Sailing and Sailboat Cruising in Northwest Florida

As a kid, sailboat cruising was never one of my long-term goals. Then I met a man with saltwater for blood. One of our first dates was in a small open daysailer... in England... in May... in the rain. I still married him.

When we moved to Northwest Florida, we found the PERFECT place to sail. The Choctawhatchee Bay with its many bayous, the numerous rivers, the Intracoastal Waterway and the Gulf of Mexico all lend themselves perfectly to sailing. There's just something about the sound of the wind and the water (no motor) that is so peaceful and calming. It's also a great way to see dolphins because those critters love to play tag with your boat.

Sailboat sailing in FloridaFirst you have to find yourself a sailboat. Ours is a Catalina 22.

Early on, some nautical but nice observer put wind and canvas together and sailing was born. It sure was a lot easier, and faster, than rowing. Later sailboats brought us to the New World. They are romantic and filled with the lore of explorers, blockade runners and Caribbean pirates, but there’s a lot more to sailing in Florida than Jimmy Buffet and the Florida Keys (but thanks for the great songs, Jimmy).

Sailing on Hogtown BayouNick is always ready for a day on the water.

The captain of my ship has had a lot of sailing experience, beginning at the age of six on the Norfolk Broads in England. Nick loves to tell the story of how he learned to sail where Admiral Lord Nelson learned to sail and was taught by the great-great-grand-niece of Nelson’s flag captain. That usually gets him the tiller on a sailboat charter or a rental with no questions asked.

Sailing the Choctawhatchee BayLife on autopilot

Being fairly new to sailing myself, I have to admit to not knowing much about the technical side, or even the theoretical science of it, like how the heck does wind in the sail make the boat move anyway? However, I’ll also admit that there’s nothing quite like a day on the water, in a calm sea, of course. I'm not a fan of heeling. I’m a don’t-spill-the-wine kind of passenger.

Sailboat foodMy favorite sailing meal - quiche, salad and a bottle of white wine.

We got our first sailboat when we were living in Destin, a little 12-footer, no motor and just big enough to tool around in Joes Bayou before throwing the anchor, the kids and dog over the side to swim.

Years later we moved up to a Catalina 22. Of course, now the kids are grown so we have plenty of room, but we did get to take our grand-daughters out once and the eldest was thrilled to see dolphins. Northwest Florida sailing means you will see dolphins at some point, if they want to be seen. Sailboat cruising and dolphins just go together.

wild dolphinsDolphins love to play tag with sailboats.

Like dolphins, sailing is sometimes a hidden sport, unless you know where to look. On these pages, we will locate the marinas that cater to sailboats, find sailing classes and sailing schools, tell where to find sailboat rentals and sailboat charters (and why they’re different), and for landlubbers like me, identify some sailing terms and maybe even do a little knot tying (it’s very important to tie the right knots or you might find your sailboat sailing away without you).

There's plenty of room for big sailboats too.

So, if you’re looking to do some sailboat cruising on the Choctawhatchee Bay, Pensacola Bay, West Bay or East Bay in Panama City or even Apalachicola Bay (and don’t forget the oysters), then welcome aboard. Even if you don’t know a sheet from a line, or starboard from a good port, set sail with us for fun and adventure.

Tell Us Your Best Sailing Adventures?

Do you have a sailing story to tell or a nautical yarn to spin? Share it with us!

If you've sailed the waterways of Northwest Florida we want to know. Do you have photos of dolphins or sunsets that we'd all enjoy? Tell us your sailboat cruising adventure and share your photos here.

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