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The Not-So Great Loop Page 2

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Mike mans the windlass during an anchor drill at Eagle Harbor.

Port St. Joe Marina is a hospitable place. Ray Whitney, Commodore of the Port St. Joe Yacht Club and an AGLCA member (who offers his Toyota Highlander to loopers and greets those celebrating wedding anniversaries with wine and flowers dockside) was on hand to help with our lines, and so was his friend, Ed Guillard, a New Orleanian who’s done The Great Loop (or major parts of it) six times with his wife Lucy in their CT trawler, I Love Lucy. “You must have twin engines in that boat,” Whitney opined as I backed down. My ego soared. Only a single Lehman enlivens Betty’s maneuvers, that and the vagaries of wind and fate.

Mike and I enjoyed an excellent night’s rest. It’s often cool in the Panhandle during April, and the sleepin’s easy, particularly if your windows are open (and properly screened against bugs), your ears are attuned to the soft lapping of wavelets on the waterline, and memories of an excellent dinner linger. We’d eaten ours at a place called the Sunset Coastal Grill, which we’d reached via a long piney trail from the marina. “The blackened shrimp!” my brother enthused before nodding off. “The shrimp and grits!” I rejoined.

The next day at noon, after we’d taken on a little diesel ($2.11 per gallon, thanks to a ten-percent discount for BoatU.S. members) and settled up for overnight dockage ($1.31 per foot plus tax, thanks to a 25-percent discount for loopers, great and not-so-great), we joined Whitney and Guillard for lunch at the Dockside Caf, an eatery overlooking the harbor. There were three big trays of small, sweet, justly famed Thirteen-Mile Apalachicola oysters on the table.

“Fresh this morning,” said restaurateur Rick Carrie proudly.

“Ever eat ‘em—oysters?” queried Whitney, eyeing Mike.

“Nope,” he replied.

“Don’t chew,” Whitney advised.

Two hours later, we were purring north along the Gulf County Canal (which links the city of Port St. Joe and the Intracoastal Waterway) when my brother brought up (figuratively, of course) the two Thirteen-Milers he’d gingerly swallowed not so long before. We were toodling past Raffield Fisheries at the time, a big seafood processing plant that’s been in existence for 100 years. “Oysters!” he burped, as a pungent whiff of a shrimp boat wafted past. “I swear—never again!”

“Really?” I asked.

“Really!” he replied.

We laughed like fools all the way to Wetappo Creek, a tea-color threat of wilderness water fringed with uninhabited southern flatwoods and, according to our chart, cypress swamps, somewhere near the start of our twisty, scenic Gulf Intracoastal Waterway excursion.

Panama City looked good when we finally got there—homeports always do. But we arrived late, primarily because we spent an extra day gunkholing the creeks and Intracoastal offshoots beyond Wetappo Creek and an extra night at anchor in Pearl Bayou (with no TV and no 24-hour news cycle), battling no-see-ums, watching ospreys, cooking greasy (but delectable) meals on the propane stove, and gabbing. And remember those pestiferous anxieties? The ones that cranked up the whole extravaganza in the first place? Gone!

This article originally appeared in the June 2009 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.