Thursday, January 17, 2013

Florida At Last! Pensacola

November 6-8, 2012

Leaving Lulu’s we had a three hour cruise to our next destination, Pensacola, Florida. It wasn’t long after leaving Gulf Shores, AL that we crossed the Florida border.  It was exciting to realize that after a long and wonderful journey from the Chesapeake Bay, through Canada and the Great Lakes, and down the rivers, we had arrived in Florida, which had seemed so far away when we began.

Our welcome to Florida was just right – sunshine, pleasant temperatures, pelicans, dolphins, sugary white sand and blue, blue water. We felt pretty lucky to be boating here.

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Our entry to Pensacola took us by the Naval Air Station, the home of the U.S. Navy flight school and the Blue Angels. The base property also includes the historic Pensacola lighthouse, built in 1859.

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We arrived at the Palafox Marina in downtown Pensacola in late morning. The dockmaster gave us a great lay-along dock right next to the entrance, a very easy place to get the dogs off and on and a pretty park to walk them in.


Seaquel was already there and waiting for us.  As soon as we got tied up and settled, we walked with Joe and Edie to the nearby downtown neighborhood for lunch. There are so many restaurants in this area it’s hard to choose. We guessed (accurately!) that we wouldn’t be eating on board much in Pensacola. The downtown is very attractive, sort of reminiscent of a small, quieter New Orleans, with many two-story store fronts with intricate wrought iron balconies.

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Pensacola’s public art theme is pelicans.  Here is one of them.


After lunch Craig, Edie and I explored the area a bit more and visited the T.T. Wentworth Museum, with interesting displays of local history and Mr. Wentworth’s eclectic personal collections. A small display reminded us it was election day, but in the interest of peace and harmony on the boat we didn’t pay much attention to that.

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We learned that Pensacola has had a very long and interesting history. It was the first European settlement in North America, pre-dating Jamestown by almost half a century. It has been controlled by the Spanish (several times), the French, the British, the United States and the Confederate States, hence its nickname, “The City of Five Flags.” We weren’t aware that Spain aided the American colonies in the Revolutionary War by defending Pensacola against the British. Seems it wasn’t so much an alliance with the colonies as it was Spain’s self-interest in keeping the British out of Florida. The area didn’t come under U.S. control until the early nineteenth century.

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That evening, after the obligatory glass of wine on the boat watching yet another beautiful sunset, the four of us walked back to downtown for a fine dinner at Global Grill, a tapas restaurant. No fried shrimp for a change!


The next morning Craig took advantage of the proximity to town by walking with the dogs to a bakery to buy breakfast to bring back to the boat. Later, we met friends and Gold Loopers Tom and Patsy Conrad for lunch at the restaurant at the marina. They live near Pensacola and were home for a brief time. It was wonderful to see them.

After lunch, Tom and Patsy dropped us at the National Naval Aviation Museum at the Pensacola Naval Air Station.  We met Joe and Edie, who had rented a car and driven there earlier in the day. We had a terrific tour guide, Capt. Howard Rundell, a retired Naval aviator who started his Navy career around the same time Craig did – but Howard stuck with it much longer! He was a great guide and did a good job of showing us the highlights with lots of added behind-the-scenes insights. The museum has an amazing collection of planes from all eras, most of them with interesting individual stories.


This is one of George H.W. Bush’s actual training planes. The restoration crew took the liberty of renumbering the plane “41” in honor of the 41st president.


Of course, there are several Blue Angels planes on display.


And this is the helicopter that flew Richard Nixon away from the White House for the last time.


We enjoyed the museum so much we went back again the next day. I was particularly taken with the Vietnam POW display.  Boy, did that bring back memories. There was a huge pile of POW bracelets like the one I wore until “my” POW came home. They showed a gripping video piece recounting the experiences of Vietnam POWs, narrated primarily by John McCain. The video included footage of the released POWs’ arrival in Hawaii at the conclusion of the war in the Spring of 1973, with thousands of people gathered at the air force base at 2:00 a.m. to welcome them home. Included in that crowd were Craig and I, in Hawaii with Craig’s ship, which was at Pearl Harbor at the time. We will never forget that experience and it was poignant to relive it.

If you are ever in the Pensacola area and have any interest at all in airplanes, the Navy or American history, do not miss this museum! It’s wonderful.


After lunch, I went back to the boat to do some work, and Craig, Joe and Edie explored downtown a bit more, checking out an art museum, St. Michael’s Cemetery and the Pensacola Bay Brewery. A varied itinerary!

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That evening, our museum tour guide and new friend Howard Rundell and his wife joined Joe, Edie and us on board Blue Heron. Howard was fascinated with our Loop adventure and wanted to see our boat.  They are very nice people and we had a great time.  When they left, Howard gave his “shipmate” Craig a commemorative medal from his flight squadron. Another example of the many interesting people we have met on the Loop.


We would count Pensacola as a real highlight of our trip!

Next: Continuing east along the Panhandle.

(Real time update: As of January 17, we are still Carrabelle, FL, waiting for a weather window to cross the Gulf.)

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