February 2 – 4, 2020 The Gulf Crossing

Perhaps the part of the Loop that causes the most anxiety for boaters is the Gulf Crossing. As boaters go across the Florida panhandle, it becomes too shallow in the curved part of Florida for most boats to continue.  There are two choices. Boaters can do a three day scalloped travel pattern going into Steinhatchee, Crystal River and then Tarpon Springs (in and out of the Gulf), or they can do a diagonal run of about 180 miles from somewhere around Carabelle to Tarpon Springs or Clearwater.  Many Looper boats only travel about 8-10 miles per hour, which means the 180 miles has to be done overnight – in the dark – no lights!  Yeah, it produces a little anxiety. 

“Go fast” boats can sometimes cross during daylight hours, but such speed requires a lot of fuel. We can be a “go fast” boat, but Ed was not quite sure if we had the fuel capacity to make it 180 miles at a fast speed.  We had decided to cross with Honey Queen as our buddy boat.  Three other boats were also going that night, but after looking at wind & waves, we decided on a slightly different route that was recommended in one of our resource books.  This route was showing lower winds and only 1 ft waves and swells.  You can’t always believe the “Predictions.”

It is critical that the weather and winds be good for an overnight crossing.  You don’t want to be 60 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico and have four foot waves and 20 knot winds!  There aren’t a lot of days this time of year that are good for crossing.  You have to have at least 2 days in a row.  That can be hard to get, and many boaters have to wait several days for the right conditions. Harbor Host Jack had given us a contact in Carabelle to call regarding the weather.  Her name was Kim.  Jack said if she told us it was good, then we could go.  If she said it was “doable,” then we should wait; otherwise, it might be a very uncomfortable ride.

Amanda (Honey Queen) was appointed to be our contact with Kim. Many calls were made back and forth over a few days.  Finally got word that the night of the 3rd looked good.  On the afternoon of the 2nd, we left Apalachicola and headed to an anchorage at Dog Island. It’s a good jumping off point and saves about an hour of travel on the crossing day.  It was a beautiful place to anchor but the winds were up a bit and we were experiencing rolling waves while anchored.  Predictions were for wind to decrease overnight.

The next day Amanda called Kim again in the late morning.  She said it was still a GO, but we needed to get going – NOW. Generally it’s best to leave about 3 in the afternoon.  This puts you close to the end of the trip after sunrise so that you can SEE and maneuver around the CRABPOTS that are close to the endpoint.  Kim saw something in the weather that she didn’t like, but we never found out what.  We left about 11:30 am on the 3rd.  It was a pleasant day, but the swells were a little more than we would have liked.  And they kept changing direction – coming from the front, then the side, then somewhere else. 

We took the coordinates indicated in our resource book and plotted them in our navigation program. We were to go SE to a flashing red buoy, turn S to another buoy, then slightly E to our final destination. Sunset came, then nightfall. There was a half moon, which gave us a little light to see the horizon.  We could also see the navigation lights of Honey Queen, about half a mile to our starboard bow. That was IT.  Nothing else to see.  I hadn’t been seasick during this entire trip, but those swells were really doing a number on my stomach.  I finally got some food down, which actually made me feel better, but it was really hard to eat.  

To be sure we were on the correct route, we marked our longitude and latitude location on our paper charts every hour.  For a period of time, fog set in and we could only see Honey Queen’s lights – no horizon.  It’s a rather disorienting feeling.  That lasted about an hour.  We rode out of it, and could see the moon again.  At about 1 am, we were approaching the coordinates for our turn, but could not see a flashing red buoy that was supposed to be there.  We saw some other buoys north of us, but not what we were looking for.  When we reached the exact coordinate, we decided to make the turn and head to the next point.  

About 2 am, we got a radio call from Honey Queen – “I think I see a crabpot.”  We were in 34 feet of water; crabpots shouldn’t be here.  Looking at the charts, we saw that there could be fish hatcheries in this area, which are usually marked with floats on either end.  Maybe that was what he was seeing.  A few minutes later, Wes radioed “I see another crabpot.” Ed didn’t hesitate, he radioed back “I’m cutting engines and dropping anchor.”  So that is what both boats did.  The danger of the crabpots is that the floats are attached to the lines that go down to the cages.  If those lines get tangled in boat props, it can cause the props to get jammed and quit working.  

So there we sat, the swells rocking our boat something awful, and no hope of moving until sunrise, sometime after 7 am.  We tried sleeping, but my stomach would not cooperate.  Ed did fall asleep for a couple of hours.  I just kept praying for sunrise.  When it finally came, we looked around, and sure enough – crabpots.  We restarted engines and maneuvered our way around them.  The water had settled, and it was actually a beautiful morning and a good day on the water.  We recalculated some route info.  Talking it over with Honey Queen, it was just an hour more to get down to Clearwater, and from there, we could ride a trolley to go back to see Tarpon Springs.  Another reason to go to Clearwater was that our friends on Alcyone were already there and we really wanted to see them (explanation in next entry). So both boats agreed and we made a slight course adjustment.

When we finally docked in Clearwater, it had been 26 hours since we had left Dog Island and we had traveled 181.5 miles.  It had tested our nerves and our Faith, but we got through it with no harm done.  Would we want to do it again?  Not on my top ten list.  Some people told us of calm night crossings with a full moon that made the Gulf waters glisten.  Yeah, if we could get one of those nights, I’d be game to do it again, but for now we were just glad to have it behind us.  We were exhausted and a nap and a shower topped the To Do List for the day.  

Jan 25 – Feb 1, 2020 Baby Steps

On the 25th we headed out of Orange Beach, determined to go as far as reasonable that day.  We passed thru Pensacola Bay and headed thru Santa Rosa Sound.  The day was sunny and warm enough in our protected helm area, and we were enjoying the moving water under our boat.  We traveled 60 miles that day – almost 7 hours.  We landed at Fort Walton City dock – a freebie that had electric, but no water hookup.  That’s OK – only staying one night.  We walked thru a park and around town.  Found a church for Mass that evening.  Nice area.  

The next morning we were on our way a little after 8 am.  We got all of two miles when the starboard engine temp gauge registered in the RED zone.  Ed gave me the wheel and ran down to the engine room.  The next thing I hear from him is “Cut the starboard engine!”  Not the words the Admiral likes to hear from the Captain.  He came up and said there was antifreeze sprayed all over the engine and we needed to turn around and return to the dock using only our port engine. 

We returned to the City Dock and down he went into the engine room.  He determined that it was the alternator.  The fan had broken into 3-4 pieces.  It was Sunday morning; fat chance of getting anything repaired.  His phone dinged – it was a message from the Harbor Host in the area wanting to know if we were going to stop at the marina where he lives on his boat.  I replied that we weren’t going anywhere, as our alternator was out of commission.  He replied “Want some help?”  That was magic! He and Ed talked.  Jack made some calls.  Called us back and said no one could come today, but they would be at the boat at 8 am on Monday.  And by the way, would we like him to pick us up for docktails? Didn’t have to ask us twice. Ed worked that day at removing the alternator and cleaning up the mess.  That evening we enjoyed the company of several Loopers.  We met Amanda and Wes from Savannah, GA who were on the boat Honey Queen.  Destiny had brought us together here – we would be friends in no time at all.

Next morning, at 8, someone came to get the alternator and said if all went well, he’d be back in a few hours.  Not all went well – needed to order a part – so we enjoyed the day sightseeing.  There was a Heritage Park and Cultural Center, which gave us a great historical view of Fort Walton.  Also included in the Park were Camp Walton Schoolhouse Museum – an original one room school house, The Garnier Post Office Museum, The Fort Walton Temple Mound – the original temple mound built by Prehistoric People living there between 700 AD and 1500 AD, and a Civil War Exhibit Building. Fun facts from the Post Office Museum: 1)There was once an undersea PO for a scientific facility on the seabed off the coast of the Bahamas.  2)in 1959, a submarine fired a guided missile, filled with letter, to the Air Station at Mayport, FL 3) There is a mule train delivery route to an Indian Reservation located below the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. That was a lot to see in such a small town!  

While walking in town we came across Suds-n-Cinema.  It’s a movie theater that also sells beer and dinner food.  Great idea for Monday night entertainment, so we went.  The theater had been renovated to have tables, chairs and booths.  We ordered and started talking about The Loop with a Canadian couple sitting next to us.  Who should come sit at a table behind us?  There were Amanda and Wes along with another couple who are Looper Harbor Hosts.  Been in town 2 days and we’re already running into familiar faces.  By the way, the movie was “Knives Out” – a murder mystery – and great fun.

The next day we window shopped along the street and took some photos near our boat.  In the afternoon, the alternator was re-installed.  The only original part to it was the casing – everything else had to be replaced.  We were very grateful to have it done so quickly. Harbor Hosts have a wealth of contacts and are such a great help to Loopers.  Rainy weather predicted tomorrow.  No go.  Wednesday night we went out for Mexican – interesting restaurant décor.

Left on Thursday, Jan 30, for Pearl Bayou Anchorage.  At 12:30, we entered what is known as “The Grand Canyon of Florida.” People from Colorado would laugh themselves silly to see it.

While motoring along, we kept hearing a Slap – Slap sound from the back of the boat.  Thinking that maybe we hadn’t properly fastened something, I went back to look.  Couldn’t find anything, but when I heard the sound again, I looked out the back door opening.  Next to the boat were three dolphins having a great time traveling in our wake.  One would jump into the air – land on its side – and that was the slapping sound we heard.  I watched for several minutes and then took over the wheel so that Ed could come to see.  What GREAT traveling companions.

The anchorage was beautiful and located next to Tyndall military air base.  We heard Retreat sound at 5 PM.  Brought back memories of when each of us lived on military bases while growing up.  The sound is even more beautiful over the water.  Spent a calm night at anchor and left the next morning.

We were traveling through some winding waterways the next day.  About midday it started raining hard enough that we pulled over in Searcy Oxbow to wait it out and have some lunch.  While we were anchored, we saw a big barge go by.  Kind of glad we weren’t on the rather narrow channel when that Big Boy passed!  After the rain, we headed out again and ended the day at Scipio Marina in Apalachicola, FL.  Honey Queen was already there. NOTE: we cruised back into Eastern Time Zone today. SO glad. Seeing dark at 4:30 pm was no fun!

We discovered that Amanda has a real knack for meeting people with cars.  They offer to driver her or loan her the car! She had already made friends with one such couple who drove us to dinner that evening.  Apalachicola is yet another quaint town on our Loop – and we never tire of seeing them.  Each is unique in their own way.  The next day we walked around town and then later Amanda made another “car friend” and we went out grocery shopping.  For the evening entertainment, we went to a Jim Croce Tribute performance.  Jim Reno was the performer.  The great thing about the performance was the background info he shared about each of the songs and all the photos he showed on screen.  He had gotten to know Ingrid Croce, Jim’s widow, and she shared many of her family photos and stories with him.  Fun night!  I do remember looking around the theater and thinking there were a lot of old people there.  Wonder what they thought when they looked at us?? Maybe the same thing!

January 13-24, 2020 STILL in Orange Beach

Some of you may remember your high school English classes on poetry.  Perhaps you remember a poem by Carl Sandburg:  

The fog comes on little cat feet. It sits looking over harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on.   OR NOT!

On the 13th, the fog came in, and we’re not talking early morning fog that was gone by mid morning.  We’re talking heavy fog lasting into the afternoon.  Not going anywhere in that mess.  It lasted several days, so we tried to make the best of it. We cleaned the boat, played lots of Mexican Train, and our galley got a new faucet for the sink.  

On the 16thwe headed over to a boardwalk that went out to a beach on the Gulf. It was a lovely place to walk – always wonderful to hear those lapping waves.

On the 17th, we headed out in the evening to check out the Flora-Bama Yacht Club. Original construction began in 1964.  From the looks of it, there have been MANY additions.   It was built on the border of Florida and Alabama.  When built, the Florida county was “wet,” while the Alabama county was “dry.”  It is a place that draws a cross section of people, from millionaires to beach bums.  Live music can be heard in many of the different areas of the club – take your pick.  It’s definitely one of those “must see” places if you are in the area.

On the 18th, we decided to drive over to Pensacola.  We were beginning to wonder if we would ever make it over that way by boat!  We had a fun day walking through town.  There was a market with food and crafts.  An art project in Pensacola is the painting of pelicans and we saw some very colorful examples.  We enjoyed lunch at Jaco’s and then we headed to a real tourist attraction – Joe Patti’s Seafood.  This is an institution in Pensacola.  You can find fresh seafood for sale of almost any kind. When you come in, you take a number, and when Mr. Patti calls your number, you best be ready to tell the clerk what you want.  If not, there are plenty of people behind you to step up.  If you want to eat in the store, there is counter area to order food.  Additionally, there is a market in another area of the store that carries just about anything you would want to go with seafood.  GREAT place to see.  

More winds and rain coming.  Will we ever leave Orange Beach?  

In between the rains, we had a few hours of sunshine and tried to enjoy it as much as possible. A few more walks on the beach, more games of Mexican Train, and many walks in the neighborhoods around the marina.  The owner of our marina had a house nearby, and we noticed a grapefruit tree in the yard.  No one seemed to be currently living in the house.  We walked by it day after day, and kept wondering what was going to happen to ALL those grapefruit. I finally took one, just to see if it was any good.  Oh my gosh, it was SO delicious.  The next day we saw some marina personnel picking off all the grapefruit. We saw them later and we asked them what they did with the grapefruit – thinking maybe the restaurant at the marina used them.  I almost cried at their reply – “Threw it away.  It looked terrible.”  Grapefuits that aren’t sprayed usually do look terrible, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good.  We were expecting freezing temps for the next three nights.  I went over with a small ladder and cut off every grapefruit I could reach – with a perfectly clear conscience!

Checking the weather on the 24th, it looked like the 25thmight FINALLY be a day we could move.  We didn’t care how far we could go – we just wanted to get moving.  When we had discussed a general time frame for our trip, we NEVER expected to have the boat in one place for almost 2 months. It is PAST time to be moving along.

January 3 – 12, 2020 New Year-Same Marina

Ed’s brother Chuck was so kind to come to Augusta to pick us up and return us to Orange Beach, AL. The plan was that he would ride with us for a few days and then return home.  We got back to AL on the 3rd, knowing that we needed to replace some thruster propellers.  Ed had ordered them and they had been delivered to the marina.  When the diver came the next day, he dove down to remove the old ones and replace with the new ones.  That didn’t happen.  New ones didn’t fit.  These ARE the ones specified in our boat manual – double checked – correct number.  Did some research. Seems that the previous owner upgraded the propellers and this required a coupling to be put on the shaft to fit the upgraded propellers.  The diver couldn’t remove the coupling, so we had to order new, upgraded propellers and pay for overnight delivery.  OUCH!  Finally got the thrusters all taken care of and then we looked at the weather.  Not going anywhere. High winds were predicted for most all of the week.  Because we had to cross a very open Pensacola Bay, we decided to wait. 

We were entertained by dolphins that came into the marina.  Something about those beautiful creatures that can hold your attention for a long time.

Then we discovered Bamahenge!  It all started with Dinosaurs.  Billionaire George Barber wanted some, so he commissioned Virginia artist Mark Cline to make four that would sit along the edge of the Woods From Elberta near Barber Marina. Then Barber decided to add a full size replica of Stonehenge, this one made of fiberglass.  Oh the sights we have seen!

Time for a little history.  We headed to Fort Morgan, which is near the base of Mobile Bay.  Across the Bay is Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island.  Days before Alabama seceded from the Union, a military force of volunteer Alabamans captured the fort from the Union forces. Thus it was  in Confederate hands during much of the Civil War and was instrumental in keeping out the Union supply ships.  In August of 1864, Union naval forces were finally able to get past Fort Morgan and enter Mobile Bay in what was named The Battle of Mobile Bay.  Several Confederate ships were captured or sunk and the Fort was eventually surrendered, giving the Union Army access to move supplies to their troops in Southern territory.

During WWI, the Fort served as a training area for men in the Coast Artillery.  During WWII, the US Army occupied the fort and constructed an adjacent airfield.  The Fort was turned over to the State of Alabama in 1946.

Gulf Shores State Park is in Orange Beach, conveniently, just about a mile from our marina. We took advantage of the miles of bike trails in the park and enjoyed the varied landscapes contained within the park.

Starting on Jan 10, the rain started pouring.  This meant we were still not moving.  A couple of days later, we had a short break in the rain and we were able to get out for a dinghy ride down some of the canals near the marina and over to the Coastal Islands of Lower Perdido Bay.  We had seen other boats beach on these islands, so we wanted to explore.  It was a fun diversion and we did a good deed by replanting some of the sea grass seedlings that had been blown away by the wind.

January 12 and we were still in Orange Beach.  Wished we would have saved some money and not gotten the overnight delivery for those thruster blades!

Dec 12, 2019 – Jan 2, 2020 Home for the Holidays

On Thursday we drove a rental car from Orange Beach, AL to Augusta, GA – HOME!  It was a longer drive than we expected, and we lost an hour changing time zones.  It was a little strange to walk into the house.  We had not been home since we left in late March.  One thing made it rather special – the Christmas tree was already up!  When we started the trip, we didn’t know if we would return for Christmas, but we had decided to leave the tree up from the previous year.  My thought was that the last thing I wanted to do when I returned home was to have to go into the attic to get out the Christmas decorations.

Dec 12 is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadeloupe, and the Hispanic members of our Church always have a grand celebration.  Even though we were tired, we decided to go – the food is always fabulous! It was a very festive night and we got to surprise a few friends. 

On Saturday night, our dance group had their Christmas party.  When we walked in, some people stared at us for a moment. Yes–they knew who we were, but their brains were telling them that we were somehow out of place.  SO fun to see the surprises on their faces. We have greatly missed dancing on this trip, and have really missed all of our dancing friends.  We had a wonderful evening catching up with everyone and the live music of Rhonda McDaniel – Carolina Beach Music Awards Female Vocalist of the Year (for many years) – was icing on the cake!

When our mothers were living, Ed kept a calendar just for their doctors’ appointments.  Well, our own calendar for the week of Dec 16th looked like the moms’ calendars.  Since we had been gone for all but three months of the year, we had scheduled every annual visit for eyes, teeth, physicals, and then some. All week, and part of the next, we were coming and going to doctor visits.  Good news – we’re VERY healthy.  Boat Life is good for us. 

Despite my desire to not put up lots of decorations in the house, I couldn’t help myself. Christmas has always been our favorite time of year and we are so uplifted by lots of lights and colorful décor.  I did make a few trips into the attic, but limited the decorations – reminding myself that I would have to return them to the attic before we left Augusta.  Instead of 8 trees, I only put up four.  Some are small, but we like them scattered around the rooms of the house.

We got to enjoy some other Christmas traditions including the incredible Christmas Concert at our church that is done with the Columbia County Symphony.  That really put us in the Spirit of the Season. There were a few other Christmas parties, and then my sister Judy and her husband Jim came from North Carolina to join us for a few days.  So wonderful to see family members at this special time of year.  I enlisted Judy to help with all the poinsettias that had to be unwrapped and placed about our church to decorate for the season.  Several other ladies from the church were there and “many hands made light work.”  The result was a splendid splash of red and gold throughout the church in honor of the Christ Child.

Christmas Day started with Mass, then home to unwrap a few gifts – we don’t need much these days – mostly fuel – so Ed got a pair of socks!

Friends Karyn and Jeremy joined us for dinner.  The more the merrier!  After dinner we had a game of Mexican Train.  

While home, I caught up on some mail.  Our neighbor Cliff sends us important things along our way, but he brought over 4 paper grocery bags that were filled with other stuff.  By the time I was finished, 3 ½  of those bags were filled with “garbage,” and the other items were publications and some real mail.  

Our dance group gets together on Dec 31 to ring in the new year.  We were at the American Legion this year – Pot Luck Dinner and dancing!  This is the first year that they decided to have “midnight” at 11:00 pm – some people had wanted it even earlier.  We know what this means – we need to find some younger friends!

Ed’s brother Chuck came to Augusta to pick us up and take us back to Orange Beach.  He planned to cruise with us as we continued our journey into Florida.  I am reminded once again – “Man makes plans and God laughs.”

December 4-11, 2019 Orange Beach, AL

We were about to cross Mobile Bay.  It’s a BIG expanse of water, but surprisingly shallow in the middle.  BackAtcha had previously done this trip across the Bay and the coordinates were saved in his navigation program, so we were following him and Dancing Bears behind us.  The water did get mighty low – about 6-8 feet in some spots, but we were able to successfully cross on a diagonal rather than following the shipping lanes, which saved us a lot of time.  The weather was sunny and calm – a good day for a boat ride!

We entered the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GICW) which narrowed our waterway and gave us protection from Gulf waves.  Along the way we passed LuLu’s, which is Jimmy Buffet’s sister’s restaurant and marina.  We passed The Wharf, where many Loopers were docked.  Friends from Alcyone were on the dock waving as we passed.  We were headed to Orange Beach Marina, which had covered slips and would give our boat some protection when we left the boat to go home at Christmas.

Getting TO that marina was quite a trip, and I was glad we were following BackAtcha.  We backtracked quite a ways past many residential areas,  past an inlet opening to the Gulf, past LOTS more homes, and finally arrived.  It IS a lovely marina and looked like a great place to stay.  

One of the nice perks of the marina was that there was a courtesy car that we could use. There were only the three of us transients, so we could use the car pretty much whenever we needed – for as long as we wanted.  BIG change from the Dock Nazi rules at Demopolis!  On the 5th, we picked up Patty and Todd (Alcyone), as well Tom (Dancing Bears), Diana and Duane (Bella Donna), and Chris and Lisa (BackAtcha) and went to Cosmo’s for dinner.  When Loopers gather, EVERYone joins in.  Had a fun night.  On the 6th, we took the car, picked up Patty and Todd again and headed to LuLu’s for lunch.  We can’t take the boat EVERYwhere, so sometimes we go places by car.  Had a fun lunch there and enjoyed the party atmosphere of the restaurant. 

On the 10th, the Marina had their Christmas Party.  All the boaters were invited as well as all the First Responders in Orange Beach as well as city officials.  It was held in Fisher’s Restaurant (at the marina) and WOW, what a spread they had.  It’s an upscale restaurant, and the chef did an outstanding job.  We sat at a table with Councilman Jerry Johnson and enjoyed the conversation about the growth of Orange Beach and some of the great places there including the Gulf Shores State Park.  Nice to make contact with high officials – never know when it may come in handy!

We were spending a lot of time with Lisa and Chris on BackAtcha.  Truth be told, we spent a lot of time there because of Winston – their little Yorkie – who stole our hearts!  He can entertain us for hours and is so cuddly.  We don’t necessarily want a dog onboard, but we’re sure glad other people have pets with them for us to enjoy. We taught Lisa and Chris to play Mexican Train – we think they’re hooked!

Wherever we have been on the weekends during this trip, we have always looked for a Catholic church to attend. So far, we’ve been very fortunate – my sister can’t understand why there is always a church near a marina! In Orange Beach, it was St. Thomas. We attended a Knights of Columbus Fish Fry there one evening – fresh fish! Where there is a K of C event, there is usually a 50/50 drawing. Ed had a lucky night — Won a contribution to our “fuel fund!”

Our days at Orange Beach were spent more as vacationers than moving boaters. The days gave Ed some free time to do some creative photography – when he wasn’t doing boat chores!

On the 11th, we picked up a rental car and packed to head home for the holidays.  We didn’t tell people we were coming – so much more fun to surprise them.

Nov 27 – Dec 3, 2019 Tombigbee – Part 2

Traveling down the rivers, we had been getting up at “O dark thirty” every morning to get an early start into the locks.  Arriving in Demopolis, AL for a few days, we could finally sleep past sunrise! It doesn’t seem that driving a boat for several hours should be tiring, but being on constant lookout for navigation aids (finding that some were no where to be found), watching for hazards in the water, and doing this in the glare of the sun can wear us out!  It was nice to get some extra rest.

At the Kingfisher Bay Marina, Ann Marie – the dock master – met us at the dock to help get us into the slip.  We had already been warned that some of the boaters called her “The Dock Nazi.”  She runs the place with an iron hand, and as long as you do everything her way, all is well.  I tossed her a line, and then because the wind was moving us, I tossed a second line to a friend who had come to assist.  She very firmly and sternly told him to “drop the line.” Apparently only she wants to handle the lines for incoming boats.  She said it repeatedly, so he finally did drop the line – fortunately, she had tied one side and was going to the other, so we didn’t have any problems. She hasn’t quite gotten the idea of Southern Hospitality!

We were glad to again see Chris and Lisa from BackAtcha as well as a couple of other familiar faces.  The next day we decided to get the courtesy car and go to see one of the local historical homes.  We learned another one of Ann Marie’s rules – time limit on the car is 2 hours.  Before returning, you must stop at the gas station a few blocks from the marina, fill the tank, get a receipt, call her, then come back to the marina and give her the receipt and keys.  It’s not like you can go too far in the 2 hours, and most people only travel 5-8 miles.  The gas receipt is usually for about 75 cents!  But Heaven help you if you don’t bring that receipt!

Chris and Lisa went with us and we went to Gaineswood.  The beautiful home started as a dog-trot cabin in 1821, built by George Gaines.  The cabin and almost 500 acres were sold in 1843 to Nathan Whitfield, a wealthy cotton planter from North Carolina.  Over the next 18 years, the cabin was enlarged and refined into an elegant mansion in the style of Greek Revival.  The house has two domed ceilings with cupola-style window lanterns for light and ventilation, Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns, and many of the original furnishings which were donated by descendants.

The next day was Thanksgiving.  We found a church in town for Mass.  The priest there had his family visiting and his grandchildren were the altar servers for the Mass.  I’ll let our non-Catholic friends try to figure that one out!  We found that Ann Marie did have a little softer side.  She arranged a Potluck Dinner and she provided the turkey and gravy.  Other boaters brought side items and desserts.  The food was great, and no one went away hungry! The most unusual thing we had for dinner was white sweet potatoes.  We’d never seen those before, but will certainly try to find some in the grocery stores.  They were delicious!

Our two days of rest were over – time to resume our river trek.  We left with BackAtcha and Archimedes and headed to Bobby’s Fish Camp – one of those “must see” spots according to Looper lore. It was a long day of travel – 9+ hours and 88 miles.  The route of the rivers are very curvy, which adds lots of extra miles.  We finally arrived and what can we say? It was certainly picturesque – and rugged.  We stayed 2 nights due to weather.  Did a bit of hiking and enjoyed a good meal at the restaurant. The dock has electric power for the boats, but no water.  So in an effort to conserve our tank water, we had a most memorable experience using the “shower.”  It was in a plastic shed type structure.  Ed had to get the frogs out before I would shower!  

When we left, we were four boats traveling together – Dancing Bears had been added to our troupe.  We had two nights at anchor – one night at Tensaw and the second at Big Briar Creek.  Both places were lovely.  Only BackAtcha was with us the second night.  The other two boats had decided to move on – we weren’t too happy with the wind & wave predictions for Mobile Bay, so we waited it out for the second night.  

On Dec 3, when we did enter the west side of Mobile Bay, it was a calm day and a pleasant ride.  We headed to Grand Mariner Marina, which really wasn’t so grand, but we did get a free night’s stay with the fuel fill up!  There were Loopers here as well as at close-by Dog River Marina. We got together for a Looper Dinner that evening – saw people we knew and met many more.  The rivers were behind us – can’t say we’d miss them.

November 20-26, 2019 Tombigbee River, Part 1

On the 20th, we finished our ride on the Tennessee River when we passed Grand Harbor, where we had previously stayed, and entered the Tombigbee River.  We were going to stay there again, but the weather was so nice, we decided to take advantage of it and go a bit farther. We entered the 24 mile Divide Cut which is a channel with rock riprap.  Riprap is an edging of rocky material placed on either side of the waterway to prevent erosion.  It was not a very wide channel and we were fortunate to not meet any large boats coming toward us.  Not so fortunate was to come across a dredging operation and we had to CAREFULLY cross over the dredging hoses and get past the barge.  Got thru OK.  Headed to Bay Springs Marina.  It’s a family owned place and everyone pitches in.  Nice place.

In the morning we called the next lock and were told if we could get there in 20 minutes, he’d put us in ahead of a tow that was coming down river.  We were almost there when the lockmaster called us and said the tow had sped up and the Captain wouldn’t wait for us to go thru.  Wish we had gotten the message while we were still in the marina, but instead we had to anchor outside of the lock and wait for an hour.  Once inside, we noticed that there were leaks in the walls, shooting out water onto the boat. If it had been worse, I don’t think I had enough fingers “to plug the dike!” We ended up following that tow thru three locks – had to wait at each of them!  On this day we went thru Whitten, Montgomery, and Rankin Locks.

By the time we had gone thru the last lock, there was quite a collection of boats and we all seemed to be headed towards MidWay Marina.  Some were Looper boats, and it was great to have the company.  We had lost many of our traveling companion boats when we took off for Chattanooga, so it was good to find some Loopers again. Time again for docktails in the boaters’ lounge and meeting new friends.  At this location we met BackAtcha, Fish Viscious, Latitude Adjustment and Club Ed.(We should have thought of that name!)

The next morning it was white outside – not snow, but fog. We stayed put and later made a trip to WalMart.  The next day was a repeat – more fog.  On Saturday evening we found a small church in town.  Turns out it was the Feast of Christ the King which was the patron of this particular church.  They had a potluck dinner after the service and invited us to stay. Nothing like the good home cooking of a church potluck dinner.  It wasn’t a big group, so everyone knew we were visitors – we had lots of people to talk with about our Great Loop Adventure!

On the 24th, we headed out early to get thru the Fulton lock.  There was still a bit of fog, but visibility wasn’t a problem – at first.  It was cold, and we were bundled up in fleece vests and coats, hats and gloves. Got to get SOUTH! The first lock was just a short distance, but as we traveled, the fog became a little more dense and we had to really look with the binoculars to see where to enter the lock. Got in safely – we were all by ourselves. After we were lowered 25 feet, the doors opened and we couldn’t see anything beyond the lock. The lock master radioed us and said he didn’t have any boats approaching, so it was OK to stay in the lock for awhile. We took him up on the offer and waited about 40 minutes until the fog lifted. The rest of the day was sunny and our enclosed helm was warmed like a solarium. Altogether there were four locks this day: Fulton, Wilkins, Armory and Aberdeen.  We ended the day at Columbus Marina.

On the 25th, the sun showed itself again.  We headed out early for the Stennis Lock.  These cold, early mornings are not feeling much like a pleasure cruise, but it’s our best chance to get thru a lock before a tow boat comes our way.  When we came out of the lock, there were huge blobs of foam in the water.  Looked like some heavy duty laundry had been done!  We had only one more lock this day, the Bevill. Traveled to an anchorage that afternoon at Sumpter Recreation Area.  We were able to dinghy to shore and walk thru the park area.  Nice to get off the boat and stretch our legs.

We were up early on the 26th.  On this morning we were treated to a beautiful sunrise!  We went thru the Heflin Lock and Dam and shortly afterwards we saw the White Cliffs of Epes.  These stretch for about one mile and are made from layers of the Selma Chalk Formation.  Next stop: Demopolis Marina. Interesting entry into the marina. This marina is a fuel stop for many of the tow boats on the river.  There are huge pillars along the fuel dock, and boats have to maneuver around them and make a 90 degree turn to get to the marina.  Always something new to experience on this trip!  We saw BackAtcha again at this marina – always nice to see a familiar face. We were coming up to Thanksgiving Day.  It was time for a little R&R for a couple of days.

November 14 – 19, 2019 The Tennessee River – Part 3

With new passengers aboard, we spent the evening of the 14th walking in Chattanooga and visiting the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel.  It was all decked out for Christmas with lots of lights.  Some of the “rooms” at the hotel are actually in some of the former rail cars.

Busy day on the 15th, we walked across the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge to  North Shore on the other side of the river. No longer viable as a traffic bridge, it was closed in 1978.  Lacking funds to demolish the bridge, it sat unused for several years. It was many years later that some community leaders saw it as an opportunity to make it a pedestrian bridge that could help revitalize the downtown area.  Money was raised for its renovation and today it sees much use by walkers and bikers.  It is the location of many festivities such as Wine over Water.  

Later in the afternoon we headed to the Tennessee Aquarium.  It has two buildings, one for freshwater marine life and another for saltwater marine life.  It’s the kind of place you could spend hours and hours.

On the 16th, we started our return trip on the Tennessee River.  Sharon and Rich got to experience a beautiful day on the water – even taking a turn at the wheel.  Rich took lots of pictures along the way.  We all watched him on the bow of the boat – mostly curious to see if his hat was going to stay on his head!  We bypassed the rather decrepit Hales Bar Marina and headed to Goose Pond Marina.  

The next day we were treated to more sunshine and headed into Ditto Landing Marina.  As promised, Jeremy had left the car there in the parking lot.  We needed to get some work out of these passengers, so it was time to wash down the boat.  We failed to get any pictures, but Rich did an outstanding job of helping Ed to scrub the deck of the boat.  Later, we did some walking around the marina area and were treated to a beautiful sunset.  We went into Huntsville that evening and had a wonderful Italian dinner at a restaurant the marina staff had recommended.  What a wonderful ending for our journey with Rich and Sharon.

Minus two passengers, we departed the next morning and went to Joe Wheeler State Park.  It was here that we had attended the AGLCA’s Fall Rendezvous last year and found out that our offer to buy the boat had been accepted.  It was much more quiet this year – no other boats there with us.  We did some hiking in the woods and on the golf course and then spent the evening doing the mundane task of laundry. The laundry room was a quite a distance, so we made use of the marina’s cart.

Back to Florence Marina on the 19th.  This time we made it early enough to go the short ride over to Muscle Shoals to tour the sound studio.  It’s just a small building – Nothing to indicate the impact it has made on the music world. Preparations were being made for a recording session that afternoon, so some of the back up musicians were already there.  The ceiling was draped with long strips of burlap – maybe that’s the special “sound” secret! We got a tour which included a lot of the history of the place and the session musicians called The Swampers – or more formally known as The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.  One of The Swampers was there that day – David Hood. If you’re interested in knowing more about this piece of music history, you might want to find a DVD called “Muscle Shoals,” or see if you can still catch it on Netflix.

This was the conclusion of our side trip on the Tennessee River.  Tomorrow we head back past Great Harbor Marina and onto the Tennessee-Tombigbee River.

November 9 – 14, 2020 The Tennessee River, Part 2

Time for a side trip. On the 9th, we went just a short distance back to the Tennessee River and started a trip to Chattanooga, TN.  Skies clear, sunshine, but only 38 degrees.  Brrrr.  First stop, Florence, AL.  One of our first “sites” along the way was the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge. The 450 mile Parkway is part of the National Parks.  The Natchez Trace was first an Indian trail, and later used by traders, missionaries and military personnel.  It runs from Natchez, MS in a northern direction to Nashville, TN.  We arrived in Florence Harbor Marina . This area is famous for Muscle Shoals, where there is a recording studio used by some big name entertainers.  Too late to take the tour, but our dockmaster had a DVD about it.  That was our entertainment for the evening after we had a wonderful Italian meal in town with Canadian Loopers on Sequel.

Next day (10th) there were two locks – the Wilson and the Wheeler.  No waiting time for either, as we were seeing very little additional traffic on this route.  We should note that the Wilson Dam raised us 93 feet.  It was once the world’s highest single lift lock, but has dropped to 6thin the US.  We traveled 8 ½ hours this day and arrived at Ditto Landing Marina near Huntsville, AL at 4 pm.  As we moved in to dock, we saw a familiar face from home.  Jeremy P had driven from Augusta to join us for a few days.  Yea – a visitor!

A bit of history at this marina.  On 1807, James Ditto started a ferry service at this location.  He ferried people, horses, and goods across the river. Over time, he ferried many people including American soldiers in the War of 1812 which became crucial for fighting back the British, and he ferried Gen Andrew Jackson and Davey Crockett during the Creek Indian War in 1813.  A replica of one of his boats was on display at the marina.

Set out the next day with a PASSENGER!  Early on we passed Painted Bluff, one of the highest bluffs on the river.  We showed Jeremy “the ropes” at the Guntersville Lock.  He was such a quick learner that he even got some drive time at the helm on his first day of the trip!

We docked for the night at Goose Pond Colony Marina – just outside of Scottsboro, AL.  We were expecting rain the next day, so we would be here a couple of days.  In case you didn’t know, Scottsboro is home to Unclaimed Baggage – the store where unclaimed luggage from airlines is taken.  Supposedly, the contents are sorted and sold.  Looked to us like there was also a lot of new merchandise there.  On the walls are hung some items belonging to famous people.  So my question – if the owners were known, why weren’t the items of famous people returned to them?!!  The rainy day offered a good time to do an oil change – yep, our guest got to help do that, too!

The weather was definitely cold, and when we were ready to leave on the 13th, we found that the rain had soaked the lines tied to the dock, and the cold temps had frozen them.  There was also ice in the dinghy.  Yikes.  We had to pour some warmer water on the lines to defrost them enough to untie them from the cleats.  What are we doing here in a boat?!!

The sun came out and made all of us feel a bit warmer.  Today we were going thru the Nickajack Lock and Dam.  We sent our guest out to tie to a bollard and man the line. Kathy was getting a “vacation” this week – giving all her duties to Jeremy!  We knew we were getting closer to Chattanooga when we started seeing the “See Rock City” red barns in the hillside.

We stopped that night at Hales Bar Marina – perhaps not the most glamorous stop we’ve ever made. There used to be a lock and dam here, as well as the Hales Bar hydroelectric plant.  But almost from the start, the dam leaked and repairs were costly and uncertain as to their effectiveness.  Eventually, the plant was closed and the dam destroyed.  It was replaced with the Nickajack Dam.  The remains of the power plant are still there.  The surrounding area is “junky” at best – and here we were! Oh, another note of interest. The directions to the marina include – “go behind the rock piles, mooring cells and barges…”  There were literally several rock piles in the water with caution flags atop them.   Mustn’t take a wrong turn!

On the 14th, we started on the final leg to Chattanooga.  Another beautiful day for a boat ride.  It was a very scenic ride and no locks.  Kathy sat back and did some knitting as the Captain and First Mate took turns driving and navigating.  Ahhhhh!  We arrived in Chattanooga and headed towards the docking area by the Aquarium in downtown.  Just like the cruise ships, we would be discharging a passenger and taking aboard new passengers.  More friends from Augusta – Rich and Sharon were waiting for us there.  The arrangement was that Jeremy would drive their car back to Ditto Landing where his car had been left, and they would ride with us.  The car would be waiting there when we arrived.  We all spent some time walking around the city and having lunch.  Great to have company with us to share this incredible journey.