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(The weather screen shots will have to be zoomed in order to see them.  Working to fix the HTML…sorry.)

Husband had to go back to Texas to take care of our taxes and for a doctor’s appointment this morning so this day finds me alone on the boat at Panama City Marina with our two kitties, Spook and Winkie. Chuck returns mid-morning on Saturday. It’s the first time I’ve been alone on the boat for more than a day or so. As Husband had to be at the airport for his 6:05 AM departure this morning, we rented a car yesterday to see more of the area than our bicycle rides could show us.

Panama City is actually a metroplex with the two major areas being Panama City and Panama City Beach. There is a world of difference between the two. Our marina is in Panama City proper.

Panama City (PC) appears to be a mere shadow of what it once was. PC sits at the back of St. Andrews Bay, perhaps 5 miles or so from the Gulf of Mexico and the gorgeous white sand beaches this area is known for. One can tell that once it was a grand place. Beach Drive winds along the bay and has more than its fair share of beautiful, big, unique, and old homes. But, go just a block off of Beach Drive and one is instantly transported to neighborhoods that have, to be polite, seen better days…much better days. We’ve talked to more than one local who has told us they moved away from the city proper twenty years or more ago and that all the tea in China could not get them to move back.  It’s hard to blame them.

Our marina is gated and patrolled at night by security guards. Both of the guards we’ve met have told us that PC is not safe at night and, like many cities of this size everywhere, is saturated with drugs and crime. The homeless are numerous and visible, noticeably visible just a few blocks from the marina. The further one gets from the water, the worse the neighborhoods appear. Though by all accounts the day time is safe, we’ve been told that certain areas close by are not to be visited at night. We’ve taken their advice to heart.

However, Harrison Avenue, their main street, seems to have benefited from some type of downtown revitalization project in the fairly recent past. This street is clean and has shops and a restaurant or two that we’ve been to…on our bikes during the day. The PC City Hall and a civic center of sorts is brand new and adjacent to the marina. Harrison Avenue dead ends at the marina. All in all, though, Panama City is not a place one might want to retire in as far as we’re concerned.

If one heads west on Beach Drive, within a few miles there is a bridge that crosses part of St. Andrews Bay. On the other side of that bridge is Panama City Beach (PCB) and it’s a whole different animal altogether.

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PCB is right on the Gulf of Mexico. For miles and miles there are huge high rise hotels and condominiums. Every conceivable shape, form, and fashion of tourist business (trap) line the roads. The beaches are the most beautiful powder white sand one could imagine. Upscale restaurants and pubs are everywhere, boutiques abound, and, of course, more tourist shops selling Florida trinkets, T-shirts, bikinis, and sea shells than one could shake a stick at. I dare say there is something in PCB for everyone, regardless of age. For a youngster, PCB would be the next best thing to heaven; it’s a wonderland of things to do.  PCB is also clean and I’m sure also has its share of homeless as well, though if they do, we didn’t see them. PCB is what I’m sure people think of when they think of Panama City, Florida.

We had lunch at a restaurant called Harpoon Harry’s yesterday. It was superb. But there were innumerable restaurants of every conceivable fare everywhere for miles and miles. And, more being built. Construction in PCB is in nothing short of boom times.

At this time of the year there are thousands of snowbirds in PCB. The snowbirds are generally older retired folk from up north, down here to escape the harsh winter. And, the establishments cater to them. At Harpoon Harry’s yesterday it was Wisconsin Day…the eatery was almost full up with older couples with tags on stating their name and what part of Wisconsin they were from. Next week is Michigan Day. We talked to a few of these people who were unanimously very friendly. It was obvious they were having a ball.

Though I’m sure the owners of the businesses would disagree, one thing virtually every local we’ve talked to dreads is Spring Break , set to commence around Easter here. We heard on the news a few days ago that the Emerald Coast expects more than a million kids for the festivities and Panama City Beach is one of the biggest draws.

In spite of the dozens upon dozens of hotels, condos, and resorts that line PCB, interspersed between these huge developments are a generous number of single family residences right beside some of them, right on the beach. I can just imagine the angst to these homeowners when a few hundred thousand teenagers are thrown into their pot…hell bent on having the blowout of their year.

Like much of America, there is a clear line in the PC/PCB area between the haves and the never will…have nots.

On another front is the topic of weather windows. In sailing, a weather window is a time span in which the weather is favorable for a passage (going from any given point “A” to any given point “B”). A weather window can be as short as maybe hours, or can be as long as days. Anything much longer than a week or so is ridiculous because the forecast, no matter how great the weather guru making the call, changes.

Weather is simply everything to all mariners…regardless of the size of the vessel. The weather can make a passage one of the most enjoyable experiences imaginable if favorable or something akin to a living nightmare if not…as was the case of our November, Friday 13th bomb.

There are countless sources for a sailor to utilize in predicting the weather. We use fifteen or so different websites to come up with our weather windows. Some of the sites require a paid subscription to get the forecasts, others are free, and still others are a combination, depending on how much one might want to spend. There are even private and professional meteorological services who will call or email your weather window…for a fee. Some sources are obviously better than others.

In our case, and through trial and error, our “go to” weather sources are Predict Wind and Buoy Weather, both are sites we pay for access. We then use NOAA and the other free sites to keep our primary sites honest. All of the weather comes from NOAA in the long run, the sites simply boil the information down to a forecast…read forecast as an educated guess.

Nonetheless, if all or even most of the forecasts agree the weather should be good then chances are it will be good. Still, one rolls the dice and hopes for the best.

Here is the current departure forecast from Predict Wind for our next passage from Panama City to Tampa:

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And, here is the current sea state forecast for the next six days from Buoy Weather for a point that is essentially right in the middle of that little missile test range I last wrote about:

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The color ticks represent sea states:  red is dangerous seas, yellow is small craft advisories, and green represents a pleasant sea state.  It should be noted that with Buoy Weather, the forecast is for a single specific set of coordinates, not for the entire route of the trip, while Predict Wind is the forecast for the entire passage route. It should also be noted that weather deals in everything but absolutes or in other words, what is predicted today may not hold up when the same variables from the same sources are viewed tomorrow. Sometimes the weather just goes to shit in a basket. Take for example the yacht Southern B.E.L.L., an 80’ Hatteras motor yacht. As you can see from the photo, it dwarfed our 52’ Tayana, which in turn dwarfed the other sailboats in the marina.

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M/V Southern B.E.L.L., left Lauderdale Marina over a week ago to, of all places, our hailing port of Kemah, Texas. Night before last they were caught offshore when one cast iron bitch of a front came through, by far the strongest front we’ve seen since we left way back in early November. There were four crew aboard; the skipper and first mate were paid delivery crew with over 30 years of experience each…the other two crew were related to the owner. They caught the front head on.

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According to the skipper and mate, who dropped by our yacht for a beer last night, their boat was tossed around like a cork in seas roughly the same intensity as those we experienced when we were caught offshore back in November, Friday 13th. They surfed down the waves at dangerous speeds of over 25 knots as they limped over the St. Andrews Bay inlet bar getting inside of the bay before they then circled inside the bay until the wind laid down after the front passed. They said that every single item inside the boat, bar none, that wasn’t physically attached to the boat itself gave way as the yacht waffled back and forth through a 45 degree heel, port to starboard and back again. The captain had a large abrasion on his forehead gained when he was thrown across the wheelhouse on a particularly fierce wave. They lost their autohelm one hour out of Ft. Lauderdale and had to hand steer the entire way. Their stabilizers malfunctioned, and so far in the trip they’d had to change out the fuel filters no less than ten times. Their ports leaked and the mate indicated every single changing of clothes he had was soaked. As they both said, it “wasn’t fun.” I don’t doubt it.

The point? Everybody misreads the weather sooner or later…and, misreading the weather sucks. It isn’t fun.

There is a couple of things of note about this story. One is that though our boat is some thirty feet shorter than the 80’ Hatteras it would probably have handled those seas as good or better than the motor yacht. The reason being we have 14,800 pounds of keel that dampens the roll and rights our vessel…motor yachts don’t have that kind of keel weight. Another is that the skipper actually lives in League City, Texas where our home is…his mate lived in Texas City, Texas, just down the road…the owners are from Houston I believe. And, lastly, the crew was bringing their yacht to Kemah, to be berthed at the Kemah Boardwalk Marina…small world, as they say.

I’m somewhat amused with those who prefer catamarans to monohull sailboats, invariably because the cats “ride better.” Cats also capsize better. If a sailboat rolls or is knocked down it is self-righting because of the heavy keels…cats don’t self-right, they stay upside down. There is a very good reason why catamarans have escape hatches on the side/bottom of their two hulls.

There is an Old Breton prayer that has been quoted a billion times by sailors, the first lines being so very true:

Thy sea, oh God, so great, my boat so small.

Go out and play on the ocean and try to tell me otherwise…I dare you.

And, lastly, our hot water heater crapped out.  So, out with the old and in with the new.  After we yanked the old one out we were amazed it’s worked as well as it did for the past few years.

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My hero…

 

 

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