I thought that when we were done with America’s Great Loop, that I was done writing this blog. Jane has explained to me that I am not done with the blog, and we’re not done with cruising America’s Great Loop. It has been a couple of years since I last made an entry and very interesting years they were. 2019 was interspersed with cruising and some real estate work. After we finished America’s Great Loop we continued on down the Gulf Coast of Florida and crossed Florida Bay for a short visit in Marathon. We then tooled along the ICW inside the Keys and up through Biscayne Bay and then on to the St. Johns River. There we took a left turn and arrived in Jacksonville on the last day of February for a long term slip at The Marina at Ortega Landing. We learned our way around “our new hometown” since we had our car from home. We made many trips back and forth to Gainesville and learned which stand on US 301 has the best boiled peanuts.
In April we drove the car up to Nashville. Our youngest, Scott was going to propose to Jessica (who we LOVE). We got there in time to organize a celebration with her family and all their friends at the house after they got engaged. Of course she said yes. It was a fantastic trip.
The time in one place gave us an opportunity to address a number of small maintenance items. There were still more to do, but that spring our son, Travis, moved his family from Brooklyn to Portland, Maine. So just before the end of April, we dropped lines at Ortega Landing to head up to Maine to visit. The trip included maintenance and repairs in a number of ports such as a haul out in Virginia for new bottom paint and anodes. (Also known as a Brazilian and bling.)
We had a chance to get with our good friend, George Go in NYC on the way up.
Once above Long Island Sound the ocean waves seemed to be more slow rollers than sharp and steep seas. The cruising was nice with the exception of having to deal with the fog we got caught in off of Boston (and all those damned lobster traps). We arrived in Portland after 54 days. We thoroughly enjoyed our time with Travis and Rachel and the twins. We were delighted to have Hazel and Beatrice on board Sabbatical for a night and a day cruise around the beautiful harbor spotting numerous seals. Sadly after only 11 days, I saw a great weather window and off we went again, heading back down to Florida.
The trip home was hindered by breakdowns requiring me to learn how to replace the fuel lift pump in New Rochelle, NY. At least we got to see our friends Kim and Barbara while we were there.
Then in Virginia, my good work on the fuel lift pump was rewarded two weeks later when the new one failed and taxed my diagnostic skills to figure out why two pumps would fail in such a short time. Much cussing of the manufacturer was involved, but I narrowed it down to back pressure caused by a failed check valve in the fuel return line. Since we were so close to Kilmarnock, VA, we took the time to rent a car and visit American Diesel to purchase the needed check valve and other back-up parts to have on board. When we got to Georgia I noticed the engine temps were not right and determined that the heat exchanger had failed (it happens), but at least I had one on board now and changed it in St. Simons Island.
We made it back to Ortega Landing in Jacksonville without further incident and stayed put for a while. We enjoyed staying on the boat in Jacksonville and going back and forth to home in Gainesville to be with Meredith and the boys and visit our friends.
In October the wedding of Scott and Jessica in Nashville was a glorious time. I thought everything was perfect except it rained the afternoon and night of the wedding. The rehearsal dinner was fabulous, the wedding at Wightman Chapel on the Vandy campus was beautiful (granddaughters Hazel and Beatrice were the flower girls), and the reception after was absolutely incredible. The next morning we flew home to attend our 50th High School reunion. What a whirlwind of a weekend!
2020 was, well, shall we say a year that will live in infamy. The death of Jane’s sister, Jill, COVID, racial injustice and unrest, and the election all contributed to ruin what could have an otherwise delightful year. Sabbatical provided us what we thought was the prime spot to isolate and be socially distant. That didn’t work out. We both contracted the COVID 19 virus. I got it in June and somehow Jane did not get it from me even in the close confines of the vessel. She got it in November. My experience was only four days of fever with influenza type aches. She experienced eyeball pain followed by loss of taste and smell and felt lousy for a few days. Jane did come to her senses. (Or they returned to her.) Anyway, we did live to tell about it, unlike my old friend Jere Plumley. It seems like we all know at least someone whose life was cut short by the disease.
During the year we had some work done on the boat and got that pesky transmission leak fixed, thanks to Alan at Lambs Marina. Other work included another bottom job and change out of the exhaust elbow.
Later in the spring during an isolating run upstream in the St. Johns River to Sanford we starting developing some electrical charging issue that I was unable to fully diagnose. We did thoroughly enjoy the eight nights on anchor in the St. Johns. There is still a great deal of this river that appears just as it did 500 years ago.
Other cruises during the year included a rough day trip out into the Atlantic to spread Jill’s ashes, a couple of trips to St. Augustine and a couple of trips up to Fernandina and Cumberland Island. Several times, we would just leave the marina at Ortega and run out into the St. Johns to anchor for a night or two. We had been awarded a slip at the Metropolitan Park Marina for the weekend of the Florida-Georgia game. It just wasn’t the same with all the COVID limitations, but we had a good time anyway with Meredith and some close friends on board to watch the game. Sabbatical even made it into the broadcast with an aerial shot from the blimp during the game.
At the end of the year, the starter on the Ford Lehman engine failed and we ordered a new one. Who would have thought that after32 years a starter would go bad? We decided that we like to be on the move and keep the water moving under the hull. A plan was set to leave The Marina at Ortega Landing and head south to get out of the cold and when the spring comes to start on a second trip around America’s Great Loop.
So, on January 4th, 2021 we slipped away from the marina and spent the next six nights on anchor at different spots until we got down to the Fort Pierce City Marina. We found one spot that we will not return to across the ICW from Marineland Marina south of St. Augustine. The space between the channel and the shallows to anchor in is narrow. We dropped the hook in what we thought would be the right spot in 5 to 7 feet of water with 60 feet of rode out. Once again we found ourselves aground at anchor around 2100 as the tide had dropped with the wind coming out of the east pushing us to the shallows. After midnight we were finally able to move the boat over about 25 feet into deeper water. We’ve made this mistake twice now and vow it won’t happen again. I guess most boaters run aground when they are underway?
We stayed a couple of days in Ft. Pierce and reconnected with Tobi and Lenny Schelin for a glass of wine aboard followed by a wonderful dinner at the Thai restaurant, Wasabi. We had met them at anchor in Brigantine by Atlantic City, NJ, in July of ’19. It was really good to see them again.
After we left Ft. Pierce, we got down to Stuart and headed up the St. Lucie River to cross the state through the Okeechobee Waterway system. We took dockage at St. Lucie South Park, Roland Martins in Clewiston, and the W.P. Franklin Lock Park. We spent two nights on anchor at a spot called Lollypop Lake. Very private place off the Caloosahatchee Canal. We were running into more Loopers, and as Gold Loopers, we knew when we got to Ft. Myers Yacht Basin, we should spend time connecting with the other Loopers there and organizing the docktails. We met a number of boats new to the Loop and were happy to provide some guidance as so many others had done for us in this marina three years ago. We did hate to not connect with three friends who all live in Ft. Myers, but there are only so many hours in a day and a half.
From there, we chugged on down to anchor in Naples, and then tie up for a night at the Rod & Gun Club in Everglades City. While at Everglades City we visited the museum and found the history fascinating including stories about C. G. McKinney who I assume must be some kin.
After leaving the Rod & Gun Club we moved on down for a beautiful night on anchor outside the mouth of the Little Shark River. We were treated to the “green flash” at sunset. It’s an isolated spot with no cell service. There were just a couple of other boats anchored within a mile or so.
The next day proved to be clear and calm for crossing Florida Bay to the Harbour Cay Club in Marathon. It was a trip of 44 miles occasionally escorted by dolphins and we arrived for a month’s stay at 1315. Harbour Cay Club is privately owned by the 24 members who each own their slip. If someone does not have their boat there, then the club can rent the slip out for a one month minimum. We enjoyed the time there and getting to know the various owners. It’s a laid back place and attitude. Our friends Mike and Cindy aboard Winespeed liked it so much over the past three winters that they bought a share and have settled into having a home dock for their boat. We got to enjoy seeing some of our other old Looper friends and meeting lots of MTOA members and AGLCA members at several functions and docktails. During the month I had time to attend to various items of boat maintenance and repairs. We even got down to Key West twice and acted like typical tourists. When our month was up we wanted to go out to the Dry Tortugas, but didn’t like the available weather window, so we started on east behind the barrier of the upper Keys. We hated to leave our friends, but knew it was time to get some more water moving under the hull.
Since we left we’ve spent four nights on anchor. The first two by Lorelei at Islamorada so we could dinghy into there and the World Wide Sportsman. We spent one night at Thursday Cove just north of the bridge over Jewfish Creek, but we got eaten up by mosquitos there, so yesterday we came all of 15 miles to anchor just south of Long Arsenicker Island and Biscayne Bay . With the wind coming out of the east we’ve got no problems with the bugs. The water here is gin clear and we’re hanging out right here through the weekend so we don’t have to deal with so many yahoos swamping us with their wakes when we make our way up through Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.
Stay tuned as we are attempting to circumnavigate the Eastern United States on America’s Great Loop and earn the coveted Platinum Burgee.
The forecast showed winds out of the east at around 15 knots with bay and inland waters a moderate chop. The low tide was very low at 0756 due to the Blood Super Moon. No big rush to leave since we were waiting on the water. This slip was deep, but the channel looked pretty shallow at low tide. I added about a cup of transmission fluid and about half a quart of oil and filled up the fresh water tanks. We backed out of the slip just after 1100 and eased on out to the Tarpon River and the fuel dock at River Energy. With the current and the wind combined with their lack of cleats on the dock, we had a difficult time getting tied up, but finally the attendant came out and helped us. We took on 170.3 gallons at the most agreeable price of $2.63 per gallon. That is the lowest price we’ve paid. By 1210 we were back underway and followed the markers back out of the river. At 1315 it was windy in the ICW and waves were running around one foot, but it was a beautiful and sunny day with the temperature at 70 degrees. We limbo’d under the Dunedin Causeway Bridge without asking for an opening. The tide board showed 22 feet of clearance and the center was a little higher, so we knew we could get under without delay. As we moved on south through the Intracoastal Waterway, there were several other bridges of marginal height but each time we approached cautiously and slipped under being careful to stay in the center of the bascule. It was still a little windy and we docked into a slip at the Madeira Beach Marina at 1630 with help from Captain Terry (Magic) and Gil (Chrysalis). We got showered and ready for docktails with a great group of Loopers and wannabes.
While we were in Madeira Beach we took advantage of Magic’s employment of a diver to check damage he had sustained from hitting a crab trap. The diver came over and checked the bottom of Sabbatical.
He cleaned some growth off and removed some zebra mussels from one of the intakes, but overall we got a good report. He said the zincs were all in good shape, but the back nut on our prop was loose. He returned the next day with his prop wrench and tightened it up. Best $50 I’ve ever spent.
We walked over to the beach with the crews from Magic, Chrysalis, and Sunshine Rose for lunch at the Snack Shack. We stopped at the hardware store to pick up some sand paper. It’s past time to start working on teak. When we got back on board, Jane started sanding the rail on the aft of the fly bridge and Tom Sawyer’d me into taking over. Once I got it down to bare wood she applied a coat of Cetol.
We were able to do some advance planning and made reservations for Riviera Dunes in Bradenton and at the Fort Myers Yacht Basin. We found out the seal kit that Brent (our Mobile mechanic) had ordered arrived and was waiting for us. We confirmed with Brian Basco in Ft. Myers to get it installed when we get there.
Our friends Danny and Sydney Shires came over from Tampa on Thursday to visit and brought us beautiful roses. They really brightened up the cabin and we had a great time with adult beverages on the fly bridge. We had a great dinner at Salt Rock Grill and were glad to have had a chance to visit and catch up.
Friday, January 25, 2019:
It has been one year since our first day on America’s Great Loop. The time has sped by. It was difficult to realize that we’ve been at it for a whole year. The wind had let up some so we could get out of the slip. We had wanted to leave a couple of days earlier, but it was so strong coming out of the south, I refused to attempt backing out of the slip given the close proximity of the dock just to our north. I would not have had the time or room to get the boat around before making contact with the other boats. Like Clint Eastwood said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” I know mine and let discretion be the greater part of valor. We eased out of the slip at 1025 under clear skies on a light chop with a nip in the air. It was only 51, but we have jackets. We set the course for Riviera Dunes Marina on the Manatee River in Palmetto. We passed under the Treasure Island Bridge at 1056. By 1130 we were in Boca Ciega and I spotted the old Don Caesar Hotel.
We turned south to parallel the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and crossed the main shipping channel at 1240.
The conditions were less than ideal with some wave action, but it was tolerable and by 1330 we entered the Manatee River. We arranged for a pump out at the fuel dock before heading to our slip at Riviera Dunes and docked at 1435. It is a very fancy marina with two heated pools and lots of big fancy rich-people boats.
My old childhood friend, Mike Miles, came by for a visit. We were planning on staying two nights so we made plans for Mike and his wife to return for dinner on Saturday night. There is a good restaurant right there at the marina. It was another fine night of reconnecting with old friends.
It was rainy and cold on Sunday, so we decided to just hang on the boat and stay one more night. It was a very lazy and rainy day.
Monday, January 28, 2019:
Sunshine was breaking through and I ventured up to the office to settle up for our extra night. We dropped the lines at 0945.
At 1040 in the Manatee River near G-3 we were hitting a two-foot chop. It was coming from the wrong angle so not a comfy ride, but by 1100 we were back in the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and moving between Anna Maria Island and the mainland.
These guys should quit. I think they have enough.
By 1328 we were going under the Siesta Key Drive Bridge. We arrived behind Casey Key at the Blackburn Point Swing Bridge at 1435 and had to wait for an opening. He had just closed it and needed to let the auto traffic clear. It didn’t take long and we were able to piggy back on the sailboat ahead of us for the Albee Bridge and slipped right on through the bascule.
We continued on through Venice to an anchorage in Lemon Bay by Englewood just north of the Beach Road Bridge. It was great anchorage and a great night. We hung out up top until well after sundown and ate our left-overs from the Salt Rock Grill for dinner.
Tuesday, January 29, 2019:
We stayed in bed until after Mr. Sun made his appearance. The night had been calm and cool enough to encourage snuggling. It was a chilly morning at 44 degrees and we were snug under the covers. We didn’t have far to go so we didn’t need to get an early start. I checked the route and it was only 20.3 miles until we “cross our wake” to complete America’s Great Loop. I figured if we left around 9:15 we could celebrate at Cabbage Key for lunch. We dilly dallied about a bit and I added about three cups of oil to Big Red and a cup of transmission fluid to the old Borg Warner Velvet Drive. I made notes of the tides in the log book, but they were largely inconsequential. We finally cranked up at 1040 and I had Jane ease us up toward the anchor to make it gentle on my back. We have a ratchet windlass, but often I just pull it by hand. I got it up and we idled on back to the ICW channel. By 1214 we sneaked under the Boca Grande Swing Bridge without asking for an opening.
At 1220 we were in Gasparilla Sound continuing south to cross Charlotte Harbor. The waters cooperated with just a gentle chop very much unlike our last day in Charlotte Harbor. It was very easy cruising across the Boca Grande opening just inside the mouth. We noticed another Looper boat, Flip Flop, just ahead of us. We approached the red day beacon number 74 and I pulled back on the throttle just before we crossed the imaginary line of where we had boated through last January 26th.
After 369 days and 6,845 miles Sabbatical crossed her wake at 1325 just north of red day beacon #74 near Cayo Costa. We high-fived and both cried. I put it in neutral and went down to the bow to change the burgee. We can now proudly sport the gold.
I came back up to the bridge and hailed on channel 16 “All Loopers, All Loopers; this is Sabbatical. Please go to channel 69 for an announcement.” I changed channels to 69 and started again, “All Loopers, All Loopers, All Loopers; Please be advised that Sabbatical has completed America’s Great Loop and crossed her wake at day beacon number 74 near Cayo Costa.” We got no replies, but it was still fun to make the announcement.
We continued on south to Cabbage Key. Within 15 minutes we entered the Cabbage Key entrance channel. I hailed the dock master over the radio. “Cabbage Key this is the trawler Sabbatical”.
“Go ahead Sabbatical.”
“We’d like to dock for lunch. We’re 36 feet, 13 ½ foot beam and draw 3 ½ feet.”
“Keep on coming straight ahead, Sabbatical. I have one slip you can go in stern first with a starboard side tie.”
“That doesn’t work for us. We’re a single screw, no thrusters vessel. I’d rather enter bow first and port side tie.”
“Captain, that won’t work here. For this slip, you will need to tie stern to. I don’t have any other spot for you.”
“Stern to with a starboard side tie it is then,” I acquiesced. By then I could see him waving at us from the dock. The slip was next to a very large and expensive boat and further encumbered by another dock extending from the boat house. Turning about would have to be performed before getting into those close quarters. I just kept it slow and pirouetted gently watching the bow of the neighboring vessel and the end of the angled dock from the boat house. It was a slow-motion ballet. Once I got turned, I started backing bumping in and out of reverse to move at the slowest pace. Rule One: Never go any faster than you want to hit the dock. I used the wheel to straighten her up a couple of times with quick effective bumps in forward. I got it in just the right position and Jane handed the line to the dock master and he complimented my piloting skills. Once they had us secured with a stern line, bow line, and spring, I came down from the helm. I got a fist bump from the dock master. “Why’d you say you couldn’t dock stern to? You did great.”
I answered, “I didn’t say I couldn’t do it; I just said I didn’t like to.” We adjusted a sausage fender by the stern quarter and we went up the hill to the lodge for our celebratory lunch.
On the way out, we had a nice chat with Phyllis Wells. She owns Cabbage Key along with her husband Rob. I’ve been coming here since the late 1970’s shortly after they bought the island.
We left Cabbage Key and went back to one of our favorite anchorages in Pelican Bay. It was a perfect evening enjoying champagne and each other with dancing on the fly bridge.
What an amazing journey it has been! We’ve enjoyed sunsets and sunrises. We’ve been delighted by cruising in glassy waters and terrified by waves unpredicted. We’ve been injured and hurt each other’s feelings. We’ve survived and loved like never before. We have mingled and imbibed with many new friends at lots of Docktails. We have worshiped at lots of different churches with local folks we didn’t know. We’ve seen a great deal of these beautiful United States by water and enjoyed lots of the scenic Canadian waterways. We’ve developed new skills in bollard wrangling, diesel mechanics, and boat driving. We spent 57 nights on anchor which was 15% of the time. We docked at 135 different places. We went through 127 locks and we used 2300 gallons of diesel in 966 hours of operation.
We thank Ron and Eva Stob for inspiring us with “Honey, Let’s Get a Boat”, Tim and Valerie O’Neill for selling us their wonderful boat, Chester B, and the entire AGLCA staff and volunteers including harbor hosts along with so many of our friends and family who’ve helped us and celebrated with us along the way.
It was beautiful and perfect night on the hook at Wilson Beach but 70 miles from our anchorage to Sea Hag Marina in Steinhatchee. I figured if we got underway at 0700 we’d arrive at Sea Hag around 1630. Sunrise was scheduled for 0730. We were up early and so were the dolphins that seemed to enjoy playing around our boat at sunrise.
It was a bit chilly at 39 degrees so we cranked up the generator and turned on the heat. The water to the east beckoned us with only a slight ripple. By 0725 we were off anchor and Jane piloted while I stowed the anchor rode. After an hour we were still enjoying the comfortable conditions with following seas of less than a foot. Jane pointed out that the boom was swinging back and forth some, so I tightened that up. The following seas were giving us a boost in speed. We passed Marker R-26 at 0845 in a two foot chop.
At 0940 we realized that land was not in sight. There was some grousing about the lack of phone service and the choppy conditions but there was nothing we could do about either. I sighted land at 1300 off the port bow. The chop had reduced to less than a foot. When phone service resumed, I made an appointment to get back to the dentist in Gainesville and we set up reservations for points after Steinhatchee. Most of those reservations we would later cancel or change. We got passed by Chrysalis and Trust Your Cape just before entering the Steinhatchee channel at 1530.
We docked early at Sea Hag Marina at 1545 and noted that Eddy’s Weather Wag had nailed the forecast and we felt privileged to have made the crossing on what was called the best day of the winter so far. Jane got some laundry started and we showered up. Then we walked over to Roy’s Restaurant for dinner. There we joined Mike and Sally from Mikey Likes It and Gil and Debbie from Chrysalis.
Thursday, January 17, 2019:
The tides for Suwannee were high at 1127 and low right at 1649, so I knew we would want to arrive well before 1500. It would only be a run of about 5 ½ hours so not demanding an early departure. Freezing weather with some ice on the docks combined with copious quantities of pelican poop makes for a very slippery situation. I didn’t go down, but I did get a scare. On daily engine checks, I added some transmission fluid and was happy with my system to contain the extent of the mess and catch the leak. It was a beautiful morning with crystal skies, but just too darn cold.
We ran the little space heater in the fly bridge to keep the shivering to a minimum. We backed out of the slip at 0800 aided by the current. By 0835 the sun had warmed our little roof-top solarium as we skimmed along on the calm water. We took a course of 190 degrees from the number one marker at the end of the Steinhatchee Channel crossing Deadman Bay. At 1200 we passed Red Bank Reef and finally entered the McGriff Pass Channel at 1229. The porpoises greeted us as we approached the number one marker.
The Town of Suwannee
It is not a well-dredged channel and if not timed correctly, one can run aground right in the marked channel. Of the three Suwannee River Channels, though, it is the best and most reliable. Because of the depth issues, I continued at a slower speed.
We boated into Wadley Pass at 1251 and navigated on into the Suwannee River without grounding. Docking at Gateway Marina was a trick with the narrow fairway and almost too narrow slip, but we did it safely and tied lines at 1320. Gateway Marina is the old Miller’s Marina and has reportedly been purchased and they are building a restaurant and bar and have other upgrades planned. Dredging of all channels would have a positive impact on the economy of this tiny town at the mouth of the great river. The town of Suwannee is special to me because my grandfather started the development before his death in the early 1950’s. I’m not sure he would recognize it today.
At 1700 my cousin Carol and her husband Ben arrived to tour Sabbatical before taking us to dinner at the Salt Creek Restaurant.
She is the consummate welcome wagon of Suwannee, obviously paid for our slip and bought us dinner. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit with them that extended after dinner at their home.
Friday, January 18, 2019:
Our previous plan had included anchorages in Cedar Key and/or Crystal River, but the weather window was closing and it was time to high-tail it to Tarpon Springs. Ben had given me the low-down on the options for exiting Suwannee. We were looking at a long day ahead of us and needed to go as early as light would allow. Basically he said that East Pass and the Main Channel were not options and that we’d have to go back out the way we came in through the McGriff Pass Channel. The low tide was going to occur at 0606, so I knew that there would be no way for us to get to Tarpon Springs before dark unless we left before 0400 and the Admiral squashed any plan involving predawn cruising – no room to argue. The winds were forecast to come out of the east at only five knots before changing to SE late in the morning and SW in the afternoon. Bay and inland waters were predicted as smooth. That was as good a forecast as we could hope for since we had 92 miles to go. We knew we couldn’t get out of the pass because of the low tide at 0700 or even 0800, but we needed to gain every advantage we could so I did something that most boaters would never plan on. I planned to push the envelope and run aground on the rising tide to ensure that we’d be out of the channel at the first opportunity. I would never do this where rocks could be involved, but it’s a mud bottom, so we left the dock at 0718 and were gifted a beautiful sunrise coming out the creek into the Suwannee River.
At 0734 we entered Wadley Pass with depths around six feet. We entered the marked channel for McGriff Pass. At 0751 we touched bottom a little bit by marker R14 and continued on cautiously at idle speed until we found the mud engaging the bow keel at 0755 right by marker R12. We waited five minutes and then ten and couldn’t dislodge, so I shut down the engine and we had breakfast of cereal and fruit on the fly bridge while we waited for the rising tide. Two crabbers came by on their way out to check traps and both stopped to check on us and asked if we were ok. They quickly understood that we were just waiting on the water. A rising tide lifts all boats, but I only needed it to raise one. By 0825 we were floating again and re-cranked Big Red to see if we could make it the rest of the way out. There was no more bottom bumping and we exited the channel at 0840 knowing that we could not have gotten out one minute earlier. We got up to speed and noted that the Navionics app was showing our arrival at well after sundown. We were not overly concerned since we have a good spot light and the clear sky should extend twilight. At 0850, I checked the engine and noted a small amount of coolant escaping from the radiator cap. At 0900 we checked with our friend Herb Seaton (Phanthom) who is the AGLCA Harbor Host for Tarpon Springs. He assured us that the channel in is well marked and that there is lots of ambient light to make an after-dark approach in unfamiliar waters very doable as long as we understand reading the chart and following the markers. I think we’ve got that down by now. Jane checked in by phone with Turtle Cove Marina and got our slip assignment and Adrianna said she’d leave a packet hanging on our power pedestal. At 1000 we were just off of Cedar Key and looking for any fishing boats that I might know around Sea Horse Reef. By 1220 we were about 25 miles west of Crystal River. The water was calm and the cruising pleasant even though there was no land in sight other than the power plant.
By 1400 the water was changing to clear green and we spotted a turtle. At 1615 we sighted land again. Jane noticed that cell service returned about 30 minutes later and started calling to change reservations at multiple marinas. The long day cruising was tiring, but we were treated often to porpoises and then a beautiful sunset.
Jane manned the spot light as we entered the channel of the Tarpon River. We docked bow in without a problem in slip 21 at Turtle Cove Marina. We took a few minutes to clean up a bit and then walked up to Costa’s Restaurant to join a large group of other Loopers for dinner.
While we were in Tarpon Springs, we rode the Jolley Trolley and had lunch at Crabby’s on Clearwater Beach with the crew from Magic and Chrysalis. We did some walking for exercise and enjoyed other Loopers at Docktails at the Tiki Hut. We worshiped at St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. The weather deteriorated with cold and wind and we relished residing in port and knowing we arrived at the point where we can cruise the Intracoastal instead of open unprotected water. We rented a car and drove to Gainesville for my dental appointment (finally fixed with permanent crown). While we were there, we enjoyed a lunch with our daughter and the grandsons, but returned to Sabbatical the same day.
We returned to Mobile via rental car from spending the Holidays at home with the family. It even included a trip to Disney World with four grandkids. We’re crazy but not totally crazy; we had three other adults to help. We loved spending time with the family, but were anxious to get back to the boat. The mechanic, Brent, had almost a month to complete the list of repairs so we expected everything to be done before we got back. He had quickly analyzed the electric issue as a blown 100 amp fuse for the house batteries. He also calculated that it should have a 150 amp fuse given the capacity of our inverter. I left him with a detailed list of the requested maintenance and repairs:
Work Order for Sabbatical (Ford Lehman 135; current hours = 8073.5)
Check and service batteries as needed – especially house batts (#2)
Install new 150 amp fuse at house batteries and provide spare
Hook up Neutral Safety Stop Switch
Install new tank neck and recovery bottle (provided by owner)
Install new block drain valve (provided by owner)
Replace thermostat (provided by owner)
Drain, flush with cleaner and refill cooling system (antifreeze provided by owner)
Replace raw water impeller (provided by owner)
Inspect exhaust elbow and components
Replace belts (owner has possibly usable replacements. Provide matched belts if needed)
Check operation and output of alternators
Check alignment of alternators. Adjust as needed
Priming lever on fuel lift pump is frozen. Repair/replace
Replace secondary fuel filters (provided by owner)
Check operating linkage for correct travel on gearbox
Change transmission fluid
Check shaft alignment
Perform valve adjustment
Adjust Idle set screw
Install charger/common ground wiring to generator battery
Discuss with owner any other items found on inspection.
NOTE: Owner changed oil and filter on 12/3/18.
I had tried several times during our time away to contact him and it was to no avail. The marina management had said that he’d been sick and also that he hunts between Christmas and New Year’s. I wasn’t getting a good feeling about the status of our work. He had been told all along that we would be returning on January 2nd and expected all work complete. What we found when we arrived at the boat that afternoon was an open tool bag, a partially disassembled engine, and no mechanic working on board. We weren’t happy and went into see Roger Turner about it. He got in touch with Brent and supposedly he would be finished that afternoon or the next morning. So we made arrangements to keep the rental car another day and went on over to Fairhope and checked into the Hampton Inn there. There was no way that we could get all our stuff put back on the boat let alone sleep there. Fairhope was an awesome spot to turn our lemons into lemonade. The lights were in the trees along the street and we enjoyed a great dinner at Master Joe’s Sushi.
The next morning, things didn’t work out any better, because on Brent’s inspection of the shaft alignment he found that we had a bent flange on the rear coupler which joins the transmission to the shaft. Also, the brackets on which our motor mounts rest had, over time, become loose from the stringers that they’re bolted too and the rubber padding in our mounts had compressed to the point that he wasn’t able to just adjust them into the proper alignment and had to fabricate aluminum shims for each of the four mounts. After all this was explained we went off for lunch at Dauphin’s downtown on the 34th floor of the Trustmark Building. Lunch (and the view) was superb and then we went over to visit the Battleship Alabama and the submarine, The Drum; both cool tours.
Back at the boat afterward we learned that we should just head back to Fairhope for another night in the hotel. We had another great date night at Tamara’s Restaurant. The next morning was Friday, January 4th and we were hoping that we’d get our boat back. We showed up around 11:00 am and he wasn’t done, but making progress. After an update, we left Brent and his helper working and headed to the movie theater to see “A Star is Born”. Once the movie was over, we returned again to the marina and they were almost done, but had a leak from the rear seal of the transmission. Brent found another seal and completed the job. He took time to go over everything with me and noted a couple of items that he had not done and I was fine with that. They did a great job cleaning up after themselves and we got the car unloaded and everything put away in the boat. Then we headed out to the grocery store to stock up.
Saturday, January 5, 2019:
We returned the car to Enterprise and checked in with the marina office about our bill. It wasn’t ready since they had not received the information from Brent. They have our credit card number and will email us the bill when it gets ready.
On my engine inspection, I noticed that the sea cock for the generator strainer was in the off position. Then I noticed that the port fuel tank was in the off position. Then I noticed that the selector for the primary fuel filters was set to draw from both filters instead of the port filter, where I had left it. I figured that Brent and his helper were just not real careful crawling around in the engine room and were not familiar with my filter system. These were not big deals, but I’m glad I noticed before needing to crank the generator. We cast off from Turner Marine around 1100 and moseyed over to Dog River Marina for fuel. We took on 200 gallons and at 1155 we were off the fuel dock and headed out to Mobile Bay under a cloudless sky. It was a little cool at 60 degrees, but we were so glad to be back on the water. And the water was calm with just a few ripples disturbing the glass at times. At 1230 we left the main ship channel to short cut across to the south east so we could rejoin the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway in Bon Secour Bay. The motor seemed to be running smoother and quieter. At 1400 I noticed that the temperature gauge was showing 185 degrees. That is about 10 degrees higher than our normal cruising temp. At 1500 the temp was up to 188 so we slowed down to 1750 rpms. That seemed to keep it down to 185 or just under for the remainder of the day. I thought through possibilities of what might be the cause. Having just had the coolant flushed and replaced, I focused on the thermostat. Maybe I provided one that is defective? In Oyster Bay at 1555 we met the John Parrish and then our old friend the Earl Devall on the one whistle. After a cruise of 36 ½ miles, we docked at 1615 in slip A-24 at Homeport Marina in Gulf Shores. We walked over to Lulu’s and on the way saw Scott on Gumby II. He had a guy on board and it turned out that Scott had lost his desire to finish the Loop and had sold the boat. The guy was taking possession right then. We left them to their tasks and went on to the restaurant wondering if Lulu’s brother, Jimmy Buffett, might make an appearance. He did not, but before our food arrived, I spotted the hostess seating Captain Crusty and Dorothy from Magic. We went over and surprised them and got them to join us at our table. We had a great time catching up. Lulu’s is large and very cute. I’m sure it would be busy if not for the time of year. Jane had to make some tee shirt purchases in the gift shop.
Sunday, January 6, 2019:
Another cloudless day greeted us. Still a nip in the air at 62 degrees, but we were happy to be on the move. On my morning engine checks I noted that the transmission fluid is really high. It was over the stamp that says “Do Not Overfill”. I trust Brent, but it didn’t seem right to me. I also noted that it looked like we were slinging transmission fluid off the coupler. Maybe because it was over filled? I cleaned it all up and made a mental note to check on it during the run. We should easily make Pensacola, a cruise of only 33 miles. By 1045 we were off the dock. The temperature of the cooling system was still a mystery. It seemed to go up and down but mostly around 185 degrees. That’s not too hot for running, but we were keeping a close eye on it. I confirmed the gauge reading with the infrared thermometer at the thermostat housing on the motor. We motored through Wolf Bay and made our way behind Perdido Key.
At 1230 we crossed the state line into Florida. Back in the home state! Yea! We docked at Palafox Pier Marina at 1500. Jane got some laundry done and we readied to meet our friend Alice Ann for dinner at Jaco’s in the marina. It was so wonderful reuniting with her again.
Monday, January 7, 2019:
At 0900 we eased out of the slip at Palafox Pier under blue skies and on calm water. We continued heading east along the Intracoastal.
It was a very pleasant day for a boat ride of 42 miles and we docked at the Fort Walton Beach Free Dock at 1415. Some of the local live-aboard sailors look a little sketchy but seem friendly and I’m sure they’re harmless. Our friend Scott Harris came to visit for a bit and then later we entertained Jeff Cross and his friend Rod before heading over to GOAT (Greatest of All Time restaurant) for dinner and to watch the NCAA national championship game.
We installed the Firestick I got for Christmas (thank you Meredith) so we could watch the rest of the game on board when we got back. It’s great to have some choices for the TV.
Tuesday, January 8, 2019:
We woke up to find out that we were fogged in. At 0900 it was still too thick to get underway. We were only trying to make it 14 or so miles over to Blue Water Bay Marina in Niceville, so we weren’t concerned about the time. We found out that the weather window for crossing the Gulf after Carrabelle had closed for another week, so we were fine with slowing down. Ft. Walton Beach Free Dock has a self-operated pump-out so I took advantage of that while we were waiting for the fog to lift. At 1052 we pulled away from the dock and had a nice little cruise over to Blue Water Bay. We made our way northeast across Choctawhatchee Bay behind Destin and at 1215 we motored over a part of the chart marked “Danger Unexploded Bombs”. I figured it might not do to set the anchor there. At 1240 we docked with help from a gold Looper, Sonny (Corkscrew). We were tied up on the tee head right behind him. We met his wife Phyllis too. They are really nice folks from Nashville. Our buddy Scott Harris had set it up for us to get free docking at BWB. We were happy to help him call in some favors. After we checked in, we spent time washing the boat. There is always something to do. Later on, we noticed that Nearly Perfect was there. Nearly Perfect was the scene of our first docktails back in Fort Myers almost a year ago. Then I spotted a couple that I recognized from across the marina. It was Eddy and Linda Johnsen (Spiritus). We learned that they have bought a house here after being on the boat for three years. Jane and I got cleaned up and took a well-deserved nap. Scott and his fiancé, Alis, visited us on board and then took us to dinner with Scott’s son, Jason, and his wife, Melody, at a place called The Locals Eatery.
The next day we borrowed a car to go to Publix, we took a long walk, and I took care of some business items for back home. Eddy organized a docktails in Schooners and we had the crews of Sabbatical, Spiritus, Corkscrew, and Nearly Perfect. Even Scott and Alis showed up. We found out that Scott and Linda went to high school together in the same class. What a small world!! It was crazy when they started singing the school songs and chanting the school mottos. After a while, some of the group moved into the restaurant for dinner.
On Thursday we went for another long walk and made ready for a Friday departure. We met the Loopers aboard Nearly Perfect at 1630 for docktails and we were joined by Jack and Jane (Dixie) who are on their way back to Biloxi with a new engine for their boat.
Jack is a real captain and will be installing his own motor. That’s way above my skillset. They were fun to meet and we hope to see them again in the future.
Scott came and picked us up and brought us to his house where Alis had fixed us a vegan pasta dinner. We had a great time with them.
Friday, January 11, 2019:
It was 33 degrees but the sky was cloudless and the water calm. We snuck away from the dock at 0645 with the space heater helping to keep us warm in the upper helm. At 0720 out in Choctawhatchee Bay the conditions became a little rough with around two foot waves. We passed under the US 331 Bridge at 0935 and entered the calm water of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway Canal known as “The Grand Canyon”.
By 1335 we glided under the Hathaway Fixed Bridge continuing on through St Andrew Bay by Panama City. After the day’s run of 64 miles, we found the right markers denoting the entrance to Pearl Bayou. There were several well-spaced sailboats in the anchorage and they may or may not have been occupied. We saw one obvious victim of Hurricane Michael up on the bank. We idled on back about a half mile west into the sweet spot where the bayou continues west and also to the south. We set the hook at 1506 in eight feet and enjoyed the privacy of the serene setting.
Saturday, January 12, 2019:
During engine room checks, I noticed that transmission fluid had definitely been leaking from the rear seal and slinging off the coupler.
I cleaned it up again and this time fashioned a cardboard collar to prevent the spray of fluid. It was an overcast morning and some rain is expected in Apalachicola around 1300. By 0655 the anchor came up clean from the sandy bottom and by 0710 we were in the East Bay with a light chop. We entered Wetappo Creek at 0910 and passed behind Mexico Beach. Even though we were several miles inland the destruction from the storm testified to its power.
We arrived at the intersection with the Gulf County Canal at 1130. It makes a straight cut 5 ½ miles south to St Joseph Bay. At 1145 we were under the White City Bridge and changed time zones. We made it through the Impenetrable Swamp and entered Lake Wimico at 1315. We only saw a few boats during the day, but the Looper boat, Thanks Dad passed us just after we went by Saul Creek at 1500. We hair-pinned around the Scipio Creek Junction Buoy and eased our way up to the Water Street Hotel and Marina.
Since our slip was perpendicular to the creek, the current caused me to have to make to two tries before easing in to dock without help. Jane was a pro on lassoing the cleat with the breast line. We were all settled in the slip at 1545 after the 58 mile day. We made contact with Capt Crusty from Magic and joined them and Debbie and Gil from Chrysalis for dinner at Up The Creek. We spent three nights in Apalch (as the locals call it). We were in no hurry since we had to wait on the right weather for crossing to Steinhatchee. I also spent time focusing on the transmission issue.
Fluid was up to my fingernail (3/4″ over the mark).
After a good bit of research, I went to the Piggly Wiggly and bought a turkey baster, a couple of aluminum oven liners and a disposable casserole pan. Once back on board, I drew out the excess transmission fluid to the proper level and did another cleaning job throughout the bilge. I was sure at this point that Brent’s helper was confused about the instructions to fill it to 1/8 inch over the mark. Then I constructed the oven liners into an arched splash guard and installed it over the aft section of the transmission and the coupler. It looked like a shrine that might have a statue of the Virgin Mary. I placed the casserole pan underneath it to catch the run off.
At that point all I needed to do was watch the fluid level until I can get to a good mechanic to get the seal replaced. I found a guy in Fort Myers that lives in the same marina where we will stay. I contacted Brent back in Mobile about getting us the correct parts and he promised to work on it. While I was doing all the clean-up, I noticed that a wire from the temperature switch had been rubbing on the water pump pulley. The insulation had worn through, so I fixed the wire and strapped it up out of the way. I also found a couple of wire connectors that were loose and crimped them for better contact. These were all wires that had been removed and replaced in Mobile and I still had confidence in Brent’s ability, but was reminded of the old adage that you’re only as good as your worst employee.
Tuesday, January 15, 2019:
It was the day to move out to the anchorage since Wednesday will give the best weather for crossing to Steinhatchee. I went next door to J.V. Gander fuel distributor and bought some oil absorbent pads. I got them placed around in the bilge and we easily exited the slip at 0905. The forecast showed winds of 5 knots or less and seas of one foot or less. We headed out for an anchorage by the entrance to Alligator Harbor just east of Carrabelle. It is 42 miles and it looked like we’d have a good day for the run. We passed under the Highway 98 Bridge and there was a dredge operation running in the channel. I got instructions from the dredge captain to go between his barge and the yellow buoy. I guess I wasn’t close enough, because we could feel contact with the muddy bottom, but I was able to free us and continue on. Once out in the bay, conditions were one to two feet. By 1020 we were under the St. George Island Bridge and had pleasant cruising through St. George Sound. We continued along behind Dog Island in calm waters. We anchored just off Wilson Beach in nine feet of water.
It was a beautiful place to anchor. No one else was there. The water was calm despite having open water view for well over 120 degrees. We enjoyed the evening on the fly bridge but turned in early for the long crossing tomorrow.
It was time to head south. Our plan was to get to Mobile and leave the boat there so we could go home for the holidays. Mobile would be about ten travel days. On Monday, we were bound for Bay Springs Marina; a trip of 39 miles. I did all the requisite engine checks and borrowed a ladder to repair the anchor light that had been damaged by the too-low overhang at Hale’s Bar Marina. All I really had to do was stand on the very top of the step ladder (not safe, especially on a boat), remove the globe and re-screw the base back into the top of the mast. Thank goodness no boats went by with a big wake during the process. And I was glad Jane stayed inside the saloon and didn’t see how I was precariously perched in wanton violation of the law of gravity. I got the job done without killing or maiming myself and returned the dockmaster’s ladder. At 1030 we slipped away from the dock as we were saying goodbye to Rick from Eagle One. It was misting rain and overcast; a dreary 54 degrees, but we were determined to slide some water beneath the hull and make our way south. The 54 degrees proved later to be the high for the day. The space heater on the fly bridge made it tolerable. At 1112 we passed under the Highway 25 Bridge and entered the man-made Tennessee-Tombigbee Divide Cut. This incredible engineering feat finished in 1985 is visible from outer space and cuts through the high spot between the Tennessee River and the Tombigbee River. At 1250 we passed the southbound Huckabee tow on his starboard side. By 1325 we were at the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad Bridge and the highest point on the Tenn-Tom Waterway at 414’ feet above sea level. We entered into Bay Springs Lake at 1400. We docked at the Bay Springs Marina at 1508.
Tuesday, November 20, 2018:
We were off the dock at 0900 and headed for Midway Marina. It was only 20 miles, but there are three locks to negotiate along the way. We arrived at the Whitten Lock at 0914, but had to wait about 30 minutes before we could get in the lock and secured on the floating bollard. The lockmaster was super friendly and efficient and we descended 82 feet. When we were exiting the lock at 1020, I told him over the radio that he won the Lockmaster of the year award as far as we were concerned. We made it to the Montgomery Lock at 1056, went down 31 feet and out at 1116. Shortly after, I left Jane at the helm and went below. When I came back up she had contacted the up-bound Robert G. Stone on the radio and was passing on the one whistle (port to port), thankfully avoiding his two Benzene tankers. At 1215 we were secure in the Rankin Lock to go down another 30 feet. We docked at the rustic Midway Marina with Shane’s help at 1310 and made arrangements to borrow the courtesy car to go out to dinner later. I refilled the water tanks and scrubbed down the decks since Shane told us that he’d be cutting the dock water off later because it looked like the freeze might pose a problem. Jane stayed busy vacuuming and defrosting the fridge. Then I helped her lug the laundry up to the facilities and we got showered while the machines did their thing. Later, we took the courtesy van (after hours, they just leave the key in it) and we stopped at Walmart to purchase our anniversary gift – a proper spotlight. And we enjoyed a great Mexican dinner at Mi Toro before heading back to the marina.
Wednesday, November 21, 2018:
We wanted to get going early, but we were totally fogged in. There was ice on the dock and I nearly busted it going up to use the facilities. (That could have been an accident of epic proportions!) All I need to do is fall, break a hip and slide into the cold water. While on the way to perform my constitutionals. Uh Oh. We weren’t going anywhere until the fog lifted. Finally at 0905 we were underway. At 0917 we called the Fulton Lock to let them know of our arrival in 20 minutes. He was very nice and by the time we got there, he was filling the lock chamber. We entered and tied up at 0945, but we had to wait for another recreational vessel, the sailboat Duette with Bill Ackerman single handing from Illinois down to the St. Petersburg area. It became a beautiful day with no clouds, but plenty of jet contrails. By 1215 we were tied on a port pin in the Wilkins Lock and waited while Still Havin Fun and Knot Unusual came in and got secured as well. At 1237 we were down 29 feet and let the two fast cruisers go ahead. After five more miles we entered the Amory Lock at 1315, but had to wait while the lock mechanics did some repairs to the upper east-side gate.
Two hours later we were finally out of Amory and edged around Higman Mariner.
We changed our destination to the Blue Bluff Recreation Area free dock. The schedule tightened getting there before dark but we made it without having to use the new spotlight. There is nothing there, but a park, and boat ramp. They might have restrooms, but they were a long way away, so we didn’t even investigate. It was a pretty sunset and the temp was rapidly dropping.
We heated up some boxed soup and dug into that along with a baguette. It was cold that night. It was snuggle or shiver, take your pick.
Thursday, November 22, 2018 (Thanksgiving Day):
We got up early and ran the generator and heater. Hot oatmeal for breakfast fit the bill. Content to take our time, I checked in with the Aberdeen Lockmaster and he said he had some boats almost ready to lock down. We scrambled for a quick start to catch the lock-through with Still Havin Fun and Knot Unusual and we entered the Aberdeen Lock at 0803. We were headed to Columbus Marina, a distance of only 24 miles. We exited Aberdeen at 0830 having been let down 28 feet.
As I piloted, Jane went below to put on make-up and whipped up some black beans and rice. We docked at Columbus at 1115. Duette came in shortly after us and we invited Bill to join us for Thanksgiving dinner, (black beans and rice). He brought along some canned collard greens, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes. We got into the greens and he and I enjoyed that. Later we got invited by Dave and Claudia Fuller aboard Still Waters for some real dessert including homemade apple cake. It was yum-yum-yummy. It was a fine Thanksgiving Day. The next day was our 33rd anniversary. We borrowed the marina courtesy car for a trip to Kroger for provisions. When we got back to the boat, Jane did laundry and I tightened the faucet handles on the aft head sink. That project didn’t quite go as planned because after I finished, I kept hearing the water pump cycling. So I had created a leak where there once was none. I found and fixed the persistent leak fussing and groaning as I contortioned my body to access the water line. I was rewarded with naptime before we dressed up for an anniversary dinner out at Huck’s Place. We got the car again and were joined by Bill along with Ralph and Marti Donovan from Marti Time.
We had a fun time and excellent food.
Saturday, November 24, 2018:
It was a cool morning at 52 degrees, but the fog was light and we eased out of Columbus Marina at 0630 along with Duette and Marti Time. Bill had coordinated with the lockmaster at the Stennis Lock and we slipped right in ten minutes later. By 0700 we were down another 30 feet and headed for Kingfisher Bay Marina at Demopolis, Alabama. It was cloudy and cold but at least it wasn’t freezing. We continued to be entertained by the numerous eagles along the river.
At 1020 we were in the Tom Beville lock but we had to wait for the slower boats to catch up. Twenty minutes later, DeFacto arrived and at 1120 Marti Time and Duette showed up. I didn’t really mind waiting because I was listening to the Gators play FSU through my phone app. At 1135 we were back on our way downstream again, but due to the delay we changed the destination. At 1453 we anchored in the Lower Cooks Bend Cutoff in 20 feet on 125 feet of rode. It was a nice, secluded and well protected anchorage. After a while Duette and Marti Time caught up and came into the anchorage. We invited them to raft to us for docktails and had a wonderful time with one sailboat on each side of Sabbatical.
Once it got dark, I said that they should just stay tied up to us for the night. I have plenty of confidence in our ground tackle.
Sunday, November 25, 2018:
The anchor held perfectly as I knew it would but the early morning brought more fog with visibility of less than 500 yards. The sailors left before us since they go slower, and we waited until 0810 to pull up the anchor. It was muddy and I washed it down as the chain came up. We needed to get underway since Demopolis is just over sixty miles. Around 0900 the fog was lifting and we entered the Howell Heflin Lock at 0930. Twenty minutes later, Jane, the deckhand, had handled all the lines and did the dishes as well. We were dropped another 32 feet closer to sea level and on our way running south to escape the cold. We encountered a dredge operation at 1130 and passed without delay.
Soon we were passing the White Cliffs of Epps.
We also passed Marti Time and Duette.
At 1415 it began to sprinkle and we also were getting some fog. By 1430 it was pouring rain. We docked at 1530 in the downpour with Anna Maria’s help at Kingfisher Bay Marina. The wind howled during night, but we were plugged in and warm. We stayed for a second night and went out to dinner again with Bill, Ralph, and Marti. We enjoy their company as we do with so many folks we’ve met on this journey.
Tuesday, November 27, 2018:
Bill from Duette was coordinating with the lock for all the pleasure boats in Kingfisher Bay Marina that wanted to lock down. The lock is only three and a half miles from the marina, so we waited to hear from Bill before untying the dock lines. We were up at 0500 and getting our coffee and preparing to be ready at 0600 if need be. His announcement was that the lock had commercial traffic and we would need to check in later. At 0730 we were still waiting to get the all clear to leave the marina. It was freezing cold and all the isinglass was frosted up as were the decks and docks. I was ok with waiting until it warmed up some even though we would not be able to make it as far as we would like. The days keep getting shorter and shorter (and colder). Finally, at 0850 we got the all clear and headed out towards the lock. It turned into another flotilla. The 110 foot yacht, Sensation, from the Marshall Islands was already up at the lock. We had eight boats in all and the lockmaster wanted each one of us to check in by radio with length, registration number, and vessel name. We were the second to last boat to enter the lock, but went forward to the furthest bollard on the starboard side. The wind was up and I didn’t really get Jane as close as usual to lasso the pin. But she made a super toss and looped it on the first try from eight or ten feet out. She was Annie Oakley for the day!
By 0958 we were down the 40 foot drop to the level of the river on the lower side and Sabbatical was allowed out of the lock first. At 1020 we had reached mile marker 209.9 when we heard Duette and Marti Time trying to hail Steve or Linda on Forever Young. It sounded like something was wrong and we were informed that Forever Young had driven into the bank at mm 211. Our first thought was that he may be having a heart attack so we came about and churned back upstream to see if we could help. By the time we got there, Steve was out on the deck and had set the anchor. He reported a steering problem and said that they’d be ok and have Tow Boat insurance etc. Again, we came about and headed back down the river. We had picked out a couple of possible anchorages and would decide as we got to them where we would spend the night. At 1210 we passed the down-bound tow, George W. Lenzie. He was pushing 6 loaded and one empty barge. The crystal clear skies helped the sun to keep us warm even though it was a cold day. At 1410 we anchored at the Edna 2 anchorage in nine feet of water on 55 feet of rode.
It is just a wide bend in the river and I had some concerns about if we would be out of the way enough for the tows to get by in the middle of the night. We surely did not want to be bumped by 30,000 tons. It was a pretty and secluded anchorage and we were the only boat there. After we anchored, we checked and rechecked the guides and websites and assured ourselves that we were in the right spot and out of the way. We were soon joined by Marti Time and Duette and then Forever Young also came in and set the hook. Steve on Forever Young had repaired the link in his steering cable that had broken.
At 1615 the down-bound George W Lenzie was coming by.
I radioed him to get his opinion as to whether we were all out of the way enough for the tows to negotiate the bend. He said he’d take a closer look when he got up to us. He got fairly close to Forever Young but got around the bend ok.
He never called me back to say one way or the other, but Steve Young wisely moved his boat closer to the bank.
At 1530 it was dark and an up-bound tow came by and this one got very very close to our boat. I could have tossed him a line. These guys are very long and it takes a lot of room for them to get around the bend. Jane and I exchanged glances and we decided that discretion is the greater part of valor so we re-anchored closer to the north bank between Forever Young and Marti Time. There, we felt secure the rest of the night.
Wednesday, November 28, 2018:
We were up early, but it didn’t do us much good. We were socked in with the fog. I was ok with waiting for it to clear because the decks, rails, and isinglass were covered with a thick layer of frost. It was 29 degrees at 0700 and forty in the cabin. The decks were icy. I cranked the generator so we could run the heater and coffee maker. It was so cold I also ran the electric space heater. The inverter was still on, but with the genset running it just passes the current right through. The mistake was trying to run the central heater, coffee maker and space heater all at once. The combination caused the main alternating current breaker to pop which then left the inverter and house batteries to supply the load. It didn’t and the house batteries appeared to drain almost immediately. Oops. I reset the breaker after turning off the space heater and we were ok, but I kept watching to see if the house batts would recharge and they did not. I was perplexed. Duette and Marti Time left in the fog but we stayed on the hook for a while longer. Forever Young left around 0800. Shortly after that I cranked up the engines and after warm-up we pulled the anchor and continued on downstream. We set a route for Okatuppa Creek anchorage which was 54 miles away. It was strange having so much ice on the boat in the morning, but the sun was warming us in the upper helm. I had noticed after cranking that the tachometer wasn’t working and the volt meter was pegged at 16 volts. Were these related? I didn’t know. By 1025 the volts had returned to a more normal reading at 14 and I assumed that meant that the house batteries were receiving a charge. I know just enough about boat electrical systems to cover the head of a pin in a large font. I added the issue to the list of maintenance items to get checked out when we get to Mobile. We noticed that our speed with the current was good enough for us to easily make it to Bobby’s Fish Camp. We knew that it was rustic, but a number of other boats seemed to be heading there and we thought that the interaction might prove to be a fun time. They have a restaurant there, but it’s only open Thursday through the weekend. We changed our route to go there anyway. At 1103 a yearling deer jumped in the river from the right descending bank and swam across right in front of us at mm 158. It’s amazing how an animal with no body fat and such skinny legs can swim so well. We felt bad that he maybe had lost his mother.
At 1103 we met the up-bound Alice Parker with eight empties. At 1215 I rechecked the shaft seal leak and it had increased some to two to three times per second, but that’s ok and we’ll also have that addressed in Mobile. We were then overtaken by three cruisers headed to Bobby’s and the lead boat radioed that he had called ahead. He reported that the folks at Bobby’s agreed to open the restaurant tonight since they would have so many boats staying on the dock. Great news!
We met Palacios on the two whistles (starboard to starboard) with his two loads of benzene at 1250 and then the Cooper Devell with one empty tanker at 1400. At 1500 we came upon the Chippewa with 8 loads up-bound. We arrived at Bobby’s Fish Camp and found Marti Time and Duette circling in the river waiting to get to the fuel dock.
At 1454 we rafted to Whiskey Business and Patty Time on the dock at Bobby’s Fish Camp. Marti Time gassed up and then rafted to us. We got checked in and I asked where the showers were. “It’s that little building between the two big buildings”, I was informed with a non-descriptive hand gesture. I gathered my shower supplies and headed back up the hill from the dock. I found the “small building”. It was a plastic shed that you could bring home from Lowe’s in the back of your pickup truck. It did have a sink, toilet and prefab shower, but cleanliness was evidently not a high priority in this neck of the woods. I was thankful for the hot water and got cleaned up for dinner. Jane had already gone aboard Patty Time for docktails with Wade and Patty and their friends Sam and Mary Martha who came along for the cruise. The crew from Whiskey Business, Jerry and his brother Jim Rogers, were also there. Eight boats were tied on the dock at this point rafted four abreast. All the boaters went up to the restaurant for dinner. Quaint does not describe the place. Rustic comes closer, but lacks still.
The property has been in their family for 200 years. History drips from this place like water off a catfish pulled from the river. The food was good and there was plenty of it. A tentative plan was set for us all to leave at first light since the boats at the dock can’t go anywhere until the ones rafted to them leave. After we came back down to the dock, the replica ships of the Nina and the Pinta were finally arriving and rafted together at the fuel dock right behind us. They had called ahead with their dinner orders to the restaurant and once secure the crews headed up to eat. They are supported by the Columbus Foundation and cruise the Great Loop for two years and then go up the rivers to Pittsburg every third year.
Thursday, November 29, 2018:
On engine checks, I computed our remaining fuel at somewhere around 140 gallons. That would be plenty for us to get to Mobile. There are no opportunities between Bobby’s and Mobile to fuel up and I knew we would save some money by waiting until we got down there. The house batteries were still not working, but we will get that figured out. We released Marti Time at 0630 and then loosed our lines from Whiskey Business and headed for the Coffeeville Lock under cloudy conditions with a nip in the air of 43 degrees. At least one of the other boats will need the Nina and Pinta to move from the fuel dock so they can re-fuel before heading out.
By 0700 we were secure on the front port-side bollard in our last lock of the Loop. We didn’t even know then how many locks we had been through. Hundreds. Other boats joining us in the lock-down were Patty Time, Whiskey Business, Chrysalis, and Marti Time.
At 0730 the lower lock doors opened and we were down another 28 feet and essentially boating again at sea level. We encountered the upbound tow Miss Lilly in the bend just below Peavy’s Landing with eight loads up-bound. By 1100 at mile mark 84.5 the temperature was up to 65. It was so good to be getting southerly.
We passed other tows including Point Mallard, Bobby Joe James, and Alliance. Jane brought up some awesome soup that she had made.The wind was starting to whip up a bit from the south and at 1210 I noticed that it had ripped off our burgee. Not again! At 1240 we passed Captain Earl Devall and at 1350 met Joe Cain and the J.O. Bradford. I found it interesting that the closer we got to Mobile, the tow captains use channel 16 instead of 13 and they only respond intermittently at that. By 1530 we passed the Alabama River junction at mile marker 45. We entered the Tensas River at 1600 and anchored behind the raft of Patty Time and Whiskey Business at 1616 in 13 feet of water on 125 feet of anchor rode. I recorded our Lat-Lon as N31 deg 04.019’ W87 deg 56.835’. We were invited to join the raft, but declined so we could enjoy the privacy of the scene and not have to be on their schedule in the morning. I serviced the batteries while Jane cooked dinner. Afterwards we enjoyed time on the fly bridge listening to music and were inspired to dance. It was a beautiful and remote anchorage.
Friday, November 30, 2018:
We slept in and the other boats were gone when we got up. I ran the generator to charge the house batteries while the coffee pot brewed for us. By 0830 we were warmed up and off anchor with glassy conditions on the water. We were headed to Turner Marine in Mobile, some 55 miles so there was no need to get in a big rush. At 1020 I called Brent Davison the mechanic in Mobile who came highly recommended from our friends on Wine Speed. I discussed a list of items that I want him to address while we leave the boat at Turner Marine. He would be coming by on Monday to take a look and get the details. We would be heading home for the month for the holidays. At 1115 we were approaching the 14 mile Railroad Bridge and radioed the tender so we could get under. He had a train coming, so I backed off the throttle just a little while the 104 freight cars passed just before we arrived at the bridge. We didn’t have to circle around and slipped right under without delay.
At 1135, Jane spoke with Leah at Turner Marine who would be sending a picture by text. It’s always good to have an accurate idea of the marina layout and know where the assigned slip is. Going through Mobile, we saw some ships loading/unloading at the port and some cool ships that were under construction for the Navy. Almost no commercial traffic was moving but is known as a very busy port.
By 1300 we were out of the Mobile River and into Mobile Bay. The wind was on our nose from the south and had picked up some, but it wasn’t problem. We entered the Dog River Channel at 1355 giving all due respect to the markers. I noted that red number 4 had been run over and the top of the pile was just peeking out of the water creating a hazard. We docked at Turner’s at 1427 through the narrow basin and into the rustic slip with a short finger pier. We entered bow first which makes getting on and off the boat problematic given the shorty finger. Later, Bill from Duette arrived and joined us for dinner at the Mobile Yacht Club, a short walk away.
The weekend was spent on housekeeping and maintenance items like changing the oil. Twice we took the dinghy across the Dog River to Mariner Marina Restaurant for dinner. On Saturday night we ran into friends we had met back at Columbus Marina on Thanksgiving.
Monday’s meeting with Brent went well and I was glad to have such a knowledgeable expert on board. I left him with a detailed list of the minor repairs for the engine. We took Sabbatical over to Dog River Marina for a pump out and on return I picked a spot on the south along-side dock to leave her. I checked with Roger just to make sure that was ok before we picked up the rental car on Tuesday and headed home for the holidays. Merry Christmas!
The weather was not cooperative, but we were ready to get on the move towards Chattanooga, so we dropped the lines and eased off the dock from Aqua Yacht Harbor at 0925. It was drizzling and a little hard to see. We don’t have windshield wipers on the isinglass. By 0952 we were back in the channel of the Tennessee River and passed Jack Meade on the one whistle. Then we encountered the Emma Kate and Captain Anthony at the Natchez Trace Bridge. At 1445 we passed Tanuki headed the other way. I gave him a “Go Gators!” over the radio. We made it to Florence Harbor Marina and Kyle helped us with a pump-out and then we docked in a slip at 1525. Running time was six hours and it was a trip of 43.2 miles so our average speed going upstream was only 7.2 mph. Good info to have to help us gauge ETA’s as we move on up towards Chattanooga. We got the electric hooked up and met up with Kyle and Eva in the office to check in. Florence is a quaint marina and they were very accommodating hosts. We paid for two nights because we wanted to be where we could watch the Florida-Georgia game on Saturday. Once back on board, I changed the engine oil while it was still hot and refilled the fresh water tanks. There were a couple of other Looper boats at Florence; Roger from Miss Utah came by and invited us to join them for dinner at the Flo-Bama. He had reserved the courtesy car and was willing to drive. The Flo-Bama is a barbeque joint with great live music. We enjoyed the visit with them and got back to the marina fairly early.
Saturday morning we borrowed the courtesy van and went to a couple of Tractor Supply stores to restock on oil. Then we restocked at Publix and made it back in time to get some laundry done before kickoff. We found a great spot at the bar upstairs of the River Bottom Grille and enjoyed talking to some local young men while we watched the game. The mighty Gators couldn’t keep up with Georgia, but I quit letting that spoil my day years ago.
Later, we walked downtown to the Pie Factory for pizza. We had a great server who was dressed up for Halloween as a vampire. She even had red contact lenses that really added to the effect. The veggie pesto pizza was awesome and instead of walking back in the cold, we got an Uber to return us to the marina.
Sunday, October 28, 2018:
We called by phone and checked with the lock master at the Wilson Lock to make sure we could get through. He said to come on up and call from the arrival point, but there shouldn’t be any commercial traffic to hold us up. With sunny skies, we backed out of the slip at 0830 and made our way under the bridge and up through the access canal to the lock. By 0920 we had been raised up 95 feet and were out of the lock and into the wide and glassy waters of Lake Wilson. Ten minutes later, I noticed that the oil pressure was down to 47 psi. Odd, but not critical. After another 15 minutes it was back up to normal at 55 psi and holding steady. At 1108 we arrived on the wall at the Wheeler Lock but we didn’t have to wait long and by 1145 we had gone up another 50 feet and entered Lake Wheeler.
Antonia was coming downstream and we met them going the other direction at 1242. We will have to rendezvous with them another time.
We arrived at the railroad lift bridge in Decatur and were delayed while a 96-car freight train passed.
It didn’t take long and we docked at the Riverwalk Marina at 1525. There is a restaurant there that probably does really well in the summer, but it was pretty dead that evening at the Hard Dock Café. Decatur is largely industrial, but the sunset was still pretty.
Monday, October 29, 2018:
It was sunny but chilly (42 at 0730). By the time we got out of the marina at 0930 it warmed up to 51. The sunny cold is easier to deal with than the overcast cold. The sun warms the fly bridge like a solarium. We were headed to Ditto Landing Marina. It is only 28.6 miles and we had a lovely day to cruise. Once we got passed the Meow Mix factory (stinky) and some other industrial enterprises the river was very scenic. Red Pearl passed us down-bound at 1050 and we got some information on stops upriver from them via the radio. We docked at Ditto at 1335. We were the only transient customers there. Jane went for a walk and I worked on the blog.
Tuesday, October 30, 2018:
We eased out of the slip at 0930. At 0935 we passed the Margret Ann on the one whistle. At 1040 we were by the Painted Bluff. There are ancient Native American paintings on the rock. It is beautiful, but I couldn’t recognize any specific images.
We arrived at the Guntersville Lock at 1110 and the lock master let us know he had a tow in the chamber. At 1115 the doors were opening and the down-bound Tom Freeman emerged pushing five empties.
By 1130 we entered the lock and 20 minutes later we were up 38 feet and entered the scenic Guntersville Lake.
By 1530 we were all secured in the slip at Goose Pond Colony Resort. (It’s a nice place, but not my idea of a “resort”.) They have a good restaurant there and a bait and tackle shop that also serves breakfast and lunch. They also have a boat repair facility. The folks are all really nice and one of the shop workers let me use their vice to straighten out my bent weather head. It had gotten crunched when the mast support broke in Lake Michigan. It didn’t come out perfect, but it’s better than it was. Jane did laundry while I worked on the repair. We met Tom and Paula from Tango Papa II. They told us about a free dock just past the Nickajack lock. We had a wonderful dinner at The Dock and a super waitress. I always enjoy servers who are at the top of their game and Chrissy is the real deal.
Wednesday, October 31, 2018:
It was another cloudy day. We delighted in the warmer weather with no wind. The Shell Mound free dock is 48 ½ miles so I figured it would take us seven hours to get there. We exited the slip at 0835 and idled through the no-wake zone to the channel that would take us back out to the lake where we could turn left and continue our cruise up the Tennessee River which at this point is also called Guntersville Lake. As we were making our way out the Goose Pond channel, I noticed a pretty good sized flock of coots in the water ahead. Right about then, I saw a female eagle swoop down to attack the coots. She then flew up to a tree on the bank and the male came out. He was terrorizing the coots, but I didn’t see him grab one. I’ve seen coots fly and I’ve seen lots of eagles fly. The coots don’t stand a chance.
We continued on upstream towards Chattanooga.
We came upon the railroad bridge at 1355. It has a 35 foot clearance, so we didn’t have to wait for the freight train this time. This one had three locomotives and 93 total cars. At 1500 we called the Nickajack Lockmaster to let him know we were getting close. He said he would have it ready for us in ten minutes and he did. He took us up another 37 feet and we left the lock at 1535. I noticed that the lock walls were dry. We may have been his only customers for the day. We arrived at the free dock at Shell Mound at 1550. It is just a dock at a park.
There’s not much else around other than the lock and dam and a camp ground. We got out and walked about some and through the campground. It was decorated for Halloween to the max. We saw kids getting off the school bus and coming back into the campground so I guess some of them live there on a permanent basis. I wondered if any of them would be coming down to our boat for Trick-or-treat. We were hoping not since we have no candy. We grilled veggies for dinner and no trick-or-treaters showed up. It was a nice secluded spot and we were glad to be there. However, sleeping that night proved to be fitful because the wind got up and we were getting rocked up against the dock.
Thursday, November 1, 2018:
We got up at 0445 and knew a big storm was coming. At 0630, I deployed all the fenders.
The radar did not look good and we heard tornado warnings on the radio. The wind continued to build and pound us broadside against the dock.
At 0800 I put out additional dock lines to keep us secure. We put together a ditch bag with our wallets, passports, and other things that we can’t do without. There was a public restroom building of concrete block about 100 yards up the hill. We planned that we’d high-tail it for there if things got too bad. At 0845 the wind calmed somewhat and the rain started. We rode it out with Jane cooking broccoli soup. It was incredibly comforting. Then we took a nap since we hadn’t had much sleep. By 1300 the storm had passed and we decided to make tracks for Hales Bar Marina. It’s only an hour away, but one less hour we’ll have to do tomorrow to get to Chattanooga. We called and made arrangements for a covered slip. After the incident at Lake Barkley Marina, we have learned to always ask about the height of the covering. The girl that Jane spoke with said that the H dock covering is 21 feet. That is no problem since the top of our mast is 19’ 6”. We cranked up Big Red at 1356 and were off the dock at 1420. There was no wind and the rain had stopped. Nickajack Lake is like all the other “lakes” that were formed by the damming of the river. Once the dams were built, lands were flooded. In places, some old timber still exists under the surface as do the old structures of roads, bridges, and railroads. These are marked on the nautical charts and in most cases are too deep to be of consequence to the recreational boater. However, as we approached Hales Bar Marina and called on the radio for docking instructions, the harbor master responded with, “If that’s you out there just upstream from the anchored barges, you need to stop right there and back up. You’re about to hit the old railroad bed!” The chart wasn’t clear on the depth at that point, but I knew I’d have to bring it around quickly or risk running aground on the old track. We turned in time, and he directed us in and a local in a pontoon boat hailed us to follow him. Disaster averted. So we got to the assigned slip. There were no staff on hand at the dock to help, but we’re good on our own, so I began to ease into the covered slip. Docking is always done at high speed of snails and it was good I was not in a hurry here. We were halfway into the slip when all of a sudden, I heard a loud “POW!” What THE??!! Then I knew what had happened. The air draft of the dock was not 21 feet as we were told and we had broken our anchor light on the beam. I was livid. Expletives emitted from the helm. The nice guy, Mark that had led us in, helped us tie up and saw the whole thing. We got checked in but didn’t have to pay. I thought it incredulous that they are using a chart for heights that are clearly wrong. The bath house was mediocre, but we got cleaned up and walked over to the restaurant on a barge, which was also somewhat of a hole in the wall. The waitress and owner were nice and Jane and I made up half of their customers that night. I learned that the whole property is for sale. There’s an opportunity here for the right developer.
Friday, November 2, 2018:
The Chattanooga Bluff dock is 34.9 miles from Hales Bar and with no lock to go through, we figured we could be there in about five hours. I filled up the water tanks in an effort to get the boat lower in the water so that maybe we could slip what was left of the mast light under the eave beam of the covered slip. It helped and we were free from the overhang at 1008. By 1435 we were passing Baylor Military Academy and we were back in the Eastern Time zone. At 1600 we arrived at mile marker 463 in Chattanooga and were told by the waiting Sheriff’s launch that we would need to wait until 1800 to proceed to the Bluff Dock due to the practice of all the crews prepping to race the next day in the Head of the Hooch Regatta. This is the largest regatta in America with thousands of rowers. We idled on over to the fuel dock of Erwin Marine and helped ourselves to a pump-out while we waited. Finally, the rowers and the Sheriff dispersed at 1800 and we eased on up between the bridges to join several other boats at The Bluff Dock. We enjoyed being there for the weekend with all the crew races.
There were even rowers from Gainesville and the University of Florida for us to cheer on.
Chattanooga has many great restaurants and the Aquarium to visit.
We got to meet up with our friend, Don Davis, after his Saturday race and watched part of the Gator game with him.
On Monday the fifth we moved the boat back over to the Erwin dock in front of their office so we could leave it for a week. The current is pretty strong at this point. We were getting tied to the outside of the along-side dock with our bow into the current. There was no one to take our lines, but we’re pretty used to docking without assistance. Jane looped a cleat with the breast line and I came down from the helm to attach the stern. That was my first mistake. I should have quickly moved to the bow and got it secured first. The current was then taking the bow away from the dock and Jane couldn’t pull it in with the breast line. So, unwisely, I stepped off on the dock to pull the line from there (mistake number two). Did I mention that the current was strong at this location? At this point, we were both trying with all our combined strength to pull the boat back to the dock, but wisely we are keeping the line fast to the boat and dock cleats. If we released either one, Sabbatical would end up pivoting on the stern line and smashing into the next boat at the dock just some thirty feet away. So I couldn’t get back on the boat because now it is ten feet off the dock and being held out there by the current. I tried to direct Jane on what to do from the helm to bring it back into the dock and maybe if I had released the stern line maybe she could have done that, but I was very reluctant to release either line at that point. We were both having visions of a breakaway and her at the helm having never docked the boat before. After a couple of tries, I had her come back down and throw me the bow line. A great deal of pulling and cussing ensued and after almost running out of strength, I finally got the nose turned enough to bring her alongside the dock. That was an experience, which required me to just sit down for a bit not just to regain the strength to move but more so to absorb the education it afforded me. I do try to learn from my mistakes. I looked about to see if anyone had seen the tug-o-war with 18 tons of boat and the Tennessee River against the two of us. No one had seen it. We had won, but I didn’t feel very victorious. Once we checked in with Jill in the Erwin Marine office we found out that she needed us on the inside of the dock and as far back as we could get it. We made the move and backed down the length of the 200 foot dock and secured the boat without incident or assistance.
The next day we got a rental car for a week so we could go to Gainesville to see family and get some dental work done (that darn crown did not stay in place). On the way out of town, we tried to visit Lookout Mountain, but it was socked in with clouds and/or fog, so we didn’t even get out of the car up there.
We also went over to St. Augustine for my Howey Academy Reunion.
We also were looking forward to investigating some marinas where we might keep the boat after we’re done with the Great Loop. The week sped by and we returned to find Sabbatical safe and secure. We were happy to have made it home to see some family and friends, but we were also happy to get back on board. Except it was way too cold and rained again on Monday the 12th, so there we stayed for one more day.
Tuesday, November 13, 2018:
We woke to a cloudy morning and 45 degrees, but we wanted to get moving to escape the cold so we got off the dock at 0905 and by noon we were back in the Nickajack Lock and out in 15 minutes. It’s always easier and faster getting let down than on the way up. At 1245 we were making 11 ½ miles per hour and it never did warm up.
I think the high for the day was when we first got up. We wanted our space heater for the upper helm, but the inverter can’t handle it. At 1315 we passed back into Alabama again. We kept pressing on in the cold and docked in the dark at Goose Pond Colony at 1650. Jane did a load of laundry and we both got hot showers. Then we returned to the Dock and the same waitress, Chrissy Cobb, waited on us and she was just as awesome as before.
The next day, we stayed put because of the rain. We did manage to edge over to the fuel dock and get refueled and pumped out between showers. We took on 175.8 gallons at 2.969 per gallon. One night of dockage was waived with the fuel purchase which saved us $36.00. The forecast for Thursday was pointing to freezing with a high of 35 degrees.
Thursday, November 15, 2018:
We figured out that we could bring the space heater up on the fly bridge if we ran it on low. The inverter couldn’t handle it on high, but was ok with low as long as the engine is running. At 0857 we dislodged from the dock and started making our way towards Decatur. It is 73 miles and would be a long day at 7 ½ to 8 hours. The long day was compounded with the cold, brrrr. The only other boats we saw that day were one crazy crappie fisherman and a sailboat. At 1111 we passed under the 431 Bridge and conditions were getting rougher. Approaching noon, Lake Guntersville was one to two feet. We got secured in the Guntersville Lock at 1211, but had to wait 25 minutes on the sailboat. They didn’t appear to be Loopers and we did not realize that we would meet these folks later on the trip. We descended 57 feet and at 1253 we exited the lock with the sailboat, Marti Time following. At 1530 Jane appeared on the fly bridge with a hot pot of grits. God bless this woman! We docked in the dark at Decatur at 1650 and enjoyed another meal at The Hard Dock Café.
Friday, November 16, 2018:
When we awoke it was literally freezing. It was 29 degrees and the deck lines that had been wet were now frozen. The pungent odor of cat food hung in the air courtesy of the Meow Mix factory. There was a clear sky and that would prove to give us the solarium effect for the upper helm. We backed out of the slip at 0906 and under the Decatur Railroad Bridge at 0914. The bridge tender was very courteous and efficient.
At noon I radioed the Wheeler Lock and let the lockmaster know that we were only about a mile away. He said that he had a double coming up and we’d have a wait of about three hours. At first I thought he was joking with me, but he confirmed that it was not a joke. We tried to be patient and tied to the back side of the lock wall. Commercial traffic has the priority, so there’s nothing we can do but wait it out. We discussed our options including retreating to Joe Wheeler State Park Marina and spending the weekend there.
On a double, the tug boat pushes some of the barges into the lock, but there’s not enough room for them all to fit, so they disconnect them and the lockmaster raises the barges up and then they get pulled out of the lock via a cable system while the tugboat and the other barges wait below. Then the lock has to be emptied and the second set enters the lock and the process repeated to float them up, the lock doors at the top are then opened and the barges are reconnected and finally (and slowly) they’re pushed out by the tug. (Don’t call them tugs. They are tows. They just about always push, but they’re tows.) Finally, after the William Neckel gets his load reattached and pushed out of the way, we enter the lock at 1526.
The William Nekel emerges from the lock
Our goal was to reach Florence Harbor Marina and we knew we are going to be pushing it. Jane doesn’t want to travel in the dark, but I’m sure we can handle it. By 1545 we are out of the Wheeler Lock and slip by another waiting tow.
At 1700 we are getting a beautiful sunset, but we still had the Wilson Lock to get through.
I called ahead and he was ready for us and we slipped right in at 1720. At 1745 the lower lock doors opened to reveal the black of night had fallen on the river 95 feet below.
With running lights on and my best LED flashlight we exited the lock into the 2 ½ mile canal that would return us to the river. If we can just make it that far then we’d only have to go under the bridge and turn hard to starboard and enter the marina. Thankful that we had already been along here, albeit in the daylight and going the other direction, we eked slowly along dodging a bunch of logs and debris under the light of the flashlight that needs new batteries. We agreed that a new marine spotlight would make a great anniversary present. At 1815 we docked in the Florence Harbor Marina and got hooked up to the electricity. We had hot showers in the marina and then went for dinner at the River Bottom Grille.
Saturday morning we borrowed the courtesy van and went to Walmart and then Publix. Our friend, Lucy, from Birmingham showed up for a visit. We thoroughly enjoyed her company and watched some football and went back to The Pie Factory for dinner. We got the same waitress that waited on us when we were here last month and she was great as was the food. There was a nice sunset we enjoyed from the fly bridge, but my photos don’t do it justice.
Sunday, November 18. 2018:
I made pancakes for all of us the next morning and after Lucy got on the road, we pushed off the dock sideways. That was due to a cruisier that had come in Saturday and parked a foot off our bow. It wasn’t hard for us, since it wasn’t windy. Once back in the Tennessee River we enjoyed the current pushing us at 11 ½ miles per hour. The day was pleasant even though it was only about 40 degrees and partly cloudy. By 1330 it was up to 64 and we docked back at Aqua Yacht Harbor at 1420. We dined that night in the Aqua Yacht Harbor Grille with Rick and Kris from Eagle One and Paul and Renee from Liberty. They are fun folks and we know we will want to see them again. And for the third time on this side trip we had the same waitress we had the last time we were here. She was very friendly and adept.
We were up way before the sun (0430). It was overcast and 50 degrees. We had breakfast and read the hometown paper on line. We cranked up the diesel and raised the anchor at 0710. At 0800 we passed under the Egner’s Ferry Bridge. At 1100 we passed the Graestone Express tow with nine barges and met the Crimson White down-bound pushing coal.
By 1435 we were at the Pebble Isle Marina fuel dock and Billy helped us fuel up. We took on 254.5 gallons of diesel at $2.99/gallon with our Boat US membership discount. Then we slipped on over to the transient floating dock for a two day stay. We dined in the Grey Heron which is part of the floating dock. The people were very friendly and the food was good.
On Sunday we took the courtesy car to Compassion Church. Jane is pretty good at looking on-line and finding suitable places to worship. The folks there were quite friendly and one lady that came over to greet us asked how we found them. Jane said, “I always look for a good website because we don’t want to end up in one of those places that bring out the snakes.” The nice lady didn’t miss a beat and said, “Well, we are Pentecostal, but you won’t see that here.” I think Jane wanted to disappear at that point. Anyway it was a moving and upbeat service and we were glad we went. After church, we grocery shopped at the Super Wal-Mart. When we returned to the marina, we saw that Rejoice had come in and docked right behind us. We had talked on the radio Friday and were expecting them. A plan was set for docktails later and Jane and I got out the bikes and rode through the Civil War park nearby. It was interesting and some great exercise because it is really hilly. We walked through the Crockett Cemetery there, but I have no idea if the family there is related to Davey Crockett.
We enjoyed reconnecting with Rick and Deedy from Rejoice and it was nice to hang out with just the four of us instead of a crowd. It got chilly, but there was warmth in the friendship. Blankets and red wine also helped.
Monday, October 22, 2018:
It was 35 degrees so we stayed under the covers. We didn’t need to hurry since we were only planning to go to Lick Creek and anchor. It is 33 miles and there are no locks to slow us down. We finally got up and started getting things ready. I refilled the fresh water tanks and we slipped off the Pebble Isle dock at 1030. Ten minutes later, we were back in the Tennessee River channel of Kentucky Lake. It was smooth and easy cruising with little traffic.
At 1320 we passed the Tom Freeman with his 16 empties.
At some point we made a decision to stop short and anchor behind Denson’s Island. It seemed well protected and does not require a trip off the river up a creek. It was a deep anchorage, but the holding was great and we were snugly hooked on the first try even though we were in 32 feet.
After a while Mike and Cindy on Wine Speed came in behind the island to join us at anchor.
They invited us to dinghy over for happy hour which was a blast. We had noticed a kayaker camping on the island and just before dark; he launched and came paddling by us. He said he was from Minnesota or Wisconsin and was going all the way to Key West. His name was Peter and he had his little dog, Medusa, with him. He liked to travel at night since there is less wind. We may see him again along the way. We returned to our boat and cooked veggies on the grill followed by some quality time on the fly bridge.
Tuesday, October 23, 2018:
We hauled up the anchor at 0920. It came up clean as a whistle. It was foggy earlier, but that cleared out by 0900. We slipped on out from behind the island and the day was looking to be sunny and pleasant as we followed Wine Speed up the river which is in a generally southern direction.
At 1420 we passed Father Pat and then Bill Hill. The tow captains are always helpful to us “plastic boaters”. At one point, I had left my radio on channel 13. Bill Hill came on and let me know that Wine Speed was calling me on 16.
We were headed for an anchorage at Indian Creek, but Mike got there first and said it looked too shallow and narrow to him. That was all I needed to hear and we set for the next spot just another mile further. At 1505 we sneaked in behind Swallow Bluff Island (mm 169.5) and anchored there behind Wine Speed in eight feet. Not a bad day in all. We covered 44 ½ miles and all was well. It was a day of abstinence, but after naptime, we launched the dink and putt-putted over to join them for yappy hour. Directly, another Looper boat came into the anchorage. Mike got on the radio and invited them to dinghy over as well. They did and we got to meet the crew of Summer Lynn, Gary and Nancy Eoff and their guest Ken.
They are from Alaska and recently started the Loop. It was a blast meeting brand new Loopers and helping them feel welcome. It was their first official “docktails”, so we taught them the “official” toast of Loopers: “There are good ships and wood ships and ships that sail the seas, but the best ships are friendships and may they always be”.
Wednesday, October 24, 2018:
It was cold again, 38 degrees this morning. An orderly exit was made from the anchorage and we left the same way we had entered. Wine Speed took the lead with us in the middle and Summer Lynn following behind.
The three of us stayed together because we know that it can help to have numbers when arriving at a lock. Soon a fourth boat appeared and joined our little flotilla. At 0900 we passed the down-bound Tresten and Robert Cenac in an odd configuration with one pushing and one tugging a barge with some butane storage bullets.
At 0910 I checked the shaft seal and it is leaking at one time per second. That’s tolerable. By 1300 we entered the Pickwick Lock for the 55 foot lift up. Wine Speed went ahead to the number 2 pin on starboard while we took the number 2 pin to port. The other two boats secured to the 7 pins in the back of the lock.
The lock doors were closed and the lock began to fill. We began the ascent and then the lockmaster called us over the radio, “Pickwick Lock to Sabbatical”. I said go ahead. He said, “Captain, we have a problem.” I looked quickly about and we were still secured to the floating bollard and the water was still rising. Everything seemed normal. So I responded, “What’s the problem?” He said, “We can’t let you out of the lock flying that big Gator flag.” Funny guy. I asked if he was a Volunteer and he said “Bama Fan” so I gave him a “Roll Tide” and he let us go on our way. We had reservations for a slip at Pickwick Landing State Park Marina, but I had a call from Captain Crusty (Magic) that there were a great group of Loopers at Aqua Yacht Harbor and we should join them. We acquiesced and changed our reservations to AYH in Iuka, Mississippi.
Once we were on Pickwick Lake it was windy and the weather began to deteriorate, but we docked at AYH at 1440. Once we got checked in, we first wanted showers and to use the laundry, but we found out that there was a broken water main and the entire area was without water. They had been working on it since early in the morning. It would have been nice to have been told that when we changed our reservations. I also gave Capt Crusty a hard time for not telling us when he called and talked us into coming there. All in all, though, it was just an inconvenience and was fixed by the next morning. We had a great group of Loopers meet for docktails under the pavilion on D dock. At least 17 boats were represented.
Later, we brought our dinner over to Band Wagon and ate with them and Mike and Cindy from Wine Speed. It was a good time.
The next day it was drizzling cold rain all day. Jane did get her laundry done and the hot showers were great. We got crews of Wine Speed, Band Wagon and Magic together for dinner at the Aqua Yacht Harbor Grille and then met up on the fly bridge of Wine Speed for a great time after. Even the inclement weather couldn’t dampen our spirits!
We enjoyed staying in Green Turtle for three days. It gave us time to clean the boat really well and get some other things done. Joe, from Bandwagon helped us get the mast put back up. There was a definite learning curve on that task, but it went back up and all the guy wires tightened well. We hiked into the village to do some grocery shopping and caught the shuttle back. It is a nice area here in the “Land between the Lakes”. As we walked over to The Thirsty Turtle for dinner, a bunch of deer were frolicking about and unconcerned about us. We ran into other some Loopers there that we already knew and met others that we didn’t. We met one couple, John and Gina, who would be starting the Loop on Friday aboard Alysana. They are local to this area and advised us on the best next stop on our way up to Nashville. Green Turtle Bay has an awesome spa and Jane and I both took advantage and booked massages which were fantastic. I cleaned the air conditioner filters which is a chore because the one at the evaporator is just about impossible to reach. I was hoping that my friend Jere and his wife, Barbara, aboard Ellie Jack would make it before we had to leave, but they broke down in Paducah, so we’ll have to catch them later closer to the Gulf.
Wednesday, October 3, 2018:
After a breakfast of pancakes and a visit to the marina store, we shoved off at 1055 for the short trip to Prizer Point Marina and Campground. Barkley Lake is beautiful and makes for wonderful cruising. The channel is well marked as we followed the Cumberland Riverbed. We passed the Kentucky State Penitentiary. That is a very odd use of waterfront property.
After the 23 mile trip we docked at 1400 in a covered slip. It was hot so after checking in, we walked over to check out the pool. There were a bunch of kids there, so we decided to skip swimming. We were glad the slip was covered. I worked on the blog and we turned in early after dinner on board.
Thursday, October 4, 2018:
We were up at 0420 and prepped for a long day cruise. We were out in the channel just around sunrise.
A bunch of bass boats whizzed by, I guess in some tournament. We were mostly alone on the river, but at 0915 we overtook the up-bound H.B. Stewart pushing coal while avoiding the down-bound Alvin Johnson with his load.
At 0926 we crossed the state line into Tennessee. Then at 0945, we met the Amber Brittany on the two whistle (passing starboard to starboard). The day was so hot and with almost no breeze, Jane brought up the fan to the fly bridge. At 1545 something in the water caught my eye and I backed off the throttle and turned to port to make sure I wasn’t looking at a body in the water. It turned out to be a bloated dead deer. Sorry about the deer, but glad we didn’t have to deal with a cadaver, we continued on. We bumped over a submerged log, but there was no damage. We cruised upriver for ten hours to get to Clarksville listening to music and talking. We arrived at 1650. The dock master, Tim and a Looper, Mike, from Haley Rose came out to help us dock in the covered slip. We always appreciate the help, even when we don’t need it. Clarksville has a small, but very nice marina. We showered and stepped just up the hill to the Liberty Park Grill for an excellent dinner.
Friday, October 5, 2018:
On engine checks, I discovered that the shaft seal was leaking. It was not much, only about one drop every five or ten seconds. I knew just enough to wait and check it after we got underway. I would know better the extent of the problem then. We backed out of the slip at 0805. At 0847 we passed the H.B. Stewart again with his nine loads of coal. He was pushing it to the left descending bank to avoid a down-bound tow still aways around the bend. We knew that we would not have to be delayed at the lock since the H.B. Stewart was delayed. Jane had earlier downloaded the new Shipfinder App to her iPhone. We don’t have an AIS system, but the Shipfinder App shows us the names, direction and speed of the commercial traffic. At 0950, I checked the shaft seal and it was steadily leaking around 10 drops per second. I knew, I’d have to address this soon. At 1120 we entered the Cheatham Lock for the 28 foot lift to get in the upper Cumberland. We started up, but then the lockmaster let us back down to wait for another pleasure craft. It was hot, hot, hot, but by noon we were out of the lock. Cruising up the Cumberland was pretty and peaceful despite the heat. We found the narrow entrance to the Commodore Yacht Club and meandered through the winding channel.
We stopped at the fuel dock for a pump-out assisted by Ron, the harbor master. He also got us checked in and we were tied up on the tee-head of B dock by 1545.
We thoroughly enjoyed our side trip to Nashville and staying at the CYC. CYC has a free ice machine, free laundry and transients are welcome to use the clubhouse as their own. In Nashville, we spent lots of time with our son, Scott, and his girlfriend, Jessica.
We got to go to their church on consecutive Sundays. (Packed house with many young adults.) We got to watch Scott in action climbing. He’s good, but it’s still a little unsettling for a parent to watch.
Saturday we hung out in the floating “clubhouse” at the CYC to watch the Gators on TV beat up on LSU. We enjoyed meeting some of the members, like Ernie Jones (Me and Mrs Jones) and Rosie the dog. On Saturday night, we went out to Ray Steven’s place, Caba Ray and took in his show. That was fun and we may have been the youngest people there. Our friends and other son’s in-laws, John and Louise Stevenson came over from Maryville on Monday for a boat ride and overnight visit. It was great to catch up with them and facetime with the granddaughters while we were all together.
Our daughter, Meredith, flew in Tuesday night for a six-day visit. We rented a car for a week, so we wouldn’t be stuck out at the Yacht Club. We dined in lots of restaurants, took a bus tour, and did some needed shopping and restocking.
On Thursday, the 11th, we headed up the river for an overnight stay on the Nashville Tee-Dock across the river from the honky-tonks of Broadway. It was three hours from dock to dock. At first, we mistakenly tied up in the reserved spot for the Pontoon Saloon. They only have a yellow line to designate their reserved spot, but we had been warned. Of course, they showed up right then with a fresh load of 30 inebriated souls, so we pulled Sabbatical up by hand into the proper space to get out of the way. The Tee dock is just over the walking bridge and has electric service, but no other marina amenities. Scott picked us up and we went to Wild Cow for lunch and the walked around the 12 South area for a while. Later, we entertained a dozen or more of Scott’s friends aboard Sabbatical for docktails.
Our old friend, Clark Thomas, was able to also come by and being a professional photographer, he got a great picture of the group.
As the group thinned out, we later walked over the bridge and grabbed dinner on a rooftop.
Our instructions were to be off the dock by 0500 because the workers would be coming early to set up for the crew regatta. I got up just before five and looked out. There was nothing happening. I made coffee and started reading the paper on line. At six I looked out and still no activity. At seven, I still detected no one out to set up anything, but since it was finally light, we dropped lines at 0705 and eased back down the river to the Commodore Yacht Club and docked there at 0910. I never did see anybody setting up anything for the regatta. We used our rental car and picked up Scott from his house and we down to Franklin for lunch. Franklin is a cool little town. We ate at Mojos Tacos (Scott knows the owner) in the Factory. After lunch we did some window shopping and then stopped by the Tractor Supply so I could stock up on motor oil for the boat. By midafternoon we were back on Broadway to find our group of friends that were in town for the Gator-Vandy football game. We caught up with the Bells and Stubbs gang on a pub-crawl at their last stop in the Wild Beaver Saloon.
Girls sang karaoke
Guys watching the bullriders
It was a large group and we enjoyed watching some of the group and others try to ride the mechanical bull. Rule one: if you can’t get up on the bull without help, maybe, just maybe, you shouldn’t try to ride it. We ran into more folks from G’ville that we knew and made it for a round at the famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. Later we had a great meal at Barcelona.
Saturday, we slept late and really had to hustle to make it to the tailgate with the gang from Gainesville. The gang headed in for the early kickoff and we headed over to The Tavern to watch the game on TV. Jessica’s mom, Caroline, showed up and it was a delight to meet her. It’s a good sign that these two are getting serious. After the game we had time for a nap before meeting Scott, Jessica, and Caroline at Rolf & Daughters for a really nice dinner.
Sunday it was rainy, but Clark and Judy Brashear came by the boat to visit for a while. It was nice to catch up with them.
On Monday, we took Meredith back to the airport and we were sad to see her go. Jane had a heyday doing laundry. We also got our flu shots at Publix. Nashville was great and there’s still a bunch we haven’t done here. I’m sure we will be back soon. One strange phenomenon at the CYC: We kept hearing a knocking on our hull and on the other boats as well. I couldn’t figure it out but Ernie explained it. They have a bunch of carp here that feed on the algae of the boat bottoms and they make a whack sound when they suck. It’s quite unnerving.
Wednesday, October 17, 2018:
We slid away from the dock at Cumberland Yacht Club at 0955 under partly cloudy skies with 49 degrees showing on the thermometer. The river was glassy, but the rains had muddied the water somewhat. The current assisted us and we were cruising at ten miles per hour running at our standard 1800 rpm’s. We arrived at the Cheatham Lock just ahead of the Marc Myasaki, but the commercial traffic gets preferential treatment, so we had to wait. We stayed out of his way, as he got lined up to go in the lock. By 1342, the tow had been let down and we were in the lock secured to a floating bollard. It was a quick ride down and we were back on our way at 1355. We overtook the Marc Myasaki again at 1420. We met the Rick Hamich heading upstream at Macadoo Creek.
By 1635 we were back in slip B8 inClarksville after getting the holding tank pumped out.
Thursday, October 18, 2018:
We eased out of the slip at 0735 headed for Lake Barkley Marina. It was another beautiful day – cool and sunny, perfect for a 71 mile cruise. We called ahead and spoke with Tina for our slip assignment. We would be using Covered Dock 2, Slip 32. I looked at the map of the marina to see exactly where we would be.
At 0850 we passed the Danny Whitford with benzene. At 1115 we met the upbound Cumberland Hunter on the one whistle (port to port) at Dover Island. He was pushing 15 barges. At 1232 we overtook Marc Myasaki and his 12 barges (again). By 1450 we were easing into slip 32 of Dock 2 at the Lake Barkley Marina. Oops! The roof is too low. Good thing I was at a dead crawl going into the slip. The mast guy cables touched the eave and I quickly reversed, peeved that they didn’t ask what our air draft is and peeved that we didn’t ask the height of the cover. Lesson learned. They rerouted us to a slip on Dock 3 and it was fine. We docked by 1505. After dinner we went for a walk and checked out the Lodge. We saw a lot of deer grazing on our way over and back.
White Pelican assembly
Friday, October 19, 2018:
We backed out at 0915 and began the meandering channel to return us to Lake Barkley. At 1221 we passed the Roger Sensenbach pushing 12 barges. Just after that we entered the Barkley Canal that crosses the Land between the Lakes and joins Lake Barkley (Cumberland River) with Kentucky Lake (Tennessee River). We entered Kentucky Lake at 1239. We swung through the old quarry at Pisgah Bay just to see the graffiti there.
By 1405 we were pulling into Sugar Bay, just one of the many beautiful anchorages available. We anchored in 15 feet and enjoyed the solitude of the place, sharing it only with a few fishermen returning to the nearby boat ramp. Jane made soup and we turned in early.
We were waiting on a package from American Diesel and it showed up at 1030, so we cranked up and moseyed over to the fuel dock for a pump-out. By 1150 we were in the Melvin Price Lock alone and we exited the lock at 1155. The lockmasters on the Mississippi locks are all about getting it done and they are helpful to the recreational boaters. We made certain to not miss turning into the Chain of Rocks Canal (at 1230) on the left descending bank right after the Missouri River junctions from the right. If you miss this canal, you hit the wicket dams or wing dikes and sink. Could be rapids too. I didn’t want to find out. It’s a fairly long canal leading to the Chain of Rocks Lock, but we didn’t have any commercial traffic to speak of and we entered the lock at 1320 and we were out again in ten minutes.
An up-bound barge with benzene passed us at 1342, we steered clear of him and negotiated the turbulence and the long wing dam at the fore-bay where the river rejoins.
We spotted Gumby II at anchor in front of the St. Louis Arch and got a picture for Scott and Christy.
Gumby II under the Arch
The old Union Electric Company
We passed on through St. Louis and at 1545 we slowed a bit to let the rain pass before trying to dock at Hoppie’s Marina. Hoppie’s really isn’t a marina in the traditional sense. It is just a couple of old rusty barges that they have for boaters to tie to.
One Looper said you best have an up-to-date tetanus booster to land there. Oh, and it is full current so you have to come about and edge over, keeping the bow pointed up river. The rain did pass somewhat and we docked with the help from Ray and his other brother Ray on the dock. They know what to do and what to tell the captains for a safe landing. The best part of being at Hoppie’s is the river briefing conducted each night for the transients. It used to be run by Fern (she owns the place), but she’s had a knee replaced so her daughter, Debra, has taken over the duties.
Debra did a yeoman’s job and we felt like we knew what to expect all the way to Paducah. My electric connection was not the right voltage/amperage to keep our air conditioner working, so I got with Ray and I used my splitter and plugged into the 50 amp circuit. It was fine after that. All in all it was a good day and we made 44.2 miles on the Mississippi, but the night was spent getting rocked by wakes from the passing tows.
Wednesday, September 26, 2018:
Ray and Jonathan (sail boater) helped us get off the dock at 0925. Directly, we were cruising at 13 ½ mph at 1800 rpm.
It was cooler in the morning at 59 degrees and a few clouds in the sky. We were traveling with Happy Destiny, Sauvy B, and Imagine. There was some debris in the river to dodge and at 1150 we noted that we’re in just over 70’ of water and getting pushed about by eddies. We turned up the Kaskaskia River and at 1255 we tied to the lock wall below the Kaskaskia River Lock. This is a good stop when going down the Mississippi and there were a number of Looper boats there with us: Float Her, Gypsy, Sauvy B, Aslan, Caeruleus, Tip-Sea II, Imagine, Happy Destiny, and Tortuga.
There was a Corps of Engineers barge tied at the wall and boaters were given permission by the lock master to tie to it since space on the wall ran out. Some boats were rafted to others. The COE barge looked like it was set up for some sort of recreational activity. There were chairs and an area that was covered. We decided that we should just commandeer it for docktails. (Sometimes better to ask for forgiveness than permission.)
It was a good gathering and much was discussed about who was going where next. As we were breaking up the COE tug Pathfinder showed up and informed us that they were to take the barge at 0630 in the morning. We decided anyone parked near it best move early.
Thursday, September 27, 2018:
We woke up later than we wanted at 0635, cranked the engine at 0640 and were off the wall at 0646. Jane’s log entry for the weather says: “Who knows? It’s dark.” We reentered the Mississippi and continued on downriver. At 0745 I figured that we are about halfway done with our 220 miles of the Mississippi River. Then we will be turning upstream in the Ohio River. We made good time with the current and we passed a fair number of barges, some with large loads.
We continued to dodge the logs and debris. I noticed that the tachometer drops out from time to time. I’ll have to figure that out. During the run, we passed Cape Girardeau, Missouri. My ancestor, Joseph McFerron, was an early settler here and signed the city charter. He was also involved in the first duel between Missourians which took place on an island in the river. He won.
Giboney Island across from Cape Girardeau
I have been in touch with an old friend, Jere Plumley, who has been coming down the Mississippi from Wisconsin. We are trying to figure where we might be able to meet up and now they are just a day behind us. It was a mostly cool day and we covered 110.6 miles before we anchored behind Boston Bar just upriver from the I-57 Bridge at mile marker 7.7. It was a quiet anchorage and we were the third and last boat to come in, but we had ample room and good holding in about 10 feet of water. There was almost no swinging on the anchor as the current coming down behind the island held us in place.
Boston Bar anchorage
Looking SW from anchor
Friday, September 28, 2018:
We wanted to get an early (0700) start, but we were socked in by the fog. We weren’t going anywhere until the soup lifted. At 0800 there was still less than 300 feet visibility.
It was lifting just around 0945 so we started getting ready and cranked up the anchor at 1020. Surprisingly, it came up clean. I expected to bring up enough mud to make a hog happy. The other two boats came out just after us and in the Ohio River at 1105, Float Her joined our little group, but their catamaran is much faster and they went on ahead. We skirted the massive parking lot of anchored and tethered barges that clog the Ohio. I found good water to run in on the inside of the bend sticking to the left descending bank and running in between the barges anchored in the middle and the riverbank. It helped me stay out of the higher velocity water in the channel as we made our way upriver. We had to wait a few minutes at 1345 for the American Queen (tourist paddle wheeler) to clear the Olmsted Lock. The Olmsted Lock is still under construction (3 Billion of your tax dollars at work) so, at this time there is no lift, but they only let one boat at a time pass.
As the afternoon wore on, I noticed that we kept experiencing momentary loss of RPM’s. It was intermittent and I figured it had to be clogging of the secondary fuel filters. If we could make it to Paducah, I could change them there, but I really didn’t want to do something like that if we were going to be on anchor.
We continued on upstream and passed over the wickets at Lock 52 and docked just about a half hour after sunset on the fairly new Paducah municipal dock with help from John, the dock master. The dock is well lit and that helped. We had only been averaging about 6 mph coming up the Ohio even though I was pushing the RPM’s and we were glad to make the entire 45 miles from the anchorage. There is current at this dock that brings you to the dock from either side. We were on the outside and it pulled us in. Jane had cooked a curried dish while we were traveling and we ate dinner on the boat. We were hanging out after dinner when some other Looper boats came in and we all rushed out to help. There was a lot of excitement as some of the captains got to experience the effect of the eddy and hit another boat and the dock. There was no serious damage, but it was tense for a bit.
We stayed at Paducah for another day. They were having a massive BBQ festival. Ten years ago, I could have got my money’s worth on that. Jane did some shopping and I changed the secondary fuel filters, which was a learning curve since I had never done that before. I got that job done, tightened the lead for the tachometer, and replaced the air filter. I also refilled the water tanks and we were good to go. I showered and changed and we headed out to Paducah Beer Werks so we could watch the Gators dismantle Mississippi State.
Sunday, September 30, 2018:
It was sunny and 62 degrees in the morning. We got away from the dock without incident at 0810. We were headed to Green Turtle Bay on Barkley Lake. There are two ways to get there. The shorter route would be to go up the Tennessee River, through the Kentucky Lock and then cross through the canal that connects Kentucky Lake to Lake Barkley. We opted for the longer route going up the Ohio River to the mouth of the Cumberland River and then through the Barkley Lock. It’s longer (44 ½ miles), but the current on the Cumberland is reportedly less and there is a lot less barge traffic and typically very little wait for the Barkley Lock. The Ohio had lots of logs and debris to contend with, but the Cumberland was clean and scenic. We entered the Cumberland at 1018. At 1038 we passed Kentucky Chute where the water from the Ohio pours through and the brown muddy water of the Ohio gave way to the green water of the Cumberland. It was a little turbulent at the Chute, but quickly the Cumberland embraced us with a gentle current and pretty tree-lined bends. We only passed one down bound tow.
At 1500 we were waiting for the lock and tied in the shade of the high wall on the right.
Twenty minutes later the gates opened for us and we moved in and Jane lassoed a floating bollard. We had to wait a little bit for two more boats to join us, but soon we were being raised some 57 feet and by 1550 we were out of the lock. We arrived at the fuel dock of Green Turtle Bay for a pump-out and nestled into our slip at 1630. It was a skinny slip with floating finger piers on each side, and just wide enough for us and a couple of fenders. We bought ice when checking in and showered afterward. We met crews from Antonia, Felix, Phanthom, Float Her and Good Life at the pavilion for docktails before heading into the yacht club for dinner. It was a good day.
I checked every weather report known on the internet, phone apps, and NOAA VHF broadcast. There were conflicting reports between the point forecast showing one foot waves and others touting three building to four in the afternoon. We had quite a discussion over whether to go or not. I did not want a repeat of our experiences in Charlotte Harbor, The Potomac, or recently in Lake Michigan. The last way and probably the best way to check the weather is to look out the window. I walked the dock to see over the breakwater. The waves were crashing over the wall, but not nearly as bad as the day before. It was overcast with scattered showers and the wind was out of the east-northeast at 13 knots and gusting higher. Around 0830 we heard from Mark aboard Antonia docked at DuSable and he said he could see a boat out beyond the breakwater that appeared to be stable in calm water. We were ready to get to Chicago and be done with Lake Michigan, so that ended the debate. In spite of the small craft warnings and with the full knowledge of the rough conditions we knew we would encounter, we started preparing to shove off for the 15.6 mile trek. We retrieved our lines from the cleats and before I could get backed out of the slip, the wind was already turning us toward the sailboat tied next to us. I put it in forward and brought the stern around with a quick blast and then backed out quickly. I had plenty of room to reverse with nothing back there but the floating casino. It was windy, but with the techniques I learned from Captain Billy back in Ft. Myers, I got her headed in the right direction. We pulled alongside the fuel dock and Jane handed off the key card to the attendant. Once we got out of the protection of the marina, the waves were coming from the northeast as expected. It was rough but the spacing between the waves helped make it tolerable. We were soon behind the breakwater of the Calumet River entrance and that helped as well. At 0930 we emerged through the opening removing our protection of the Calumet breakwater. Jane hassled me about the way I was steering (adjusting for waves as need be to keep somewhat of course and as comfortable ride as we could, given the conditions) so I offered her the wheel and she commenced a tacking of sorts to diminish the effect of the beam seas. We zig-zagged our way towards Chicago and at 1103 slipped behind the inner wall into the calm waters of the mooring area. There is an outer breakwater wall some distance out and I realized that the boat Mark saw must have been between the walls because the waves were crashing and splashing high against the outer wall. Nonetheless, we made it and docked at DuSable Harbor Marina on the tee head of E dock at 1112 with some help from Mark and his guest, Larry. We got checked in with the marina and headed out walking with our folding grocery cart and made it to Marciano’s. It was a ritzy two story store in a fancy high-rise. After we hiked back and put the provisions away, we strolled down the dock to Antonia and gathered up Mark and Lezlie and their guests, Larry and Rose, and we all hoofed it on over to the Navy Pier for the Chicago Architectural Boat Tour. The guide, David, was knowledgeable regarding the history and architecture as well as quite the comedian.
The six of us enjoyed dinner together at a nearby Mexican Restaurant and then met up on Sabbatical for some games and after dinner drinks.
We stayed in Chicago for the next two days and enjoyed getting to see my old Navy buddy, Ken Goetz. He is an official greeter for the City of Chicago as well as an attorney. We were able to make it to Sully’s Tavern where the Windy City Gator Club met up to watch the Gators play Kentucky. Gators got whipped by KY for the first time in 32 years.
Sunday we hiked over to the Urban Village Church for the 10:30 service and then found a cool vegan restaurant (Native Food Café) for lunch. We stopped on the way back and chatted with Christy on Gumby II where they are tied to the wall by the park. They are also Loopers and we have talked with them on the radio, but never met.
Monday, September 10, 2018:
We shoved off the dock from DuSable Harbor at 0930 and by 1005 we were through the Chicago Lock and entering the Chicago River basically going under all the same bridges we did on the architectural tour. At 1042 we called the Amtrack Bridge as we came under 18th Street. Since our mast was down we could get right under all the other bridges, but we would need the Amtrack Bridge lifted.
We had to wait for a couple of trains to pass, but by 1055 we were through and entering the industrial area. At 1318 we passed the Cal-Sag canal and at 1330 we passed our first barge on the “one whistle” (port to port). At 1400 we encountered the Electric Fish Barrier which is to prevent the further intrusion of the invasive Asian Carp. The Asian Carp are incredibly prolific and there are reports of them jumping on the decks of boats and leaving a bloody mess.
Luckily we did not have to endure any direct attacks but as we made our way further down the Illinois, we’ve had a number of them jump up and collide with our hull. (Thump!) By 1520 we were in and out of the Lockport Lock going down 38 feet tied on the port on the floating bollard.
At 1545 we came about to starboard and nuzzled up to the free wall at Joliet. It is a fine municipal wall at Centennial Park with free electric. We joined Compass Rose, Island Girl, Someday, Sea Jamm, Second Wave, Corkscrew, Misty Pearl and Free Spirit II for docktails at the park benches.
A plan was set for Dana aboard Misty Pearl to call the Brandon Road Lock early to make sure we could lock through without a long delay due to the barge traffic.
Tuesday, September 11, 2018:
Up early and by 0658 we slipped easily off the wall and out into the current with our flotilla of nine boats.
The railroad bridge was up so there was no wait there and we all entered the lock at Brandon Road at 0730. We arrived at the Dresden Lock at 1030 and we rafted up to Sea Jamm (Alan and Sherry) and Island Girl (Ken and Karen) to wait for the barge traffic to clear. Sherry made lunch and the six of us visited and ate in their spacious saloon. We finally got through the lock at 1355. The original plan was to make it to Heritage Harbor Marina, but with the lock delay and the issue that we would still have to get through the Marseilles Lock, we changed plans. The lock masters on the Illinois River are not too helpful to the recreational boaters so we (just about the entire flotilla) opted to stop at Spring Brook Marina (mile marker 251.8) for the night. We docked into slip E22 as a huge Asian Carp leapt onto the dock. Spring Brooke boasts a nice restaurant and everyone was geared to meet for dinner. They had not anticipated any business and the cook had sent the only waitress home (or she called in sick, depends on which story you got), but he called in a friend of his to come serve us and we didn’t care that it took two hours to get fed. The stand-in was a good bartender, the food was fine and we enjoyed getting to know different Loopers.
Wednesday, September 12, 2018:
We left Spring Brook Marina with a flotilla of eight boats: Misty Pearl, Sea Jamm, Island Girl, Someday, Corkscrew, Compass Rose, Second Wave and Sabbatical. At 0930 we were waiting at the Marseilles Lock.
We were joined by Forever Young and Free Spirit Too. The lock was occupied by barges and two tows (tug boats) down-bound. It took until 1015 until the horn blew to let the tow operators know to leave the lock. At 1150 the lock tender let us know by radio that he would have the lock ready for us in about 25 minutes. The Corps of Engineers had a team there conducting underwater survey with a remote control submarine which further slowed things down. At 1120 we got the green light to enter the lock and all the boats filed in at idle speed. That took about another 20 minutes to get everyone secured to one side or the other and some boats rafted to others. We had to wait for the survey team to get done playing with their yellow submarine.
They finally finished and the upstream doors closed. We exited the lock at 1230 and docked at Heritage Harbor Marina 20 minutes later. The staff at Heritage Harbor did an excellent job directing each of us to our assigned slips as the six dock hands ran back and forth assisting each vessel. Many Asian carp were jumping in the basin at the marina entertaining us. The marina was great and Jane went off in one of the courtesy cars to the laundromat. The dock master, Jeremy, gave a briefing in the office at 1600 detailing what we could expect downstream all the way to Hoppie’s Marina on the Mississippi. He spent nearly two hours with us going over all manner of information and details. It was great. We all met up in the Red Dog Grill for dinner. The food was awesome and it was half price wine night!
Thursday, September 13, 2018;
We dropped lines at 0800 and proceeded slowly toward Starved Rock Lock. We arrived at 0930 as instructed by earlier phone call to the lockmaster. Finally, at 1100 we entered the lock with our armada of now 13 boats.
By 1140 we had completed the descent and were exiting the lock. The lock master warned a couple of up-bound tows that he had released “a herd of turtles” and to be on the lookout for us. The channel is narrow at that point, but we all got around the barges ok.
The tow operators are friendly and helpful. Much more so than the lockmasters on the Illinois. We proceeded on downriver with some of the boats going elsewhere, but we docked in an old abandoned lock at Henry Harbor on the crumbling lock wall. We were able to have electric, which was not the case for all the boats there. Mark and Lezlie were there with Antonia and we all ate in the rustic restaurant and had a good time.
Friday, September 14, 2018:
It was another beautiful day. 65 degrees in the morning under a cloudless sky. Since we had all come into the old lock from the downstream side and had our bows to the current, we had a plan on when to leave with the most downstream boat going first. We were second and slipped away from the rocky wall without help and backed out of the ancient lock. As we made our way down the river, we saw a group of eagles eating breakfast. Asian Carp sushi, no doubt.
At 1045 I noticed a pontoon boat going in circles near the right descending bank. They were putting out quite a wake and I noticed that there was netting all around the front and three or four guys on the stern trying to bow-fish for the jumping Asian Carp. They must have been having a blast trying to hit them in the air with the arrows. I could only imagine that beers and bets were involved.
We were making nine and half miles per hour with the current and by noon-thirty we were secured into the Illinois Valley Yacht Club (IVY Club).
Yacht clubs are always a good place to stay and this one was no exception so we planned to stay for two nights. We were invited to utilize the bar and restaurant. We took advantage that night and had a great meal and got to meet some of the members who all seemed very friendly. One, Carolyn, offered to take Jane and Lezlie shopping on Saturday, so they made a plan for that. While they were gone, I changed the starboard side primary fuel filter, so it will be ready to go on line when I need it. We were able to watch some football via the digital antenna, but when the Gators kicked off against Colorado State, I had to employ the phone app to listen in on the radio. Can’t get ESPN on the boat. I see a smart TV in our future.
Sunday, September 16, 2018:
At 0753 we reversed out of the slip and idled out into the river. We had no flotilla with us this time. At 0900 we talked to the lockmaster of the Peoria Lock. The wickets were up and we would have to wait for a while to lock down. By 0945 we were in the lock and ten minutes later we were exiting. For the next several hours we were alone on the Illinois River – no other pleasure craft or barges. It got hot and I had Jane bring up a fan to the helm. We put towels down in the ice chest and were putting them on our necks to cool off. We can’t wait for fall. After 79.6 miles we anchored behind Bar Island at mile marker 88.4. It was a nice quiet spot and the island kept us from getting waked by the barges that run all night. We ran the generator for air conditioning and cooked our veggies on the grill.
Monday, September 17, 2018:
We pulled anchor at 0710 and proceeded down toward the LaGrange Lock.
We arrived there to wait with HMS Vagabond.
At 0840 we entered the lock behind a “light boat” (a tug with no barge) and HMS Vagabond. Ten minutes later, we were down and they invited us to exit first and we were on our way again. We got to the Florence Highway Lift Bridge at 1121.
Jane kept busy cleaning the boat as we cruised along. She was unstoppable, and said Bobby was channeling through her. We dodged a few tows, but it was never a problem and the captains always appreciate being contacted and tell us to have a safe trip. These tows on the Illinois that have 12 or 15 barges will be thought to be cute when we get to the Mississippi and some of the tows push 35 barges.
While we were in route that afternoon we Facetimed with our granddaughters, Hazel and Bea, and their other grandparents, John and Louise. We chugged on and docked at Grafton Harbor Marina at 1715 completing the final 79 and half miles of the Illinois River. Doug from Misty Pearl and Brent from Second Wave were there to help take the lines from Jane. Doug is a Tennessee Volunteer, so there was some good natured smack talk going on. We refreshed with a dip in the pool and later enjoyed dinner at the Grafton Oyster Bar above the marina store. It was a good spot to spend a couple of days and we weren’t in a hurry. The next day, Jane got into the laundry early and she got it all done. Sandy and Kevin Tucker from Koastal Karma came by. Their boat is getting repairs over in Port Charles Marina after hitting a log on the river. The hit took out their running gear and transmission. It was so expensive that an insurance claim was involved. They left and we walked around Grafton a bit and had lunch in the Grafton Winery which was very nice and inspired a return to the boat for a nap. That evening we joined eight others for dinner at Airie’s Restaurant. The owner picked us up at the marina in his shuttle bus. The restaurant is at the highest point in Grafton and the view was superb. This time next year they will have a gondola ride open to bring diners from the bottom of the hill up to the top. That will be a great hit.
Wednesday, September 19, 2018:
We were headed to Alton Marina and which is only 17 miles so we took our sweet time getting underway. We slipped off the dock at 1025 and when we got up to speed at 1800 rpm’s we were at 11 ½ mph. This is where the Illinois joins the Mighty Mississippi. There was a fair amount of debris and we played dodge-a-log cruising along. At 1150 we were at the fuel dock in Alton and took on 223 gallons of diesel and got the holding tank pumped out too. We were in our covered slip at 1300 and in the pool at 1310. This is a great marina with perfect restrooms stocked with everything one may need. They have a pool and two hot tubs all on floating docks and best off all is their deal for Loopers of buy 3 nights and get 3 free. Again, we were in no hurry, so we enjoyed staying put for six days. That night we had dinner with Mark and Lezlie and Alan and Sherry at the Bluff City Grill. Good food, great company.
While we were in Alton, we got exercise along the trail, enjoyed the pool, rented a car and provisioned from the grocery, Tractor Supply, NAPA Auto Parts, and we visited the arch in St. Louis with Mark and Lezlie. We watched the Florida – Tennessee aboard Tanuki (Jerry was in the marching band at UF) and the Gators whipped UT with a bunch of takeaways. I changed the oil while we were in Alton and we got the Velcro replaced on the port and starboard aft panels of the fly bridge enclosure (Thanks to Paul at Alton Landing). We worshiped at the Bridge Church and took in a play at the Alton Little Theater (Neil Simon’s “God’s Favorite”). We rode the bikes and enjoyed docktails (even with just diet tonic and lime, have to give the liver a rest periodically).