Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Crossing my Wake

On Friday, October 24th, I crossed my wake. Here is the blog for the last few days of this adventure.

From Amelia Island, I headed off-shore to Jekyll Island. It was a beautiful day, and the temptation to go out into the Atlantic, instead of up the Intracoastal Waterway, was just too strong.  The waters were calm, and it was a peaceful day.  I arrived at Jekyll Island around lunchtime, and spent the afternoon riding my bike.  Offshore, in the Atlantic, it is easy to set the auto pilot to head a course, and relax.  I headed out as the tide was going out, and back in with following seas through  St. Andrew's Sound.  The breakers were fairly steep, so it felt like surfing.

Fishing ship in the shallow waters, near the inlet.
From Jekyll Island, I headed to an anchorage for my second, and last night in Georgia.  I had some birds following my boat for a while, like I have seen them follow fishing boats.

My first stop in South Carolina was Beaufort, after a very long day.  I stayed at Lady's Island Marina, where TJ, the dockmaster, was very helpful and accommodating.  When I called, he said that docking could be tricky with the strong current, but he would help in whatever way he could, including running someone out to my boat to help me.  I replied that I would see how it went as I approached the marina.  I checked out a picture of the marina on my iPad, then I explained my plan for docking to him.  I headed up into the current and crabbed my boat into the fairway sideways.  Docking went smoothly, and it was good to know that he was ready and available for anything I might need.  The following morning, he came down to my boat and helped with my lines, even though I left before they opened.

Lady's Island Marina

Sunset from Lady's Island Marina
My next stop was Charleston!  Another beautiful day, and another great day to go off shore.  As I headed to Charleston, I passed Folly Beach, where I purchased my boat, Annabelle, a couple years ago.  Although, I didn't technically cross my wake, I felt I had come full circle.
The lighthouse at the north end of Folly Beach
Although I have been through Charleston, I had never really taken time to be a tourist in Charleston.  I stayed at Charleston Harbor Marina at Patriot's Point, where I have friends, Tina and Doug.  I enjoyed having dinner with them, and Doug took me in the morning over to Downtown Charleston.  Throughout the night and into the morning, we had howling winds.  When I woke up, I quickly realized the current and winds would be too strong for my boat to leave the dock.  In the early afternoon, when we came back from downtown, the tide was slack and the winds had subsided.  I had already paid for my second night, but decided to take my opportunity to leave my slip and head north.  Almost Home!!!!  Three hours by car, but three days by boat!

I had almost four hours to head up the ICW, where I found an anchorage spot.  I cut it close, anchoring just as the sun was setting.  Two other sailboats were already in the anchorage.  The following morning as the sun came up, I was headed north and the two sailboats headed south.
Anchorage at Graham Creek
From the anchorage, it was a long day north to Myrtle Beach.  I could not make it as far as the famous Barefoot Landing Marina before dark.  I called around 4:45 p.m. to Grand Dunes Marina, asking if I could tie up to their fuel dock after they closed.  It turned out to be an easy place to tie up, the transient dock is an extension of their fuel dock.  I pulled in at dusk, which gave me enough time to rinse off my boat, before having dinner, on my last night.

Leaving at dawn, my favorite part of the day, I headed home to Southport!

Grand Dunes Bridge in Myrtle Beach, at sunrise.
As I approached Southport, Towboat John brought my son, Dean, to my boat, so he could be with me as I crossed my wake.  He boarded just south of town.  Southport Marina was not able to accommodate my boat, so we headed a couple miles further to Deep Point Marina.  We passed my neighborhood pier, where Glen and Beth took pictures, and headed to my new slip.  At the marina, I was welcomed home!  Officially, a Gold Looper!!!!

Random Thoughts:
People say, "Wow, you went fast!"
... Me and the older guy on the bike were going about the same speed. I only traveled on days, which I felt the weather and sea conditions would be good.  There were many days spent in towns along the way, waiting for a good weather window.
The older dude on his bike, and me trying to catch up to take his picture!

"You are so brave to have done this yourself."
... Brave is doing it with someone else!  I have been doing things on my own for over twenty years, I have it down.  Being with someone else is something I need to work on, and takes much more courage.

"Did you get lonely?"
... I guess I had my moments, but they were few and far between.  I had a lot of support, both on the water and off.  For the most part, this journey was done with other people, who share a similar passion.  There were times it was shared with people I met along the way. I am grateful for the handful of people who came on my boat during any part of this trip including my Mom (in New Jersey), my son (from and to Southport) , Joie (Annapolis), Jim (Waterford), Michael (Canajoharie) , Mike (borrowed from Shiver me Timbers) , random guy at the Big Chute Railroad Lock, Jim (Bluenoser), and Lolly (Knot So Fast).  Of course, I can't even begin to list all the people I met along the way, who gave a helping hand, advice and friendship.

"You should have a gun on your boat!  What will you do for safety?"
...  I didn't stay in places where I didn't feel comfortable.  I know I can be naive, but I also listen to my gut instinct.  Steve, from Atla, once texted me, "Tanya, are you intentionally avoiding the free places?"  I texted back, "Yes, sometimes I am."  Other people urged me to have mace or wasp spray.  I had a dive knife, which could have served many purposes.  Gratefully, I never needed it for anything.  Not only did I feel safe, I generally felt I was around people who were watching out for me and protective of me.

"It doesn't seem like you could have stopped anywhere along the way."
... There are many places I didn't stop, and certainly, I didn't stop at all the many places people recommended or that I had thought about going.  I found it easier to be flexible.  There were some great little towns, which weren't on my list of places to go, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  There were small marinas, which had great people.  It was all good!  In any given day, I might have picked a few options on places to stay.  I have always tried to have a plan A, B, C... etc... and sometimes the entire plan gets scratched.  There were places I stayed one night, and places I stayed a few days.

"What did you eat?"
... a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!  I also ate in restaurants, cooked on my boat, and generally ate the same kinds of food I would have on land.  The most different food I ate, was the gator empanada.  One of the most interesting restaurants was Henry's Fish House, up near Perry Sound, where the only parking was for boats and seaplanes.  If you ask where the best butter tarts are, I would tell you Campbellford, Ontario.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Heading Home

Tonight, I am at Amelia Island Yacht Basin. I will be out of Florida tomorrow, and heading up into Georgia.  I expect to be home in just over a week, weather permitting.

After I left the Vero Beach Mooring field, I had some electronic issues.  My chartplotter was turning itself off, and my voltage meter was reading a low voltage of 11, when it should have been reading over 12.  The engine should have been keeping the batteries charged.  I was worried about my alternator, so I headed to Loggerhead Marina, on the north side of Vero Beach.  I pulled into Loggerhead at 7:45 a.m. and was met by great staff, who were very accommodating.  I checked my alternator belt and tightened it.  I checked my batteries, and they were all good, with plenty of voltage.  One battery terminal had some corrosion, which I cleaned off.  Then, everything seemed to work well. It was a good day, no problems with the alternator!  I made the best of the situation, and enjoyed the company of a few Canadian boaters, who were on the same dock, preparing their boats for the Bahamas.

After my relaxing day at Loggerhead, I headed to Daytona Beach.  I realized I would be there for a couple day due to a storm coming in.  I stayed in Daytona Beach for three nights, waiting for the rain and winds to subside.  I arrived in Daytona just before Biketoberfest.  Basically, it is the fall version of Bike Week in Daytona.  Harleys line the streets.  One of the guys who worked at the marina, offered to show me around town on his day off.  He took me to the biker areas and I tried to understand the whole biker thing, but wasn't able to.  In the end, I just wanted to get back to my sweet boat.
Daytime, one day before Biketoberfest started, you can imagine what it looks like after dark!
 As I was approaching St. Augustine, I noticed an older man, John, standing on the hull of his capsized sunfish sailboat.  He was drifting down the river.  I pulled alongside of him, and we managed to get his sailboat tied up to my boat.  We used my crane to pull his sailboat upright.  He lost his centerboard in the process, but otherwise, was not hurt.  I towed him to the other side of the river, where he lives on an old trawler, in the marshes.
John has boarded Annabelle, and we have a good line on his sailboat to help turn it over.

The mast is out of the water!

John didn't lose his life jacket, it was tied to the boat.

John, paddling back to his trawler in the marsh.
Here are a some pictures I took along the way:

Pirate ship for tourists at St. Augustine

St. Augustine Fort

Bald eagle flying from ICW channel marker
Marshes near Amelia Island

Friday, October 10, 2014

East Coast, Here I am!

Today is a big, big day for me! I finished the locks, I arrived on the Atlantic Coast of Florida, and I used my first mooring ball of the trip.

I finished the last of the locks for this journey coming through the Okeechobee waterway. There were five locks.  Now, one might think I am a pro at these locks, considering all that I have been through... Dismal Swamp, Erie Canal, Oswego Canal, Trent-Severn, Chicago and the Riverways from Illinios down to Mobile, Alabama.  I thought these locks should be simple!  The Okeechobee locks are a little different than the other locks I have seen.  They have hanging lines, like some of the locks in the Erie, which I had so much difficulty with.  There are only five locks, and each has a simple concept of just opening the gates to let the water levels stabilize between the rising or falling of the waterline.  If going up, the water is let in from the front gate, and if going down, it is released through the front gate.  Positioning my boat seemed simple enough... just stay away from the front gate, which acts like a drain in the bathtub.  The fourth lock, threw me for a loop.  I was only going down 1 1/2 feet, but the current was going to the back of the lock instead of the front, and I had to work hard at keeping my boat near the wall, by using my thrusters.  It was the longest foot and a half! I don't know why it was so difficult, except that the lock has ropes hanging from 20 - 25 feet above the water.  It is a tall lock.  The fifth and last lock, with a drop of 14 feet, was much smoother.  In these locks, they insist you take a bow and stern line.  I can't be at both the bow and stern of my boat.  In the last lock, they had me tie the bitter end of the line to my center bow cleat, and hold the stern cleat.  I had to leave my comfort zone of being at the helm for this, but it worked out well.  In general, it is a bad idea to tie any line to your boat, while you are dropping in a lock.  However, it worked!  The lockmasters were helpful. Even though I thought I had locking down, I learned new techniques for locking.  I think I could even handle the Erie canals better now.

The central part of Florida is very swampy.  One night, I anchored at Lake Hicpochee, just before getting to Lake Okeechobee.  I had a late start and a slow day, so didn't get as far as I had hoped.  However, as the sun was setting, I found a peaceful spot.  It was peaceful, until the guys with the swamp boat came out and ripped around at high speeds.  I tried to get a picture of the boat, but I think half the thrill for them was being out in the dark.  It was one of those boats that floats above the water, with a large fanlike apparatus at the stern, with the guys sitting up high.  I found a picture of a similar boat, only the boat flying by me, had two high seats, and was not taking a leisurely trip.  The lake, was really a swamp.  The opening was only five to six feet deep from the waterway.

Airboat picture taken from the internet.
Central Florida is an interesting place.  I am not sure I would want to live in such a swampy area, with as many alligators as they appear to have.  Last night, I stayed at Indiantown Marina.   One of the other transient boats, was an old, old trawler, which may have seen the best of it's years back in the seventies.  The couple who own her, may have had their best years in the fifties or sixties... hard to tell!  Anyhow, a few days ago, they found a rat aboard their trawler, so threw it overboard.  It was immediately snatched up by a hungry alligator.  Since then, they have continued to throw leftover food overboard.  Each night, they get a few small alligators hanging out around their boat.  The wife said, "I know I am not supposed to feed them, but I love animals!"  I love animals too, but they have these alligators trained well!

This morning, I was heading downstream, when I saw a water slide.  I was horrified to think about children, sliding into these alligator infested waters, where the alligators will wait around for anything to drop into the water to be eaten!  (OK... I was also starting to imagine that this could be a new Criminal Minds episode, and which gives me nightmares.)  Next to the house with the water slide, were Hummel-esque, yard art, statues of children, sitting on the wall.  It was just too creepy.  Here are the pics:
Little alligator, waiting for something to be dropped into water for dinner, at marina.

Waterslide... CRAZY... what are these people thinking?

Creepy yard art... this was next door to the water slide.
The other big thing for today, was arriving in Stuart, FL, on the East Coast!  I am now heading north on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.  It was great to get to the Atlantic, smell the salty air, and notice the change of color of the water.

The Atlantic Ocean, from the ICW at the Stuart, FL inlet.

I had places picked out to stay in Stuart, Port Salerno, and Fort Pierce, but was too excited about moving north to stop.  I finally took a mooring ball in Vero Beach.  Other than practicing my mooring ball skills in Southport, I have not used a mooring ball this entire trip. It was easier than anchoring.  From what I have read, this mooring field is usually full, and they encourage rafting as well.  So, one person might be on the mooring ball with up to two other boats rafted to the moored boat.  I must have hit this town at the right time, because most of the mooring balls are available. I anticipate a very peaceful night!

My mooring ball in Vero Beach
Sailboat ahead of me, on mooring ball... and sharing with a heron.
Merrill Barber Bridge to Vero Beach at Sunset from mooring field.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Down the West Coast of Florida

After a relaxing week and a half in the Clearwater area, I headed south.  Clearwater was a great place to stop and visit with friends.  Clearwater beach is beautiful! The day before I left, they were having soap box derby races, and next weekend is the Jazz festival.
Two racers heading down the hill towards the marina.

This little guy needed some assistance, but who doesn't love Legos?

After Clearwater, I headed to Sarasota.  First I had to cross Tampa Bay.  I was planning on going to a marina, but decided to anchor out and enjoy a peaceful night on the water.

Tampa Bay Bridge
Sunset just south of Sarasota at anchorage.

From Sarasota, I had a short day, docking in Englewood around noon.  I picked a marina across the street from the Englewood beach and spent the afternoon walking the beach and getting my laundry done.  The beach wasn't nearly as pretty as Clearwater.  Flocks of birds congregated on the beach.  The birds didn't seem too concerned about the people on the beach.  It was kind of weird.
Englewood Beach

Today, I came to Fort Myers. I arrived just before it started raining.  Throughout the day, I was keeping an eye on thunderstorms that were building up in the Gulf, and watching as they approached.  I have Sirius satellite weather on my chartplotter, so I can see how far the storms are from my boat, and try to avoid getting caught in a downpour.

From here, I head across the state, through the Okeechobee waterway.  Soon, I will be heading north towards home.  I think I have mentioned that all my "looper" friends are now behind me.  Many are headed to the "Great Loop Rendezvous", which starts next week.  Some of my friends also have insurance policies on their boats, which don't allow them to come this far south before November, because of hurricane season.  Since I have a trailerable boat, my insurance covers me.

A lot of people ask if I have been lonely on this trip of mine.  In general, I have to say "no", or at least hardly ever.  Now though, I feel like I won't be seeing other loopers for the rest of my trip.  I might see Tom, from "No Compromises", if he manages to catch up. I will be heading north when I get to the eastern coast of Florida.  Most of the other loopers will be staying in Florida or heading to the Bahamas for the winter.  Whether loopers, boaters, or random strangers, I have been fortunate to meet really nice people throughout this journey of mine.

When I started out of Southport, I thought I would be traveling with other loopers for most of the time.  I started this trip with Mark and Jane, from Average Looper.  We soon split paths, as my boat needed repairs in Norfolk.  Although we caught up a few times, our paths took us different directions.  I have been traveling alone for most of this trip, and sometimes, I meet other loopers at marinas.  I can honestly say, that when I see a "looper" flag, I have a friend... maybe one I haven't met yet.  I will miss seeing my looper buddies as I head towards home.  I will also look forward to spending time with my friends and family, when I get back.  I might just have more time than I was planning!