At Scott Turner’s suggestion, we took our newly renovated boats out on their first passage, and mine too. We’ve all been working so hard getting them ready for our new lifestyle, it was just time to have some fun, gain some experience and test the waters, literally. Troy dropped our repaired sails off Sunday night and Monday morning we cruised out in a 3 boat convoy on Dog River, headed southbound in Mobile Bay.
We put the sails up and had some smooth sailing from the get go. The wind was blowing right at us so we had to tack back and forth to go south. I got a lot of practice at working the jib sheets and winches. It was smooth enough that I took the helm so Trent could go below for a few minutes when we got a sudden gust of strong wind and I panicked. As embarrassing as this is to admit, I yelled for him that I was scared and thought that we were going to flip over. Now, I’ve been out on a number of sailboats, and even raced them, with friends but never out on Pepper, as our boat, so I was extremely nervous. Trent popped his head out of the companionway and explained what was going on. We were heeled over and “rippin'” as he would say. He assured me that Pepper cannot flip over. It is kind of strange to see your house tilted at a 20 degree angle. We proceeded to practice some man overboard drills.
Mobile Bay is just disgusting. It’s muddy brown, smelly, shallow, and super rough from the ship channel, wind, and strong currents from the Gulf. Twenty miles was a day sail for us to the south east end of the bay so we spent the night at anchorage in a little cove right by the entrance to the Intracoastal Waterway. It was dark when we arrived and the wind died down significantly. I drove Pepper into the wind, Trent dropped the anchor, I put her in reverse and we were hooked. I’ve never done that before. Proud as we were to set the anchor on our first try, we were beat and ready for bed. The biggest mistake we made was leaving our air conditioner in the Suburban. I don’t know why we thought it would be cooler. My first night out was the worst night I’ve ever had on Pepper. I could feel the blood pulsing through my body like I was doing some light cardio the entire night. There was not even 1 knot of a breeze.
With little shut eye, the next morning we decided to go up through the Intracoastal Waterway to The Wharf Marina due to severe storm threats. After all, we were trying to make Pepper’s first passage enjoyable for everyone. Batton Down headed back to Turner Marina due to other obligations. The Waterway was lusciously green along the coasts and we began to see more dolphins the further East we went.
As you will see from the photos, Pepper and Viking were a bit out of place at The Wharf. Our vessels were pretty salty. We were surrounded by enormous yachts and fishing trawlers. It was like a marina resort, complete with Ferris wheel and all. There was shopping, restaurants, bars and activities, but most importantly, hot showers. We did taxi over to Orange Beach for the afternoon. The water was refreshing and there were tons of people there to enjoy it. Hey, we made it to the beach though!
Anxious to find some blue water of our own, we shot up the Waterway for half of the next day. As the water began turning cerulean in color we scoped out an anchorage. We found a quiet little nook in the bay that looked like it was only a few hundred yards across from a skinny peninsula that laid against the Gulf. We did set the anchor twice, not because the first attempt failed, but because we decided it would be safer from other traffic closer to shore. Practice makes perfect.
After a short discussion about which craft to paddle over to the beach, the dinghy or stand up paddle board, we ended up inflating the paddle board. It was all new and exciting. We met up with Scott and Dylan on the peninsula and began walking towards the Gulf, completely mesmerized by the white sand. I jokingly said, “Is this real life?” We were so happy. So within maybe 5 minutes we arrived at the beach! Unbeknownst to us, we were pretty isolated. We later learned that the only way to access the beach was by air or sea. It was strange not seeing hundreds of people, condos or even a snow cone stand. I wondered if we were doing something wrong, like trespassing.
I immediately wore myself out fighting the waves and current on the paddle board. Then I went for a long walk along the beach, miles away from my crew. At this point the sand was really starting to make itself comfortable in very unwelcome places. I double checked my surroundings to make absolute sure no one was watching, and striped off my suite to rise it out. Awesome! Anyone close to me knows how much I love animals. I used to sit in front of my Aunt Krista’s TV for hours as a
kid because she had Animal Planet. I still find them fascinating so this next discovery was right up my alley. Sea turtle nests were abundant. Late in the day, we walked up on a woman who looked as if she was digging on a nest. We were startled to see another individual so we chatted her up. Cindy worked for the Park Service and informed us that two turtles had hatched out the night before. She was swapping out the screens for the evening that protect them from predators. Cindy explained that there’d be lots of action there tonight, with researchers and volunteers, if the other dozens of eggs hatched from this relocated nest. We were welcome to come watch and help keep predators at bay. I was stoked.
After grilling some chicken and baking the most delicious beer bread back on Pepper we headed back to shore to hopefully see the hatchlings. The water was pitch black and like a sheet of glass in the bay but we had our head lamps around our necks as a comfort measure. We talked with the turtle people for a bit and star gazed until about midnight with no action from the nest. The turtle folks were camping to ward off predators when they decide to emerge. We were wiped out though. They asked if on our way back we could turn on our bright white lights and scare off the sand crabs. We had a blast chasing crabs, as stupid as that sounds, because they were there by the thousands. Some of the big daddy crabs tried to challenge us by charging. What fun we had. We were told that the crabs pinch the babies between the neck and flipper, paralyzing them, to devour more easily, so we went wild chasing them down. I think we were a little delirious too. It was a day of sun, sailing, sand, stars and crabs.
The next morning Trent and I paddled the dinghy back to shore for an early morning stroll. The nest was screened up again and there was no indication that anything happened. There were dozens of giant sting rays passing through the shallow surf. We stood and watched dolphins hunt up their breakfast, teaming up, by scaring their prey into shallow waters. It was something to see.
To me, seeing dolphins never gets old. I immediately jump up in the boat anytime they graced us with their presence. I loved when we were out in the Gulf later that day and a group of 3 was literally a foot off the bow. I laid down and stretched my arm over the side hoping to touch one. So close! They flip over on their backs right below the surface so they can turn their heads up to see what I was doing. It’s so cool.
Waters in the Gulf near Pensacola were just gorgeous. It took us a day to get back to Mobile Bay. We dropped anchor at the first decent spot we could find because we were so tired. That was the second worst night on Pepper ever. It was noisy, bright, defiantly hot, and oh yea, I’ll never forget, it felt like we were on a roller coaster.
Ready for a good night’s sleep we were glad to be back at Turner Marina where we instantly hooked up the air conditioner. Now we know why no one sails anywhere this time of year. It’s boiling hot and the weather is unpredictable. I actually felt sick once off the boat but recovered quickly by sweating it out at Crossfit Stone and chasing that with the most amazing cucumber margarita and smoked hamburger at Moe’s Original BBQ. Best meal ever! You see, our freezer was having some issues, which we now think is a battery problem, so we ate chicken every night before it could spoil and go to waste. I say this all the time but this trip was a glimpse into what’s yet to come. I was just relieved to see some blue water and to learn how to sail. With a surprisingly rather short, brand new, to-do list, we’re even more motivated to continue making improvements. Overall, Pepper’s first passage, and mine, was pretty alright.