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"It’s where the dolphin cruises out of Orange Beach take their passengers. Ingram Bayou, where there are too many herons and ospreys to count! Take your kayak and you’ll be able to paddle up the creek to the springs. The only bad thing about Ingram Bayou is that you will have to leave." That was my friend’s endorsement.

That suggestion quickly crystallized into a plan for Pearl, our 1983 Catalina 25, and I. Ingram Bayou is a natural area just across the Alabama line, a bit more than 20 miles west of Pensacola Beach, where Pearl insists that I trailer her each winter. Sailboats, of course, don’t go as the crow flies, but it would still be an easy day’s sail of thirty miles or so.

Single handing out of Little Sabine Bay. I thought the breeze was a little strong for a lazy, relaxed sail and left the main covered with the 150 genoa easily taking me to hull speed. Flying down Santa Rosa Sound into the brisk southwesterly was exhilarating, but I couldn’t point quite high enough with just the genny to clear the shoal extending far out from Deer Point. A little tack around the marker, and we were headed directly for the entrance to Big Lagoon, almost visible across Pensacola Bay. The temperature climbed to 80 as the sun gained height, and the wind backed a little and eased to 10 - 12 as we paralleled the shoreline of Ft. Pickens National Monument a few miles to our south. It was time to add the main to the mix. It didn’t take long for Ft. Pickens itself to appear, along with a swell, since it sits at the mouth of the bay. Ft. McRee once marked the western side of the channel to the Gulf, but now, a great sand dune marks both the historic spot and a popular anchorage hidden between the dune and the narrow spit of Perdido Key. The narrow, curving channel to the north of the dune leads to Big Lagoon, but I watch the markers to avoid the extensive sandy shoals. Up to a mile wide and five miles long, Big Lagoon is a beautiful sail in protected water, bordered with shimmering white sand and alive with dolphins. Big Lagoon’s western boundary is marked with a little development and a long "No Wake" zone protecting the shallows and wetlands of Big Lagoon State Park.

The "No Wake" zone extends for three miles as we pass Big Lagoon Park and continue through increasing development toward Orange Beach, Alabama, but it seems much longer. The channel is often narrow, lined with marked sand bars, and very busy, so the droning motor is my reluctant choice. The channel splits just after Holiday Harbor Marina with a chain of sandy islets surrounded by power boats beached for the sunny day marking the route south to homes, condos, and Perdido Pass into the Gulf of Mexico. We are continuing west in the Gulf ICW, passing Ono Island and Orange Beach to our south. We’re finally in Alabama!

The GICW turns north toward Perdido Bay and the channel widens, so the softer sounds of sailing again take hold in the S to SW breeze. A dolphin rises in the shallows off Inerarity Point as we slip by the mouth of Perdido Bay to the north and bear SW with the GICW through Amica Bay. Homes dot the northern shore and bayous, while the south spotlights several restaurants and marinas. Hatchet Point marks the transition to Bay La Launch and less that a mile to GICW marker 72, mile 164, and our turn north into Ingram Bayou. Three quarters of a mile in and 30 yards from shore, the anchor set immediately in the firm mud and sand bottom under eight feet of water as the sun slipped behind the trees to begin a quiet night of dinner, owls and loons.

An early alarm clock of whistling and snorting dolphins roused me to a beautiful sunrise in dense fog. The fog burned of quickly and opened a gorgeous window onto a coast of the last century. No buildings, cars, nor other distractions. The day drifted along with a book, a little boat work, and a little kayak exploring. Dolphins are rather large creatures when they’re 5 feet from 9.5 feet kayak! It’s illegal to harass dolphins, but apparently not for dolphins to harass kayakers. Trees felled by the last hurricane stopped me from following the headwaters to the springs, but the marshes and tree lined coves hid a grand collection of birds as an alternate reward.

A nice dinner in the cockpit from my one burner butane stove and entertainment provided by several dolphin tours led into evening and another paddle trip under the very hyped, larger moon of March.

The dolphins were a little quieter the next morning, so I slept through much of the fog. I planned my departure to include anchoring and paddling over to Perdido beach in Big Lagoon. Reluctantly hauling my anchor and heading south, I recalled my friends words.

"Leaving really is the hardest thing to do at Ingram Bayou."

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Foggy morning

Pearl at sunset in Ingram Bayou

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