We left Apalachicola after lunch and it was a pleasant cruise between St George’s Island and the mainland up to Carrabelle.
Carrabelle is the starting point for the Gulf crossing. Even if you choose the short, 10-hour version to Steinhatchee, rather than the long, 26-hour, overnight version to Tarpon Springs, you still need perfect weather. Ian had emailed a local guru called Eddy for advice. Eddy’s advice was to stay at C-Quarters Marina in Carrabelle, and do as we were told by Captain Kim, who ran the marina and who knew her stuff.
Kim confirmed what we had suspected, that we would have to wait in Carrabelle for a week before it would be calm enough to cross. On the Friday of the week we were there, a severe storm was expected and it would be a few days before things settled down.
But Carrabelle was a good place to hang out, and there was plenty to do and see. We arrived there at about 5.30 and were immediately invited to a cook-out on the dock, by Nancy and John who lived on their boat there. On other nights, people gathered for drinks.
We went to the Carrabelle History Museum, http://www.carrabellehistorymuseum.org
and Tamara showed us round. We had met her husband the previous day, and he had told us that his family had been in America since the 1600’s. Tamara told us the story of Tate’s Hell, a State Forest just north of Carrabelle, named after Cebe Tate, who had gone into the forest to kill a panther which had attacked his livestock. He became lost for seven days, before emerging near Carrabelle, and uttering his famous last words, ‘My name is Cebe Tate, and I just came from Hell’.
The museum had an old Dansette record player, with a record in place on the turntable, of someone singing a ballad about Cebe’s demise. Tamara judged that we were old enough to know how to use the Dansette, and we were allowed to put the record on.
Another story was that of the Steamship Tarpon.
Steamships used to ply the waters between Mobile, Panama City, Apalachicola and Carrabelle, providing both a passenger service and goods transport. In 1937, SS Tarpon tragically sank in a gale, which had not been forecast and which suddenly arose out of previously calm waters. Although it is not mentioned on the link above, Tamara told us that Adley Baker, the seaman who swam ashore and alerted the rescue, had been helped in his 25-hour, 10-mile swim by a school of dolphins which supported him and carried him along through the water.
Next door to the museum was Lulu’s cafe, which served breakfasts and lunches. We were interested to see that Lulu’s hours of operation were 5am – 3pm. The reason for her early starts was that her husband was a prison officer, and she got up early to cook breakfast for him and his colleagues. We didn’t make the 5am breakfast, but lunch was pretty good.
Evening entertainment was at Fathoms, a tiki bar and restaurant just down the road from the marina. Its speciality was oysters, but they aren’t our thing. However, the alternatives were very good. As we were sitting waiting for our food, an old man in baggy jeans, a check shirt, a stetson, and sporting long grey hair and an even longer straggly grey beard, ambled slowly in and sat down. A few minutes later, he ambled out again and could be seen in the corner of the bar, taking up his position as rhythm guitarist with the group which was tuning up. They started off with Tulsa Time and as soon as we’d finished our meal, we took ourselves into the bar. A very pleasant couple, who had a weekend condo in Carrabelle, had identified us as fellow visitors, and made room for us at their table. Apparently, the Eric Clapton look-alike on lead guitar owned not only the bar and restaurant, but possibly one of the marinas as well. He was pretty good on the guitar too.
We knew the storm was coming on Friday, and had been woken in the early hours by thunder and torrential rain battering the roof of the cabin.
It was still a bit of a shock when all three of our phones (two British, one American) went off loudly with the alarm signal just before 8.30. It was a tornado warning and it advised us to shelter in our basement, or evacuate to a place of safety. Neither of these suggestions seemed very practical. The marina building itself didn’t look particularly sturdy, and we hadn’t noticed anywhere obvious that would provide shelter. Not very logically, I threw passports, my camera and the few valuables we have on board into a rucksack, then looked at the warning again. It was due to expire in ten minutes’ time. Ian looked at a weather map on the computer and could see that the main part of the storm had just passed to the northeast of us. We relaxed.
The next day, it was still windy, but we got the bikes out and cycled the two miles to Carrabelle Beach. The storm had passed, but there were still dramatic skies.
We stopped at the Two Brothers Diner for lunch, and it exceeded expectations.
Fifteen miles east of Carrabelle there is a thin spit of land which curves out into the Gulf and which provides a convenient place to anchor before setting out on the crossing. Captain Kim had advised us that Monday’s conditions would be favourable, so on Sunday afternoon we left Carrabelle and watched the sun go down at Alligator Point, ready for a very early start for Steinhatchee the next morning.
…..and early the next morning, before we set off.