Panama City to Destin

Ambler Isle
V and S
Mon 13 Jun 2011 20:51
 30 22N
86 30W
We were back in the Gulf again at 7am.  We are not really early risers, but cruising requires special attention to tides, wind and sea conditions, and distance to the next port.  When we have a 10 hour run, we have to get an early start.  Once in the Gulf, we cannot reenter the sheltered ICW or the good anchorages until we come to an inlet.  The next inlet is Destin, and with a fishing trip underway, the distance is nearly 60 miles.  At our 6-7k speed, plus allowing for fishing, we expect to arrive in Destin in 10 hours, approximately 5pm. 
The wind was 5-10k out of the NW.  The cut itself was pretty choppy, but the seas moderated as we headed south to the 100' depths.  Several other fishing boats were heading to the same area, so we were going to the right place.  Yesterday we spoke with a young fellow who'd just come in after a day of fishing in the Gulf for Red Snapper.  They are in season only June 1 to July 31.  Proud of his catch, he showed pictures of the fish, and even took us over to the fishing department at the Panama City Marina to show the hooks they used.  The fish were huge.  It was fun to talk with a young person so enthused about his sport.  But we are fishing for mahi, and this is a totally different type fishing.  The snapper are in 200' water, and on the bottom.  This means we'd go to the spot, drop long lines with heavy sinkers and drift fish.  For mahi, we use lures that stay near the surface and troll at about 6.5k.  So it is unlikely we would catch both at the same time. 
A new feature of Florida boat is an automated radio check system.  Before, channel 16, the hailing and distress channel was cluttered with radio check requests.  Even worse, the towing services like Seatow and Tow BoatUS, pretended to respond to calls for radio checks with their own ads, creating more havoc.  Their high powered calls could be heard all the way to the Bahamas in the right weather.  Now, requests for radio checks are sent to channel 26 or 27 where a computer answers.  This makes the radio much quieter.  And unlike in the Bahamas, few boaters use the VHS to chat. 
Running in the Gulf of Mexico, we are reminded of the huge oil spill that monopolized the TV for months.  Strangely, it seems that these north Gulf waters are better than ever.  Cleaner, clearer more fish.  Speaking of fish we continue to catch mackerel today.  Fun to catch, we released each one.  By 9am we'd landed three big fish.  The seas got calmer and calmer.  The chart marks "fish havens", sunken objects that become artificial reefs.  Each haven had a local fishing boat sitting atop it.  When possible, we also passed over them hoping to catch one.  At one point we caught the tiniest mahi we'd ever seen.  No more than 10" it was a perfect replica of the adults of the species. We did not keep it. 
We approached the Destin inlet, called East Pass carefully.  The tide was honking out, the wind was out of the SW.  Because of constant shoaling at the entrance, the marker buoys are not charted on either of our chartplotters.  The channel is always marked, but always differently, and you have to really look to find them.  Once in it was the usual Sunday afternoon madness.  Little boats, big boats, tour boats, parasail boats, pontoons, kayaks, jet skis, kite boards:  all seeking a place in the narrow channel.   The water was choppy with all the activity.  Under the bridge small craft seemed on a sightseeing cruise:  they idled down the middle.  A nearby sand bar attracted 100s of boats, the occupants happily wading between boats to party.  It was a relief to get past the fun and were soon in Ft. Walton Beach.  We continued on through the narrow channel to the waterway off Santa Rosa Island and dropped anchor off the big dome towers there.  It was calm and quiet. Seems to funny to pick up TV channels again, so we watched a little TV, ate boat pizza dinner, and went to bed.