Day 87: Friday, November 30, 2012

Port to Port: Steinhatchee to Cedar Key

Underway: 5:10 am     Motor Off: 3:25 pm     Miles Traveled: 53.2     Stayed At: Anchor

First Things First: First time leaving before dawn; first time tangling with a crab pot float.

Mile to Mile: Today was a long day so we got up before dawn to leave. We don’t like leaving in the dark but in order to travel more than 50 miles mostly during daylight we would prefer leaving in the dark than going into an unknown harbor in the dark. The weather forecast was the same as last night but it looked promising that the winds would die down and moderate for at least several days which is perfect for our planned three day hop down to Hudson, Florida and Tarpon Springs. After our long, rough crossing, deciding to go back out there is extremely difficult but at some point we just need to go. So go it is.

After a long cautious cruise up the Steinhatchee channel (did we mention everything looks a lot different in the dark than in the daylight), we reached the final marker and turned south. It was breezy with 1-2 foot rollers on our port quarter which made steering a little challenging – especially if you want to stay on course. But a moon was lighting our way, the stars were out and we could see a little glow from Steinhatchee so we felt comfortable continuing on.

Our biggest problem was watching out for crab floats. This is our first experience with these hazards to navigation (we didn’t see any coming in to Steinhatchee) and they can be anywhere. Usually they are placed in long straight lines following a random compass course placed anywhere from 200 to 400 feet apart. They can be in water anywhere from 8 ft deep to 40 ft deep. They are not reflective and can be any color from white to mottled brown to blue (now that is a stupid color). The floats are attached to the crab pots with poly line which likes to get sucked up in the prop wash and wrap around the prop and shaft. We started seeing the first lines of them soon after heading south. Using the spotlight helped us see them but the choppy conditions made it difficult to spot all of them. We had naively thought that it would be unlikely for one to get caught in our motor – we don’t run very deep and the boat hull would shove the float away before getting to the prop. Of course that theory was shot to hell only about a half hour after leaving the channel. All of a sudden Boris whined and stopped dead. Crap. Now we are adrift, in the dark, sideways to the waves and don’t immediately know what happened. Of course it may have something to do with the 10” orange Styrofoam ball and black poly line wrapped around the prop shaft. Double crap.

So I lifted up the motor (one advantage we have over a larger cruiser) and, with some creativity and a long reach, cut the crap pot off, unwound the jammed line and got the motor back in the water. Luckily, no permanent damage was done (except to our nerves) and Boris started on the second try. We think he sounds normal but does he? It took hours before we felt confident and all was well again.

After our early morning adventure the rest of the day was a cakewalk (whatever that is – I guess it just sounds good). After a beautiful sunrise the winds and waves gradually moderated all morning and became almost calm by afternoon. The day actually went quickly – we were kept very busy watching and navigating through, around and past thousands of crab floats. It became a game almost and you definitely could see patterns after a while. The problem was the odd float that was placed in a random sequence or had floated off course. We wanted to sail but decided we had enough things going on not to add another variable. At least the dolphins were having fun. They came by to visit in groups of three to five all day long. Amazing creatures – we never get tired of their visits.

We made good time and arrived at Cedar Key mid afternoon and followed the channel markers to a nice anchorage at the south end of the small archipeligo just east of         . We will head out the back way in the morning saving hours of travel tomorrow. It feels good to be back “home” again.

Back to the Grind

Day 86: Thursday, November 29, 2012

Port to Port: Steinhatchee, Florida

Underway: 0:00 am      Motor Off: 0:00 pm      Miles Traveled: 00      Stayed At: Marina

Mile to Mile: Today was prep day for another passage on the Gulf of Mexico. We stowed the treasures (food) we brought from home and miscellaneous essentials we bought on the way back to the boat. We plotted our route to Cedar Key, triple checked the weather and set the alarm for an early start. We even had time to work on some boat projects. We have had an annoying problem with water in the bilge – just a gallon or two a day but we need to sponge it out every day since our bilge is tiny. We think the water is squirting in up the centerboard trunk through a small opening by a pulley used for lifting and lowering the centerboard. Normally this has not been a problem but we are 2-3 inches lower in the water and traveling in rougher water that at home. Solving this problem would make life a lot simpler but it is in a difficult to see location. So it’s Cliff to the rescue (again). Before leaving after dropping us off he loaned me his fiber optic scope (which he just happened to have with in his truck). (This is a very handy tool on a boat). I was able to see what the pulley opening looked like and noticed a rubber gasket/flap was pushed up and away from the opening. I was able to reposition it and added another rubber gasket which will hopefully keep water from splashing up through this opening. Thanks Cliff and Caroline.

After spending most of the day cleaning, organizing and prepping the boat, we took time out for one final trip to the hardware store and, on the way home, couldn’t avoid stopping for a second time at the little BBQ place – ScullyZ. We are now ready to take on the Gulf. At least this time we will be within sight of land and cruising mostly in daylight.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is borderline – 10-15 knots with a moderate chop moderating in the afternoon so we may have to wait another day. We’ll check again at 4:30 am for a final go/no-go decision.

Happy Days

Day 77-Day 85: Tuesday, November 20 to Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Port to Port: Tampa to Mound MN

Underway: 0:00 am      Motor Off: 0:00 pm      Miles Traveled: 00      Stayed At: Home

First Things First: First trip home (and back again).

Mile to Mile: This morning we traveled as far in about 3 hours by plane as we have traveled in the past 11 weeks. It’s a lot more fun doing it the “hard” (and slow) way though.

We were home for nine fun, busy and calorie packed days. After our smooth and uneventful flights we arrived home to a beautiful late, late fall day with temps in the 50’s and sunshine. Our home looked exactly as we left it except the leaves were gone and the lake level had gone down a few more inches. We even had time to do some minor yard work taking advantage of the nice weather. I guess our roses were still blooming a week ago. As is typical in Minnesota, though, wait a little while and things will change. I washed the car in shirtsleeves and sunshine the next morning and then the wind started roaring, the temperatures starting dropping (in 5 degree increments) and by early evening it was snowing and sleeting sideways outside the windows. By the next morning our bay of Lake Minnetonka had started to freeze over. Now it feels like we are back in Minnesota.

Our visit home was filled with family, food and fun. After some miscellaneous appointments we went to Mike’s mom Marty’s (Grandma G’s) house for our first home cooking of the trip – including a scratch made apple pie. A great start to our short visit home. Cindy baked the first triple batch of banana bread as soon as she woke up on Thursday – just in time for a breakfast snack. Our daughter Jessica flew in from California for Thanksgiving and surprised the Grandmas. Sarah brought Jess home and we had a great Thanksgiving feast at Mike’s brother Gary’s house. What a great party. Friday was lefse day – a tradition going back many years with the girls rolling out the dough and Cindy’s mom Shirley (Grandma A) flipping and stacking the finished lefse. Cindy’s college friend Barb and her Mom showed up too to participate in the fun. It’s just the beginning of the treats.

Saturday is traditionally Christmas cookie day and we can’t break tradition so more baking (and eating) ensued. Everyone was having brunch withdrawl since we left, so Saturday also became brunch day with more delicious homemade food with family. We actually went for a walk today so we burned off about 3 cookies – only 10,000 calories to go. Sunday was another baking day – Cindy cranked out another 5 batches of banana bread to give away. Oh’ and we went over to Scott and Sue’s house (Cindy’s brother and sister-in-law) for an amazing prime rib dinner and more family time with Jess and Sarah and the nephews and great nieces. We’ll need to add fuel to the airplane to get back to Tampa on Wednesday.

After working on a few projects Monday we met the girls for lunch before Jess left for California early Tuesday morning. We are going to miss them – thankfully it will be a little over a month before they come to visit us in Florida.

The week went incredibly fast and we were soon packing up the few clothes we brought with, packing many pounds of treats, closing up the house again and heading for Sarah’s apartment. We stayed overnight Tuesday and took the bus 5 minutes to the airport early Wednesday morning and flew back to Tampa.

We were incredibly lucky that our Minnesota friends Cliff and Caroline were in Tampa and driving home to Minnesota so they offered to pick us up at the airport and drive us back to Steinhatchee – an offer we would be insane not to accept. We had a blast catching up on all their news and sharing some of our adventures with them. They hope to do the Loop sometime in the future so they really appreciate the adventure we are on. After a long scenic drive (including stops at two West Marines and, of course, a Walmart), we capped the evening with a late dinner of chicken wings sitting at one of the picnic tables along the waterfront at Sea Hag Marina. We said goodbye and loaded all our piles of stuff onto Aurora and crashed a little lower in the water but happy to be home.

Planes, Buses and Automobiles

Day 76: Monday, November 19, 2012

Port to Port: Steinhatchee, Florida to Mound, Minnesota

Underway: 5:15 am      Motor Off: 10:30 pm      Miles Traveled: Lots      Stayed At: Home

First Things First: First rental car of trip; saw a billboard for cow manure; first buffet lunch; first time flying to our “dirt” home.

Mile to Mile: In 24 hours we will ride in a car to Gainesville, ride a bus to the airport, rent a car to drive to Tampa and fly to Minneapolis. We were really lucky to get a ride 65 miles into Gainesville from Mr. Charles – a member of the family that owns the Sea Hag Marina. They make the drive frequently and he dropped us off where we only had to take one bus (instead of three) to get to the airport to get a car we could drive one way to Tampa. Amazingly less than two minutes after he left, our bus pulled up – it only runs every 65 minutes – and we were soon walking into the car rental office at the airport. It couldn’t have been any smoother. Thanks Mr. Charlie.

Our flights don’t leave till 6:40 am tomorrow so we decided to explore the Tampa area a little. We called Mike’s cousin  Elena who lives in Tampa and went out to lunch at the Golden Corral. It’s been many years since we’ve been to Florida so it was a fun visit catching up – we will visit again when we get to the Tampa area early in December. We decided to hit another beach so we drove out to Clearwater Beach and walked along the shoreline as the sun slowly set out over the Gulf.

After resting for awhile, we returned the car to the airport and camped out at Tampa International until our early morning flight. We are excited to see Jess and Sarah and everyone else back home. It will be weird going home for the first time after living on a 22 foot boat for the last 10 weeks. Wish us luck. More stories when we return next Wednesday. Aurora out.

Transition Day

Day 75: Sunday, November 18, 2012

Port to Port: Steinhatchee, Florida

Underway: 0:00 am      Motor Off: 0:00 pm      Miles Traveled: 00      Stayed At: Marina

Mile to Mile: We have a few more projects today to get the boat ready to leave at the marina for a little over a week. I worked on the fish finder/depth finder for a while trying to get it to boot up – it doesn’t seem to be getting the correct voltage. Richard from It’ll Be Alright helped with the project but we were unsuccessful so I’ll bring it home to try a couple more things. I installed a bilge pump and switch so if any water gets in the boat will remain dry. We also purged some more things we have decided we don’t need that we will bring home with us. It’ll be weird leaving our home of the past 2+ months to go home to our “dirt” house. But this is a nice safe place to leave her.

It’ll Be Alright invited us over for dinner in the evening for a great chicken and rice dish – what a wonderful sendoff. They are moving on to Tarpon Springs tomorrow and we are getting up very early to hitch a ride with Mr. Charlie from Sea Hag into Gainesville to pick up a rental car for our trip to Tampa and the airport tomorrow.

We can’t wait for a Thankgiving feast. Cindy is especially excited to have an oven so she can go on a baking/cooking marathon. I guess I better take another walk to get ready for holiday treat season.

Problem’s Solved (Mostly)

Day 74: Saturday, November 17, 2012

Port to Port: Steinhatchee, Florida

Underway: 0:00 am      Motor Off: 0:00 pm      Miles Traveled: 00      Stayed At: Marina

Mile to Mile: We have experienced the longest stretch of overcast weather – this is the fourth day without significant sun. Its getting a little old – we’re supposed to be in Florida but the temperatures back home have not been that much different than here. Just as we were getting ready to walk to town, the skies opened up and over the next hour and a half we got about a half in of rain. Thankfully, the sun decided to break through and gradually the day warmed and turned into a wonderful day in Florida.

Today was a relaxing work day. We worked on a few important boat projects. Our running lights had gone out shortly after dark on our crossing and we found that water had leaked in and blew the bow light and shorted out the fuse. We epoxied the crack in the housing, fixed the hatch latches (where it also leaked), reglued the knobs on the stovetop and tried to figure out why our depth finder had stopped working (not a good thing given how shallow this part of Florida is).

We ended the day walking down to Roy’s Restaurant where we enjoyed a nice dinner with Richard and Theresa. Only a couple days till we leave for Minnesota for Thanksgiving. Exciting and strange at the same time.

Party Time

Day 73: Friday, November 16, 2012

Port to Port: Steinhatchee, Florida

Underway: 0:00 am      Motor Off: 0:00 pm      Miles Traveled: 00      Stayed At: Marina

Mile to Mile: After spending yesterday drying out and recouping from our bumpy crossing, we decided have some fun today. Time for an ebleskiver party. We invited outselves to It’ll Be Alright for brunch – we brought the batter for ebelskivers (round danish pancakes), fruit, juice and bacon and we borrowed their stovetop and spacious salon table for our little get together. A wonderful time was had by all. By the time we left, not a single round pancake was left on the plate.

It’ll Be Alright was lucky they decided to stop and anchor outside Steinhatchee. As they were motoring slowly into the marina, they noticed a vibration in their drive system. They remember seeing some pieces of stryofoam floating out in back of their boat just before dark last night but hadn’t noticed anything wrong as they pounded into the waves. In the calm channel, the vibration was very noticeable. They luckily were able to find a diver in the area who could come to look at their shaft and prop. He showed up just before we had brunch and spent a total of 3 minutes underwater diagnosing the problem. He popped up with a long tightly curled chunk of black poly line hooked to a short piece of plastic that used to be stuck through the middle of a foam float. Thankfully, he found and removed the problem – they had run over one of the thousands of crab floats scattered all over the west coast of Florida and snagged the line which wrapped around their prop shaft. It took him much longer to prep his dive equipment and get ready to dive in the murky river water. If they had continued to Tarpon Springs they may have done significant damage to the shaft bearings or may have had to get towed a very long ways to get it removed. They made a very good decision.

Making a living is a challenge in these Old Florida towns. There aren’t many major manufacturers located this far off the beaten track. People sometimes have multiple jobs or need to be very creative in how they make a living. In addition to the many service jobs, people make a living guiding fisherman out into the Gulf, commercial fishing or shrimping, crabbing, shucking oysters, diving to fix boats and even filleting the thousands of fish caught by sportsman every year. If there is a tough job to do, you can usually find someone skilled and willing to do that job in these small relatively remote towns.

We ended the day the same way we started the day – eating. We brought chips and cheese over to It’ll Be Alright and had nacho and movie night. A relaxing way to end our second day in Steinhatchee, Florida.

A Welcome Sight

Day 72: Thursday, November 15, 2012

Port to Port: Steinhatchee, Florida

Underway: 0:00 am      Motor Off: 0:00 pm      Miles Traveled: 00      Stayed At: Marina

Mile to Mile: I woke early to a cool foggy morning – but the boat was still floating, we were tied to a dock that wasn’t moving and sunlight was coming through the light fog and overcast sky. A very welcome sight. I walked a couple miles into town to scope out where we could stay until we go home for Thanksgiving and to find a hot cup of coffee. The “marina” we found last night is just some docks in front of a nearly empty condo building. Many of the slips are actually just framing the mud flats since it is now nearly low tide. Not a pretty sight but at least Aurora isn’t sitting on the bottom.

I found some coffee, arranged for a slip at the Sea Hag Marina and walked back to the boat to get Cindy up and motor Aurora over to our new home for at least the next several weeks. The Sea Hag Marina looks like a fun place to hang out for a while. And we will have friends here – It’ll Be Alright” motored in to the marina in the afternoon after waiting for high tide to navigate the shallow entrance up the river.

Although overcast for most of the day, we removed most of the cushions and other items that got wet in the crossing and spread them out on deck. We looked like a laundry barge again. We were able to arrange to do a couple loads of laundry – a welcome opportunity since we had two bags of wet and/or dirty clothes. We even had time to wander into town about a mile and a half away to scope out the grocery store, hardware store and restaurants.

Steinhatchee is another example of old Florida. Recreational fishing and tourism help it survive. Plus many people probably commute into Gainesville about an hour away. Although there are a few newer condo/marina complexes (mostly they seem empty) along the riverfront, most buildings are old and in varying states of repair. Just perfect for exploring and picture taking expeditions. We even found a hole-in-the-wall BBQ place that sure smelled good as we walked by on the way to the hardware store. We can’t wait to try out the local cuisine.

Rock and Roll

Day 71: Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Port to Port: Carabbelle to Steinhatchee, Florida

Underway: 0:00 am      Motor Off: 0:00 pm     Miles Traveled: 90+     Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: First night passage.

Mile to Mile: Close your eyes and imagine driving into 3-4 foot rollers with a 5+ footer thrown in just for the fun of it – all aiming straight at you every 3-4 seconds. Throw in some salty spray, lots of new noises, no lights anywhere you look beyond your little boat and the wind whistling through the stays. This was definitely a memorable day – one that we don’t care to repeat anytime soon.

We left early as expected. The weather was supposed to moderate after noon and become a moderate to light winds overnight. The first thing we saw as we were leaving was a large powerboat sitting tipped to the side high and dry on a mud flat just a few feet off the main channel – someone had not considered the large tidal changes and ended up stuck until the next high tide. Not a good omen I guess.

Today was a good example of how hard it is to decide whether to go or stay. We did our homework. All the weather sources we considered said conditions would be okay for a crossing – the best opening for at least 4 days. Other boaters who we considered very experienced and conservative also left the same day. The only outlier was James from C-Quarters Marina. He has a lot of experience on the Gulf. We saw him as we were leaving and he said that if the leaves on the palm tree in front of the marina were moving that we should wait for a different day. Well, the leaves were moving – just a bit – but they were moving. We should have listened to James. Everyone who crossed was beat up by the waves – especially as they turned southeast and got slewed around by the waves coming from the north and northeast. Seasickness, turned over furniture and lots of wood-knocking was going on for the next 25+ hours.

We had to keep going east to take the waves on the bow as turning more south gave Aurora a hard to control motion. The most disconcerting part was when it got dark – there was no moon, no stars, no lights and no horizon – just blackness everywhere outside the boundary of our boat and our running lights. Yikes. We were not bored for one second. Between dealing with minor problems, replotting our course, comparing notes with other boats, watching out for things to hit (like crab pots), trying to stay semi-dry and forcing ourselves to eat a little, we were kept busy just trying to make it to the next waypoint.

Aurora and Boris worked amazingly well. Aurora was only stopped dead a handful of times by large oddly spaced waves and Boris just kept puttering along as if nothing was happening at all. Before it got dark, the dolphin put on quite a show – jumping effortlessly out the back of one wave into the front of the next. They had a calming effect on us during the day. They made it look so easy. I think we had it better though, than the little sparrows we saw on occasion 25 miles from shore trying to fly into the wind just a few feet off the water – they couldn’t rest even for a few seconds. I wonder where they got their weather forecast.

Movie Clip of It’ll Be Alright Crossing the Gulf (DSCF3531)

After traveling east until well after dark we came to a decision point. We needed to turn or bailout. Our friends on It’ll Be Alright (a 44’ C&C) were also getting beat up and decided to anchor outside of Steinhatchee – our original planned destination. We needed to turn south or go into port at night – both difficult decisions. We were tired, damp, Cindy was borderline nauseous and we still had 20+ hours to go to get to Tarpon Springs. We would not get there until dark – not a good thing after not sleeping for that many hours. We decided to go to Steinhatchee.

You don’t know how relieved we were to finally see the green flashing buoy marking the end of the Steinhatchee channel – the first sign of civilization we had seen since the sun set. We soon saw a single white light off to the south – It’ll Be Alright’s anchor light. It seemed to take forever to get there but we finally started down the long channel into Steinhatchee dodging the many unlit markers in between the lighted ones and we finally arrived in calm water and at a dock a little after midnight. Never has a pelican-poop covered dock been so welcome a sight. We tied up, hugged each other, and went immediately to sleep. We survived to sail another day.

It’s Go Time

Day 70: Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Port to Port: Carabbelle, Florida

Underway: 0:00 am      Motor Off: 0:00 pm      Miles Traveled: 00      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: Saw first baby manta ray – caught by someone off the marina dock.

Mile 381 to Mile 381: It looks like a weather window may open tomorrow and Thursday so everyone is nervously prepping themselves and their boats for the trip from Carabbelle to Tarpon Springs. We had originally planned to go almost straight east to Steinhatchee – a shorter and more manageable trip for our small boat – but have decided to try to go direct to Tarpon Springs. Both routes will require overnight passages and the direct route will save at least a week of additional Gulf travel (or more depending on the weather windows) and avoid cruising in and out of several shallow water ports along the remote Big Bend part of northwestern Florida.

We took a break from boat projects and went to lunch at The Fishermans Wife with friends from Blue Angel and Northstar. Amazing food. I had the shrimp basket with hushpuppies. Can you guess what Cindy had for lunch? Later in the afternoon, we splurged and had the best strawberry shake of the trip at Carabbelle Junction. We enjoyed chatting with the owner earlier in the week. He had a restaurant in downtown San Francisco (where Jessie works) for many years and somehow ended up relocating to Carabbelle, Florida.

After several trips to the hardware store, gas station and grocery store we completed our boat prep projects before dark and met for one more planning session/happy hour at the Moorings. We would be leaving first since we travel slower and need as much daylight as possible. It will be nice to have other people passing us during the passage and, although they will arrive much earlier than we will, at least we won’t be alone for the entire 30+ hours of the passage. Our final weather check will be at 6:00 am tomorrow with Buddy at the Moorings who will give a final assessment of the weather forecast for our planned route. This will be the most difficult passage of our entire trip – hopefully the weather will cooperate.


A Nice Mix of Work and Fun

Day 69: Monday, November 12, 2012

Port to Port: Carabbelle, Florida

Underway: 0:00 am      Motor Off: 0:00 pm      Miles Traveled: 00      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: First visit to the beach.

Mile 381 to Mile 381: The day dawned bright and sunny and, although it seems calm at the marina, the Gulf is windy and has a moderate chop. Our list of projects has grown to more than 20 items which need to be done before we leave so today is a “work” day.

On the first of many trips to the hardware store, we met Jim and Sharon on Blue Angel – Cindy overheard them talking to someone on the phone about their plans for making the Gulf crossing so we introduced ourselves and chatted for awhile. They invited us to happy hour this afternoon at the Moorings – a marina a few blocks up river from C-Quarters. The work of the Looper is never done.

We decided to knock off a critical item on our list – “Go to the beach” – right away in the morning to take advantage of the beautiful weather. We haven’t had the chance to explore any of the amazing beaches we have passed over the last couple of weeks so we need to fit this in even though it isn’t really an important boat project. The closest beach was 3 miles away so we hiked out the other end of town towards the beach. One thing you notice in most towns we have visited is the complete lack of walking paths or sidewalks. Walking is not encouraged and, in fact, we can tell other boaters a mile away because we are usually the only ones walking anywhere. We feel much more vulnerable walking along the edge of a busy road than anything we have done on the boat.

We finally reached the beach and it was well worth the trip – a nice white sand beach stretched out in both directions with only one person fishing and a couple of kids playing in the sand. Schools of dolphin cruised by well offshore. We met Cody who was fishing with his son. In just a few minutes he pulled in the cutest little baby hammerhead shark and a few minutes later he pulled in another shark about 18 inches long and, even though it was a baby, it was not happy being dragged out of the ocean and it bit down on Cody’s finger hard and drew blood. He was kept busy going from one pole to the other. His son was having a blast.

On the walk home, we noticed a couple walking on the other side of the road and we started chatting. We quickly learned Eddy and Linda (on Spiritus) were Loopers too (remember, boaters are the only ones we ever see walking anywhere) and that they had already heard about us from Jim and Sharon on Blue Angel who are parked right in front of them at the Moorings. They will be stopping by at docktails later in the afternoon. (This is of course a critical item on our to do list since we will be spending at least a little time discussing the options for crossing the Gulf).

Some of the boat projects we need to get done include getting a couple more gas cans to increase our range, installing some safety lines, fixing the dinghy, finding our harnesses, plotting our course and monitoring the weather. Even though Aurora is small, there always seems to be something that can be made better, stronger, safer or easier. Perfection is a moving target.

More Old Florida

Day 68: Sunday, November 11, 2012

Port to Port: Apalachicola to Carabbelle, Florida

Underway: 7:55 am      Motor Off: 1:45 pm      Miles Traveled: 31      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: First time cruising in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mile 350 to Mile 381: Today was a relatively short hop but we had our first direct experience with the Gulf of Mexico. This part of Apalachicola Bay and St. Georges Sound is somewhat protected by barrier islands to the south and east but it still is big water with a long fetch. Conditions at the Marina were calm but as we motored into the Bay a steady breeze built right on our nose out of the northeast and a moderate chop slowed our progress all morning. Aurora and Boris pounded through it without much complaint (and the dolphins that regularly greeted us enjoyed zooming through the waves with seemingly no effort) but we were relieved when we finally turned into the channel for Carabbelle and entered more protected waters.

We stopped at C-Quarters Marina for the day – a classic old school marina with a large covered deck facing the water, a semi-permanent group of locals with beers in their hands discussing the important topics of the day and a line of rocking chairs just made for relaxing after a bumpy ride on the Bay. We parked next to “2 If By Sea” and met our other neighbor Larry on Champ 3 and Candy – a friendly and beautiful lab – as we pulled into our slip.

Carabbelle is another “Old Florida” town with a lot of history and an interesting mix of old and new – like Apalachicola, fishing and tourism help the town survive. The two most important stores for cruisers – the grocery store and hardware store – were only a block or two away and well stocked with all the essentials we need. We wandered around town for a while and went to the grocery store to get a few things for dinner. The weather doesn’t look good for a crossing in the next few days – too windy – so we will likely be hanging out in Carabbelle for as long as needed to get a good weather window.

We have a lot of projects to get done before we will be ready for our Gulf crossing. Those rocking chairs look like a nice place to chill while researching the weather and routes for crossing the Gulf. Our work is never done.

Back To The Gulf

Day 67: Saturday, November 10, 2012

Port to Port: Wetappo Creek to Apalachicola Bay

Underway: 6:58 am   Motor Off: 2:44 pm (EST)    Miles Traveled: 36   Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: First frost; first new time zone of the trip.

Mile 314 to Mile 350 : We felt like we woke up in Minnesota this morning. We had our first frost of the trip with a nice coating on the grill cover and cockpit seats. The temperature in the cabin was in the high 40’s which made getting up a little slow but we added an extra layer or two and got going early again on another beautiful travel day.

A light fog made the morning light sparkle brightly over the surrounding scenery. After we started down the main channel, the fog gradually thickened until it became hard to see the sides of the narrow channel. Even though the odds of meeting another boat were slim this early in the morning, we decided to anchor along the channel to let the fog burn off.

Compared to the last couple of days, today was an easy day – “only” 36 miles to Scipio Creek Marina. We spent almost all day traveling through a narrow manmade canal. We enjoyed the closeness of the scenery on both sides of the canal. The scenery is inspiring. There are thousands of photo worthy scenes going by every hour – water birds patiently looking for their next meal, wind sculpted trees hanging on to the cliffs by just a few stubborn roots, open grasslands just past the tree lined banks and the crumpled remnants of old manmade structures – most go by too fast to capture even though we only travel at less than 6 mph but we enjoy the view while it lasts.

One thing that we need to keep remembering in this age of GPS is that even though we can be pretty confident of where we are, that doesn’t mean that the chart is perfectly accurate (many navigation charts are stamped “Not to Be Used for Navigation”). We were passing through Lake Wimico going from buoy to buoy down the marked channel and noticed that the water color changed suddenly to a light brown. The depth read less than 3 feet as we passed over an unexpected shoal. Luckily, Aurora needs less than this to be safe but it was a little exciting for a few minutes hoping the depth would not get any shallower. We also passed into the eastern time zone so, after turning the clocks back a few days ago with the end of daylights savings time, we flipped them back to “normal” time again. For some reason we like the idea of it getting dark at 6:00 pm versus 5:00 pm.

By early afternoon, we arrived at the Scipio Creek Marina at Apalachicola just a little up river from the Gulf of Mexico and the beginning of a new phase of our adventure – crossing the Gulf to the east coast of Florida.

Apalachicola is a quaint little “old Florida” town – part fishing village and part tourist destination. We wandered around town to scope out the shops, restaurants and scenery. We may be here for a few days waiting for a good weather window to travel up Apalachicola Bay to Carabbelle or we may leave early tomorrow morning – you never know what the next day will bring.

We are always on the lookout for other cruisers who may be good sources of local knowledge to make our passages easier and safer. When some people returned to a powerboat with a Looper flag moored across from us, I of course went over to introduce myself and learn more about their adventures. Within minutes of our first meeting, Alan and Jean on “2 If By Sea” (we love that boat name) invited me in and shared some of their vast experience with navigating the Intracoastal Waterway and especially the challenges of crossing the Gulf. They have been cruising the Loop for many years and were very generous with their experiences.

The weather tomorrow looks like it will be good for our relatively short passage to Carabbelle so we made dinner and prepared to leave in the morning – we are only one step away from our big jump across the Gulf.


Day 66: Friday, November 9, 2012

Port to Port: West Bay Creek to Wetappo Creek (North Prong)

Underway: 6:57 am     Motor Off: 4:20 pm      Miles Traveled: 46     Stayed At: Anchor

First Things First: First fishing license of the trip; saw our first jelly fish; first big problem with no-see-ums.

Mile 268 to Mile 314: Brrr! We woke up to chilly temps this morning. The outside thermometer read 36˚ in the early morning sun and 44˚ inside the cabin.  With great travel weather we tackled another big water passage 35 miles across West Bay and East Bay of St. Andrews Bay. Today was another perfect travel day – we have been very lucky with weather windows for this part of the ICW.

We had planned to stop at Panama City Marina for the day but it was only late morning when we arrived so we just stopped to get gas, a fishing license and a Klondike Bar. Well worth the stop.

Time goes slow on these big bay passages. It’s usually a long distance between buoys and the shoreline is too far away to use as a measure of progress. We are motivated to get these big bays done though when conditions are good so we keep motoring along for hours aiming for the end of the bay where there are several potential anchorages. We still had lots of daylight left so we kept going up the channel to a nice protected anchorage at the North Prong of Wetappo Creek.

We lucked out on tidal changes today. It’s a challenge to figure out expected tidal changes way up these canals. High tide might be hours later upstream compared to high tide at the pass where the ocean enters the big bays. Plus, unless you’re willing to wait for the tide to change to a favorable direction, there isn’t anything you can do anyways. Today we were lucky. In the morning we caught the tail end of the high tide that allowed us to travel at 6.5 mph down Wetappo Creek and into West Bay. We passed by Panama City at slack tide and benefited from the incoming tide as we headed up the East Bay (pure luck).

While we were cruising through East Bay we passed by Tyndal Air Force Base to the south on the barrier island. We were treated to another private air show with multiple jet fighters practicing formation flying, take-offs and landings. It’s amazing to see them rocket straight into the sky until they almost disappear.

After a long and productive day we motored up the canal and turned up the North Prong of Wetappo Creek to anchor for the night. As the sun began to set, we made dinner just as the no-see-ums came out in force. We’ve been very lucky as this has been our first really bad experience with bugs on the entire trip. The sunset cast a beautiful light on the surrounding swamp grass and tree-lined channel. The bugs were a minor price to pay to enjoy this view.






Day 65: Thursday, November 8, 2012

Port to Port: Fort Walton Beach to West Bay Creek

Underway: 7:20 am     Motor Off: 3:33 pm      Miles Traveled: 45      Stayed At: Anchor

First Things First: First live ammunition bombing practice.

Mile 223 to Mile 268: Finally we have been able to get moving again. It was cold this morning – MN cold actually – with temps only a few degrees above freezing – brrr. What’s the deal – we’re supposed to be in Florida.

Fort Walton Beach was an interesting stop but since we were staying at a free city dock without security we had to do everything separately. It doesn’t take many days to run out of interesting things to do or see in these small towns especially when you are transportation challenged (no car, bus or bike). I spent a lot of time at the library though catching up on the blog (again) and charging all of our technology the quick and easy way (Ipad, Macbook, camera batteries, GPS hotspot and phones).

We got a hold of Bruce on Tango today. We wanted to find out where he was to see if doing the Gulf crossing together would work out. We misplaced his email so I had to be creative in reconnecting – first choice is ask Google. So I searched “Bruce”, “Tango” and “Sailboat” to see if I would get lucky. Believe it or not, the first hit was a blog by a pastor who did 1600 miles of the Great Loop on sabbatical earlier this year who had travelled with and written about Bruce on his blog. So I found the pastors email (Google again) and sent him a note explaining our situation. Surprisingly, he emailed us back the same day with Bruce’s email address. He sent another email later with Bruce’s telephone number. Amazing (and a little scary) it’s that easy to track someone down. Bruce is at least 4 good travel days behind us which translates into at least a week or more just to catch up to us here. We’ll keep in touch but we may be crossing the Gulf alone or with another boat we meet along the way.

We crossed Choctawhatchee Bay today. Conditions were perfect for a crossing – calm to light chop, sunny, no boat traffic and occasional dolphin visits to break the boredom. Choctawhatchee Bay is bordered on the north side by a huge military training base – Elgin Air Force Base – which was entertaining to say the least. Fighter jet flyovers were a common sight – we never get tired watching, hearing and feeling them fly by, over and around us. Its always awe inspiring to see what those pilots and planes can do.

We experienced a new twist too. We were motoring along minding our own business when suddenly there was a loud thump and boom. I was driving and my first thought was that I had hit something. We looked around trying to figure out what had happened and noticed off to the north a large plume of black smoke – someone had just blown something up using live ammunition on the Air Force base. Wow! This happened intermittently all afternoon – more free entertainment I guess.

After a long 30+ mile big water cruise across Choctawatchee Bay we finally reached the far east end where we entered a narrow channel leading us through a remote and scenic part of the ICW. This part of the ICW is called the “Little Grand Canyon” because the banks of the channel are high and steep with trees just hanging on for dear life at the top lip of the banks. We really like the river and channel passages better than the open water – time seems to pass faster and we can see our progress easier than when navigating big bays.

We had another busy day on the ICW – in 44 miles of travel we saw a total of 4 other boats. We still can’t believe how quiet it has been on the water. We’re not complaining though – just amazed that we have all this water and great scenery to ourselves most of the time.

We are thankful to be doing this trip now versus even a few years ago. The resources available online for planning this kind of trip are amazing. One extremely useful website is call Active Captain. Anyone traveling on the Loop can share information about interesting places, towns, anchorages and marinas in an online database that anyone can search and use. You can even overlay this data on a chart to easily see fun things to do and safe places to stay along your exact route. It’s kind of like Wikipedia for cruisers. In the “old days” you had to depend on finding local knowledge to find this information. We are using this information to help us plan every leg of the trip.

After a long and enjoyable cruise we decided to anchor for the night in a narrow little river inlet called West Bay Creek – its very well protected but only about 5’ deep – perfect for Aurora. Hopefully the tide won’t go down too much farther overnight – we don’t want to get stuck until the next high tide (this happens to cruisers more often than you would expect). Another quiet and peaceful night on the ICW.





Day 64: Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Underway: 0:00 am      Motor Off: 0:00 pm      Miles Traveled: 00      Stayed At: City Dock

Mile 223 to Mile 223: We are still in Fort Walton Beach. The wind is even stronger today than yesterday. Deciding when to go and when to stay is probably the most difficult decision we have to make each day. We can’t wait for perfection – we would never get anywhere and yet it is much safer and more enjoyable to have comfortable travel conditions. The second most difficult decision is where to stay. It needs to be safe but we also need at least one or two backup options in case the weather changes and we need to bail out or change our plans. We can’t just pull over to the side of the road and wait it out.

One advantage of being somewhat disconnected and not watching TV at all is we haven’t been driven insane by the political ads this season. We have had a few robocalls on the cell phones but otherwise have been wonderfully oblivious to the continuous barrage.

Cindy has been enjoying all the downtime reading ebooks on her new Nook. I came back to the boat after dark yesterday and she was snuggled in the v-berth reading in the dark. She has read more books in the last few weeks than she read the previous 20 years. She just hasn’t had free time to read. She only “read” on her commute by listening to audiobooks. I have been loading 2-3 books per week to keep her well stocked with material. She still hasn’t taken time for a nap though. Maybe tomorrow if we are still here.