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 Spring break sailing trip

The following is a desciption of a sailing trip I took in the Florida Panhandle area between Shell Point, St. Marks, and the Aucilla river during my son's spring break in 2005.

 (Submitted by Noel Tue Aug 16, 2005 )
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Spring Break Sailing Trip


My oldest son Nathan and I took a three day trip in my Sea Pearl 21 during his Spring Break school vacation.

A Sea Pearl 21 is a small sailboat that is twenty-one feet long, five and a half feet wide, and weighs about six hundred pounds with the ballast tanks empty. It has an unstayed cat ketch rig. Most Sea Pearls have leeboards but mine was built with a centerboard. With its low weight and height it's an easy boat to trailer.

The best feature from my perspective is its draft. With the center board up it only drafts six inches and the centerboard adds only two more feet. In the northern part of the Gulf of Mexico that is a wonderful feature. Though I do admit that it can make you really lazy about navigation and ignore shallow water unless there are birds standing on it.

We left from Shell Point Florida, which is on the coast directly south of Tallahassee, Florida. Early sunday morning turned into mid-morning by the time we got the boat packed and on the water.

We launched the boat from a boat ramp on the west side of the point and motored through the channel and around the point. The marine forecast said five to ten knots from the southeast but as soon as we came around the point we knew that the forecast was somewhat fictional. The channel out into the Gulf was smooth but with more than fifteen knots of wind blowing from the southwest the water past the channel looked rougher than we had been expecting.

Once out past the channel we turned into the wind and unfurled the sails. On a Sea Pearl this is done by turning the masts and unwinding the sails while keeping tension on them from the booms. We left a couple of turns wrapped around the mast and turned to the east.

We turned north and surfing over some shoals we entered the channel into the St. Marks river. There is a large spoil island about a half mile up the river from the St. Mark's Lighthouse. Behind this island is a calm pool that has a few feet of water in it at high tide. This made a perfect spot to spend the evening and get out of the wind. Nathan set up a platform over the cockpit seats and we rigged up our tent. I supervised from the shore in a folding chair.

We slept the night quietly with the one exception of someone looking for the channel at three AM with a spotlight.

In the morning we motored several miles further up river and ate lunch at The Riverside Cafe.

Full of fried seafood we floated back down the river, leaving the channel near the lighthouse and reaching under a gentle breeze east to the mouth of the Aucilla river.

Picking our way into the river with our depth finder deployed (centerboard down) we dropped sails and motored upriver against an impressive flow. The Aucilla river is spring and runoff feed and it was either in flood stage or pretty close to it.

We stopped for a while to stretch our legs at the boat ramp on east bank of the river and then headed back to the river mouth to find an anchorage for the night.

We dropped our hook in about five feet of water up a small salt creek about three hundred yards from the river mouth. Built the platform and pitched our tent.

I had been feeling a little sickly most of the trip and at about sundown I started burning up with a fever while feeling like I was soaked in ice water. Needless to say I crawled in my sleeping bag and had no problem falling asleep.

My fever broke in the middle of the night. Sticking my head out of the tent I watched the stars and listened to the sounds of the salt marsh until I fell asleep. Nathan was out like a light.

It was dead calm in the morning. We packed up our tent and platform and drifted out the river back into the Gulf. The ocean was as flat and calm as duck pond.

Under power we eased our way back west staying within a hundred yards of the marsh until we approached the lighthouse. Near the lighthouse the water shoals so we moved away from shore until we entered the St. Marks river channel. Returning to St. Marks we called our shore support team (A.K.A my better half) and called it a day.

Even though I became ill it was a great trip. I enjoyed the time with my son and any day on the water is a very good day. The Sea Pearl is one heck of a boat. The combination of little draft, good handling, and a seaworthiness is tough to beat.

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