Saturday, December 14, 2019

St. Petersburg to Longboat Key (The End)

(Postdated, since we actually crossed last Saturday, December 7)

We'd put it off for long enough. We purchased a slip in Longboat Key, but it isn't ready for us yet (there's still a renter in it). The marina let us stay a couple of nights in another slip in the interim for free. So. We came.

One of our navigation systems had mapped out the entire voyage, so when we approached the Manatee River, we could see exactly where we'd been, exactly where the adventure started. We watched as we slowly approached and retraced the beginnings.

Been a crazy year.

Up early, we headed out just as the sun peaked out over the horizon. It's Saturday, and we wanted to be off the water before most of the weekenders got on. The bay was calm with a slight chop. The trip was uneventful. As we closed the gap to our starting point, we took photos.

I've been weepy-eyed on and off  ver since.
Showing off our golf looper burgee

For starters, we're now "gold" loopers, and while that's an accomplishment (early on it was mentioned that there are fewer loopers than people who have climbed Mt. Everest), it means we aren't "white" loopers. We've graduated. Ask most grads how they feel and they'll typically say things like, "Now what?" Sure, we have plans, and we intend on doing new things, but it's over. We'll never be white loopers again.

Secondly, we bought another boat -- more on that later -- which means we're selling this boat. As I was docking Cat-n-Dogs I wondered how many more times I would do that? We at least have to move it to a more permanent location, and we might possibly take her to Looper-palooza (if we can get in). But otherwise, maybe not for months. Maybe not ever.
The last white flag sunrise

Lastly, now there's a ton of work to do. The new boat (which is just like the old one, but with a different layout. Yes, we loved it that much that we bought another Endeavour) will need a bunch of stuff done to it, just like Cat-n-Dogs did when we first got her. Not to mention moving off one and onto the other. Not to mention the intense deep cleaning Cat-n-Dogs is going to need. Hey, we lived on it for over a year.

So it ends. With the new boat will be a new name. And a new blog. I will put one last post on this blog when things settle, announcing the new name and blog. This one has reached it's conclusion.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Tampa to St. Petersburg

We stayed about 2 days longer in Tampa than we originally intended. Largely because is was *such* a cool city. Our buddy boater friends have told us that one of the goals for them on the Great Loop is looking for their "forever home." We may have found ours.

But not anytime soon, mind you. We have more boating to do!

We decided to make our way back along the bay a bit, to make "crossing our wake" a shorter trip. St. Petersburg is a highlight for many boaters, but tough to get into this time of year. Additionally, this weekend is a boat show, making it even tougher. However, the hotel, the Renaissance Vinoy, has a marina, and spaces. Not cheap, but there you go.

Look close -- that's a chicken in a tree. In Ybor.
Tomorrow we'll attend the boat show. These are wonderful places to learn about new technologies and get references for any upgrades or modifications you want to make. We have a list. For example, we'd like a water heater (or heater in general) that uses its own diesel motor instead of needing to run the generator. Our RV had such a thing. Very efficient, and much quieter.

Russ helping himself to beer at Oak & Stone.
You help yourself to beer, including samples.
We think, if the weather is good, we'll do it Saturday -- finish the loop! All we have to do is cross Tampa Bay and we're officially gold loopers. We have the flag already. We've been hesitating because we are in the process of purchasing a slip on Longboat Key. It would be really nifty to cross our wake and pull right into it. It won't be quite ready (still some paperwork, and a renter who's going to have to move his boat). However, the marina is willing to comp us a slip in the interim. So, yay!

The trip from Tampa was only a couple of hours. With the exception of passing two tug boats, there wasn't any traffic to speak of. Or incidents. Parking was a bit tricky only because (yet again) we're in a crazy narrow slip. I'm to the point where we just break out a jar of Vaseline, rub her down, and look out!
Just wave your armband in front of the tap and it knows
you are the one pouring. When you're done, hand over the
band, and the waitress adds your beers to the tab.
It's like an adult Disneyland!

Monday, December 2, 2019

Lovin' Tampa

Having lived in San Francisco, I am fond of urban life. I love being able to walk to the grocery, take mass transit to restaurants, and have entertainment options, like museums and live performances in easy access. Tampa is shockingly similar. Smaller, true, but the little city has a lot going for it. We are impressed.

I didn't get a chance to post many pics of our travel here with my niece, so I'm adding them here. 
St. Petersburg in the distance
Passing a REALLY large tow on the bay
Empty container ship coming in to get filled.
A tug boat is waiting to escort.

My niece was tickled at the dolphins.
Admittedly, so was I.

Waiting for the transit to Ybor.
Did I mention it was free?

The historic town of Ybor -- just darling!

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Gulfport to Tampa

Technically, we're going the wrong way. We're supposed to be heading south, and in just 15 short miles we'd cross our wake. However... my niece who came to visit last week got held up by the snow storms in Denver, and got to stay and extra week. She changed her departure location from Orlando to Tampa and came with us for one more boat ride.

This morning we all woke up at my parent house in The Villages. We left there are 8 am, got to Gulfport around 10 am. Russ took the rental car back, and we were casting off lines close to 11:30. Originally we planned on doing this tomorrow. However the weather today was absolutely stunning. Warm, calm, smooth seas. So we opted to do this a day early.

We went up the right side, only to have to turn around
and to up the left side.
And hey, we get an extra day to spend in downtown Tampa, which is thriving, active, and bustling.

We had a wonderful day. As promised the weather was awsome. We also had quite a few dolphin escorts throughout the day.

The map of our travels doesn't quite show the end. We travel by a technology called Navionics. We enter an ending destination and, with knowledge of our length, beam, and draft, it plots us a course. Today, however, is the first time it failed us, not taking our height into account. We were within tens of feet of the marina, but between us were two fixed bridges, each about 10 feet high. We're a 17 foot tall vessel.

So, we had to go all the way around the island and back up the other side. A first for us, despite how much time we've spent doing things. It's always something.

Russ hailed the marina. They didn't respond. We hailed them again, no response. And a third time. As this point we could see the marina. I told Russ I was just gonna park it, which would probably get someone's attention. I pointed at slip dead ahead and aimed for it. As we approached, a guy came running out onto the finger pier, waving his arms to get our attention. He hollered, "Who are you?" Russ hollered back, "Cat-n-Dogs!" The guy pointed at the very slip I was aiming for. I spun her around and backed in, lickety-split.


Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Waiting for the holiday in Gulfport

Today we met with Curtis Stokes, which a popular name if you are in the boating world. He's a broker. After much thought, we've decided that we do want to continue boating, but not with this particular boat. Don't get me wrong, we love this boat. So much so, we're buying a boat almost exactly like this one. It has a different floor plan, so it's not exactly like it. The new floor plan with be better for us and geriatric dogs.

Now there's a "for sale" sign on Cat-n-Dogs. Breaks my heart. I really do love this boat.

We're also trying to determine if we'll keep the name Cat-n-Dogs. One of our dogs is getting on. I'd hate to have to explain why we only have one dog when the name is plural.

Near us are a number of boats, and two of them have a "Man of La Mancha" thing going on. Maybe we should take that as a hint. Tilting Windmills? They Might Be Giants? (A band took that one a while ago)


Possible Dream

Totally getting off topic, we seem to be in parrot land.

Look closely in the tree
Gulfport was a bit of a surprise. We'd never been before. It has a bit of an "old Florida" vibe, before grand condominiums and mega-million dollar homes. Cute downtown and nice marina. All near Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Clearwater to Gulfport

My niece came to visit my parents for a week to see their new digs in The Villages. It didn't take much convincing to get her to come to the boat and take a small cruise with us. They all drove down last night, but she got spend the night with us. Then we all took a 3 hour trip to Gulfport.

It was a lovely Saturday, sunny and warm, so everyone who owns or rents a boat was out enjoying the water. Normally that can be a thing, but a large part of the voyage today was through "The Narrows," which is also a minimum wake zone. And for the most part everyone behaved themselves.

When we arrived at the marina they didn't know where to put us. We docked along the fuel dock while they worked it out. The eventually sent us to an open slip.

Bunches of boats out today
For some reason, the last few marinas we've been to don't take our beam seriously. We tell them it's 16. We are 16 feet wide. They nod their heads and say, yep, you'll fit in that slip. And we squeak our way into it with the aid of a little vaseline on the rub rail. People, when we say we're 16 we mean we're 16, so don't put us into a 16 foot wide slip!

Our slip here 16' 4". We have literally 2 inches on either side of us.

That said, I can back into a teeny, tiny slip these days with no issue. So, silver lining.

My niece was tickled to see dolphins on our wake. 
As we are, each and everytime.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Tarpon Springs to Clearwater

I know it seems like we're dragging our heels at this point. We are only 50 miles from crossing our wake, you'd think we'd want to hurry up and get it done, right? But we're already feeling the "now what?" syndrome that seems to plague loopers once they get the gold.

Moreover, we just don't have a plan yet. We'd like to buy a slip on Longboat Key and move there for the winter. But other, um, things are getting in the way of that (more info on that later). Then holidays are coming (Thanksgiving is next week!). So making plans is just a little tough for us.

The crossing was only tarnished by a couple of bozo boaters who can't slow down. While the bodies of water look wide, there really isn't water everywhere more than a few inches. So we all stay in a channel, which is fairly narrow. One meathead flew by us within 10 feet of our beam, with 4 honkin' outboards that waked the snot out of us. And he did it again as he returned, just 20 minutes later. I'm sure this was his only day off all month and by golly he's gonna make the most of it, but he rocked not just us but several other boaters who also are trying to have a great day. Dude, just sayin'.

Farewell, Tarpon Springs. Whose little town I didn't
explore much due to lousy weather. Maybe next time.
We're here in Clearwater for a couple of days. Then my folks and my visiting niece will join us tomorrow for the short jaunt to Gulfport on Saturday, where we'll stay for a couple of nights. Then... we don't know. Maybe we'll stay longer in Gulfport, maybe we'll get to Tampa or St. Petersburg for the holiday week. Who knows where the tide will take us. 

Maybe ever across our wake...
Some boats just go to Tarpon Springs to retire.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Tarpon Springs to Tarpon Springs (City Marina)

Been a couple of days since this happened but we moved from one marina just around the corner to the city marina. It's a little cheaper and closer to downtown. They have a deal here where if you buy 6 nights you get the 7th one free. Between some running around and entertaining, we decided to stay here for a while. Besides, the weather is junky these days, with gloomy skies and blustery winds. It wouldn't be fun to move the boat even though we would be in protected waters.
Sponge boat in Tarpon Springs

Tarpon Springs boasts to have the largest Greek population in the world outside of Greece. It's also the sponge capital of the world. In fact, the marina is located near the sponge docks. 

We've taken a number of trips around the coast over the last couple of days. Our Great Loop journey began in Palmetto, which is just south of here across the Tampa Bay. (We officially won't "cross our wake" until we cross the bay). Some of our favorite food eateries called to us, requiring some re-exploration, resulting in road trips. 
My dogs are so weird. Look at the seat belt clip under
her left leg. That cannot be comfortable!

Additionally, we're checking out Longboat Key, which has some slips for sale. The idea of a "home address" (of sorts) is appealing. Besides, we know first hand that finding slips for any length of time as a transient is tough in Florida this time of year. It's winter, and the boating snowbirds are flocking down, if they haven't reached the southern shores already.

This particular marina was created in the 60s, when they dredged out land to put in the docks. When you buy a slip, you literally are purchasing the land beneath your slip. 

Yes. You're buying land that is already underwater. Florida!

So not a go-day!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Carrabelle to Tarpon Springs

(written the day after we arrived... to exhausted and sick to do it Monday)

The blue part is where we slowed significantly, 4 knots.
I'm sure you recall that I did NOT want to do with this. From day one I'd made it clear I would not do the overnight crossing. And, yet...

Russ is extremely diligent about weather and waves. He has a number of weather apps, both old and new, and watched them as they updated (most do so every 4 hours). Even as the reports showed the water starting at 2 feet, they would dwindle to 1 or less as the night went on. I still wasn't convinced. We went to lunch around 1 pm and made the decision to to 2 longer runs; one to Steinhatchee, then a real long day to Tarpon Springs (TS from now on). We left the restaurant around 3, and Russ went off the chat with other boats waiting to do the crossing to get their opinions on that plan. And all of them were gone. They'd already departed.

We took that as a sign that they knew something we didn't. So I set up the helm and we were out of the channel by 3:45.

Calms seas, just as they said.
Going to be a lovely night, right?
We followed the other 5 boats at a pace of 8.5 knots, which was faster than they were going. We caught them around 7:30, then slowed down to stay with them. At that time our navigation software predicted we'd be in TS around 9 am. Seas were calmish, less than 2 ft as predicted. And all the weather reports said this would be the worst, and things would settle out to less than 1 ft throughout the night. The sunset was lovely. We also had the benefit of a full moon. Should be amazing.

Given the all-night nature of this ride we knew we'd pilot in shifts. Russ took the first one, which was until 11. Then I'd take over for a few hours so he could nap. I went down around 8:30 pm to catch a little sleep. 

I woke to a clatter, around 10:30pm. Something fell in our bedroom,and we were rocking pretty significantly. Then I heard our engines slow. I went upstairs and talked to Russ through the window between the lower and upper helms. He was piloting from the upper one, the fly deck. I'd asked why we slowed down (we planned ahead to use engine noise as a signal if the pilot needed the napper, since that's a noticeable cue). He said that the other boats had slowed since they were getting rocked, so he did too just to keep pace.

I sat in the lower helm and watch out the windows. Yep, no 1 footers here, I could tell that. Because of the dark, however, even with a full moon, we couldn't make out wave heights. Someone hailed us on radio asking if we had stabilizers which was why we could continue at our speed. I explained we do best on a quarter beam, which (again I couldn't see but) it seemed we were taking. I should have then explained we were by no means comfortable.

Night, out the front window. If you zoom this you can see
the little lights of the boats in front of us. Really.
I tried to sit downstairs for a while, but my stomach began to roil. This strategy has worked in the past, being seated in the lower helm where the motion is lessened. But there was so much motion, I couldn't hold my stomach. By 12:30 am I started heaving. I told Russ he was on his own and went down to the salon, curled up on the floor.

All around me stuff fell, things smashed on the floor, items rolled around, and furniture shifted. I spent some time fending off my little safety space from the salon chair and the dog crate, both of which flanked me and took turns bumping into me. Back, forth, up, down, left, right, our boat just pitched in every direction. What's worse is my body just trembled, uncontrollably. If you'd asked me, "Were you scared?" I would have said I wasn't. Angry, frustrated, and sick, yes, but my mind wasn't in a "WE ARE GOING TO DIE" kind of state. But my body was convinced, even terrified. It made the few times I needed to get up extremely difficult, since my legs shook so badly.

By the way, just as a side note, my dogs hardly noticed. Maybe that's where the phrase, "sicker than a dog" came from. I certainly was.

The starboard door flew open at one point, and the only way I could close it was to latch it from the inside. In other words, Russ wouldn't be able to use that door if he needed to get in, and I informed him of that. One of the clatters was my desk falling apart, dropping its tray and chair right in front of the port side door. There was no way, given all the motion, that I could do anything to make that better. It had to wait until we were stable. But now Russ would have a real hard time getting below deck if he needed to.

The desk mayhem at the port door. Russ could
step over it, but it constantly shifted through the night.
I heard the engines slow again and found my feet long enough to ask Russ how he was doing. He needed to go to the bathroom. Looking at the door situation I handed him a cup. Hey. No judging.

I retreated back to the salon, still heaving occasionally. (My sides ache severely today -- I screamed when I sneezed this morning) I checked my watch periodically, wondering when on earth this would end. Around 3 am I remember thinking, "This is it. I want to sell the boat. Why do we do this to ourselves?" I'm laying on the floor, with only a area rug as padding, and every time the boat slammed, which happened almost every second, I was banged up. I have bruises on my legs and hips.

At one point I got up to get some water, and there was none. I glanced at the electrical panel but couldn't read anything from the motion. I assumed the pump had malfunctioned from the abuse. (Turns out, we have a hose up front for cleaning the boat exterior, and it's lever is in the forward hatch. All the banging around made something knock it to the "on" position. It dumped all 150 gallons of fresh water into the hatch. Thankfully, it drains all on it's own, otherwise that's getting into an Edward Fitzgerald kind of problem.)

I glance up at one point to see daylight outside. Things were still pitching violently. I forced myself onto my feet to get Russ something to eat and drink, since he'd been upstairs all night alone. I feel so terrible about that -- he's my hero. I handed him some Aussie Bites for breakfast and a container of sweet tea we'd bought for the journey. I made the mistake of glancing out the window. Because now we could see what we were in.

They call them confused seas. That's when the waves aren't coming from any particular direction, but they slam against one another, sometimes cancelling themselves out and other times double their heights. The waves were 4 feet. I wished I had the ability to film it, but I just couldn't stand much longer. My husband, however, did. Behold.

I asked him how much longer until we get to TS. He said at this speed another 6 hours. We had to slow down to 4 knots to keep from getting slammed harder than we already were. Which was about 5 hours longer than the predictions when we left. But he was sure it would get better once the sun warmed things up a bit and we'd go much faster.

I retreated back to the floor again. By now just laying down was painful, all the points of contact with the floor ached from the abuse. Around 10 am I heard the engines rev. We still bounced a bit but it did seem less. By 10:30 I could stand. I changed my clothes, moved the fallen items out of the way of the port side door, and went up to the fly deck.

Almost as soon as I sat everything calmed. The sun was up, the temperature was pleasantly warm, a fair wind blew, and the seas were at the "less than 1 foot" as they were supposed to be all night. Land was just off in the distance. It was amazing. And despite my aching body and still-twisted stomach, as we cruised those last couple of miles I thought, "Who am I kidding? When it's good, it's completely wonderful."

Russ took us all the way in, handing control back to me to get us into the inlet and docked, about 1:30 pm. Both of us exhausted, starving, and needing showers we did a quick bit of triage, determining what needed to happen first. It was food first, by the way, then sleep, then showers. Everything else would wait until tomorrow.

It wasn't the worse crossing we'd heard about (certainly it was ours). Last year a group of boats did it and ran into 9 foot seas. So I feel like it could have been worse. That said, the weather reports all had it wrong, dead wrong. Why? Largely because there are not enough buoys out on the water to get accurate readings of the waves. There is no way to say, "What is the wave height right now?" from any website or weather station. And you can't even text a boat that you know is out there experiencing since there's no cell coverage on the water. And you may ask, "Why aren't there more buoys?" and that would quickly turn into a political argument about how to spend taxes or raise them. That's why. In fact, there were many more buoys at one time. But as they've broken or fell into disrepair, no one has made it priority to replace, fix, and add more of them.

Needless to say, I would never do it again. Should we do the loop again we will DEFINITELY take the rim route. But then I said I wouldn't do it to start with. And yet...

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Apalachicola to Carrabelle

(subtitled... when it rains it pours)

When we woke this morning there were still some stiff breezes, stiff enough that small craft advisories were issued. They lessened as the afternoon came.

We keep going back and forth about what to do. We originally planned on breaking up the crossing into 3 chunks. But a couple of hitches made that less appealing. First, the second stop, Crystal River, didn't have room for us. And the weather windows would close at about that time. We envisioned ourselves having to anchor out there for a couple of weeks, waiting for the next go day.

So we decided to either do a 2 day (from Carrabelle to Steinhatchee to Tarpon Springs) or --  dun dun duuuuun -- do the overnight run.

I've been against the idea from day 1 of the loop. Driving at night does not sound like a good idea. Driving all night, even worse.

Sunset in Apalachicola. There's a tow on the horizon.
However, tomorrow night would be absolutely perfect, smack in the middle of 2 weather systems. Calm winds, calm waters, and a full(ish) moon to boot. Quick recap: The idea is leave just before the sun goes down, cross over night, and arrive after sunrise, around 10 am or so. That way all your docking antics are done in daylight -- the crossing is just a straight line so no real need to see much.

We needed fuel, and it's cheaper in Carrabelle. We decided to run there in the afternoon (about 3 1/2 hours), fuel up, and make the decision in the morning. The winds had calmed tremendously and the trip was absolutely dandy.

So, why the rains/pours subtitle?

Upon arriving at the fuel dock one of my dogs demanded to be let out. Our bad, really, we should have walked them before we left. While Russ pumped the diesel I took the dog to some grass where she promptly threw up. This dog is so stoic -- she never tosses her cookies. 

In the distance is the bridge to St. George Island.
Last time I crossed it we fled away from Michael.
I brought her back on board and she seemed fine. I fed both dogs, assuming this was a one-off kind of thing. Next thing I know Russ is screaming obscenities. While talking to someone he hadn't noticed that the fuel tank was overflowing. There was shut off on the nozzle, just like at a gas station, but it didn't work. Fuel went everywhere, covering the stern transome and spilling into the back hatch. This was the starboard side.

After a bunch of cleaning and cursing he got it worked out. He then filled the port side. And once done we fired up the engines and headed to our slip.

Pulling into the quaint town of Carrabelle.
Which I believe is cursed.
Only, the boat wasn't behaving right. I checked the rudder, then my gauges, only to discover that the port engine wasn't running. I called to Russ to turn it over (which I thought I had) and... It. Wouldn't. Start. We can hear a click to the starter, but it never turns over.

Before we drifted too far from the dock we tossed lines to folks to reel us back in. We're tied to the fuel dock as I type.

...and I just heard the engine start. Turns out, bad starter relay. We don't have a spare, but Russ was taught by the handy gentlemen who rescued us how to jump it.

Looks like the crossing is back on.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Pearl Bayou to Apalachicola

I don't know about you but I love thunderstorms. There's something exciting and yet soothing about the flicker of lightning followed by the slow rolling rumble of thunder. Add the sound of some rain and, well, what can I say.

But they are a different kind of beast when your "on the hook." Like last night.

Safety on anchor is largely about your rode, and specifically how much you have. (I'm sure I've mentioned this before so feel free to skip ahead a paragraph). How much you need is correlated to how deep is the water you're anchored in. We were anchored in water 10 feet deep, and the chain is another five feet above that (where it comes off the boat) so the magic number is 15. If the night is calm, or if you're just hanging out for a lunch, you only need a 5 to 1 ratio of rode. So, in this case, 15 x 5 = 75 feet. If you think you'll get some winds, that goes up to a 7 to 1 ratio (105 feet). If you're trying to ride out a hurricane, that's 10 to 1.

Angry clouds forming at sunset lat night
The weather predictions said we might get rain and a possible thunderstorm. We were, however, in a protected bay. With that we set the anchor hard and put out 75 feet of rode, which is chain for us. The night was warm so we left the windows open on the boat.

Miles of broken trees along the channel
About 10:30pm I woke to the sound of thunder (much like Bob Seger). I heard just a little rain so I poked Russ awake and he closed the windows. By 11 the sky was filled with bright flashes and big cracks of thunder. The wind blew like crazy (I'm sure we did 360s in the night), and rain pummeled the windows. By 11:30 we did a quick check to see if any windows were leaking given the amount of rain -- and none were, which totally shocked us. Russ also checked the anchor monitor to make sure we weren't dragging anywhere, like into some of the other boats. He was worried we didn't put out enough chain after all. We held firm all night. The storm raged until well after midnight. 

We got up early, bleary eyed from the lack of sleep, but did our usually coffee and breakfast before engine checks and heading out. The skies remained gray and the wind blew steady, not much of an issue since we were staying in channels most of the day. The radio was filled with small craft advisories for anyone going outside. Moreover, this part of the trip is through the path of hurricane Michael, just over a year ago. It's still crazy devastated here.

Abandoned boats and busted homes were everywhere.
I told my friends I felt like I
was whistling past the graveyard here.
Thankfully the day was shorter, although we crossed back into the Eastern time zone, promptly losing the hour we just gained two weeks ago. And the wind made docking a breeze (I'm so funny!) since all I had to do was line the boat up to the pier and wait for the wind to push us right in.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Niceville to Pearl Bayou (anchor)

Once again on the hook, as they say.

While the day started out gloomy and overcast, we did get to see the sun most of the day. We opened up the fly deck and enjoyed the warmth.

Today was largely about dolphins. Lots of 'em. They really love our boat. Throughout the day we had 2 to 6 of them for periods of nearly 30 minutes. They tuck in next to us, then ride our pressure wave. They spin, tip to see us, go upside down, dodge each other... such a hoot.

In the channel it looked like this. High walls, kinda sandy
with enough limestone to keep them erect. I think they call
this "The Canyon?"
The only excitement was as we crossed the Saint Andrew Bay inlet. A cargo ship was coming in from the sea. We were on diverging courses with them traveling at 11.8 knots. Russ and the AIS said they would reach the merging point 1/3 of a mile ahead of us. I'd rather that have been a little longer, like a mile, so we slowed down just a bit. Just as we did the ship started to turn ... towards us.

Russ hailed them right away, asking where they wanted us. The conversation went something like this:

Russ: Aquamarine, Aquamarine, this is PC Cat-n-Dogs.
Ship: This is the pilot for Aquamarine. Go ahead.
Russ: Where do you want us?
Ship: Where are you now?
Russ: We're the catamarran off your bow.
Ship: Which one? (We were traveling with another power cat, One Eye Dog, and they were behind us a bit)
Russ: The first one, closest to you.
Ship: ... (I assumed he was looking for binoculars at this point) Oh! You're fine. Just keep going.
Trust me, this is as close as I wanna get to these guys.

Of course, after all that chatter, I too thought we were just fine, but it's always good to chat with the big boys.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Ft. McRee to Niceville

After walking the dogs via a dinghy ride to the little sand island near us we headed out. Our destination, Bluewater Marina, was across the bay from Destin, one of Florida's new "happenin'" places. Destin also has new "happenin'" prices, so One Eye Dog suggested Bluewater instead.

Given the route was protected, we didn't have much in the way of excitement. Or challenge. 

A boat named Just Jillin' anchored with us last night, and he left really early, before we did. But we both arrived at the marina about the same time. We cut our engines and slowed down to let them get in and docked before us.

Ah, Florida, your sunk ships amuse us all.
You have to go by the marina a bit, then make a hard turn back and navigate your way through the narrow dredged channel. We watched Just Jillin' do just than and I slowly approached the hairpin turn to give us enough space. Then Russ asked, "Doesn't it look like he's listing a bit?" I was to busy steering to pay attention, but Russ realized Just Jillin' had moved to the wrong side of the red marker and run himself aground. 

We hailed him. Yep, stuck, can't move, gonna wait until the tide comes up (it was almost dead low). Russ volunteers us to pull him out.

Now, I'm not against being neighborly and lending a helping hand, but in order to pull him out we need to get close enough to him to get him a rope. And, frankly, it is not an intuitive thing to go towards the boat that's run aground. But I kept an eye on the depth every inch of the way and we spun in the narrow channel, then bumped forward just enough so Russ could toss him a line. He caught it, secured it, and we did the same. Then we slowly backed up and got him out of the shallows.

Yep, that's a tree. In the laundry room.
Gives clothes that pine-fresh scent.
At this point we were ahead so we just headed for our slip. Conditions were perfect -- no wind, no real current to speak of. I lined up the boat and pivoted, then backed into the slip. Then Russ called "All stop!" because, wouldn't you know it, it was too dang small. So we pulled forward, and I moved the boat about to line her up for a second try on a different slip, which all went perfectly.

So, boring day in but rather interesting in the end.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Orange Beach to Ft. McRee (anchored)

The loop experience is largely made of moments. Some big moments (New York, Chicago) and little moments (awesome sunrises, fun gatherings). Yesterday was a fairly big moment, for me at least.

We stepped onto the boat as the new owners and unloaded a truck of belongings exactly one year ago

Today was another fairly big moment. We're back in Florida. 

We're BACK!!!
Big wows on both.

We still have one daunting task ahead of us and that's to get across the gulf. After Apalachicola there isn't an ICW; you have to go outside until you get to Tarpon Springs. Most folks do "The Crossing", capital T for sure, which is an open water run from Carrabelle to Tarpon Springs. That's roughly 170 miles, and most boats can't get it done in a day. It's an overnight kind of thing.

But we aren't most boats. We have a low draft, which means we can get into shallow ports, like Steinhatchee. And that's only a 70 mile run. Doable during the day. All we'll need is a good weather window.

The other advantage of the long run is when you're done you're back on the ICW. We'll have 2 more open water days which will take us to Crystal River before Tarpon Springs. So it can be slower, since you make only get a good day in 10 to move.

We anchored out tonight due to a FedEx faux pas. They said our package would get to the marina by 10 am. At 10:30 they called to tell me that it wasn't even on the truck. They were very apologetic, of course, but that means we waited for no good reason. Such is boat life. We went for a short day, just 2 1/2 hours. 

The anchorage is near Fort McReee, which is home to the Blue Angels. On Tuesdays they practice. Guess what day it is?!

My dogs are not amused.

Blue Angels bombing through the clouds.
On the one hand, this seems like a waste of taxpayer money.
On the other -- IT'S SO COOL!

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Fairhope to Orange Beach (The Wharf)

After yesterday's failed attempt to get to The Wharf, we were up early (5:30) and had engines on by 6:30. We were underway before the sun came up.

Still breezy, and a bit choppy, the waters were much calmer than yesterday. We did a little tacking to minimize the beam seas at the beginning, but when we headed southward, with a following sea, the ride was very smooth.

Three of the four hours of travel were on the bay. The last hour was on the Intracoastal Waterways, or the ICW. Been a long time since we'd traveled on it. It felt a little like coming home, even though we'd never been on it this far north before. Dolphins even welcomed us, traveling with our boat for a while. We've missed them!

The dolphins are back!
Before docking we wanted to pump out. But a large vessel was already occupying the easily accessible space, right off the ICW. The option was to pull into a slip on the other side. The winds had come up again, and the tide was going out -- both were pushing in the same direction, which was into the slip. Something I did not want to do. So we spun around, facing into the wind and current, and we employed "the Poughkeepsie Maneuver", tilting the bow just enough so the forces pushed us sideways towards the slip. I used just enough forward engine, tapping it occasionally, to keep us from drifting backwards. Until we lined up with the slip, then we backed right in. Like buttah!

If you look at the front of the boat, on the pier is a
Blue Heron. This is the most pervasive bird we've seen
on the loop. They have been everywhere (though not in
numbers) from the coast, Canada, the Great Lakes,
and the river systems. Their cry, however, is dreadful.
Docking, however, was not quite so easy. The slip they assigned us was down some narrow, twisty fairways, where maneuvering was taxing and tedious with the wind. We scoped it out, and I did try once, but I felt real uncomfortable. See, the thing is you win no money or award for nailing that tricky docking stunt, but you risk a whole lot if things go badly. I've come to trust some things just aren't worth pushing if you have other options (wished I had enough experience to make that call in St. Augustine). I spun the boat around and parked Cat-n-Dogs easily on a t-head. 

The marina guy shrugged, and they let us stay there.

Not ours anymore

There's a saying in the boating world, that the happiest days of a boater life is the day he buys the boat and the day he sells it. This...