Sunday, September 28, 2014

Crossing the Gulf

I headed out of Apalachicola earlier than I expected.  There is a narrow channel of water from Apalachicola to Carrabelle.  I spent the afternoon getting to the Moorings Marina.  I went inside and double checked the weather for the following day, bouncing my thoughts off the staff there.  They agreed with my research that the following day would be ideal to go, but if I missed the opportunity, I would be sitting in Carrabelle for a week, waiting for better weather and sea conditions.  It didn't leave much time for hesitation.  I spent the evening getting my laundry done and cleaning my boat.

I left Carrabelle at 5:45 a.m., fifteen minutes sooner than the deadline I set for myself.  I had 85 miles to go, and the only way to get in before dark was by leaving in the dark.  I had set a track on my Ipad to help me with navigation.  There was just a slight glimmer from the sliver of a moon on the horizon.  The channel marker lights reflected off my windows, making it difficult to keep track of which of the many lights I was supposed to be heading towards or between.  I was grateful to get out of the immediate town of Carrabelle, but still had a few miles to get out into the Gulf and away from the shallow coastal waters.  Outside the channels, the waters can be less than a foot deep.  It took almost a couple hours, going slowly and carefully, to get out into the open waters. I was very relieved.  I don't like being out at night, when visibility is so diminished.

The sun coming up on my way out to the Gulf from Carrabelle

The first crossing went better than expected, with glassy, smooth waters. At one point, I noticed dead fish floating in the water.  I found out later, there was a red tide in the area, which had killed the fish.  For a few days, people would ask me, "Did you see the red tide?"  I only saw the dead tides scare me!
Remnants of a Red Tide
I have to admit, I was nervous crossing the Gulf on my own.  I hit my "Spot" every couple hours, to let my family know where I was.  I wasn't sure why I was anxious, as I had crossed through the Great Lakes and made the offshore crossing around Sandy Hook in the Atlantic.  I assured myself that in reality, it wasn't anything bigger or more challenging than I had already done.  Despite my reassurances to myself, it still took a while to get into the groove of being so far off shore.  By the afternoon, I was entrenched in my latest novel, looking up occasionally to make sure I was still out there all alone, and not on some collision course with a random fisherman.  I like it when my auto-pilot is working well!

From Carrabelle, I went to Steinhatchee. I arrived just before the weather started to change.  I had planned on staying at Sea Hag, which had been recommended by other people who have done the loop.  As soon as I was in cell phone range, I called them, and they said they didn't have a transient slip available.  I went further up river to River Haven Marina.  At River Haven, I had one of my worst docking experiences, naturally, with the audience of a group of fisherman.  The current got my boat and I headed sideways into the propellers of center console fishing boats.  I am not sure how I managed to pull myself out, except the dock master was there to help me.  I was sure I was going to find a big scrape alongside my boat and possibly a damaged prop on someone else's boat.  I was fortunate, and the only damage was a hole in my dinghy, where it scraped against the propeller of the other boat.  Dinghy damage is very manageable with a patch kit.  During the time I spent at River Haven, everyone there made me feel like I was at home.  They kept joking that if I stayed a little longer, I would be staying forever.  Steinhatchee is a little fishing village, smaller than Southport and just as friendly.

I arrived as scallop season was ending.  Dan, one of the fisherman, who had fallen in love with the little town, was planning on buying a house.  I headed off with him to go house-hunting.  We did well, as the first and only house we went to see, was perfect.  He made an offer and it was accepted within an hour.  The following morning, after I left to head south, Dan came out and made a loop around my boat, that he might bring me the good luck he felt I had brought him. He had planned to be up and around when I left, but he had slept in.  I was heading to Cedar Key, about halfway between Steinhatchee and Tarpon Springs.

At Cedar Key, the water looks deeper than it really is.

I was looking forward to getting into Cedar Key and tying up on their municipal marina. I read about a low bridge, but I thought to myself it wasn't a problem, I can manage 13 ft of clearance.  Well, as I approached, I realized I could get in there with my dinghy, but not come close with my boat.  I anchored out.  There were 15 knot winds and higher, along with storms in the night.  I initially anchored in 7 ft of water, but when I checked out the tidal flow, and realized it was high tide, with almost 4 ft tidal range, I moved to deeper water. It was a choppy night, but the morning made it all worthwhile.  I left at sunrise, and was accompanied by dolphin for over 30 minutes as I headed back out into the open Gulf waters.

I arrived at Anclote Village Marina, just before it started pouring.  Every day, there have been afternoon showers, usually starting around 5 p.m. or so.  The marina was a little disappointing.  As much as I was looking forward to Tarpon Springs, the marina was not where I wanted to be.  The bathrooms were on the far side of the restaurant/bar.  They did not have any shower facilities.  My plan was to stay there for a couple days until my reservation was available in Clearwater on Monday. Clearwater municipal marina is one of the only ones in Clearwater with floating docks, but they were booked solid because of boat races.  When I arrived in Anclote Village Marina, I called Clearwater Municipal Marina and asked if they could notify me if there were any cancellations.  Sure enough, the following morning, I was called and told to head on down to Clearwater!  I can drive to Tarpon Springs!

I arrived in Clearwater yesterday, late morning.  When they said there was a boat race, I had no idea what they meant.  These are fast boats... the Nascar of boating... the races are today.   This is the Brighthouse Clearwater Superboat National Championship!  Raceboats with support boats, support trucks and trailers, and t-shirts!  Enclosed hulls, where helmets are warn, and it must feel like 150 degrees in this heat and humidity!

These boats are put into the water with a big crane, down the waterway.  Then, they head out into the Gulf for the actual races.  Here are some pics of a few of the raceboats:

The crane lifts the raceboat into the water... a busy weekend!
One of the benefits of being here in Clearwater, is there is a lot to do, and I have friends here.  Last night, I was picked up by Barb, a nurse practitioner, who works for the same company I do.  She invited me to her 50th birthday party!  It was a great time, with many of her close friends.  I have another friend flying out here for a few days.  I plan to hang out here for a week before moving south.  I will definitely get some beach time in.  Clearwater has beautiful beaches!  I also need to get back to Tarpon Springs for their sponge docks and Greek food... I have a list of things I need to do before I leave here!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Crossing the Panhandle to Apalachicola

I think I need to break this post up into topics, to include sights and sounds of this journey.

I woke up this morning thinking about the contrasting sounds one hears on this trip.  The night before last, I was at St. Andrews Marina, near Panama City Florida.  I had picked this marina because they have floating docks.  In general, I sleep better at night if I am tied of to a floating dock.  With incoming tides, or the raising and lowering of water levels, it is good to know that where my boat is tied up will move up and down with the water level. If I am at a fixed dock marina, I will wake up throughout the night and check my lines to make sure my boat is floating properly.  Lines which are too loose or too tight can cause damage to the boat.

So, back to St. Andrews.  Everything I read about the marina made it seem like a great choice, and it had the Active Captain 1st choice rating.  One of the benefits is the proximity to bars and restaurants.  However, in the middle of the night, when there is loud, bad, music playing into the wee hours of the morning, the proximity to bars and restaurants is not really the ideal choice.  At 2 in the morning, as they are wrapping up a night of partying, the DJ is yelling, "We are going  F'N party all F'N night!!!"  I thought they already had. Then, one notices the sounds of the the cars revving their engines and leaving.  Eventually, by around 4 a.m, even the bartenders and waitresses are leaving.  Then, it is getting light outside, and I need to get ready to go.  One Friday night was enough for me, I wasn't going to stick around to see if Saturday night would be any better.

When at anchorage, it is rare to hear anything.  Sometimes you might hear the sound of the anchor chain against the hull.  You don't want to hear your anchor dragging, and if it does drag and you don't hear it, that is another story all together.  If anchored near an overpass, like I was on the Mississippi one night, you can hear the traffic.  When anchored on the rivers, sometimes you could hear and feel the barges go by. Generally, they were not loud.  Hearing the splash of a fish jumping can be a good thing.  The quietness can also make the sound of a mosquito seem very loud.

Being tied up at a city dock can bring other sounds, including sirens.  Surprisingly, there were some small towns that had volunteer fire departments, which had their own sirens to announce to the volunteers to come running to the fire department.  I was surprised at how often the volunteer fire department sirens went off.  I have been tied up near railroad tracks, which can be quite noisy.  In one town wall along the Erie Canal, there were several of us having dinner, and we could hardly have a conversation because of the trains going by.  At one of the worst marinas I stayed at, in New Jersey, they had a railroad bridge next to the marina.  Every time they opened the bridge, they would sound a siren, which seemed like every 15 minutes to half an hour.  Locks have sirens to give notice to people of opening and closing the lock gates.

Here in Apalachicola, I haven't heard any sirens, or loud bar noises going on through the night.  It has been peaceful and quiet.  The only sounds I heard waking up this morning, were shrimp boats, with their low rumbling diesel engines, puttering by me, heading out to the Gulf.  It is a good sound.

I barely managed to catch this shrimp boat passing by.  I ran with my camera!
Apalachicola is a great little town.  After walking around last evening, I decided to stay another day.  Apalachicola is known for their great oysters.  Apparently, they ship oysters all over the states, and if you have had oysters, chances are, they may have been from here.  My first stop here was "Up the Creek Oyster Bar".  I ordered a half dozen "Mediteranian style" oysters, then ordered another half dozen steamed oysters with butter.  I also ordered a 'gator empenada.  I didn't realize people ate gators... I guess it makes sense, we seem to eat just about anything else.  The flavors from the sauces were somewhat overpowering, so it was difficult to really taste the 'gator.  I can now add 'gator to the list of foods I have tried!  As I was contemplating another half dozen oysters, the waitress came out and offered dessert, so I had to stop her immediately at the suggestion of Key Lime pie, one of my favorites.  It was definitely a meal of indulgence!

Since leaving Fairhope, I have seen dolphins every day.  They are really difficult to take pictures of.  By the time I get my camera out and get ready to take a picture, they have gone below the surface and disappear.  I did manage a picture of a fin.  I have not been surrounded by them, like I was for the few minutes coming down the Delaware Bay, where I felt there were dozens of dolphin.  However, seeing dolphin is one of those things that makes my heart feel joyful.

Here are some pics:

It is good to see the pelicans again.  Pelicans seem to hang out on the buoys or they are diving for fish.  Sometimes they just glide along the top of the water.

More sunrises and sunsets...
Sunrise leaving anchorage south of Pensacola

Sunset in Apalachicola from the back of my boat.
Other pics from Apalachicola:
On floating dock at Water Street Hotel & Marina in Apalachicola.  Dinghy is back... so I can anchor and head to the beach.
At the Tin Shed in Apalachicola, they have this net with buoys.  I first saw a picture of these on Debi's boat, Sea Fever.
A quick change of plans!  I was eating breakfast this morning, when I started looking at the weather.  I decided to head to Carabelle for the night, a half day's journey.  Carabelle is the jumping off point for crossing the Gulf.  This was the forecast for tomorrow in the area of the Gulf that I will be crossing:


As the week progresses, the weather gets worse and worse.  Tomorrow, I will cross over to Steinhatchee.  Then I can either weather it out, or if the seas are good, head down the Florida coast.  I will be leaving early in the morning, for the 85 mile crossing.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Celebrating the Salty Life

I made it to Mobile Bay yesterday afternoon, just before a storm came in.  From Demopolis to Fairhope, Alabama is about 230 miles.  I did this in three days, anchoring out both nights.  I stopped at Bobby's Fish Camp for a little extra fuel.  While I was there, I met some other boaters, who offered me cherry pie and coffee.  It was a nice break in the morning routine.  Anchorages are few and far between on the Tombigbee and Black Warrior Rivers.

The Demopolis Lock had been closed a few days for repairs. There were many barges lined up to go through.  "Le Hooker" and I left Demopolis at the same time, having called ahead to find out when the best time was for us to lock through.  Another, much larger boat, Lady Pearl, apparently didn't call.  They left a good hour or more ahead of us for the lock and had to wait to go through with us.

The last lock of the "Dirty Dozen" is Coffeeville, which is just south of Bobby's Fish Camp.  Bobby's Fish Camp is the only fuel stop between Demopolis and Mobile Bay, known for their restaurant which serves catfish.  I stopped to get some fuel, but with three large boats on the fuel dock, the only way for me to tie up was perpendicular to the river at the end of the dock, near the fuel pump.  Although I called in advance and did what I could do to get fuel quickly, the other boaters explained how it was a "relaxed" kind of place.  I had passed a barge a couple hours before showing up and hoped to get to the lock with plenty of time before the barge.  By the time I finished fueling, the barge was close by.  I radioed the barge and asked if they had room for my little boat in the lock downstream, but the barge took up the whole lock.  Instead of heading down river immediately, I enjoyed the company of the other boaters at Bobby's.  I missed out on having catfish for dinner by not staying for the night.  In order to make it to Fairhope, I knew I had to get to an anchorage 64 miles north of Mobile, about 55 miles further than Bobby's.

Heading into Mobile Bay was pretty cool, because it represents the completion of the inner river part of the Loop.  Tonight, two other couples and I will celebrate making this part of the Loop by going to a nice restaurant.  I have made it from Chicago to the Gulf of Mexico.  The other two boats, Sea Fever and dARrf V, did stay at Bobby's, but also run much faster than my boat, Annabelle.  They both left Demopolis a day after I did.  They made the 230 mile trip in two days, versus my three.  Despite our different strategies on getting here, we all arrived within a few minutes of each other, moments before it started raining. (I met Debi and Jim last year at the Rendezvous in Alabama, and they are on Sea Fever.)

Someone's home away from home, outside Midway Marina

He found his perch, on this sunken log.

The moon was still full, when I left one of the anchorages, as the sun was coming up.

These were the water lillies, which created the lock debris.  Not bad debris compared to logs.

The lock gates closing in behind me and all the flowers.

Sunset at anchor before going to Demopolis, around MM 276

This is the I-20 bridge.  I had to smile since I crossed this bridge when I moved to Southport from Tucson.

The white cliffs of Epes!


A collection of towboats of all different sizes, sitting by the side of the river.

My anchorage in Three Rivers Lake, definitely 'gator country.

Cochran Bridge, the entrance to Mobile Bay.  Those are barges coming through.

Beyond the normal barges, there are also container ships and a variety of other ocean vessels in Mobile.

These high rise buildings are so pretty, they seem like they should be up in Chicago!

These just look tough and mean... don't know what they do, and I don't care to ask.

Mobile Convention Center

Getting closer to Mobile Bay

Just past this last container ship is the entrance out into the Bay.

Sunset after the storm, at Eastern Shores Marina, in Fairhope.
From here, I will be heading east across the Florida Panhandle.  Do I dare say out loud that I am hoping to avoid hurricanes?  I am stopping here for a couple days to take care of some boat maintenance, including new zincs, washing and waxing my hull, changing my thru-hull valve, and changing the oil.  I am way ahead of schedule for being home by Christmas.  I am looking forward to the small towns along the coast as well as the ocean air!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Back to the South

You know you are in the south when the local Mexican restaurant, offers you "sweet tea".

I continue to head down the rivers.  I finished up the Tennessee and started down the Tenn-Tom.  There isn't a whole lot going on.  Unlike Michigan, the marinas are miles from the nearby towns.  I did stop at one marina, which I had not expected to.  The Clifton marina was full, due to a festival, so I went to Riverstone Marina, a couple miles down the river.  At Riverstone, they described a nearby cajun restaurant, Meo Mio's, who was willing to pick me up and drop me back off at the marina.  I called and ordered "Crawfish Julie over Tilapia".  It was delicious.  The owner of the marina and his wife, were very hospitable and also prepare food at the marina.  They were up at dawn to fix breakfast for me and another couple doing the Loop.  In general, there aren't many restaurants or places to eat on these rivers.  At the Grand Harbor marina, I used their courtesy vehicle, and went into town, twenty minutes away, bought groceries and went to their local Mexican restaurant.  This is about as exciting as it has been... an occasional meal, cooked by someone else.

I am ahead of most of the other loopers.  I crossed paths with a looper boat heading north yesterday.  We chatted for a few minutes on the radio.  I also met a couple who plans to start the Loop in November.  In a month from now, the Great Loop rendezvous will be held in Alabama.  I have already passed the point where I would have turned off for the rendezvous, which is more than a month away.  I may be in Florida by then, it is hard to tell.  What I will really miss by not going to the rendezvous are many of the people I have met along this journey, who are also doing the Loop.

I did remember to put the card in the camera... so here are some pictures.  My favorite is the one of the guy fishing.

Foggy morning

Annabelle, ready for the fog to clear, so we can head down the river.

These barges are chipping wood.  I am not sure why this is done in the middle of the river.

One proud fisherman!

Beautiful sunsets

The Tenn-Tom  Waterway

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Heading Down the Rivers

It is hard not to think about Huck Finn, when heading down the Mississippi.  However, it is a different world out there, and that was a long and dreamy time ago.

The barges are large and sometimes the river channels are narrow.  In addition to the barges heading downstream, there are barges on the sides of the rivers, anchored in the rivers, or simply waiting towards the side for another barge to pass.  The locks are much larger than the Erie or Trent-Severn to accomodate the barges.  Even then, the barge may need to be split into a couple loads for the lock.  The locks on these rivers are designed and planned to handle commercial traffic first, then recreational boats.  I had hoped that over Labor Day weekend, there would be a break in barge traffic, but these guys work all day, every day, even in the middle of the night.

As I headed south from the Illinois and got onto the Mississippi, my first stop was in Alton, where I filled up on fuel, groceries, and water.  The owners of the local grocery store, Schwegel's, came and picked me up, then dropped me back off on my boat.  The marina was beautiful, with the nicest bathrooms I have seen since Liberty Landing and South Jersey Marina.  Fuel was relatively inexpensive.

I went downstream to Hoppies, which is famous on the Mississippi.  I don't know that anyone goes down the Mississippi without stopping to say hello to Fern and Hoppie.  I topped off my fuel tank with 5 gallons of diesel.  I ended up not spending the night.  The marina is a couple barges at the edge of the river.  The current in the Mississippi is 4 knots or so, and the barges going by throw wakes.  There was no room on the inside of the barges, and I did not want to get tossed around.  Usually Fern gives advice as to where to stay on the river in the evening.  She was willing to take time out of her day, and take a break from mowing the lawn, to sit with me and tell me where it was safe to anchor or tie up as I headed south towards Kentucky Lake (the next available fuel stop.)  From Hoppies, there is 225 miles until the next fuel stop.

With the current, the Mississippi is fast.  I was averaging just under 10 nm/hr without pushing my engine.  After Hoppies, I stopped about 4 hours downstream at Kaskaskie Lock and Dam, where they allow people to tie up for the night on the lock wall.  It was a very peaceful evening, even if I arrived as the sun was setting.  The following day, I anchored in a fairly shallow area towards near where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers meet.  It was more of a stressful evening, as the occasional barge wake would rock the boat.

The following day, was the longest of the Loop so far.  I headed the additional 7 miles down the Mississippi, then upstream on the Ohio River, where there were two locks.  The first was a wicket lock and the wickets were down, meaning I could just keep heading up the river, without locking through.  I did not have to wait at the second lock either.  However, heading out the second lock, I had made a quick phonecall to the Kentucky Lake Lock, and turned my radio down.  I had been watching a barge just north of a bridge, thinking it was stopped, when it really wasn't.  (Many of the barges will stop near the locks, waiting on line to go through, and there were several which were stopped.)   I was heading through the center of the bridge, when I realized the barge was trying to head through the same center of the bridge, and I was being a horrible boat handler.  I quickly got to the side of the bridge, turned my radio up, to hear the guy getting really angry at me and explain right of way and monitoring the radio, as well as how I could stay out of the boat channel and head along the shore with my shallow draft.   I apologized for my idiot move, and went on my way, much more humbly.  After 60 miles upstream on the Ohio, I turned at the Tennessee River, to head upstream further to the Kentucky Lock and Dam.  I knew there would be a long delay, but decided it was worth it not to worry as much about how much fuel I had.  I anchored near the dam at 5:45 p.m, close to 12 hours after leaving.  I waited until just after 10 p.m. to be locked through.  The Kentucky Lock goes up into the Kentucky Lake 57 feet.  There was a large barge ahead, which took two lockings to get through.  Two other pleasure boats showed up, shortly after I arrived.  They were both like ski boats, out for the day.  The lock master did not give me any warning ahead of time, to pull my anchor.  For the most part, I had to pay attention to time and the locks signals to have an idea when to pull my anchor.  When the locks open their doors, they blow a horn.  So, I was able to time how long the lock took to ascend, and when it was coming back down.  At around 11 p.m, our three pleasure boats made it through the lock and onto Kentucky Lake.  It was pitch dark, and I managed to get across the lake and safely into the Kentucky Dam State Park Marina break walls. I headed off to a corner of the marina area, designated for anchoring.  I didn't want to get too close to other boats, since the visibility was so poor.  Just getting to the marina was stressful with 2 to 3 foot seas on the beam and trying to avoid buoys, which I couldn't see, but knew were out there somewhere.

I spent the following night at Kentucky Dam State Park marina, next to Atla, with Steve and his wife, Wendy.  We headed to the famous Patti's restaurant for lunch.  We actually at at Bill's, which was the overflow restaurant... same good food, same atmosphere, and we all felt badly for the women working there, because they had horrible "Little house on the Prairie", floral print, dresses they had to wear.

Yesterday, I continued upstream, up Kentucky Lake to Paris State Park Marina.  This morning, there is fog.  As soon as it lifts, I will head to another marina about 40 or 50 miles from here.  It is nice to be able to stop at marinas and walk around.  I have another 150 miles to go upstream on the Tennessee, then I will be at the Tenn-Tom.  The Tenn-Tom will be downstream for 490 miles to Mobile, Alabama.

A quick apology for not having pictures.  Once again, I forgot to put the memory card back into the camera... so all the pictures I took were not saved.   At least I come by blonde naturally!