Happy Halloween

Day 56: Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Underway: 7:25 am      Motor Off: 1:55 pm      Miles Traveled: 35      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: First Halloween on the boat; first flocks of shore birds; first ocean going ships; first salty tasting spray; first bird poop on the boat; first time navigating by gps and compass headings; first night with noticeable rolling and banging due to the seas coming into the harbor.

Mile 16 to Mile 0+19 miles across Mobile Bay: What a juxtaposition between where we were this morning and where we are now. We were in the wilderness (right next to a highway) in the middle of a cypress swamp and now we are on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. We were sad to leave the peace and quiet of the river to return to the hussle and bussle of Mobile, Alabama with all the tug and boat traffic, river front industry and big ships. The wide open spaces of Mobile Bay was also a striking change compared to what we have been used to lately. But our phones work so I guess that is a good thing.

Our trip to Mobile Bay was quiet, beautiful (I took probably 100 pictures along the way), and way too quick. Passing by Mobile was fascinating with all the ships and shipping related businesses along the waterfront. Mile 0 was a pretty cool milestone. We completed the river system and now will be in the ocean, along the intracoastal waterway for the next half year or more.

The trip across Mobile Bay was a little stressful at first since we left the shipping lane and cut diagonally across the Bay for Eastern Shore Marina. No buoys to mark the way – just a compass heading and a chart to keep track of where we are going. Mobile Bay is an average of only 10’ deep so it’s a little nerve wracking even for a shallow draft boat like ours. We even sailed part of the way and let Boris rest a while. The predicted winds were supposed to be from the west but of course they were coming out of the southeast and made for a decent chop. Aurora handled it all really well with only a random spray of salt water coming over the bow but never getting us wet in the cockpit.

We arrived at Eastern Shore Marina early in the afternoon in time to relax and explore the nearby town of Fairhope (look it up – it has an interesting history). We lucked out that somebody cancelled their reservation for the courtesy car so we were able to wander around town, look at (but don’t buy) the stuff in some of the shops, have an early dinner at an empty restaurant, and hit Walmart to restock our cupboards (plastic bins). It was weird (but fun) to see people dressed in costumes and all the Halloween decorations.

One advantage of being on the Gulf is the temperatures – its warmer here than we’ve had lately. Our destination tomorrow is Barber Marina near Orange Beach to visit our friends on Rumpshaker – that should be a fun excuse for a boat party or two – we can’t wait.

Patiently Waiting

Day 55: Tuesday, October 30, 2012

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

First Things First: Cindy made Halloween treats on the boat – almond bark dipped cashews and almonds – addicting.

Mile 16 to Mile 16: Another slow day. We couldn’t leave today – the wind is still kicking up some big waves on Mobile Bay. We put the boat back together so we are ready to leave. We went for a long relaxing walk. Cindy made some treats for Halloween. We fixed a few things. We haven’t taken a nap yet though.

One advantage of being in a remote marina is you can’t spend any money – no restaurants, no Walmarts, and no malls. That makes for cheap living – as long as we don’t run out of food (not likely).

We are starting to learn patience finally. This will be good practice for other difficult open water crossings later on the Great Loop. We’ll try to wait for that light chop forecast. Right now it may not be until Thursday. We’ll see tomorrow morning.

A Windy Work Day

Day 54: Monday, October 29, 2012

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

Mile 16 to Mile 16: Today is a work day. I sat up at a real table in a real chair in the main park building for more than four hours today working on uploading pictures, writing and uploading blog posts up through yesterday. It’s a lot of work but its worth it. Cindy worked on a few projects and then sat at the table and read a book on her new Nook.

We are just patiently waiting for a good weather window on Mobile Bay. Maybe Wednesday the way it looks. We’ll see. Its quiet and peaceful here and we keep meeting nice people so we are not suffering any. We are just getting ready to be on our way.

Anchors Away

Day 53: Sunday, October 28, 2012

Underway: At Marina      Motor Off: At Marina      Miles Traveled: 00      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: Saw our first palm trees; ate our first Satsuma oranges (the area is famous for them).

Mile 16 to Mile 16: Today was a work day – at least it started out that way. It’s still too windy to leave for Mobile Bay so, after making cinnamon rolls and some blueberry muffins for breakfast (in our camping oven), we started on our project list. We cleared the decks by unloading the big anchor, the extra gas cans, the dinghy, the dinghy floor, and the extra motor so we could scrub the boat and test the dinghy. We assembled the dinghy for the first time since the beginning of the trip and tested the motor for the first time ever. The motor worked great but water was leaking in fast by the stern floor seam on the dinghy. Not a good thing. After drying the dinghy out we tried to seal some obvious problems with some marine caulk. Hopefully that will slow it down. The front tube also still leaks air so we will try to track this down later.

We scrubbed the decks and pretty soon Aurora almost sparkled in the bright sunshine (I took pictures to prove it). We were finishing up our boat projects when we met Billy – he lives near the marina and has a small Bay Liner power boat two slips down from us. He volunteered to take us into town anytime we needed to go – he was just puttering around – which was a really nice offer. He was also interested in the Big Anchor and chain for his sailboat. He also said he might have a smaller anchor we could use as a backup main anchor. We enjoyed chatting for almost an hour and learned about some cool places to stop along the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway– we are definitely not going to get to Tampa by boat before our flights in late November. Billy has lived in the area for many years and has been involved in a number of businesses including owning marinas, real estate, restaurants and many other entrepreneurial activities.

Billy came back later in the afternoon as we were finishing lunch and getting ready to do laundry. He wanted to buy the anchor and invited us back to his house (which we had walked right by on our long walk yesterday) to check out his anchor collection to see if one might work for us. Well, our work day quickly turned into another great adventure and we ended up spending the rest of the day and evening visiting with Billy and his wife Sandy sharing stories, craft ideas, recipes, Satsuma oranges (amazing), wine and dinner (Cindy made ebleskivers which were a big hit).

It was fun to spend time at their beautiful home. Their house, which faces a large private lake, has a covered deck all the way around the house. The inside was beautifully decorated and decked out in fall/Halloween decorations – we miss this part of being in a “real” home. It was a very relaxing afternoon. We left late in the evening with full tummys, a bag of fresh pecans, a dozen Satsuma oranges (from one of their own trees), a small anchor, a long list of must-see places to visit, a bunch of great stories, some new friends and minus one big anchor. I wish all work days turned out this fun.

A Lunch Time Adventure

Day 52: Saturday, October 27, 2012

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

First Things First: Enjoyed our first shrimp Po-Boy sandwiches in Creola, Alabama; saw first armadillo (roadkill on side of road).

Mile 16 to Mile 16: The day dawned cloudy, cool and windy and stayed that way all day. We thought it would be fun to go into Mobile and explore but we struck out trying to get a car from the local Enterprise office (they will come and pick you up which is nice when you don’t have any transportation). They were out of cars so we went to Plan B.

We wandered around the park – they have a nice walkway along the river and a small scenic pond in the middle of the campground part of the park. A brochure in the park office advertised a local restaurant called the Louisiana Cajun Market and Deli that had a variety of southern specialties including Po-Boy sandwiches. Well, I somehow convinced Cindy that we could walk there even though it was almost 6 miles away (she really wanted a Po-Boy I guess). Well, we hadn’t left the parking lot before someone visiting the park stopped to ask if we wanted a ride – we decided to take him up on his offer and invited him to join us for lunch. We had a wonderful time learning about him –his name is also Mike – and his family and eating our amazing fried shrimp po-boy’s with lettuce and tomato on toasted buns. Mike has two daughters – a 21 year old and a 10 year old – plus 2 young grandkids he is incredibly proud of. Now that is an adventure. We also met the owner of the restaurant and he shared some samples of his other specialties – we have never really tried Cajun foods. What a great experience.

Mike offered to drive us back to the marina but we really wanted to get some exercise – we needed to work off those huge sandwiches. Before we said our goodbyes, Mike gave us a chunk of heavy cypress “for protection” and to use as a walking stick. It’s reassuring when you know other people are looking out for you. Thanks Mike, good luck on your future adventures.

It was a long but scenic walk back to the marina. Except for a few barking dogs, we felt very safe and enjoyed the sights along the way. We were thankful that Mike gave us a ride there though because we were tired when we got back and just relaxed and read until it was time for bed. Another day full of pleasant and unplanned surprises on the Great Loop.

A Scenic Detour

Day 51: Friday, October 26, 2012

Underway: 7:48 am    Motor Off: 4:55 pm    Miles Traveled: 37 (+)    Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: First time at a free dock at a marina; first time “getting lost”.

Mile 53 to Mile 16: For Saturday, winds 18-22 knots, rough. For Sunday, winds 20-28 knots, rough. For Monday, winds 18-27 knots, rough. That was the weather forecast that greeted us this morning. A strong cold front is moving through the area and bringing lots of wind but surprisingly (and thankfully) no rain or storms. We aren’t going to be able to make it to the Eastern Shores Marina before Mobile Bay gets too rough for us so we are going to head for Dead Lake Marina – its actually called the River Delta Marina now – to wait for the wind to die down to a light chop so we can safely cross Mobile Bay to our next marina. Its only about 10 miles on the Bay but we don’t want to be surfing down 8 or 9 foot waves on our little boat – ever.

The day was perfect for traveling – again – and we enjoyed a sunny, hot and fast run down the Mobile River toward the Big Bayou Canot where we needed to turn for the marina. The first sign of our return to civilization was the “Dolly Parton Bridge” which crosses the Mobile River at Mile 21. Can you guess why it has such a unique local nickname? This is the first bridge in 70+ miles so it was a welcome sight. We also got a good phone signal so we used the opportunity to make a couple of calls, download some charts for Mobile Bay and invent a new word – telowing.

Telowing: verb – the act of wallowing in one area to try to take advantage of a good telephone signal to make phone calls or use the internet. To telow.

After driving around in circles for a half hour (telowing) to finish our business, we continued down the river towards our turn up the Big Bayou Canot at Mile 16. We had instructions on how to get to the marina from Rumpshaker but we made a wrong turn and ended up on a curvy (and scenic) 5 mile detour down the Big Bayou Canot before we figured out our mistake. We didn’t have a chart for this part of the river on the Ipad but we finally learned that our 10+ year old handheld GPS actually showed where we were and where we were supposed to be so we turned around and retraced our steps back to our wrong turn and went another 5 miles north to our final destination. This last 5 miles was well worth the effort though since it proved to be one of the most scenic parts of our entire trip – the river traveled through a beautiful cypress swamp with lots of water birds, Spanish moss and old cypress trees. No alligators yet, though.

After traveling 37 official miles and 15+ unofficial miles, we finally arrived at our home for the next several days where we are going to hang out until the winds die down and we can finally say we have arrived at the Gulf of Mexico. It looks like it will be a nice place to spend a few days chillin’ – a lot more comfortable than hanging on an anchor somewhere for three or four days with no electricity, water, bathrooms or access to shore. Thank you Rumpshaker, Lauren’s Grace, Eagle One and Mo for looking out for us. We are safe and sound and looking forward to exploring our new home for the next few days.

A Lucky Coincidence

Day 50: Thursday, October 25, 2012

Underway: 7:15 am      Motor Off: 3:20 pm      Miles Traveled: 47      Stayed At: Anchor

First Things First: Saw a raccoon swimming across the river (thought it was an alligator at first); saw several wild turkeys along the shoreline.

Mile 100 to Mile 53: Wow – Day 50! It seems like we left Minnesota forever ago. But it hasnt been two month yet.

We have been really lucky with this long stretch of great travel days. Today was no different with bright warm sunshine and a quiet river just waiting for us to travel. We left early today to try to make some miles and had perfect conditions all day. We passed the 1,500-mile mark about 2:30 pm at Mile 56 – we are so close and have come so far.

The scenery is changing gradually with more cypress and lots of Spanish moss with very little industry, light traffic and no houses at all. This is a remote but beautiful section of the Great Loop. We are thoroughly enjoying the solitude.

We were surprised to hear someone call us on the radio later in the afternoon and it was our friends on Lauren Grace – they were about 8 miles behind us. They suggested we stay at the Alabama River Cutoff and that sounded like a great plan (and a good excuse for another boat-tail get together later). So we soon turned up the Alabama River and found a calm, protected spot to anchor, relax and make dinner while we waited for our friends on Lauren Grace and Eagle One to join us.

We joined Jim and Sue (Eagle One) and Larry and Theresa on Lauren Grace for another great info session and gabfest. Since we had seen them two days ago, Sue had called a fellow traveler they know – Mo – who usually has her sailboat at the Dead Lake Marina – to see if that would be a good place for us to stay. (By chance, we had been considering this option already based on a recommendation from Rumpshaker who randomly found the marina on their trip downriver as they were looking for a place to get their dogs to shore – an odd but welcome coincidence). Well, Mo is on her boat exploring the Gulf until December so she kindly offered to let us stay in her slip at the marina while we wait out the forecast cold front/wind that will force us to hang out for a while. We will be safe and secure for as long as we need to wait for a good weather window. Thank you everyone for looking out for us – we appreciate it immensely and so do our families back home.

Tony To The Rescue

Day 49: Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Underway: 7:58 am      Motor Off: 3:26 pm      Miles Traveled: 23      Stayed At: Anchor

First Things First: First time fossil hunting; first time anchoring along shore and swinging the boat over close enough to step on off in about 1 foot of water; first deserted marina.

Mile 123 to Mile 100: Today was a leisurely day. We started after the fog burned off and cruised a few miles downstream to Bobby’s Fish Camp. If we had been able to get a phone signal and internet, we would have stayed overnight there but we couldn’t get anything there. No phone. No internet. No gas. Not a live person anywhere to be found. They have a sign telling people to call a phone number but that only works if you have a phone that has a signal. Neither of ours had any bars. I tried walking a little over a mile up the hill to get to a highway but still had no service. So I walked back to get the gas cans and decided to walk back up to a house by the road to see if I could use their phone or, if they weren’t home, to hitch a ride to the town about 4 miles away. Luckily Tony happened to be driving towards Bobby’s to do some business and he offered to drive me to town to get gas. And he waited till I was done to give me a ride back. And he stopped at a different place so I could get the ice I forgot to buy at the first place. And he gave Cindy a nice visor (she has been wanting one for along time so she can get the hair normally under her hat to bleach out to a nice grey/blonde depending on how you look at it). He saved the day. I had heard of other people waiting for 4 hours or more before someone showed up at Bobby’s. It’s a slow time of the year but they need a better system to service their customers. We were able to get gassed up and head down the river to our next anchorage before lunch. Thank you Tony. You went above and beyond.

After the adventure at Bobby’s, the rest of our day went smoothly. We passed through our last lock at Coffeeville and we are now at sea level (or about 5 feet about sea level right here). Wow. We now have to start planning for the tidal surge that travels up the river and will speed us up or slow us down. I thought I smelled the ocean today but it was probably just my overactive imagination. We have travelled through a total of 41 locks between St. Paul and here – 26 on the upper Mississippi, 2 on the Ohio, 2 on the Tennessee River and 11 on the Tenn –Tom. And everyone of them was an adventure (some more so than others).

We stopped at a bluff where you supposedly can find fossil sand dollars and sharks teeth. It was fun to get off the boat and just wander along the shoreline. We found some cool fossils – mostly common seashells, a trilobite type thing and what looks like a small shark tooth. I also found a large geode but it was too heavy to bring with – I have to get rid of my nice Delta anchor before I can start adding anything not edible to the boat. Cindy even had time to clean up our home and take pictures to prove it.

We had an easy cruise to our chosen anchorage for the night in a channel leading to the ruins of Old Lock 1 – a nice secluded bay above the lock made for an ideal anchorage. We were anchored early, took boat baths (could be a stray alligator in these waters) and lazed around in the warm afternoon sun.

Friends On The River

Day 48: Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Underway: 8:17 am      Motor Off: 4:20 pm      Miles Traveled: 51      Stayed At: Anchor

First Things First: I finished third book of the trip – Dove by Robin Lee Graham about his solo trip around the world on a sailboat starting at the age of 16 (forgot to mention that I finished my second book a week ago – a Clive Cussler book about his adventures finding sunken ships – and read Mash Angels on the Nook right before that).

Mile 174 to Mile 123: With perfect cruising conditions – bright sunshine, temps in the low 80’s, calm water and no traffic, we just kept driving downstream. Kind of hard to get lost except maybe in thought. The scenery was amazing. Lots of birds along the shore and circling overhead on the thermals. An occasional fish jumping. And lots of water. Even though we traveled more miles than normal, the day seemed to go really fast. We passed the 1,400 mile mark today at Mile 156. We were never bored. And we were excited to see what was around the next bend – unless it was a tow sliding its way around the corner. It’s an interesting lifestyle.

Its nice to have friends on the river. We were surprised to here someone call us on the radio late in the afternoon. It was Larry and Theresa on Lauren Grace. They were about 10+ miles behind us but had heard us giving a securaté call on the radio (a general call notifying other boats – especially tows – where we are so we aren’t surprised at one of the 270˚ corners). They suggested we stop at Okatuppa Creek anchorage (Mile 123) as a better stop than what we had planned so we took their suggestion.

They came into the anchorage following another powerboat – Eagle One – a little while after we anchored. They had traveled 90+ miles to get here today but were going to stay at anchor and rest/look for alligators for a day or two with their friends on Eagle One. As they drove by, Eagle One invited us to boat-tails and they even came over and picked us up in their hard dinghy. We met Jim and Sue (friends of Lauren Grace) who are also experienced travelers on the Loop and we shared stories and travel information. We almost feel ready to tackle the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway. Another fun day on the Great Loop Adventure.

North, East, South and West

Day 47: Monday, October 22, 2012

Underway: 10:35 am      Motor Off: 5:05 pm      Miles Traveled: 42      Stayed At: Anchor

First Things First: Ate our first fast food – McDonalds breakfast; saw our first Spanish moss hanging from the trees along the river.

Mile 216 to Mile 174: Round and round we go – watching the compass today I would swear we did a few 360˚ loops going down the river. We didn’t, of course, but we came about as close as you can. The Lower Black Warrior River has not been modified and straightened with canals and cuts like the upper part has been so we are traveling a very curvy road. I’d hate to know how many “as the crow flies” miles we traveled in 42 river miles. We are better off not knowing I think.

Sunny and 82˚. Sunny and 81˚. Sunny and 82˚. That is the forecast we heard this morning on the NOAA weather broadcast for the next several days so we need to take advantage of this perfect stretch of weather. We got a late start on another sunny, calm and perfect for traveling day. We had a couple last minute errands to do and I kept trying to sell our nice, like new, Lewmar 35 lb galvanized anchor, heavy duty stainless steel swivel and 30+ feet of heavy galvanized chain. New, this rig is probably $600-$800 so $125 would be a good bargain. Maybe one of the Loopers behind us will need a new anchor by the time they reach Florida. There are a lot of deadheads and stumps in some of those anchorages.

After an easy ride down at the Demopolis Lock and Dam, we started the next and last phase of our river journey to Mobile, Alabama. The dam here was a “hidden” or submerged dam. Water flowed over the top and, from the upper river, it looked like one of those infinite pools you see in expensive architecture magazines. You could easily mistake this for a channel and go over the dam – especially in fog or darkness (we have heard stories of this happening even in daylight). Only one more lock to go and we will be almost at sea level.

We have been really lucky with the current so far. Today we were able to get a steady 1 mph boost almost all day so we were running 7.5 mph instead of 6.5 mph. This shortens our day and helps with gas mileage – plus its fun to be going so fast on a 22’ sailboat.

One of our constant companions on this journey have been various types of water birds. For the last couple of weeks, great blue herons and white egrets have been very common. The herons seem to “own” a certain 2-3 mile stretch of river and regularly fly along their territory hunting for fish. Their call is eerie – especially at night. It makes me think of some prehistoric creature everytime I hear it. Its’ hard to describe but it would make a good horror movie sound track.

After a beautiful and peaceful cruise down and around the Black Warrior River, we found an embayment (man-made cove) next to an abandoned tow loading area at Kemps Landing and anchored for the night.

Wild Thing: Seeing 50-60 black turkey vultures feeding on something dead on the river bank – a few feeding, dozens patiently waiting their turn and many more spiraling around overhead waiting for a chance to crash the party.

In Passing: Indian Queen Bar, Sucarnochee River, Cypress Branch, Lone Brothers Bar, Chickasaw Bogue, Turkey Shoals.

Getting Ready For The Wilderness

Day 46: Sunday, October 21, 2012

Underway: At Marina      Motor Off: At Marina      Miles Traveled: 00      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: First time using a courtesy golf cart to drive around the marina; first time seeing people on standup jet skis do complete 360˚ flips; Cindy finished her first Nook book (Mash Angels from the library – excellent); met our first cruising family.

Mile 216 to Mile 216: Today is a down day – we have some shopping and projects to do before we head into the wilderness for the next week or more. There is only one “marina” in the next 240 miles so we need to be prepared and self sufficient for a while.

We met our first cruising family at Demopolis Marina. Bob and Katya have been traveling with their two girls Annamarie (3) and  Emma (11 mo) on a 33’ S2 sailboat. With four people onboard, they are probably as squished as we are on Aurora.

Today was a well deserved “down” day although we usually work harder on our down days than when we are cruising. I started a load of laundry early, cleaned Aurora’s hull and bumpers, glued and fixed our floor boards, and “fixed” the dinghy (our deflatable) again. We decluttered the boat again and found about 30 pounds of stuff to send home or give away. Someday we may see our waterline again. I also made $50 today. I had gotten a nice, heavy duty (heavy is the key word) winch while boat box diving at Green Turtle Marina that I knew would come in handy someday. Well, we had it sitting on the dock while decluttering and someone wandered by and offered me $50 so I took it. A good deal for everyone. We also made a Wallmart run to provision for the next 240 mile run to the Gulf of Mexico. I can’t believe we are getting so close to the ocean.

In the afternoon, we spent several hours catching up on the blog in between chats with whoever ended up wandering in/out of the clubhouse. It would be easy to stay a long time in a place like this (and some people do). Maybe we’ll try that on our next Loop around on Aurora 2. (We can dream can’t we?)

Even on our down days we still end up cooking dinner just before dark. We were roughing it today though since the marina has a nice big chrome multiburner grill next to the clubhouse. We decided to grill a batch of pork chops, added some red potatoes, a salad and strawberry margaritas and we had a feast. We even got to eat at a real table inside the cool, comfortable clubhouse. A nice ending to a productive day.

All’s Well That End’s Well

Day 45: Saturday, October 20, 2012

Underway: 6:48 am      Motor Off: 3:25 pm      Miles Traveled: 54      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: First time we thought the boat was sinking.

Mile 270 to Mile 216: Since our bodies have become used to solar time, we tend to get up with the sun and go to bed not too long after sunset (or at least Cindy does). So we were up early today and the fog was very light (and beautiful) at least for the first few miles. We came to a section of the river where a large fog bank was hanging just by the edge of the river and the channel seemed to go around a bend – but then we saw a sign saying “Danger – Dam Ahead”. We decided we better take a quick look at the chart and we were supposed to turn directly into that fog bank. Yikes. So we slowed down, used our horn and gradually made it to the dam (using the chart plotter to guide us in the right direction) where the fog cleared and we locked down about 30 more feet.

Travel conditions were amazing – calm water, sunny, warm and no boat traffic – we were cruising. Too good to be true I guess. I heated up some leftover pulled pork for sandwiches and noticed a little water by the Porta-Potty. I just thought it had leaked a little after Cindy used it and thought nothing of it. Well, after eating a great lunch, Cindy looked down the companionway and noticed lots of water in the salon – sloshing over the floor boards. At first, I just thought the water storage tank on the Porta-Potty had drained out and flooded the floor but then it became obvious that there was too much water. We were sinking.

I pulled the cooler out of the way to access the tiny little bilge on Aurora – you can’t really call it a bilge. Its an access hole about 10” square to the bottom of the boat 2” below. A little water can make a big splash. After bailing many gallons of water out as Cindy continued to drive toward the marina 18 miles away, I finally got ahead of the water and felt like I could keep up. I rigged up a small bilge pump I had brought with (I had to find a hose and a plug and cobble something together since Aurora is usually a bone dry boat) and pumped out most of the water and the “leak” seemed to slow considerably. The crisis was over but we still thought this was going to be an expensive problem – just lifting the boat could cost $300 and who knows what we might find.

Luckily, we got all the water out by the time we got to the marina and the water was not coming in anymore. We unloaded some weight – especially the new-found anchor and chain and some other heavy items and I tightened a couple bolts holding the center board pivot on and we held our breath all night and hoped for the best. Well, I reached my hand down in the morning and the floor was dry so that was a good thing. And, surprisingly, the bilge was still bone dry like last night. Now we have a real mystery.

Well, we think we figured out what happened. We have been getting about a gallon or two of water a day that we though might be condensation on the hull and maybe a minor leak. Well, we should have thought about it more. What we think happened was the added weight of the anchor and chain and me sitting up on deck working on the rigging caused a lot of water to be driven up over the inner centerboard trunk and to flow into the bilge. There is an opening for the rope used to pull the centerboard up so the added weight combined with the low water line of our little boat could cause a steady flow of water. We hope. I guess nothing is truly free.

Other than that little excitement, the Demopolis Marina is a very nice place to stay – especially the new section – and we are going to take a “rest” day tomorrow to get ready for a long really remote section of the trip between here and the ocean. Wow. What a great day to be on the water (and not under it).





Treasures From The Deep

Day 44: Friday, October 19, 2012

Underway: 6:55 am      Motor Off: 12:33 pm      Miles Traveled: 34      Stayed At: Anchor

First Things First: First treasure from the deep – found a nice large Delta anchor and chain in Sumpter Cove.

Mile 304 to Mile 270: We got up early today to try to beat the forecast 20 mph winds and were able to anchor by 12:30 pm. We anchored in a small cove at Sumpter Landing next to a quiet park. Another sailboat was anchored here too but we never saw anyone come back to the boat. (From the looks of it, the boat seems to have been sitting here for a while). After a couple tries, the anchor held (we thought) but the wind, even in this small protected bay, kept swinging us in a 180˚ arch all afternoon. After we dragged a little too close to shore, we decided to pull up the anchors and reset but were surprised when we pulled up the stern anchor to have hooked a heavy piece of galvanized chain. After pulling about 25 feet of expensive chain up, we found a large, very expensive galvanized Delta anchor – perfect for a future boat (maybe) or worth about $250 on Ebay. We just added 80 pounds to our already overloaded little boat but it may come in handy someday. (We had to pay our dues though since the mud on the anchor made a mess in the cockpit so we spent an hour cleaning the decks – well worth it though).

We were able to have a relaxing and productive afternoon since we anchored so early. Cindy fixed our jib bag by sewing on a new lifting tab and dried out her cushions and I sanded and put two coats of varnish on some of our exterior teak. We even had time to read after having leftovers for dinner and crashed fairly early so we could get an early start again tomorrow. 



Day 43: Thursday, October 18, 2012

Underway: 8:55 am      Motor Off: 5:10 pm      Miles Traveled: 31      Stayed At: Anchor

First Things First: First alligator sighting (unconfirmed – Mike thought he saw an alligator roll and show his white tummy); first time in Alabama.

Mile 335 to Mile 304: The severe weather forecast for this area last night (tornadoes, hail and 70 mph winds) faded and brought only a noisy thunderstorm and some rain (although Cindy slept through all of it) but it actually gave us a huge gift today. We were traveling at about 7 mph most of the day because of the runoff flowing downstream. Add to that bright sunshine, mild temperatures and light following winds and you have a perfect day for running downriver.

After making a few important phone calls, we left later than usual but we had a fairly easy day today. We quickly passed through the Stennis Lock but ended up “wallowing” just below it for awhile while making more phone calls before our service died again (the wonders of high technology). The only challenge (except for avoiding a sunburn) was navigating through and around intermittent rafts of some kind of floating weeds. The weeds break loose in the stronger currents from large clusters in the various rivers cut through by the canal and end up floating down the main channel. They also like to accumulate at the lock entrances which can be a challenge. They are not as bad as milfoil and are fairly easy to avoid but you can’t relax because there could be a nice big log floating right along with them.

We stopped at the Pirates Cove Marina early in the afternoon to top off our gas supply and get ice. Surprisingly, they were out of gas but they offered us the use of their courtesy car to drive a mile to town to the gas station. That was nice of them – especially when we weren’t staying but going farther downriver to anchor for the night. We also said hi to Lila Jane who we met at Columbus and who are staying here for the foreseeable future. The captain was standing on the dock as we came in to the marina in full pirate regalia which isn’t something you see everyday. And he actually looks like a pirate.

Just a couple minutes down river from Pirates Cove Marina is the Tom Bevill Visitor Center. The Center is housed in a replica antebellum home complete with large columns in front and a winding staircase going up to a 4th floor overlook and balcony. We could almost hear Rhett Butler calling to Scarlet O’hara.

The historic Montgomery Snagboat is on display right next to the river by the visitor center. Snagboats were used on river systems to clear snags, tree trunks and other barriers to navigation for many years. The Montgomery was one of the last steam powered paddlewheelers stillworking on the river when it was retired

While Cindy dodged clumps of weeds, a few logs and a couple of tows, I made a sunshade for the cockpit – we had brought the parts with but haven’t had time to get it done. Now is the time and it made a huge difference – especially when the sun was high overhead in the warmest part of the day.

After a relaxing and productive day, we locked through the Bevill Lock and found the Big Creek Cutoff where we anchored for the night just off the main river. Hopefully tomorrow brings fair skies and fast currents just like today.

Words of Wisdom

Day 41: Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Underway: 8:00 am      Motor Off: 5:10 pm      Miles Traveled: 42      Stayed At: Anchor

First Things First: First sighting of jet fighters from Air Force base in Columbus; first time we locked through with more than one other boat (us+3 boats this time).

Mile 400 to Mile 358: A beautiful sunrise with some wispy fog rising off the river greeted us when we woke up. We made a hot breakfast (a rare event) to waste a little time for the fog to burn off before we cruised a few minutes down the channel to the Rankin Lock. We quickly locked through and made a short stop about 4 mile later at Midway Marina to top of the gas before heading downstream again.

Several power boats left from Midway just as we were entering all heading toward the Fulton Lock about 7 miles downstream. Even though they travelled a lot faster, a tow was coming up through the lock so they had to wait and we arrived just as the tow was coming out of the lock. Perfect timing.


Q’s End (who we met at Grand Harbor) was thinking about us and suggested that the group slow down to our pace so we could lock through together at the next two locks a ways downstream. Everyone agreed but, after looking at the timing and distances and where they were trying to get to tonight (they were aiming for Columbus), we all decided it made more sense for them to go at their normal speed – about 9 mph and for us to just lock through on our own. This worked out great in the end but it was nice to have someone looking out for us.

After dreaming about, discussing and planning the Tennessee-Tombigbee (Tenn-Tom) for over 100 years, construction began in 1972. It became the largest civil works projects undertaken by the Corps of Engineers. More dirt was moved on this project than  the entire Panama Canal. By connecting the Tennessee River in Mississippi and the Black Warrior River in Alabama, the 253 mile long Tenn-Tom waterway provides a direct navigable water route from the Tennessee River to the Intercoastal Waterway and Gulf of Mexico at Mobile Bay and allows boats to avoid the much busier and more difficult Mississippi River. It reduced travel distances by as much as 800 miles and created an economic boost to the entire region. The Tenn-Tom was officially opened in 1985. The entire system from the Tennessee River at Pickwick to Mobile is 470 miles long.  The Tenn-Tom has at least a 9’ navigation channel with a minimum width of 280’ (about a football field). Ten locks and dams (all nearly identical in design) allow for the 341 foot difference in water levels. While most of the locks have a 30’ drop, the Whitten Lock has an 84 foot drop. That is probably the largest drop on the whole Great Loop.

At the Wilkins Lock we waited for a few minutes for the Lauren Grace – a power boat heading down river to catch up before locking through. We ended up cruising the next 5 mile leg at about the same speed so we could go through the next lock together. We decided to stop for the night at a free dock by a park just upstream from the Aberdeen Lock. It turned out Lauren Grace was there already, and, after a beer or two while sharing stories in Larry and Theresa’s nice comfortable sun porch, we decided to share a pot luck dinner – we brought salads and honeycrisp apples, they made a wonderful chicken gumbo – and we chatted until 10:30 pm – way past Cindy’s bedtime again. They have a lot of experience on the rivers and Great Loop and were a great resource to help us navigate the next sections of the Tenn-Tom and Intercoastal Waterway. A nice ending to a long day.



Gone With The Wind

Day 42: Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Underway: 8:45 am      Motor Off: 1:30 pm      Miles Traveled: 23      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: First time seeing turkey vultures eating road kill – efficient but kind of ugly; first antebellum homes from the Civil War era.

Mile 358 to Mile 335: After guiding Lauren Grace through the shallow water in the narrow channel leading to the main channel from the free dock, we both locked through the Aberdeen Lock and cruised downstream on another beautiful day. They were also going to the Columbus Marina but were soon far ahead of us – their props must not have been damaged by whatever they hit coming in last night. We passed the 1200 mile mark just after the Aberdeen Lock (we could have walked here faster but it wouldn’t have been as much fun).

The few jets we saw yesterday have turned into dozens of jets and other military aircraft flying over us across the river – our own mini-airshow. We are passing by the Columbus Air Force Base that now trains 1/3 of all new US Air Force pilots. The number of landing and takeoffs make this the nations busiest Air Force base – and it ranks up their with Chicago’s O’hair and Atlanta’s Hartsfield Field.

After a short, windy day we got to our planned destination -Columbus Marina – in time to get some projects done so we can be ready for the next four days with limited services between here and Demopolis, Alabama. We used the courtesy car to hit Walmart (there are a lot of them in the south – no wonder the Walton family is so rich) and took a quick road tour of some antebellum homes in the older part of Columbus. The homes were spared destruction during the Civil War because Columbus was used as a hospital town where injured soldiers from both the north and south were brought to get treatment. Hopefully we will get to go on a tour of one while we are in the south.

The juxtaposition between the ugly strip malls, gas stations, fast food restaurants and vacant storefronts we had to pass through from the Walmart and these architectural treasures is stunning. I don’t think anything built in the last 50 years will be considered a national treasure a hundred years from now. Our buildings are throwaway junk just like most of the products we buy. We live in a very ugly time (from a design and architectural point of view).

We got back just in time to participate in another docktails under the marina building (its on stilts) with fellow travelers we have met over the last few days (and hours). Even though severe weather is forecast, the sky was clear and the sunset was beautiful. We cooked dinner in the dark and retired to the boat as the bugs came out in droves.

Wild Things: Watching a 120’ motor yacht cruise down the river at 20 knots and come flying in and dock, using it’s front and rear thrusters, as easy as an 18’ jon boat.