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Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.......
Our gulf crossing is complete!
We arrived at Carrabelle on Tuesday morning with an anticipated gulf crossing "day" window on Thursday. We prepped and Tom had a few intel sessions with a local resident expert, Buddy, to figure out the best crossing for our boat. Buddy recommended the 180 mile crossing from Carrabelle to Clearwater with a few lat/long adjustments if the seas got too rough.
Most if not all Loopers follow both Marv Markets buoy/wind advisories as well as Eddy's Weather Wag. Both assist Loopers, unfamiliar with the area and the crossing, with the best windows of time that the waves and wind will be minimal. Thursdays prediction was for 1-2 foot seas and 10-15 mph winds from the NE. Not the best window to cross, but better any time in the near future. Some Loopers have had to wait in Carrabelle for good crossing conditions for 2 weeks or more, so we felt fortunate that it was only a day and a half.
Our float plan was to leave Thursday at the break of day, get on plane (30 mph) and try and get across in 8 hours if all goes well. We had everything ready to go and felt confident with our decision. Then on Wednesday we were introduced to another "go fast" Looper boat from Wisconsin, Fire Spray 2, they wanted to buddy up and follow us across. We briefed them on our gulf crossing plan and they were in.
We took off across the Gulf Thursday morning at 7am on plane at 30 mph and arrived in Clearwater at 2pm. The first couple of hours were fairly smooth and then it got rough and then it got more rough and even more rough. Instead of the 1-2 footers as predicted, we ended up with 3-4 footers. We got bounced around pretty good and at the 160 mile mark it finally started to mellow out and then like clock work we started to see crab pots at the 20 mile mark. We had no other choice than to slow down and dodge them or risk twisting one around our prop. Neither one of us wanted to see if our prop cutters would work so we slowed down and took our time getting to the Clearwater Pass.
We made it safe and sound and so did Fire Spray 2, riding in our prop wash the whole way. We were grateful and so a happy to have that segment of the Loop behind us. After tying up we celebrated with a beer and getting the all the salt washed off Bella before we headed up the street to Clearwater for a celebratory dinner of Pad Thai.
This last week has been filled with the reality and wrath of what a hurricane can do. After Griff left last Saturday, we got back on the water again and headed down the ICW to Panama City. We knew from the news reports and from Loopers that had gone before us, that the destruction was pervasive in the big bend area. They were right. Our hearts just ached for the people of these communities as we motored by witnessing Michael's catastrophic path.
There are very few marina's open in this area and those that are, are limited in both slips and services. Between our desire to get to Carrabelle to get staged for the Gulf crossing and the conditions of this area, we moved thru quickly and got to Carrabelle on Tuesday morning.
Below are photos from the water as we passed thru Panama City, St. Andrews Bay, Mexico Beach, Port St. Joe.
Our thoughts and prayers are with these communities as they rebuild and repair.
Tomorrow morning has been designated a "good" day to cross the gulf. We are leaving from Carrabelle and crossing over to Clearwater. It will be 180 miles in open water. We are praying that the waves, wind and weather cooperate and we have a mellow crossing.
We hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and got your fill of turkey, stuffing, mash potatoes and gravy! Here's an update on our Thanksgiving this last week~
Griff arrived Sunday afternoon in Sandestin at the Baytowne Marina to spend Thanksgiving week with us on the boat. It has been three months since we had seen him last and it was WONDERFUL to see him. We arrived at the marina from Pensacola on Saturday afternoon and couldn't wait for him to fly in Sunday!
It was a little cooler in Sandestin over the week, but warmer than both Colorado and Minnesota. We did the beach, fished, spent time at the Bay Towne Wharf, biked and walked everywhere, shopped, hit the fitness center, and ate a lot of good food! It was a great week with the blue eyed boy!
The beaches in Sandestin were beautiful! I never expected them to have white sand and they were pristine. There were a few folks around spending Thanksgiving week, like us, enjoying the resort and beach even though it was a bit chilly!
We were inspired by all the sport fishing boats in the marina, so decided to head out with a guide fishing one afternoon. We had a blast but didn't catch anything big enough to keep.
Sandestin Resort went crazy with Christmas decorating! We all loved it! There wasn't any snow but there was a lot of spirit! They even had an ice rink! It was tiny but they had one!
Here are a few other shots from around the property.....
It was wonderful to have Griff here with us for the holiday. Of course we missed Sam and we missed our traditional Thanksgiving back in Minnesota (we all missed Grampa's gravy!). It was fun to change it up this year on the Loop and spend Thanksgiving in a warmer climate, but we look forward to coming home for Christmas and spending time with family and friends. We miss you all so much!
From Captain Tom
Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am NOT mechanically inclined... to the point of borderline embarrassment. My good buddy, Kevin Wester, can fix anything and looks at a problem, shrugs his shoulders and says “ yeah, we can fix that” not me though. That said, a journey like this has forced me to take action to be better. The engine room and I are well acquainted on a daily basis and I’ve learned a lot about basic operations / maintenance that need to be monitored and performed.
We have had an issue with our aft bilge light on the dash going off too often, telling me there is water in the bilge that is being pumped out. Fine, as long it’s once in awhile and working properly.
We have been traveling at a slower rate of speed for much of the trip and the boats stern is down in the water lower as a result. Fill with fuel and throw a dinghy on the swim platform, you have a LOT of extra weight and sit even lower than normal. To the point where we have actually had water from our wake coming over the swim platform at times at slow speed.
Recently, the aft bilge light stopped coming on once in awhile... old Tom says to himself, “good, no problem anymore “ Looper Tom - “shit, better get down in the engine room and take a look” Hmmm, water down here... “hey Muddah, turn on the aft bilge switch!”
Water gone now, but why is it here?
A little later, we are up on plane on a glass like surface of the Tenn Tom river-way hauling the mail at 32 mph.... all is well and then BOOM!! from underneath the boat. We hit a submerged log and it rolled out behind the boat in our wake. It is amazing how fast I can yell / talk like a sailor when presented with the opportunity. This is not the opportunity ANY boater wants, but it can happen.
Brought the boat down to idle immediately and talked / yelled like a sailor some more. We assessed the engine room, bilges to see if we were taking on any water. NOPE.... we got VERY lucky and came out of it with no damage we could see. Next was to increase rpms and see if there was any vibration, shaking from the props. VERY lucky again!
Knowing we will be crossing the Gulf Of Mexico soon, the bilge problem needs to be addressed. I scheduled a haul out to have the hull, props inspected and to find out why there is water in the aft bilge. This was done on Wednesday and we were pleasantly surprised to find NO damage anywhere and the water problem an easy fix.
There are two scuppers, (drains), under our swim platform. One was missing and the other one damaged. At low rpms, the water was coming into the bilge via the platform . I had the yard mechanic replace the scuppers and we are back in the water... a BIG relief! Running to Sandestin from Pensacola, not a drop in the bilge...YES!
It’s strange being in Florida for me with Thanksgiving right around the corner and Christmas decorations appearing everywhere. Getting a bit homesick for family and friends. Today is Sunday and Griff is coming for Thanksgiving today! I don’t know who is more excited, Muddah, or me. Sam is traveling to see his friend Josie for Thanksgiving so we’ll not be able to see him but, it will be GREAT to spend time with Griff.
Sorry for the long dissertation... Happy Thanksgiving to all family and friends!
It’s a been rainy, windy Monday here in Penscola and we’ve been aboard rocking and rolling all day, so I thought I’d post an update. We arrived Friday early afternoon in Pensacola at Palafox Marina. It’s located right off the Bay and right on Palafox Street which is evidently on the list of one of the 10 Best Streets in America. The marina is just a short walk away from restaurants, shops, museums, ballpark and bars. We’ve had a great time the last few days wandering around Pensacola and taking in the area. Our plan is to stay here until Friday since the weather isn’t suppose to be the best for traveling and we both are enjoying our time here.
Well, Friday, like all the other mornings lately, we had fog and had to wait to travel but once it burned off it was a beautiful trip to Pensacola via the ICW. Below are a few shots en route.
We were so happy to get to Pensacola by Nov 10, so we could watch the Huntsville Havoc and Alec Brandrup play the Pensacola Ice Flyers! It was great to see Alec and he was able to spend the day with us Saturday before the game. We did spent some time on the boat, did lunch, the pier and Palafox Street together and then we headed to the Pensacola Event Center. The Havoc lost in overtime but Alec skated well. So wonderful to see him on the ice and doing what he loves to do!
We've really been enjoying Pensacola, The City of Five Flags, a reference to the five governments whose flags have flown over its soil: Spain, France, the United Kingdom, the Confederate States of America and the United States of America.
We checked out the Farmers Market, walked, toured the Pensacola Museum of Art, walked, sampled oysters at Shux, walked, checked out The Fish House and had an IPA, walked, watched hockey game, walked, pizza & beer at Hopjacks, walked, shopped, walked, admired the newly erected Christmas decorations and walked some more! Thank goodness for all the walking. Hopefully it counteracts all the tasty food and drink we are indulging in!
It was a quick trip to The Wharf Marina in Orange Beach, AL. It’s a beautiful marina with great amenities. We stayed Tuesday – Friday this last week and took in all The Wharf had to offer! I say this in almost every post, but it’s so true….every day on the Loop is different. The Wharf couldn’t be any more different than the bayou on the Mobile River. In addition to the great facility, there were shops, restaurants, movie theater, gym, yacht sales and a plethora of gorgeous boats to look at!
After we arrived Tuesday we walked the property, had a great lunch at Ginny Lanes and went to A Star Is Born (which was awesome) at the theater (got my popcorn fix too). Wednesday, Tom was all about getting maintenance done on the boat and I headed to Moxie’s gym for a spinning workout and a salon for a haircut and little of my own maintenance 😊.
We totally enjoyed the hot, humid weather this last week. It got up to 81 and we soaked it all in, especially when we got calls from Sam back home in MN and Griff in CO telling us it was snowing in both locations! The birds and wild life are abundant and I even caught a pic of little crab scuttling around at low tide in the marina.
The Wharf was hosting the World Food Championships 2018. It was so cool and being the foodies that we are, we attended Thursday afternoon with the Petersons. The round that we sampled was seafood. It was fantastic! After the entries were judged, they were divided up and brought out to the crowd. They were all incredible. We indulged in lobster, crab, shrimp and other seafood that was prepared and presented beautifully. We enjoyed seeing all the chefs at work slaving in the heat to wow the judges. The competition ran from Wednesday – Sunday and the categories varied from sandwiches, bacon, dessert, burgers, BBQ, chicken, steak, seafood, etc. Below are a couple pics from the seafood round. Delicious!
After the food competition, we all made our way down the Wharf strip and I tried my first, and probably last boiled peanut. Not sure if I got a dud, but I wasn't impressed with this southern specialty. Sorry Jimmy Carter!
We've met some great folks in our travels so far. While visiting the Peterson's boat Thursday night a beer and music, we met another couple from MN. They did the Loop in 2015 and shared some Loop wisdom with us. So fun to make those Minnesota connections and hear their stories and advice. Ironically, they are friends with the Aherns (Jealous Mistress) who we met on our way down in Lock 8, way back 7 weeks ago!
The last shot is a night picture of a barge making it's way down the ICW. It's a little fuzzy, but we thought is was kind of a cool view of the waterway at work at night.
From our anchorage Saturday morning, it was only 16 miles on the Mobile River to Mobile Bay and then another 30 plus to get to our next destination: the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) and Homeport Marina (home of Lulu’s). We had researched the weather and waves for the day and knew that the Bay was suppose to be calm. We’d heard from other Looper’s that it could get rough so we opted to wait for a mellow day.
Entering into Mobile was a whole new world. Ships and barges everywhere. We felt like a tiny row boat making our way thru the busy, industrial area straining our necks looking up at the behemoth vessels all around us.
Once thru the loading/staging section of the river, we kicked out into the shipping channel in the Bay. The shipping channel was busy with freighter, barges, shrimp boats, rec boats and DOLPHINS!!! One of the things that I was excited to see on our trip was a dolphin swimming beside our boat. It was so cool! They were everywhere. Both Tom and I were a bit awe struck. So much so that I didn’t take any pics, but I promise I will 😉.
Mobile Bay is very shallow in areas and following the charts over spoil banks directing you to routes is important. We followed our charts and thankfully never had to deal with anything shallower than 9 ft. even at low tide. We crossed the Bay and connected with the ICW on the East side of the Bay. We headed east and arrived at Homeport Marina midafternoon. Upon arrival, the Petersons, MN Loopers we met at Midway marina, greeted us on the dock and we ended up doing cocktails and dinner with them at the Famous Lulu’s. Gotta say it’s great being back in civilization again!
Going from the rivers and waterways, to the Bay and now the ICW is so interesting because they are all so different. Everyday is different. There were times on the rivers that you were literally in the middle of nowhere and waiting for locks. Then going through industrial areas with all the commercial traffic was equally as extreme to us since we aren’t use to vessels the size of buildings. The Bay was our first experience with open water and trusting our navigational system and now the ICW which is a narrow, shallow canal with homes and beautiful marinas everywhere.
Sunday we chilled and enjoyed the Vikings game with the Petersons – fellow Viking fans. SKOL! We did Bloody Mary’s in Tom Peterson’s hand painted glasses. He is a talented painter and the glasses are amazing! He deemed us worthy and we scored a couple of his Viking glasses. We’ll use them every game day and think of him when we do!
Monday was chore day. Washing and cleaning boat inside and out, laundry, groceries, paperwork, planning, charting, weather forecasting and marina reservations. Tuesday we plan to travel to The Wharf Marina, a whooping three miles down the ICW!
Our Friday night anchorage was amazing! It was a definite 10! The depth, wind, current and location were all perfect. We dropped our anchor to the side of the canal and decided it would be a good idea to drop a stern anchor as well so we wouldn’t swing. It was our first real tidal experience. We let out extra rode even though the low/high tide difference was only going to be 1.5 ft. There were a couple more boats farther up in the anchorage but we couldn’t see or hear them. It felt like our own little paradise!
As we sat having a cocktail on the back of the boat enjoying the beautiful flora and fauna, Tom looked over and thought he saw a really fat dog on the shore. With further inspection, he realized it was a wild boar! Actually, two wild boars! When they saw us they took off thru the bushes snorting and squealing! We just stood there and looked at each other – never did we expect to see wild boars!
So you’re probably wondering if we encountered any alligators in the Big Bayou. That would be a negative. At least not any that I saw……. remember though I don’t see so good and I didn’t see these bad boys along the side of the Mobile River as we passed by. I just assumed they were logs! The pics below are courtesy of our friend, Jennifer. She shared them with us when we got to Homeport Marina in Gulf Shores. Kinda glad I didn’t see them. I probably wouldn’t have anchored out!
We had a lovely morning enjoying the sunshine and took off at 10:30am to travel down to Mobile Bay and cross over to Gulf Shores, AL and Homeport Marina. More on our crossing later~
Tom took lots of shots in the anchorage. Here are a few….
We bid good bye to Columbus early Monday morning. We were ready to get back on the river! Our float plan was pretty aggressive. We decided instead of doing an anchorage we were going to try to make it all the way from Columbus, AL to Demopolis, AL. 3 locks and 119 miles. This was going to be the longest travel day we’ve had so far. We had a plan b with a couple anchorages in case we changed our mind or the locks weren’t cooperating.
Travel days are early mornings and long days typically rising by 5:30am, calling the lock by 6:30 and if your lucky, locking thru by 7:30. That routine is if you're near the next lock and the lock gives you the green. If your next lock is a distance away you take off when the fog clears…. or sometimes not 😉. So Monday, right after we requested a southbound lockage for three looper boats (all in the marina just around the lock wall), a tug captain came on the VHF and requested lockage. The lockmaster told us then that we had to wait at least an hour for lockage. It was foggy and we were still wiping down isen glass 15 minutes later when the lockmaster came back on the radio and said “you south bound rec boats over in the marina, I’ll take you down”. YES! Our day got off to a great start!
However, our luck didn’t carry thru to the second lock. We had to wait for a tow for about an hour and a half, so we caught up on email and had a little breakfast. The third lock was about 40 miles away, so we got up on plane and got there in a couple hours and the lock was open. We locked thru and traveled the remaining 50 miles to Demopolis and Kingfisher Bay Marina. We fueled up right away, found our slip, had a bite to eat and hit the hay.
Traveling on plane requires both of us to be at attention constantly. I have the binoculars out (because I can’t see a thing) and I’m constantly scanning for fisherman. Our wake would really rock a fishing boat, if not swamp it and neither of us are interested in getting chased down by a pissed off banjo playing hillbilly fisherman!
Then you have the barges. On the Tenn-Tom and the Tombigbee there seems to be a barge around every turn and there are A LOT of turns. When you look at the waterway on a map, its as curvy as an intestinal tract! On the chartplotter, you’ll see an AIS symbol for a vessel in front of you and the curves are so crazy that it looks like it’s behind you, but it’s actually two curves ahead!
Then there are the Barge Captains. It takes both of us to listen to their directions for overtaking them or passing them. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve asked them to repeat themselves. First off they speak in a southern drawl (I call it hillbilly) that is indecipherable to these two Midwesterners, but it’s not totally their fault. Tom’s ears aren’t so good either so it’s a real challenge. So between my poor eye sight and Tom’s poor hearing we’ve been dubbed by Sam and Griff as Helen Keller. Kinda hard to believe we made it this far down the river.
Tuesday morning's walk in Demopolis was a warm one. I found ANOTHER cotton field. I think they are so interesting. Either that or I’m pretty boring. We also realized how many Looper boats were in the marina ready to head farther South. After beer and pizza Tuesday evening with Southern Style, we decided to head out Wednesday morning instead of Friday morning. We invited ourselves to join them on the junket to Bobby’s Fish Camp in Silas, Alabama. The last stop for fuel before Mobile Bay and a notorious Looper stop.
It was 97 miles. The first 20 were spent in the fog, but for most of the ride down we got up on plane with hopes of making Bobby’s before dark. As we got closer to Bobby’s we realized that there were a lot of other boats that were planning on staying at Bobby’s as well. Let’s just say the space is limited (about 150 ft of dock right off the channel) and it’s first come first served. Southern Style couldn’t get on the dock without a shift in the boats that were already tied up and in some cases fendered three deep. So needless to say they didn’t stay at Bobby’s. We were small enough to fender to a boat that was already fendered to another boat on the dock. We stayed but regretted their absence.
It was great talking with Mike. This is his second big kayak trip. He did the Mississippi from MN to New Orleans a few years ago. He typically does about 20 miles a day, camps at night, sleeps in a hammock, walks to the nearest town when he need groceries and is loving his time on the river. He is an inspiration to us!
Bobby’s was an experience. They have a restaurant that serves fried catfish on Thur – Sat nights but opened up since they had a dock full of boats on Wed night. Everything on the menu was fried, but it was fun trying the local fare. Tom and I got a kick out of the owner. He had just gotten back from hunting in North Dakota and had driven thru MN. He thought MN was beautiful. He definitely was a hunter. He drove around the camp with his dog and gun right beside him on the golf cart. It felt like we were in an episode of Duck Dynasty!
We stayed two nights because of weather. Had to walk over two other boats bows to get to the dock and I slept thru a tornado warning Thursday morning. Tom thought that was probably a good thing. We met a couple other new looper boats and at the crack of dawn on Friday left Bobby’s for the last lock on the Tombigbee and an anchorage north of Mobile Bay.
I’m writing this post as we traveled today (Friday) and we decided on Big Bayou Canot as our anchorage. It’s at MM 16 on the Mobile River. This will be our first anchorage since Little Division on the Mississippi, except now we are in gator country. Let’s just say that I’m NOT gonna spend any time on the swim platform.
Tom & Sue Slightam
Read along as we circumnavigate the eastern half of the United States and southern Canada on the Great Loop on our boat BELLA, a Cruiser 460 Express.