A Kiwi couple's cruising adventures on America's Great Loop and around the coast of New Zealand

Friday, 21 December 2012

and crab pots

As part of my last post, I was also going to mention crab pots and the part they play in the Great Loop adventure. There are literally thousands of them all along the route and at times encroach into the ICW itself, which I am sure they are not supposed to do. This is another reason continuous vigilance is necessary as they are hard to spot and any lack of attention could have you wrapping one around your propellor in quick time....been there, done that. There was one of our "almost groundings" the other day where we were in a stretch of the waterway between markers and suddenly encountered a field of buoys in only 5ft of water. Although the GPS showed we were in the ICW, I began to worry that it was in error (surely the ICW isn't that shallow and contain crab pots!!??!!) and turned towards a marker on our port side. As we approached what turned out to be a sign telling us we were in a Manatee zone - "no wake speed only" (another thing many local boaters ignore), we were also in 4.5ft of water which was shallowing rapidly. We gently reversed back the way we had come, amongst the crab pots, and continued our journey down the ICW where it soon deepened back to its usual 6-8ft. The moral  that day was "trust your GPS".

 I personally think that there should be an open shooting season on any crab pot found within the limits of the ICW. Perhaps if a few of the errant buoys were blown apart and the lines sunk, the owners would be less likely to put them in places that are a hazard to navigation. Speaking of which and considering the thousands of them out there, I have never actually seen anyone lifting up a crab pot and some of the buoys look like they haven't been out of the water for years. Who do they all belong to?? How often are they checked?? From the price of crab in restaurants and shops and the amount of it available, it would appear that the poor critters are becoming fewer and fewer and with the number of pots out there, this is hardly surprising.

They tell me it gets worse on the other side and the lobster pots up in the Chesapeake will give us nightmares. Sounds like fun.


Thursday, 20 December 2012

Skinny Water

Being from an engineering background, I have a tendency towards caution of things mechanical. In the early days, I spent a lot of time anxiously watching the engine performance gauges to ensure that things were running OK as mechanical failure is one of my pet fears. It was certainly uppermost in my mind when we crossed the Gulf, followed by the fear of hitting something in the dark. The weather was one of my least worrisome aspects of that crossing. After a short time on the river system, I "got over that" and found my major area of concentration to be on the depth gauge.

When I was planning and researching the Great Loop, I spent a lot of time cruising it on Google Earth and visualised a series of natural waterways, charted as "Sounds" interconnected by man-made canals that, together, would make up the Intra Costal Waterway. Indeed, this is the case, but what I didn't appreciate was just how shallow these waterways would be. I visualised the "Sounds" to be like the Marlborough Sounds with steep-to cliffs rising vertically out of deep water. Where you could pull over to a shore and tie to a tree and rest comfortably for the night. The reality is that the ICW is made up of a series of shallow ponds (albeit some big ones) joined together by man-made canals that sometimes are actually dredged from the "sounds" themselves. The charts state that there are minimum water levels of 6ft at low tide, but we have seen that degrade to as little as 5ft and less in some parts of the ICW. It is very eerie being in an enclosed stretch of water where you can hardly see both sides, and being in a 200ft wide channel knowing that to venture a few yard outside the demarcation lines, you will be aground. Despite the fact that the waterway is quite straight in many of these places and you can use auto pilot (George maintains a better course than I ever can), you cannot afford to loose concentration for any time, or you will be on the putty - which makes navigating in this part of the world interesting, but stressful. Here's a pic of the iPad chart of Pine Island Sound that is typical of the ICW

The day before we left Tarpon Springs (you know..the place where Carolyn broke her arm), we got up in the morning to find the boat was not moving. That was because it was sitting on the bottom, in the mud. The trawler next to us had both his chines about 2" out of the water. We were told it was the lowest tide they had seen at the marina and it was 3 hours before anyone could go anywhere. We made sure we left late he next day and got out with plenty of water. BTW "plenty" is now anything that is deep enough for us to not hit the bottom with our props while underway. That night we stayed at an anchorage just north of Boca Ciega Bay next to an American Legion (USA equivalent to an RSA) in plenty of water. There were 2 keelboats anchored there so we felt pretty safe. The next day we departed and travelled about 40 miles to the city of Sarasota. Here we stopped at a mooring field where a multitude of mooring buoys were available on a "first come, first serve?" (served, surely) basis. It turned out however, that the field was under the control on "Marina Jack" who seemed to have a monopoly on where you can put your boat in Sarasota, and we had the option to pay a mere $23 for the privilege of hanging on the buoy to get slopped about by every local loonie that ignored the Colregs, no wake signs and common courtesy or pay $2.65 per ft to go to his marina. Ultimately we opted to do neither and continued another 1.5 miles to an anchorage shown in Skipper Bob's waterway guide. The problem was that the depths had changed at the entrance to this anchorage since the last publication and we were involved in one near grounding and a tense entry into what turned out to be a very peaceful and secure place to stay. The next day we delayed departure until we had a rising tide at 11.30 and managed to get out without seeing less than 6ft of water (WOW).

After another day involving one actual and another near grounding on the waterway (long story.....won't go into it now), I decided we would "play it safe" and stay at a marina that night. We chose the Royal Palm Marina at Englewood and turned into the marked channel off the ICW at 4.30pm, just on full tide. Most of the way down the channel to the marina, our depth sounder showed we were in 5.5 ft of water, but went as low as 5.2ft. We draw 4.3 ft, and the tides for that evening were 1.2ft. You do the math!!! To get out the next day meant we had to leave a 7.00am the next morning to have the same depth that we had on the way in, but on a falling tide, or leave in the afternoon. We opted for the afto' and left at 1.30pm seeing depths to 4.5ft on the way out meaning we had 2" of water between our props and the bottom. That night we stayed behind an island in the Pine Island Sound called Useppa island. It had a deep channel around to the back of it and plenty of water to spend a secure night (BTW "deep" was 7-9 ft). The interesting thing was this isolated patch of land in the middle of nowhere was absolutely covered in multi million dollar houses!

The next day, as we plodded our way down the ICW, we heard a call from a boat gone aground on his way in to Royal Palm Marina. This was 10.30 in the morning and on a falling tide. Despite his calling Towboat US (equivalent to AVCG), he was not going to get off there for at least 4 hours.

I watched a program on TV while we were at Tarpon Springs on the local "Florida" channel that explained how all the canals and waterways in Florida came about. Apparently, 100 years ago, most of Florida was swamp (which explains why the capital is in Tallassee in the pan handle - nobody lived much further south) Then the Federal Government decided it was a waste of land, so they commissioned the Army Corps of Engineers to build a bunch of canals to drain the swamps - which later became useful for transport. Then the developers moved in and started selling off the land as "some of the most fertile farmland in the USA". A number of them went to prison for perpetrating that myth upon an unsuspecting population. They also began digging their own canals and laying the spoil alongside as canal-type housing developments. This all fell over when the depression, then WWII came along and the developments sat around for decades unused. Then came the advent of cheap production fibreglass boats which rekindled interest in waterside property and resulted in the proliferation of canal developments with expensive housing with which Florida is riddled today.

Yesterday we left the Gulf ICW and are now on the Okeechobee waterway at Fort Myers. We are stopping here for a week and will drive up to Orlando to spend Christmas day with our good friends Jack and Denise from JADE. We will then depart for our last stretch of Stage 1 to Indiantown where Loopy Kiwi will be hauled out while we return to New Zealand to "settle our affairs" (as it were).
Sorry about the delay in posting, but I have been somewhat preoccupied over the past few weeks. In case I don't get to do another one before Christmas, everybody have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year (I'm sorry - "Happy Holiday" just doesn't do it for me!)

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Fine weather with the occasional tornado

Following on from the last posting, the battery tester turned up and confirmed that both Stan's start batteries were dud, but all the rest were OK. So I moved the 2 start batteries I was using for house to replace them and in turn, replaced those with 2 new deep cycle batteries, which I got from Sam's Club so they are the same as the others in house service.

We decided that continuing on would be too hard with a one armed deckhand, so I booked to stay another week at this marina. As it turned out, their rate for 2 weeks and one month are the same, so we can stay until we are ready to go, or Christmas day (whichever comes first). Carolyn is improving each day, so hopefully we will be in a position to get away when she has been back to the Orthopaedist in Clearwater in a weeks time. We will certainly need to be underway well before Christmas to get to Indiantown in time to lay the boat up prior to heading home on January 3rd.

Speaking of home, we got an email from Pauline today telling us about the tornadoes that hit near where we live. It would appear that the one that did the most damaged passed within about quarter of a mile of our house. Three people have been killed and seven injured...Auckland is not normally known for tornadoes, but this is the second one in about a year that has killed people within a few kilometres of our home. This is a map of Auckland showing where they hit. Our house is about where the marker is on the map.
and a couple of pix I lifted off google. The first looks to be taken from close to where our friends Dennis and Kathy live. Our house would be to the extreme left of the pic.
and this one appears to be taken along Hobsonville Rd, where I frequently walk with Woody
Several friends have checked out our house and it appears there has been no damage.

In the meantime, the weather here is gorgeous. Since we have been here, the temperature has been around 80F (26C) during the day and dropping to around 15 - 17 at night. They haven't had any rain here for 65 days and there is none apparent for the next week or so. I'm getting a lot of biking in since the rental car was returned on Monday, but it is all flat here so it is no real task. All of the major shops are within easy biking distance and we are very close to the commercial docks and fresh seafood supply. Last night, just to see what lived in  the river, I tried my hand at fishing and landed 3 catfish off 4 baits. They are smelly, slimy things that croak like a Gurnard. Even though they come out of seawater, I had no desire to eat them based on previous experience with catfish in restaurants on the river system - so they all got thrown back. However, they also have bony spines on their pectoral and dorsal fins that lock horizontally from their bodies when they are agitated. The last on to be returned slipped out of my hand and landed on my foot, gouging my ankle with his spine. It didn't hurt a lot, but I bled like a stuck pig for about 20 minutes. I checked on the net to see if the spines are poisonous, and apparently some are...but not this one cause I'm still here. Having said that, these 5 vultures were sitting in a tree dead opposite the boat when  I got up this morning....Hmmmmm.....


Friday, 30 November 2012

Update on broken stuff

Just a quick update on progress with the Admiral's broken wing.

The day after the visit to the hospital, we tried to make an appointment with their recommended Orthopaedist in Clearwater. Here we ran into our first difficulty with the US medical system when you don't live here - even though you have Travel Insurance. They did not recognise our provider, Southern Cross (SCTI) and did not accept "patient responsibility" (ie cash) paying customers. This was despite the fact that the hospital had given us a 73% discount for settling directly rather than via an insurance company. So we rang SCTI in New Zealand who said they would arrange the appointment, but first we had to establish a claim and fill out the paperwork. This involved getting 2 authorities from them to be signed and returned plus the other 15 pages of documents from the hospital, copies of our passports, our itinerary for the trip and evidence, in the form of an invoice from the marina, that we were actually IN the USA. As all Kiwi's know, we have a system in NZ called Accident Compensation, where anyone (including tourists) get free medical in the event of an accident. So we are going to buy expensive travel insurance, pretend to be in the USA and forge hospital receipts etc to get treatment in NZ that would be free anyway!!??!! I don't think so. I guess something must have happened to them sometime to ask for such info, but it beats me.

Just as luck would have it, the WiFi isn't working at this marina, but the kind folks here loaned me a Sprint Aircard to contact SCTI. In continuing the Murphy tradition, our printer decided it would eat paper, rather than print on it and because it is pretty basic, the scanned files from it were too large to email via the Aircard. Accordingly I spent the day traipsing between the boat and marina office (by bike, I might add) to get the necessary documents to SCTI. Overnight, there was no further response, so I asked SCTI if they had received the emails, to which they replied that they hadn't. Bear in mind there is a 16 hour time delay between us and them, so by the time I resent them (and by fax as well) it was 5.20pm when SCTI tried to ring the Orthopaedic clinic, and it had closed for the day.

Carolyn had a bad night that night - her arm swelled and she was in significant pain, so I rang the clinic to make an appointment, pending authorisation from SCTI...only to be told that the doctor was gone and would not be back until Thursday next week. They recommended another clinic nearby and I rang them, explained the situation and requested an appointment. The payment issue arose again (they also did not recognise SCTI, but would accept cash) and during the process of making the appointment asked, after the usual questions like, name, DOB etc, if there was any litigation involved as a result of the accident. When I said "no", she asked; " no lawyers involved, right?" There must be some scary things happen here to make questions like that predominant in making an appointment to see a doctor. She asked if we had the hospital Xrays, and when I said "no" she said we should get them, or they would have to take more - which would cost more. She also asked if we could get there right away. The clinic was 15 miles away, so I said it would take at least an hour. She said "get here as soon as you can".

As we figured it would be easiest/cheapest to retrieve the Xrays from the Hospital, I rang them and they said they would be ready in an hour. Having experienced delays with taxis when we went to the hospital the first time, to get there and to the clinic would be easier in a rental car. So I rang Enterprise, where we get a discount through AGLCA and who pick you up, and was told it would be an hour to be picked up ....see a pattern emerging, here? Enterprise actually turned up in 40 minutes, but by the time I picked up the car, returned to the marina to get Carolyn, retrieved the Xrays (which were ready and waiting), it was almost 2 hours since I spoke to the clinic. But off we went to Clearwater and were within 6 miles of the clinic when they rang to say all the doctors were leaving, and we would have to come back the next day. As we were so close, we said we may as well continue and make a new appointment, and arrived there 10 minutes later.

Sooner or later, there has to be some good news, eh? The first was that when we got there, a really kind doctor agreed to see her. While he was doing that, I filled out the 5 pages of registration forms, which asked a lot of weird, and some totally irrelevant, questions. !5 minutes later, Carolyn came out of the examination room, minus her splint which had been aggravating the pain and worsening the swelling, so she was a whole lot chirpier. He had also confirmed that there was no need for any surgery, or for Carolyn to be "medivaced" out of the USA - which also added to the chirpiness.

We paid the bill, which included a follow up appointment in 2 weeks time and they are going to send us a copy of his taped report - as soon as it comes back from India where it gets typed up (really and truly!!). On the way back to the boat, we treated ourselves to a meal at the Golden Corral (US version of Valentines) to offset our missed lunch on the day of the incident. We emailed SCTI to let them know what transpired (NZ was awake by then) , and they seemed very pleased, particularly when I pointed out the savings to them by paying directly. They even indicated they will pay for the rental car, which I had booked at a special weekend rate. Ironically, the most expensive part of renting for us is buying the insurance, which SCTI specifically exclude form their policies.
We have also paid to stay in the marina until Monday, so we can chill out a bit and decide what to do next, but it looks like we may be able to continue as planned, after all.

Thanks for the good wishes to all that gave them...it's a loverly day today and we will probably go shopping later (Walmart, of course). I have also ordered a battery tester from Amazon that is due today so I can check to see which of Stan's start batteries are dud and replace it/them while we have a vehicle to do it.


Tuesday, 27 November 2012

More breaking news

We crossed the Gulf as scheduled yesterday and I'll report on that next, but in the meantime the "breaking" news is that on arrival in Tarpon Springs, we decided to go to lunch and on the way Carolyn took a header over the handlebars of her bicycle. At first she appeared to have only a few grazes and bruises on her right arm and leg, but she also had a very sore left arm. As it hadn't settled down in the afternoon, we went to the local hospital where she was found to have broken her elbow. She is presently in a splint and sling and we are waiting to hear from the Travel Insurance company on how to proceed next. It is probable that we may have to revise our itinerary and return to New Zealand earlier than planned, but it is early days yet.

So, back to the travelogue:
The crossing was very easy and took us around 18 hours. As we anticipated, we travelled with THE LAST RESORT who had similar cruising characteristics to us. We left Apalachicola at 4.30pm on Sunday night and went through the "Government Cut" in the barrier islands to the Gulf. Many pundits say the cut is too shallow to get through, but the locals in Panama City and Apalachicola told us the way to get through safely and we used their guidance to do so. I have put a note on Active Captain's website describing the procedure we used to traverse the cut without incident, so I'm not going to bother to do it here. Just outside the cut, and for the first hour the sea was short and choppy, but not uncomfortable (except to one of the cats on The Last Resort).  After that it was smooth and by 1.00am it was glassy. There was a near full moon most of the way across and we stayed in touch with TLR by regular radio schedule - every hour on the hour. The sky was clear and the stars bright - it was quite an ethereal experience. The auto pilot took us right to our destination and the radar (which I had never had before) coupled with the GPS to provide all the navigation and safety information we needed. I was also delighted to see that the Navionics app on the iPad kept operating all the way across and as a final tool I had the Garmin car GPS hooked up which provided some additional interesting data - although "driving southeast" and a wee icon of a car crossing the Gulf of Mexico were somewhat incongruous.

I had a small sleep at 1.00am while Carolyn took the helm, and when I returned at 2.20, the wind had picked up a little to make small wavelets, but nothing uncomfortable. This continued until 6.30am when dawn began to break, by which time we had reached the 40ft (deep) line and the dreaded crab pots. Well..... we were warned about them, but let me tell you folks - there are THOUSANDS of them!!! AND they are close together and in no real order. They are generally in lines running east/west with the buoys about 100ft apart (but this varied considerably), but occasionally they would run at right angles to  another line, or parallel but in the gaps between the adjacent line. The buoys are often black or gray, which makes the REAL easy to spot (yeah, right). To make matters worse, our track lay right down the reflection of the rising sun, so we had to zigzag across it so we could see the pots clearly. Carolyn, who had managed to get some sleep on the way across, was refreshed and found this part of the adventure to be exhilarating and a lot of fun. On the other hand I, having had less than two hours sleep in the previous 30, did not find it that endearing. This continued for 23 nautical miles to the entrance to the Anclote River (buoy R4) and it took is over 3 hours to get to safe water, and the last hour we were swerving around in only 9 -11 ft of water. We managed to avoid them all, so no repeat of the New Orleans debacle, although at one time I had to do an emergency "full astern" manoeuvre as one was right under our bow before we saw it!! Even when we were in the channel to Tarpon Springs there was the occasional pot - I will never feel the same about eating crab again. There is more skinny water getting into the town, and in the marina, but we arrived at 10.30am, chilled out for a bit and then decide to go to lunch in town where we were recommended to try the char grilled octopus at "Mama's". This is where we were going when disaster struck, and most of the rest of the day and evening was spent getting to, and in, the ER of the local hospital. When we got back to the boat, however, we had a feed of Key West Pinks (large shrimp) and fresh Hapuka (Grouper..Groper) that I had bought earlier in the day from the local fish merchants

Sorry there are no pix, but priorities have been elsewhere...but here's the map of where we are.
Will keep y'all posted

Saturday, 24 November 2012

'Ave a pepsi cola

Carolyn can't pronounce Apalachicola, so I suggested she tell people we are at 'ave a pepsi cola' and they will know where she is talking about.

JADE left Panama City the day before Thanksgiving, so we teamed up with Don and Freya off THE LAST RESORT to cross the Gulf of Mexico from Apalachicola when the weather is right. On Thanksgiving, we had (in the words of Arlo Guthrie) a "Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat". It was a joint venture between us and Don and Freya and we were joined by Loopers Scott and KC off JETSTREAM who we parted company with a couple of months ago but who happened to be travelling by car nearby to where we were. The menu was:

Roast turkey - 1 full bird (Freya) and 1 whole breast (Phil).
Phils sausage stuffing and Freya's bread stuffing (called dressing over here)
Phils cauliflower based gravy
Carolyn's Pumpkin, sweet potato (kumera) and cranberry bake
Carolyn's Brussel sprouts
Freya's mashed potato with chives and garlic
Freya's beans and carrots.
Freya's cranberry and orange sauce.

Freya's Key lime cheesecake
Nancy's pumpkin pie (Nancy is off NANSEANN, and donated the pie but couldn't attend)
Ice cream

We also invited a lone Texan yachtie (sailboater) to join us. He had just pulled in to the marina before dinner and we felt we couldn't let him spend Thanksgiving alone. A good night was had by all and we retired early to sleep off the meal.

The next day, which was yesterday, we had a bit of trouble getting Stan, the starboard engine, going when we left Panama City - it appears we have a dud battery, but nothing a set of jumper leads (booster cables) couldn't fix. The boat sure goes a whole lot better without 28 feet of rope wrapped around one of her props. We're down in Apalachicola now.  We will wait for a weather window to cross the Gulf from here and at the weather gurus tell us its OK for tomorrow night. It's 145 NM across to Tarpon Springs and you have to do it overnight because there ain't enough daylight to do it during the day. The problem is you can't leave before daybreak as you have to get through a real skinny channel called the Government Cut to get to the Gulf, and then you have to be able to see the crab pots when you reach the other side, which ain't good at dusk. Technically we could do it in 10 hours at 15 kts, but with an horrific fuel burn, and too much risk of dark falling before we reach the other side. So we will do what they all do, which is leave in the afternoon and go all night, arriving at dawn when we can see the obstructions. We will do this at the same speed we have been cruising the ICW, which is around 9kts - so it should take us around 15 hours. Notwithstanding the weather reports, we intend to stay here until the weather is optimum. I have no intention of spending 15 hours out in the Gulf of Mexico taking a beating, however it is still looking good for tomorrow.

Apalachicola is an oyster town and I just had to try them out. We are in a marina right next door to a restaurant (2 actually) and we have just had lunch there. The oysters are big and similar in looks to a Bluff oyster. They taste as good as a Pacific oyster, but fall well short of Bluff - but then only a Bluff oyster tastes like a Bluff oyster. They are reasonably priced at $10.95 a dozen, and they had olive oil but no Balsamic vinegar to have with them so I had to go get some off the boat.

Well, that's all for now....next time should be from the other side of the Gulf of Mexico
BTW we have now done 30 miles short of 2000 Nautical Miles since we began.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Breaking news

We went to another fuel dock today for a pump out and on the way back a clattering against the hull made it imperative to check out the state of the props. I borrowed a mask and snorkel from THE LAST RESORT and finally convinced myself to go over the side in the frigid waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Underneath, not unexpectedly, was 28 feet of 3/8th inch polypropylene rope wrapped around the starboard prop, with a trailing end 2 ft long with a lead sinker attached, which had been slapping against the hull. 20 minutes of exertion cleared the problem and I could also ascertain that the starboard prop was unmarked, despite several encounters with the bottom or floating debris. I was too tired to check out the port prop, but it looked fine from a distance.
PS I drank the beer

Add caption

On the Loop again

We stayed at Mobile only 2 nights before heading off with JADE, back on the Loop, towards Florida. On the way out of the Dog River Channel from the Marina, we encountered this Shrimp boat fishing in it. At this point, the channel is only 100 ft wide and 5 feet deep at low water (at the time the tide on the tables was at -0.2ft) so there wasn't a lot of manoeuvering room.
We cut diagonally across Mobile Bay, through the spoil areas, as it was showing between 6 and 12 ft on the charts and lopped off about 5 NM of distance from using the commercial channnels. It got a bit skinny (down to around 5 feet) just before re-entering the ICW, but it was bottom of the tide, so we felt reasonably safe. The topography was certainly changing as we moved futher east. Although the vegitation was similar to that on the rivers at first, the evidence of increasing population density was becoming more evident. You could feel for a few miles that you were out in the boonies, then come round a bend to a highway, or bridge, or Condo's with associated marina.

We spent the first nght anchored in a nice sheletered Bay called Inghams Bayou. You were surrounded on three sides by low-lying swampy banks covered in trees and ferns. However directly behind on the shore of the other side of the ICW about 3 mles away, were 7 blocks of Condo's. The next nights anchorage, Joes Bayou, was in a small Bay about the size of Owhanaki where we were completely surrounded by multi-million dollar homes and Motor Yachts. Earlier that day we had crossed into Florida from Alabama, and we had seen our first sea fish being landed by a fisho in a small fizz boat. It was a decent sized fish that looked very much like a Trevally, so I am going to get some fishing gear at the next opportunity. It also seems to be warming up a bit and the North wind doesn't have the same bite to it that it has had for the past few weeks. We are even back in shorts.
There is a stretch of the ICW nicknamed "The Grand Canyon" which was dug out between Choctawatchee and St Andrews Bays.

See we ARE having fun

This part of the ICW is still regularly used by tows and a group of Loopers all seemed to converge on one, going the same way as we were, in the middle of the canyon. When we got to him, the canyon was quite narrow and the tow was smack in the middle and doing about 6 knots. As we passed, we had about 20 feet clearance from him and only anothe 40 feet or so to shore - and only 8 feet of water. A little nerve wracking, and it seemed to take forever, but we got by OK as did all the other Loopers.
We reached Panama City that afternoon, and on the way in to the harbour, I could hear splashing coming from the side of the boat. I looked over and a large dolphin was cruising alonside of us, leaping out of the water, landing on his side and flicking water at the boat with his tail. Carolyn had been taking a nap, but was woken by water being splashed through the open portholes. The cheeky sod was doing it quite deliberately - you could tell by the twinkle in his eye and the grin on his face! He stayed with us for about 15 minutes and was the most frivolous one we have encountered amongst the hundreds that we have seen since we reached the Gulf. I tried to get pix, but this digital camera is lousy at taking "snap" photos, so this is the best I got.

Thats him flicking his tail

That night we finished up at a marina resort out at Panama City Beach, and that's where we are now. We will be staying here until Thanksgiving Day (everything is closing down so we will share it with other Loopers) and then we will move on to Apalachicola to be ready for crossing the Gulf as weather allows. We are with a group that has similar speed characteristics, so we intend to stay together and cross the 143 NM in convoy. This will be done overnight, as there is not enough daylight to do it in one day (unless you want to burn an AWEFUL lot of fuel) an you need to arrive at the other side well after dawn, as there are crab pots up to all along the coast and you dont want to pick up any of them. Speaking of that, I may take a swim today and check out what we have wrapped around our prop - I'm sure we got something coming back from New Orleans when we ran over the crab pot. The water is clear enough to see the bottom here and even though its only 65F (18C) degrees, I'm sure I can talk myself into it.
The boat is still running well and I did an oil change while we were in Mobile. Oil here is $12 a gallon and to change the 10 gallons using the oil changer took 50 minutes, and no mess. Love that auto oil changer
So that's where we are at present .......till next time
PS after we leave here we cross into the Eastern time zone, so we are an hour further forward, which means it won't get dark until 6pm instead of 5!


Friday, 16 November 2012


It took a while, but I finally figured it out too.....New Orleans LoiusianA.

Last post (before the Woody one) we were off to NOLA, but beforehand I went to visit the USS Alabama museum with Henning, off the sailboat (yacht) FLYING FREE, while his wife Joanne and Carolyn went off and did "girls stuff". As well as the battleship there was a submarine, but not as good as the one in Manitowoc, and a bunch of airplanes including a B52. It was a great museum and took the whole day to get round it. Considering its age, USS Alabama was an incredible piece of technology, and you get to see a lot of parts of a warship you will never see anywhere else.

To get to NOLA, we had to travel the Mississippi Sound. This is an 80 nautical mile long, 10-12 mile wide stretch of water between the mainland and the Gulf Barrier "islands" (I put the word islands in quotation marks because they are in fact little more than sand banks, some with a few trees). The mainland itself is very low lying and the sound is very shallow - only a few feet deep in places. The Intracostal Waterway through the Sound is a dredged channel 12 ft deep with many "spoil areas" (presumably where they dump the dredgings) alongside it and the lateral channels to the ports along the coast. Straying off the channels is dicing with disaster as grounding could be a long term issue, bearing in mind there is only one tide a day and while there is only two feet of tide change, a strong North wind can lower the tide by as much another 2 feet as well. Although the Barrier Islands provide little shelter, the weather on the way to NOLA was kindly and we spent our first night at anchor near Cat Island, just off the waterway, arriving right on dusk. Here, when the sun goes down, it ges dark real quick - so we were just in time. Because the islands are so low, you actually have the phenomenon of having both the sunrise and sunset over water, even though you are not actually at sea.
The area is also full of oil rigs, one of which caught fire today, as you have probably already heard (we were atb the marina office when the Coast Guard were calling it in on the VHF this morning).
Not this one
The following day we made New Orleans, after passing by some impressive land works, started after hurricane Katrina, designed to keep the Gulf of Mexico out of town.

We stayed 4 nights at New Orleans in a new marina/RV park near Lake Ponchitrain. We probably wouldn't have stayed that long, but the weather turned quite dirty with cold Northerly winds and rain, and we didn't fancy being out in the exposed Sound in that. New Orleans was quite underwhelming. We did a bus tour of the city which included the famed 9th Ward that suffered so badly from Katrina. After 7 years there are still a lot of derelict houses and buildings but, quite frankly, it didn't look a lot worse than some of the other parts of the country which have been effected by the recession rather than a natural disaster. The much vaunted French Quarter I found somewhat grubby and sleazy - maybe it appeals to those under 40 but it didn't do a lot for me. The city looks poor and gives the impression it has been like this well before Katrina, and considering the money that is being poured into its infrastructure, you would expect to see a little more enthusiasm from the locals. I got plenty of pix of the posh Antebellum homes and all sorts of other stuff, but found the whole NOLA experience somewhat depressing. I was not disappointed to be leaving, other than the lumpy trip back to Mobile and another overnight stay behind Cat Island that is hardly an island in Northerly winds averaging 25 knots, and our first encounter with the dreaded crab pots - one of which we got round a prop shaft.
A wee aside about the Ponchitrain marina. It was new and had all the amenities, but wouldn't take our reservation without a credit card, which was charged prior to arrival. When you plugged in to shore power, they read the electricity meter and you were not allowed to leave without going to the office and paying the electric first. This means they had to read the meter, and since the office didn't open until 8.00am, you could not leave any earlier. When we went to leave, the electric bill was printed on a separate invoice for the princely sum of $0.15 - yes folks 15 cents! Any one contemplating staying there who wants to leave early iI would suggest they just leave 50c on the pedestal.
Anyway, we're now back in Mobile and will head East tomorrow for the Florida panhandle where I am lead to believe the ICW is far more anchoring friendly and the towns and cities quaint and picturesque
BTW, since we started the Loop at Frankfort (so not counting the shakedown trip up the Wisconsin coast of Lake Michigan) we have done 1503 nautical miles, and the engines have done double their hours in 5 months than they did in the previous 9 years.

So......How's Woody doing?

For those of you that are wondering what our precious dog is up to, below is an email from Aunty Lyn keeping us up to date.
"Woody is very fit and I’m trying to keep up – we go for a walk down the paddocks most days, even though they’re pretty rough (The paddocks that is). Both dogs hurtled about madly, then Woody rolled in two separate lots of calf poop and followed that by racing down to the dam and having a swim.  Man, did he STINK!!!!

Anyway, here are a few pics I took when Andrew and family were staying prior to heading south.

Abby decided she wanted a nap one afternoon and she was on Woody’s sofa, so he joined her.  Had to laugh.

He enjoyed lots of tummy rubs when the kids were here.  Ryan was especially sorry to leave Woody behind.
Then there were turkeys.  I told you I’d been training Woody to chase turkeys and that he’d found a hen nesting in the Park by the fallen pine tree.  He checked it out every day and chased the hen off down the paddock.  The eggs all disappeared and I assumed one of the many hawks had helped itself.  Then hen #2 arrived and laid HER eggs almost on top of the old nest and both hens sat on that clutch, being chased off from time to time by ‘you know who’.
One afternoon I hadn’t seen Woody for a while so went out to the Park and there he was, turkey egg between his paws.

He was having a great time cracking the shell, then I heard the egg cheeping!!

I quickly rescued it and put it back on the nest to hatch properly.  Bad move – that was HIS egg and he promptly brought it out again.
At this stage I went inside, couldn’t bear to watch.  When I returned later both egg and chick were gone and Woody had four more eggs between his paws.  Yep – those all went as well.  I had visions of him throwing up shells and feathers overnight but he’s been fine.  Now I know why he hadn’t been eating his dog roll – over the past couple of weeks he’d consumed some 15 turkey eggs, the second lot all having chickens in them!!

However, he doesn’t show any interest at all in other birds; the Paradise Ducks have 5 babies and he goes nowhere near them – only the turkeys are fair game.  Lois reckons he’s doing a great job keeping the population down.  Needless to say, the turkey hens have given up on that particular nesting site.

A week or so before that, I took both dogs for a walk to the beach.  I walked, they ran, having a dip in the dam on the way down and again on the way back.  Woody had a shower that night!!  They had a wonderful time at the beach but had a wee rest on the way back.
Woody dug a hole in the wet sand under the bank and they stayed still long enough for me to get this pic.
Perhaps not as exciting as your doings but I think Woody is enjoying life on the farm.  I’d hate to think of him falling off your boat and being eaten by one of those alligators!!"

end of email...............Obviously he misses us a lot!!


Wednesday, 7 November 2012

In the Sea - Finally

In the last travelogue installment, we were waiting for JADE to come down from Pickwick Lake so we could "buddy up" for the rest of the river trip, as they like to anchor and are great travelling companions. Jack is an ex Neurosurgeon from Brazil, who retired early in 2003 to fulfil an ambition to sail his 48 foot passagemaker trawler around the world, accompanied by his wife, Denise. Look at www.projetojade.com. However, after reaching the USA, along came Beatriz (now 3 years old) - so the bigger plan was replaced by a detour around the Great Loop, at least until Beatriz was a little older. We first got to know JADE in Hammond, Indiana, but I realised later that we had originally met them in Frankfort where I had taken a picture of a cute wee toddler having trouble with her dog tangled in its leash -and of course this turned out to be Beatriz.
Although we expected JADE to take three days to catch up with us, they arrived in two, so we were ready to go by 31st October.

The original plan was to spend two nights on the river to get to Demopolis, but a bunch of loopers were planning on heading downriver the next day and there are only a few anchorages available, so we prepared to go at 8.30am to cover the 65 miles and 2 locks to the Sumpter Recreational Area in one day. The first problem was that the first lock, immediately downstream, was in use so we had to wait till 9.00am for them to call us to come on down. From Columbus marina and through both locks, the river was full of floating islands of water hyacinths. While they looked kind of pretty, some of them hid rather large and ugly bits of wood. They were also easily sucked into bow thruster tunnels and wrapped around propellors, shafts and rudders - so it was necessary to dodge them all the way to Sumpter, where even the anchorage was full of them.
The next day was another 54 mile run to Demopolis, with only one lock. We lucked in there as a Northbound tow was coming, and tows get priority, but he dropped us (rather quickly) just in time to meet the tow heading towards the lock. If the lockmaster had given preference to the tow, we would have been waiting up to 2 hours - and you are not permitted to anchor, you just idle around until he is ready for you. We passed the interesting white cliffs of Epes (not quite as spectacular as the ones at Dover, England) and made Demopolis at 3.00pm. This is actually the end of the Tenn-Tom waterway, as just before Demopolis the Black Warrior river conjoins and it is then the Black Warrior -Tombigbee (BWTB) waterway.
We spent two nights at Demopolis Yacht basin, and during a shopping visit (Walmart of course), we passed an old mansion that turned out to be Gaineswood, a National Historic Landmark that started as a two room cottage in 1821, and was added to until by the 1860's it was one of the finest Greek Revival homes in the USA. All built by the original owner. Unfortunately nobody had brought a camera, so we've got no pix of it - but I'm sure those interested can look it up on the net.

Below Demopolis are two more locks and not a lot else. There are no marinas in the 216 miles to Mobile, and only one fuel stop at a place called Bobbies Fish camp, which is just a floating dock on the bank of the river. The miles start at Mobile which is mile 0, and Demopolis is mile 216. Bobbies is at mile 118.9, which is right on halfway - too far to go in one day. So we decided to bypass Bobbies and do it in three days, stopping in anchorages at Bashi Creek (mile 145), and Three Rivers Lake (mile 63.8). A bunch of 7 Loopers left at 7.30am to lock down, but we and JADE had to fuel up, and the dockhand didn't arrive till 8.00am. By the time we were done, the Lockmaster said he was ready for us and we locked straight through. Demopolis Dam was the most picturesque one yet so here are a couple of pix:

We passed a number of tows that day, going both ways, and of course, at mile 158, there was the 'Gator. I'll show him again, in case you missed him the first time!
We arrived at Bashi Creek just before dark and we, and another looper ECHO anchored up in the small creek, which required a stern anchor as it was so narrow there was no swing room. Four tows went by overnight, the first at 3.15am and the other three just before daylight - which is why you anchor off the main river overnight.
The Coffeeville lock the next morning was the last on the river, and once below that we were effectively in the sea, although still 116 miles inland from Mobile. This was the one where I had the amusing repartee with the lockmaster mentioned in the last posting. We got up at 7.30am to run the 80 miles downriver to Three Rivers Lake, only to discover that daylight saving had just finished and that it was actually 6.30. We finished up arriving again just before dark and, again, had to use stern anchors to hold us in the creek, as we now had tide currents to contend with as well. About 4.30am the following morning we heard an increasingly loud whine approaching which about an hour later turned into a very large tow going by. The reason we heard him for so long was that we were in a very winding section of river and, although he came around 8 miles downriver, in the beginning he was only about 3 miles from us as the crow flies. Here's a shot of that section of the river on the iPad, which is typical of that part of the BWTB.
The final day was going to be a short one, with only 64 miles to go. Still, we departed at 6.30 as it was well into daylight by then, and we anticipated being at the marina in Mobile by around 1.30pm, since there were no more locks. The terrain changed considerably as we got closer to the Gulf and by the time we were 20 miles out, it had become mainly swampy bayous and you could well imagine an ideal alligator habitat.

We began to see many more seabirds and even a racoon digging for shelfish in the sand along the riverbank.

We arrived in Mobile at the expected time and trundled quietly past the commercial docks with all sorts of interesting vessels, including this wierd looking naval vessel.

Once past the docks we began looking round for the marinas, but we suddenly found ourselves out in Mobile Bay, heading down the main shipping channel towards the Gulf of Mexico. It turned out that the marinas were in Dog river, on the western side of the bay. The problem is, that the bay is so shallow outside of the main channel that to get to Dog River, you have to follow it due South for about 5 miles before taking a dog-leg channel back North West for another 3 miles before you reach the marina. This channel is only 5-6ft deep and very narrow, so you drive it very carefully. The result was that  we didn't actually get tied up at the dock until around 3.45pm. The tidal range here is only around 2ft, so the marina has fixed docks, and there is only 1 tide a day - so that takes a bit of getting used to. We are staying here a few days to have a look around - there is the battleship Alabama here and an associated museum, which we are going to visit tomorrow. We plan to get away on friday, and we have been convinced by JADE that it is worthwhile to turn right instead of left at the entrance to Mobile Bay and run the ICW down to New Orleans, which is only 136 miles away.
So that's where we are and that's where we are going and that's probably where you will hear from us next.