again. 

The next morning we all motored the short 13 miles into Destin. As you pull into Destin harbor it is a bit overwhelming in a Disneyland sort of way. Large towering condos, jet skis rentals line the waterway, and beach themed restaurants with large decks over look the water. You can imagine how crazy busy it is in the high season. We were coming through after the crowds and the weather was cold and wet which meant it was even less busy than usual. And when I say cold, I mean we have been wearing our puffy jackets and jeans sort of cold. The Panhandle of Florida is not as warm in the winter as you would expect. 

Heartbeat entering Destin harbor. 

When it is cold and wet outside we’ve been turning on the fireplace channel. Sound of the crackling fire warms you right up (yeah right). 

We all decided to stay 2 nights in Destin primary because the first day/night was windy and rainy so we did not do/see much. The following day we played tourist a bit. 

Sunset from the Boathouse restaurant. Our boats are anchored just off to the left out of the picture. 

Parker and Kent having some fun. 
Night out in Destin with Parker & Leslie and Mike & Mary where we enjoyed some very good live music.

Grocery shopping in Destin. You would never see this sort of sunscreen selection in Oregon. 

From Destin we pulled anchor and moved 65 miles to the Panama City area. We decided on St Andrews anchorage as it was the best protection from the wind that night. Along the way that day we had a lot of dolphin sightings. 

Video – Dolphins playing in the bow wake. 

Penny never gets tired of looking at dolphins and neither do we. 

This dolphin swam with us for quite awhile. 

For the past week we had all been watching the weather for favorable conditions to cross the Gulf of Mexico in order to make it over to the west coast of Florida. We assumed we would cross from Apalachicola as we did last year (which makes the trip 170 miles). But with a weather window opening up quickly we decided to cross from Panama City instead (making the trip 235 miles). We loved our stop in Apalachicola last year and were disappointed to miss it this year but there are not that many weather windows to cross so you take it when you get one. 

We anchored near Panama City just off St Andrews State Park. Nice park and a great beach to walk (as long as you are not a dog because dogs are not allowed). 

You know you are in Florida as these sorts of signs are just about everywhere. 

For our crossing of the Gulf we all left Panama City area at 10:30am, averaged 8 knots and arrived just outside of Tarpon Springs the following day at 12:30pm. Due to the distance it is the only overnight trip on The Great Loop. You can see our path under the Track Us button at the top of the blog. 

Kent and I have done several overnight trips before on our old sailboat Hiatus so we were familiar with the process – cook meals in advance so they are ready to eat, be sure everything is secured (to prevent damage/chaos during rougher seas), agree on a watch schedule and share a float plan with at least one friend. 

We do a 3 hrs on / 3 hrs off watch rotation. We made up the guest bed which allows one person to try to sleep nearby while the other person is at the helm. 

Our crossing formation. You can sort of see on the left the AIS targets and distance rings that show Scaliwag in front, Heartbeat in the middle, Forever Friday in the rear each spaced out by a 1/4-1/2 mi. This view allowed us know exactly how far we were from each other when it got dark. 

Sunset out on the Gulf. The colors were simply spectacular that night. 

Sunrise. The little dark dot is Scaliwag in front of us. 

Penny showing off how great our conditions were (she slept the entire time). In fact the yoga mat to keep her from sliding around was not even needed this time. Last year when we crossed it would have been a requirement but this year we had 2 wonderful surprises – 1. Smoother seas. 2. Not nearly as many crab pots to dodge when we approached the mainland. 

We arrived just outside of Tarpon Springs and needed to wait for high tide before proceeding into the marina so Heartbeat dropped the anchor with Scaliwag and Forever Friday rafted up for a couple of hours. 

Having stopped in Tarpon Springs last year we were looking forward to spending another few nights here again. Our first visit was to Costa's for a large and delicious Greek dinner to celebrate Parker's birthday, We were all a bit tired from the lack of sleep the previous night so we called it an early evening once we had stuffed ourselves full of Greek food. Like last year we ended up spending a bit more time in Tarpon Springs than we had expected. This time it was 3 nights but we stayed at the same place Turtle Cove Marina which is walking distance to almost all that we wanted to do. 

Sponge boat. Tarpon Springs was settled by Greek divers who harvested sponges until ~1947 where the sponge industry took a major blow from a red tide. We are told that many sponges sold today in town are not locally harvested. 

Kent and Penny doing what they do best together (goofing around). 

Hanging out with Leslie before we were lured into the yard size Connect Four game in the corner of the restaurant. 

An important reminder. 

We broke out our rusty bikes and rode from Tarpon Springs to Dunedin along the scenic Pinellas Trail (22 miles round trip). 

Surprise surprise, we found a brewery in Dunedin! 

We also found this guy (or girl) along our bike ride. He (or she) was fairly big, size of a baseball hat perhaps. 

We said goodbye to Parker & Leslie in Tarpon Springs as they will fly to Texas for the next 6 weeks. They have been a great buddy boat to go down the rivers and into Florida with both on and off the water. We hope to reconnect with them down in the Bahamas in a few months. 

Leslie was on a baking spree again in Tarpon Springs and Penny received a couple dozen holiday themed dog cookies. Penny really really likes Leslie. 

We people also benefited from Leslie’s baking spree. These were simply the best blueberry muffins. Leslie used to own a bakery so when she delivers blueberry muffins to your boat you know you are in for a treat. 

From Tarpon Springs we moved 30 miles slowly. With a lot of no wake zones along this portion of the route you simply cannot be in a hurry. We dropped the hook in Reddington Shores which is a sheltered cove off the GICW. It was another one of those anchorages we stopped at last year and liked. After eating/drinking all the way throughTarpon Springs this is a nice place quiet place to just hang out and buy some fresh fish for a healthy dinner on board. 

Sunset from our anchorage. Just past those large condos is a nice long beach, it seemed to go on for miles and miles.  

 We still love looking at the newly shiny red hull. 

From Reddington Shores we moved just 12 miles to Gulfport. This was a new stop for us. We anchored, took the dingy to shore and walked the waterfront area and main road. Not sure how to describe the town, it's got some of the classic Florida beach bars but then there is a quaintness and artsy theme of the area. Some call it a very small St Pete. We enjoyed the town and would have spent another night but the wind was predicted to change and be "out of the wrong direction". Meaning our second night at anchor we would be unprotected and it would be quite rolly. 

Gulfport History Museum where we learned a bit about the town. 

Fun and random art all around town. 

Blue skies, sunshine, warm temps, super tall palm trees. It is nice to be on the west coast of Florida and to put the puffy jackets and jeans back in the hanging locker. 

No major boat projects for us in the past week (yeah) so I'll provide an update on the "garden". The good news is that the Aerogarden is still going strong. We have harvested lettuce for several salads from just the one head, the basil plant has been providing us one of our favorite herbs for months now, the oregano has taken off and the mint is finally spreading out and taking over like mint tends to do. Hoping to get a few peppers from the plant in back and still keeping fingers crossed that the thyme will decide to flourish instead of die (50/50 chance). This has been a fun item to have on board. It does not draw a lot of power and the base is filled with water so it stays put in even pretty rough seas. I have a feeling we are going to appreciate it even more down in the Bahamas where fresh greens and herbs are tough to come by. 

The Aerogarden is providing a nice bounty at the moment. 

Our next stop will be St Petersburg. We enjoyed this city last year and so we are going to take advantage of the weekly rate and hang out for a bit. It is a short week due to Thanksgiving but we have arranged to have a Northern Lights mechanic come to St Pete to continue troubleshooting why we have smoke when we first start up our generator. The generator seems to work just fine but we do want to make sure we get to the root cause of the smoke before we are in the Bahamas and are relying every day on our generator with limited professional services. Fingers are crossed we find the answer (and that it is an affordable solution). 

Wishing everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving!