Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Juan Sebastián de Elcano (June 3, 2009)

This impressive Spanish sailing ship came to Pensacola last week, making port on June 3rd.

I made plans to hit the end of Santa Rosa Island (the home of Fort Pickens) early Wednesday morning. I did the same thing a few years ago, when the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise came to town for a few weeks. The info on the page I linked to said the Elcano would be arriving around 9 a.m.

I misinterpreted this to mean the ship would be crossing the bar from the Gulf of Mexico to Pensacola Bay at 9 a.m.

So I woke up at 6 a.m., got on the road by 7, spent 10 minutes in Gulf Breeze waiting for McDonald's to make my breakfast. I took another 10 minutes at a drugstore getting film for my 35mm camera.

It was just past 8 a.m. before I hit the entrance to the park. I tooled along the road, hoping I'd be able to get the car parked, get my stuff together, and hike out the 1/4 mile or so from the Pickens seawall to the western tip of the island.

I was almost to the Ranger station--about 4 miles from the park entrance--when I happened to glance to my right: north, into Pensacola Bay.

The ship was already IN the Bay, steaming east along the shoreline of the Pensacola Naval Air Station.


I made a left into a very convenient parking loop, grabbed the 35mm camera and my camcorder, and hiked north to the bay shore to get some pictures. A little video, a few clicks of the shutter...and it started to rain.


I hiked back to my car, thinking that if I hoofed it I'd make it to port before the ship got there.

Rain picked up a bit.

Okay, no panic there, the car's sunroof leaks, so I pulled towels over stuff and got...moving.



I was stuck at the ass-end of a line of cars, the leader strictly enforcing the 15-mph speed limit.

People pick the damndest times to obey traffic laws.

Four...miles...at...fifteeeeeeennn...miiiles...perrrr...houuur. The Georgia goober in front of me kept riding his brakes.


We finally got out of the park, and the speed limit went up to 25.

The speed-enforcer at the head of the line went to Hyperdrive or something; I certainly never saw him speed up. Probably because the Georgia goober was hell-bent on maintaining that 15 mph limit even though we were out of the damn park. Either that or his goobermobile was having some trouble. It finally made it into 3rd gear and broke 20 mph like a champ about a mile out of the park--with another mile to go before we would hit the road off the island (Via de Luna). To top if off, there was a double yellow line: no passing.


Goober turned right on Via de Luna. I hoofed it to the left, running north over the Sikes Bridge, through Gulf Breeze (keeping it at 35--the town takes that speed limit seriously), then faster along the Three Mile Bridge that crosses Pensacola Bay between Gulf Breeze and Pensacola.

I could see the ship to my left as it sailed north and started making the final turn for approach to the Port of Pensacola.

Traffic stopped.

See, it's around 8:30 on a work day. 80 million people come to Pensacola to work, and many of them were in my way, waiting for the light at the Pensacola end of the bridge.

The rain started picking up. My wipers couldn't quite keep up, and my lap was getting wet from the leaky sunroof.

The windows fogged up. I don't have a working heater or air conditioner, so there's no way of defrosting the glass aside from wiping. One hand for that, one for steering, one for downshifting, and my head on a pivot as I watched all the other drivers to make sure they didn't run into me.

Right on Palafox, running south, then into the parking area that faces on the Port. Amazingly, a spot opened up as soon as I needed it.

I grabbed the cameras and my poncho and headed for the railing. I was 5 minutes ahead of Elcano. I ended up using the poncho as a tent to protect the cameras. I don't know how the pics turned out yet--fogged lenses, wet lenses, and a constant drooling rain.

There were a pair of tugs guiding the ship into position, its long and lean white hull standing out even through all the rain and mist. The sails were furled; I don't know how long the link will be viable, but here's the Fiesta of Five Flags page, with a good shot of the ship under full sail.

It was worth getting soaked to see even that much of it. Once I get the pics developed, they'll get upped to PhotoBucket.

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