The dark crossing

29 November 2014

Today is the Big Jump Day! When you go from Western Florida (Pensacola, Panama City, Apalachicola) to the main part of Florida (Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Clearwater, St. Pete’s, etc) you have two choices: go around or go across.

Going around is a 5 day trip: Carabell, Steinhatchee, Swanee, Crystal River then your next stop.

Going across is a 20 hour trip. The problem is that you need to do it overnight. When you get to the other side there will be crab traps / pots in the water. Blue crab pots, like in Apalachicola or the Chesapeake bay are light wire things. Stone crab pots found outside of Tarpon Springs are heavy and made of wood. In either case hitting the float and causing the line to get caught up in your prop is bad news.

So trip planning is important. You want to get across and have enough light to see the pots to go around. But you need to leave time to get one untangled and into your marina before dark. So it’s a matter of timing.

Our plan was to leave Apalachicola about noon and run at 8.5 kts (about 10 miles an hour). That would put us off shore about 6:15 AM. Sunrise is 7:08 AM, but there is enough light to see them by 6:15. Barring any problems we would arrive in our Marina at 10 AM. A 22 hour day.

We found our size boat (47′ Bayliner, 45′ Carver) that were willing to go 8.5 knots. Other boats in our group were going to go between 5-6 knots, they are looking at 24-26 hour days.

The other key factor is the waves. For most of the ICW, you are sheltered from the wind and waves and it means you can pretty much travel when you want. Crossing the Gulf means you need to wait for light wind and light waves. We spent 10 days in Apalachicola waiting for clear weather, other boats have waited 22 days.

On Saturday morning we had a Florida country breakfast at Caroline’s – the ham steak with red eye gravy, eggs, grits (I had potatoes) and light fluffy biscuits that were as big as my head.  Both of us figured that a large breakfast would build a good base for being up over night. I did a last moment run to the post office to mail some letters and a package off.

I also did boat things like check the fuel filters, oil levels, battery water, coolant, etc. All were fine and ready to go. We also made a last moment purchase of fuel. It was $3.15 a gallon, our next stop has it at $4.25. So I crammed 50 gallons into the tank.

We got off the dock at Noon as planned and made it out the Apalachicola Bay. Waves were 1′ which is what we expected. I lead the way with Prime Interest and Pier Pressure right behind.

About 2:30 we turned out of the protection of the barrier islands and headed SE. The waves grew to 2-3 feet and we started the long slog to the other side.

Towards sunset there was a discussion between the Admiral of Pier Pressure and myself over the “Green Flash”. It’s where there is green flash of light at either sunrise or sunset. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_flash for more details). Key thing is you need a clear view of the horizon. Out in the middle of the Gulf, there isn’t anything on the horizon.

Promptly at 5:38 we all stared to the Southwest. I didn’t see a green flash but an number of other boats and Susan said they had seen it. Sadly the Admiral of Pier Pressure didn’t see it.

From that point it got dark pretty rapidly. We could start seeing more and more stars and there was a half moon up high in the sky so there was some light.

We were using our GPS to navigate and the radar to look for other boats. The two boats that were behind me were using their radar to follow me. All three boats had their stern cockpit lights on to make it a little clearer that there was a boat. At night it’s hard to tell distances, that is where the radar is really helpful. We could see all of our positions and it was easy to stay on course.

Well sort of. We all had our autopilots on. I had set a course and pretty much stuck to it. But it’s not an exact science, the boat will wobble around the track line. The boats behind me were also running their autopilots and they also wobbled around in my track. The nice thing is that it gave everyone something to do once every 30 minutes to adjust their track to get us back together as a group.

We ate sandwiches for dinner. At 7PM I laid down to see if I could get some sleep. No. Because of the angle of the waves hitting the bow it was a slap, slap, splash sound. And then every third or fourth set there would be slap, slap, thump. So I ended up reading for awhile.

At 9PM I relieved Susan at the helm, her two hour “watch” was over. We were cruising at 8.6 knots (about 9.9 miles per hour) we had covered 76 nm (87.4 statute miles) so we were over a third of the way there. Still very dark out, but the moon gave a sheen to the water.

We motored along until 11PM when we swapped again. She said she had dozed for about 15 minutes in her time off.

Just outside the bay in Apalachicola is marker #2. Just outside the bay we wanted to enter was another marker #2. (Ok, so that sounds weird, but how it works is that every channel has a starting point. The marker / buoy numbers increase as you get closer to shore. The green numbered markers are all odd numbers, the red ones have even numbers. So the outer most marker coming into Apalachicola will have a low number. Since the first marker is red, it’s #2. If they put a green marker out there it would be #1. Likewise coming into the Tarpon Springs / Dunedin side, buoy / marker #2 is the outer most marker.

If you drew a line between the two #2 markers, that would be the shortest path shortest distance. And since as a group, Loopers are cheap, they want to burn the least amount of fuel. So they would all travel from Apalachicola on the same line. For this reason, I picked a course more to the NE from the line, about 0.5 miles off of it. That way we could go in a straight line, go faster and pass the loopers, but not worry about them.

While Susan was resting, I had passed a number of Loopers, they were all 0.5 miles to my right. Yay!!

So I went below and tried to sleep. At the helm, Susan came into a new batch of boat lights. But ½ were on the line we expected and ½ were on our line.  Checking the radar, only two boats were actually near us – the lights were deceiving. She moved to the right to pass the two closest boats that were on our line and later passed the other boats that were on the line we expected.

When I got up (slap, slap, slap, splash, slap, slap, thud) she told me that the other Loopers were chattering about changing their speed. In the crossing the goal is to get to the #2 marker at sunrise. Some of the main pack of Loopers had figured out they were going to arrive too soon and wanted to slow down. So they did. I calculated that we would also arrive about 30-45 minutes too soon. But the forecast had predicted the winds would pick up between 1-4 PM. I figured that the wind would slow us some and that if we needed to slow for the higher waves we had a time cushion. The two other boats agreed and we kept to our plan.

Susan went down for another hour and then came back up. She had slept for another 15 minutes and decided we would just drive together.

It’s now 12:30 and our half moon is about to set. It’s pretty impressive, the last light on the horizon is a bright orange pumpkin moon. It slips below the horizon (sorry, no green flash) and now it it is DARK out. “Billions and billions of stars” don’t have the light that a moon does. So we are driving on just our GPS and RADAR.

As anticipated, the winds pick up dropping our speed. The waves picked up, so we also dropped a few hundreds RPM to make the ride more comfortable.

Our companion boat Errante reported 6 blips on the radar. Close enough to see on radar, close enough to see in person, but the Mark I eyeball wasn’t picking it up. No lights, no sound. He figures either Drug runners or SEALS out training. But in any case they are gone pretty quickly.

Susan and I listened to a book on tape (cd? Dvd? iPod? ). It was one of the Stephanie Plum books, and by volume 22 anyone could write one. We listened to that until 4AM. (She caught the crooks, Grandma is still at home and still no decision between Joe and Ranger).

At 4 AM started making my move to close into the last waypoint before the entrance. So we moved right, across the “2-2” line to be 0.5 miles over to the SW. We also slowed to put us there at 6:20 AM local pre-dawn time. Slow drift to not startle people behind us.

A little help in seeing from the Tampa skyline. We all tried our spotlights. Great for killing night vision, not so much on seeing pots.

Got 6 miles away from Marker 2 with no crab pots that we’ve seen so far at 6:00AM. We drop to full idle and drift to the waypoint. So far so good, feeling pretty happy.

Sun starts a glow in the eastern sky and still no traps. Still 4 miles out, but loving life. Then the trap buoys start showing up. Just in drips, we see 6 and work our way past them. Then the dolphins arrive and the crews start watching the dolphins instead of watching for crab pots. All three boat crews have a quick discussion over whether to watch the cute dolphins play or the trip ending crab pots.

Lucky they were able to do both. We made our turns, not many traps, a good thing. Marker #4 has traps everywhere, not a good thing. Our group starts hearing that the first group has chosen buoy #4 as their point, but there are 100′s of pots. So they will slog through and then find more at #4.

We skate around 4, and then head down the waterway to home. The sun is off on the port quarter so we are not staring into it (Sadly unlike the other loopers). We scoot for home, slowing for a sailboat and not much else.

Pull into the Marker One Marina at 9:30 AM. Thirty mins past the original plan time, not bad on a 22 hour run. All three boats in my group were fueled and docked by 10:15. Pier Pressure opened their salon and we all came over with Bloody Mary mixin’s. Drinks in hand we talked about the trip. (Plan the trip, keep to the plan, eat lots of junk food and audio books works) By 11:30 we were all back on our boats working on naps.

The next wave arrive at 1:30 PM and some at 2PM. I was up from my nap and helped the 2PM group into the marina. Last sets arrived at 4PM, 28 hours after they left. The sun glare and needing to do the 30 mile from shore run was a killer.

For us, the Too Long ; Didn’t Read

–- Put a plan together and stick to it

– Go fast, spend some dollars on fuel so you don’t spend 28 hours out there

– Night crossings suck. Find a different way, but if you can’t: Plan it out and take people out to ride with that won’t panic and change their minds. Indecision and second guesses are killers.

– Know when sunrise is and when daylight will be. The hour extra of being able to see was great.

– Trust your crew. Your boat and the people following you.

– Weather reports are a guide. Thanks to EddyJ for his prelims, but thanks to all the weather sources I used to cross check where we are going.

I got afterwards if I’d do a night crossing again. The answer is no like it was this time. But schedule pressures and a good weather window changed that. So as all of my answers, the real one is “it depends”

Thanks to the crews of Prime Interest, Pier Pressure for going with me and for the crew of Errante for doing a cross check of my plan.


Apalachicola, FL – Thanksgiving!

24, 25, 26, 27, 28 November 2014

Date Line Apalachicola FL

Wow talk about travel burn-out. We drove 958 miles in three day covered almost the width of Florida and passed through Georgia. Twice. So we spent most of the next two days recovering from our zooming around. We did get another “Pig-Wig” run in and did oysters out so we’ve had a fair sampling of Apalachicola.

On Wednesday afternoon I got my temporary Florida Registration since we will be here over 90 days. It was kind of interesting, it was a small town courthouse and the clerks were just behind a counter, not like other places where they are behind glass walls. They were very nice and I got my sticker pretty quickly.

Also on Wednesday Errante showed up at our dock. Mara Beel had also arrived in town, they were up the street at another marina. We headed up for Docktails and then went to “Up the creek” with both crews for dinner. Once again the Apalachicola oysters were very good.

Thursday was Thanksgiving and all the loopers celebrating was pretty cool. The crew of Ta Ta had gotten us tables at “Caroline’s”. 14 boats with 28 crewmembers were there. We had oysters to start and then the traditional dinner of Turkey, cornbread stuffing, greenbeans, mashed potatoes. It was a lot of fun. Dinner lasted until 4:30 and we headed to the boat for a short lay down. Boats that were there (that I remember): Serenity, Mara Beel, Pier Pressure, Sundowner, Sea Horse, Fat Cat, Beach House, Prime Interest, Teri-Fied, Takes 2 and Ta Ta

We watched the last of Nurse Jackie Season Five on DVD. We had some Netflix stacked up, we are making an effort to watch them so new ones will be waiting when we get home.

Friday was finally one of those great sun shine filled Florida days we’ve been waiting for. We went back to the “Hole in the Wall” with the crews of Pier Pressure and Prime Interest. We lucked out getting a table with only a ten minute wait. Once again the oysters were good . We both think that the “Hole in the Wall” is the best place in town, thanks for the recommendation Sonny!

We also started the prep work for the Gulf of Mexico crossing on Saturday. The weather forecast is for waves @ 2 feet and winds @ 10-15 kts. Not ideal weather, but in the all things considered category it’s not bad. But to prepare we are putting things in boxes that got tossed around in our last high water adventure on Lake Michigan. Susan also has the POD plan in mind, it’s not coming out of the box until it has some place to go. To that end I sold and will ship on Saturday some charts and cruising guides/ We also have a stack of Looper boat books that we are going to give away.

Keep a close eye on weather between Apalachicola and Dunedin FL for Saturday and Sunday. We will be out in the middle of it.


210 day summary

27 November 2014

This is the monthly status report. We have gone 3200 miles in 7 months. We are about a 10 days behind where I wanted to be, most of it due to bad weather in the last 3 weeks. We are in Apalachicola for a week now, and looks like we will get out in a few days.

We did take advantage of the weather days to do some side trips. In the last thiry days we did a three day trip to New Orleans and another three day trip to see my son and Susan’s parents.

For the last 30 days there has been lots of Loopers. From Midway Marina to Apalachicola there was only three nights that we were not anchored / docked with another set of Loopers. So we’ve had lots of opportunities to meet other people.

Susan is making good progress on her quilt. Everything is cut out and the small puffy squares are sewn and waiting final stitching. It looks like there is a good chance it will be done for Christmas.

I’ve been busy blogging, posting on the AGLCA forums, the Bayliner forums and of course chatting with the loopers. There have not been a lot of maintenance items on the boat. The bad fuel issue seems to have been reduced, I can go about 200 gallons between filter changes. I’ll change it before the big crossing and see how it makes out with all the extra sloshing around. If it’s clear then I’ll run as far as Sanibel Island and try to use what fuel is there. Still running about 1.4 miles to the gallon and my price is $4.17 a gallon. Fuel has been much cheaper here. With the next few fill ups I’ll be under $4 per gallon.

There is one minor problem the door that leads to the fly-bridge has a small tear in the gasket and it leaks when it rains. We’ve been doing a towel there to catch the drops, but I need to put something in place for the three weeks we will be gone.

We are both looking forward to being home for the Christmas holidays, hard to think there is only 28 days to go.


Beaufort, SC

23 November 2014

Another family day, this time with Susan’s family. The trip to Beaufort was easy, we were there about 11 AM. Susan’s sister made appetizers, heirloom cherry tomatoes, mozarella cheese, and peppers with crusty garlic bread. For lunch we had two different kinds of quiche. Susan’s Mom and Dad are doing well as are her sister and nephew.

It was a great visit, it’s always nice to sit and visit with family!

We’ve stopped at Savannah on the way home to see some of the historical district in the morning.


Jacksonville, FL

22 November 2014

With rain scheduled for the next three days we decided to rent a car and go on tour. My son lives in Jacksonville, and Susan has family in Beaufort, SC.

Thanks to the boats next to us we were both up before first light. They were shouting at each other as they tried to get off the dock. /sigh

The Apalachicola Airport is a small regional airport but they have cars via Hertz. We were soon buzzing along in a no frills Toyota Corolla. Back in 1994 I had a Geo Prizm which was a Corolla with a Geo Badge. So I’ve always liked them. Well, it turns out they have been re-engineered across the years, and most of it hasn’t been for the good. But we will only be doing about 3 hours a day of driving, so I’ll cope.

The drive from Apalachicola was pretty much along the coast and very pretty. We then entered the pine forests, with acres and acres and acres of pulp pine tree farms. We did one 30 minute stretch without seeing a house.

When we were driving in Alabama I noticed the drivers there use most of the highway, weaving in and out, in and out between cars over and over again. Turns out Florida drivers do the same thing. An added thrill bonus was on the three / four lane wide section just outside Jacksonville. Most of us were doing the speed limit (70) but a few cars were doing the minimum (50). So driving turns into the automobile version of Frogger, weaving around the slow cars trying to not get run over. Susan just flicked into “Super Mario Cart” mode and did a great job.

Lunch was at Willards BBQ Junction. We had eaten there in our last trip here 5 years ago. We had BBQ sandwiches minus the bread. Still very good.

Around the corner is Chamblin’s Bookmine. It’s a huge set of connected buildings with a rabbit warren of shelves that are crammed full of books. We spent 45 minutes there and purchased two bags of books.

We then met up with Mike and he took us over to “Cool Stuff Games” One of the things that Susan and I have been trying to do is play games some evenings. We play “Ticket to Ride” and Mike thought if we liked that, we would like “King of Tokyo”. Its a dice game that ou play mutant monsters, gigantic robots, and strange aliens – all of whom are destroying Tokyo and whacking each other in order to become the one and only King of Tokyo. “Cool Stuff Games” had a demo copy that people can try. We played for over two hours, it’s a lot of fun. Lots of interesting stratagems, and I can see with 4 or more people how the game would change. Putting this on my Christmas list.

For dinner Mike took us to “Ragtime” just of the ocean front in Jacksonville. A great food menu and a pretty decent beer selection. They have a number of beers that are brewed for them. I had the Dark Ale, the Red Ale and the Indian Pale Ale. Mike had the “Dolphins Breath” lager.

We started off splitting an order of pot roast sliders. For dinner Mike had the orange infused salmon, Susan went with the Southern Classic “Shrimp and Grits” while I had the Lobster and Shrimp tacos, with a side of red beans and rice. Everyone loved their dinners.

For dessert we split an order of beignets. They came with a strawberry and chocolate dipping sauce. Not as good as Cafe DuMond, but very good.

We headed back to our hotel, where they had TV and I was able to watch two episodes of Big Bang Theory. We had talked about TV shows and how much have missed by not watching TV. So it was nice to get some TV time in.

Thanks Mike for a great day in Jacksonville!


Apalachicola, FL Day 3

21 November 2014

Buurrrr it’s cold. There are no pumpout facilities at this marina, so we are using their bathroom facilities. It’s a short walk, but we found out that it’s not well heated. We’ll grab one of the spare heaters off the Quo Vadimus and leave it there tonight.

I’ve been using my ham radio when possible, it’s been a good way to meet more people as we travel around. Something happened to the radio in Chicago and it’s taken me this long to find someone that can take a look at it and repair it. This morning packed it up, it fits perfectly in the USPS flat rate box. They should have it by next Monday and with a little luck I’ll have it a few weeks after that.

Next on our chore list was laundry. A short golf cart ride later we were there and suds were flying. The admiral from Ta Ta was there and we had a nice chat with her about their trip. They live in British Columbia Canada. They had trailered their Albin to Lake Ontario and started their loop there around June. They have had a good time and we all talked about the parts of the trip we had shared.

After laundry we returned back through town stopping at some of the shops and stores. The shrimp boats come into a processing factory about 5 blocks from the marina. Susan stopped in and got fresh shrimp to make dip for tonight’s Docktails.

Walking up the street to Docktails I spied a 2001 Adventurecraft. I was surprised to see one, but it would be the perfect boat for the Apalachicola River and bay. With the 12” draft it could poke and prod into all the tiny nooks and coves along the water. The owner wasn’t there, I’ll try later on to try to meet them.

When we got up to Docktails it was a full house, with crews from Beach House, Ta Ta, Serenity, Sundowner, Fat Cat, Free Bird Leslee and Quo Vadimus . There was lots of good snacks and we had a good time.

Afterward we had 90 minutes to spend so we stopped into “Up the Creek” for a round of oysters. Our selection was Mediterranean style – Oysters with an olive mix like is on a muffaletta; Russian – with “caviar” (really salmon roe) and sour cream; and “Classic” with Parmesan cheese. Very nice!

Tonights entertainment was a community theater play called “The Halleluiah Girls”. It’s set in Georgia where a woman has a mid-life crisis and opens up “Spa De Dah”. The play was OK, the editor in me would have told the playwright to ditch Act II Scene III and incorporate the closing scene in the prior act. My inner stage manager would have worked harder to get the scene changes down to under 30 seconds from a few minutes. (When the audience starts singing along with the inter-scene music and waiving their cell phone flashlights like Bic lighters, you know there is a problem. But we had great seats, they play was funny and they had a well stocked bar for intermission.

The show let out well past Looper midnight and it was cold out. We hurried home and set up the heater in the bathroom to keep it warm overnight.


Apalachicola, FL Day 2

20 November 2014

While planning the entire trip out on a day to day basis is impossible, I do try to plan a week out. Our plan was to go across the Gulf from the Florida panhandle to Dunedin then head south in some big jumps to get to the keys in 2 weeks. With the iffy weather, my plan B was to go partially across the Gulf from Apalachicola to Steinhatchee, a trip of 90 miles. We’d use the smaller weather window tomorrow (Friday) to go south in some shorter hops.

This morning’s forecast put an end to that plan. There is no weather window on Friday, or for the next few days for that matter. Choice is to go to Steinhatchee and be stuck there for a week, or stay here in Apalachicola and be stuck here for a week. Based on the number of places to eat that we’ve seen, and that we would have access to a rental car, staying was an easy decision.

Went up and got booked in for a week, it’s a pretty decent rate. Pay for 4 nights, the next 3 are free. So we are good until the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I’ll need to watch the weather to see if we will be here longer.

Since we were staying longer we had access to the marina “car”, in this case one of the two golf carts. Not a lot of traffic in Apalachicola, and lots of the B&B’s have carts for their guests.

The crew of Ta Ta had been at the marina for a week, and they had gotten bounced around by the winds and shrimp boats. They were able to get one of the last spaces at a marina farther up the river (10 blocks away) and thought it would be a better location. We hadn’t got bounced that much (yet) but we are almost twice their size.

After they set off, we got the golf cart and rode over to “Pig-Wig” as I refer to Piggly Wiggly, one of the Souths food chains. We were not expecting much and ended up being pleased at the big selection of items they had. With our cart loaded up, we headed back through town. It looks like staying was a good choice, there are even more places to stay.

Susan put a pot of chili on to cook and we got caught up with bills, pictures, emails, etc. The internet connection here is good, so there should be new pictures soon.

Dinner chili was good. We are both set to relax for the next week.


Apalachicola,FL Day 1

19 November 2014

We are up today to the 60 mile run from Panama City to Apalachicola. My cunning plan is to go to Apalachicola today then on to Steinhatchee the next day. With a good weather shot we make it to Suwannee. way down on the Suwannee River. (Tell me you were not expecting that) We are then only 10 hours from Dunedin Fl, which would be doable even in a crappy day. And since there are crappy days ahead, it’s a great plan.

Off in the freezing weather, to get pumped out. We can do about 8 days on the boat between pump outs. It’s been 5 so far, and in theory I could make the other side. But to place it safe we got pumped out here in Panama City.

This is the side of the “Loop” that you don’t hear about, planning for fuel, water and pump outs. :-)

Pretty tame trip, but the high point was seeing a real house houseboat cruising up the river. It’s a house built on a set of pontoons. It was pretty surprising to fly around the corner and see a house in the middle of the river.

Oh wait, the real high point was the five dolphins surfing on our bow wave. She made a little movie of it, you can see it in our video collection.

We were soon docked at Apalachicola Marina. We had company, the crew of Ta Ta was there in their nice 27′ Albin. I had looked at Albin’s. They have a center cockpit with a separate aft cabin with a queen bed. The forward cabin has the galley, salon and a Vberth and a head. It would fit under the bridge at Richmond’s, which is why it was high on my list.

The Apalachicola Marina is right downtown, so it was a short walk into the heart of the restaurant area. We went to the “Hole in the Wall” based on a recommendation from our friend on Corkscrew. Susan had the raw oysters and then fried oysters for dinner, I had the roasted oysters with Parmesan cheese / butter and then a crab cake for dinner. I’ve now learned that most crab cakes in this area use just the claw meat, which gives them more of a crabby flavor.

After dinner we walked around some more and came across the “Oyster City Brewing Company”. I had some of their beers during our stay in Panama City. I was excited to try some of the ones I had missed out on. Hooter Brown is a Brown Ale made with Tupelo Honey, very robust, but just a hint of the sweetness from the Honey. They also had an IPA that was very good.

The brewery was pretty standard with 6 fermentation tanks and the usual cooking equipment. They were busy doing repairs to the pump system, so we didn’t get a chance to talk to the brew master. Since it looks like I’ll be in town a few days, I’ll get another chance.

Back on the dock the temperature had dropped, but so had the wind. It would be a calm crisp night out. We had good view of some stars and the waning crescent moon.


Panama City, FL

16,17,18 November

Short summary: Very windy and cold but crews from Sundowner, Leslee, Free Bird, Serenity, Estrellita and Quo Vadimus have a great dinner.

Up early and off the dock at Destin to head east to Panama City, Florida. Another 60 mile day ahead of us and we want to get there before the wind and rain kick in.

It’s an easy drive and Susan attracts Dolphins so that was fun. There is a pretty long canal stretch that reminded both of us of the “Divide Cut” on the Tenn-Tom waterway.

At the end of the Canal the Department of Homeland security had a fishing boat pulled over. We cruised by wondering what they were doing so far into the interior, the gulf was over 10 miles away. About 10 mins later they came by at full throttle about 20′ from the boat and tossed us around with their wake. Nice job, thanks guys.

About a mile later they stopped at a bridge. We cruised through at “no wake” speed and went under the bridge. About 3 minutes later they came by, again at full throttle, and again we get tossed around. /sigh

But we soon forgot about it with the influx of new dolphins to entertain us. That went on until we got into the main waters of Panama City.

Got into the marina OK, got fuel at a $3.27 per gallon dropping our overall fuel price to $4.18 per gallon for the trip. I expect that this will be the low price until I get on the other side of Florida and into the Carolina’s. I’ve been getting fuel more often than I need to. I’ve been getting fuel in 150-175 gallon loads. I could have made it through Canada without buying fuel. On the other hand I’ve been fighting the bad fuel load that I got in Rochester, so my attitude has been to keep diluting it to keep the filters from clogging as much. It seems to have worked, I put 200 gallons through before they needed changing. I’m still a little worried about the upcoming leap across to the Florida mainland. It will be more bouncy, so what is stuck to the bottom of the tank will come floating up.

Docked at the marina with us is Freebird one of the few sailboats. We met them briefly in Grafton. We last saw Serenity in Parry Sound the 14th of July almost exactly 4 months ago. We were soon joined by Estrellita who shared the last part of our run down the Tenn-Tom.

I headed off downtown to watch the last NASCAR race. The Panama Ale house was a nice pub, they had the Packer/Eagles game on (Go Pack GO!) and the race. I was excited by both, Packers were winning and up until lap 8 Jeff Gordon was in the lead. Packers won, and Jeff finished 10th But I got to try three new beers, so all in all it was a good day.

Sunday night was the start of the wind and about 3AM to 9AM we were smacked a few times by rain cells. Turns out there was a tornado watch up, and a tornado touched down about 10 miles north east of here.

Monday was cold and very windy. Susan and I walked a few blocks into town for lunch. It was pretty uninspiring, what I though was a cool little diner only had a lunch buffet. There was a used book store in town that we stopped in, but the shelves were ½ empty and there were tons of boxes and piles on the floor. Not sure if they were doing a major re-sort / re-stack / re-shelve, but it was a “re-mess” and we left.

The temps dropped and the wind kicked up, so we bounced around most of the day and night. The high point was Susan’s dinner of jambalaya.

Another cold windy and bouncy night.

Tuesday’s forecast was better, with the trend for the wind to stop. They are going to shut the water off on the dock, so I made sure that our tanks were full. I also called to see when the marina store will be open, we want to get pumped out before we go and sit in Apalachicola for 10 days.

I got invited to go shopping by the crew of Leslee a sailboat from Texas. I remarked on their home port of Warwick DE, it’s small world. We did a quick dash to Publix and I got restocked. Tonight we will be walking into town for dinner. Looking forward to it!

Lunch was Susan’s take on muffaletta sandwich. Very good but she was hampered by not having the right bread.

Naps and planning the next set of places filled my afternoon. From the start of the trip we were going to go the “long” way, up around the panhandle and then down the west coast. It would be 4-5 easy days. The alternative is to do a big jump from the panhandle across to the west coast. It’s 150-160 nautical miles. At our normal speed it would take us about 17-20 hours. That means leaving at 3PM, driving all night and then most of the next day. It wouldn’t be a big deal in the summer with the short nights. In November it means about 14 hours of dark.

We also need a good weather window. December normally wouldn’t be a problem, but as you’ve noticed, winter has come early. As of this writing there may be a window next week on Thanksgiving. It would give a new meaning to “Black Friday” for us.

Plan C is to across to Steinhatchee on Thursday (65 miles) and then do three short days of 30 miles a day. That would put us there on Thursday, rather than leaving on Thursday. (Rain will be in the area on Sunday) It’s all weather depending, so keep reading to see how we make out.

Dinner started off with beers at the Panama Ale House. We had a full complement with the crews from Sundowner, Leslee, Free Bird, Serenity, Estrellita and Quo Vadimus. Not as big as the Mississippi Flotilla, but a great group. I added a new beer – 1554 Black Ale – to my list, a new one for the top 5 beers outside of Canada. The big news item was two of the crews finding out they had a common ancestor! Shows what a small world it really is.

We took over Maddie’s Las Casita (well we had about 40% of the seats). The food was very good and in huge portions. In my quest for the perfect chiles rellenos I ordered that. I got both a steak and (since we are in the gulf) a shrimp. They were very very good. Not the classic where the poblano pepper is stuffed, breaded and fried. These had been grilled, peeled, split and then the contents put in the pepper halves. Then under the broiler for a few minutes to cook, add cheese and another minute to melt the cheese. The steak was good, but the shrimp were the best.

Lots of great conversation as with all Loopers, we have so many different backgrounds and experiences.

Tonight the temps will go below freezing. Can’t wait to get the next 300 miles south to real warm weather.


Destin, FL

15 November 2014

Time to move again, we will make two jumps in two days to go the next 100 miles. There is an open weather window for Saturday and Sunday. Then it’s rain for a few days. Or goal is to get close to Apalachicola so if there is a weather window we can get across to the Florida mainland. We can’t get into Apalachicola since there are a ton of Loopers stacked up there waiting to cross.

Our trip today is just to Destin, FL. We got off the dock a little after 8 and in bright sunshine and not much wind headed down the inter-coastal waterway (ICW). It’s a very nice ride with houses on one side and white sand beaches of the barrier island on the other. Oh and lots and lots of hi-rise condos. The section of Orange Beach we passed is a popular tourist location. About 9AM we crossed into Florida, a new state for our list.

The trip across Pensacola Bay was easy with the low wind level. It’s well marked so it’s just a matter of staying between the markers. Because we are in the ICW, we also don’t need to worry about off shore waves.

The ICW runs next to the Gulf Islands National Seashore. No houses but we did pass a government installation of some kind. There is a huge tower, looks like it may be coastal radar. When I get some Google time I’ll see if I can figure out what it was.

Not much boat traffic, we passed two tows. These are much smaller than the river ones we encountered. One or Two barges moving along. Captains have been friendly and there has been lots of space to be able to pass. One looper boat Takes Two a gold Looper from Arizona was the only pleasure craft other than fish boats.

At Fort Walton Beach we picked up dolphins. Forget the herons, forget the ‘gators, Susan’s new passion is the dolphins. They were pretty entertaining, and Susan got 1000′s of pictures.

We passed the Fort Walton free dock. We would need the T head, and there was already a boat there on half. Takes Two had said they were interested in it, so we kept on to our Plan B location in Destin.

Which turned out to be a good move on our part. We picked up another set of dolphins for Susan to play with as we got closer. We went under the bridge and made a hard left running with the bridge and then into Destin Harbor. Thousands of fish boats, this is quite the place in the summer time.

On the way in we saw a guy in one of those water powered jet packs. He has a 200′ hose (looks like a fire hose) that runs back to a chase boat with a pump. It looked like lots of fun. The only problem he had was if he got too far from the chase boat the hose pulled him back and out of vertical alignment. That caused a loss of upward thrust made him drop face first into the water.

Our dock was at Harbor Docks Restaurant. It was pricy at $2 a foot, but it did put us into the middle of Destin. The restaurant had a happy hour sushi special, so we had three rolls and a few drinks. We also got some pictures of Ensign Pig with a local beer, Naked Pig.

We wandered down through Destin and came across Boshamps Oyster House. It was highly rated and it looked busy, so we gave it a try.

Turns out that we are not really that far off the Alabama line, Mississippi State was at Alabama for Saturday football. The outside seating area was a sea of red shirts and cries of “Roll Tide”.

We had oysters (of course!) for dinner. I had 6 of “Boshamps Specials” caramelized Vidalia onions, bacon roasted with the oyster. Very nice!! Susan went old school with fried oysters in cornmeal.

We watched the game for awhile, but it had been a long day, so we were back on the boat and were soon in bed.

Up at first light to get to Panama City before the rain hits.


Orange Beach, a rest day

13 November 2014

So while I did internet things, Susan was a whirlwind of activity doing laundry, home made soup for lunch, cleaning the bathroom, posting pictures, making dinner and more pictures. We both got naps in so it wasn’t all work.

It was very windy and cold out with rain a few times during the day. A good day to be inside where it was warm.

Happy Birthday Mike!!


NAS Pensacola, FL

12 November 2014

Susan was up before me today, I didn’t get up until 7AM. Dragging a little, I may have had too much of Laissez les bons temps rouler!

But we had big plans for the day, so I got my hot chocolate and some freshly baked orange rolls. The good part of Susan getting up early is fresh baked goods! I finished packing the box I needed to ship and we were out the door.

First stop was the National Naval Aviation Museum aboard NAS Pensacola. I had been aboard to watch the Blue Angels 4 days ago, so I knew where the Museum was.

The Museum is huge and chronicles the history of aviation from the Navy’s side. There are a ton of planes and exhibits. We spent the first hour walking around looking at the planes. One of the great things is there is a balcony around the exhibition areas. So rather than just seeing the wheels and undersides of the wings, you can walk the perimeter and see the upper part of the planes. You also have an eye level view of the dozens of aircraft that are suspended from the ceiling.

Four of the planes are the Blue Angels in a diamond formation. They say they are spaced the same way they fly the show, which is pretty close together. A very impressive display.

We started off our second hour with the IMAX movie “The History of Flight” It’s a great movie showing humans love of the air, the first attempts at flight interspersed with flying with the Blue Angels. It’s a great movie, highly recommend it.

The museum did a great job in the static exhibits but really shined in the interactive displays. We got to ride in a simulator of an aircraft carrier flight deck and two different sets of flying with the Blue Angels. One is a computer animated version in 3D. The seats move and shake, so they call it 4D. We did pass on the one simulator that actually moves you around in 3 axis, that seemed a bit much.

I liked the aircraft carrier exhibit. Inside was a full projection wall and you sat on benches that vibrated with the movement of the ship and the launch of each aircraft. There was also a set of fans, I got buffeted when the helicopter took off. There was also the smell of jet fuel in the air.

One of the exhibits was a street from WWII, there was a store, barber shop, restaurant and a home. Inside the home was a Hoosier Cabinet like I grew up with. It’s all there, it even had the flower mill and sitting on top was Mom’s mixer and white bowl. The grocery store had items from that era. There was a collection of canned goods, boxed items, notions, etc. My father loved Pep cereal, he would have been pleased to see the boxes lining the shelves. (Side note, we did a trip to Canada when I was in Junior High, we did a tour of a Kellogg plant in Canada, they were still making Pep. I can remember him getting boxes to bring home)

We had lunch at the Cubi Bar Café. The Cafe’s decor and layout duplicates the bar area of the famous Cubi Point Officers’ Club in the Philippines that was a major source of enjoyment for Navy and Marine Corps squadrons, ships and units as they passed into the Western Pacific. There were a ton of squadron and unit signs all over the place. It was really cool and the food was good too!

Our last hour was spent in the last building that covers aviation and space since WWII. I was surprised at the number of Navy aviators that were part of the space program. There was also a good display outlining the number of aviation jobs that are now open to women.

If you are in the area, this is a great place to stop.

We then started the dash to return the car with stops to mail my package, JoAnnes Fabrics to pick up some quilt components, drug store, etc. We got the car back without incident and got a ride back to the marina.

We arrived back at the Quo Vadimus about 4 PM. We both collapsed, it’s hard work doing all that sightseeing. Thursday has bad weather in the forecast and we will both be happy to have a rest day.


New Orleans, Day 3

11 November 2014

Another great night of sleeping, we both woke up pretty refreshed in the morning. We had a busy day planned, so we were out of the hotel by 8:15.

A short drive later we were deep in the French Quarter on the hunt for the elusive beignets at Cafe du Monde. Unlike yesterday at 10AM there was no line and we got a great table with a view. The beignets were good, I think between the two of us we had a ½ cup of powdered sugar on our plates. We were serenaded by a gospel trumpeter while we ate.

The Central Grocery, the inventors of the muffaletta, were closed on Monday. But with it being Tuesday we crossed the freshly washed street and waited in line. Yes, I did write freshly washed street. There are a number of horse drawn carriages in the area, so it looks like they wash the streets down between 6-9 AM (since there is no stopping / standing / parking at that time). Unlike Mackinac Island, they did a much better job. On the other hand they have fewer horses. On the other hand there are more drunks using the streets. Bet you didn’t know I had three hands.

Anyway, the Grocery opened at 9 and the dozen of the early risers tromped in to place our orders. The sandwich staff didn’t look happy, but I’m guessing they are used to seeing people right away. We also got a small container of their famous olive salad to try on our sandwiches at home.

Next we drove across town to the printing plant of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Susan had co-workers that she wanted to meet. While we were there we got a tour of the building. The presses were not running since it’s a morning paper, they print overnight. But they are huge, two story monsters that cover half a block.

Back in the car and started the ride out of New Orleans. The good times had indeed rolled, but we needed to roll on. We crossed out of Louisiana and headed back through Mississippi.

First stop was “Gulf Coast Gator Ranch” in Moss Point. We had been stymied in seeing gators in the wild. My son has lived in Florida for quite a while and has never seen a wild gator. So we were going to get a gander at a wild gator even if it was at a ranch.

The ranch is run by a family that has been in the Gator business since the 60′s. The second season of Gator Boys on Animal Planet was filmed on their ranch. And when I say ranch, I really mean their 440 acre swamp that is next to the Grand Bay Wildlife area. They have small gators ranging from a few inches to 5′ in pens along their building. There is one 24” one that you can hold.

Behind the building is a fenced in 3 acre “pond” that is home to 70+ gators. We got our cup of gator food and tossed some out into the pond. The gators took notice and swam over to get some treats. The gator chow floats so they swim up and snap it up.

But we were on the prowl for “wild gators” so we climbed on the airboat (a first for us), donned ear protection and headed out into the swamp. A few minutes later we were in a secluded area. Our guide, got a bag of marshmallows out and tossed one into the water. Pretty soon, a gator came out of the weeds and snatched the tasty treat. While tossing more sugar at the gator we got a lecture on the lives of gators and what the big differences between crocodiles and alligators.

We cruised around the swamp some more and got to see two more gators and an a number of turtles. Airboats are cool, but they are really, really loud.

We had confirmed wild gator sightings, with pictures! Off to our next stop.

In Mobile is the USS Alabama one of the WWII era battleships. It’s been turned into a floating museum. It’s been in place since the 1960′s and they have done a good job in keeping it in great shape. For the next two hours we climbed through the ship, looking at how 2500 men lived to fight in the war.

Since it was Veterans Day it was busy aboard with families roaming about. The ship is very impressive, very claustrophobic. Not sure that I’d last long in the space with all those people since it felt crowded with 200 people aboard.

Next door to the USS Alabama is a small airplane museum. We did a quick tour through it, we had been to a number of plane exhibits. We had both done submarines, so we passed on the two that were docked there.

Next was the drive back to our marina with stops for veggies, food, beer, wine, etc. We got back to the Marina about 6PM. Two dock carts (a standard dock cart is about three times the size of a standard kids wagon) later and we were done for the day.

We had Central Grocery muffaletta dinner! They were wonderful. Even though they had been made 9 hours before, the bread was fresh, the meat and cheese combo was perfect and just the right amount of salt and olive oil from the olive salad. While the ones from Napoleon were good, these are clearly number one.

Our tour of the Big Easy was a great success! Laissez les bons temps rouler!


New Orleans, day 2

10 November 2014

We both slept well, we had a king sized bed, that keeps us from waking each other up with our alleged snoring. Continental breakfast was at the hotel. They had raisin bread which was a treat for me.

First stop today was the post office. We had borrowed a guide book from the crew of Reunion and I wanted to get it returned. I’ve also been lugging around the cruising guide to the North Channel that I had promised to send back to our friends on Katya Looking in Canada. The post office I picked was in the Federal Building. Which means we had to go through a metal detector, etc. to be able to get into the post office. I think I would have cut a new door into the Post Office part to save the hassle.

From there we walked to the French Quarter, our destination Cafe DuMonde. When we got there we saw a huge line of people waiting to get in for beignets, and a longer “to-go line. We decided to pass, we would go on Tuesday.

We continued on into the French Market with a ton of little stores and galleries. Lots and lots of tourists looking for things to take home. Past the stores is a flea market where vendors have stalls that they sell out of. Almost anything with New Orleans on it could be purchased. Since we are touring and will be touring more in Florida I picked up a new belt pack. It even has a place for a bottle of water!

Walking away from the river we went to the St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest in the city. It is very beautiful inside with lots of stained glass and ornate sculptures.

From the Cathedral it was time to walk the famed Bourbon Street! It was just like the pictures, bar after bar for blocks and blocks. The pictures don’t really show how narrow the streets are. It’s a one way street, with not a lot of room to park on one side. The streets were semi-crowded, and almost everyone but us had a drink “to-go”.

One of the things to eat is a muffalato, a sandwich with ham, salami and cheese. What makes it special is the olive salad and the bread. The place to go is the Central Market, but they are closed on Monday’s. So the second best place is Napoleon’s. We met the crew of Mara Beel and had muffalatos for lunch. Very good, very tasty!

After lunch the two boat crews split off and we headed for Arnaud’s to see the collection of Mardi Gras costumes. Arnaud’s is a famous restaurant that has the exhibition in the back. But they are closed on Monday’s, so we missed out. Or maybe not.

Susan had seen a sign for Mardi Gras World, she called the shuttle and they came and picked us up. The driver had a cajun accent, luckily we had spent time with the captain of Moondance so we could understand him. He gave us a short tour of the area and suggested more places to go.

Mardi Gras is HUGE in New Orleans. Because of the number of Krewes that have floats and the number of floats there are 5 different parade routes in the city. In the 12 days before Fat Tuesday there is a parade every day on every parade route. Each krewe fields 14 or more floats for their parade.

The Blaine Kern Company makes floats for 12 of the krewes. They have almost two dozen warehouses across the city. They give tours of their design, sculpture and painting center. They call it Mardi Gras World and it is something to see. (www.mardigrasworld.com)

The first part of the tour is a chance to try on costumes and get your picture taken with some of their sculpture. (Think of getting dressed up for the Renfaire). Susan was purple and gold and mine has silver with a red cross on the front. We got some great pictures, and yes of course there were hats involved!

They show a movie that explains the history of Mardi Gras and how it has grown across the years. Surprisingly the major cost of a float isn’t the basic infrastructure ($20-40,000) or the cost of renting the decorations ($8-12,000) but the beads, doubloons, stuffed animals, cups, etc. that get thrown to the crowd. A single float will toss over 4,000 lbs of beads out.

After the movie we get slices of King Cake and go on tour. The sculptures are made of sheets of Styrofoam that are cut with knives and animal curry combs. The foam is then covered with a layer of paper mache to give a smooth paintable surface. Paint is a latex paint for the base white and the colors, then a clear coat to give it a shiny surface.

The reason the decorations are rented is that Kern removes, stores and then reuses the larger objects when possible. We saw an example of a head from a few years ago that had a “Napoleon Hat” added for a naval themed float for this year. The warehouse we were in had one krewes worth of floats under construction and thousands of decorations from prior years. It was really amazing. When the official tour is over, they let you wander through the warehouse. I could write pages about everything we saw, take a look at the pictures.

After all of that we were pretty beat, so we took the trolly back to the room and rested for 90 minutes. Then it was back to the French Quarter to “Irene’s”. On the trolly we caught up with the crew of Mara Beel our dinner companions.

“Irene’s” was a suggestion from one of Susan’s co-workers that lives in the area. It was an excellent choice. All four meals were great. Susan had escargot stuffed mushroom caps and soft shelled crabs papardelle. I had lasagna which had layers of sausage and veal parmesan with a bolognese sauce.

After dinner Susan and I walked down to Frenchmans street and the Maison Jazz Restaurant. There was a combo (drums, guitar, trombone, trumpet, soprano sax) that played old style New Orleans Jazz. We managed to get a table front center so we had a great view. We stayed for their first set and called it a night.

Rather than walk to the trolley, we opted for a $10 cab ride. We were back in our room just before Looper Midnight. Our second day in the Big Easy was a great success.


Nowhere, OK

We heard from another boater that they had also used Nowhere, OK as their home port. Their boat is No Zip Code. They sent me a shot of their stern. If you look close along the bottom edge of the name is the bar code the post office uses.

Hoping that I’ll run into them on the loop!


New Orleans, LA (day 1)

9 November 2014

Once again up late, I’m happy to get off the 5AM wake-up times. We both used the marina showers for a change. This is a pretty random event for us, the showers on shore need to be an order above what we have on the boat for us to use them. Lots of hot water in a clean big space is the criteria. We’ve only done a few, our gold standard is Richmond’s Marina, very few places make it past that level.

Anyway, we were up, clean, dressed and ready to roll out 8:30AM. Three hours later than our normal 5:30AM departure times we are becoming Looper Slackers. McD’s for a quick breafast and then the long trek to NOLA.

Susan plans these trips with lots of effort. One of the best parts has been we go to places like Milwaukee, I say want to do “Z,Q,P” and she pulls together food, events and all the places to go see. She is the master of finding things.

The day before we had passed a cotton field. The plants were a lot shorter than I had though. Actually my first thought had been “Snow?!?”. Today we saw another field and this one had a cotton picker and two bales of cotton. When I thought bales, I was thinking hay bales about 2′x2′x4′. These things were huge, 8′ diameter cylinders about 12′ long. They were wrapped plastic to keep the cotton balls inside.

Once we got onto Interstate 10 I started to notice that there was lots of white trash along the side of the road. Then white stuff on the highway. There was clumps of it and it was pretty clear that someone in front of us was driving a load of cotton and there was a hole in the bag. Sure enough in about 4 miles we came to the truck, with a pretty decent spray of cotton coming off the top. We both stuck our hands out the window to see if we could snag a handful without success. When we passed the truck Susan got some shots of it for the blog.

We kept driving towards Mobile and were soon going across Mobile Bay. It was pretty nice, it was calm and very pretty. We passed across the causeway and got a glimpse of the USS Alabama, a place to see we have time on the way home. We went under the water via a tunnel, that explained why we only saw one bridge on our way through last week.

Ride was mostly on Interstate 10. I stopped at the rest area at the Mississippi boarder for a quick walk. We picked up info about a gator tour to visit and a brewery to check out on the way home.

Drive into downtown was good. The Saints football team was in town. Spazzed the time, game started at noon, I was thinking 1 PM (I continue to be time zone challenged.) Didn’t run into a lot of traffic, unlike Eagles games. We could not check into the hotel until 4PM, so being a little late would not be an issues. Due to my fault with the GPS we came through a tough part of town. Which turned out to become a really nice section of town later on.

1 mile later we were at our hotel. We dumped out of the car and headed out walking to the Garden District. This is a 6*16 block area of huge homes with amazing gardens and plantings. These are places I could afford to buy and then go bankrupt with the cost of landscaping year after year.

Lunch was at Parasol’s. It’s a dive bar (our quest for dive bars contines) and has a place to eat upstairs. We came in mid-game so it was deadly loud in the bar, fans in Black and Gold 5 deep at the bar rail. We met Carl, the owners daughter upstairs. He gave Susan the lay of the land and soon had beer, Poor Boy’s and gravy fries that made us think of Canada. Susan’s Oyster Poor Boy looked great. I had the roast beef, it came on crispy french bread.

From Parasol’s we wandered up the streets looking at all the garden homes and how amazing they were. Most are two or more stories, huge porches, fancy fretwork along the eaves, etc. The yards were all a match with careful plantings and flowers everywhere.

In our path to get to our next destination was “Commander’s” restaurant. A great place, above our current dress code level of pants and boating shirts. But they passed us through the kitchen to the bar. Susan had a Pyms Cup, I had a beer. Both were good and we got to watch the action in the kitchen. Even though it was 2PM, the kitchen was pretty busy.

We walked across the street to Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. This is the oldest cemetery, it was built in 1836. It’s been in a number of movies across the years. The graves are all above ground tombs with multiple bodies from a family in each one. There are also some special groupings like fire fighters.

It was interesting to walk through and see the weathered limestone. Some of them are very ornate, some are very plain. It’s still in active use, I saw one marker that was dated 2013. We skirted around tours that were pitching Vampire tours for the evening. We decided to pass on them.

At Parasol’s we had gotten the recommendation to get on the St. Charles trolly and ride it out to the end of town. We did that and rode past more fabulous homes, tons of restaurants, LaSalle University and Tulane. The trip out took about 30 minutes. The car we were on was full, so it’s a popular item for lots of tourists. At $3 each it is also a good value.

At the end of the line we switched sides on the cars and pushed the seat-backs so we were facing the forward. The ride back took a little longer since people were coming out of the bars. Not happy people, since the Saints lost in overtime. Lots of stops.

More homes and more restaurants on the way back. Susan took lots and lots of pictures.

We got back to our hotel (Prytania Oaks) and got keys. We are in a refurbished townhouse that has been converted to rooms. We are in a front downstairs room that would have been the parlor in the original layout. We have a fireplace, but it’s been bricked up. We have windows on two sides, so its light and airy. Susan said it was about $75 cheaper than other places, it is one of her super finds she comes up with.

We flopped on the bed and watched TV and did emails.

For dinner we went to the Blind Pelican, it’s claim was NOLA food and 33 kinds of beer. The beers were OK, I had two different kinds I hadn’t had before. I ordered the roasted oysters. They are done on the ½ shell with hard Parmesan cheese then put on a grill to heat them. I like them that way. Susan being more of a hard core person picked the cheese off. I had fried green tomato stack with shrimp and a pretty good remoulade sauce. Susan’s pizza was a mess, it was ½ cooked. We think the waitress knew it since she ducked us the rest of dinner.

Back at our room I got caught up on blog posts and Susan got to watch “The Walking Dead” on a real TV. She’s been suffering through watching on crappy internet connections, so having a big screen TV and a smooth playback made her happy.

On Monday we will head into the French Quarter to see the sights. We are meeting the crew of Mara Beel for dinner and to listen to some music.


Orange Beach,FL

8 November 2014

A great day, one of our best on the trip

We started off the day by getting up late and getting breakfast. Pushed off the dock at 7:30, almost two hours past what has become our “normal” time to head out.

Coasted past the other boats in the marina and into the flat water of Mobile Bay. Ahhh, 8 feet of water, I feel like I’m back in the Chesapeake. We do a 20 mile run down the bay, autopilot is happy, I’m not punching the +1/-1 or +10/-10 button every three minutes as we snake around a river channel.

Seagull attack with three pelicans in tow. Forgot how much they follow boats around. In this case our props are picking up stuff off the bottom and are flipping shrimp and small fingerlings to the surface. The Quo Vadimus buffet is open, all you can eat!!.

We have some left over bread, so I taunt the gulls into crashing into each other while they dive for potato bread lofted off the stern. Pelicans are cool, they don’t buy into the bread frenzy, they keep fishing the wake, eating all they want.

Soon we pick up ICW marker 120 and turn east. Bye bye long rivers, so long Mobile, this tub is headed to Florida, land of sunshine and seafood. So happy the rivers are behind us.

Our first entry into the coast has dolphins swimming with us. Gulls are gone, they know the worlds coolest mammal is eating their lunch before it comes up to them. Dolphins slide through the shallow water with us, once it gets deep and we are not pushing lunch up from the bottom they are done with us and head back to the next boat that will provide them lunch.

Since this is an easy trip, I have VHF 16 on to listen to other boats. Habits have the other radio on 13 listing for tows. Who tows through the ICW. Turns out that fuel barges for the area are regular traffic in the area. Sadly, they speak English, we are spared Southern mumble and the promised Cajun drawl. We waited while two passed and then went around. A little scary moment when the depth finder drops below 3, but the tow in front says “yall push through that low spot, it’s just mud” and we are through.

Next low area we acquire more dolphins for a short feeding time and then they are gone.

I’m trying to be mindful of the locals so I go back to no wake on a regular basis. We had a big Viking come towards us and even he downed the throttle to skate past us. Souther Manners at their finest.

We work our way down the ICW and then into the bay the Orange Beach Marina is located. I feel like I’m back in Canada, watching the 20′ wide channel and making the turns when needed. Down the long channel past the ½ million dollar boats and into Orange Beach Marina. Nice covered slip, we will be happy here for the next 5 days. Restaurant on site and some spa services. We are good!

Rapid boat docking, cross tie, check the bumpers, and we are on the road in the loaner car at 12:30 PM.

Get the rental car and our next stop is at Lambert’s, home of the “Thrown Roll” What a hoot. Order food (protein and 1 or two sides) and they bring you more sides (white beans, fried potatoes, fried cabbage, deep fried okra) to the table. You want more bread wave your hand over your head and they toss you one from across the room. A massive amount of food for $9.99 to $12.99

Food was good, but we had our extras boxed the leftovers for later (aka dinner tonight) u

With two cars we split to have our own fun days. Susan headed off to the outlet mall to get new pants and sneakers for me and jeans and shoes for her. Plus some other stuff.

I headed the rental car east to Pensacola, the Blue Angels were doing their last two shows of their season. Due to the car GPS dumping me in the wrong space I had a chance to miss the show. But I ended up at Fort Barrancas that is on the property. I had a great view of the airspace (where they fly super low) and all of the precision movements. I got some great pictures of the show. Well when I could figure what they would do. Lots of the show is the 4 main doing a formation and 5 & 6 coming from some unexpected direction about 800′ overhead. They are loud and scare the crap out of me.

I’ve seen the Thunderbirds (USAF) and the Angles (USN), I need to give the nod to the Angels. They are always moving, lots of point rolls and high movements. Look for pictures in a few days.

My bonus since I was not out in the heavy spectator area that I had an easy drive back to the boat. I hit the local Publix and Win-Dixie stores up for beer and wine, they are not very impressive as the others we found.

I did get my beard trimmed at one of those walkin places. She did a great job and got rid of the pointy beard that made me look like a retired demon. So far barber places have been less problem than I though. And today I look handsome!

Dinner back at the boat was leftovers from Lambert’s. Very good the second time.

After Dinner I did a load of wash. I’ve learned that if you have two free hours and a washing machine, do a load. Machines were close, so it wasn’t a big deal.

We had a great sunset, another one to welcome us to warmer climates.

Excited about NOLA in the morning, Susan has been rocking Trip Advisor and other places, so we will have good places to go.

When we get back on Wednesday we will go to the Naval museum and then work on moving West on Thursday. The side trips make sense. It’s 600 worth of fuel to go and another $600 to come back. I can get a lot of car, hotel and food for $1200.


Tensaw River,AL

5 November 2014

Yesterday started off the same with hearing Passage on the radio at 5AM. We were both up since when you go to bed at 7PM and get 9 hours of sleep you are up at 4AM.

No fog this morning, but there was a tow coming into the lock below us. Estimates were it would be 6:47AM before we got into the lock.

That gave us both time to get showers and for Susan to reheat the dirty rice from last nights dinner and put an over easy egg on top of it. What a great breakfast, gooey eggy goodness with healthy rice!!

The lock was full today. We had Passage , Fracas (sail boat we had met in Green Turtle Bay), Mara Beel , Estrellita , Roundabout , Miss Ginger , El Nido and us along the dock wall.

The last boat Stella is a couple from Romania/Switzerland that are doing the loop. I had talked briefly with them last night at Bobby’s. There wasn’t room for them on the lock wall. Our extra fenders were still down from having Mara Beel along side, so I waved them into position next to us.

Soon we were out and gone. Susan and I both left out a whoop, our last lock for 5 more months!!

We motored down the river. The Black Warrior river is a twisty turny river as it winds it’s way through Alabama. Once again it was a bird day with lots of herons.

Turns out that herons are no longer our go-to picture. We are on the hunt for gators. Since yesterday when we missed the two gator, its been a gator obsession.

We passed thousands, well OK hundreds (well really maybe two dozen) herons, not a picture of one.

Gators, gators, gators. Find the gator. All day, no gators.

But we did see a pair of Bald Eagles along the shore. I called them as males, they were side by side, clearly fishing and there were beer cans higher up on shore. If that’s not two guys out goofing off on a Wednesday, I don’t know what is. Susan did get some great pictures of one of them in flight.

Once section of the river makes almost a figure 8 with the four back to back horseshoe loops. Look up Newman and Horseshoe bends. Not really sure why the ACoE didn’t just make two quick cuts and get rid of 6 miles of river, but they didn’t. Of course we met tows in that section and they were great about letting us know when it was safe to pass. The tow fills the entire loop, so there is just a few minutes when you can zoom by. The tow Captains in this section have a tough job, but everyone of them has been nice and very friendly on the radio.

We passed some cool things along the river:

– Massive coal fired power plant. It was huge and there were three barges out front that had coal being unloaded. There was a crane that was taking massive bites of coal and dumping it into a conveyer system. I wondered how many barges a day they go through.

– Huge dredging project, but it might be a pipeline replacement project. There was a huge dredging barge and three small tugs moving pipes around. But there was huge lenghts of pipe before and after the dredge. It wasn’t clear if they were dredging the chanel or digging down to old pipe and pulling it up, putting new pipe down.

– Scrap iron recovery. There were three sets of cranes that were unloading barges that had scrap steel. The magnetic hooks would go down, grab a load of iron/steel, lift up and dump it onto a conveyer system that took it away. There were huge smoke stacks, not sure if it was a remelt or they were doing smelting of new ore at the same time.

– But no alligators.

We swung into the Tensaw River about 3 PM. It is about ¼ mile wide and runs from where we are (40 miles above Mobile) almost to Mobile. It’s not navigable the entire length, but it does make a good place to stay the night. It makes a great place to anchor out, there is no wind and very little current. Since we are below the last lock (yay us!) the level goes up and down with the tide. There are 8 of us anchored in the river.

We’ve seen these smaller white birds on the trip. I had assumed they were seagulls, since we are rapidly approaching the coast. They are about the size of a blue-jay. They hover over the water about 10 feet up then fold their wings and drop into the water like a rock. They are up flying again in about ½ a second. I’ve seen two with small fish, so I guess it works. Very strange to watch.

Susan tried fishing again with no success. Her goal was to catch a fish and then troll it to get the attention of a gator. But she was driven inside by mosquitoes that came up from the riverside.

Dinner was meat loaf from Mariano’s market in Chicago. It was like eating meatballs that had been formed into a loaf, the loaf was much more dense than what Susan normally makes. It was good, but wasn’t hers. What was hers, was the fried cabbage and onions and mashed potatoes. It was a great meal.

We are just going to hang out after dinner. The last few days of up at 4, going by 5 and then a 11 hour day has gotten old fast. We have a short run of about 6 hours to the marina, lots of time to find a gator.

Looking forward to a break the next two days.


Bobby’s Fish Camp

4 November 2014

The plan was to call the lock at 5:30 AM. At 5, we heard the engines of Passage fire up and head out the basin. I turned the radio on and listened as they called the lock. Others in the group heard the same, so we all started throwing off lines and getting ready to leave early.

Quo Vadimus was off the dock at 5:30 heading towards the lock. It was still pretty dark, but getting lighter. We followed yesteday’s GPS track, and the lights along the shoreline. There were 7 of us in the lock Passage , Mara Beel , Roundabout , Estrellita , Miss Ginger , Onward and us. We got tied up, locked down and were out the gate by 7AM. Another night locking under our belts!

We locked down and into the fog. With the Radar on we tiptoed down the river. I kept the speed down so the boat behind us wouldn’t get lost. He said later he wanted to get on the radio and say “Thanks Foster, you have the biggest orange balls.” The two balls at the stern were all he could see in the fog.

We’ve seen lots of eagles on this trip, today was no exception. They are amazing to watch in the sky and Susan got some great pictures.

Most of the day was winding in and out of the cuts of the river. It’s pretty amazing how the river twists and turns around.

We were soon split into two groups with Mara Beel , Roundabout , Estrellita ahead of us. We kept up averaging about 8.6 knots, just over 10 miles per hour.

Early in the afternoon we passed a tow that said, “Y’all look for that gator on the starboard side” and the search for gators was on! We looked for the next two hours and didn’t see any. The crew of Mara Beel , kept saying “Gator!” but we didn’t see anything. I’m thinking they were leading us on, Their admiral takes great pictures, we’ll check and see if she has any.

Around 3 PM Roundabout and Estrellita dived into a little cove for the evening. Mara Beel and Quo Vadimus kept going to the world famous Bobby’s Fish Camp.

When the Tenn-Tom was being created there was a small marina at Demopolis. They could see the advantage of getting boaters to come up the river, the problem is the distance. So they sought out and found a partner to set up a ½ stop on the river. Since then Bobby’s Fish Camp has grown with the number of cottages and places to put RV’s. They have a pretty decent season with early spring, late fall hunters and the boating groups across the summer.

The “marina” part is only 150′. With two boats already there we were able to grab the last dockside slip. We put our locking fenders out on the other side and quickly had Mara Beel tied up next to us.

The crew of Mara Beel hosted Docktails on their boat. We were joined by the Captain of El Nido , he is another single handing sailor on the loop.

One of the snack items was Door County Cherry Salsa. We had seen lots of stuff made in Door County WI, and almost everything had Cherry’s in it (pies, bread, cheese, sausages, etc). The salsa was very good and we’ll see if we can order some over the internet.

There is a restaurant on site that serves the “Worlds Best Fried Catfish”. Sadly the restaurant is only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Susan made us pork cutlets and asparagus. Since we are in the south she also made dirty rice (rice, bell pepper and browned ground beef. Very very good.

With a 10 hour cruising day under our belts and another one schedule for Wednesday we were both in bed early.

Only two more days on the river!



3 November 2014

The after dinner fishing didn’t go any better than the before dinner fishing did, so there was no need to stay.

I had a restless night since this was our first time at anchor since Lock 52 on the Ohio. So I was up a few times to check. Susan also was restless since she got up twice to check. We both had the same report. Very calm, very nice night, sky full of stars. We both now appreciate how much light pollution we have at home and how amazing the night sky is in places without civilization.

The morning was neat, we got a nice sunrise, with wisps of fog lifting from the water. Which grew into heavier fog. Checked with the lock and they said it was pretty foggy. There was a northbound tow coming our way, so watch for him in the fog. They were in the process of locking down a south bound tow, and then the lock would be ours.

So we got pack up, heaved anchor (actually Susan uses the anchor hoist, she pushes buttons and sprays the goop off) and we headed down the river.

We met the tow and the tug had a unique 8 sided pilot house, looked like a mini spaceship on top of a tow boat. Very cool looking, hoping that Susan got a picture of it to share.

Speaking of pictures, I don’t know if you noticed but Susan is taking a picture of every heron that we see on the trip. I think she’s going to use the pictures to get a job with the National Wildlife Federation as an ornithologist. Or with the right wing conspiracy theory people that there is only one heron on the east coast, and she has the pictures to prove it.

Anyway, as we went by the anchorage that was full yesterday all the boats came tumbling out to follow us down. The 7 of us filled the lock nicely at 8:15 AM. I said to the lock-master that I had heard there was free breakfast. He replied that it was from 6-8AM and we had missed it by minutes. But he said, he’d look us up in Florida and would buy us breakfast there. Nice to see some of the lock-masters have a sense of humor.

Out of the lock at 8:45. We opted not to stay with Onward and Sandpiper, Loopers that we’ve seen a few times. I took the lead and Sage followed at a little over 10 miles an hour down the river.

Just after the lock we saw a young buck deer in the water. He was standing there and then became spooked by the boats. He bounded along the shore and then found a place to bound up the hill and over the embankment. Very cool to watch.

Other than 2.3 million herons, not much to see for the first 3 hours. We came upon the white cliffs at Epps. They are white limestone that they dug the waterway out of. Very cool looking. Even better for pictures was that there were herons along the shore in front of them.

The second 3 hours went by with more herons. We are still in early fall here, the leaves of the trees have not really started to change. We were surprised by noises along the bank, and it was a family of wild pigs. Susan saw the momma pig and 4 little pigs. They were on the shore but as we drew closer they ran into the brush. We could hear the squeals and snorts as we went by.

There are a number of summer cottages along the shore, but about 20% of them are in danger of falling into the water due to erosion. It’s a shame to see such neat properties get claimed by nature.

Highpoint of the day was at 12:40 PM, we passed mile marker 225. We are now half way down the Tenn-Tom waterway to Mobile!!!

We got into Demopolis Yacht Basin also known as Kingfisher Bay. We got 145 gallons of fuel at the cheapest price so far on the trip, $3.49 per gallon. I had budgeted for $5 a gallon, our average is now down to $4.27 so this price is a bonus.

We did some odds and ends around the boat (like filling the water tank) and then it was time for Docktails. There were 8 boats and enough snacks for about 15. It’s always nice to meet new Loopers and listen to their adventures.

The crew of Mara Beel got a car for dinner tonight and we went for Mexican. It was good, we all got a variety of dishes that we all enjoyed.

We wanted to hit the local grocery. Where we all come from the grocery is open 24 hours, in Demopolis, only until 8PM. Next time we need to flip the order that we do things.

Highlight of the evening was transportation. The marina is pretty spread out so they have U-Drive golf carts around the property. It was fun zooming along from the main basin up to the fuel dock to get the loaner car. While we were returning the car one of the tow boats was at the fuel dock. Where I get a few hundred gallons, they get a few thousand. That would explain the cheap fuel prices, when you pump out 20-30 thousand gallons a month you get a much better rate.

The crew of Roundabout set us up for the lock call at 5:30 AM so we can get out first thing. We will be anchoring out two nights and a stop a Bobby’s Fishcamp on Wednesday. Should be an exciting way to complete our Tenn-Tom adventure.

A close friend, Molly Doggus, passed away, I’ll miss her “talking” greetings when I come over to visit.


Warsaw Cutoff,MS on the Tenn-Tom

2 November 2014


We woke this morning to frost. Not what I wanted to be seeing the first week in November in the Deep South. But there it was, frost.

We have been getting up early, an artifact of going to bed early so the change from Daylight Savings to Standard Time is somewhat of a blessing. So what was sunrise at 6AM is now sunrise at 7AM, a little easier to manage getting off the dock then.

Up, showered and dressed I heard the sailboat on the far side of Mara Beel get ready to leave. I went out to help them out of the slip and fell on the ice. Nice. Our fresh water valve has a slight leak, it was spraying mist all night. Which froze. Ice in Mississippi the first week in November, what a mess.

Got them out of the slip and they headed off. I called the lock master about a 8AM opening and was told the Odd/Even Hour stuff was summer only for the local boaters. Since we were locking through many locks, it was still on demand. Yay!!

Talked to the crew of Mara Beel about going ½ way to Demopolis. They were reticent, since it was cold, but after they talked it over they were in.

Called the lock-master back and we were set, he would turn the lock around and set us up for 7:30. I talked to the crew of Wild Raven the canoe team and Estrellita. At 7:15 we all motored / paddled out of the basin and headed to for the lock. (Just for the record, seeing a canoe with two paddlers digging into the water with a dog in the center at attention is the coolest thing in the morning.)

We got into the lock and were all set. About a mile away a catamaran was coming. The lock-master was cool, we all waited for the boat to show up and get on the wall. Really thinking that Mississippi lock crews should team with Canadian lock crews to teach the Erie and Illinois crews how customer service works.

A side note, the lock was full of floating vegetation, almost like a floating salad. The water roots don’t go down far, so they easily follow the wind as they float along.

At the bottom of the lock we bid fond farewells to Wild Raven and headed south.

Two hours later the next lock was open and we were in and down in less time than it took you to read this.

Three hours later at 3 PM we hit our first snag. We were planning to stay in a nice anchorage, sadly 9 other boats got there before us. We had planned to raft up with Mara Beel, but there was no room. Mara Beel opted to go down the river and through the lock and find an anchorage at the base of the dam. I was worried about changes in the Dam waterflow, so we went back 4 miles and anchored in the Warsaw Cutoff. Deep water, lots of room. Mara Beel and I will exchange notes in the morning on how the anchorages worked for each other.

Susan fished, she had new power bait and a glow in the dark bobber. It lights up and floats gently in the rings of all the other fish jumping around it. Very pretty, but not very effective. She will fish more after dinner to see if that helps.

Dinner was Weenie Beans! My favorite camping out dinner. They were great, she found a German potato salad to pair them with. Yay me!!

We have the generator produce electricity to cook, but to also run a ton of heaters and fans to get the boat up to 72 before we go off to bed. Oh and Hot water for showers. Granted the engine exhaust brings it up to 170F which is plenty hot, but it will cool down overnight and the electric part takes over. We also have all of our little appliance things on charge so they can last overnight.

The day was great, a little chilly to start, warmed up. Not many tows to work with, cloudless blue sky. Dunno, if we were not so far south into Mississippi and Alabama, we “could” give the win to Tennessee for the nicest views.

We’ve acclimated to doing things an hour earlier so that will work with us. Only problem for Monday is the race to the lock to get all of us through first thing.

Only 60 miles to the marina, about a 5.5 hour run. I can easily out pace the sailboats. So given a 6 AM lock, should be eating lunch on the dock at noon.

Unless there is more frost.

Or that fishing goes really well tonight and we need to stay another day.


Columbus Marina Rest Day

1 November 2014

Burrrrr it’s cold. It went down to 34 last night, we almost had frost this morning.

The wind was still blowing pretty good, so I’m happy that we kept to our plan of making this a rest day. We’ve been doing a little more than our drive two days then a rest day since we left Green Turtle Bay. So a day off and having it be bad weather is a bonus.

But that didn’t stop others from leaving early this morning. One of the more interesting boats that left was a 25′ home made pontoon boat. They left Minneapolis and are traveling down to Florida. They had an easy time on the Mississippi river, they had good weather so the river was pretty calm.

We both did laundry, Susan vacuumed the boat and I did the pump out using the “on the dock” system.

While I was doing my laundry I talked to two canoe boaters. They left Ottawa Canada in their canoe and with their dog in June of 2014 and are working their way around the Great Loop They will complete the loop and then start doing other rivers. All in all they are looking at doing 1000 days of adventure on the water. (Web site is http://www.wildravenadventure.com check it out). This trip is just part of the adventures they have had.

Today was also Bayliner day at the marina. We were joined by Panacea a very nice 4588. The crew is from California, they had the boat shipped to Texas where they started the loop. They are almost done, they cross their wake at Mobil.

The second is a 4788, Prime Interest II from Florida. Very pretty boat, love the lines. We had met them before on our trip.

We all talked about how we all liked Bayliner boats, how there was a ton of space and we were all pleased with the overall performance. They are spending a rest day on Sunday and will head down again.

Dinner tonight was a “Old Hickory” a steak place in Columbus. We went with the crew of Mara Beel. The place serves steak, just steak, you have a choice of cuts. Baked potatoes and a salad. They are grilled to perfection over a charcoal grill. Not much in the way of decoration, but the food more than makes up for it. Conversation was great, they have had so many cool adventures.

After dinner we did a quick run into Columbus to see what the town looked like (some pretty neat homes, we should have gone before dinner) and a short stop at Michael’s to pick up craft supplies.

Temps are to go to freezing over night and we go back to Central Standard Time. So we will be up with lots of light and a chance to see the frost.