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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Clearwater. What a pleasure you have been!

We arrived Wednesday morning about 10AM after leaving Carabelle at Noon the previous day. We cruised into the harbor with 2 additional boats. After listening to the radio during the night and talking to other boaters in Carabelle, we surmised 13 boats had crossed the Gulf of Mexico that night.

Sea Stone Resort is located just inside the Harbor. Our neighbors bought their Med Trawler a few months ago and are learning the boat. Jeff is British and Dee is a cute blonde about our age. They met on and Jeff moved to the US and they were married. They plan on starting the loop in about two years. We expressed that they should not wait as one can plan forever...and then not leave on the adventure.

The beach is only a block away and we have walked the beach, ridden our bikes into downtown and to Publix. (What a pleasure it is go find a great supermarket close enough for bikes.) Jim and I rode to the area where "Winter, the Dolphin" is being filmed. We had not heard of Winter, but the security guard explained the story of a Dolphin who lost his rear fin in a lobster trap. Does anyone remember that story? No, we don't either!

Thanksgiving dinner next to the pool is a good thing! We enjoyed a great meal with Monkey Girl and Blue Yonder. Tomorrow morning we part with Blue Yonder as they head to Tarpon Springs. We, along with Monkey Girl are headed to an anchorage along the ICW.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Apalachicola, Caravelle and across the Gulf of Mexico

Apalachicola was an extremely pleasant stop. We stayed at the Water Street Hotel and Marina. The tide was flowing in and the wind was blowing in the same direction. We are learning that the force of tides is a new experience for us. Add the wind and you had better have friends at the marina to pull the boat into the slip!

The town itself is fabulous! Apalachicola has been one of our favorite stops. Antique stores, restaurants, outfitters, grocery store within bike riding distance and a HARDWARE. Jim is in heaven! In addition, the residents are friendly and welcoming.

We carry our bicycles with us on the boat on the flybridge. My bike is 20+ years old and is perfect for a trip that will expose it daily to the salt air. Jim, on the other hand, owns a new bike and did not want to watch his beloved bike deteriorate, so he bought an old bike and we are set! We use the bikes in most ports for grocery shopping and other errands as well as the fun of discovery.

We are moving toward our final destination of Carabelle before crossing the Gulf of Mexico. Carabelle is typically the "stepping-off point" for crossing the Gulf. Many boats take a "straight shot" across the Gulf from Carabelle to Clearwater or Tarpon Springs. Others will stop in Steinhatchee and Crystal River before visiting Clearwater or Tarpon Spring. The considerations are many, but the shallow waters of Steinhatchee and the few good travel days a month in November on the Gulf are but a few of the serious issues to consider.

The Gulf of Mexico is shallow for many miles off shore. In addition, crab pots abound. A constant vigil is necessary as finding a line from a crab pot around a propeller is a serious issue. The line could stop the boat totally.

Discussion of weather is a constant as we prepare for the trip. A week before our crossing, we started to watch for a calm day and night to cross the Gulf. Many of the Loopers are traveling in trawlers whose top speed is 10 miles an hour. (Now you know why the transition from sailing to a trawler was so easy!) The total mileage from Carabelle to Clearwater is over 185 miles and the number of hours of travel time totals at least 18 hours. Trying to find a harbor at night is near impossible, so the crossing must take place through the night with the entry into the Clearwater Harbor in the morning hours.

Blue Yonder, Monkey Girl and Crawdad agreed to travel together. We discussed the option of Steinhatchee, Crystal River and there are few good weather days/nights on the Gulf.

Certainly each of these boats (one Nordic Tug, one American Tug and Crawdad) are capable of handling weather, but it is not pleasant for the passengers.

We left Carabelle at noon, headed for Clearwater. The boys, Buddy and BooBoo would have to relieve themselves on board or wait until we reached our destination. No surprise to us, BooBoo took care of business, but Buddy, his eyes were yellow! We encouraged his sleep and plied him with Benedryl to help him sleep.

Since I am writing this blog, you know by now we survived! The Gulf on Tuesday and Wednesday was mild. Blue Yonder lead the way (as they have the most experience and are a bright pair in dealing with solutions), Bill and Laura followed next (Bill provides constant comic relief). In the rear was Crawdad to bring in the rear. The trip lasted 22 hours as we chose to follow the East Pass and stay to the east and enjoy the protection of land. We were blessed with finer weather than any of us even imagined.

Massalina we come!

Again Clairborne Young gave us the directions to enter Massalina Bayou. The Bayou is located near downtown Panama City. Amazing bayous are located in populated and unpopulated areas along the ICW. Massalina Bayou is a small bayou without the interest of trees and other vegetation.

Once again we anchored bow to stern as reviewed in the last blog. Bayou Joe's restaurant is located in the Bayou and has been around a very long time. We had a great dinner of shrimp and scallops and were on our way back to our boats.

Darkness comes early these days and the boys usually get their last trip to shore around 5PM.

Good Luck came our way in Joe's Bayou, Destin, FL

Bayous are available for anchorage all along the ICW. Other Loopers had expressed Destin's harbor could be difficult and not that interesting. We continued to travel with our good friends, Bill and Laura from Monkey Girl. They are much more experienced anchoring than we are and Laura found a Bayou that looked interesting to all 4 of us.

Joe's Bayou is located a few miles from Destin. Clairborne Young has written a number of books describing details of anchorages. He suggested Joe's, describing it as difficult to enter as it is narrow, but so beautiful once entered. Wow! We carefully snaked our way into the Bayou and found a pool, surrounded by beautiful homes. For the last few weeks, we had been anchoring with one boat facing into the wind or current and setting anchor and the second boat anchoring in the opposite direction. This would keep the boats in the same spot and we would be attached to Monkey Girl and we could spend the evening together.

As we were anchoring a man came up to us in a fishing boat and suggested we could use his dock. He pointed at a 17,000 square foot house. OK! We had an extremely pleasant evening and the boys could go for a walk on land. We spoke at length with the owner and he was as kind and friendly as any one we had met so far!

In order for the boys to make their trip to land, the dinghy must be lowered. We have a mast and boom which is used to raise and lower the dinghy. Kind of a pain and Bill and Laura have an easy to drop in dinghy. When we travel and anchor with them, we use their dinghy and leave our dinghy on the boat.

We loved anchoring in the Bayou and we will undoubtedly be anchoring out more often.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pensacola Aviation Museum & Palafox Pier

Another great spot! We stayed longer than we had anticipated as the weather piped up and even Crawdad was bouncing around in her slip.

Pensacola is home to the Blue Angels and the Air Force Aviation Museum. Great place! Along with Laura and viewed the planes, listened to an experienced jet pilot (in his 80's)and saw another show of the Blue Angels. The noise was incredible too! We rode the city bus to the Museum and they warned us to be done early to make sure we could catch the bus. We called again later and they told us to walk into a RESTRICTED area of the Navy Base to catch the bus. After waiting over an hour, we called a cab and got a ride back to the Marina. Certainly worth the trip.

A new restaurant had opened up only two weeks prior to our visit, Jacos. Good food and better company. We spent a lot of time at the restaurant attempting to escape the rocking in the marina.

Since we found ourselves with time on our hands, Laura and I visited the local spa (3 mile bike ride - we're not lazy!) and Laura enjoyed a facial and I a pedicure. Got to keep up with our "beauty" as we travel!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Paradise is found!

We found Paradise! We are traveling with Monkey Girl, Laura and Bill Peters. They are experienced at anchorage and love it! We are learning to love anchoring too!

We planned our trip to Pensacola with the Blue Angels show. What good planning! We anchored near Spanish Point in a "spoils area". Dredging is a constant here and the removal of sand, mud or soil is usually to an area in the water called "spoils area". One must be careful and obtain what is called "local knowledge" to make sure the spoils area is deep enough for our boats. This spoils area is about 10 feet deep which is perfect for anchoring.

We were surrounded by sandy beaches. On one side was a small island, so Buddy and Boo were off leash and running like crazy dogs! They loved it! They were surprised when they tasted the water and spit the water out. So funny!

We lowered our kayaks and scouted the island and then we were surprised by what happened next! Bill and I were in the kayak waiting for Jim when two fishermen came by. They were drinking beer and not looking very serious. Bill is the curious sort and a good conversationalist so he inquired about their fishing. They indicated they were interested in The Loop and would like to see our boats.

Monkey Girl is an American Tug and is very different from Crawdad. The fishermen, Jim and Joe, boarded our boats and looked around. They offered to show us some fishing spots and cruise the area. Jim grew up in Pensacola, had lived in Chicago and other cities and had returned "home". Joe was his boss from Charlotte.

What came next was incredible. He was showing us the inlet to Pensacola and he saw a school of redfish. He was totally equipped for fishing and we caught fish after fish! There are restrictions on what you can keep, so we had to throw them all back! They were huge up to 50 inches! Their scales are very large and hard and feel like a hard covering. We each caught at least one and all were too large to keep. So fun! Redfish is typically eaten here blackened.

We hated to leave our Paradise, but we know there are many more wonderful anchorages and marinas ahead.

When will we run aground?.....when DID we run aground!

After our delightful stop in Bashi Creek,we planned our next anchorage at "old lock 100". Jim was the first to stick his nose in and cruised slowly toward the lock. There was plenty of space behind it, but he was curious as to the depth. From 10 feet, the depth dropped to 2 feet.....OOOOPS! We were lucky enough to back off, but we thought for a while we might need a two from one of our friends.

We anchored with three boats together, Goncruzin, Monkey Girl and ourselves. Delightful evening as usual and the boys had a cement landing for the dinghy. We had some nice long walks.

One more anchorage before Mobile! We again stuck our nose into the North End of Bayou Cannot. Another great spot, though we thought we heard banjos! Kind of creepy, but safe from the weather.

The next morning we entered Mobile Bay. Incredible! Huge ships out of the water and lots of industry, then out into the shallow bay on to Fairhope. Three hours later we arrived at the Fairhope Yacht Club. The Club was destroyed by Wilma in 2004 and has been rebuilt and is beautiful. Great Restaurant, Tamara's.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Crawdad description - better late than never!

A few days ago I viewed a blog for Blue Yonder. Our dear friends Pete and Ana from Nantucket. Pete created a great blog with a detailed description of Blue Yonder, a Nordic Tug 32.

Better late than never!

Grand Banks 42
Built in Singapore in 1986
Length 42 feet
Beam (wide) 13' 7"
Displacement (weight) 34,000 pounds
Draft (how deep) 4' 2"
Water Capacity 265 gallons
Fuel Capacity (diesel) 600 gallons (want to fill our tank?)
Height with mast up 22' 6"
Height with mast down 16' 4"
Engines 2 Lehman 135 Diesels

Drop that anchor and pray for good weather!

We knew after Pirates Marina Cove we would be looking for anchorages. I had spoken to EVERYONE I could find for suggestions.

There is a published book that is the "Bible" for the Tennessee River and the author, Fred Meyers, has also written a book on the TennTom, "Nitty Gritty TennTom". The rivers are denoted by miles beginning at the mouth. Liberty Belle and Crawdad were the only transient boats in Florence Harbor one night and we enjoyed having dinner with Fred and Joanie. Really friendly couple! We also have a book written about the Tennessee and TennTom by Rumsey, which includes hand drawn charts (almost called it a map! slap!). Thirdly and not necessarily in that order is Skipper Bob's. Bob and his wife Ellen along with others wrote mile by mile descriptions of the Loop. They are extremely helpful books as well. So with the comparison of those books, people who have anchored and the experts, we are choosing our way.

We anchored at Sumpter Landing. Gorgeous little spot with plenty of water. Crawdad draws 4 feet 2 inches and we have to be careful of the depth of the water. Some boats draw less and some more than we. A park surrounded the pool and the boys had a delightful time in the park (OK, as did Jim and I).

Locks are part of planning. A lock through can take as little as half an hour (rare) or as long as half a day. Waiting an hour or more is not unusual. All planning must take the time to lock-through as part of the day and as you can see, it is difficult to plan at best. Some days there may be no locks and most days there are one to three locks.

The picture of the lock, here is the Demopolis Lock. There were 15 boats in this lock-through in a lock with 10 bollards to tie onto. At 7am, at first light we paraded to the lock, all 15 boats and the first 10 tied onto a bollard. The next five rafted off other boats. "Finally" a 45 Carver rafted off Crawdad. Rafting is the "art" of tying off to another boat. Each boat (or one boat) will have fenders protecting the side of the boat and lines will be passed between the boats to tie to each other. As the boat tied to the bollard rises (or is lowered), so will the rafted boat. Works quite well!

As a train of 15 we left the lock and proceeded toward the few and best anchorages. This necessitated rafting at the anchor. We arrived at Bashi Creek and the first boat stuck their nose in to check the depth. Goncruzin backed in as far as they could go and High Spririts went in nose first and put out an anchor in front of them. They then tied to the trees on the shore. Next Dream Fever, a 47 DeFever went in nose first and anchored. We backed in an anchored and tied to them. Monkey Girl, a 34 foot American Tug came in third and tied to us. Jim and Bill, from Monkey Girl tied our boats to the trees. After us came 5 more boats, including a 25 foot sailboat with a generator boxed in on its transom! They expressed they had all the comforts of home! That proves anyone can do the loop!

The socialization of the Loopers is a big part of the trip. The people we meet are from all walks of life, but with one interest in common that binds us all. Even at this point we have met friends that will undoubltedly be friends for life.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Mail - what mail! St Brendan Isles, so cool!

Many have asked us what we are doing about our mail. What we are using is truly COOL!

St. Brendan Isles is a mail service. We forward our mail to them and SBI sends the mail when we know ahead of time where we will be moored. A new service was started recently which we are using where SBI can Hold, Send, Shred or Scan. First I view the mail envelopes on line. Those letters that I choose to Scan are available for view the next day. So cool!

We try to have our mail sent every two weeks or so, so that we may view our magazines which we truly enjoy! Especially our Atlantic Monthly and Passagemaker.

Mobile Here we Come- Midway, Aberdeen & Pirates Marina Cove

We enjoyed our time at Grand Harbor. It is a gorgeous developement with the marina, condos and homes. Literally part of it is in Alabama and part in Mississippi. Across the River is Tennessee.

We started down the TennTom on Yellow Creek following Seamoore, who started their Loop that morning. Carlton and Becky are from Decatur, AL.

Our first stop was Midway Marina. Friendly place with few amenities, but with plenty of water and friendly faces, we were OK. Carlton and Becky along with Richard and Jill on "Finally" suggested dinner and we heartily agreed. The other guest, Elegant Lady, a 50 Chris Craft, when asked, said he got the car first and took off. Nice guy! The Harbormaster lent us his car (see what I mean by nice?) and we were off to one of the three "W's of looping". Walmart. Our card reader was not working and needed to be replaced. Then to a Mexican restaurant for dinner.

Next was Aberdeen Marina. Depth was "iffy" (special boating term) as we entered, but after our mini adventure and winding road, we found the marina. We were the only people there that night and there were few boats. There is a convenience store and fuel sold to cars and trucks on the other side of the building, so there was activity there. Jimmy, the cat, was watching over the merchandise as he lounged on a case of beer. Nice to know we are all safe with Jimmy in charge.

Last night we stayed at Pirates Marina Cove. The people who live and work there looked like Pirates. We were glad to leave the dock this morning!