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June 13, 2013

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Cruising the Panhandle

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Page 4

If the weather permits an outside passage toward Panama City, that course will lead you to St. Andrew Sound, inside Crooked Island, one of the most beautiful anchorages on the Gulf coast when activities at Tyndall Air Force Base permit its use.

If you've stayed in the Gulf ICW, it will lead you down a long landcut, then into more scenic Wetappo Creek and down a winding few miles to enter East Bay at Mile 312 EHL, then westward to Panama City and the first marine facilities of  any consequence west of Apalachicola.

Approaching the city from the east, the waterway passes Pitt Bayou, Watson Bayou, and Massalina Bayou, all offering good shelter. Panama City still features some of the best marine facilities, shopping and shore attractions in the Panhandle — and maintains a great attitude toward visiting boatmen as well.

The city is sheltered inside the barrier of Shell Island, opposite the main pass from the Gulf into St. Andrews Bay, one of the best deep-water channels on the Gulf Coast. Facilities on the Panama City side of the bay include the excellent Panama City Marina at the mouth of Massalina Bayou and the foot of Harrison Avenue, a very interesting part of "downtown" Panama City.

Farther west is the St. Andrews Marina on Buena Vista Point. It's adjacent to the historic section of Panama City known as St. Andrews. Established in 1827, and incorporated as a city in 1907, this neighborhood community never really gave up its own unique identity even when it was annexed by Panama City in 1927. In addition to having shops, stores, and restaurants to visit (some with their own docks), St. Andrews is also ideal for walking tours through restored Victorian neighborhoods lined with Spanish Moss-draped live oaks and outstanding 19th Century architecture.

On the east side of the Hathaway Bridge you'll find the SunHarbor Marina, which has a two-story on site restaurant with outside decks.

South of the waterway, inside and west of St. Andrews Inlet, is Grand Lagoon, a very popular recreation area with marinas and attractions. You'll find Bay Point at the Marriott Resort on the north shore and Lighthouse Marina & The Boatyard Restaurant farther west, with Treasure Island Marina on the opposite side.

If you choose to anchor out, you will find so many places on St. Andrews Bay that being crowded is virtually impossible. And finding a place where deep, blue, clear water laps along a bone-white sand beach is easy. In fact, you’ll find deep water alongside good beaches almost everywhere in the bay.

Back in the Intracoastal and heading west from Panama City, the channel passes under Hathaway Bridge and crosses North Bay and West Bay to (roughly) Mile 270 EHL. There the waterway enters West Bay Creek, then leads through a narrow 20-mile landcut to the eastern end of Choctawhatchee Bay.

At this point, you’re 20-plus miles short of Destin and Fort Walton Beach and in excellent cruising water. You can turn off the waterway at Mile 240 and visit Baytowne Marina at Sandestin Resort, inside Horseshoe Bayou on the south side of the bay. The Village (shopping area, with restaurants) is a treat! Joe’s Bayou, just off the waterway at the northern end of Destin, is a very popular sheltered anchorage with good depths. Across the bay on the north shore, Rocky Bayou and Boggy Bayou offer good anchorages and facilities, including Bluewater Bay Marina in Rocky. Also in Niceville, there’s the North Light Yacht Club and the nearby Boathouse Landing Restaurant -  great seafood and other dishes. At the southeast corner of the Mid-Bay Bridge, Legendary Marine has dry storage, a  ramp and its own Legendary Yacht Club with lounge and boat store. There's all kinds of shopping at Route 98 where there are two giant malls, one with an Outdoor World store with lots of boating items.

Destin lies just north and east of East Pass Inlet, on the peninsula that shelters Choctawhatchee Bay on the south, and is a resort and sportfishing city with many marinas, waterfront hotels and restaurants and shore facilities within easy distance of many docks. Often called  the “World's Luckiest Fishing Village,” Destin is a haven for anglers of all kinds, both salt water and fresh, and home to one of the nation's largest charter fishing fleets. The community is named for a fisherman, Leonard Destin, who moved here from New London, Connecticut around 1845. (Continue...


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