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Florida Panhandle, Explored by Sailboat

Sailing the Florida Panhandle near Apalachicola, FL

When mother nature throws a curve ball, get ready for an adventure! And that’s what we had in the Florida panhandle.

It was unplanned, unmapped, and untouched by enough time – we could have easily enjoyed 2-3 weeks in the Florida panhandle. There were swamps, bay sailing, small towns with charm, coastal sailing, and offshore sails.

Pensacola to Panama City

A little shell shocked from the recent Tropical Storm journey, we ventured into the Gulf of Mexico again to make way for Clearwater, FL. But we did so with a Plan B.

This leg of the trip started with a robust exit from Pensacola Bay with swift currents and steep 4-5 footers.

Exiting Pensacola Bay

The waves were splashing on the bow, but not quite over the bow.

At this time, we hadn’t learned how to time our inlets with the tides – this is a lesson worth learning early on.

Plan B was there in case the sea states were uncomfortable or if another storm popped up. It was a simple plan to go to Panama City Beach and find refuge or rest.

And we’re thankful we had it, because Nancy and Olivia both became sea sick, and we tucked in for some recovery.

The sail wasn’t too bad, but the following seas were still stirred up from lingering storms that spotted the night sky.

One thing we’ve learned about sea sickness: Anxieties + Rolling Sea State = Bad Combo.

However, one cool thing about night sailing 50+ miles offshore is you can grab sleep while you sail.

And this we did, all the way to Panama City Beach.

Nancy’s Thoughts


Pensacola Anchorage One: Beautiful location, great holding, and peaceful. I loved waking up in the morning next to the base and hearing the band. Matt, Olivia, and the crew enjoyed a quick snorkel practice at the beach…first time in clear water that was not a swimming pool!

Pensacola Bay Beach Anchorage: Quick access to Floyd’s, the bushwhacker was awesome! Nice beach for the kiddos to play in the sand and swim. Docks for the dinghy to tie up or even beach it. You can walk, or uber to the Beachside Laundry Mat, and there is a restraint next door to have breakfast, or lunch while you wait (they also have bottled beer and Bloody Mary’s)

Panama City Quick Anchorage: Very easy to access right after you get in the inlet. It’s pretty open and busy all morning. There were two bait boats anchored in the anchorage and fishing boats pass through on all sides to get bait. Jet skis and pontoon boats zoom through full of people going to the beaches on both sides of the inlet. Wish we could have had time to explore a little more of Panama City.

Swampville: The change of pace was nice after all the storms and offshore travels. The ICW was well marked and deep getting to the anchorage. Super calm and peaceful, even while searching the area for alligators. Loved the gorgeous sunset and the chime of the crickets.

Apalachicola: Best stop on the ICW. Wish we would have stayed multiple days. Next time we should anchor across or be mindful of the wind and current when docking overnight, getting pinned to the dock was a new challenge for all three of us and Lunar Lander (aka Patches) took a beating. Every inch of this small town was so cool and welcoming. Although it is a huge tourist magnet, the atmosphere drowns out the people and it was just super chill and a much-needed day of relaxing. Loved the food at Tamara’s!

Coastal Sail from Panama City Beach to Port St. Joe

After the Thunderstorms passed, we pulled anchor and headed out for a short 30nm coastal sail to Port St. Joe.

Since the trip was unplanned, we really had no idea where we’d spend the night or whether or not we’d have a safe harbor restaurant stop – a tradition that I have more and more come to enjoy!

Calm Coastal Sailing is Pure Bliss!
Riding or Relaxing on the Bow is a Favorite in Calm Conditions
Matt and Olivia Pulling Up Anchor as We Depart for the Next Leg

Exploring the “Swamps” of the Florida Panhandle

It never sounded like fun. It never was a destination we hoped for.

It sounds hot.

It must be infested with bugs.

I didn’t buy a sailboat to be in a river 10 miles inland surrounded by gators and frogs.

But…

This was one of the most incredible spots!!!

And that’s what was great about this adventure in the Florida Panhandle – it was full of surprises!

Entering the ICW at Port St. Joe

What didn’t make the video? I grounded hard in Port St. Joe. We were going 5 knots and came immediately to a stop on hard sand!

The picture above was just after freeing ourselves.

“Running Aground”
The bottom of the sailboat (the keel) hits the shallow sea floor below. Sometimes this results in getting stuck (aka “running hard aground”).

How did we free ourselves?

This time, we were so hard aground that we dropped the dinghy and used its little 9.9hp motor to push Cadence off.

After this little ordeal, we learned a vital lesson: Don’t cut corners. Use the channel markers even if the chart says it’s 7-8 feet…over time the ground can move.

However, the “swamps” as we call it, was beautiful!

And we saw the best sunset/moonrise combination ever!

The full moon rising as the sun is setting in Florida.

We took about 50 photos of this moonrise, and aren’t sure which are the best. Here’s another few shots.

The ICW in the Florida Panhandle at Dusk
Florida evergreens with evening thunderstorms

Apalachicola, A Florida Gem

The city docks were just aside the ICW in the Apalachicola River, and there was a great anchorage across the channel that we would have used had we stayed a full week.

SV Cadence Safe and Secure in Apalachicola, FL

Everything is within a 5-10 minute walk with great little pubs, cafes, and breweries just minutes from the dock.

We ate lunch at Tamara’s Cafe, but actually preferred the bar next store – which is also owned by Tamara’s.

The opening scenes in the episode above were filmed in Tamara’s Cafe (see my food review here).

Apalachicola, Florida from the City Docks

What Do You Think?

I’ve probably written enough…but I’m curious what you think. Which parts of the Florida panhandle look the most enjoyable to you? Would you prefer staying offshore or venturing into the swamps? What do you think about Apalachicola? Do you have any questions?

Leave me a comment below, so we can chat!

Cheers,

Matt.


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7 responses to “Florida Panhandle, Explored by Sailboat”

  1. Casey

    Loved this episode, and appreciate your commentary here. We will be making a similar trek to you all (heading from Kemah towards Florida) later this year and would not have considered the Apalachicola stop till we saw your video. Now, we think we want to put it on our planned route down the western coast of Florida. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Awesome! I think you’ll love it.

  2. Marie Rocheleau

    We had the pleasure of staying in Destin a few years back – it was wonderful white soft sand and grest restaurants! Don’t know about anchorage’s there or marinas but we would venture there on a sailboat! Navarre is beautiful – great beaches ! Redneck Riviera at its finest!!

    1. I love it when a beach has soft sand!!!

  3. […] word for the Waccamaw River – tranquility. It reminded us of the little swamp we stayed in while sailing the Florida panhandle. Tall trees, mossy overhangs, and glassy smooth […]

  4. Wow! Great experience, indeed. I hope someday I will explore more and get some adventure like all bloggers do.

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