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by David Nichols - Austin, Texas - USA

Pensacola and Beyond

We spent two nights on the anchor as we moved toward Pensacola and the charts on the computer proved very useful in finding a good spot to drop the hook. Each day that went by found me relying more and more on the detail in those charts. The GPS chart plotter just didn't have that level of detail.

Actually we passed to the South of Pensacola because the ICW runs just back of the barrier island next to the pass and the town of Pensacola is on the back side of the bay to the North.


The mouth of the pass had old cannon emplacements that guarded the entrance. The cannons were huge and dwarfed the people standing next to them.

The area is known for white sand beaches and clear blue water and that's what we saw. If we hadn't been surrounded by storm cells we would have stopped and enjoyed the beaches and sight seeing. This is a very pretty area.

There's also an old light house that would be a good side trip when time allows. The clouds in the background tell what kind of day it was. We were surrounded by red patches on the XM Weather.

We managed to make it past Pensacola and get to the Homeport Marina in Gulf Shores, Alabama without any storm troubles. By that I mean we never got caught. I did deploy the grounding system one night while at anchor but the storm dissipated before it got to us.

Homeport sits almost right where the ICW enters Mobile Bay if you are heading west and we got in kind of late in the afternoon. That night the area and marina was hit by a hell of a storm with high winds and lots of lighting. We were securely tucked away in our slip, thankfully.

The marina has a restaurant (Lulu's), a good fuel dock right on the ICW, and has floating docks. It's new and very nice. A supermarket is within walking distance as are a number of fast food joints. Sometimes you just need something from the grease group and there are enough fast food places to satisfy the most greasy taste. There are also non-fast food places as well, all within walking distance of the marina.

The time in Homeport, which is owned by Jimmy Buffet's sister Lulu by the way, was spent taking much needed showers, sleeping with the AC as cold as it would go, and restocking the galley. It goes without saying that I was watching the XM weather.

I also took the time to check out the engine. It occurred to me that I hadn't checked the oil in days. This was just plain dumb. My erroneous thinking was; it's a new engine and it doesn't use oil.

The diesel in my truck doesn't use oil so this one doesn't either. Also it had been so trouble free as to be almost invisible. So when I pulled the dip stick and discovered it had used oil, I was surprised.

It was barely on the stick. A few more days and I would have had a real problem. This little engine only has about 2 ½ quarts of oil so the engine was operating with an alarming level of oil which I rectified right away. That kind of neglect, and it is neglect, is not a way to keep an engine trouble free and almost invisible. After seeing the error of my ways I checked the oil daily before we started it and anyone using an engine should do the same. Why I didn't do this to start with is a puzzle but I went to sleep with this very important lesson foremost on my mind.

We got to sleep in (which we needed after two days on the hook) because our next stop was just a short run from Homeport. We were headed for Dauphin Island at the mouth of Mobile Bay.

The weather looked good so we started for Dauphin Island. A short run down the ICW from Homeport we passed a yard that made artificial reefs. This whole area is totally about sport fishing and a number of the captains have their own reefs placed in the gulf.

This yard not only made the reefs but had the tug to place them as well.

This was a rather boring stretch of the ICW and fortunately it was short. We found ourselves at Dauphin Island and the pass in no time.

Like Pensacola, the Mobile Bay Pass had old gun emplacements as well. These pre-date the Civil War and were actively guarding the pass during WWII. The full size lamp posts act as a scale and give an idea of the size of the canons. This is one of the many things to see on Dauphin Island.

It turns out that the entrance to the Marina, which is just inside the pass, was kind of guarded, as well. This is a difficult entrance and channel and any boat that draws more than 4 feet shouldn't try it.

We came in at high tide and drug bottom twice. Once where the ferry docks because the backwash from the ferry's props cause the sand to build up and a second time about halfway down the winding channel.

Some of the big sport fishing ladies docked in the marina draw a more than 4 feet but seemed to be able to muscle over the sand with those huge engines. I don't think a sail boat would be able to that, certainly not Valora.

The marina is nice and the people are very friendly as well as helpful but they are not really set up for transients. We were the only sail boat in the whole marina and the only transient.

We spent a week there and that was long enough to move from a novelty (the only sail boat and transient) to a first name basis with most of the sport fishing captains.

A week's stay was needed for Gene to meet up with some of his family. He grew up in the area and spent a good deal of time on Dauphin Island as a boy. He had a cousin or two that lived on the island and a brother that lived in the Mobile area.

The island itself is like many small island towns and reminded me of Port Aransas, Texas. They're about the same size and like all small island towns, everybody knows everybody.

There's one general store on the island and it's a true general store. It has food, marine parts and supplies, hardware and plumbing, beer and wine, and an eclectic collection of about anything else one could imagine. Luckily the store is about 200 yards from the marina.

There's a great bakery too but if you show up after 10 AM the selection is nonexistent. The coffee is good and everything to eat is worth getting up for and the long wait in line. The bakery is 400 yards from the marina.

Right next to the marina is a restaurant that has a good burger and good sea food. I was introduced to fried crab claws on Dauphin Island. This tasty dish seems to be a local food and unique to the Mobile area because I hadn't ever seen it anywhere else. It goes great with beer which is the way it's generally served. When I wasn't eating crab claws or bakery stuff I was in my berth staying cool in the AC. I welcomed the rest and sitting still and Gene got to spend time with family.

I was starting to realize that I liked sitting still, being in one place and not constantly on the move. At one point I thought my wife and I would cut the anchor line and always be on the move. We'd be like sea turtles and Valora would be our shell and home. But I was getting tired of the ICW and starting to reevaluate my desire to do the Great American Loop.

This trip had also definitely reinforced my opinion that the Gulf Coast in the summer is some place I'd prefer not to be. I knew I liked living on the boat and I knew I would like it even better with my wife. But living on the hook on the Gulf Coast during the summer had moved way down my list of priorities.

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