Friends, Parties, and Projects!
Visiting Panama City was like coming home! A little history....When we first bought our boat, we traveled through Panama City. We arrived in mid-February 1998 and were planning to stay three days. That all changed for us when we met Rick and Audrey Shumaker and their friends in the Offshore Cruise Club. We anchored in Massalina Bayou to get out of some weather. Rick paddled out there in his dinghy the next day to warn us about some submerged moorings, invited us to come ashore, and the rest is history! The friendly folks from the Offshore Cruise Club adopted us and showed us how to have a good time, Panama City style!. Five weeks later, we finally left Panama City to travel the west coast of Florida. They pretty much just had to throw us out of there!
Photos from Off Shore Cruise Club, February 1998
Fast forward to May 2011... We were in Sampson Cay in the Bahamas and who did we hear on the VHF radio??? Our friends from Panama City, Rick and Audrey, aboard their 36 ft. Cheoy Lee sailboat, Naked Lady! We had lost touch since we left Panama City back in 1998. We visited and saw them later at Norman's Cay and Nassau. Had a great time renewing our friendship!
Photos from Norman's Cay, Bahamas, May 2011
Well, a year and a half went by. We returned to the States, our boat was docked in Gulfport and we were living in Crystal Springs while I worked for a while. In December 2012, we finally resumed our cruising life. We planned to travel across the Panhandle of Florida on our way to the Keys and the Bahamas, so of course, a trip to Panama City was in order! We contacted Rick and Audrey 10 days before Christmas, and they once again welcomed us back to Panama City. The Offshore Cruise Club had long ago disbanded, but a new host of friends made our stay in Panama City a wonderful one! We arrived at the Panama City Marina on December 15, 2013.
One thing you gotta know about Panama City is that we are in Panama City, Florida, NOT Panama City Beach, Florida! As the locals here will tell you, they are definitely two different cities (maybe countries, even!). Don't be insulting the locals by referring to the wrong city!! Panama City is small-town, friendly, and down-home. When you think Panama City Beach, think spring-break crazy, wild drinking, up all night partying... you get the idea.
Now, don't let that lead you to believe there's no drinking and partying here in Panama City! It's here, but it just happens a whole lot earlier! We brought our boat from Panama City Marina to a local, laid-back marina which was named.... Laid Back Marina! Perfect! A great place to hang out to meet new friends and party with Rick and Audrey.
This time we knew we were going to stay more than three days... so we paid for a month! We had a ball! Although a different group of friends this time, these folks like to party! We saw Rick and Audrey every day! They were very generous with their time, lent us their car (many, many times), and helped us with projects. Every day at 4:30 p.m., people gathered at the dock for Happy Hour. Rain or Shine. Warm or Cold. The number of people there varied from 4 or 5 to 10 to 15. You never knew who would come, but the mainstays were always Audrey and Rick and Ken and us. Sometimes it got so cold we had to light the kerosene heater to keep warm, but even that was fun huddled around the heater sipping drinks and trading stories.
Oh, my, and the parties! We went to more parties in our five weeks at Panama City than we have in the previous 5 years: A Holiday Party at Rick and Audrey's house, Christmas Eve (Eve) party given by Jimmy and GiGi Mullins, Christmas Day party at the Laid Back Marina Dock, Laurie's 60's Theme 50th Birthday Party, New Year's Eve Party at Barbara and Espin's, New Year's Day lunch at Laid Back Marina Dock, Welcome Back Hamburger Cookout for Carol and Bruce, Espin's 70th Birthday Party, and Barbara's 65th Birthday Party. Here are some scenes from all the parties!
And the projects! One would think that with all this partying going on, we wouldn't have time for any boat projects! Thanks to Rick, we were able to get some things done that needed his expertise. Rick is a master electrician and a jack of all trades. He is one of those people that just "sees" a problem, and "sees" a solution. It all comes natural to him. He was very generous with his time and helped us with all kinds of projects for Genesis.
Our mast boot was leaking around the mast. The water would drip down the mast inside the boat. Rick had repaired a leaky mast before and came up with a unique (and effective!) idea. Rick and LA removed all the old wood chocks from around the mast. Next, they laid 5 feet of 1 inch rope around the mast, then filled it in with mildew resistant silicone. No more leaks!
LA took on a major project with the dinghy. The dinghy bottom had not been painted since 2009. There was also a leak around where the fuel line that had been leaking into the sub-flooring of the dinghy. The marina guys helped him pull the dinghy onto the dock. He sanded and fared the bottom and applied two coats of black Petit Hypalon bottom paint, then fixed the leak. The dinghy is ready for our travels!
We had a single side-band radio (SSB) installed in Gulfport, but was unable to receive or transmit. The SSB system had several components... a Kiss counterpoise system for grounding, and a split insulated backstay antenna. Fortunately, Rick is a ham radio operator and is active on several cruisers' radio nets. He is very experienced at troubleshooting these systems. Due to the setup of our system, Rick had to systematically test each component of the system. Each day after a change was made, at 4:00 p.m., we would get on the DooDah cruiser's net (frequency 8152) and try out the radio. Ultimately, he ended up disconnecting the Kiss counterpoise system and using the boat's own grounding system. We also discovered that we had a lot of interference in the marina. We left the dock one day and went out into the harbor, and got the system to work. I felt like we had discovered fire!! Not only did Rick get our system working, he guided us through the pre-programming of the SSB and taught us how to use it. I think we really tried his patience on this project!! He is my hero!
Rick can do ANYTHING! He integrated our cockpit chart plotter with our autopilot. This will allow us to set a course and the boat will self-correct to steer to a waypoint or route. This will be especially useful when we have a long crossing across the Gulf and particularly when we cross to the Bahamas where the gulf stream frequently moves the boat off course.
After five fun-filled weeks in Panama City, it was time for us to move on. We wanted to explore more of the panhandle and move our way down the west coast of Florida. We have several places we want to visit before we get to the Keys, and we want to spend time in the Keys before we head to the Bahamas. Next destination.. Apalachicola! We had to decide whether we were going to follow the inside route using the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), or go on the outside in the Gulf and come up the canal at Port St. Joe. The Panama City Tyndall Bridge is the gateway to the ICW swamp route and is 50 feet high. Our mast height is 51 feet. However, the cruisers in Panama City say that it is higher and we can get under the bridge at low tide. We went back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth. Every time someone asked us, we would say inside route... no, outside route... no, inside route! We drove everyone a little crazy with our back and forth. I wanted to go through the swamp to see the scenery. LA did too, but he didn't want to knock the wind instrument off the top of the mast on the way under. Ultimately, we decided to go for it. Rick had first-hand knowledge that a boat with our mast height could make it through.
So, we headed the five miles from the marina to the bridge. We looked up, and, lo and behold, there was Barbara and Espin on top of the bridge, waving us through. We made it through with 4 feet to spare! Whew! We were excited to make it through and excited to be out on the boat again! Leaving Panama City was hard, but we will see everyone in the Bahamas and will have a fun reunion!
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