Thursday, October 31, 2019

Waitin' out the weather in Fairhope

We've had a number of dramatic, ominous, and stunning skies the last few days.

Spooky sunset

See the calm water?

When they say, "Red sky in the morning, sailor's warning,"
they mean THIS!

Now check out the water. There are significant waves on the bay

Monday, October 28, 2019

Dog River to Fairhope

The little bump in the middle was us avoiding a tanker.
Just a jog across the Mobile Bay.

We woke this morning in New Orleans. We packed and headed out right around 8 am, got to Mobile around 10:30, where we took the rental back to the airport with the aid of a courtesy van. By the time we got to the boat is was just about noon. We had some sandwiches, started the engines, and dashed our way across Mobile Bay to Fairhope, a 90 minute ride. Nice easy way to start back into the whole boating thing.

Mobile is in the distance on the other side of the bay
We'd been to Fairhope before, back when we RV'd. Cute little town, lots of restaurants. We're docked the boat at the Fairhope Yacht Club, which is just off the bay. 

Someone had recommended to us about a month ago that we join the Marsh Harbor Yacht club. It's in the Bahamas, but there isn't an actual marina or building. It's all on paper, which makes it pretty cheap as yacht clubs go. No real maintenance. And a nifty burgee (flag) to boot.

The real benefit is that some yacht clubs honor other yacht club memberships, so you get a discount. FYC it one such place. With our discount it was cheaper than Dog River. 

Gonna start seeking these places out, now!

The Marsh Harbor Yacht Club burgee.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Dog River

We've parked the boat for a week at the Dog River Marina while we rent a car and take some time to visit New Orleans. Our Nebo decided we were on a voyage. It lasted about 15 minutes. And was flawless, by the way.

When I walked through the door I laughed. The place is enormous, and with the vaulted 15 foot ceilings it looks overwhelming, especially since we live in roughly 1/5 the square footage. We have two bathrooms that, when I lived here, I felt were too small. Now they look huge, compared to the facilities on the boat.

We came home like college students. 3 bags of laundry.
Driving here was very weird. I told Russ I was likely to cry pitifully not to get back on the boat. This is really a nifty city -- bizarre, cacophonous, and occasionally dangerous, but truly unique. Was a time when we'd visit for weeks at a time, just to be sure we could do all the things we loved to do here. 

I confess, the election threw us for a loop. We felt we needed to go someplace where folks had a shared political ideology. Almost immediately I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and we couldn't flee New Orleans fast enough. It wasn't so much that the medical selection here lacked (although it did) but we knew it would be world class in San Francisco. Serendipitously, our condo in SF lost its tenant. So we left NOLA.

Aftermath of the Hard Rock collapse.
Only in New Orleans...
The song goes, "You don't know what it means to miss New Orleans." It's unlike any other city in the US. That said, there's always another condo. So after walking through our front door, and ogling the spaciousness and incredible presentation of the place, I'm still in favor of selling it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Alabama River to Mobile

Our anchor(s) held all night with no issues. The predicted storms turned out to be only some rain. We heard one distant rumble, and nothing more. 

We didn't sleep great though since our anchor monitor alarm woke us around 11 pm (if the boat moved more than 20 feet or so an alarm goes off -- and it's loud!). It thought we were in Paducah. Needless to say, we've switched alarm monitoring systems.

Up somewhat early but not in a massive hurry. We had 60 miles or so to get to Dog River Marina, where we'll park the boat for a week and drive to New Orleans. Not for fun, I'm afraid. Teeth cleaning, vet appointments, termite inspectors, you know, chores.

The trip down river was speedy. We had a current pull us along the way. Without trying we reached 10 knots on occasion.

While on the river I can see Mobile through the trees
Once on the bay the winds picked up -- the cold front started to move in in earnest. Small craft advisories were issued for the gulf, which we weren't traveling to thankfully. Most of the wind was on our stern (for a change) until we had to make a hard right to the marina. Note to any loopers going to Dog River, the channel is crazy small and crazy shallow. Laughable, even. And with the wind pushing us around, it made for a challenging run. And a challenging docking attempt to boot. I got it done, but it was ... stressful.

We're back in the Gulf. Well, Mobile Bay. Pelicans, terns, and even some dolphin sightings already. We haven't been on open waters since Lake Michigan. And we haven't had to deal with tides since the Hudson River. Lots of things to remember and relearn.

The top part of Mobile Bay is very industrial.
We are so tiny compared to the big shipping vessels.
At docktails tonight we also thought of all the things we have to unlearn. Like one or two whistles, or the term PCs. Now we're motor vessels. And no one in the gulf or on the ICW knows what the heck a one whistle is.

Once clear of the ship yards, open waters.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Coffeeville to Alabama River Anchorage

First thing this morning was the last lock on the loop. Gotta say, I won't miss those, at least not the ones on the TennTom. On one hand, after 98 locks (or so I've been told, since I was too lazy to count) I've acquired the skill of sidling up to a wall, right at some bollard or pin, and right before the boat touches the wall. Kinda proud of that. 

On the other hand, lockmasters are just bothers. This morning, for example, we had 7 boats wanting to lock through. One of us hailed the lockmaster and were told to come on down, the lock would be ready. We came down. The lock was not ready. In fact we waiting 30 minutes for the lock to get ready. We called you! You said to come! We could have hung out at Bobby's a little longer! 🙄 We realized this on the last lock, but next time, don't call for a 7 am lockthrough. We suspect the shift changes, and so what the first guy says isn't what the 2nd guy does.

Crazy S turn
Mostly today was a bit of a race. Weather was coming, with possible thunderstorms. With no marinas between Bobby's and Mobile, we had to pick out an anchorage protected enough should the weather turn ugly. The good news is there are several on this stretch, little tributary rivers surrounded by trees. We picked the Alabama River and tucked ourselves in for the night. Three other boats joined us.

We are a little nervous, though. Not because of the weather. But of the 4 boats here, we were the only ones facing the river, the other 3 are facing us. 

Goodbye locks and freshwater.
When anchoring you want to park down current or down wind. We admit we aren't doing that at the moment. We dropped a stern anchor as well as the bow, and we're largely hanging off the stern. However, we're back in tidal waters, and for most of the night we will (or should) be in the right direction once the tide changes. But still being newbs in all this we wonder if we're missing something. We set an anchor alarm, which will go off if we moved too far (meaning we're dragging our anchor since the stern isn't near are robust as the bow anchor). We'll see how it goes.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Demopolis to Coffeeville

Longer day today. The goal was to get to Coffeeville, and specifically Bobby's Fish Camp, which is a restaurant/RV park/boat dock. 

Only one lock needed to be traversed today, and it was right at the start. We called them first thing in the morning, around 6:30. They gave us a green light to proceed, and five boats left immediately. (I did bump a piling pretty hard on leaving, which was the first time in a LONG time -- daggumit!) 

While largely heading south,
the river winds like this.
Mother Nature, WTH?
A quick note about Demopolis: We had a number of run-ins with the dockmaster there, enough that we nicknamed her "Il Duce". But the lockmaster was equally, how to put it... authoritarian. We had to give him our names, our registration numbers, we were called into the lock one at a time, we were warned not to wake, and told to notify him when we were secured. Maybe there's something in the water, here.

Trip was long but uneventful. The day started quite gloomy, on the verge of being foggy, but cleared into a lovely day.

Upon reaching Bobby's we knew our options were tie up at the fuel dock or raft onto a 45 Carver called Hey Coach. We wanted to do the former, but a boat hailed from behind us (we thought he'd anchored earlier but changed his mind). He was a 60+ foot boat, and that would be tough to raft to a smaller vessel. So we gave him the dock, and we sidled nice and slow next to the Carver.

A damn fine parking job if I do say so myself.

Also, I got to take a nap on the way. Good day!

PS: We have exactly one more lock to get through tomorrow. And THAT IS IT for the loop. It's the last one until we get a gold looper flag. WOW!!!!

One tool we use is AquaMaps, which shows us depth
information in the channel. But this was from the Spring
after floods. We seriously need to update the data,
because that is just terrifying.
Some fall colors here in the south
Eating fried catfish at Bobby's. The boats are behind the trees.
Also, we're back in the land of Spanish Moss.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Sumter Landing to Demopolis

Nebo continues to have problems with long pauses,
like we get when we're waiting for locks. Thus, Google.
'Twas a chilly night last night, lows around 45 degrees. That made for a nippy dinghy ride to walk the dogs first thing, but we managed, even in the dark. Four other boats shared our anchorage, and all of us headed out just after 7 am. Only to wait and hour for a tow headed down before us.

... sigh ...

On the plus side, it was the only lock today. Once done we all headed out to Demopolis.

A tropical storm, now named Nestor, formed today right near New Orleans. It's supposed to move across the Florida panhandle Saturday, so when we travel Sunday it shouldn't be an issue.

Interesting twists on the river today.
Some folks are stuck here until November 1. They have insurance policies that won't cover them below this lattitude until then. Ours is different -- we pay a higher premium for any damage done in a named storm. And, no, not a Weather Channel named storm, a NOAA named one.

We passed several tows and a dredge on the journey today. One tow had us wait until he made a few turns until there was a straighter section of river. Otherwise, it was a great trip with few delays.
I had no idea Alabama had such lovely elevations

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Columbus to Sumter Landing (anchorage)

Having planned an early departure depending on the lock -- the very first thing we need to get through -- Richard of Avalon hailed the lockmaster at 6:30. Yep, locking down a tow now, should be ready to go in 30 minutes. Perfect.

We led the small flotilla of 7 boats, only to wait at the lock... and wait... and wait. Apparently, once in the lock the tow decided to do some engine maintenance so couldn't leave once the doors were open. By the time he moved and the lock was turned, we waited roughly an hour to get into it.

But, it was only one of two locks today, so the going should be good. We all hit the river at different speeds, sorting ourselves into the fastest (someone going 20 knots) to slowest (so slow they missed the 2nd lock with us). 

About an hour in we heard some chatter on the radio -- a tow having run aground. Then the 20 knot boat hailed a tow asking where should he go, and the answer was, "Stay there." Sure enough, we turn the corner and see a tow manipulating his barges, trying to put them back together, one of which was smack in the middle of the channel. After 45 minutes of scurrying, pushing, pulling, turning around then push again, nope that broke a line, turn around again, the tow boat was able to nudge the stuck barge aside. He then called for all the PCs to come on by. I thanked him as we went by. The other's wished him luck, which just seemed a little like rubbing salt in the wound to me. This was clearly not his best day.

In front of the boat (left) you can see the barge sideways, blocking the channel.
We can't go to the left of it because then we'd be aground.
Pretty boats on anchor at dusk
Got to and through the second lock without much issue and arrived at our anchorage around 4 pm.

Oh, and there's a tropical storm heading for New Orleans. That's not far from us now...
Great sunset tonight

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Two nights in Columbus

Here's us on the fuel dock. The channel markers are
circled in green. The channel is red. Skinny, eh?
Given we got in so late yesterday we'd planned on spending 2 nights here. That gave us some time to do laundry and some shopping. The Columbus marina has a courtesy car, and a Walmart and Petsmart are not far. And since we came in after 6 pm, they had us just tie up on the fuel dock. We were told we'd be put someplace else in the morning. Dandy.

But our day started pretty early when  knock came on our door at 6:30.  

See the new canvas-enclosed fly deck?
I realized I didn't have a good pic.
See, the floods here this past spring were tremendous. The waters were so high it flooded the ship store, which is in a stilted building. The manager here said he'd never seen anything like it. When the waters receded, however, the silting was equally tremendous. They had to dredge out a small channel to get boats into and out of the marina. The "channel" goes right by the fuel dock, which we were parked on. So the knock on the door was a request to move.

We assessed it the night before, worried someone would leave or arrive in the dark and we were in the way. But we are just out of the channel. But just I mean our bow is on a red marker.

Moreover, the winds were up and pushing our way. The boaters (7 of them) paraded by us as I watched from the bow, ready to fend off if need be. But everyone made it with ample space to spare.

This is the galley. On the floor is a gallon of engine oil.
It's a looper thing.
We fueled up but the winds were enough that everyone, including the manager, didn't want us to move until things settled. That took a couple of hours, but the wind died down, the skies cleared, and the air warmed up a bit. It turned into a lovely day.

And we move right around the corner to boot. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Whitten Lock to Columbus

Between all the locks, Nebo
couldn't keep track of the day.
Thus, Google.
subtitled: The Tale of Seven Locks

From the moment we got up today it was gloomy. As the day went on it was either cloudy or rainy. All. Day. This was a 12 hour journey, for heaven's sake...

Lock #1.
We purposely anchored right next to the lock for a couple of reasons. One, great anchorage. Two, easy to contact and get through said lock. We hoisted the anchor just before 7 am and called the lock. Yep, come on down, it will be about 15 minutes to fill but he'll lock us right through. YAY! As we hovered outside the doors another boater hails him. Having heard our request he wanted to lock through, too, and they were just leaving the marina now (about 2 miles away). Lock master agrees to hold the lock. So, our expedient exit is quickly stalled by 2 boats who heard our call and thought they should go too.

<Rant>By the way, neither boat was going as far as us today. In fact, both stopped after the 3rd lock. So... why not wait? Why make us wait for you? If you were in a hurry to leave, why weren't you ready to go? We waited another 30 minutes in the lock for these guys.</Rant>
Lock #1. Nuff said.

All the locks are down, now, all the way to the Gulf.

Lock #2 and Lock #3.
We moved a bit faster than the other two boats, but it was clear we were all locking through together. We weren't at all surprised by that. The water levels are low here (shocking, I know!) so the locks have been asked to conserve water by locking as many boats as possible. Lock #1 contacted the other two so they knew how many were coming.

After #3 (now about 10:30 in the morning) one boat turned into the Midway Marina. The other followed us to the next lock. It was the smaller and slower of the two boats. Which was a bummer since our ETA into Columbus was estimated at 5 pm by Navionics. The sun set at 6:20 today, and we desperately didn't want to dock in the dark. We really hoped to open up the engines and get some miles down.

Lock #4.
We lock through with the teeny tiny boat. We knew the next lock was about 14 miles away, so we sped up, hoping to create enough of a gap that the lock master would consider letting us through. Within a few minutes the tiny boat hailed us. They were stopping before the lock for the evening. Woo hoo!

Russ waiting for the next lock in the rain.
Lock #5.
Just when we thought we had it made, we hailed the next lock. Turns out they were in the process of locking down another boat. DANG! It would take about 30 minutes to turn the lock around. We slowed down and hovered a bit until the doors open. We locked through alone. 

While in the lock the lock master hailed us. He explained that the next lock was going to wait for us lock both of us together. We told him we'd hustle it so no one would have to wait long. It was just 5 miles away.

Unfortunately, the depth in his area was sub-10 feet. Which means that harder our engines work, the more suction gets created with the ground beneath the water, so we don't go as fast as we would in deep waters. We pushed it anyway, making about 9.2 knots (at rpms that usually get us 11 knots or so).

Lock #6.
I confess, since we were in a rush I came in juuuuuuust a little hot. About 6 knots, when usually I do about 4. And I didn't slow down until I was nearly upon the lock. As a result, some of our wake sloshed in behind us, and the entire chamber, both us and the other boat, bounced around for the entire lock through. I was so embarrassed. Note to self: Don't do that again.

This picture was taken in Spanish, ON,
the northermost point on the loop.
The date was Aug 18. Less than 2 months ago. WOW.
We're about a week from the Gulf of Mexico. Double WOW.
Lock #7.
Our ETA has move to 6 pm at this point. I'm starting to get nervous. We contacted the boat that got held to discover they typically travel around 8 knots. Both of us agreed Cat-n-Dogs would lead and we'd start the lock process. Upon arriving at Lock #7 they'd just locked down a tow and needed to refill for us. Sigh... We wait another half hour and lock down with the other boat, who caught up with us just in a knick of time!

With the 7 locks behind us we only have two more hours of travel to get to Columbus. The ETA slipped to 6:15. Man, we were cutting it close. And while the day was spent with locks, the last bit of travel we dodged not one, not two, but three tows, in addition to a bunch of debris and logs.

We did indeed get in around 6:20, with just enough light (dampened by clouds) to see the channel markers. Since we got in after 6, when the marina closes, they told us to park on the fuel dock and we'd get moved in the morning.

I'm gonna sleep well tonight.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Aqua Yacht to Whitten Lock

Fog dampened our departure. When we woke around 5:45 it wasn't so bad, but as the morning progressed, so did the thickening of the cloud. It didn't clear off until close to 10 am, which is when we headed out.

On April 28 we crossed the Ablemarle Sound, which was our first experience with sizable waves, 3 - 4 footers. Once done we ended up  in Elizabeth City and sat on beanbag chairs under our bimini's shade, recovering. Martha and John, also parked on the wall after the crossing, walked by and saw us. They asked us to lunch and we joined them.

We'd been traveling with them more-or-less ever since. Almost 6 months later we part ways. They are headed east to see some friends and take a trip home. We are headed south. We'll meet on the Gulf somewhere, since we both plan on wintering in Florida. We will miss their insights, conversation, and company.

Cat-n-Dogs from the Dam Recreational Park
Midway was our plan today. It was only 50 miles from Aqua so should have been totally doable, but... locks, donchano. When we were about 5 miles out from Whitten (the first of three that stand between us and Midway) we heard a boat ahead of us hail the lock. They were about to lock a tow down, and it hadn't gotten into the chamber yet. The lock master told them it would be a couple of hours.

That in and of itself wouldn't have been the problem. The problem was that tow was going our way, so after we'd lock through, he'd be in or near the next lock, causing that to back up as well. And all that was looking like a nighttime arrival, which I am personally dead set against.

So, we anchored out near the lock. Wonderful anchorage, as they go, with a little state park meant for fishermen so it had a handy dock for the dogs. 

We'll see how things are in the morning. We'll check the AIS, see if there are any tows about, and call the lockmaster for a quick exit. Assuming of course it isn't crazy foggy... or thundering...
As we took a picture of As You Wish heading eastward...

...they took a picture of us. Fare thee well.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

A day in Iutz

Can't see the land from our boat. It's not that far!
We decided to stay a day here at the Aqua Marina (Safe Harbor Aqua Marina) for a couple of reasons. They have courtesy vans, which is always a looper plus. Typically you can reserve one for a couple of hours, but if 2 boaters use it at the same time, you can double the use. So Martha and John (As You Wish) and April (One Eye Dog) and us all got together and took the van our for groceries. We did make a quick stop at a Cracker Barrel for breakfast, first.

But another reason to stay was we woke to dense fog. About as dense as what we had in Chicago, but we hadn't had any since then. I hope it isn't a harbinger of weather to come.

Sunrise, trying to get through the soup
The evening was spent with Martha and John at the marina's restaurant. Tomorrow they'll leave to go eastward, heading to Chattanooga. They've decided not to try to get all the way there, since it's at least a 7 day travel, one way. But we're heading south to Mobile. We probably won't see them again until somewhere below Alabama or Florida.

We drank a toast to the Gulf.
My phone can't take a good moon pic.
Trust me, it was amazing.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Clifton to Aqua Marina

Way back in May we had a miserable day on the Chesapeake Bay. After that I made a "go/no-go" list which was made up of 5 points -- wind, wave, sun, temp, and tide -- and if two of those were not in my favor the day was a no-go.

I'm happy to say the list got shorter. I no longer care about temperature. It was 43 degrees when we started the day and it was wonderfully comfortable in the fly. The new canvas and strataglass work amazingly well. We ran a small space heater for about 10 minutes. Then the sun did the rest. Both of us were in shorts most of the day due to the heat. Blissfully warm. 

Now my list is:

  • Wind (less than 15, preferably less than 10)
  • Wave (2 feet or less, unless the period is long, like 8 seconds)
  • Sun (I prefer it)
  • Tide (Watch when you're coming and going, tide can make for tricky docking)

We did have to come up through Pickwick Lock today, which took about an hour to get through. That was enough to convince Nebo (the software that tracks our voyages) that we were done. I tacked on the rest, which was another hour.

With the exception of a current, which got stronger as we approached the dam slowing us down to a painful crawl, the trip was wonderful. The river is quite lovely.
Blue skies, calm waters, cool scenery

Grumpy Blue Heron on striated rock.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Pebble Isle to Clifton

Rain was predicted today. Thunderstorms possible. Lightning isn't a great thing when you're on the water. In hopes of beating the weather we headed out early, around 7 am. Another longer day, about 52 nm this time to Clifton.

Throughout the day the skies were stirred. Sometimes dark, sometimes cloudy with the occasional sun break. The air was warm, in the mid-70s, largely due to the southern wind which again dampened our progress. We could see the heaviest of the storm to the west of us. While it was coming our way it mostly moved north. And we moved south, hoping to miss the brunt of it.

Just as we were coming into the marina the rain started. Getting into the Clifton marina is a little tricky, since the channel is extremely narrow and shallow. Our depth gauge read 6 ft at one point. 

Due to the weather (everyone trying to beat the rain) 4 boats arrived at the marina at the same time. Given the skinny channel, and the tight space within the small marina, we could only come in one at a time. We came in first. The marina didn't have a radio (?!) so Russ acted as traffic director, telling boats when they could enter and where they were supposed to go. Conveniently, once all four boats were docked, the skies opened and poured down buckets.

A cold front is coming tonight. Tomorrow will be a very cold day.

Interesting banks on the Tennessee River

Lots of cool canyons and walls

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Duncan Bay to Pebble Isle

As miles go, it wasn't the longest traveled day we'd experienced. Only 54. In fact, when we had some "tiny beers" with Martha and John, we chatted about the longest day, concluding the run from Atlantic City to New York was our longest yet. That was over 10 hours. Today was only 8.

But it seemed really long. Largely because the wind was coming from the south, and we were heading south. In addition to the current, which isn't much, we fought with the wind. That slowed our pace a bit.

And since the lake is a narrow thing running north and south, we had a bit of a ride throughout most of the day. Nothing major, but 1-2 footers on the nose. A bit bumpy.

Lastly, and probably the most impactful, are the shorter days. It feels like a long day when you're docking as the sun is setting. Oy. Not looking forward to traveling in the winter.

All that said the ride was uneventful. Docking was a little tricky, as the wind came up pushing me away from the dock as I was trying to sidle up next to it. Roaring engines, churned mud. But we got it done.
We do see some odd things. Clearly this was something
before they flooded the land to make the lake in the 1940s.
The maps only said "Water Farm."

Martha also pointed out that Green Turtle Bay was the mid-way point between Chicago and Mobile. WOW.

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...