Tuesday, July 3, 2012
This past weekend, I had a friend ask me if I wanted to hop aboard their boat and head over to Sand Island and Ft McRee. Since I finally had a Sunday off and I have never been to either place, I gladly accepted the offer. 10:30am Lindsey and I were sitting on the dock waiting for her friends to show up, It was a already sunny and quite warm this particular morning with a slight breeze from the west. Her friends show up on a pontoon boat, or little party barges as I like to call them. I threw my backpack loaded with supplies on board and we were off. It was a short relaxing boat ride over to Ft McRee also know as the Lost Fort.
Ft McRee was one of three forts at the mouth of Pensacola bay. Ft. Pickens is located on the east side of Pensacola Pass and Ft. McRee was located on the western end of the pass. Ft Barrancas is located a half mile or so, straight a head of the pass as the beginning of the bay bends to the east. As you enter the pass you are staring straight down the cannons of Ft. Barrancas. With the trio of forts, it made the entrance of any vessels with the intent of ill-will on Pensacola nearly impenetrable in the early 1800's.
During the Civil War, The Union army gained control of Ft. Pickens while the Ft McRee was still under the flag of the Confederacy. A heavy three day battle ensued, and the smaller Ft. McCree had no chance against the larger, and heavier cannoned Pickens. The western fort was destroyed by the Union cannons firing across the pass. The McRee was abandoned and with time and tide the crumbled fort was eroded and slowly was claimed by the sea. Now all that is left is a couple of slabs of its foundation.
As we pulled closer to our destination, I could already tell that this was a very popular destination with the recreational boaters, sailors, and drunkards. We we idled down and slipped past all the other boats, until we found our own little portion of the beach where we were going to land. We disembarked, and set up camp on our little portion of sand that we claimed for ourselves.
Looking off to the right as we set foot on the ground, I could see the remnants of the Lost Fort.; a lonely reminder of the battle that took place during those three days in late November of 1861. Between the sand dunes and the over growth of scrub oaks, what is left of the fort is still fading in to the hallows of history.
The water was refreshing as the sun beat down. The current was swift as the tide was rushing out in to the Gulf of Mexico, we found it a struggle to keep from going out with the tide. Some of us had the idea to head down the island in a westerly direction and float with the tide back to the boat. As the current was taking us back in the general direction of our boat I had floated by several people that I knew. Being the kind people they were, I was offered a beer or two for the rest of the float back to the boat, and of course I accepted. Believe me, it takes talent to stay afloat and drink my newly acquired adult beverages with out getting the salt water in the opening of the aluminum cans.
A few hours after making our way back to the spot where our boat was anchored, and after eating lunch that consisted of pork chops that were marinated in Caribbean jerk and grilled on the on board grill by my gracious hosts, I noticed that the sand dunes were (figuratively) calling my name, so as any red blooded, self proclaimed pirate would do, I reached in to my pack of "supplies" and grabbed my bottle of rum and stared off towards the dunes. I wanted to see the far side of the island and the gulf. Up and down the dunes I marched and about a hundred yard in to my trek, I realized that this adventure was going to take a bit longer than I expected. I stopped, and holding the bottle of rum by the neck, I turned the bottom up. Wiping some the rum that managed to escape the bottle off of my chin, I looked around and realized that this is almost exactly how the confederate soldiers had seen this land. It looked as if it hadn't been touched in centuries and could easily imagine that this is how it looked as when Tristan de Luna set foot on this island in 1559 and set up the first establishment in the later to be formed United States over 200 years later.
After traveling on, I came across a lake just smaller than the size of the football field. while I was wondering how odd it was that there was a lake in the middle of these sand dunes, sea oats and scrub oaks, I looked over my right shoulder and there stood a tower, alone and beyond the dunes off in the distance. As I walked closer to it I could tell that it was, at one point in time, a metal light platform, used to mark where the land started at the western side of the pass. One more swig from my bottle, I set my rum in the sand and I made my way up to the top of this tower. I am pretty sure that I was not supposed to be up there but I figured that I was so secluded that if the authorities decide to run me off, I would see them with well enough time to climb down and get lost in the dunes.
Standing at the top of this tower was breath taking. in front of me was the beautiful emerald green and sapphire blue waters of the pass and waters that surrounded Sana Rosa Island. Beyond the water was Ft Pickens. I could see the large cannon on top of the fort pointing in my general direction. To my left was Pensacola NAS, the lighthouse, and Ft. Barrancas at the north end of the pass. just beyond that and to the right I could see the skyline of Pensacola. Behind me was the barren tip of Perdido Key, the island I was on and the crumbled blocks if McRee. To my right, past the 500 yards of sand dunes was the Gulf of Mexico and the rough waters from where the waters of the bay was crashing in to the waters of the gulf. At this point, I thought to my self that most people may see just the water , sand, and vegetation which is beautiful enough, but not only did I see the beauty that nature has bestowed on this little portion of this planet that we call earth, but I also could see history. The Spanish galleons in full sail, entering and leaving Pensacola Bay. I could see that battle that raged between the North and the South as the cannon fired volleyed over my head in attempt to drive the opposing forces from their respective citadels. I could see the the Muskogean speaking Panzacola Indians foraging the island before any Europeans arrived to the area. I sat on top of that platform for the better part of a half hour; standing there in awe Thinking of all the people that has been written about in history books that have passed through this small opening of land that allows passage between the bay and the gulf. Names like Tristan de Luna, Geronimo, General Grant, John Glenn, Admiral Chester Nimitz, Andrew Jackson and the countless others. . All of this history and all of this natural beauty that surrounded me I had one thought that overwhelmed me...
... This is where I call home home. I LIVE HERE